Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Last Word on 2007

At T minus 12 hours before the Cotton Bowl against Auburn, I'm still not seeing a lot of interest in this game in the fan base. Will this attitude be shared by the team? I doubt it, but you never know. Certainly, I do have to wonder if Auburn is coming into this with a more serious attitude than the Huskers. Auburn got burned by not taking last year's Capital One Bowl seriously, and they don't want to make that same mistake this year. Remember that one of the biggest factors in bowl games is who wants to win this game. It's why Nebraska nearly upset Florida State in 1994 and Nebraska wanted the Alamo Bowl last year much more than Michigoon, after Michigoon began the season thinking Rose and Nebraska spent most of November just trying to make it to Shreveport.

Another factor is how various conferences stack up. The SEC is out to a 3-1 start, though the 1 loss was Alabama's loss to the Big XII's Oklahoma State. The rest of the Big XII is 2-3 in bowls thus far, which doesn't bode so well for the Huskers' chances tomorrow.

Up until Texas Tech's huge comeback against Minnesota late on Friday night, Missouri's loss to Oregon State was shaping up as the Big XII's best bowl performance so far. The Beavers do have a victory over USC on their resume, and that game could have gone either way, especially if the Beavers hadn't gone for two. In the second half, A&M would have done better leaving Reveille and their band on the field instead of Fran's team against Cal in the Holiday Bowl. And Texas continued their end of season slide by struggling against a very mediocre group of Iowa Squawkeyes. I'll give Kansas State a pass against a Rutgers squad that should have been in a better bowl than the Texas Bowl.

Speaking of the Texas Bowl, who was the Einstein who sold the NFL Network the exclusive rights to two college bowl games? I understand the NFL's desire to promote their network, but this trend towards more specialized and costly cable TV channels is leading us closer and closer to a pay-per-view future for sporting events. $8 a year for a cable channel that shows 10 football games a year packaged around reruns of old games and three hour boring pregame shows? NFL, Get Real!

Today's NFL wild-card race reminded me of the end of the 2001 college football season watching the Broncos, Bengals, Titans, and Jaguars blow their playoff chances today, allowing the Kansas City Chiefs to claim a wild-card spot. A belated Christmas gift for the Chiefs, and they get to play the struggling Indianpolis Colts and the worst rushing defense in the league? Of course, the Kansas City defense isn't anything to shout about, so it should be a shootout next Saturday.

Rough weekend for Nebraska-Omaha hockey in the Ivy League over the weekend. Apparantly, the Ivy Leaguers have decided to create their own rules. Last night against Yale, the hometown clock operator apparantly ran the clock backwards to extend a Yale power play in the 2nd period. A furious comeback allowed the Mavs to tie Yale 4-4. After last year's wild finish against Yale, the Mavs are developing a little rivalry with the Bulldogs.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Cotton Bowl & Auburn is only 5 days away! Does Anybody Care?

Over on the Husker mailing list, several posters have commented on a seeming apathy for the Cotton Bowl matchup with Auburn. Certainly not a lot of buzz about the matchup as I scan various Husker message boards, and Nebraska still has tickets left to sell from their allotment. Scalpers are dumping tickets for as little as $12. KMTV-channel 3 reported this evening that merchants are already marking down Cotton Bowl apparel due to lack of sales.

So what gives? Some folks think the Cotton Bowl is a inferior bowl, though I'm not sure I get the logic here. It's Nebraska's first New Year's Day bowl game since the 24-17 Orange Bowl victory over Miami 12 years ago. Fox is packaging this game as the kickoff to their BCS Bowl Blitz, and the legendary Pat Summerall will be calling play-by-play. (Yes, Summerall has seen better days, but if his work with ESPN 2 years ago is any indication, he's still more coherent than the Husker Information Minister.) Yes, the Cotton Bowl stadium isn't the greatest, but dumpy stadiums never stopped Husker fans from travelling to Baylor or Kansas State.

Is it a hangover from the Oklahoma game in Kansas City? After the game, the number of visitors here looking for unkind words about Bill Callahan increased dramatically. Or is it just that Husker fans spent their money on scalped tickets in Kansas City and Los Angeles? Or maybe the cold sapped the strength of fans?

Is the matchup against #10 Auburn a yawner? I wouldn't think so. Earlier this season, Auburn was near the top of the ratings until coach Tommy Tuberville started whining about the BCS and then promptly lost at home to Arkansas. A victory over the Tigers certainly would give Nebraska another boost in confidence, much like last year's Alamo Bowl victory.

