Iowa vs. Nebraska, 11.29.13

Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst at Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 29, 2013.

Things I know, and things I think I know:

Shawn Eichorst didn't ascend to a prominent leadership role at a major university by being prone to snap judgments.

Nebraska's athletic director strikes you as an even-keeled administrator, as someone who assesses his programs in a measured manner, as opposed to someone who allows sound judgment to be tossed overboard by a nightmarish Saturday.

I'm guessing he'll continue in his thoughtful and deliberate approach in the coming weeks regarding the football program, and the head coach in particular.

Yeah, you know where we're going with this discussion.

What are Eichorst's thoughts on Bo Pelini's leadership and overall job performance in the wake of Melvin Gordon's historic 408-yard romp through Nebraska's defense Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin?

I'd give more than a penny to find out.

The last we heard from Eichorst was back in mid-August, when he said of Pelini's program: "I think we're stable. We have a seasoned head coach who has won a bunch of games. We're resourced the right way. We should be optimistic."

The optimism of even Pelini's most ardent supporters absorbed a body blow during a gray and chilly day in Madison, where Nebraska looked nothing like a team that's poised to challenge Ohio State (or anybody else) for the Big Ten championship any time soon.

How do you defend a coach whose defense just allowed a guy to rush for 408 yards in a 59-24 defeat? The Husker offense also was a mess.

Pelini said it was merely one game, even though blowout losses on grand stages have become a regular occurrence in his tenure.

The conversation regarding Bo seemingly never changes. It's not his losses; it's the nature of the losses. Nebraska can beat the OK opponents, but folds in the most meaningful games. You hear the word "fragile" tossed around a lot, for good reason.

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There's a business component in this discussion. Eichorst has acknowledged that the demand for Husker season football tickets has softened during the past two years or so. Think what a Big Ten title would do for enthusiasm. Will some fans stay away from Saturday's game against Minnesota?

Bottom line, a smart athletic director must maintain a good feel for the fan base's confidence in the head coach and the trajectory of the program.

In that regard, Pelini and his staff have improved recruiting. The class of 2015 has verbal commitments from 14 players, including five with four stars by their names. The Huskers have become more aggressive in recruiting. Credit Eichorst for increasing the recruiting budget.

Eichorst in August described Pelini as "a really good football coach who has a vision, and a plan, and a strategy. He's disciplined. …"

Saturday's loss, however, was sobering in several ways. Don't forget this part: Nebraska (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) apparently will go without a division title even though it has one of the program's all-time best leaders in running back Ameer Abdullah and one of the college game's foremost talents in defensive end Randy Gregory.

Coaches understand such players come along only so often. Abdullah is a senior who bypassed the NFL Draft last spring to chase team glory. Gregory, a junior, is a potential No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick.

Nebraska seemingly has enough talent overall to win a division title. But something obviously is missing. The fact NU once again is falling short is what Eichorst is paid to assess. He's paid handsomely, by the way, which is good — because his job just got tougher.

* The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Gregory attracts the attention of NFL teams because of his potential to be a disruptive force in the pass-happy league.

Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN's draft guru, last week listed Gregory among four players most likely to be selected with the first selection overall. The others were Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Missouri defensive end Shane Ray and USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams.

* Gordon made a nice push for the Heisman Trophy. But I'll still take Mariota by a long ways. Oregon (9-1) would be pretty ordinary — perhaps even a three- or four-loss team — without him. With him, the Ducks are No. 2 in the College Football Playoff committee rankings despite a spate of injuries, mostly along the offensive line.

* Anybody else notice the front-page "news" story in USA TODAY's weekend editions that essentially called for an eight-team college football playoff weeks before the first-ever four-team field has been set? It reeked of a newspaper creating controversy that isn't there. No sense waiting, right?

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.​


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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