The crown should not be awarded without extensive deliberation. The competition is stiffer than a north November wind.
We must dig deep into our memories. Sift through the carnage in pursuit of truth. On such an important matter, we must not be prisoners of the moment.
But Nebraska — a 16-point favorite — lost to Illinois 41-23 Saturday inside a nearly empty Memorial Stadium, a performance so ugly that cardboard cutouts would’ve streamed for the exits after three quarters if only they could. A performance so putrid that alternate jerseys must be retired forever. A performance so skunky that Scott Frost could spend Thanksgiving week in a steam bath and he still wouldn’t wash it off.
We’ve witnessed too many debacles to ask this question lightly. But ask we must …
Was that the worst Nebraska football performance in 59 years?
I know, I know. Typical hyperbole, right? Recency bias? But the combination of opponent (bad), margin of defeat (bad) and general aesthetics (minus-5 turnover margin?) puts Saturday’s loss in exclusive company.
These are the contenders for worst Husker loss since the woeful Bill Jennings era:
» Minnesota 2017: Total no-show. Vegas called it a pick-em, but Minnesota returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and it got worse from there. The final margin (54-21) could’ve been worse against an opponent that finished 5-7. Argument against? At least it was on the road.
» Purdue 2015: Mike Riley, a seven-point favorite, got whacked by a Boilermaker team that finished 2-10. A Ryker Fyfe garbage-time surge reduced the deficit (55-45), but not the embarrassment.
» Wisconsin 2012: Just because of the shock, right? Midway through the third quarter, the Badgers had 63 points and 539 rushing yards. Giving up 70 in a conference championship game leaves an infamous mark in history.
» Iowa State 2009: Nebraska was a three-touchdown favorite against the injury-riddled Cyclones, but committed eight turnovers, including four inside the ISU 5-yard line, en route to a 9-7 loss. Baffling, but at least close. ISU finished 7-6.
» Oklahoma State 2007: Tom Osborne and the 1997 national champs led the Huskers out of the tunnel then watched the Cowboys, who finished 7-6 that season, take a 38-0 lead. Two days later, Athletic Director Steve Pederson was put out of his misery.
» Texas Tech 2004: In a 12-minute span of the second half, Texas Tech scored seven touchdowns, Bill Callahan hung backup QB Beau Davis out to dry and the offense committed five turnovers in 10 snaps. The most lopsided defeat in school history (70-10). Tech finished 8-4.
» Iowa State 1992: Osborne’s only loss to a sub-.500 team came after huge wins over Colorado and Kansas. The 19-10 margin wasn’t bad, but the shock was unforgettable. Somebody tackle Marv Seiler!
» Oklahoma 1968: Bob Devaney’s biggest humiliation, 47-0 in Norman as Steve Owens scored five touchdowns. The Sooners, 7-4 in 1968, were good but not exactly a juggernaut.
As you read the list, you probably noticed that it’s hard to find a blowout loss against a bad opponent. We’ll see where Illinois goes from here, but Nebraska appears to have sunk to rare depths Saturday. Football hell, you might say.
To play like that, on their home field, against an opponent that will surely finish below .500? Highly unusual.
Was it bad enough to earn the crown of worst Nebraska football performance since 1961? Probably not. The surroundings of this season are too extreme. The expectations at this point are too low. We’re desensitized to the agony.
But this much is indisputable: 28 games into the Frost era, we shouldn’t be asking this question.