Certainly Vegas seems to like the Huskers chances; they are only 2 point underdogs to the Tigers. The Huskers seem to match up very well against the Tigers. Auburn is 4th in the SEC in rushing, but 10th in the SEC in passing, which bodes well for the Blackshirts which have had much more luck stopping the run than the pass this season. Conversely, Nebraska's strength at pounding the rock would seem to be ideal against a smaller Auburn defense that is ranked 48th nationally at stopping the run.

One problem with pounding the rock in the Cotton Bowl is the Huskers' rash of injuries at I-back. Brandon Jackson's cast is off, but will play with a splint. Cody Glenn and Kenny Wilson look doubtful to play, and Marlon Lucky isn't recovered from his sore back either. Let's hope that Jackson is able to take the brunt of the load next Monday morning; Auburn's speed on defense would seem to neutralize Lucky's abilities.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

3 Years Later, HuskerNation is Still Divided

AJ the HuskerH8er had a nice take this week on the divisions within the Husker fanbase over the coaching change three years ago that simply isn't healing. And while I think there is a large portion of the fan base in the middle, there's no doubt that fans are divided and emotions still run deep. And I'm as guilty of it as anyone.

A couple of weeks ago, a Pederson supporter questioned me about a seeming inconsistency in my praise for Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard and my criticism of Steve Pederson. In both cases, I didn't think either Dan McCarney or Frank Solich should have been fired. But my respect for Pollard came about not because of his decision to make a change, but rather in how he did it. And my dislike for Steve Pederson started with the clumsy process that forced Solich out and eventually led to Bill Callahan's hiring.

We really should be over this by now. But we're not. And I don't think we're going to anytime soon.

It's on both sides of the issue. Solich bashers are quick to jump on anything to blame on the Ohio coach, just like I'm quick to jump on anything that paints Nebraska's athletic director in a negative light.

I was reminded of this last week when Houston Nutt hit the news again last week. A Nutt supporter somehow got the idea that I was miffed at Pederson for failing to sign Nutt (even though I started the post by saying that Pederson even considering Nutt was a "head scratcher"; go figure) He did have a point that Nebraska fans need to move on.

Husker fans do need to move on, but I doubt it's going to happen. I'm going to try and refrain from revisiting the whole ugly coaching change...whether I'm going to be successful is another thing. The wounds still exist, and they aren't healing. That doesn't mean that I'm suddenly going to stop criticizing Steve Pederson if he does something I disagree with. It simply means we need to put December 2003 behind us, much like Frank Solich himself has. (Check out an interview from last week with Omaha radio station 1620 the Zone.)

In this season of peace, perhaps this is something both sides of the divide could strive for.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Omaha's Pro Sports Future: Arena Football, not OAKs

Time to check in again with the dumbest idea in Omaha sports: the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights. After finishing dead last in the AHL in attendance in 2005-06, the OAK's have surged to 26th place (out of 27 AHL teams). The miscalculations of the Omaha sports market by the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben and the Calgary Flames have been legendary and well-documented. In the end, the few supporters of professional sports point out that what they really like is Omaha being mentioned with the likes of Chicago, Toronto, and Houston.

Frankly there's nothing wrong with that.

However, minor league hockey is simply not going to work in Omaha when you already have established programs such as the Lancers and the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. In a market this size, three's a crowd. And pretty soon, the Flames will soon cut their losses and head for a market that doesn't have hockey. Kansas City might be a target, though they currently have their eyes on the Pittsburgh Penguins, should the plan for a new arena fail.

What would work in Omaha? Arena football.

Not sandlot indoor football like the Omaha Beef, but the full AFL. Today, ESPN invested into the AFL, guarenteeing that the ESPN hype machine will be in full force on the AFL, with Monday Night Football throughout the spring and summer. The AFL gives us noteworthy names for competition to satisify the folks that want to see Omaha in the big names: Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles. It gives us great regional rivalries: Colorado (Denver), Kansas City, and Chicago. It gives us reasonable ticket prices (most tickets are $8-$26 a game in Kansas City, Denver, and Chicago) and the season fills a void after UNO hockey and Creighton basketball vacates the Qwest Center.

According to today's media reports, the AFL is looking to expand. The AFL drew packed houses to Iowa moldy old Vets Auditorium, but left in search of a bigger market and venue. Looking around the AFL, average attendance seems to be around 12,000 fans a game. Certainly if the Omaha Beef can average over 5K for part-time indoor football as they bounce from one minor league to another, Omaha could support real Arena Football.

If our city fathers who tried to foist the ill-conceived OAK's want to take Omaha to the next level, they need to forget the AHL and think AFL.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Not Basketball Assocation & Other Weekend Thoughts

About 15 years ago, I completely lost interest in the NBA...the Not Basketball Association, as it became less of a sports league and more of a vehicle for selling shoes and rap music. Today's remnants of professional basketball regularly embarass this country in international competitions; it's essentially now to basketball what the WWE is to wrestling. Numerous folks have tried to convince me otherwise, but events such as last night's Royal Rumble in professional basketbrawl prove my point.

