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Posted at 9:30 AM EST
8:00 PM EST. The fallout from an ugly home loss by Nebraska to Northern Illinois included a change of athletic director. It also has third-year coach Mike Riley feeling the heat despite being just a few games into a program reset centered around new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and transfer quarterback Tanner Lee. Diaco's unit has shown progress despite losing its best player, cornerback Chris Jones, to a knee injury in the summer. The offense has been the problem. Lee has struggled, the loss of bruiser Tre Bryant stalled the running game, and Riley has acknowledged issues within the offensive staff. However, this bunch has had good chemistry all along, is rediscovering its running game and is becoming more efficient with each game. The popular narrative is that the Mike Riley era is already a failure and that this is a lame-duck staff. Here's a more likely alternative: The ‘Huskers close the season strong, win a bowl game, Riley is retained, then in 2018 the Blackshirts really shine in the second year of Diaco's scheme, Lee stars as a senior thanks to Riley's well-documented prowess with second-year quarterback pupils, and Nebraska posts its best season since Frank Solich left town. The new AD may see it differently, but there are lots of positives here and we're not ready to give up on this outfit, especially when being offered points like this at home against a team we’re going to attack often over the next while.
Most of the media talk we've heard surrounding the Badgers this offseason centers around what a consistent machine the Wisconsin program has become. We'll channel Lee Corso and say "Not so fast" to that. Wisconsin has never won by out-recruiting the rest of the Big Ten, which means the coaching has to be excellent. There seems to be a general assumption that it is, but while we think Paul Chryst is one of the best pro-style play-callers of his generation, anointing him even a basic success as a head coach is premature. Chryst posted a .500 record at a solid Pitt program before being called home to Madison, and while he's lost just three games in each of his first two seasons at his alma mater, it's important to remember that it's still just two years with players that another staff recruited. Two years ago, we wrote that Chryst would fail to replicate the accomplishments of the Bret Bielema era and would eventually disappoint, but that the obvious decline wouldn't really begin until he lost rising star Dave Aranda to a bigger job. That happened after just one year, and now Chryst has lost Justin Wilcox as well. The result is a third defensive boss in three years, and while the last guy had coordinated defenses at Boise State, Southern California, Tennessee and Washington, the new guy has coordinated exactly never.
Last year, Wisconsin was fueled by the pundits' suggestions that the schedule was too tough for a big year. Mission accomplished, 2016 doubters proved wrong, but it's unclear where the needed chips on shoulders will come from this year. Wisky is off to a 4-0 start but don’t buy it, as the wins were anything but pretty and they are going to pay the price for scheduling games against cupcakes. Whether that price is now or later, we promise you that the Badgers are going to be exposed as very ordinary sooner rather than later and we’ll put that to the test here.
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