The Hot Seat
I don't know whether there's an official criteria to apply when you say someone is on the hot seat (i.e. their job is in jeopardy). You'd have to imagine that defensive coordinator John Papuchis is on it, if not also Bo Pelini. Mathematically, Nebraska could still have 13-1 season with a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl victory. Of course, the same theoretical logic would apply to Iowa and Indiana as well. No one's going to be betting the mortgage on it. At this point, what can we reasonably expect to see happen?
If we go just by track record, then a 9-4 season might be the expectation. Sadly, the Huskers might need to improve a fair amount to even make that possible. The Sagarin ratings would give NU losses at Michigan and at Penn State, then against a likely SEC bowl opponent in say the Outback Bowl. That would be a bit more of a comfort if the Sagarin ratings hadn't previously made Nebraska look like a favorite over UCLA. Husker fans are sick of four-loss football, but would that be enough to move Shawn Eichorst and/or Pelini to make changes?
Despite the track record, nine wins is hardly guaranteed. The kind of defense we saw against Wyoming and UCLA could put even Nebraska's bowl eligibility in jeopardy. A losing season would almost surely cost someone their job. In 2007, Kevin Cosgrove's inept defense cost the whole staff their jobs. In 2010, Shawn Watson's lethargic offense cost him his own job despite a 10-win season by the Huskers. In 2003, it was mostly the offense that cost Frank Solich and his staff their jobs on their way to 10 wins. Is there a hard line at 8 wins? 7? 6? Only Eichorst and perhaps Pelini would know.
Not Just Papuchis
It would be easy to pin things all on Papuchis if not for 2011. That season saw a number of underwhelming defensive performances (38 points by Washington, 48 by Wisconsin, and 45 by Michigan) with Carl Pelini still in charge of the defense. You could also point to 41 points given up to Oklahoma State in 2010. In 2008, there was 33 to Virginia Tech, 45 to Missouri, 37 to Texas Tech, 55 to Oklahoma, and 35 to Kansas.
A History of Bad Outings By Bo's Defense
Back in 2003, Bo Pelini's defense at Nebraska gave up 34 to Missouri, 31 to Texas, and 38 to Kansas State. You could point to defensive failures in overtime by LSU in 2007 that accounted for two losses by the Tigers in what still became a national championship season. You could point to a late collapse against Tennessee in 2005, or 35 points surrendered to Texas A&M in 2004 or the hideous national championship game outing against USC that saw 55 points by the Trojans in '04.
While there have been 2 years (2006 at LSU and 2009 at Nebraska) where Pelini's navigated the season without an ugly defensive effort. That leaves 9 years with at least one dud of a performance. If there's a pattern here, it's not one that's necessarily kind to Bo.
A Changing Game?
But is if fair to expect 14 games a year without ever seeing an opponent score 30 points on your defense? Alabama just gave up 42 points to Texas A&M and they are still the #1 team in the country. Even the very best teams get lit up once in a while. One thing Pelini had going for him was how his team responded to bad outings. If we forgive the cleanup job in 2008 in the wake of Kevin Cosgrove, then last year was the only time we saw his defense have two really bad outings in a row (versus Wisconsin and Georgia with a third being Wyoming).
A Path to Redemption?
If the Huskers win their next five games (as they're favored to do) while holding each opponent under 30 points, that should calm things a bit. Then the real test will be what happens in Ann Arbor. If Nebraska lost a 13-10 game there, there would be complaining by NU fans, but the henny-penny sky-is-falling cries about the defense would quiet down considerably. The seat may be warm for Pelini and Papuchis, but it will heat up or cool down considerably based on what happens over the next 9 games.
If the Huskers can't defeat South Dakota State this week? All bets are off.