In real basketball, I see that CBS/SI's Seth Davis named the Huskers' Doc Sadler the #4 new coach making an immediate impact on their team, ahead of some of the other name hires in the Big XII, like Bob Huggins and Greg McDermott. Next up for the Husker hoopsters is a trip to Hawai'i to play in the Rainbow Classic about the time the first winter storm could be bearing down on the state. Also in the Classic are the Creighton Bluejays, setting up a potential rematch for the Jays and their bandwagon fans, if Dana Altman can somehow knock some sense into his squad.

Today's Omaha World-Herald had a nice little recap of the overhyped 2005 Husker recruiting class. Don't misread that statement; there will be some nice players and it will be a solid group of players in time. But it will never be what recruitniks said it would be 2 years ago, especially with so many players (Harrison Beck, Leon Jackson, Rodney Picou, Justin Tomerlin) all out of the program.

It would be interesting to hear the "rest of the story" behind the departure of John Blake to North Carolina. Rumors are that Blake was upset at not being named recruiting coordinator last season, and the speed at which Blake was replaced with Buddy Wyatt indicates that this change has been in the planning for some time. There are even some internet reports that Blake wasn't planning on leaving until after the Cotton Bowl. In any event, Nebraska will definitely miss Blake on the recruiting trail.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Even more from the Nutt House - The Saga Continues

Like many Husker fans, I was scratching my head 3 years ago when Steve Pederson sent a jet to Fayetteville to fly Houston Nutt to Lincoln as Nebraska's head football coach. Subsequent losing seasons by Arkansas made that debacle look even more questionable, especially when Nutt hired a high school coach as his offensive coordinator in order to get his prized 5-star quarterback to sign with the Razorbacks.

So imagine my surprise when Arkansas went on to have a great season, winning the SEC West, and star running back Darren McFadden being named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Looks like I was wrong about Nutt all along, right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Yes, the Razorbacks had a successful season on the field, but things are unraveling for Nutt. Last month, a book about Springdale High's 2005 championship football team was announced, featuring some inflammatory quotes from now-Arkansas QB Mitch Mustain about Houston Nutt saying, in effect, that he'd be more likely to sign with Arkansas if Nutt was fired. Instead, Nutt hires Mustain's high school football coach, and Mustain signed with the Razorbacks.

However, once the quote made the rounds in Arkansas, Mustain was benched as Arkansas' starting quarterback and controversy ensued. Once the season ended, Mustain's mommy ran to Boss Hogg (Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles) to complain about Nutt's plans for her son. Today, Beck Campbell, Mustain's mom, issued a press release (boy, does this sound familiar) to the media to "clarify the situation". Another of Mustain's teammates from Springdale is planning to transfer from the Hawgs. And Nutt's name is once again bouncing around in coaching searches, this time for Alabama.

Now a running joke on the Arkansas campus is that Houston Nutt has turned down more jobs he was never offered than any other coach in history. Of course, whether or not Nebraska was ever one of those jobs "never offered" is still up for debate.

Wow... what a mess. It has all of the elements of the worst parts of athletics. Overactive parents, slimy recruiting, recruiting hype, and wouldn't you know, a link to Steve Pederson as well.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

As the Quarterbacks Turn

In August, Brian Hildebrand's plans to transfer to Nebraska was a contributing factor to Harrison Beck's spectactular departure. However, the subsequent arrival of Sam Keller and then the commitment of Zac Lee changed the Huskers' plans, and now Hildebrand is leaving Lincoln.

However, he's not leaving quietly. Today on Big Sports 590, Hildebrand told Matt Perrault that the coaches reneged on a promise to put him on scholarship next semester and accused them of lacking "integrity". Pretty bold statements, though we've heard them from other players who've left the program in the Callahan era. They are even more surprising when you consider Hildebrand's comments when he arrived in August. Many kool-aid drinkers will automatically dismiss Hildebrand's charges as sour grapes, and many critics will automatically take them at face value. Where's the truth? Somewhere in between likely. In any event, Hildebrand is in a tough spot as leaving a second division 1-A program (he originally redshirted as a freshman at Oregon State 2 years ago) doesn't leave him a lot of options. He could go division II and play for 2 years, or go 1-AA and play for one year.

