Friday, July 22, 2016

Will the Huskers Really "Run the Ball" in 2016?

To me, it's the big question going into 2016: Will Nebraska actually commit to running the ball in 2016? We saw what happened last year; the Huskers lost seven games, sometimes in mind-numbing fashion, in forcing the passing game. I'd argue that Nebraska lost at least four games (Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue and Iowa) last year because of excessive use of the passing game. Yes, Nebraska has some dynamic receivers...but overdependence on a passing attack led to far too many turnovers, and thus, too many losses in 2015.

In the Foster Farms Bowl, Nebraska unleashed a furious ground game and pulled off the upset of UCLA. But was that a change of philosophy by this coaching staff, or simply the coaches recognizing that UCLA had been vulnerable all season on the ground? Immediately after the game, I thought it was more of the former.

As this year has gone on, I'm starting to worry that it's the latter. In a March news conference, I read that Mike Riley hoped not to run the ball more, but rather merely run the ball better. I have no problem with trying to run the ball better, but I believe that in order to do that, the Huskers will need to run more in 2016 than they did in 2015. I  firmly believe that Nebraska needs to run the ball 60-65 percent of the time with this personnel.  That doesn't mean 50 rushes, like against UCLA...but it does suggest that the Huskers need to be pushing to be over 40 a game on a regular basis.

Evidence is lacking as to what direction Mike Riley will go this season...but what little I've seen suggests that Riley isn't willing to change his stripes offensively. He might have been forced to if he wanted to stay at Oregon State, but now I get the feeling that he's hoping he can recruit players to effectively run his scheme more successfully to Lincoln than he could in Corvallis.

Problem is that he doesn't have that sort of quarterback in 2016. And frankly, I don't see a lot of evidence that he's doing it for future seasons either. 

Yes, that's premature to say at this point. Certainly blasphemous for a Husker fan to say. And arguably hypocritical for a known non-believer in recruiting hype today at this point. So call it more of a hunch at this point than anything else.

So you tell me: do you think Mike Riley will run the ball more in 2016? Or do you even care?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Still Not a Believer in Mike Riley at Nebraska

I started this blog over eleven years ago primarily because I didn't believe in the head football coach at Nebraska. In the end, I was right about Bill Callahan.

Yay me?

Hardly. It's no fun watching your favorite team lose game after game after game, sometimes horrifically.

I believed in the next guy. But four losses a year (some of them ugly) weren't good enough at Nebraska, so he was sent packing. That's wrong on me, FWIW.
So next is Mike Riley, and once again, I find myself extremely skeptical that he's the right guy for Nebraska. And that skepticism continues to grow, the longer I observe the program.

Riley is a nice guy, and that's not meant as any sort of criticism. But it's also not any sort of qualification to be a college football coach at a school like Nebraska.

When I look at Mike Riley, I see a coach who was failing at Oregon State. Contracts were being reworked to lessen the impact of coaches leaving the program in a year or two. After his Beavers were blown out by Oregon to end the 2014 season, Mike Riley even admitted that his approach had to change.

Then Shawn Eichorst called and offered him an escape to Nebraska. Knowing that his time at Oregon State was coming to an end, it really was an offer he couldn't refuse.

So rather than change his approach to the game, Mike Riley changed ZIP codes and players. He tried to jam his square peg into the round hole of a team he inherited...and failed.

It didn't work at Oregon State and it didn't work at Nebraska either. Some take solace in Riley's failure by saying that he'll be able to attract players to Nebraska to make his system work here. I'll freely admit that MIGHT happen, but I think that's more wishful thinking than anything. The game of football has changed dramatically over the last twenty years as the spread offense has taken over, and Mike Riley has been slow to adapt to it.

Riley received accolades from Husker fans who wax nostalgic about fullbacks and tight ends, especially those that bristled when former offensive coordinator Tim Beck agreed with the assertion that tight ends and fullbacks were becoming obsolete. Here's the thing:  look at the NFL and college football.  Beck is right.  Tight ends and fullbacks are declining in use throughout football for multiple reasons. Andy Janovich wasn't drafted by the Denver Broncos for his value as a fullback; it was for Janovich's value on special teams.  It wasn't that Beck "hated" tight ends; it's merely a recognition of where the game of football is going in this day and age.  And in Mike Riley, I see a coach who doesn't recognize that and doesn't seem open to change.

Mike Riley does what Mike Riley wants to do offensively, damn the situation or the strengths of his team.  Inexplicable losses to Illinois and Purdue.  Even in his best game, the upset of Michigan State, fans chanted in the stadium "RUN THE BALL" in obvious displeasure to what they expected Mike Riley to do.

It is wrong. It's just yet another sign that the wrong coach was hired at Nebraska.

The defenders of Mike Riley point out that all this will work out once he gets players that fit his system into Nebraska, and his recruiting shows that he'll get it done. Well, I've heard that line before.  It didn't work the last time. Will it work this time?  We'll see, but I'm skeptical.

The hype train for Nebraska recruiting in 2016 is eerily reminiscent to 2004, though at least then it was five star recruits, not three-stars driving the train.  (Are recruitniks now agreeing with me that stars don't matter? I kid, I kid...)  For all of the hype, the reality is that Nebraska has 10 commitments in June, which is good. But let's not get carried away. The previous staff (you know, the one who couldn't be bothered with recruiting) had nine recruits in April 2014 before the Spring Game.  Needless to say...I'm not convinced.

What will convince me? Winning.  Show me something tangible on the field that gives me a reason to believe.  Mike Riley gave me seven reasons to not believe in him last season.  Michigan State was good, in the end...and the game plan against UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl was encouraging, but everybody should know not to put too much faith in bowl game performances.

I'm not rooting against Mike Riley.  I don't want Mike Riley to fail.  I just look at the situation, and don't find a lot to be optimistic about.  It's not just me... Dave Bartoo of the CFBMatrix called him "dead man walking" after showing him at -6 in coaching effect in his 2015 Anti-Coach Effect, for doing the least with more talent and resources.

Mike Riley's a nice guy, and he's doing some nice things off the field. I'd love to like him as Nebraska's head football coach.  I just can't.  I just don't believe Mike Riley will succeed at Nebraska.

I hope I'm wrong.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Nebraska Horse Racing's Death Wish

Last Saturday night, I took in the races at Omaha's Horsemen's Park. It's a fairly nice facility (as long as you ignore the junkyard just to the south), and with only a couple of weekends of racing, generates a bit of the buzz of the glory years of Ak-Sar-Ben. As I approached the track, I chuckled at the nerve of the folks posting signs in front promoting yet another attempt to bring casinos to Nebraska. I mentioned to my wife that I was surprised to see that at Horsemen's Park, considering how well THAT worked in Iowa.

Once I got inside the entrance gates, I immediately was accosted by the petition signers, and realized that it was actually the horsemen promoting this. Sure enough, the idea is that by bringing slot machines into Nebraska, the funds raised could be invested in horse racing.  That's what they are saying.

Of course, that's what they said 25 years ago in Iowa.  Once some communities had gambling, others wanted it. The competition forced the tracks to invest more money to keep their casino side up-to-date, meaning there was less money for racing. Then the Vegas gambling interests bought the casinos, and the tracks became more of a sidelight. And then, Vegas pulled the plug on the races.
In recent years, you only had to go to the Horseshoe Casino next to the track to see the difference in appeal. The packed slot rooms stood in sharp contrast to the abandoned racing clubhouse. In the end, the slot machines that were once seen as Bluffs Run’s salvation helped spur its demise.
“Slot machines pretty much killed it,’’ said David Steinbach of Omaha, a fan at Bluffs Run from day one.
From a short-term business perspective, I kind of see the horsemen's point. Get the lucrative short term profits of a casino.  And then, cash out when Vegas buys them out.  But don't kid yourself that it'll "save" horse racing, because it won't.

If it passes, it'll start with casinos at tracks in Omaha, Lincoln, Columbus, Grand Island and South Sioux City.  But then, Norfolk, Kearney and North Platte will complain and say "what about us?"  So they'll get casinos, but without tracks.  Then Sarpy County will demand one.  Competition between the casinos will increase, and the horse tracks will become less of a priority.

And then a burden.

And then they'll be gone.  Just like in Iowa.

Casinos won't save horse racing; they can't save racing. Casinos will kill racing.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

So What Does the "Art Briles For Nebraska Guy" Think NOW?

Back in December 2014, I was "that guy" that suggested Art Briles to be the successor to Bo Pelini as Nebraska's next football coach. Today, Briles was fired by Baylor, but it wasn't for any lack of success on the field.  No, it was the misbehaviors of his players and, more importantly, the lack of concern, if not complete white-washing, with the problem by the entire Baylor administration.

Was I wrong about Briles? Yes.  But truth be told, nobody knew anything about these problems until this spring.  Am I guilty of being ignorant of the situation?  Yes, but everybody was ignorant of the situation.

For what it's worth, yes I'm glad that glad that Briles wasn't considered for the Nebraska job. I don't believe that Nebraska would have had the chance to fully vet Briles, as Briles didn't want to seem disloyal to Baylor.  He wasn't interested in interviewing at that time, but would consider an offer. That was the story when he briefly discussed the opening in Austin at Texas.

But was that because he knew of the skeletons in his closet in Baylor?  You have to wonder now.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

X's & O's - Or Jimmies & Joes? The Eternal Debate Goes On

The undercard for last weekend's NFL Draft had to be between the Recruitniks and the anti-Recruitniks, each trying to use the results of the draft to validate their point.  SB Nation's Bud Elliott played with his Photoshop to toot his own horn.
Though to be honest, not all was quite lining up the recruitniks way.
So who's right?  Let's look a little closer at few other little tidbits:
Let's look at Michigan State, who's 2011 recruiting class was ranked 32nd nationally and 2012 class was ranked 33rd...and had an unranked player (Jack Conklin) get drafted with the eighth pick overall.  Five Spartans were drafted this season alone.

Let's look at Texas, with top three recruiting classes from 2010 through 2012.  Six Texas Longhorns have been drafted the last three seasons COMBINED.

So is it the REALLY the Jimmies and the Joes?  To some extent, yes.  But I personally subscribe to the theory that coaching plays a bigger factor.  And let me be a little more specific:  some coaches simply do a better job of evaluating prospects than others, and then do a better job of developing them. Recruitniks do track on this a bit, as players targeted by recognized successful coaches do get a boost in their star rankings. But it is clear that some coaches (i.e Nick Saban) do a better job of selecting top notch talent and developing it than other coaches (i.e. Mack Brown).

And coaches like Mark Dantonio do a better job of selecting not-so-highly-regarded high school talent and transforming it into talented college players.  Want another example of the converse?  How about our old friend Bill Callahan, who landed highly ranked recruits, only to get fired after four seasons because his teams weren't very good.

Today, some people want to transfer most of the credit for Bo Pelini's early success at Nebraska to Callahan's recruits.  They may have a point, but it's mitigated because of the way Callahan's players failed with him on the sidelines.

I'm not going to tell you that recruiting isn't important - it is.  But it takes more than highly ranked recruiting classes to win.  Recruitniks will point to Alabama, Florida State and Clemson as proof of the power of recruiting, but they miss the point.  I'm pointing towards the head coaches of those programs as the reason for their success.  Why do Alabama, Florida State, Clemson and Michigan State win?

It's because of their coaches.  They do a great job of selecting players and developing them into a team.

Why are teams like Texas so inconsistent?  It's because of their coaching.  Sometimes they guess right on their recruiting and do enough development to win games.  Sometimes they guess wrong, and fail miserably.

It takes both.  But it's not enough to just recruit four and five star players coming out of high school.  You have to identify players who can become stars down the line.  They may start out as five star high school players --- or start out as unknown players, like Jack Conklin or Carson Wentz.  Or Andy Janovich, for that matter.  It takes both, but it starts with coaching.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Reflections on An Even More Meaningless Nebraska Spring Game

With the advent of nationally televised spring games, the endeavor has moved away from being a meaningful scrimmage into more of an exhibition to entertain the fans. Not that there is anything wrong with that - especially for those of us with kids. It's a good chance to get the kids into Memorial Stadium and experience Nebraska football without spending hundreds of dollars.  (Even if the kids no longer get to go out on the field at halftime, sad to say.)

The cancellation of the on-field halftime activities caused us to put our plans to buy tickets on hold; the original plan was to do it the day they went on sale, but we passed on that to think about it. Then life took hold: my wife found out she was on call, while my daughter had a birthday party come up.  So really, it wasn't until Friday that I decided that my son and I could go to the game.

And the opening play of the game had me questioning why I even bothered. As Tommy Armstrong started his snap count, I took a look at the defense and noticed Marcus Newby and a bunch of reserves starting for the White defense.  Then Armstrong rolled out and threw deep...and incomplete.

Deep pass against the scout team.  I saw this act before... in 2004.  It wasn't meaningful then, and it wasn't meaningful in 2016.  Going into Saturday's game, I had hoped that we would see the top units facing off in this game, but it never, ever happened.  So I pretty much ignored much of what was happening on the lines, because I didn't have any context for whether a guy was playing well or just overwhelming an inferior player on the other side.  That left me with just a few takeaways from the game action:

Mikale Wilbon caught my eye at the start of the game by getting positive yards against the top defense with absolutely no blocking. On his first carry, he nearly got tackled for a two yard loss, but spun out and ended up with a three yard gain. Later, he did get a few snaps with the first string offense and looked as good as, if not better than, every other I-back.

Redshirt freshman Avery Anderson caught my eye more than once with some big hits and some fine play, along with fellow redshirt freshman Eric Lee, Jr. Both spent a lot of time defending the top offense and looked good.

The hype machine with recruits grates me to no end, and so the constant murmuring and high expectations for Patrick O'Brien rubs me the wrong way. So when the stadium gave a huge ovation to O'Brien when he finally entered the game, I could only shake my head.  The only good thing I can say about his performance is that hopefully fans will dial down their expectations on a quarterback who really should be preparing for his high school prom this spring. He's clearly not adjusted to the speed of the college game - and nobody should expect him to, either. He's had exactly 14 college practices; it's going to take him time to understand the playbook. He doesn't have the athletic ability of the other quarterbacks to make something out of nothing, so it's going to take him time.

In other words: he's not taking over for Tommy Armstrong this fall, barring a rash of injuries. He was the fourth quarterback in the game for a reason, and frankly, I suspect that if injuries became an issue this fall, the coaches would move Zach Darlington back to quarterback ahead of O'Brien.  O'Brien looks like he needs a redshirt year to not only master the playbook, but also master the speed of the college game.  Dial it down, fans. Dial it down, big time.

We shouldn't have been surprised by the departure of defensive tackle Kevin Williams; he's been oft-injured and seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. Greg McMullen's departure, on the other hand, is troubling. He went through most of spring practice, then decided to step away last week?  OK.  Now, let's combine it with the fact that Nebraska has now had their four most experienced defensive linemen choose to leave the program since the Foster Farms Bowl. Each has their own reasons...but still, four?

Even more troubling is how defensive coordinator Mark Banker seemed to be completely blindsided by McMullen Saturday.
Especially since apparently McMullen told the team before the game.
Why DIDN'T Mark Banker know about McMullen?  Mike Riley seemed to know something on Thursday, as he said he'd have an announcement after the spring game. The team knew. This simply doesn't add up, and when you combine it with the churn on the defensive line, certainly raises my eyebrows.

It's something to keep an eye on, as I'm not sure that this story is over.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Kenny Bell's TweetStorm Generates A Lot of Anger - And a Reversal of Boyd Epley's Plans

Former Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell launched a Tweet-storm against the Nebraska athletic department Wednesday afternoon.  (For those not familiar with the term, a "Tweet-storm" is a series of tweets where someone has something lengthy to say that it can't fit into one 140-character posting on Twitter.)  The aftermath wasn't terribly pretty, as a lot of people took "hot takes" to an entirely new level in trying to defend Bell or people at the athletic department that they thought were wronged.

For those of you that missed it:

This next one cleared Mike Riley and his staff (though many people who really should know better decided to ignore it for whatever reason.)
Some took that as a shot at Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst, which brought out his defenders in full force.
And so it went on...and on...and on. One astute Twitter user found a story from last year where Boyd Epley stated his plans:
Epley said he’s resetting school records in athletic testing and starting over for a standard benchmark.
But now that it's happened, the fallout was clear. And it wasn't just Kenny Bell feeling that way:

Many Husker fans were upset with Bell because he took it public on Twitter instead of contacting someone at the athletic department first. Bell says he tried that...but got no response.
And sure enough, the response was loud enough that someone inside of One Memorial Stadium took notice, and the newly implemented offending policy was history.
All records will be restored and displayed, regardless of testing procedure, as we want to recognize all of our record holders regardless of the timing and testing system.
Which is good news, in the end. But couldn't someone have responded to the concerns of Bell (which were clearly shared by other current and former players) before this blew up on Twitter?  A lot of awful (and erroneous) things were posted online Wednesday afternoon (and evening, it appears) - many of which won't be corrected.

Which makes this another black eye for the so-called "Greatest Fans in College Football" - can we please take those signs down now?  Because frankly, we're toxic.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Explaining UNO Hockey's Second Half Collapse

Back in October, UNO's hockey team was ranked #1 in the nation and seemingly on top of the hockey world. They opened their brand new arena, and all seemed well for a huge, memorable season.  But by mid-March, the season was over. UNO went from being a #1 seed in the tournament to ending the season on an eight game losing streak. After the Christmas break, UNO only won four out of their last 18 games.


A 14-3-1 start to the season gets wasted, as the Mavs finished 18-17-1 on the season.

What the (bleep) happened?

UNO fans have been asking themselves that same question for weeks, if not for a couple of months, if they are truly being honest with themselves. I'm not a hockey expert by any means, but I do have a few thoughts on the season.  And it's a multi-part answer.

1. UNO's start was overrated.

UNO jumped to near the top of the national and PairWise ratings with their hot start to the season. But that gave everyone a false read on the team. Sweeping #6 Mankato and #20 Vermont looked good in October, but those teams ended up ranked 23rd and 33rd in the Pairwise. Air Force ended up ranked 28th, and Ohio State ended up 31st.  And Arizona State? 59th out of 60 division 1 teams.

Going 10-0 in the non-conference was good...but not as good as it looked at Christmas time.  Even a mediocre UNO team probably would go 7-3 against this schedule.

2. UNO's schedule was backloaded in terms of strength.

UNO played six games against Denver and four against North Dakota in the second half of the season. Those two teams will play next week in one of the semifinals at the Frozen Four. That eight game losing streak to end the season?  All of those games were against top 10 teams in the nation.

3. Goaltending wasn't the same after freshman Evan Weninger injured his ankle

In Weninger's first 12 starts, he ranked second in the NCHC in save percentage (.942) and third in goals-against average (1.99 a game).  His save percentage dropped to .923 and his goals-against-average rose to 2.46 by the end of the season. He looked good against Colorado College, but after that, the freshman struggled down the stretch. He'll get better next season for sure, and let's not forget that he was playing the toughest competition of the season at the end as well.

4.  Most of the roster went into an offensive funk after Christmas

Outside of Jake Guentzel and Mason Morelli, it's hard to identify any Mavs who had a particularly strong finish to the season.  And teams need to have more than one line that can score...but that didn't seem to happen down the stretch for UNO.

So what's next?

Good question. On Tuesday, Dean Blais dismissed his two top assistants: Troy Jutting and Alex Todd.   It was inevitable that something had to change. It'll be interesting to see who Blais hires to fill out his staff - especially because whomever becomes his top assistant will also likely be heir-apparent for the 65-year old Blais.  I'll throw out a few names: 

First, there is Penticton Vees head coach and general manager Fred Harbinson. The former St. Cloud State assistant has built quite a dynasty in western Canada with the Vees and was pursued hard by Wisconsin a year ago to be an assistant. I suspect that he might have passed on the Badgers opening because Wisconsin's Mike Eaves was on the hot seat in Madison - and sure enough, Eaves was fired after a spectacularly awful season.

Next is Minnesota assistant head coach Mike Guentzel, the father of the departed Jake Guentzel. The senior Guentzel is a former Lancers head coach and was an assistant for Blais in the 2010-11 season.  One could easily argue that the Minnesota job is better than the UNO job, but I'd point out that in Omaha, he'd be positioning himself for a head coaching position in a few years, something that probably won't happen in the Twin Cities, I suspect.

Former UNO player Nick Fohr spent a couple of years working with Blais before moving onto the US National Development Team.  He was a candidate for an opening at Wisconsin last season as well; he'd make a good #2 assistant, I suspect.

Harbinson and Guentzel are probably shoot-for-the-moon hires that many will dismiss (or at least doubt). That's fine, but I'd like to see UNO take their shots at their first choices. Certainly that's how UNO landed Blais seven years ago, and that's worked out OK so far.  (Two NCAA tournament berths and one Frozen Four rates more than OK with me, quite frankly.)

This season it became clear that this UNO hockey team, while seemingly more talented than Blais' earlier teams in Omaha, didn't seem to play with the same level of speed and precision that his early teams in Omaha did. Blais arrived with a reputation for "race horse" "run and gun" hockey, but we've seen little of that as of late. Perhaps that's because of the evolution of the staff, and this might be Blais' opportunity to reset his program.  With Weninger having three more years, it might not hurt to unleash the skills on the ice and turn up the level of play.  And with the right assistant coach hires, it still could happen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

UNO Extends Learfield Radio Contract; New Station in Fall?

UNO has extended their multimedia agreement with Learfield Sports for ten seasons, building on the previous three year deal that originated with Nelligan Sports Marketing, which was later acquired by Learfield. Learfield works with 120 division 1 schools across the country, including Iowa, Iowa State, Missouri, Alabama and Texas A&M. Besides advertising signage and digital marketing, Learfield also produces the radio broadcasts of UNO hockey and basketball.

While Learfield will remain, I suspect that UNO broadcasts will need to find a new radio home next season, moving on from KZOT (1180 AM), aka "The Zone Two" or "The Deuce".  The 1180 signal is perhaps the weakest radio signal in the Omaha area, barely reaching the western edge of the city at night. The online stream could be an alternative, but more than once, I've found syndicated programming on the stream instead of the UNO game.  (Most recently during UNO's final hockey game of the season.)
But a recent FCC rule change may require 1180 AM to go off the air. When the AM radio bands were expanded above 1600  a few years ago, NRG Radio was granted a license to broadcast on 1620 AM in exchange for their license to operate on 1180 AM. Some legal maneuvering has allowed NRG to operate both frequencies, but that appears to be coming to an end with the FCC's AM Revitalization Act. In as soon as a year, NRG will need to shut down one of the their two AM stations, and based on signal strength and branding, you have to figure that 1180 will be shut down.

So who would pick up the rights to UNO sports? KFAB (1110 AM) might be a possibility; they originally carried UNO hockey when the program started. But I suspect sports programming doesn't fit with their political talk focus.  KXSP (590 AM) has a full commitment to Husker broadcasts, so that would not be an option either.  NRG's KOZN (1620 AM) has a full commitment to Creighton sports, while KOIL (1290 AM) has been the home of the Omaha Lancers and overflow Creighton broadcasts.  Boomer 1490 (KOMJ) hasn't had any sports programming in the winter, and could be an option.

Would UNO find an FM station to carry UNO games?  I liked it when the Mav broadcasts were on KVNO (90.7) and 96.1 FM a few years back; the signals were very strong. (Also strong was the jolt of hearing classical music before and after the hockey games...but that was workable.)

If I had to predict, I'd put KOIL (1290 AM) as the most likely home for UNO hockey broadcasts moving forward, with some broadcasts potentially moving to an FM station in the NRG family when multiple UNO or Creighton games are happening simultaneously.  I'd prefer to have UNO hockey move full-time to a FM station, but I suspect that might be a pipe dream.  (A good fit IMHO would be 101.9 FM - aka The Keg.)

Don't sleep on Boomer 1490, though.  1490 has shown a willingness to take a chance on sports programming, and will be getting an FM simulcast at 106.5 FM later this summer. (Sadly, this won't cover most of the Omaha area, though.)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

On The Mend: The Cast is Off!

For those of you who wondered where I went, I broke my left wrist and right thumb in early February. Surgery followed a few days later, followed by four weeks in a cast. Needless to say, with only four functioning fingers, typing has been very difficult. (Hello, hunt and peck!)  Hence, my lack of posting anything of substance except on Twitter. (140 characters is a manageable task...but much more than than that gets excruciating at times.)

The cast has been replaced by a removable brace, and I'm starting to regain the use of my left hand slowly. Hopefully after Easter, I'll be back and blogging a little more often. And it'll probably begin with a few topics that have been chafing me over the last few weeks: the collapse of UNO hockey, the questions surrounding the finances of the new Baxter Arena, and Mike Riley's backtracking on running the ball.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I Fall Down . . . And Go Boom

For my frequent readers, you may be aware of the ice rink I built in my backyard, mostly for the kids to skate.  And boy, do they love it. So much so that I decided to take some lessons this winter. Even got my own skates a couple of weeks ago so I could join them on the ice.

Which I did this past Saturday morning. Then it happened: I slipped and fell.

And immediately knew that I was hurt...and heading to the emergency room. The diagnosis? A broken left wrist and a broken right thumb. The thumb will probably heal itself with a splint, but the wrist needs surgery, which is hours away.  So my skating season is over...

...and so is my blogging, for now anyway. While I may have the time, I don't have the ability to type much with only four working fingers. Eventually, I'll get that to five, but even then, I'll need to focus on my "real world" job with my typing,

I don't know if I am going dark for a week or a month or what. I just know that I'm not able to do this at this time...and after ten years of blogging, a break may be in order.  But I feel that I do owe my readers an explanation for my absence here and at CornNation.

Take care, friends. Go Big Red and Go Mavs! Hopefully Nebrasketball and UNO hockey will give me an incentive to return sooner rather than later.

Monday, February 01, 2016

National Signing Day - or more accurately - The Worst Week Of The Year

It's coming. Neither rain, snow (#snOMAhog), sleet or hail can stop it. (Let alone my complaints...)  National Signing Day is Wednesday.  Which makes this week THE WORST WEEK OF THE YEAR.

It's not that recruiting isn't important.  It is ... though it's not as important as the recruitniks will tell you. For every Alabama, there's a Texas.  Some teams recruit well, and win big.  Other teams recruit well, and don't win.  Other teams don't recruit as well, and still win anyway.

But the bigger issue is the attention this process gets. It warps kids opinions and perspectives as they go to school; it creates the equivalent of divas. It almost sets some players up to fail when they don't live up to the star expectations that the so-called experts throw on them.

One of the most disturbing trends I've seen is that the worse your coaching staff coaches, the more publicity the school throws towards recruiting. It's how Bill Callahan survived initially, and now we're seeing it with Mike Riley.  Is this a sign that Riley is going be another "all hat, no cattle" coach?    Perhaps.  At least with Bill Callahan, he had a top-five class in his first full signing.  Mike Riley is going to have a top-25 or top-30 class (about the same as his predecessor, it would appear) this season, but suddenly, the coach's defenders are going to talk about how great it was this year.

Sigh. It's just too much to I tune out.  I have every year, and have no plans to change this year.  I'll make my own opinions about these players when I see them take the field in a year or two.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Will President Obama Wear a UNO Hockey Jersey?

On Wednesday, President Obama will speak at UNO's new Baxter Arena. I'm kind of surprised that the President chose UNO's new arena over the CenturyLink Center, but the downtown arena may not have been available. After Creighton plays Providence on Tuesday, Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath are taking over the Clink for a week.  Omaha is the first stop on Black Sabbath's farewell tour, and Ozzy's band has the arena booked to prepare for the tour.

Needless to say, this Presidential visit is the biggest event to ever occur on UNO's campus. Today, a commemorative hockey jersey was embroidered with the name Obama and number 44.

This wouldn't be the first time that a national politician has been presented a UNO hockey jersey; during the 2008 Presidential campaign, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was presented with a pair of UNO sweaters at a campaign stop in Omaha. Palin was the Republican vice-presidential candidate for Senator John McCain (R-AZ), whom Palin repeatedly called "Maverick" during the Vice Presidential debate a few weeks earlier.

Interesting to note that Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts has declined an invitation to welcome the President to Omaha.  Politics, I assume.  Ricketts is a Republican, and Obama is a Democrat, of course.

That's a sad sign of the divisiveness and pettiness that passes for politics in America today. It's a bad look for Nebraska's governor.  Contrast Ricketts actions with the actions of former Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey, a Democrat, when former President George W. Bush visited Omaha during his eight year term:
To protest or not to protest: When Bush touched down in Omaha, Neb., in early June, he was met by a smattering of protesters, some of them anti-war, some against a constitutional amendment on marriage and some against amnesty for undocumented workers.

But the city's mayor, Mike Fahey, a Democrat in a nonpartisan office, wasn't among the demonstrators.

"The mayor always welcomes the president when he chooses to visit our city no matter what the topic or if he agrees or disagrees with the topic," says mayoral spokesman Joe Gudenrath. Fahey has attended two of Bush's events held in Omaha since he took office.
Sad.  Just sad.  But not surprised.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Backyard Ice Rink: Year 4 is Bigger & Better

While football is my favorite sport, hockey has become my second favorite. It's been a family favorite activity to watch, and evolving into something more. My wife and kids love to skate, which led me four years ago to experiment with backyard ice.  The first year was a simple trial, but year two became much more involved.  So much so that now, the rink is now four times as big as it was two years ago. A new home with a flatter backyard made a rink 40 feet long and almost 24 feet wide possible.  This is year two in this new configuration, and I think I've got some of the logistics figured out.

Two years ago, I used some foot-wide shelving to create end boards, but I realized too late that was way underestimating the depth needed at the "low end of the slope."  So last year, I decided to go big, with 4 foot by 8 foot sheets of construction plywood for the boards.  Seemed like a good idea at the time: a little more size to hold in pucks and shade a little more of the rink.  But there was another problem: the larger size boards were more unstable and had issues with the wind.  Before the ground froze, I had multiple occurances where the boards collapsed, flooding the yard and forcing me to rebuild the rink.  Several late nights were spent with my circular saw, cutting the collapsed boards in half to a 2 foot height and rebuilding those sections.

This year, I set the rink up on Thanksgiving weekend, with the expectation that an early snowstorm would flood and fill the rink.  I cut all of the remaining boards to a 2 foot height to hold off any additional problems, and put down another white tarp from Blue Lake Plastics in Minnesota.  After the debacles of the first attempt, I went ahead and used staples to ensure that the tarp stays in place in the wind prior to freezing.  I've tried alternatives, such as white duct tape, but everything else was a miserable failure.

That Thanksgiving snowstorm never really materialized, and much of December was actually pretty warm, and so the rink was pretty much just water when Christmas week approached.  Then the surprise Christmas Eve storm hit...and that did wonders to get to start freezing... except that it was a mix of snow, ice and slush.  The ice became thick enough to support the snow on top, but not thick enough to support someone walking to shovel it off.

Plus, enough water had evaporated over time that the high end was snow only.  So the solution was fairly simple:  add more water and try to melt the sitting snow and build up the ice on top.  Which is a bit of a challenge, because you once you have ice, you can't just set your hose down and let it run for a few hours.  That 45-50 degree city water starts melting the ice you already have, thus sending the water under the ice instead of on top.

No, you have to add the water on top.  Just like a firefighter trying to put out the blaze downtown, you are pouring water all over the ice to build thickness and to smooth it out.  At the high end, you can stand on the thinner sections of ice because there isn't any open water underneath, and pour the water on the other ends to build up the ice on top.

Depending on the temperature, these sessions last anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes.  When temperatures are in the mid to upper 20s, they have to be shorter because the weather won't freeze as much ice.  And when it gets colder, you can stay out longer...even though you'd rather not be out there.

I've learned some lessons the hard way: the ice shifts a bit until it completely freezes, so I've got a bit of a slope on the ice.  That's something that's difficult to fix, because if you add too much water, the water starts melting the ice, and finds a way down the edge and underneath the ice...forcing the high end up (because ice floats), and then creating shell ice on the low end.

Fortunately for skating, it's been really cold since Christmas, and over the last week, the rink appears to be completely frozen.  (At least it is on the edges, and with it below zero this past weekend, I assume it's the case throughout.)   New Years' Day, we opened the rink for some light skating and this past weekend, it was all open.  The slush that fell Thursday and Friday had to be manually shoveled off, because you can't have that unevenness left on the ice.  Last year, a rain-to-heavy snow event at the start of February took two weeks to clear because the slushy snow froze unevenly, leading to ruts and a mess.

But after an overnight flooding Friday night, the rink is pretty much in tip-top shape, and the seal of approval from the kids.  They couldn't be happier to be outside in the sub-zero wind chills.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Does Marlin Briscoe's Hall Of Fame Induction Open A Window To Heal at UNO?

The National Football Foundation has announced that former UNO quarterback Marlin Briscoe will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

The former Omaha South quarterback was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 1968, with the intent of turning him into a defensive back. But after a wave of injuries his rookie season, Briscoe was pressed into service at quarterback, and became the first black starting quarterback in modern NFL history. Briscoe went on to play nine seasons in the NFL, and eventually settled in at wide receiver for two Miami Super Bowl winning teams.

This is a bit awkward for UNO, though, because UNO disbanded their football program in 2011.  It's a contentious issue to this day for backers of both football and wrestling, and understandably so. Accepting the demise of those programs is a bitter pill to swallow; there's no reason why they should like it.

The fact that it was the correct decision for UNO to make doesn't make it any easier. Football was going to be a budget drain, especially if it went to division 1-AA.  The idea of playing "money games" against power competition is going away, now that the big schools are being restricted from scheduling lower division foes. (In fact, many schools are abandoning 1-AA and jumping up to 1-A to keep their programs afloat.)  And staying in division II wasn't a solution either.  In fact, the progress of UNO men's soccer and basketball at the division 1 level is proving that the move is working.  Right now, UNO basketball has a better chance of making the NCAA tournament than any other school in the state of Nebraska.  UNO's RPI is significantly higher than Tim Miles' program, and not that far behind Creighton.  The only way a school from Nebraska is getting into the NCAA tournament is to win their conference tournament, and first place UNO stands a better chance than either Nebraska or Creighton to do that.

At some point in the next year, UNO needs to honor Briscoe, and that opens a window to offer an olive branch to the alums of the football program. Can a statue of Marlin Briscoe be erected either on-campus outside of Al Caniglia Field or Baxter Arena to honor Briscoe?  (And while UNO is at it, can a concourse wall at Baxter Arena be dedicated and decorated to honor and remember Mike Denney's wrestling program and it's legacy of success?)

Football and wrestling are gone from UNO; they aren't coming back unless someone is willing to donate tens of millions of dollars to endow those sports.  But they shouldn't be forgotten either. Marlin Briscoe's induction into the College Football Hall of Fame should give UNO the opportunity to do right with the legacy of those programs.  They may be gone, but they shouldn't be forgotten.