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.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Nebraska Runs The Dadgummed Ball All Over UCLA

As Nebraska's 2015 football season spun down the drain, it became clear that the coaches philosophies and the players talents were not a good match. We saw the players do their best to adapt, but the coaches really struggled.

Square peg. Round hole. Seven losses.

No where was this more obvious than on offense, where Mike Riley tried to force feed a pro-style offensive attack on a team that didn't have a pro-style quarterback. An obsession with passing lead to inexplicable losses to Illinois and Northwestern. (Let's not mention an epic disaster of coaching malfeasance in West Lafayette.)

Intermixed with those debacles was Nebraska's most dominating performance of the year at Minnesota. Nebraska ran the ball 60% of the time in that game-a ratio that Mike Riley called optimal. Yet the coaches didn't try to replicate it in subsequent games. To conclude the season, Tommy Armstrong threw 45 passes on a cold, blustery day with wind chills in the teens. Armstrong took a lions share of the criticism-and rather unfairly in my opinion. Yes, Armstrong threw four interceptions...but asking Tommy Armstrong to throw 45 passes is like asking Dan Marino to run the triple option. 

This week, I heard a different tone from Mike Riley. He talked about being one of the top three rushing teams in the Big Ten as a goal for the direction of the Husker offense moving forward. Was this just more empty talk from a coach who was in danger of being fired by Oregon State at the end of last season?

Nope. Riley walked the walk against UCLA. They opened the game by running on 11 of the first 13 plays of the game, and more importantly, they kept running all night long. 62 runs and 19 passes on the game.

They ran the dadgummed ball. And ran it successfully. Earlier this season, Mike Riley suggested that some of Nebraska's struggles rubbing the ball were because of a lack of "want to." 

I don't think it was a lack of "want" by the players, for what it's worth. That is, until the bowl game. Perhaps the realization that Nebraska had lost four or five very winnable games caused the coaching staff to finally jettison their failing offensive philosophies. Maybe it was the realization that Southern Cal and Stanford had gashed UCLA on the ground that caused the coaches to rethink things.

Either way, it doesn't matter. The point is that the coaches changed, and Nebraska won the Foster Farns Bowl.

The so-proclaimed goat from the day after Thanksgiving became the MVP the day after Christmas. Yes, Tommy Armstrong played better because he was given a gameplan that gave him and his teammates a chance to succeed.

Now Nebraska can head into the offseason feeling good about the end of the season. It doesn't erase the bad taste of seven losses, but if Mike Riley and his coaches have really changed their direction and are committed to run the ball as the first priority on offense, then perhaps there is a reason to believe that Mike Riley can actually succeed as Nebraska's head football coach.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

One Week After Kicking Me Out of My Parking Spot, the World-Herald Asks If Downtown Omaha Needs More Parking

My commute to work downtown just got five minutes longer this week, thanks to the Omaha World-Herald. A week before Thanksgiving, I received the following letter, informing me that the World-Herald was kicking me out of the parking garage (where I had been a customer for over 12 years) for good. Two years ago, they bumped me to a non-reserved spot, but starting this week, I was out - period.

And scrambling for a parking spot.  I started calling around to find alternatives, and frankly, didn't find much availability.  My choices came down to two lots:  one in the Old Market and one under the Interstate 480 bridge north of the old Civic Auditorium.  I took the spot under the I-480 bridge because it was $26 cheaper than the other and some spots would be covered from hail.

And now it's a 9 minute walk from my car to work (and as my wife can attest, I'm not a slow walker) each way.  But it's really my only option at this point.

But when I saw the front page of Wednesday's Omaha World-Herald, I could have sworn that I was being trolled by Omaha's daily newspaper:
What I found incredulous are some of the comments from Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and others:
Mayor Jean Stothert and city planners say they want to radically change how Omahans see parking. Garages that might appear necessary now, they say, will seem redundant in the future.
 “We do have enough parking stalls,” Stothert said. “It’s a matter of where those parking stalls are.”
 Wait, what? I guess you can argue that since there are plenty of parking spaces on the fringes of the business district, that downtown Omaha needs less parking.  Of course, I bet the mayor doesn't have any issue with parking; she surely has a covered, secured (and probably heated) spot at City Hall; she probably doesn't even need to wear a coat to get to the office.

I did see this little lulu of an idea from the Mayor's office:
For the long term, officials say the city will need to find ways to make it easier for people to come downtown without parking there.

That vision includes an urban circulator — a modern streetcar — to get people around downtown without driving. A new bus rapid transit system, a quick and convenient bus running from Westroads to downtown, could spur more people to hang up their keys and take public transit to work downtown.
Here's the problem with that idea: it doesn't exist today, and it's never going to exist in Omaha unless the city builds it like Sarpy County built a unnecessary, duplicate ballpark.  I'm not sure that I've ever seen a "convenient" bus in Omaha; in fact, with my work hours, I've learned that I really can't depend on Omaha's bus system for my job. A streetcar? I've heard it discussed more than once, but frankly, I don't know how that works unless it's (a) free to ride and (b) as reliable as the car.  That's going to take one heck of an investment by the city of Omaha, and I fail to see how Omaha taxpayers will ever agree to fund this.

