But as the years mounted in the wait for a first conference title since 1999, chatter about a return to greatness in Lincoln drew dismissive looks from outside the borders of this state.
Then at some point over the past decade, the talk all but stopped in every corner of Nebraska.
A return to the 1990s, when the Cornhuskers won 60 of 63 games over five seasons and a share of three national titles? They would be advised to first avoid embarrassing home losses and join the 42 Power 5 programs that have won 11 games in a season since 2001 -- incidentally also the last year Nebraska beat a top-five foe.
The '90s became something of a sore subject, a source of discontent even among the people who work in the football and administrative offices of the building named after Tom Osborne on the north end of Memorial Stadium.
That is, until a big piece of a bygone era marched back into their lives.
New coach Scott Frost has made it fashionable again to long for the glory years. He has allowed a generation of fans who have never experienced a championship season to dream big and empowered those who remember it to talk openly about their feelings.
Just two months into Frost’s return, visions of greatness are wildly premature. They’re a symptom, in fact, of Frost Fever -- a condition that has taken hold here since the school announced on Dec. 2 the return of its former national championship-winning quarterback and native son. Frost directed UCF to a 13-0 season last fall in his second year as a head coach.
“He’s a rock star,” said athletic director Bill Moos, plucked from Washington State in October to make the decisions amid a 4-8 season that led to Frost's hire. “Nebraskans love him. They remember him. He gives them hope that the days of yesteryear can come back. And they can.”
In the past week alone, Frost Fever produced a sellout of the April 21 spring game -- 85,000 tickets claimed, most at $10 a pop in less than two days -- and much clamoring over the results of a recruiting class ranked 21st nationally.
Frost and his staff, transplanted in whole from UCF, pulled in 24 signees to build a class that sat outside the top 40 in the rankings two months ago. They landed eight prospects from Florida and won signing-day decisions for coveted targets from the Sunshine State, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and California.
“It’s one of the few times ever in college football where everything has been aligned,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said. “Where the administration, the school, the students, the fans, the alumni, the state, they all wanted one guy to be the head coach. And he became the head coach.”
Frost’s straight talk possesses widespread appeal.
“Our goal is going to be simple,” the 43-year-old coach said. “It’s going to be to get better, day by day to get better. And that means waking up and being better than you were the day before. Any challenge that comes in front of you, you’ve got to conquer it and overcome it, put your head on the pillow and get ready to do it again the next day.
“Nebraska football used to be built on being physical and tough and working harder than the other team. There’s some missing pieces here that we’re going to try to get back.”
Not surprisingly, the fan base, which has fueled 361 consecutive home game sellouts, fell collectively head over heels.
They showed up en masse to hear the new Nebraska assistants speak at banquet halls around the state last week in the wake of signing day.
“It’s more than I expected,” said Chinander, who first followed Frost from Oregon to UCF in 2016. “I’m a pretty realistic person. I thought I knew what to expect, but Scott was like, ‘It’s going to be crazy. People are going to know you everywhere.’ I was like, ‘I don’t think so. We’ve coached a lot of places.’”
Sure enough, Chinander said, it happened when he first rented a car in Lincoln. Another assistant was identified while shopping for a mattress.
“It’s crazy that they’re that passionate enough to know us by face when we haven’t even been in town,” Chinander said.
For Frost, though, the passion runs many times hotter. Before a visit last month to Omaha Burke High School, home to three elite 2019 and 2020 prospects with offers from multiple Big Ten and SEC programs, word spread that the coach was on his way.
Burke coach Paul Limongi hosted former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel at Limongi’s old school in Youngstown, Ohio.
“But nothing has been like Scott Frost [visiting],” Limongi said. “The excitement of the new beginning that everybody’s excited about, it’s really got people wanting to get a piece of him.”
Chinander estimated that Frost stopped 200 times on that day at various schools to sign an autograph or take a photo.
He’s got a bit of a Jim Harbaugh quality that way; Frost draws unusual attention at every turn. But you likely won’t find him in search of the spotlight, in contrast to Harbaugh’s occasional brow-raising tweets and public appearances.
Frost reportedly won over the mother of Nebraska signee Caleb Tannor -- a defensive end from Lithonia, Georgia, who had offers at one time from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Florida -- by, without being asked, helping to stack chairs in the high school cafeteria.
