The biggest headlines of the day were written Saturday morning without a minute of football played in America’s heartland, when a confluence of unfortunate events led to a mob of Nebraska fans feeding the ever-hungry ego of college football’s most controversial iconic former head coach.
“We want Urban!” they chanted toward a smug and grinning Urban Meyerholding back a crowd of fans on the set of Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff weekly pregame show in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Like everything in sports these days, some of this scene was just made for TV. Even the Fox crew was worried about the Big Red faithful entering Saturday’s matchup with old rival Oklahoma after losing to Clay Helton’s Georgia Southern Eagles the week before. The result led to the immediate firing of Nebraska alum Scott Frost.
But some of the love showered on Meyer, a former coach who won national championships at Florida and Ohio State, was also very real. They are. Do. He wants City. Despite all his past problems and the inevitable baggage that comes with it.
If you felt confused, it should have made more sense as the rest of Saturday unfolded — especially how it ended with Lincoln Riley’s No. 7 USC Trojans methodically taking down one of the most brutal underdogs out there — Fresno State. Bulldogs — 42-17 in front of a national crowd.
In his third game under Riley, USC was cold with accuracy, which certainly paid off when they took Riley out of Oklahoma in the middle of the night last November.
The Trojans, who will travel to play undefeated Oregon State next Saturday, improved from week two to week three. As at Stanford, the game was never in doubt — USC scored on its first three drives to take a 21-3 lead — but this time there was no letdown in the second half. The Trojans are now 10-0 in the turnover battle.
Three weeks into this season, judgments about which coaches are elite — and therefore worth an astronomical investment — aren’t any quicker.
Regardless of what happens from here in 2022, USC is proof that the right head coaching hire can take a completely new and refreshing trajectory after one strategic season. When you see Riley’s team at 3-0, you have to squint to see 4-8 in the rearview mirror.
There were plenty of examples to the contrary on Saturday. Once again, Notre Dame struggled under first-year coach Marcus Freeman. If not for a Hail Mary pass from California quarterback Jack Plummer in Notre Dame’s end zone, the Fighting Irish would have gone to overtime against the Golden Bears. Instead, Notre Dame was held 24-17. Freeman won his first game as the program’s head coach after three losses to start his tenure, including last week’s home loss to Marshall at Bowling Green on Saturday.
“Football games are hard to win,” Freeman said later.
So far, it hasn’t looked difficult for USC. That moment will come, but it arrived faster in Florida, where Brian Kelly lost its Florida debut to Louisiana State and Billy Napier’s Gators had a South Florida field goal away from a horrendous overtime trip on Saturday.
No such fear has entered the atmosphere among USC fans yet.
“My Saturday nights are better now” Fox radio host Colin Cowherd tweeted, an ardent follower of the Trojans. “True happiness #FightOn.”
Note that his tweet came in the first quarter. Against a venerable Fresno State team that beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl last season, the game ended so quickly.
Riley’s turnaround of the Trojans may be a toxin disguised as a potion for a program at Nebraska, as appealing as it may seem from afar.
Of course, Nebraska and USC share the trait of traditional blue bloods falling on hard times in the 2010s. As of June, they also left their conference to join the Big Ten, albeit ten years apart. The commonalities really end there.
Ironically, a year after the Trojans canned Clay Helton for two losses due to an embarrassing game, the Huskers said goodbye to Scott Frost as he lost to Helton, who is now the coach at Georgia Southern.
Nebraska could have acquired Frost on Oct. 1 for $7.5 million, but was so desperate to move on that it agreed to pay him $15 million early last week.
For many reasons — chief among them its proximity to talented recruits — Nebraska is unlikely to rebuild as quickly as USC has under Riley. Everyone knows that, which is why the Cornhuskers won’t be able to poach a coach from a major program like the Trojans.
His native son Frost was the tenant of the house, and he breathed. Every Saturday, the desperation for relevance — to feel the way USC fans feel now — has only grown. Urban Meyer — despite being fired less than a full season into his disastrous tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars and questions about how he handled domestic abuse allegations involving Ohio State employees — is the clearest path through the corn maze.
There are other interesting options to pursue in Nebraska. Interesting, not intoxicating.
Washington’s Kalen DeBoer, more quietly than Riley, revitalized his program after one season. The Huskies rolled past No. 11 Michigan State 39-28 on Saturday night in Seattle.
Kansas’ Lance Leipold, who has won every head coaching job he’s had, has the Jayhawks 3-0 for the first time since 2009 after impressive back-to-back road wins at West Virginia and Houston.
Those kinds of traditional candidates might make great hires for Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts, but they won’t get the crowd chanting lustily.
Since Nebraska won’t be applying for a guy like Lincoln Riley, the school will feel pressure to consider a guy like Urban Meyer to have the same effect.
The Pac-12 title race got even more interesting on Saturday when Washington defeated Michigan State and No. 25 Oregon beat No. 12 Brigham Young 41-20.
Led by Indiana transfer quarterback Michael Penix Jr., the Huskies look capable of competing with Utah and USC. DeBoer, from Fresno State, deserves a ton of credit for bringing this offense back to life after years of boring, predictable play.
Dan Lanning picked up his first major win just two weeks removed from a humiliating loss against Oregon coach Georgia. Auburn transfer quarterback Bo Nix may have played his best college game.
Add in Washington State, which improved to 3-0 and has a win at Wisconsin in its back pocket, and this is the best the Pac-12 has looked as a whole since 2016.
UCLA’s verdict is still out
UCLA looks certain to be in trouble after needing a last-second field goal to beat South Alabama. After all, this is Chip Kelly’s fifth year.
The Bruins will need to clean up their execution. The game wouldn’t have been this close without the ridiculous unforced errors.
We’ll find out if Kelly deserves a sixth season when the Bruins play Washington, Utah and Oregon back-to-back. Right now, it looks like an 0-3 stretch.
But first, the Bruins face a formidable Colorado team.
The next coaches come out
UCLA fans remember how great Carl Dorrell was. They also remember how it was not enough.
Colorado lost to Minnesota 49-7 on Saturday and is now 0-3. Dorrell’s ouster seems a foregone conclusion.
The same could be said for Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins after Mississippi routed the Yellow Jackets 42-0 in Atlanta.
Auburn coach Bryan Harsin’s days are likely numbered after Penn State dominated the Tigers 41-12.
Future Big Ten rankings
1. Ohio State
4. Penn State
5. Minnesota (up to 2)
6. Wisconsin (up to 3)
7. Michigan State (2 down)
8. Maryland (up to 2)
9. UCLA (down 1)
10. Purdue (4 down)
12. Iowa (up 1)
13. Indiana (1 down)