Saturday, December 31, 2005

Taking things WAY too far

Many Husker fans, myself included, were extremely critical of Steve Pederson after the 40-15 loss to Kansas. I even called for him to either resign or be fired, a position I still maintain even after the Alamo Bowl.

Some fans apparantly have gone further. Quite a bit further. Quite a bit UNACCEPTABLY further, in fact. At the Kansas State game, the State Patrol assigned a trooper to guard Pederson after several threats were made, including an incredibly stupid one in the North Platte Bulletin.

Folks, Husker football is a source of pride in this state. It is part of our way of life. But some fans take it way too far and way too seriously. Threatening Pederson or anybody in his family is not only childish and immature, it is also illegal.

I'll go a step further. Threatening ANYBODY over a football team is childish and immature. It's a friggin football GAME. Get a life.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Good Vibrations

A lot of good vibrations are flowing through Husker fans today. And they rightly should. Last night's victory was an impressive victory over a quality opponent; something that had been missing during the Bill Callahan era up to now.

Two things are tempering those good vibrations though today:

LateralGate. It was a comedy of errors on all fronts: Nebraska, Michigoon, and the officials. But, let's face it, it was a desperation play by Michigoon. The laterals were fun to watch now that we know that Michigoon didn't score, and it's fun to watch the replays over and over again, but let's not let this diminish the fact that was a great college football game and a great performance by the Huskers. ESPN Radio was particularly hard on this fact: Michigan alum Dana Jacobson complained about the play for most of her guest-host stint on the Dan Patrick radio show. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann was co-hosting for one hour, and had the bizarre notion that Bill Callahan should have offered to replay the down. Folks, it was a desperation play; if anything, the confusion helped Michigoon more than it hurt them. Until the bobbled lateral, Michigoon was more likely to get a safety than a touchdown as they lost yardage with almost every lateral. It wasn't until confusion broke out that they had a chance to score. Let it go, and enjoy one of the wackier plays you'll see.

Kool-Aid Drinkers. This game has a chance to begin repairing the deep divisions in HuskerNation. Callahan quieted a lot of critics in these last few games. Unfortunately, a few "Kool-Aid" drinkers are quite vocal in their cries of "I told you so!" Let me tell you something, if anything, this game proves that many of your allegations were false. We have had the talent to win many more games than we did over the last couple of years. And as I recall, we were able to defeat a 7-4 Big 10 team 2 years ago with the old staff -- and do it by 2 touchdowns. If you truly believe that Nebraska is about winning championships, not winning games, then you can't be happy with a 4 point victory over an also-ran in the Big 10 conference. So, shut your mouth.

Let's focus on what happened last night: Nebraska came out and played a complete game on national TV. We can all agree on that!

Paging the Trombone Player

In a Husker season filled with bizarre endings, the Alamo Bowl almost topped all of them. Thank goodness for Zackary Bowman's alert tackle at the Nebraska 20; otherwise, HuskerNation might find themselves in shock if Michigoon had managed to score after a half dozen or more desperation laterals as the clock expired.

The game saving tackle certainly allows Nebraska and it's fans to end the season on an extremely positive note. There were numerous inspired performances today, and I'll mention a few that come to mind right away.

Cory Ross. He capped his career in style with 162 yards rushing.
Adam Ickes. Playing with an abdominal injury that may require surgery after the game, he was a warrior on the field and caused a big fumble in the decisive fourth quarter.
Andrew Shanle. He made some huge tackles on Steve Breaston, preventing him from any sort of punt return. Yeah, one got flagged by the refs erroneously, but that hit also rejuvenated this team.
Terrence Nunn. Two huge touchdowns.
Defensive Line. Except for a period late in the third quarter and early in the 4th, they dominated Michigoon, and kept them from establishing any sort of rhythm in this game.
Zac Taylor. His numbers won't look good, but he took a licking all game.

All in all, it was a great effort to end this season. On defense, the Blackshirts dealt the Weasels all they could handle, and with the notable exception of about 20 minutes at the end of the first quarter and the first part of the second half, the offensive play calling was balanced with a fine combination of Cory Ross runs and Zac Taylor passes that kept the Weasels guessing what was coming next.

Considering all that has happened over the last couple of years, the players and fans deserved this type of ending.

I feel especially happy for the seniors such as Cory Ross, who have encountered 3 or 4 different position coaches, multiple systems, and taken abuse from some fans. It's great that they can end their careers on a high note. They should be proud of what they have accomplished.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Tale of Two Programs

About a week after the Alamo Bowl matchup was announced, I was talking to a casual Michigoon fan about the game. She was surprised that I wasn't talking more trash about the matchup, and I responded by being surprised that she wasn't talking more trash.