As for the spring game interest, it’s unprecedented. Nebraska, despite drawing more than 60,000 for each of its past nine such events, has never sold out a scrimmage -- let alone sold it out in February. Last year, when the spring game attracted a crowd of 78,000, it took until March 28 to reach the same level of tickets sold in one day this year.
And that’s without selling seats to the general public (non-season-ticket holders) until the second day, when the remaining seats were purchased in 90 minutes.
The secondary market for Nebraska spring game tickets is hot. In anticipation, the school took measures to prevent resale on StubHub of youth tickets, provided for free to kids in eighth grade or below with the purchase of an adult seat.
Season-ticket holders were allowed to purchase no more than 20 tickets.
Some have connected the energy around Frost’s return with the success of the basketball programs this winter. After struggling last year, the Nebraska men sit fourth in the Big Ten at 10-4; the women are third at 9-3.
“Right now,” said Diane Mendenhall, senior associate AD for tickets, premium seating and strategic engagement, “there’s just so much enthusiasm for Nebraska athletics. Football, of course, is always top of mind.”
Moos, in his first year on campus, loves it. He took Frost over the past five days to Omaha, Arizona and California for a private audience with donors.
“This was a fan base that just a few months ago was fractured and, from my observation, filled with apathy,” Moos said last week. “I think now it’s a legit feeling of, ‘We’re going to get back to where we once were and where we feel is our rightful place -- and that’s in a position to compete for championships again.’”
The administration, you can see, is doing nothing to stop this talk of reclaiming lost glory. From 1970 to 2001, Nebraska won 34 more games than any team nationally and lost 18 fewer. Since 2002, its winning percentage ranks 29th in the FBS.
Moos’ bosses dared to get this talk started in September as they announced the dismissal of Shawn Eichorst, the athletic director who hired Mike Riley as coach in 2014.
“This is going to sound a little glib,” chancellor Ronnie Green said at the time, “and I don’t mean it that way, but I’d love to be back in mid-1990s. Right? I don’t need to say more.”
Hank Bounds, president of the University of Nebraska system, immediately added his two cents.
“The truth of the matter is,” Bounds said, “why not? Why shouldn’t we have those aspirations here?”
Aspirations are one thing. Expectations are another.
Both appear on the rise, thanks in large part to Frost, at Nebraska.
All have seen their recruiting surge in recent years, though the way each program has recruited is different. It's garnered positive results for all of them: Clemson has been in the College Football Playoff each of the last three years and won a title; Georgia fell just short of winning it all this season; and Penn State has been on the cusp of making it each of the last two seasons.
How have these programs done it?
Clemson: Stockpiling elite playmakers in the passing game
The Tigers have put together productive offensive attacks thanks to their recruiting at key skill positions. Since 2014 (the year they signed Deshaun Watson), the Tigers have signed eight quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends who ranked in the top three nationally at their position. That's more than any other program in the FBS over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
This year is no different, with Clemson signing the nation's No. 1 pocket passer QB prospect, Trevor Lawrence (who is No. 2 overall in the ESPN 300).
Of course, it doesn't hurt when you've been as successful as the Tigers have been on the defensive line too, another key part of their recent success.
Georgia: Keeping top in-state prospects home
Georgia is one of the nation's most fertile recruiting lands, and since Kirby Smart took over the program, the Bulldogs have done a good job protecting their home state.
In the last two recruiting classes, the state of Georgia has produced 12 prospects ranked in the top 50 of the ESPN 300, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Bulldogs have signed nine of those, none bigger, perhaps, than this year's No. 1 overall player: dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields, who hails from Kennesaw, Georgia.
Penn State: Creating high-end depth in front seven
The Nittany Lions have made it a point to attack defensive line and linebacker. Chances are, if you're really good there, you're going to win a lot of football games.
In the last four years, Penn State has signed 13 prospects in the ESPN 300 who were from one of those two positions. That's the second most in the Big Ten and eighth most in the FBS in that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
That's a big shift from previous years, when the program was hindered by recruiting restrictions. From 2011 to '14, the team didn't sign a single front seven recruit who was ranked in the ESPN 300.
