No coach can equal Bo Pelini’s ability to win all but 4 games in a season. Pelini lost exactly 4 times in each of his 6 full seasons in Lincoln (he was fired in 2014 after finishing 9-3, before Nebraska’s Holiday Bowl loss, depriving him of a seventh straight 4 loss season).
Well, I say Bo Pelini’s still got it. If Mike Riley went missing and Pelini were re-hired this week, he would undoubtedly lead this young 2017 Cornhuskers team to another 9-4 season.
Here’s how it would go down:
Tanner “Wasn’t Great at Tulane” Lee would look shaky at QB in the opener against Arkansas State, but Pelini’s defense would play well enough to notch a too-close win that disconcerted the fanbase. Then, Pelini would reprise his mastery at losing early season games to the Pac 12, falling at Autzen in Oregon. It wouldn’t be close, Willie Taggart getting the best of Pelini in a game considered a barometer for both teams.
In the wake of the Oregon loss, Nebraska fans, who demand top teams despite residing in one of the most recruit-poor regions in America, would call for Pelini’s head. The AD would offer a tepid endorsement and Pelini’s seat would be considered among the hottest in the country.
Then, behind strong performances by Husker backs Tre Bryant and Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska would rattle off comfortable wins against Northern Illinois, Rutgers, and Regular Illinois, jumping to a 4-1 record with home games against Wisconsin and Ohio State looming. But, as they did in the 2012 Big Ten Championship game, Nebraska would get absolutely demolished by the Badgers, with Bradrick Shaw running wild. The fans would be beside themselves and want Pelini blood. SportsCenter would speculate about the state of the program. Tommie Frazier would make a critical comment of Pelini on a radio show and fan the fire.
Embattled, Pelini and the Huskers would prepare for an undefeated, top five Ohio State team. They’d be 9 point dogs in Lincoln, written off. And fans would boo Pelini throughout a sloppy first half. Many would leave with the Huskers down double digits in the middle of the third quarter. But that’s when Bo would conjure some of his patented mid-season magic and orchestrate an unlikely comeback to the great chagrin of Urban Meyer. Tanner Lee would shine, JT Barrett would get bottled up, and Nebraska would gut out a 35-34 win before a half-empty stadium.
The players, who would never have stopped believing, would drench their coach in Gatorade and jump and dance in the locker room, what would surely be the highpoint of an inevitable 4 loss season.
Nebraska would improve to 6-2 with a banal win over Jeff Brohm’s Purdue team and to 7-2 with an overtime win against Northwestern. Then they’d win another close one at Minnesota to go 8-2, and find themselves ranked #15 in the nation. Everything would seem to be going in the right direction. But then the corn would hit the fan.
In a leaked audiotape to Deadspin, Pelini would be heard addressing his team after the Ohio State comeback victory.
“These fucking cornsucking hicks can kiss my ass right out the door. We’ll see what they do when I’m fucking gone. They wouldn’t know a good football team if it went 9-4 right in front of them.”
Nebraska fans, understandably sensitive about their cornsucking, would feel attacked, and despite his 8-2 record, they’d scream for Pelini’s removal. His public apology would do little to assuage their rage.
The controversial comments would hang over practice that week ahead of a tough road game against Heisman candidate Saquon Barkley and Penn State. Whether it would be a distraction or not, the Huskers would get walloped and fall to 8-3. Pelini, his team now ranked #24, would be the most hated man in Lincoln. And eking out a home win against Iowa the next week would do little to change that. Nebraska fans aren’t here for 9-3 seasons, as delusional as that may be.
And so Nebraska would finish second to Wisconsin in the West in classic Pelini fashion. On New Year’s Day they would be overmatched, losing by three scores to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl to cap a 9-4 season. In a defiant postgame presser, Pelini would lose his temper when asked about his job security.
“If they want to fucking fire me again, go ahead. I don’t apologize for anything.”
Pelini would subsequently apologize, but would be fired by Nebraska all the same, a decision more popular with fans than the players who weathered a tumultuous season with their head coach.
Following his termination, Pelini would meet with his former team at a Lincoln high school. Leaked audio of the meeting would reveal that Pelini maligned the Nebraska administration, calling the athletic director a “cunthusker” and adding that a 9 win season should be the high point of Nebraska fans’ years. These additional controversial comments would do little to dissuade Jim Tressel and Youngstown State from hiring Pelini back.
I look forward to re-writing this post in 2018, and every year after, until Bo Pelini is rehired by Nebraska.