In any event, that seems to solidify Sam Keller's status as heir apparant as Nebraska's next starting quarterback. Keller was named scout team player of the year, and Corey McKeon said that Keller has been regularly torching the Blackshirts in practice. Of course, that just puts him in the same class as Adam Barmann in finding holes in the CozBohl "Bend and Break". Perhaps we also see why Keller's teammates in Tempe went to Dirk Koetter and asked for Rudy Carpenter to start instead. Keller is known to yell at teammates who make mistakes, which is fine as long as Keller owns up to his own screwups.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Parse Doing It All

In UNO hockey, Scott Parse is certainly on a hot streak. Last Saturday night, Parse moved to defense after Mike Eickman went down to injury, and recorded a hat trick against Bowling Green and ended up being named defensive player of the week to match his offensive player of the week award earlier this season. MavRick suggests wonders, partially in jest, whether Parse should give goaltender a chance. Or maybe he should shoot bigger... how about chancellor? (Couldn't do any worse than the previous one...)

Then this weekend against Bentley, (not the car, not the Jefferson's neighbor from Britain, but the college in Boston) Parse added 2 assists on Friday night and 2 goals and an assist this weekend. Parse had a couple of looks late in the game to get his second hat trick in 3 games, but the pass didn't connect. Even so, he's now the career scoring leader at UNO with still half the season to go. Is it time to fire up the Hobey Baker promotions again? Yeah, Bentley isn't much of a hockey program, but they nearly bumped UNO out of the NCAA tournament last season when they battled Holy Cross (who would later defeat Minnesota) for their conference championship.

So UNO takes a 5 game winning streak into the Christmas break, followed by road trips to Princeton and Yale at New Years, followed by a trip to Lake Superior State. It will be 5 weeks before the UNO takes to the ice at the Qwest Center again. That's a little long for my taste.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

If it's December, it must be time to b*tch about the BCS

After Florida passed up Michigan for the chance to play Ohio State in the BCS championship game, the annual tradition about complaining about the BCS was in full force once again. In 2000, the complaints revolved around strength of schedule bumping Miami in favor of Florida State. In 2001, the complaints revolved around computers giving the edge to the Huskers. The fact remains that as long as you maintain the bowl system, you only can accomodate 2 teams in a National Championship game, and whenever you don't have 2 clear-cut teams (i.e 2002 with Miami and Ohio State or 2005 with Tejas and USC), you have controversy.

So what's the alternative? Blow up the bowls and institute a playoff. Of course, a playoff won't eliminate the controversy either, as the complaints will just focus on the teams who just missed the playoff. (See the complaining after the NCAA basketball tournament is set in March...)

Actually, you don't have to completely blow up the bowls, but you basically need to seperate college football into 2 groups: the championship playoff teams (8 or 16 teams), and the rest of the teams, who can continue to head to the Cotton, Alamo, and Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl.

The championship playoff (preferably 8, though I could see 16 teams) would be seeded 1 to 16, with the top seeds hosting games. Some bowl purists insist that you could have the bowls host these matchup, but that's completely impractical for fans. It's one thing to ask Ohio State fans to spend $80 for an NCAA playoff ticket to a game in Columbus. It's another thing to ask them to spend $80 for a ticket, then $1000 on short-notice airfare to El Paso, Tampa, or Charlotte. Then if they win, repeat this process for a game the next week? And then do it again for the title game? Are you serious? Over the holidays, you are going to try and get thousands of fans to go back and forth between multiple bowl games? Sure, they'll make this pilgrimage for the championship game...but not for the preliminary games.

And let's not forget, most college stadiums hold significantly more fans that most bowl stadiums. Capacity for the BCS title game is around 73,000. The top 4 teams in the BCS standings have stadium capacities of 107K, 101K, 91K, and 88K. Playing these games at campus stadiums likely means another $2 million in ticket sales for every game played. And you don't have to worry about playing in front of a 75% empty stadium, such as the Hawaii Bowl game when the Warriors aren't invited.

So what would this year's matchups be? Let's use the BCS standings and assume that we're going to have a huge quadruple-header of games this next Saturday:
#8 Boise State @ #1 Ohio State, 2 pm
#7 Wisconsin @ #2 Florida, 5 pm
#6 Louisville @ #3 Michigoon, 11 am
#5 USC @ #4 LSU, 8 pm

The next week, you matchup the OSU-BSU winner against the LSU-USC winner at the home of the higher seed, and the Florida-Wisconsin winner against the Weasel-Louisville winner, again at the higher seed.

Then matchup the 2 remaining teams in the College Super Bowl, and go ahead and host that at a bowl site on January 8th. A couple of weeks off allows you to hold this game at a neutral site since that gives fans a little time to get their travel plans in place.

Want a 16 team playoff? Well, kill the conference championship games, and start last weekend with matchups like: Rutgers @ Ohio State, Virginia Tech @ Florida, Wake Forest @ Michigoon, West Virginia @ LSU, Arkansas @ USC, Notre Dame @ Louisville, Oklahoma @ Wisconsin, and Auburn @ Boise State.