Some of the top teams in the country relied on true freshmen this past season, and quite a few might be doing much of the same in the 2018 season. As signing day approaches, some of the players putting their names on the dotted line could be starring on the field in August.
Without the 2017 recruiting class, we might have seen a completely different outcome in the national championship game. Alabama’s leaders in passing, receiving and rushing were all true freshmen, and they all played large roles in the overtime win for the Tide.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, receiver DeVonta Smith and running back Najee Harris all helped Alabama beat a Georgia team that was also led by a true freshman at quarterback in Jake Fromm. The performance throughout the entire season from Fromm led him to the best QBR among true freshmen at 81.1, and No. 9 of any FBS quarterback.
Without those instant-impact freshmen, these two teams probably would have had very different seasons.
Alabama and Georgia weren’t the only ones with outstanding performances from first-year players, though. Wisconsin and Ohio State had the two leading rushers in the conference with Jonathan Taylor and J.K. Dobbins, both true freshmen. Taylor had the most rushing yards by a true freshman in FBS history with 1,977, while Dobbins had a conference-best 7.2 yards per carry with 1,403 yards.
There were four first-year running backs who rushed for 1,000 yards with Cam Akers at Florida State and AJ Dillon at Boston College joining Taylor and Dobbins. Often overlooked because of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Georgia has a true freshman running back in D'Andre Swift who played a role late in the season, rushing for more than 600 yards and 7.6 yards per carry.
The Dawgs will be without Chubb and Michel next season, so Swift will be counted on even more, but the staff has two prospects coming in the 2018 class who could be the next impact freshmen at running back. Zamir White and James Cook, the No. 1 and 3 ranked running backs in the class, are signed and could become stars with an opportunity to play in Athens.
Penn State is in a similar position as Georgia, trying to replace star running back Saquon Barkley, who is off to the NFL. The Nittany Lions have Miles Sanders already on the roster and have signed Ricky Slade, the No. 2 running back in the 2018 class.
Penn State is looking to fill a few voids on offense as Barkley, receiver DaeSean Hamilton and tight end Mike Gesicki will all be gone next season. Those three players accounted for 3,325 yards from scrimmage, which was 56 percent of the team’s yards, as well as 39 total touchdowns, which was 57 percent of the offensive touchdowns scored.
Slade should provide a boost in Barkley’s place, and the coaches are hoping five-star receiver Justin Shorter and ESPN 300 tight ends Patrick Freiermuth and Zack Kuntz also can pitch in for new offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne.
The Nittany Lions return quarterback Trace McSorley, who threw for 3,570 yards and 28 touchdowns, adding 11 more scores on the ground. Georgia is returning Fromm, and while he was on the list of standout first-year players, he still could get pushed from 2018 quarterback signee Justin Fields, the No. 1 quarterback in this class.
Not every team is that lucky to have the depth and consistency at quarterback, and a few teams might look to true freshmen for help. USC saw starting quarterback Sam Darnold leave for the NFL with only redshirt freshman Matt Fink and true freshman Jack Sears on the roster.
That decision by Darnold helped trigger J.T. Daniels to reclassify from the 2019 class to the 2018 class, and now Daniels will have a shot at playing for the Trojans in August. After reclassifying, Daniels was ranked as the No. 3 pocket-passer in the 2018 class despite technically being a year behind the current prospects.
Daniels finds himself behind Jacob Sirmon, who is committed to Washington, and Trevor Lawrence, a Clemson signee. Lawrence is joining a Tigers roster that has incumbent starter Kelly Bryant and Hunter Johnson, who was the No. 1 ranked pocket-passer in the 2017 class.
Lawrence, the No. 2 overall recruit, was named the 2017 Maxwell Football Club offensive national high school player of the year, though. He is also the highest-ranked quarterback recruit in the ESPN 300 era for Clemson, ahead of Deshaun Watson, who was No. 16 overall.
As an early enrollee, Lawrence could play himself onto the field in his first season despite having some talented players in front of him.
Who knows, maybe a few of these names will impact the next national championship the way a few true freshmen helped change this season’s title game.
