A few weeks ago, I wrote about the large proportion of games that were decided by one score or less since Scott Frost has coached at Nebraska. Since writing that, Nebraska has piled up three more losses by only a single possession. With three games to play, Nebraska just needs to lose one more game by eight points or fewer to tie the single season record for such losses since 1970. What Nebraska fans have watched, through two coaching staffs now, is historically rare. Jack Mitchell frequently says he wouldn’t wish this kind of heartbreak on his worst. Very few over the years know how we feel.
For the purposes of this exercise all non-wins (losses and ties) will be referred to simply as losses. Since 1970, there have been 5975 times that a team has played at least seven games in a season. In just 55 of those seasons has a team lost at least six games by eight points or fewer. Sixteen of those 55 were during a coach’s first year at their program including Nick Saban at Alabama and Mike Riley at Nebraska. The 54 teams (excluding the current Huskers) improved on average by 2.5 wins the next season. In eight instances, did such a season end a coach’s tenure including Charlie Weis at Notre Dame, Luke Fickell’s lone season at Ohio State, and Bret Beliema’s time as the head man for Wisconsin (technically Barry Alvarez was the coach for Wisconsin in the six point Rose Bowl loss, however).
Nebraska is currently one of those 55 teams with three games left to play. Of the 55 teams, nine have managed to lose a record setting 7th single-score game in a season, most recently the 2016 Fighting Irish. These nine programs averaged an improvement the next season of 2.9 wins although Frank “Muddy” Waters and Chuck Amato’s teams would be led by a new coach the following season.
But this current iteration of the Huskers isn’t the only team on the verge of making history. Over Scott Frost’s four-season tenure, he’s tied for the most one possession losses, 18, in a four-year span. This despite only having coached one full season of games at Nebraska so far. Chuck Amato’s Wolfpack also lost 18 such games during his final four seasons coaching. The current head coach at Eastern Michigan, Chris Creighton, was able to achieve the same feat at from 2017-2020 with the Eagles.
Scott Frost isn’t alone in record setting performances in this category at Nebraska. Mike Riley’s first season at Nebraska, he also managed to lose six one-possession games. Since Nebraska fired Bo Pelini, the Huskers have lost 29 games by fewer than eight points (including the 2014 Holiday Bowl). Over the last 51 years only 1988-1994 New Mexico has managed to lose as many close games as the Huskers have over the last seven seasons. Like the Huskers, the Lobos had two coaches over their seven year stretch – Mike Sheppard and Dennis Franchione.
I’m sure reading this article will have confirmed your priors. If Trev Alberts elects to give Frost another season, a 2-3 game improvement is almost certain between an easier schedule and positive regression in these close games. Frost also inherited a team that already struggled to win close games and needed to change the culture. However, after four years its hard to find obvious steps forward within the program. The only thing I’m confident about is that we are witnessing something that not many fan bases have been through. Come Black Friday, Husker Nation might be in a place that no fan base has been for at least 50 years.
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