Now, tell me why we want to maintain the bowls again?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Callahan Taking the Blame

48 hours after the Big XII Championship Game loss to the Sooners, I still believe that Oklahoma beat the Huskers by outplaying them. Oklahoma's defense is definitely the best I've seen this season, but Nebraska's offense is better than Oklahoma's (as long as Adrian Peterson is on the sideline in a parka). I don't think talent was the issue Saturday night... it was in the execution.

Reading the comments from Bill Callahan today in the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal-Star, I get the feeling that Callahan is thinking the same thing. Personally, I don't think the game plan was so bad as much as the Huskers made critical errors at key points of the game. Most of those errors were forced by the Sooners, but could the Huskers have been better prepared for Saturday night?

A lot of people are focusing on the height of Cortney Grixby at 5' 9" in letting OU's Malcolm Kelly catch 10 passes for 142 yards. Height isn't the entire issue here. I went and looked at the top defense in the NFL, Da Bearsh, and their starting cornerbacks are 6'1" Charles Tillman and 5' 10" Nathan Vasher, backed up by a 5'9" Ricky Manning (who scored on an interception yesterday) and 5'11" Devin Hester. I don't see any giants in the secondary for the Monsters of the Midway.

Did the injury to Zachary Bowman hurt the Big Red on defense this season? No doubt about it. But size isn't the problem here. Recruitniks should remember that Rivals rated Grixby the #5 cornerback (a 4 star player) out of high school.

So what is the problem? I have my ideas, but sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Nebraska's defense underperformed this season, and I expect there to be changes on defense. The rumor mill has John Blake leaving for North Carolina which would be a major loss for the Huskers. Blake is an excellent recruiter who can sweet talk any recruit (and his mother). Would CozBohl go? Probably not, as the ties between Callahan and CozBohl run deep.

On offense, I'm not sure about coaching changes as much as needing to refine things. My fear is that Callahan could overreact like he did in 2003 in revamping his offense after getting throttled by his mentor, Jon Gruden, and Monte Kiffin in the Super Bowl.

Looking at my logs over the last couple of days, a lot of people have found this blog searching for "Fire Callahan" or "Fire Steve Pederson". While I still agree with the latter, I'm not sure the former is a productive approach for Nebraska at this time. And firing Callahan at this point seems rather silly...after all, he did get Nebraska to the Big XII championship game. That ought to be worth SOMETHING.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Long Cold Night in Kansas City

The tone for tonight's Big XII Championship Game was set in the first three plays:
  • An ill-advised trick play on the opening kickoff, with the reverse putting the Huskers in a hole deep in their own territory.
  • Maurice Purify fumbles after making the reception for a short game.
  • Oklahoma takes advantage, scoring in one play.
The rest of the game, the Huskers played catchup, but time and time again, the Huskers would make a crucial mistake. 5 turnovers? Having the Sooners bottled up with a 3rd and 11 from their own 1 foot line, and then letting them go 99 2/3 yards in the next 9 plays?

My initial thought is that the difference between Oklahoma and Nebraska was in execution, not talent. The Blackshirts played admirably, and the offense moved the ball well at times. But for the most part, Nebraska shot themselves in the foot time and time again, and Oklahoma took advantage of it.

Prime example? In the third quarter, Nebraska lines up for a 42 yard field goal. It's blocked, and Oklahoma returns it for a touchdown. But Nebraska lucked out because the play was nullified by another Husker mistake: a delay of game penalty. So on 4th and 7, Nebraska decides to go for it, but gets called for a false start. 4th and 12 now, and Nebraska takes the safe route, and Rickey Thenarse downs the punt at the OU 1. But Oklahoma drives the field and scores to take a 21-7 lead.

Don't let anyone try to tell you that tonight's game was lost because of talent, it was lost because Oklahoma executed and Nebraska didn't.

Any doubts now why Bob Stoops was coach of the year?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Big Eight Championship: Nebraska vs. Oklahoma

Just the way it's supposed to be... Oklahoma meets Nebraska for the conference championship. Wilkinson and Devaney may have passed on, Osborne and Switzer may be retired, the Big XII may put this game on hiatus, but this matchup still resonates.

CornNation has a nice little comparison of the matchup which shows the two teams are fairly well matched. Oklahoma has certainly played well this season especially after losing both their quarterback to NCAA violations and Adrian Peterson to a shoulder injury. Bob Stoops has certainly earned his coach of the year award (unless it turns out Stoops knew more about Rhett Bomar's high-paying "job" at an Oklahoma City car dealership) this season.