The Wolverines aren’t struggling in recruiting, currently holding the No. 13-ranked class, but that is a drop from their past two classes -- both ranked No. 6 overall. The 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes had a combined 33 ESPN 300 commitments, while the current 2018 class has five and won’t have Ric Flair and Tom Brady celebrating its arrival.
After going 8-5 this past season, with another loss to Ohio State, the Wolverines have reasons to stay quiet. But that hasn’t stopped Harbaugh from trying to re-energize the staff. In this offseason, Harbaugh added Al Washington and Sherrone Moore to strengthen the on-field product and the recruiting that goes with it.
“I know that working with those guys the last couple weeks, I’m really excited,” Michigan safeties coach Chris Partridge said. “They have a heck of an energy, they take pride in recruiting. It’s important to them, and I feel energized by those guys. Recruiting is what I love to do and what I’m passionate about, and they’re even giving me a jolt.”
While Michigan's current class isn't ranked as highly as in recent years, according to some recruits, that could be attributed to the product on the field.
“Recruits go to the mainstream schools that are having a lot of success in the moment, if you look at Georgia and how they’re doing,” said ESPN 300 tight end Mustapha Muhammad, a Michigan commit. “In Michigan’s case, we didn’t have the best year and that’s why we missed on a few guys.”
Muhammad is one of the top tight ends in the class and was pursued by quite a few programs. He felt confident with what Michigan had to offer, but still acknowledges that the new hires are already bringing more energy to the recruiting trail for the Wolverines.
The No. 44-ranked prospect out of Texas already has met with Moore, who will be his new tight ends coach. And although the meeting was for only a short period of time, Muhammad already recognized the appeal that Moore will bring for future targets.
“I feel like recruits tend to go places that have coaches that are more exciting than the average recruiter,” Muhammad said. “… And with Coach Moore, he’s a younger guy and he played in college. He went to a big-time university in Oklahoma and I feel like any other tight end, once they meet him, they would love to play for him.”
Michigan has seen some coaching turnover in the past few years, losing running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley, defensive coordinator DJ Durkin, passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch and recruiting director Matt Doherty, among others. The problem, at least when it comes to recruiting, has come with hiring coaches from the NFL. Adding coaches with college experience has allowed the new arrivals to immediately start recruiting for their new team.
The new coaches won’t just need to help re-energize recruiting, they’ll also need to make an impact on the field. Harbaugh is nowhere near the hot seat, but it seemed almost necessary that changes be made to move the program forward after what happened in 2017.
If their impact on the field matches their impact in recruiting, Michigan could help quiet the questions instead of the recruiting. It’s not like Michigan is asking them to do a sleepover or make a rap video. The Wolverines still have Harbaugh if it’s needed again in recruiting.
“I think these guys came in with the right attitude,” Partridge said. “They’re young, they’re hungry and they love the relationships of the recruiting game. With that, and how they coach, I think this is going to take us to a whole new level.”
A full Saturday slate may seem impossibly far away, but the sport's opening weekend is stuffed with matchups that should once again make it worth the wait. To help take the sting out of your first day of college football withdrawal, here's a look at a few of the Week 1 games in 2018 that are worth marking down on your brand-new calendars.
Alabama vs. Louisville (Orlando, Florida)
The champs are back, and they just might have a new frontman. What will next year bring for instant hero Tua Tagovailoa? What about the 25-2 talented starter he replaced, Jalen Hurts? There may not be a more interesting question in the college football offseason for a team that will likely be a preseason favorite to win another title. The first hints will come in Orlando against a Lousiville team that will be getting its first taste of life after Lamar Jackson.
Michigan at Notre Dame
This rivalry went on hiatus in 2014 on somewhat bitter terms thanks to the Chicken Dance and a blowout. The revival starts in South Bend on Sept. 1, when both Brian Kelly and Jim Harbaugh will get a chance to jump-start the season with a quality win. At the end of what is shaping up to be an angsty offseason for both fan bases, may God and Twitter have mercy on the man who coaches the losing team in this one.
Auburn vs. Washington (Atlanta)
The Tigers got some good news last week when 3,000-yard passer Jarrett Stidham announced that he'd be back for another year at Auburn. Washington is still waiting to hear if its offensive standout -- running back Myles Gaskin -- makes the same call or heads off to the NFL. Either way this game features an interesting clash of styles between the fast-paced offense that took down both championship contenders in 2017 and a Washington defense that should once again be stingy against the run.
