On Sunday, Nebraska shocked the football world by pulling the plug on the Bo Pelini era, despite the Cornhusker coach wracking up a 67-27 record, and never winning less than nine games in a season. This means that there will likely be at least three high profile coaching positions open this offseason (along with Florida, and almost assuredly Michigan), and the implications could spiral well outside of Nebraska. To help you understand what this means for BYU, I put together this quick little guide.
Wait, why would I care at all what happens to Nebraska? We're not in the Big Ten.
No, you're not, but check that 2015 schedule again. BYU opens next season with...a road game at Nebraska! Given the crowds in Lincoln, that would probably be a tough game for the Cougars even if Nebraska was terrible, which they shouldn't be. But the Cornhuskers will be replacing their three best players from this season, in running back Ameer Abdullah, wideout Kenny Bell and defensive end Randy Gregory, who will almost assuredly be going to the NFL.
The Cornhuskers should be returning most of their defense, but given their losses on offense, plus some uninspired at best QB play this season, this is looking like a winnable game if BYU is able to get healthy and avoid season opening suspensions. If Nebraska hires a coach with a dramatically different system from Pelini's that makes this game even more winnable. It's probably a good thing that the Cougars are catching the Cornhuskers so early in the season, but they ought to keep an eye on who comes to Lincoln either way.
Who are some of the potential candidates to fill this position?
Corn Nation has a big list here. One popular name, both among pundits and the Cornhusker faithful, is Scott Frost, the OC at Oregon, and a former Nebraska QB. Frost would likely bring an uptempo offense that could provide a jolt in the arm for Nebraska, but he's never been a head coach, and there would be some questions as to how well Nebraska's current personnel would fit that scheme. Other possible names include Wyoming coach Craig Bohl (who has strong Nebraska ties), Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, Memphis coach Justin Fuente, and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman.
Wait a second, I see Bronco Mendenhall's name on that list! Is there a chance Nebraska looks at him?
Mendenhall's name has appeared as a longshot candidate on a few lists for big time coaching candidates, but I feel pretty confident stating that no matter how badly a certain, vocal segment of the BYU fanbase wants Mendenhall to go somewhere else (since BYU isn't keen to #FireBronco), there is no way he's going to Nebraska.
Well, why not?
There are tons of reasons, but here is the biggest. Nebraska's single biggest problem right now is the talent level around the program. The Cornhuskers have championship aspirations (and have a championship history), but aren't pulling in much blue-chip talent that doesn't have a family connection to the program. They've recruited around a fringe Top 25 level over the past several seasons, and unsurprisingly, that's about where they have finished. With Ohio State, Michigan, and now Penn State pacing the arms race for Big Ten talent, and with Nebraska producing virtually no recruits of their own, more than anything, Nebraska needs an ace recruiter that will be able to bring in four-star, blue chip caliber players from out of side, ideally from their former stomping grounds in Texas.
That is the exact opposite of Bronco Mendenhall.
Why did Nebraska fire a guy who went 67-27?
That's a good question, and one that might bare watching for BYU fans. Nebraska was good, even very good, over the last seven years. But Nebraska wants to be great, like they were in the 1990s. Of course, many fans (and most Big Ten folks) would argue that this isn't the 1990s anymore, and the model that Nebraska used to dominate doesn't work as well. Athletic department revenues aren't paced by ticket sales, so other schools have leveled the financial playing field with the Cornhuskers. Their local talent is nearly non-existent, and their move to the Big Ten removed them from regularly playing in their traditional recruiting territory (Texas), and even hiring a coach with Ohio ties (Pelini) couldn't help them lift enough quality kids out of the Buckeye state.
Fans who want to toss out Mendenhall should watch how Nebraska fares in this experiment. As Michigan, Texas and Florida have shown, ohhh, it can get a LOT worse at a place like Nebraska, and firing a successful coach without a big name ready to step in. It's very risky, and Nebraska is hoping that their history (and some booster money) can help take them to the next level. Is this a cautionary tale for the BYU fan, or a success story? Only time will tell, but for what it's worth, I'm skeptical.
What about Michigan's coaching search?
We'll get to that one once it's official, but for now, just trust me when I say Bronco isn't going there either.