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Take Two: Did Nebraska make a mistake firing Bo Pelini?

Nebraska sent Bo Pelini packing, but the results with Mike Riley haven't been what they were hoping for. Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY Sports

The chances of a bowl bid are almost completely gone. The program is looking up at Purdue in the conference standings. The athletic director is already issuing public votes of confidence.

How much worse could it possibly get for Nebraska in the first year under head coach Mike Riley? More importantly, for today's Take Two, should there have even be an opening to lead the Huskers this season at all?

ESPN.com reporters Brian Bennett and Austin Ward tackle that question and assess the damage so far at Nebraska.

Brian Bennett: The first nine games of the Mike Riley era have not gone well (to put it kindly). But that does not mean that the decision to fire Bo Pelini last year was the wrong move.

Would Pelini have these Cornhuskers faring better than their current 3-6 record? Probably, although given this team’s talent level and the slew of injuries to important players, Nebraska still likely wouldn’t be a serious Big Ten title contender. And while Pelini never had a result quite as stunning as Saturday’s 55-45 loss at Purdue, don’t forget that his teams repeatedly turned in no-show performances and embarrassing collapses in its biggest opportunities.

That’s a major reason why Shawn Eichorst fired Pelini. Well, that and the fact that Pelini’s relationship with the fan base had become toxic because of repeated failures and his us-against-the-world approach. Nebraska might be slightly better off this season with Pelini at the helm, but it wouldn’t be all that much closer to breaking its conference title drought.

Hiring Riley was a curious idea by Eichorst, and maybe it doesn’t end up working out. Riley deserves time to get his own players into his system, change attitudes and hopefully get a little better luck than he’s had in this wretched fall. Talk of letting him go already is ludicrous; if Nebraska fired a respected coach like Riley one year after dumping a guy who averaged nine wins per season, who in the heck do you think would want to take that job?

Time will tell if Riley is the right man for the position long term. But there’s no doubt that clear that Pelini’s time in Lincoln had run its course.

Austin Ward: Apparently walking away from stability, consistency and annual postseason trips once wasn’t enough for Nebraska to learn its lesson. In an effort to try to regain the epic glory years that are both fading farther into the distance and are increasingly difficult -- perhaps almost impossible -- to duplicate, the Huskers have made the same mistake again.

Maybe Frank Solich didn’t deliver a national championship. Perhaps Bo Pelini’s abrasive personality was wearing out administrators and a segment of one of the most passionate fan bases in the nation. But the bottom line for both was that they won far more often than they lost, and that characteristic wasn’t truly appreciated until they were sent packing.

The situations might not be completely identical for Solich and Pelini, but look what was sandwiched between them and what that left the latter to rebuild. Bill Callahan posted a winning record overall during a four-year run that never seemed like a fit in any way for the program, but a pair of five-win seasons that kept Nebraska out of bowl games was enough evidence that he wasn’t bringing the mid-1990s competitiveness back.

But the truth is the national landscape has changed significantly around Nebraska, perhaps most notably with some of the recruiting advantages it used to possess before every game was on television, scholarships were reduced and the limited number of local talent became a more pronounced problem. Is Nebraska still a great job? Absolutely, and the move to the Big Ten has only made it better. Does it provide an easy path back to winning a national title? Not exactly.

To be fair, this isn't meant to pile on Riley based on the results. The hiring was no doubt an odd, uninspired one from the start. But it never would have happened if Nebraska had been content to crank out 9- and 10-win campaigns that would have thrilled any number of programs longing for that kind of stability and success -- and kept the program in much better position to potentially compete for a championship of any kind.