LSU vs. Miami (Arlington, Texas)
Miami may have the turnover chain, but no one is flashing more bling on defense this year than LSU. The Tigers recently agreed to pay defensive coordinator Dave Aranda $2.5 million per year to keep him in Baton Rouge. Both groups will have to stop a healthy dose of speed and talent in their season-opening matchup at Jerry World next September.
Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma
The Sooners have to replace Heisman winner Baker Mayfield, but quarterbacking heir apparent Kyler Murray should get some significant help from wide receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb. That pairing could post some big numbers against the Owls' secondary. Of course, the lead-up to this game may be as fun as the product on the field as the Lane Train starts rolling again for Lane Kiffin's second season at FAU.
Virginia Tech at Florida State (Monday, Sept. 3)
Willie Taggart makes his Seminoles coaching debut in a home conference game in prime time on Labor Day. The two ACC foes haven't played each other since 2012. Virginia Tech should be one of Clemson's biggest threats in the league in 2018 and will provide an interesting, immediate measuring stick for Taggart's new team. We'll see how many knots Taggart has left to untangle after Florida State's disappointing 2017.
Tennesee vs. West Virginia (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Next up in the coaching debut category is former Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. His first test will be against a West Virginia team that returns veteran quarterback Will Grier and his favorite target, David Sills. Will the Volunteers find reason for optimism to start the year? Either way, they'll likely be happy when the offseason officially ends.
Cincinnati at UCLA
Chip Kelly turned the Pac-12 North on its head a decade ago. Can he do the same in the South Division now that he's back in the college game after a six-year hiatus? Drawing the curtains open on the Kelly era against Cincinnati might not provide for a huge opening statement, but you'll want to see what he has cooked up in the laboratory during the past year spent away from the sidelines.
James Madison at NC State
How about a little love for the little guys? James Madison has won 26 of its past 27 games playing at the FCS level. Even if that one loss was in this year's national championship game (against the North Dakota State dynasty), the Dukes have the best shot at providing an epic upset to ring in the new season. Any team that is willing to dial up a fake punt with three minutes left in a national championship game -- and pull it off successfully -- is worthy of some of your television screen real estate on what will be a crowded market when college football returns in eight long months.
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh has a history of slipping into bunker mode from time to time at the start of a season. It might be wise for Wolverine fans to follow suit as the program embarks on what could be a long, uncomfortable offseason.
On the heels of a disappointing finish to an 8-5 season, patience is evaporating quickly in Ann Arbor. The “wait until next year” crowd is dwindling. Michigan, which collapsed in the fourth quarter of an Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina earlier this week, has slid back to the middle of the pack in a league with an upper tier full of teams that don’t look to be going away anytime soon. The operative word for the next seven or eight months is a scary one in college football circles: uncertainty.
It would be wrong to call 2018 a “do or die” year for Harbaugh and his football team. What would the “die” in that trope really mean here?
A new coaching regime? Absolutely not; Harbaugh remains as good of a cultural fit as his alma mater could hope for and has a football mind coveted at every level of the game. So does that mean it’s time for a reality check about Michigan’s ability to compete for championships? That doesn’t seem right, either. The school has the resources, interest and recruiting prowess to remain among the programs that cycle through national championship contention runs.
The uneasiness ahead of Michigan comes from trying to fill in the blank after that “or.” Do or ... what? Insert a giant Joey Bosa sack celebration shrug here. The Wolverines ought to remember what that looks like.
Some of the same issues that existed when the older Bosa helped beat Michigan in Harbaugh’s first season have yet to be solved. None is bigger than the team’s inability to finish.
In the past two years, Michigan has a losing record in games played after Halloween. The Wolverines are 4-6 in November and bowl season during that time, and in all six of those losses they held a second-half lead. The first season of those late-game losses (three of them by a total of five points) may have seemed like a reason to believe that Harbaugh and the Wolverines were ever so close to breaking through. A repeat this year had the opposite effect. So, what’s the problem?
“Yeah, one thing, it's being able to just kind of sustain the momentum,” Harbaugh told reporters immediately after Monday’s loss to South Carolina. “Keep the momentum and then get the knockout punch. That would be what my thought would be right now.”
