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Archive for Monday, November 24, 2003

CU loss could mean so long for Solich

Embattled Nebraska coach needs victory Friday at Colorado to appease angry Husker fans

November 24, 2003

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The last time Frank Solich coached a game in Boulder, Colo., he came away with a 62-36 loss and a trip to the national championship game.

When the Nebraska coach leaves Boulder Friday, he could win the game and come away without a job.

The Lincoln Journal Star, quoting anonymous sources, reported Sunday that athletic director Steve Pederson would ask Solich to step down and accept a new position in the athletic department after Friday's regular-season finale against Colorado.

Just for the record, Nebraska's record is 8-3. A victory over Colorado, a team that needs a win just to be eligible for a bowl, and the Cornhuskers will have a nine-win season. Pull off a win in a bowl game, and the Huskers have a 10-win season.

Not many coaches get fired in the middle of 10-win seasons. But at Nebraska, unlike the BCS, it matters how well you win and how badly you lose.

It's those losses that are hurting Solich right now: 41-24 to Missouri, 31-7 to Texas and 38-9 to Kansas State. Those last two losses make a strong argument that the Huskers aren't really on the same level with the Big 12 Conference's elite teams.

Colorado was among the Big 12 elite the last two seasons. The Buffaloes won back-to-back Big 12 North titles and even won a Big 12 championship two seasons ago.

This has not been an elite season for Colorado. The Buffaloes were expected to be in a rebuilding mode, but when you give Baylor its only Big 12 win, you're not rebuilding. You're imploding.

Blame it on inexperience. Blame it on injuries. Most people blame it on coach Gary Barnett when something goes wrong with the Buffaloes.

Barnett regularly takes shots from the Denver media. In a two-newspaper town, coaches with Barnett's swagger are easy targets. This year, the criticism has been aimed at defensive coordinator Vince Okruch, as well.

But Barnett has the Buffs back on track and eyeing a bowl bid. If the Buffaloes can beat Nebraska in Boulder -- and at this point, that's not at all out of the question -- they will be bowl eligible at 6-6.

That's the ironic thing about coaching. A guy whose team is 8-4 gets fired, and a guy whose team is 6-6 gets a contract extension.

If Boulder becomes Solich's Waterloo, it's only fitting. That unthinkable loss to Colorado two years ago was the beginning of Nebraska's slide. Until then, it seemed impossible to imagine a Nebraska team getting blown out. Other teams get blown out. Not the Huskers.

Nebraska went 7-7 last year, and Solich cleaned out his coaching staff. The changes worked only halfway. New defensive coordinator Bo Pelini has re-energized the "Blackshirts" and made them a unit to be reckoned with.

But after handing the offensive reins to Barney Cotton, Solich still is stuck with an offense that isn't up to Big 12 standards. Whether it's the system, the talent or both, Solich probably will take the fall for it.

Solich is well respected personally and has been a Husker since he played there in the early '60s. However, none of that apparently matters if Nebraska isn't competing for Big 12 titles.

Nebraska needs to be strong in football. Nebraska has an impressive athletic program that competes with superpower Texas across the board, but the Huskers do it in a state that doesn't have near the wealth or population.

Pederson, in his first year as athletic director, just announced a $40 million fund-raising campaign for new facilities. Checkbooks might be easier to pry open if a new football coach brings visions of a return to greatness.

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