Nebraska football is 1-2 this season. Last weekend, the Huskers lost 21-17 at home to Northern Illinois, a middling MAC team that’s quite a few years removed from the Jordan Lynch-led team that made the Orange Bowl.
Indiana basketball traveled to Fort Wayne last year, in their fourth game of the season. In front of an IU-partisan crowd, the Hoosiers lost in overtime to the Mastodons, who ended up as a middling Summit League team.
Nebraska football last won a national title 20 years ago, and hasn’t made a title game since 2001.
Indiana basketball last won a national title 30 years ago, and hasn’t made a title game since 2002.
Nebraska football is now on its fourth coach since a legendary coach retired after three national titles in almost three decades. During every coaching search, the national media asks the same question about whether the program can be the same as it once was.
Indiana basketball is also now on its fourth coach since a legendary coach was (rightfully) fired after three national titles in almost three decades. During every coaching search, the national media asks the same question about whether the program can be the same as it once was.
Nebraska football fans are disappointed that traditional Big 8 opponents such as Oklahoma and Colorado are no longer thought of as rivals, and while most are ultimately satisfied with being in the B1G, questions about the school’s move from the Big 12 still linger. In addition, Nebraska’s longtime annual Black Friday rivalry game could be phased out by 2020.
Indiana basketball fans are disappointed that Kentucky doesn’t get scheduled anymore, and that Purdue isn’t a protected home-and-home rivalry within the conference.
Nebraska football’s longtime fans will tell you about the glory days, when Tom Osborne’s Power-I formation, triple option, and Blackshirt defense ruled the Midwest, and how any kid from a rural Nebraska town could immediately contribute to those championship-caliber teams.
Indiana basketball’s longtime fans will tell you about the glory days, when Bob Knight’s motion offense and man-to-man defense ruled the Midwest, and how any kid from a rural Indiana town could immediately contribute to those championship-caliber teams.
You get the picture by now.
Nebraska football and Indiana basketball have a lot of similarities, and often times, a mythos that keeps them entangled in the past. The fanbases expect the team to not just be in the top-25 every season, but also to be a championship contender. When you’re used to contending at a high level for such a long time, this is understandable.
However, there are also a few key differences between Husker football and Hoosier basketball - ones that may make Indiana a more viable program long-term.
First of all, Indiana was on a downward path long before Nebraska was. As we’ve stressed before here, Knight never got past the first weekend of the tournament at IU after 1994, and articles written in the late 90s suggested that IU fans were ready for a change. Meanwhile, Tom Osborne retired on top after 1997, getting a share of the national title with Michigan in his final season. So the distress surrounding IU basketball has been evident for longer than it has with the Huskers, whose fans are still debating Frank Solich’s firing from 2003.
However, IU now seems to have a better formed idea of what they want in a basketball coach than Nebraska does with football. Mike Davis could never quite step out of the shadow of his predecessor, the Kelvin Sampson era was an unmitigated disaster, and while Tom Crean came the closest, he ultimately was too inconsistent in roster makeup, recruiting, and results. Hopefully in Archie Miller, the Hoosiers have found the coach with the balance they need for the job. Nebraska, on the other hand, fired Solich after a 9-3 season, then had the frustrating Bill Callahan tenure. Three years ago, the firing of Bo Pelini and hiring of Mike Riley indicated that Nebraska valued personality in its head coach as much as winning games. But finding someone as genteel as Osborne with his same record of success is almost impossible.
Nebraska's problem is AD Shawn Eichorst didn't try to hire the best coach, he tried to hire the coach least like Bo Pelini.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) September 16, 2017
In addition, Indiana has shown more signs in recent years of being able to compete as the top-level blue-blood program that it sees itself as. Like Pelini, who ended every single season in Lincoln with exactly 4 losses, Crean was maligned for never getting past the Sweet 16. However, Crean’s program showed more ability to win the big games. Obviously the Wat Shot was huge, as well as the two wins over Michigan in 2013 and the Kentucky victory in 2016, but even in down years, Indiana had some marquee victories, including wins over Kansas and UNC last season. On the other hand, it’s hard to think of a signature Nebraska big-game victory in the past decade - the closest they came was in the 2009 Big 12 title game, when Texas hit a controversial field goal with one second left to win the game.
Indiana has more of a recruiting advantage in its sport than Nebraska does as well. Back in the 70s, a school like Nebraska could stack its rosters with unlimited scholarships. As recruiting became more national and scholarships were limited, however, the Huskers lost out on this advantage. In addition, the Florida, Texas, and California schools have a built-in advantage for blue-chip recruits that Nebraska does not. However, the state of Indiana is still a recruiting hotbed for basketball - something Miller seems to clearly understand. While I’m on the record of thinking that IU doesn’t necessarily require in-state recruits to win titles, I do know there is a solid talent base in the state, and with a talent like Romeo Langford coming out of New Albany next season, this recruiting advantage is set to continue.
Both IU basketball and Nebraska football have been accused of being schools that cling to the past. Both still have been trying to figure out their coaching situations, and while Miller has yet to coach a game in Bloomington, Riley has one of the hottest seats in college football right now over in Lincoln. But with more recruiting potential, a little more taste of big-game victories, and a clearer idea what they want out of head coach, the Hoosiers may be better situated than the Huskers for the path ahead in future seasons.