The problem may be simple. The solution is not. Losing late -- in seasons and in games -- usually causes the arrow of blame to land on a team’s strength and conditioning. The Wolverines hired a new strength coach last month, but that’s much too simplistic to be heralded as a fix for their issues. Other changes may be on the way.
Michigan’s offense this season bumbled and fumbled away victories (outscored 37-0 in the fourth quarters of their five losses) for a myriad of reasons that could fall on a myriad of shoulders. Playcalling, quarterbacks, insufficient blocking, youth and more have taken their share of criticism. One new player -- like quarterback Shea Patterson, who provides his own layer of uncertainty while waiting for an NCAA wavier to play in 2018 -- or one new coach won't solve all those woes.
What’s that mean moving forward? More uncertainty, which may be the least favorite word for a sports fan. The good team with an optimistic future gives its fan a chance to beat his chest while waiting for a new season. The fan of a decidedly bad team at least gets to commiserate and complain about the need for wholesale change. Michigan this year appears to be stuck in an awkward in between.
Any bold proclamations about the future of Michigan football -- good or bad -- in the coming offseason are worthy of skepticism. And anyone claiming to know what 2018 means for the capital-B Big Picture for the Wolverines is selling a bill of goods.
Of course, that won’t stop the opinions from coming, which brings us back to that bunker, Michigan fans. It’s going to be an uncomfortable, uncertain offseason for you. Best to hunker down now.
Like most football teams, Michigan has a regular routine of walk-throughs and meetings on the night before a game. To get ready for Monday's Outback Bowl, some Wolverines added an extra item to the itinerary, a gathering that included two professional hairstylists and several boxes of orange dye.
Senior defensive end Chase Winovich and several of his teammates gathered in the hotel suite of defensive coordinator Don Brown on Sunday evening to make good on a promise Winovich made two weeks earlier. They will take the field against South Carolina on Monday afternoon with long hair, dreadlocks and bushy mustaches colored bright orange as part of a pledge to raise money and awareness for pediatric brain cancer research.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) January 1, 2018
What started in mid-December with a hope to raise $15,000 (to match Winovich's No. 15 jersey) has led to nearly $400,000 in donations to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Initiative.
Winovich picked that cause in memory of Chad Carr, who died two years ago after battling a rare disease called DIPG and a resulting inoperable brain tumor. Carr was the grandson of former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr and son of former Wolverines quarterback Jason Carr.
"The holidays are a hard time, and it's been a real gift to us to be able to watch the fundraiser and have fun having people remember Chad," said Tammi Carr, Chad's mother and the founder of the ChadTough Foundation. "It's what we think he was meant to do on this Earth, change this disease. Seeing that orange hair is going to be heartwarming."
Tammi Carr said she didn't know Winovich personally until he tapped on her car window outside the football team's workout facility after a bowl practice earlier this month. The All-Big Ten pass-rusher told Carr he had been growing out his hair all year in hopes of using it to help a charitable cause. He wanted to see if there was a way to use his beyond-shoulder-length locks to help the ChadTough Foundation.
"I was thinking, 'How could I help a charity? What unique talents do I have that could bring people together?'" Winovich wrote on the crowdfunding website they have used to collect donations. "The one thing I really had that a lot of people don't have is the long hair. It's very noticeable, it's very divisive -- people love it, and there's some people that don't like it."
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) December 31, 2017
Carr said she was worried that many people would have already decided to give to other charitable causes at the end of the year, and they might have missed their window to reach the $15,000 goal in the weeks before the Outback Bowl. It took about four hours to get there.
Soon after, Winovich talked a fellow standout defensive lineman into going orange with him if the contributions hit $73,000 (to match Maurice Hurst's No. 73). Other players, such as linebacker Devin Bush, offensive lineman Grant Newsome and wide receiver Grant Perry, also jumped on board. Eventually, they managed to talk Brown into dying his mustache -- which is such a defining facial feature that it garnered its own parody Twitter account -- if the donations hit $125,000. The drive passed that mark on Christmas Day.
"It's a tremendous cause. I'm not quite sure how I ended up in the middle of it, but it's all good," Brown told reporters in Florida a few days later. He told them he'd probably have to shave the day after the game. "That'll take about a week to grow it back, not to worry," he said.