Seems that there are a lot more similarities in the two programs than just great tradition and history. Both teams underachieved this year, with Michigan starting the season in the top 5 in many polls and Nebraska struggling to become bowl eligibile. Both teams have been hit hard by injuries this season. And both teams have fans that aren't terribly impressed with their leadership.

If you look at both team's seasons before Thanksgiving, you would have to say that this game looks like a Weasel Rout in the making. And yes, Nebraska has lost Bo Ruud to a broken arm, Wali Muhammad to a suspension, and Dontrell Moore to grades to hurt the Blackshirts more.

But, Michigan was initially extremely disappointed to end up in the Alamo Bowl instead of the Outback Bowl. And Nebraska is extremely excited to be in San Antonio after a 5-6 "Home for Christmas" finish was staring them in the face following the Kansas debacle.

Nebraska's performance against Colorado opened a lot of eyes; for the first time in the Bill Callahan era, Nebraska didn't underachieve on both sides of the ball. Does Nebraska have the talent to compete with Michigan? Hard to say, Michigan is the best team Nebraska has faced this season. If Nebraska can continue the momentum they found against the Buffies, they can play with a team like Michigoon. And if Michigoon really doesn't want to be in the Alamo Bowl, Nebraska can make a statement and solidify the programs status. (Remember what happened to Kansas State in 1998 when they missed out on the National Championship game by losing the Big XII Title Game?)

It should be an interesting game. I have no idea how this one is going to turn out; I have thoughts that can explain a 4 touchdown victory by either team. That's what happens when you have 2 talented teams that haven't played that way.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and
Happy Kwanzaa to all. What the heck, happy Festivus as well. May your holiday season be joyful, no matter how you choose to celebrate!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The 1997 Debate Lives On

Today's Omaha World-Herald looks back at the debate over the 1997 National Championship, split between Nebraska and Michigoon. Initially, I was rather surprised that of the 6 writers, 5 of them picked the Wolverines to win if the two were to meet. Those predictions:
Malcolm Moran, USA Today: M 27, N 16
Tom Dienhart, Sporting News: M 17, N 13
Don Borst, Lindy's: M 20, N 17
Tim Layden, Sports Illustrated: M 17, N 14
Mark Blaudschun, Boston Globe: M 34, N 24
Dennis Dodd, CBS Sportsline: N 35, M 27

But, of course, you have to remember that the writers gave their title to the Goonies, so perhaps this shouldn't be such a surprise. And Dennis Dodd briefly worked for the Omaha World-Herald in the early 90's...

Wolverine fans love to play the comparative score game to stake their claim that Michigoon was clearly the superior team in 1997, but they stop looking any deeper than the scores. Yes, Michigoon beat Colorado 27-3 and Nebraska beat Colorado 27-24. However, those games were two and a half months apart (UM-CU was in early September; NU-CU was the day after Thanksgiving). They also point to the Baylor game: Michigoon 38, Baylor 3 versus Nebraska 49, Baylor 21. But, they forget that both of those games were home games for Michigoon while Nebraska was on the road both times. Also, the scores of both those games for Nebraska were much closer than they really were. Both Colorado and Baylor each scored 2 late touchdowns; in the 4th quarter, it was NU 27, CU 10 and NU 49, BU 7.

Michigoon fans also love to point out the "Miracle at Missouri" when Nebraska tied the game on Matt Davison's diving catch of a deflected pass as time expired. However, they also ignore the last second running off the clock at the Rose Bowl with Washington State at the Michigoon 16. (The clock still read :01 when Ryan Leaf spiked the ball.)

So, what we are left with is a great debate for some. No debate for me, though. Michigan had a great team that year, but Nebraska was the National Champion.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Recruitniks Start to Panic

Well, the Recruitnik Nation (a wholly owned subsidiary of Husker Nation, All Rights Reserved) is all up in arms about recruit Josh Freeman switching his commitment from Nebraska to Kansas State. Predictably, the reaction is furious and lines up along the following lines:
  • He was overrated.
  • He is a traitor.
  • He has no integrity.
  • Kansas State has no integrity.
  • Good Riddance.
Let's be honest; Recruitniks are reacting in anger at being jilted. Freeman was supposed to enroll in Lincoln in 3 weeks; in many respects, this is like calling off the wedding after the shower. And these recruitniks are reacting emotionally, not intelligently.

Only the Freeman family will truly know whether this was the right decision or not; this was their decision to make. Fans who react angrily to Freeman should remember the case of Lydon Murtha, who switched his commitment from Minnesota to Nebraska 2 years ago. It happens on both ways; these are 17 year old kids making the biggest decision of their lives so far. Fans should not have been surprised; Freeman's status should have questioned when he started talking to Oklahoma and Missouri last month.

For those fans still whining and complaining about it: Get over it. This is recruiting, and it happens all the time. Ask Texas about Ryan Perrilloux.