Evenings and weekends aren't an issue for parking, and it's not an issue for the CenturyLink Center; there's plenty of parking there for events.  Same thing with the Holland Center; the symphony could hold a concert during the College World Series, and parking wouldn't be an issue downtown.  In fact, Omaha has hosted the Olympic Swim Trials and the CWS on the same evening.

But on a workday, parking is in short supply, and with HDR building a new headquarters downtown, it's going to get worse. Frankly, at this point, it's too late at this point to implement a streetcar to be ready when HDR employees join the crush downtown. And no, bikes are not an option for someone who lives in West Omaha.  Not in a city with this many hills and weather extremes like Omaha has.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Nebraska Throws Away It's Chance to Upset Iowa

At his Monday press conference, Mike Riley talked about how his team needed to run the ball this week against Iowa. The importance of running the ball grew as the weather forecast grew colder and colder.

So if you had told me that, despite all that, Tommy Armstrong threw 45 passes against Iowa, I would have asked how badly Iowa had boat-raced the Huskers.

You can blame Tommy Armstrong for throwing four interceptions. I'll blame the play calling that asked Armstrong to throw the ball that much today. Take that 4th and 1 fade route. Or throwing 3 straight incompletions after getting gaining 8 yards on first down.

The Huskers defense played well enough to win, save for two busted assignments on Jordan Canzeri in the third quarter. But asking them to overcome a minus three turnover margin was asking too much.

Some will say that Nebraska threw out of necessity because the ground game wasn't working. It wasn't terribly effective, but I saw flashes of shotgun runs to the edge with Terrell Newby in the first half. They didn't try it in the second half.

That's the story of Nebraska football in 2015: Mike Riley trying to jam a square peg into his round hole offense. Some fans will eagerly await Patrick O'Brien's arrival as the round prg that will match better with his offense. Maybe that might work, but that's an awful lot of hope and pressure being placed on a true freshman who is still in high school.

Now the question is whether Nebraska can somehow get to a bowl game despite having a losing record in 2015. Not accepting a bowl bid if offered is not an option to me for two reasons: First, the Huskers could use the extra practice time to better learn these new systems. Second, the players deserve the bowl trip, especially the seniors. It won't be a great bowl, but it's better than no bowl.

In fact, I'd argue that the bigger question that needs to be asked is whether Mike Riley should return in 2016. I don't seriously think that Riley is going to be fired after just one awful season, but it's a more valid question than whether or not  NU should accept a bowl bid, if offered.

Especially when you consider Riley's record in recent years at Oregon State. Going into this season, I was the pessimist in predicting 7-5. Most others thought this was a nine or ten win team. Well, Nebraska won exactly half that. Despite what Shawn Eichorst. May claim, this wasn't a rebuilding effort in 2015.

It is in 2016. How does Mike Riley do that? Or can he?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Huskers Flirt With Disaster Against Rutgers

All season long, you've heard a common refrain from Husker fans:  "Run the ball."  It hit a fever pitch against Illinois, became viral against Northwestern, and became epidemic against Purdue.  Last week against Michigan State, fans started chanting "Run. The. Ball." in Memorial Stadium one series after the Huskers turned the ball over in the Red Zone with two ill-conceived pass calls.
After Nebraska beat Minnesota handily a month ago, Mike Riley said afterwards that Nebraska's 60/40 split was optimal for this team. Yet Nebraska has hardly tried to emulate it - though last week, they came closer.

Against Rutgers, Nebraska once again played with fire with a 20 mph wind, with a near 50/50 split. And it was working early, as the Huskers broke out to a 21-0 lead with Tommy Armstrong completing all seven of his first quarter passes.   It worked for the first 20 minutes of the game...or did it?  Take Jordan Westerkamp's first quarter touchdown catch...looks good on the stat sheet, but look again: it's thrown into triple coverage.

The next 20 minutes gave us the downside of YOLO ball; Armstrong went 3 for 7 with two interceptions, a sack, and a fumble (recovered by Alex Lewis).  And the blowout was over; Nebraska's lead was down to 21-14.

Fortunately, Nebraska returned to what they did best:  running the ball in the final 20 minutes.  17 runs, three passes. It wasn't particularly effective, but it controlled clock and more importantly, kept the ball away from Rutgers.  And Nebraska got the win.

After the loss to Purdue, Mike Riley remarked that some of Nebraska's struggles in running the ball were a lack of "want to." As we see this situation repeat itself week after week after week, I've become convinced that it's all a lack of "want to" by the coaches.  I get why the coaches like to throw the ball, especially against a team like Rutgers, who's secondary was decimated by injury.

But it's not what Nebraska does best.  Tim Miles has a saying that has turned into a hashtag for Nebraska basketball:  "It's about us."  #usAlways.

Somebody on Nebraska's crack digital media team tried to claim it for the football team today.
Mike Riley didn't get the message.