I think this matchup boils down to two questions:
  • How balanced will the Husker offense be?
  • How will the Huskers tackle on defense?
Offensively, Marlon Lucky has a sore back and Cody Glenn is injured. Game time temperatures in the teens will hamper both teams offenses. While it will make it more difficult to throw the ball, Nebraska simply cannot slip into a shell like they did against USC. Nebraska's offense is at it's best when it's being balanced, especially like in the 2nd half against Tejas. Brandon Jackson will be a key to this game, but BJax cannot win the game if he's the only offense on first down. Nebraska must mix it up.

Defensively, Nebraska must play fundamentally sound football as Oklahoma is going to try to run at and over the Huskers. If they continue to show shoddy fundamentals and allow the Sooners to gain big yardage, they will lose. Nebraska can't "hope" tackling improves, they need to do it.

And what is the motivation of this Husker team? All season long, after a bad game, we've heard that "our goals are still in front of us", pointing towards making it to Kansas City. Mission Accomplished? Perhaps to some. But I doubt that 60,000 Husker fans are making this trip just because they like the balmy breezes coming off the Plaza. Certainly just showing up in Kansas City isn't going to be enough for Nebraska's athletic director.

So what's my prediction? Most of the talking heads don't give the Huskers much of a chance, automatically slotting the Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl. Well, I think it's going to be closer than that. But, I still am a little unsure of this game. Is it the cold? Is it the matchup? Is it Sooner Magic? A little of it all, I'm afraid. But this is a classic matchup, so I'll pull up a classic score: Oklahoma 17, Nebraska 14.

Hope I'm wrong.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Little Love for Zac; A Little Hate for Me

A lot of honors have been pouring in this week for Zac Taylor, being named offensive player of the year from the coaches and the writers. The Omaha fishwrap's Tom Shatel wrote a great column yesterday on the kid who was born and bred Sooner red who wasn't good enough in high school to warrant interest from his favorite team, then bounced from Oklahoma State to Wake Forest to Butler County Community College before ending up in Lincoln, of all places. Early on in his junior year, Taylor struggled. But as the season wore on, he proved his toughness, taking hit after hit after hit and getting up, getting a little better each week. This season, he continued to improve, generally making fewer and fewer mistakes and making more and more plays, becoming the MVP of the team.

Is Zac Taylor the most physically talented quarterback around? Nope. But in the West Coast Offense, you don't have to be the most physically talented quarterback. In fact, physical talent usually works against you. The West Coast Offense requires the smartest quarterback, the one who trusts his mind instead of his arm. That's why the West Coast Offense features quarterbacks like Joe Montana, Brad Johnson, Jeff Garcia, and Rich Gannon. That's why Brett Favre struggled at first in Green Bay until he learned to throw the ball away (using his head) rather than force the ball to receivers.

Will Taylor go onto the NFL? This season will give him an opportunity, but chances are he won't be an initial success. But if he finds a good organization and situation, he can sit back and learn and develop. If both he and the NFL are patient, you just never know. I wouldn't count him out. He's got all the intangibles...and sometimes that means more than raw physical talent. (Can you say Ryan Leaf or Todd Marinovich?)

Late Tuesday night, I recieved an e-mail from Big Sports 590's Matt Perrault in response to my entry from last week where I took issue with Perrault calling the Nebraska-Creighton basketball game an "autowin" for the Jays:
If you are going to say I haven't done my research...please do yours. My ratings are basically equal to 1620's in the key demo (you might know what that is) and I've done it in only 6 ratings periods with no promotion what so ever. Disagree with me all you want - but don't ever say that I don't get people to listen to my show and pay attention....

Glass house my friend.....
First of all, thanks for writing in, Matt! Perrault doesn't disagree with my assessment that he didn't do his research on recent Husker/Jays games. In 2004, the game in Lincoln would have gone to overtime if Kellen Miliner doesn't score the game winner with a second left. In 2003-04, the teams split at the Qwest Center with the first game going down to the wire before Creighton won and the Huskers winning in the NIT on a layup by Jake Muhlheisen. Autowin? Hardly. It didn't take much research to find this out, either.

Instead, Perrault is more upset with my comments about the ratings for his show. Now, I don't have access to the official Arbitron books and breakdowns, but folks who do have access to them seem to agree that the ratings for KXSP and Perrault are poor. Now, one thing that weren't available were the ratings for the local NPR stations, so I guess it's true that I can't really compare the two. But judging from the 0.8 rating that "Big Sports 590" (19th out of 20 Omaha area stations) pulled in this spring, it's quite possible that my quip probably was more of a slam on NPR.