This especially includes you, Mr. Husker Information Minister. Today, you displayed the arrogance that causes so many college football fans to hate Nebraska. It was a pathetic, disgusting diatribe that will probably earn you yet more kudos from the people you work for. It was arrogant. It was pompous. It was vindictive. It was being a sore loser.

He attacked Freeman, he attacked his family. He attacked Kansas State and their new football coach, Ron Prince. He claimed to have pity on Freeman for making the biggest mistake of his young life.

Jim Rose is a disgrace to the Husker football program.

Monday, December 19, 2005

More Nuttery

Two years after using Steve Pederson to get a raise at Arkansas, Houston Nutt has had back-to-back losing seasons for the Razorbacks. In his attempt to save his job, he fired his offensive coordinator and hired a new offensive coordinator: Gus Malzahn.

Malzahn has no coaching experience at the college or professional level. So what makes him qualified to become an offensive coordinator in the Southeastern Conference?

Well, he's won state championships as head coach at Springdale High School in Arkansas.

But maybe more importantly, he's also the high school coach of "5 star" quarterback Mitch Mustain.

Yikes. When Nebraska hired successful high school coaches such as Dan Young and Dan McLaughlin, they started as graduate assistants, not as full-time assistants. And certainly not as a coordinator. Not quite as bad as Gerry Faust at Notre Dame, but this is obviously a desperate hire.

Thank goodness that plane came back empty from Fayetteville 2 years ago.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Recrutniks in a Panic?

Over the last couple of weeks, several of the so-called recruiting experts have expressed the opinion that Nebraska's 2006 football recruiting class is not going to be as highly rated as many fans expect. Now, Tim Cassidy, Nebraska's associate athletic director for football is starting to manage fan's expectations:

"We have to put an emphasis on filling our needs. I don't know where we'll rank this time, but sometimes there's so much hype into some of these guys." He cautioned fans about putting too much stock into the ratings by recruiting services and said Husker coaches have to target specific positions with players they believe best fit the program.

Amen, Tim. I'm sure that this recruiting class will be fine. However, you are about pay the price for feeding the recruting monster during the last couple of years. Nebraska currently has 20 commitments, with about 25 scholarships to offer. Rival's average star rating for this class is 2.95, which if it holds would be Nebraska's second worst over the last 5 years.

And let me repeat this: this recruiting class will be fine. I know that this coaching staff knows more about football players than these so-called experts. As teams below Nebraska start filling out their classes (USC, Michigan, Ohio State, Clemson, Arizona, Tennessee), many of them will pass Nebraska in the rankings. It will be fun to watch some of these recruitniks squirm...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Football Tickets for Sale

Today, Nebraska began accepting applications for the 6,500 new seats being added to Memorial Stadium. Contrary to the perception of most fans, this is not the first time new season tickets have been available for sale. Last season, Nebraska failed to sell out their season tickets before the season began, as I have heard of several people who bought season tickets either just before the season or as late as the Pitt game. And if you had seen the sea of tickets outside the stadium before every home game, you would have to agree that interest in the Huskers last season was lower than at any time since the Devaney era.

With the withering of demand and the addition of 6,500 seats, the sellout streak is probably in the most peril that it has been in the past 35 years. And I'll give Steve Pederson credit for coming up with a fair plan to sell these additional seats.

One factor that helps Nebraska is that there is a perception that there was a 20 year wait for season tickets. This legend is blatently false; I got my season tickets with no donation in 1992. Granted, most season tickets purchased since then have required a donation. Nevertheless, just promoting the availability of tickets is going to stimulate demand.

I like Pederson's plan to set aside at least 1,000 of the new seats for non-donors; not only does it open up seats for fans who aren't able to donate at this time, but it also gives the athletic department the flexibility to sell more seats without a donation if they can't find enough new donors to fill the new seats.

I also like the "dutch auction" on donations; if you want to promise to donate more, you'll stand a better chance of getting tickets. It worked well on the Google IPO. If a lot of people want to donate a lot of money, the athletic department will be a huge winner. If the new donor base isn't that large, it gives them an out to ensure that the sellout streak continues.

I was afraid of what was going to be proposed; I envisioned the possibility of required donations for all seats or non-donors being pushed to the upper reaches of the north stadium. My retired parents have held season tickets in the North Stadium for over 40 years, and I'd hate to see them forced out of the seats they had occupied for so long.

In the end, this is a plan that is fair to everyone.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Former Players Still Uneasy

After last year's 5-6 debacle, a number of players began to express their dissatisfaction with the changes in Lincoln. A meeting between the players, Milt Tenopir, and Steve Pederson was held, and everyone was happy.

Or so the story went.

