Miami’s hope, Nebraska’s reset and more lessons for six former CFB powers

  • College football reporter.
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
  • Graduate of Northwestern University.

On Sunday, Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts, the former Cornhuskers All-American linebacker, stepped to the podium and lamented a moment he “hoped would never come.”

Scott Frost was out as Nebraska’s football coach, hours after falling to 16-31 overall and 5-22 in one-score games. The genuine, justified optimism that accompanied Frost’s return to Nebraska in 2017 was long gone, leaving a proud program further away from its championship past and figuring out what’s next.

“We’ll stop talking about championships, stop talking about things we used to do,” Alberts said.

His words resonated around college football on Sunday, but those in South Florida should have paid particular attention.

For nearly 20 years, Nebraska and Miami lived in college football’s penthouse. (Nebraska had a much longer lease.) Beginning with the 1984 Orange Bowl, when the Hurricanes and Cornhuskers played in a game that would decide the national champion, the teams were fixtures in the title chase. From that Orange Bowl to the 2002 Rose Bowl there were five meetings, and only once did Miami or Nebraska come in rated lower than No. 6 in the AP poll. (Nebraska was No. 11 at the 1992 Orange Bowl.)

From 1983 to 2001, Miami and Nebraska combined for eight national titles.

Both programs have backslid. Since 2003, they’ve combined for zero league championships and only five division crowns. They’ve hired different types of coaches, hoping to break through. Four years after Nebraska landed Frost, a seemingly can’t-miss choice to revive the program, Miami made its own splashy coaching hire of a notable alum in Mario Cristobal.

Frost and Cristobal are different coaches, and Nebraska and Miami are vastly different programs. Both will be in the national spotlight this Saturday, with Nebraska hosting Oklahoma (noon ET, Fox) and Miami traveling to the Texas A&M Aggies (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), and there are lessons in Frost’s failures that Miami can apply as The U works its way back toward the top.

The Huskers and Hurricanes aren’t the only former powers to have fallen, though. Here’s a closer look at Nebraska, Miami and four other programs that surged in the 1980s and 1990s — Florida State, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Colorado. What has held them back? And what can be done to get things on track again?

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