Michigan regent Ron Weiser had previously agreed to match up to $1 million in donations to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Initiative, doubling the $199,050 (and counting) raised as of Monday morning.
The Carr family is hoping its foundation can help raise $30 million to name a research center after Chad on the medical campus in Ann Arbor. In roughly a year's time, they've made it more than two-thirds of the way toward that goal.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The last pass Alex Hornibrook threw before Saturday's Capital One Orange Bowl found the hands of Ohio State's Damon Webb, ending Wisconsin's hopes of a Big Ten title and a playoff berth.
Twenty-seven days later, Hornibrook looked like a completely different player, and in a game in which Badgers star running back Jonathan Taylor set a freshman record for rushing, it was the beleaguered sophomore QB who stole the show.
Hornibrook completed 23 of 34 passes for 258 yards and four touchdowns against Miami's stout defense, utterly unraveling the Hurricanes on third down, and carried the load for the Badgers' offense in a 34-24 Orange Bowl win over the Hurricanes. In the aftermath, he hoisted the Orange Bowl trophy, with a handful of oranges tumbling out. It was the only mistake he made all night.
"I thought he was really good," Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said succinctly.
Hornibrook was a bit more verbose, but not much.
"They were playing a lot of man coverage, and those guys were winning their matchups, so it wasn't too hard for me," he said. "I guess we got lucky, and I didn't throw any picks."
Previously against Ohio State, Hornibrook looked lost at times, completing less than half his passes and throwing two interceptions. There were no signs of those struggles Saturday. He decimated the Canes' D, completing 7 of 10 passes on third down for 85 yards and a touchdown on third down en route to game MVP honors.
Taylor was hardly a sideshow. He racked up 143 total yards of offense and, in the process, rushed past Adrian Peterson to set the FBS rushing record for freshmen.
Miami certainly did its share to help Wisconsin's cause. Kicker Michael Badgley missed two field goal attempts. Quarterback Malik Rosier threw three picks, including one in the end zone and another on Miami's final drive. Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after he grabbed and shoved an official in a furor over a lack of holding calls against Wisconsin.
It was an ugly finish to a season of progress for Miami.
The turnover chain was slung around corner Dee Delaney's neck on the first drive of the game, but Delaney ended up watching as one of Hornibrook's passes sailed out of his reach and into the arms of Danny Davis for Wisconsin's first touchdown. By game’s end, it was the Badgers celebrating myriad takeaways from the struggling Miami offense, and Badgers corner Nick Nelson wore a homemade chain of his own around his neck, held together with athletic tape with a sparkling Wisconsin "W" painted in glitter.
"I just saw somebody had it on, and I said, 'Let me wear it,'" he said, beaming.
Richt, normally as affable as any coach, was livid throughout the game, angry at the lack of calls from officials, including what appeared to be a clear hold of Braxton Berrios on Rosier's second interception. When asked about the altercation with the officiating crew at halftime, Richt simply told ESPN sideline reporter Molly McGrath to "watch the tape." After Miami finished the regular season a perfect 7-0 at home, it blew a 14-3 lead in what was essentially another home game.
The Canes, who reached No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings after getting to 10-0, ended the season with three straight losses and questions about their future at quarterback. Rosier set the school record for touchdowns in the game but also showcased why so many Miami fans hope there's an alternative at the position for 2018.
Richt offered little insight about the QB situation for 2018 but paced the Miami locker room after the game, shaking hands and reminding players, "We'll get better."
"It's an obstacle, definitely, but I don't think it's a step back," defensive tackle RJ McIntosh said. "It's something we have to learn from. In order to have a bright future, we need to learn how to not have these stretches of losses."
For Wisconsin, there's no doubt about who will be at QB next season.
Hornibrook endured his share of growing pains this season, but the Orange Bowl felt like a turning point. The extra bowl practices clearly worked wonders, and a backfield tandem with Taylor next season would make Wisconsin a clear favorite to win the Big Ten West once again.
It was a fond sendoff for Derrick Tindal, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native who picked off that Rosier pass in the end zone.
It was a stellar finish for the Badgers, who upended Miami on its home turf, with the one quarter of the stadium clad in red remaining as the final seconds ticked off the clock of a 13-1 season.
