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2019 NFL Draft

The NFL Draft was a big hit in Nashville this weekend, but no Huskers heard their names called.

As the NFL Draft dragged on Saturday, selection after selection after selection without a Nebraska player hearing his name, a lot of people critical to the Husker program's history crossed my mind.

Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne were foremost among them. They built the program into a beast. Devaney produced national championships in 1970 and 1971, and Osborne won all the marbles in 1994, 1995 and 1997. By the time Osborne retired following the 1997 season, many Husker fans regarded nine-win seasons as a birthright.

We all know what happened to the streak of 33 straight nine-win seasons. It went kaput in 2002 with Frank Solich in charge.

We all know what happened to the streak of 35 straight bowl appearances. It went belly up in 2004 with Bill Callahan running the show.

Streak after streak bit the dust.

We all know what happened Saturday to Nebraska's streak of 56 years with at least one draft pick. I'm somewhat bewildered that neither Stanley Morgan nor Devine Ozigbo heard their names called. They crossed my mind a lot as the sixth round faded into the seventh. Five picks from the end, when an Air Force long-snapper was selected, a proud program's dignity was being tested.

As the draft reached its conclusion, former Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson crossed my mind. Yes, there's at least one glaring piece of irony in the Huskers failing to have a player drafted: It's just one factor among many in the program's slide, mind you, but when Pederson in 2003 decided to take NU football in a vastly different direction, it was largely because he wanted the program to be geared toward producing NFL players.

Well, the Pederson-Bill Callahan duo did land its share of NFL-caliber athletes, but Callahan was only 27-22 as the head coach, and the program evolved further and further from Osborne's style and culture since Solich was fired in 2003. 

In coming days, media and fans will delve hard into the recruiting by Bo Pelini's staff late in his tenure. They'll criticize Mike Riley's staff. You can blame a lot of folks for Nebraska's draft failures and really get nowhere in the discussion. Bottom line, NU has been heading in this direction for some time, with only one player selected in both 2018 and 2017, and only two in 2013.

Did I mention Scott Frost crossed my mind a lot Saturday? Nebraska's draft clunker underscores the challenging nature of his immediate task at hand. It certainly helps explain the Huskers' back-to-back 4-8 records.

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Alas, there's a silver lining in this otherwise embarrassing weekend for a proud program. That is, it might be a harsh reminder for some Nebraska fans that the program under Frost won't just easily snap back into winning nine games per season.

In that regard, another sobering reality: Check out the list of seniors on the 2019 Nebraska roster. You won't find a player who you can say for certain will be drafted in the first four rounds next year.

In fact, the offense has no apparent draft picks, period, among its seniors. Of course, that could change if someone along the lines of Mike Williams or Jaron Woodyard enjoys a breakout season.

The defense appears to have a better crop of NFL prospects, most notably Lamar Jackson, Mohamed Barry, Tyrin Ferguson, Darrion Daniels and twins Khalil and Carlos Davis. But a few of those guys will need to raise their game significantly in order to hear their name called at all. There's no guarantees for any of them.

Every spring, the list of talented players bypassed in the draft startles me. Michigan running back Karan Higdon had to go the free agent route, as did West Virginia wide receiver David Sills and linebacker T.J. Edwards of Wisconsin.

You've got to be a dude to play in the NFL.

That kept crossing my mind Saturday, along with Devaney and Osborne.

By the way, Tom wasn't particularly philosophical about Nebraska's draft streak ending. He was surprised Ozigbo wasn't taken. He also noted there's a long list of former Huskers on NFL rosters — 26 as of March 1.

As for Frost's immediate challenge, "Obviously, he didn't inherit a stacked deck," Osborne said. "But I think they're doing a better job of developing talent. But, anyway, I'm an old-timer. I haven't been around that much lately, so my opinion's probably not worth that much."

He paused before adding, "It is kind of hard to see the number of years we had a player drafted, and all of a sudden to have it disappear."

Yeah, it's kind of sad. But it's been heading in this direction for some time.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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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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