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Chatelain: The importance of beating Iowa, and Adrian Martinez's complicated legacy

Chatelain: The importance of beating Iowa, and Adrian Martinez's complicated legacy

Sam dishes on his three keys for the Huskers vs Iowa.

In four years since Scott Frost’s hire, I’ve engaged in thousands of conversations about Husker football. If you’re reading this, you surely have too. I’ve forgotten 99% of those discussions. But a few stick in my memory.

This one happened during lunch with a friend. Halloween 2019. The Huskers, who started that season in the top 25, were 4-4 at the time. The friend, a former college fullback, confessed that he was done watching games … until the Huskers proved they could defeat a good team. When they beat somebody, he’d come back.

That was more than two years ago. And guess what? Nebraska still hasn’t beaten somebody.

» Not a single ranked team since 2016 (Oregon). The streak of 17 losses to top-25 teams is fourth-worst among Power Five schools, behind only Kansas, Rutgers and Boston College. Tennessee is the only other Power Five peer with more than 10 straight losses.

» Not a single FBS team that finished with a winning record since 2018 (Michigan State). Buffalo and Northwestern are guaranteed to finish below .500. So did Penn State, Purdue and Rutgers last year. And South Alabama, Northern Illinois, Illinois, Northwestern and Maryland in 2019.

No one could’ve imagined NU’s current drought against quality competition. Three years! It’s why Black Friday is so important to this program and its fan base. The Iowa rivalry carries extra weight, but Nebraska just needs to beat somebody — anybody — of substance.

Players, coaches, media and fans spend so much time looking forward to 12 fleeting game days a year. Then once they're finished, we spend months analyzing them.

The Huskers need a springboard to 2022. Scott Frost needs to stop these streaks. Give fans something to believe in. Something to reshape perception and morale. Something to stuff their stomachs with before winter hibernation.

He can’t erase four consecutive losing seasons. But he can beat Iowa.

* * *

He’ll have to do it without Adrian Martinez.

The quarterback’s absence complicates an already tough task against Iowa’s opportunistic defense. If his Husker career is over, Martinez goes down as one of the program’s most complicated figures.

Case in point: He’s 126th all-time in FBS total offense. Yet he’s played in just 14 Nebraska wins.

Here’s a trivia question for your Thanksgiving gathering: Of the top 150 on the all-time FBS total offense chart (all quarterbacks), how many never played for a single .500 team — or even a 6-7 bowl team?

Answer: two.

» Chase Holbrook, 82nd all-time, 2006-08. Unlike Martinez, Holbrook only played three years. His best New Mexico State team went 4-8.

» Antwaan Randle El, 92nd all-time, 1998-2001. His best Indiana team went 5-6.

Of course, Martinez might not be done. Let’s say he returns to college football in 2022 — here or somewhere else. Let’s say he plays 13 games (regular season plus bowl) and averages 307.2 yards like he did this season. Not a stretch. Under that scenario, Martinez would finish his career with 14,776 total yards.

That would be ninth all-time in major college football history! Like I said, it's complicated.

* * *

Speaking of hypotheticals, can you imagine the dinner table debates today about Frost if Trev Alberts hadn’t already announced his 2022 return? Wow.

What a contrast to Thanksgiving week 2003, ’13 or ’14.

This is one area where college administrators have gotten more savvy. Don’t wait for the end of a season to make a decision. For the sake of public relations, choose your own end point. Want to fire your coach? Do it after an ugly loss. Want to keep your coach? Do it after a win or, in Frost’s case, a respectable loss.

Makes you wonder about past Husker controversies.

If Steve Pederson wanted to sack Frank Solich in 2003, he should’ve done it after the 38-9 home loss to Kansas State. Don’t give Solich the chance to win at Colorado.

If NU intended to keep Bo Pelini in 2013, then announce it after the overtime win at Penn State. Don't wait for Black Friday and a meltdown loss to Iowa.

If Shawn Eichorst wanted to fire Bo Pelini in 2014, he should’ve done it after consecutive losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Don’t give Pelini the chance to win in Iowa City.

I often think about 2012-14 and what a contrast those teams were to Frost’s.

Pelini, during a span from September 2012 to September '14, won 10 straight games decided by seven points or less! He found a way to beat mediocre opponents, but usually got hammered by good teams.

» 63-38 at Ohio State

» 70-31 Wisconsin (Big Ten championship)

» 41-21 UCLA

» 38-17 Iowa

» 59-24 at Wisconsin

Based on the advanced statistics, Nebraska 2021 might be favored in a game against Nebraska 2013 or ’14. No joke. And yet Pelini went 9-3 while Frost is 3-8. Somehow we’re still asking the same question about the Huskers.

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Reporter - Sports

Dirk writes stories and columns about Husker football in addition to covering general assignments and enterprise for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @dirkchatelain. Phone: 402-444-1062.

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