Do you think Nebraska football fans were aching for some positivity this offseason?
On April 21 at Memorial Stadium, 86,818 answered with a resounding “Yes!” at the spring game.
That was the announced attendance for new coach Scott Frost’s dress rehearsal with the Cornhuskers, and tickets to the spring game sold out in 25 hours when they went on sale in February. The attendance set a Nebraska record and was the highest-attended spring game in the nation this year.
Frost, the quarterback who helped Nebraska win its last national championship, is back in Lincoln and is being treated like a conquering hero.
“That was special to me, walking out of the tunnel and hearing the fans,” said Frost, a native Nebraskan. “That brought back more memories than a lot of other things have. Just the smell of the stadium, with the food in there. It took me back a long time.”
Husker Nation hopes Frost can take the program back a long time, too — back to the 1990s, when Nebraska won three national championships in four years under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.
Spring football — like spring itself — ran hot and cold across the Big Ten, and mostly cold in places such as Madison, Wis., and Ann Arbor, Mich., where spring games were canceled due to weather. But Cornhuskers fever is running hot in Lincoln.
Last year under coach Mike Riley, the Huskers stumbled to 4-8 overall and 3-6 in conference play. Even worse, they ended the season on a four-game losing streak and were outscored 166-79 in losses to the Gophers, Penn State and Iowa to close the campaign. Apathy had set in, and Riley, 19-19 in three years, was fired.
New athletic director Bill Moos, who replaced the fired Shawn Eichorst, quickly zeroed in on Frost, and the 43-year-old was hired to come home during a 13-0 season coaching Central Florida.
Frost isn’t a stranger to rebuilding jobs. After UCF went 0-12 in 2015, he was tasked to turn around the Golden Knights. His first team went 6-7 and played in a bowl game, and last year’s squad capped an unbeaten season with a Peach Bowl victory over Auburn.
In taking over the Huskers, Frost must balance expectations with the reality that rebuilding takes time.
“We’ve been through this same thing with another team the last two years. The team we were coaching didn’t click until fall camp of the second year. I hope it happens sooner than that here,” he said. “… I think it’ll happen faster here from a culture standpoint because guys here are so hungry to do it. But the other things take time.”
Those other things include his team adjusting to a new system and a new coaching staff. So far, it seems to be going well.
“We’ve made some great strides,” said freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez, an early enrollee in January who split time in the spring game with redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia. “Coach Frost has said this is just one step in the right direction, and I’m right there with him. We have a ways to go, but I’m excited about that direction we’re going in.”
In the spring game, Martinez ran for 60 yards and three TDs and completed 10 of 13 passes for 114 yards and a TD, while Gebbia was 12-for-17 for 125 yards and two TDs. Neither, however, has been handed the starting job.
“I told the quarterbacks to just go play. We’re not going to decide the starting quarterback today,” Frost said, adding of Martinez, “The one thing that really impresses me is his composure as an 18-year-old that should still be in high school to come out and do some good things.”
With his first spring game as Nebraska coach under his belt, Frost sees a program that is moving forward.
“It’s the first step in a journey for us,” he said. “There were some guys making plays, but it was a little sloppy at times and we made some mistakes. … First spring, I think the guys have come a long way already.”