As for the "glass houses" comment? Not sure what he's referring to, but if he's referring to the low hit rates for my blog, that's perfectly fine with me. I'm not exactly after huge ratings, and since I do this for fun, I'm more than pleased with the traffic I get. I do this in my spare time, and if a few folks find it interesting to read occasionally, all the better.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Conundrum on Mike Kemp

UNO's disappointing 4-7-4 start to it's hockey season has fans in a rather ugly mood. With most of the nucleus of last year's NCAA tournament team intact and a returning Hobey Baker finalist in Scott Parse, expectations for this season were high. Bud Bar denizen AJ even went so far to call for coach Mike Kemp's head today.

Fair? Well, in defense of Kemp, the opposition over the last month of the season has included #14 Alaska, #6 Michigoon, #4 Miami, and #5 Notre Dame. UNO has played well at times, but the 1-6-1 record over that murderer's row schedule has UNO behind the eight ball. Still, UNO is #25 in the Pairwise rankings, which means that UNO isn't out of it at this point.

But UNO's spotty play is compounded by a general feeling of unrest and tension within the team that even some of the biggest sunshine pumpers acknowledge. If anything, it seems to be increasing...which when combined with the end-of-season swoon from last spring, raises questions about the direction of the program. The suspensions of 4 players for drinking while on the Miami roadtrip also raises questions about the mindset of the team.

So is it time to make a change? My answer: Not yet. I'm not sure what replacing Kemp mid-season would accomplish; in fact, I get the impression that it would only make things worse this season. (When was the last time any college team changed coaches midseason? I can't think of any examples.)

Also, UNO is just now starting a search for a new athletic director following yesterday's resignation by David Herbster. Who would select a new head coach? Could UNO search for a new head coach while searching for a new athletic director and chancellor? I would argue that each search would be a distraction for the other.

And let's face it, it's still really early in the season; if UNO can solidify it's defense and goaltending and start getting more consistent play, they could turn this around quickly. While the team needs to start playing with a sense of urgency, pressing the panic button isn't going to solve anything.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Athletic Directors on the Move

Over at Iowa State, athletic director Jamie Pollard made a bold move today by naming Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik to replace Dan McCarney. Bold, because Chizik was one of the hottest names in coaching circles. Bold because nobody gave Pollard a chance to sign Chizik. Bold because even after Pollard announced they had found their man, he faked out, who went on to report that Central Michigan's Brian Kelly was going to be the head coach.

Imagine internet recruiting site getting their facts wrong. Go figure.

But back to Pollard. Combine this hire with the hiring of Greg McDermott and the $135 million fund raising campaign underway at Iowa State, and you get the impression of an athletic director making things happen. Iowa State is certainly upping the ante and getting into the game in the Big XII.

Meanwhile, the fallout from the Belckis and Buckhead saga of graft and excess claimed UNO athletic director David Herbster today. I have mixed feelings on this one; I can't hold Herbster responsible for all of UNO's problems. Nearly all of them predated Herbster's arrival on campus and many were the result of mismanagement by the now ousted UNO administration. Herbster had some good ideas, but some were so poorly implemented, they ended up backfiring. But Herbster in the end needs to bear some responsibility for not questioning the excesses of his supervisors and not keeping boosters more aware of the situation at UNO. In any event, this change is probably for the best. This allows UNO athletics to start with a clean slate.

The bowl negotiations are hot and heavy after Texas A&M's upset of Tejas last Friday. Apparantly, A&M athletic director Bill Byrne is working hard to get the Aggies into the Holiday Bowl. However, now it seems Texas is now the choice for the Cotton Bowl, which now begs the question of where would the Huskers play if they don't win against Oklahoma on Saturday. Some rumors have Nebraska dropping to the Alamo Bowl to play Iowa. Why do I have this image of Barry Switzer at work, delivering a bag of tacos to Steve Pederson's office?

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Circus is Headed to Kansas City

Not since the Ringling Brothers Circus left town have we seen so many tricks and pratfalls as we saw in today's Nebraska-Colorado game. Frankly, as Tierre Green sprinted to a first down, I had reached my limit of trick plays, as the gags were wearing thin as the miscues and breakdowns in fundamentals mounted.

Watching highlights a few minutes ago, I can see how the Green run was set up by play calls earlier this year where Nebraska tried to draw the defense offside. In this light, it was a great call.

Likewise, the Joe Ganz touchdown pass to Barry Turner was also a creative play, set up originally by the final extra point against Oklahoma State. I'm surprised that the Puffs (or at least their coaching staff) didn't recognize that Ganz was the "kicker" instead of Jordan Congdon, nor did they seem to recognize the "high school" formation where the offensive line lines up away from the ball, with only the center, holder, and kicker (Ganz) in a traditional formation. Still not exactly sure where Barry Turner lined up; the replay I saw indicated he was hanging around on the far sideline.