At Miami, the turnover chain will be back next season. So, too, will a stout defense. But the talk of the Canes reviving their glory years was still premature.
At Wisconsin, the best season in program history was also among the least appreciated nationally.
"I don't think anyone's done it as quietly," Chryst said of the 13-win campaign.
But 2018 won't be quiet. Taylor will be a Heisman candidate from the outset. Davis, another freshman, had three of Hornibrook's touchdown throws Saturday. And the QB proved he belongs.
"He blew it up," senior defensive end Alec James said of Hornibrook. "He has grown a lot. Even throughout the season, he's grown. He's matured. It'll be fun to watch him next year. He's going to do some great things."
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If Saturday afternoon was Saquon Barkley's goodbye to college football, the star running back and his Penn State offense put on an encore performance that lived up to the past few seasons of the Saquon Show.
Barkley ran for 137 yards and two touchdowns against No. 11 Washington, which entered bowl season with the top-ranked rush defense in the country. His backfield partner, quarterback Trace McSorley, added two more touchdowns through the air in a 35-28 victory for the No. 9 Nittany Lions in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
Penn State’s victory in the desert marks the fourth time a Big Ten has beaten a Pac-12 team this bowl season. The leagues have been at opposite ends of lopsided records so far in the postseason, with the Nittany Lions (11-2) stretching the B1G's record to 6-0 (with Wisconsin and Michigan still left to play). The Pac-12 won only one of its nine bowl games this season.
Washington won 10 games on the strength of its defense and allowed only 185.1 passing yards per game in the regular season. McSorley surpassed that mark just three minutes into the second quarter with a deep ball to receiver DeAndre Thompkins, which set up the Lions’ third score of the game. The quarterback finished with 32 completions and 342 yards through the air.
At that point in the contest, the Huskies (10-3) had less than 100 yards of total offense -- most of which had come on a trick play -- and negative rushing yards. Washington would rally in the second half, pulling within a touchdown with big plays in both the third and fourth quarters. But Penn State's backfield duo converted third downs at an eye-popping rate -- 13-of-17 in the game and three on their final, clock-sapping possession -- to melt away all but the faintest hopes of a comeback.
The lasting image from this game will belong to Barkley. The junior provided one last highlight in a season full of them when he jumped into the end zone at the end of a school-record-setting 92-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
With a two-score lead and a boatload of momentum, Barkley slipped through a hole near the 10-yard line, then outraced a Washington safety to the edge of the defense. Once he hit the sideline, no one in a purple uniform was going to catch him. Barkley had the space during the final 30 yards of his run to check over his shoulder multiple times and see what he was leaving behind him.
Barkley refused to look too far in front of him in the week leading up to Saturday’s game, batting away questions about a looming NFL decision like would-be Washington tacklers. He said he wanted to do his best to savor another moment in what has been a remarkable stretch for the Nittany Lions.
Coach James Franklin’s team has put together back-to-back 11-win seasons, including a Big Ten championship and now a major bowl victory. Barkley was the catalyst for a Nittany Lions offense that has led to that success; if the Fiesta Bowl was his final game in a Penn State uniform, as many expect it will be, that offense will be missing many familiar faces in 2018.
Leading receivers DaeSean Hamilton (110 yards, two touchdowns against Washington) and Mike Gesicki are both seniors. Joe Moorhead, the offensive coordinator who found innovative ways to make the most of that talent, moved south to take the head-coaching job at Mississippi State.
Ricky Rahne, a longtime Franklin assistant with an Ivy League résumé, will take Moorhead’s place as offensive coordinator. In junior McSorley, Rahne will get the luxury of a veteran returning starter at quarterback, one whom Rahne first recruited when the current staff was still at Vanderbilt. Since coming to Penn State, Franklin's staff has tapped into a steady flow of talent prospects on the recruiting trail.
Still, it will be hard to match the weapons Rahne got to use in his playcalling debut. There’s no telling exactly what the future will look like for an offense that has provided some of the best moments in each of the past two bowl seasons.
Like their star, Rahne & Co. weren’t interested in looking too far into the future this weekend. There was more than enough worth seeing on the field right in front of them.