To say the next five games are critical for Mike Riley and Nebraska doesn't quite cover it.
Reality has likely set in that Riley will need to accomplish more this season in order to be retained in 2018.
In other words, he hasn't shown enough yet this year to be invited back to the party next fall.
Riley's offense, under the guidance of coordinator Danny Langsdorf, has been a source of headache for both coaches and fans alike this season. As recently as Wednesday, Riley highlighted the inconsistencies, and put it in plain terms: they need to score more points.
Here's a look at how the Huskers have graded out, at least in one man's eyes, so far in 2017.
In a vacuum, Tanner Lee's passing numbers aren't atrocious: 132 for 240 (55 percent) for 1709 yards (244.1 YPG). Those numbers alone are potentially good enough to get the job done. Not great, but not terrible.
Of course, those numbers don't tell the whole story - it's the 10 interceptions that have been a major problem.
In reality, Lee cost Nebraska the game against Northern Illinois with his two picks returned for TD's, a loss than may prove to be unforgivable down the road.
While his play has settled down the past two weeks in terms of costing Nebraska points, he also hasn't been able to muster anything to help push Nebraska any closer to victory in the past six quarters against Wisconsin and Ohio State.
If not for those six quarters' performances against near elite competition, Lee would likely be looking at an "F" grade.
There's not much to grade beyond Lee at this point - Patrick O'Brien has seen limited action in irrelevant situations.
RUNNING BACK: C
Some good, some bad, but when it all shakes out - Nebraska has been league average at best at running back.
Perhaps the great "what if" on the offensive side of the ball is what this spot could have looked like if Tre Bryant had remained healthy. He showed tremendous promise the first two games of the season before exiting with an injury, and has been M.I.A. since.
After the Bryant injury, It's been a mixed bag - Mikale Wilbon has run well along the edge, and Devine Ozigbo has done some damage between the tackles when called upon. Ultimately, in spots where Nebraska has needed the run game the most, it hasn't come through. Partially because of lack of dedication through play calling, and partially due to lack of production in key spots.
True freshman Jaylin Bradley will be one of the more intriguing players to watch over the second half of the season. He seems to posses the blend of power and speed the coaches covet, and haven't been able to muster since Bryant was injured. Don't be surprised to see his role increase.
WIDE RECEIVER: B-
The trio of Stanley Morgan Jr., DeMornay Pierson-El, and JD Spielman have certainly had their moments.
Morgan has proven to be one of the better big-play wideouts in recent Nebraska history, JD Spielman now owns the single game receiving yardage record, and DPE has shown he can be a valuable asset when teams give him space.
Beyond that, it's been an injury ravaged and inconsistent group.
Blue-chip recruit Tyjon Lindsey hasn't found many opportunities. Another pair of true freshman, Javeon McQuitty and Keshawn Johnson Jr., are either injured or off campus working through off-field issues.
Keyan Williams, expected to have some sort of role this season, is also injured.
Nebraska has been forced to dig into the walk-on ranks for help at receiver, which in the Big Ten, isn't the brightest of propositions.
In the most general of terms, receivers have struggled to get open, and at times don't seem to be on the same page as the quarterback. When they have been open and in the correct spots, drops have been an issue across the board.
Despite being Nebraska's best position group on offense, there's still plenty of room for improvement.
TIGHT END: F
To be brutally honest, it's the worst position on Nebraska's roster, and I'm not sure how it could possibly get much worse.
The tight ends can't seem to catch (or hold on to) the ball, and don't block well either - in both running and passing situations.
There are five underclassmen tight ends on scholarship right now: Austin Allen, Kurt Rafdal, David Engelhaupt, Jack Stoll, and Matt Snyder. Somebody from that group needs to step up in a big way, and it needs to happen this season.
In the Riley offense, Nebraska can't keep limping along like this at tight end.
OFFENSIVE LINE: D+
Against the best competition they've faced this season, Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Nebraska offensive line held their own in pass protection. If nothing else, they at least managed to give Tanner Lee a shot.
Eh, not so much.
At least the Huskers have seemed to settle in on a group they like with the Gates-Foster-Decker-Farmer-Jaimes combo.
Much like the quarterback play, it's been a rollercoaster of issues this season along the line. The good news is, if this group plays with the consistency they've shown the past two weeks, they'll give the rest of the offense a shot the next three games.
Also much like the quarterback ranking, if not for better pass blocking performances against superior competition, they'd likely be looking at a "F" grade.
COACHING/PLAY CALLING: C
Let's revisit one of the more controversial play calls of the season - in the first quarter against Wisconsin and Nebraska driving on 3rd and 3. Tanner Lee throws a swing pass to Devine Ozigbo that bounces off his hands/helmet and turns into a pick-six.
Fans are screaming: WHY ARE YOU NOT RUNNING THE BALL IN THAT SITUATION??? OZIGBO WAS RUNNING WELL!!!
Yes, he was. Ozigbo had runs of 13, 2, and 6 yards. Yet, what many fans want to ignore -the biggest play of the drive was actually a 37-yard pass play to DeMornay Pierson-El.
So, one must ask: To run, or to throw? Bad play call, or bad execution?
I'd lean towards the latter.
If you're a fan that ever wants to see Nebraska win national, conference, or even division titles again - no matter who the head coach or offensive coordinator may be - that's a play the Huskers need to execute 100 times out of 100.
Ozigbo had blocking in front of him, and likely would have scored had Lee not thrown the ball to his head instead of leading him.
It's a basic play for just about any college offense in 2017, and one of the easier throws you'll ask your quarterback to make.
Has the play calling been perfect? No. Far from it. But I have no problem saying it's also been far from what has kept Nebraska from winning.
As inconsistent as it's been, it feels like the offense will need to be the unit that improves to carry the load if the Huskers are going to do anything the rest of the season. The defense has a multitude of issues of their own to deal with.
Mike Riley didn't give much of an answer when asked recently if he would assume play-calling duties the rest of the year, and I don't know if it would ultimately make much difference.
But, as Riley said, one thing is clear: Nebraska need to score more points. Period.
Contact the writer: