Sunday, September 25, 2016

Huskers Survive Red Zone Miscues In Front of the Sea of Red in Chicago

It seems that whenever Nebraska plays Northwestern, weird things seem to happen.  In some respects, the 2016 game resembled the 2012 game in that Nebraska's domination on the stat sheet wasn't reflected on the scoreboard. In 2012, it was costly turnovers and ill-timed penalties; in 2016, it was fumbles inside the one yard line. In fact, I'd argue that Terrell Newby's fumble changed the entire tone of the game.  If he's down at the one yard line, it's not unreasonable to think that Nebraska punches it into the end zone on the next play.  That would be 75 yards in four or five plays and a 7-0 lead just over a minute into the game. Instead, Nebraska's momentum complete deflates, and the Huskers only gain another 32 yards the rest of the first quarter.

As a long time believer in Mikale Wilbon, I was pleased to see him see even more playing time against Northwestern.  In fact, he surely was Nebraska's most effective I-back in the second half.  I don't think he's going to start next week, but if he runs the ball like he did in the Windy City in future weeks, he'll be starting games before too long. He's definitely earned more playing time next week.

Tommy Armstrong continues his impressive run this season; maybe his completion rate hasn't improved, but his turnover rate has. And more importantly, he's making plays with his legs and proving the importance of a dual-threat quarterback in today's age in college football. I'm not sure he had a lot of help from his offensive line today, though.

Nebraska's defense had their worst performance of the year, in my opinion.  Justin Jackson got his 4 yards per carry average that he put up against MAC and 1-AA competition, and Clayton Thorson once again made NU look silly.  Thorson had a net loss of negative two yards rushing this season prior to facing the Huskers and was completing under 50% of his passes...but the Huskers let him go 42 yards untouched and complete 65% of his passes. Can we please put the whole #LockDownU notion under a lockdown?

Good win?  Absolutely! Every win is a good win, and there's nothing to apologize about being 4-0.  Especially after last season, when Nebraska seemed to be magnetically attracted to the banana peel. But let's put those wins in perspective: Nebraska's four opponents have only won three games against division 1-A opponents this season.   2-2 Oregon has beaten Virginia and lost to Colorado.  2-2 Wyoming beat Northern Illinois and 1-3 Northwestern beat Duke. 1-3 Fresno State, like Oregon and Wyoming, has a 1-AA victory on their resume.

Taking a nervous look towards that matchup with undefeated Wisconsin in a month?  Yeah, I'm getting more and more concerned about that one.  But let's not worry too much about that yet; the Huskers found ways to lose to Illinois and Purdue last season, and redeeming those losses comes up first.
A lot is going to be said over the next week about Michael Rose-Ivey kneeling during the national anthem, joining the protest originated by Colin Kaepernick a month ago. Some will undoubtedly be outraged by the "disrespect" being shown to the flag. That's a fair opinion. Some will even call for Rose-Ivey to be punished in some manner for his actions.

That's not a fair opinion.

In fact, that's an even bigger disrespect of our flag and our nation. Silencing people who have dissenting opinions of the actions of government is something we expect in North Korea, not the United States of America. If you truly believe that America is the greatest and most free country in the entire world, then certainly Michael Rose-Ivey has the right to kneel during the national anthem as a symbol of protest.  And when you consider that just this week that a police officer in Tulsa was charged with manslaughter for shooting and killing an unarmed black man a week ago, Rose-Ivey has a right to be concerned.

In fact, I applaud Rose-Ivey for taking a stand that's not going to be popular in this state. We're free in this country to disagree with Rose-Ivey's position. The court system will determine a resolution to the situation, but if we're truly the land of the free, then Rose-Ivey is free to be concerned that a police officer may have made a tragic mistake. Disrespectful?  Not nearly as disrespectful as yelling "you lie" at the President of the United States during a speech to Congress.  (Especially when the facts show otherwise.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Huskers Clear Their Throat Again After Successful Duck Hunt

Husker fans have anxiously awaited this matchup with the Oregon Ducks ever since it was announced, and while this edition of the Ducks isn't quite the same caliber as they were a couple of years ago, Oregon is still a potent offensive team. But when Royce Freeman left early in the first quarter, Oregon was no longer elite on offense, merely good.

Meanwhile, the Huskers offense was rather stagnant in the first half, thanks to a gameplan that thought that the Huskers could run the ball right down the Ducks throat. The Ducks struggled this season stopping the run, so it made sense...but Oregon sold out on stopping the run, and the up-the-middle runs weren't working.

What was working? The runs out of the shotgun, especially with Terrell Newby, who averaged 7 yards a carry in the first half. It's something the coaches realized at halftime, and the Huskers dominated the third quarter...until the Huskers folded on 3rd and 27. Hard to believe that the Ducks not only got the first down, but took it to the house.

And when Oregon followed that with a 98 yard drive, things looked pretty bleak.  Buy that's when Tommy Armstrong delivered with the game on the line. First hitting Jordan Westercamp for a fourth down completion, and then scrambling for the game winner.

That's an aspect of Nebraska football I'm going to miss over the next few years, as Mike Riley is now recruiting pro-style throwers at quarterback. Color me skeptical that this is a good move in the modern era of football, but that's the's going to be the future of the Huskers.

Still, Oregon had a chance to score , and looked to be threatening until they were flagged for holding again. Between the Freeman injury, the penalties and Oregon's obsession with the 2 point conversion, the Ducks had plenty of opportunities to win this game, but didn't. It was fitting that Michael Rose-Ivey got the final stop after playing a whale of a game.

It wasn't the greatest game; both teams have plenty of things to improve on. But as Husker fans learned last season,appreciate every win. Iowa showed last season that football teams just need to find ways to win each game to have a great season.

The Huskers made enough plays today, and are 3-0. Maybe not a pretty 3-0, but 3-0 looks a helluvva lot better than 1-2 like last season started.

Just win, baby. Just win.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Turnovers Turn Tight Game into Blowout Husker Victory over Wyoming

For three quarters, the Nebraska-Wyoming game seemed to live up to my prediction that the game would be closer than the Vegas point spread.  Wyoming had just cut the Huskers lead to 24-17, and seemed to have the momentum after instant replay correctly ruled that a deep pass from Tommy Armstrong to Brandon Reilly had slipped out of Reilly's hands and onto the ground ever so briefly. My Twitter feed showed fans at home didn't see it, but the HuskerVision screens found a replay that showed the ball on the ground.  And even before the officials had a chance to announce the call was being overturned, both teams began walking back to the other end of the field.

Nebraska did score on that drive at the start of the fourth quarter, and then Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen became a turnover machine.  How bad?  Four turnovers on Wyoming's next nine offensive plays...and suddenly, a 24-17 nailbiter was now a 52-17 blowout.

As a self-proclaimed "run the ball" guy, I wasn't terribly pleased with Nebraska's game plan in this game, as I think the Huskers were too quick to give up on the running game.  Or at least the coaches were too quick to give up on the I-backs.  Granted, Devine Ozigbo wasn't terribly effective all day, but Terrell Newby looked OK on his four carries. And let's be clear:  four was also the number of I-back runs in each quarter of the first half.

Was that offensive approach all that effective?  Well, Nebraska led 14-10 at halftime; debate that if you wish.
I would point out that in that decisive fourth quarter, Nebraska ran the ball 17 times and only threw six passes, but most of those runs came in garbage time.  It wasn't offense that won this game, it was defense.

I've been fairly impressed with John Parrella's new defensive line, though to be honest, this group hasn't been really tested yet.  They will be next week by the Oregon Ducks.  Nebraska won't be able to wait for the fourth quarter to put the game away against Oregon.

Monday, September 05, 2016

UNO's Baxter Arena: First Year Results Hemorrhages Crimson Ink

Sunday's Omaha World-Herald shone light on the first year financial results, and the results were the opposite of what supporters expected going in.
The university-owned arena recently ended its first fiscal year $1.5 million in the red, forcing campus officials to infuse $1.4 million in university funds into the operation to help cover construction bond payments.
The disappointing results aren’t just a first-year blip. It’s expected that $1.5 million in university dollars will need to be tapped to balance this year’s books, with $1 million kicked in by UNO and $500,000 committed by NU central administration in Lincoln.
Sounds bad? It's actually worse.
The athletic department had been counting on roughly a half million dollars in arena profits to help fund its own operations, dollars that did not materialize. That shortfall and myriad other budget issues left athletics with a $1.8 million budget deficit of its own.
Not a surprise to me, mind you. I thought the numbers didn't add up before one spade of dirt was turned over, and turns out, my suspicions were correct. But that doesn't help things one bit.  The money has been spent; the building is built.  There's no turning back.

UNO can't undo this mistake.

The Monday Morning Quarterback can say that UNO hockey should have stayed downtown at the CenturyLink Center with basketball remaining at the Ralston Arena. Baxter Arena has been a lose-lose proposition for everyone: the other arenas have fewer events, and UNO's athletic budget is exposing the reality that the expenses of owning a building 365 days a year are much higher than renting a building for the 20-25 days a year they actually need it.

Doesn't matter now.  They built it, and now must deal with the results.  The University of Nebraska system, which signed off on the bad idea, is now on the hook to cover the losses. Hopefully UNO won't lose any more sports in the aftermath.  I suspect that any plans for UNO to build a baseball field are now dead, which is a shame, because they deserve a better facility than what they've got out at Boys Town.  Maybe UNO could find an agreement with another high school; I know that Millard North has a better looking facility than Boys Town.  I suspect Westside might also have a decent field.  Maybe UNO and MECA could swallow their egos and find a way to compromise so that UNO could use TD Ameritrade Park on a part-time basis. (Imagine UNO and Creighton working on joint scheduling to bring opponents to town to play games with just one road trip.)

You know what would help UNO even more?  Winning hockey games in March... and April.

One thing is clear:  the Omaha metro area is done building arenas and ballparks for many, many years to come.  This area has overbuilt, and has double what the region actually needs and can support.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Huskers Run the Dadgummed Ball, Honor Foltz, and Beat Fresno State Going Away

Probably the best way to describe the start of Nebraska's 2016 season was "wet".  When Sam Foltz's young nephews led the Huskers out of the locker room on the Tunnel Walk, tears were flowing throughout Memorial Stadium. I think this might be the first time I didn't clap along to Sirius; I couldn't.  Even the sky was crying.

And all of that emotion might explain Nebraska's uneven performance in the first half.  Nebraska looked OK at times running the ball, though it was inconsistent in the first half. And they ran the ball primarily. Last season, I argued that in losses, Nebraska didn't run the ball enough.  Against Fresno State, you could make an argument they ran the ball too much:  51 runs and 13 passes, a 80/20 ratio.  That's probably an overreaction too far the other direction, but considering that the Bulldogs were 116th in the nation in rush defense, it wasn't exactly a bad choice.

Especially when you consider that Nebraska went turnover free.

Defensively, there were quite a few things to like, especially up front. I liked the play of the defensive line, especially senior Ross Dzuris with three tackles for loss.  I suspect that if the officials had been interested, they could have called a half dozen or so holding penalties on Fresno.  The officials did throw the flag with targeting calls against Luke Gifford and Aaron Williams.  Of the two, I still believe Williams' hit was closer to targeting than Gifford's, though the official review apparently "confirmed" Gifford's penalty and overturned Williams'.  It wasn't until I saw a BTN replay after returning home that I see what Gifford got called for, but I still think it's a very questionable call.  Gifford led with his arms, hitting Fresno State quarterback Chason Virgil on the upper arm, with the helmets colliding as Virgil started to fall.  Is targeting now any helmet-to-helmet contact?  That seemed to be the decision of this crew.

It's a first game, so you have to expect some unevenness, especially when you consider the emotional impact of the loss of Sam Foltz.  The Huskers finished the game strong in the second half, and that really should be the takeaway. But let's put it in this perspective: I suspect that Fresno State will be the weakest opponent Nebraska will face in 2016.  I expect Wyoming and Maryland to be much improved in 2016, and Nebraska went 1-5 against the other schools in the Big Ten's west division.

I mean, Nebraska did beat South Alabama 48-9 last season.  This was definitely a better win than that, and hopefully something to build on.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bankruptcy Looms Around Sarpy County's Ballpark Boondoggle

Today's Omaha World-Herald provides us with an update of development around Werner Park in Sarpy County on the edge of town.  And frankly, it's the same:  "Next verse, same as the first!"  Nothing's happening, other than the SID used to build the infrastructure around the "Trailer Park" (as I like to refer to it) appears to be heading towards bankruptcy.  No development means that the SID can't pay off the $12 million that was borrowed to build roads and install utilities.  Alamo Drafthouse?  Built elsewhere, closer to Omaha and the Interstate.  Pennant Place?  Didn't happen.  Not even an Arby's, it would seem.

Sarpy County officials make it a point to say that the ballpark itself isn't in financial trouble.  Which is true, though their statements come with a huge asterisk.
“Our revenues are coming in even without any development at the ballpark. They’re coming in and covering our debt payments.”
The asterisk?  One of the key components paying for the ballpark is a hotel tax, and that's a tax that was used to fund other things in the past.  Nothing new there at all; I wrote about it in 2009. There isn't any word as to what happened to the programs that used to be funded by the hotel tax, but you know it's coming from elsewhere in the county's tax revenue.  A big shell game.

Oh, and attendance out in BFE Sarpy County?  It still continues to be lower than the last years at Rosenblatt, averaging four more people a night in 2016 than in 2008.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Finally. Omaha's Civic Auditorium is Coming Down

This week, demolition of the long-obsolete Civic Auditorium began.  Some are sad about it, especially feeling nostalgic about the building's glory days when a 9,000 seat arena was big enough for most concerts and even the NBA.  I'm not, mind you.  Don't get me wrong; the Civic Auditorium served the city well in it's day.  But it's time was long past.

When the CenturyLink Center opened up, it was clear that the Civic's days were numbered. Events at the new arena had a big-time feel to them - even when the crowd could have fit into the Civic.  More importantly, the new place brought in events that simply wouldn't have come to Omaha otherwise.  U2, Springsteen, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Olympic Swim Trials and the NCAA basketball tournament.   Two weeks from now, I'll don a Hawaiian shirt for the Jimmy Buffett concert.  Sure, not every event appeals to everyone, but there's no denying that Omaha isn't better for having these events come to town.

Many UNO hockey fans are nostalgic for the Civic; I'm not. If anything, I'm still nostalgic for the CenturyLink Center.  The Civic was a functional starter home for UNO hockey, but that's all it was.  It's time is in the past.  Now the property is going to be redeveloped into something more valuable for the city.  It's a better use for the property.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Can Keith Williams Stay as the Huskers Receivers Coach?

When news breaks, it's almost inevitable that someone is going to go on Twitter with a truly awful #HOTSPORTSTAKE.  On Sunday, after CornNation's Brian Towle broke the report of Nebraska assistant football coach Keith William's arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence, the worst takes started with concerns about recruiting.

I truly understand where the thought comes from:  Williams has done a fine job with his on the field coaching and has seemed to be a pretty effective recruiter. But all of that is secondary in this situation, as football implications have zero relevance as to what happens with Williams.

Let's clear up a couple of misconceptions folks have: first, according to police reports, this is Williams' third incident with driving under the influence.  It's not "one mistake"...but his third time making a very serious mistake.  Second, it wasn't just one-too-many beers; Williams was double the legal limit when tested, which according the blood alcohol chart, indicates that he'd had at least three or four too many.

"Is this going to hurt recruiting?"  Well, duh.  It's already happened.  Done and done.
Williams set an awful example for his players and showed huge irresponsibility.  No matter what Nebraska decides to do with Williams, this is out there.  And that's even before we consider the legal ramifications:  third offense DUI would seem to involve some serious jail time and a loss of driving privileges. Want to worry about recruiting?  OK, how is Keith Williams going to get to a rural area to look at a recruit?  Take a bicycle on the plane?  If taxis or Ubers aren't available, he's not going to be able to do his job?

I see one way Keith Williams salvages his coaching career at Nebraska, and that is that as soon as he's released from police custody, he heads into alcohol rehabilitation for as long as it takes.  (At a minimum, he's going to be suspended multiple weeks anyway.)  He needs to own up to his mistake, and look his players in the eye and tell them how he failed them and how he failed his family.

Then, and only then, is it even possible to discuss whether Keith Williams can coach for the University of Nebraska ever again.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Good Lord Calls Sam Foltz Home

There are no words to do justice when tragedy strikes. Words can try to calm, words can try to sooth...but words cannot completely ease the pain. But several people have tried to do just that with Sam Foltz, and came pretty close.  First up is KOLN-TV weekend sports anchor Kevin Sjuts, who tells the story of how Foltz talked to his son's first grade class earlier this year.
How he said this without breaking down in tears, I have no idea. Or how he explained what happened to his son. My son also was a first grader this past year, and I can only appreciate how difficult that discussion must have been.

Next is ESPN's Joe Tessitore, who was with Foltz last night at that kickers camp in Wisconsin. The weather forced the camp to cancel the evening session, and Foltz filled the time by talking to young people with his own inspirational message.
As one of the very last things he did on this earth.

Sometimes you never truly appreciate people until they are gone.
Thank you Sam, and God bless you, your family, your teammates and friends. In due time, we'll worry about who might possibly try to fill Foltz's shoes on the football field. But for now, Nebraskans and college football fans everywhere will take a moment to mourn the loss suffered by the Foltz family.

And then, maybe, just maybe, we'll be able to live up to the challenge Sam Foltz left us.

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.