Over the past year, another story has crept out. By many accounts, Milt Tenopir took control of the meeting, and out of the respect these players have for Coach Tenopir, many of the issues that some players have went unspoken. Hence, the positive post-meeting comments.

That doesn't mean that former players are all on board, though. The Journal-Star talked to many players last week, and found a wide array of opinions. McCathorn Clayton is extremely positive, which shouldn't be a surprise since he works for Steve Pederson. Keith "End Zone" Jones is also on board.

Cory Schlesinger, who has been playing in the West Coast Offense in Detroit for years, chooses his words carefully, but his displeasure is obvious. Micah Heibel doesn't mince any words in his displeasure.

And we all remember Scott Frost's comments.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Another Horrific Weekend

With the exception of the Husker volleyball team (Hi, AJ!), this is turning into a miserable weekend of sports. Oweing to Christmas parties and shopping, I missed most of the UNO Mavericks being swept by Michigoon. I did get to hear UNO take early 1-0 leads on the Weasels, but those leads were short lived. The 3rd period of last night's game sounded particularly nasty; we'll see if that bad blood continues when the Weasels return to Omaha in February.

But I did get to see more of today's Nebraska/Creighton game than I cared to. If the 7-6 Nebraska/Pitt football game set the game of football back 50 years, then today's basketball game must have taken us back to the age of the peach basket. Both teams launched enough bricks to pave I-80 between Omaha and Lincoln. I don't know if Creighton is getting better or Nebraska played that poorly; I'm thinking the latter.

I've been a Barry Collier supporter, but Collier is running out of time to start showing progress. Yes, Danny Nee left the program in the sewer, and at least Collier has put a watchable product out there at times. There's no reason why Nebraska can't put a NCAA tournament team out there occasionally, but what we saw today was a high school class C-2 team.

You could see Collier's frustration on the bench today, so it's not like he's oblivious to the problem. If we see many more performances like this one today, it could be an ugly season.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Put some Metamucil in your Kool-Aid, Harold

Crotchety old Harold W. Andersen, the retired publisher of the Omaha Daily Newspaper saw an opening with the Colorado victory to take on the critics and the media for overbearing negativity. And while Andersen is correct that the tone of many articles about the Huskers is negative, he forgets the main reason why they are negative: The Huskers underachieved for most of Bill Callahan's first 21 games as head coach.

The first mistake that Andersen made was equating criticism with calling for his firing. Yes, there are people calling for a coaching change: and come to mind. But that isn't any sort of strong majority at this time. I've criticized Callahan several times, but I don't think it's time to fire him.

His most serious error was to blame LeKevin Smith for the Texas Tech loss, and "not the coach or athletic director". Oh, so LeKevin Smith called the "bend and break" defense for the first 20 minutes of the Texas Tech game that spotted the Raiders a 21-0 lead? What about that 3-man line that was so effective in allowing Brad Smith to rack up almost 500 yards of offense?

And his final error was in blaming the 2003 staff for the number of freshmen and sophomores who are playing now. First of all, thanks to the 85 scholarship limit, many teams are playing freshmen and sophomores. Oklahoma, for example, is playing more freshmen and sophomores than Nebraska.

My opinion is that there were some recruiting problems at Nebraska; problems that were solved at the start of 2003. That was too late for the 2003 class, but the 2004 recruiting class under the new staff was looking promising. One recruitnik says that Rivals had them around #14 before the firing rumors started scuttling that staff. In any event, the 2003 staff never got a chance to prove themselves.

As for the number of freshman and sophomores playing, don't be so quick to credit Callahan; of the 8 freshman and sophomores who started against Colorado, the majority were recruited by Frank Solich: Corey McKeon, Bo Ruud, J.B. Phillips, Chris Patrick, Nate Swift, and Terrence Nunn were Solich committments.

Now, did Bill Callahan recruit a lot of quality players? Sure looks that way. Were there some problems in recruiting before 2003? Yep, and that was taken care of in 2002.

Looks like Harold's arguments lack a lot of substance... Just like many of the kool-aid drinkers out there.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Hell to the Vermin

The UNO Maverick hockey team finished up an nice 4 point weekend, sweeping Ferris (Bueller) State this weekend. Scott Parse took the lead as the nation's leading scorer with a 5 point performance against the Poodles...

Up next are the Weasels from Michigoon this weekend in Ann Arbor. The Weasels will be playing teams in red quite a bit; UNO plays at Yost in a 2 game series Friday and Saturday night; Saturday night the Husker women visit the Vermin. And now the Alamo Bowl will match up the Huskers and the Goonies on Wednesday, December 28th.

I'm anxiously awaiting AJ's initial volley of hatred towards Michigoon. (Parental guidance highly recommended...) It will be interesting to learn whether he hates the Vermin more than the Huskers; my guess is he'll just hope for a stadium collapse to take out both teams...