On the 10th anniversary of Nebraska‘s entrance into the Big Ten, interim athletic director Garrett Klassy officially began his term overseeing the Huskers’ program.
The irony isn’t lost on those who have lived through a jagged first decade in the conference.
Athletic director Bill Moos’ abrupt retirement last month isn’t the most surprising nor the most damaging thing Nebraska has absorbed since its celebrated Big Ten arrival on July 1, 2011. But Moos’ exit epitomizes the turbulence for a football program on its third coach, Scott Frost, and that is welcoming its fourth athletic director, Trev Alberts, since 2012. Alberts, a former All-America linebacker at Nebraska, officially begins his term Monday. But leadership instability has hurt Nebraska in a league, and especially a division, defined by long coaching and administrative tenures.
Other factors have contributed to the Huskers’ subpar results. The recruiting adjustment has been rocky at times. The Big Ten also is stronger than when Nebraska arrived, both financially and on the field.
Still, few expected Nebraska to complete its first Big Ten decade at 68-55, 43-41 in conference play. Since 2011, Nebraska ranks 54th nationally in win percentage (.553) and eighth among Big Ten teams. The Huskers have yet to win a league title (their last was in 1999). Their lone division championship came back in 2012, which preceded a 70-31 loss in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin, a team only in the game because both Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible.
The extended stretch of mediocrity is jarring for a Nebraska program that won five national titles between 1970 and 1997. From 1963 to 2001, the Huskers captured 22 conference championships (outright or shared) and logged 28 AP top-10 finishes and 22 seasons with 10 or more wins. During the span, Nebraska had only 11 seasons with three or more losses, none with more than four and none with more than three between 1969 and 2001.
The Huskers now have lost five or more games in five of the past six seasons.
“Nebraska is struggling to find its foothold from a leadership standpoint, a style standpoint, a recruiting standpoint,” said Damon Benning, a former Huskers I-back who played on national title teams in 1994 and 1995, and now hosts a daily sports talk radio show in Omaha. “Meanwhile, the conference just keeps getting better and better.
“A double whammy.”
The question is how much of Nebraska’s struggles can be attributed to joining the Big Ten, and how much can be tied to internal reasons. To find out, ESPN spoke to people in and around Nebraska’s program since the Big Ten arrival. Some were granted anonymity to speak freely about what they observed. Attempts to interview Frost and Moos were unsuccessful.