So why the frustration? Well, when you see the I-back pass called for the third time in the game, and on the last one, the Huskers MVP QB gets blasted, you start questioning the sanity of it all. On top of that, add in the frustration of unforced penalties occuring over and over on offense and horrible, horrible tackling on defense, you get the feeling that perhaps Nebraska spent way too much time on gadget plays compared to the rest of the game plan. Even Bill Callahan had to shush the Husker Information Minister in the post-game radio interview from pumping too much sunshine on this win.

I think fans recognize that the Huskers were a little too sloppy and a little too gimmicky today; it was eerily quiet outside the stadium and the internet also seems rather quiet as well, especially considering the postgame trophy celebration. (I don't remember ever seeing a conference trophy presentation "ceremony" before, let alone a division trophy presentation.)

That takes us to next week's Big XII Championship game...and the big surprise of the day is that the opponent might not be Texas after all. After the snowy game in October, I recalled that the last time we expected a rematch (in 2001), it didn't materialize after upsets. And while Nebraska avoided the upset, the Bovines weren't so lucky. Now, if Oklahoma can hold off Oklahoma State tomorrow, the Sooners will get another trip to Kansas City.

Which sets up quite a quandry for Husker fans. On one hand, Nebraska playing Oklahoma for the conference championship just feels oh-so-right, even if the game is a week after Thanksgiving. Could we get the old diamond Big 8 logo painted on the field at Arrowhead?

But on the other hand, if Okie State can upset the Sooners, Tejas would back into the conference championship game on a 2 game losing streak. Colt McCoy was knocked out of the Kansas State game early with a neck injury, and struggled today against the Aggies, throwing 3 interceptions before getting carted of the field on a stretcher after suffering another neck injury today. You would have to like the Huskers chances in this game with the prospect of McCoy either being unavailable or hampered again.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Here Come the CuCu Puffs!

Despite the designation of Colorado as the "Rival" game by ABC, I'm not sure that Colorado is the rival of the Huskers. KMTV-channel 3 in Omaha ran an online survey and it's 63% Not a rival. Personally, I don't think Nebraska really has a true archrival. Nebraska and Oklahoma have a tradition of playing great, meaningful games, but if you ask the Sooners, their rival is Tejas. Tom Shatel is calling for the Huskers and Sooners to play every season on the day after Thanksgiving, but I don't look for that to happen anytime soon. Forcing Nebraska and Oklahoma to play each season would throw the balance of the conference off; it certainly would increase the strength of both teams schedules and probably mean that other teams would have a much easier conference schedule.

This matchup certainly has led to some weird results over the last few years. The home team hasn't won since 2001. The discrepancy between the two teams' records reminds me of 2000, when a 3-7 angry bunch of Puffaloes came into Lincoln and gave the Huskers all they could handle. CU mounted a late comeback, and took a 32-31 lead with :47 left in the game after going for two points. But Eric Crouch calmly led the Huskers on an efficient drive, going 4 for 5 to drive the Huskers deep into Puffalo territory, and Josh Brown nailed a 29 yard field goal to win the game.

So what does that mean for tomorrow? First of all, ignore the records. Secondly, remember that under Bill Callahan, Nebraska has performed very well after a bye week. Vegas says NU by 14... I think it might be a little closer than that.

When they announce the seniors tomorrow, one fellow who should get a thundering ovation is Greg Austin. In a few years, this man will probably need to have both of his knees replaced. He suffered a catastrophic knee injury as a freshman and has never given up. Greg Austin came to Nebraska as an unheralded recruit which didn't measure his heart. Hopefully he'll be able to share his passion and his unrelenting work ethic with other players and inspire them.

I see online that the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Denver Broncos tonight 19-10. Unfortunately, this game was blacked out across most of the nation by the NFL's decision to broadcast this game on their own obscure network instead of one of their existing broadcast partners. This is the ultimate power play by the NFL to see if 8 games are compelling enough to justify the $8.40 a year price to each customer. My vote: No way. I've caught a little bit of the NFL Network on DirecTV, and it's mostly uncompelling programming. The 8 games certainly ups the ante, but for the rest of the season, it's merely an NFL version of ESPN Classic.

Reminds me of the ill-fated decision by the NHL to move games from ESPN to SportsChannel America, another obscure channel. That move almost killed the NHL. The NHL repeated that mistake last year by moving the games to OLN, now Versus. And now even the MLS gets more coverage than the NHL. The NFL certainly has the product to make this succeed... I just hope it doesn't, as it's the next step towards the Super Bowl being broadcast on Pay Per View.

It's not just NFL fans that lose out with this... Big XII fans are losers as well, as the NFL Network also obtained exclusive rights to the Texas Bowl and the Insight Bowl, which means that the bowl game for Missouri, Kansas State, or Kansas may end up being blacked out to most fans. Remember the uproar a few years ago when Fox Sports Net started pushed a Nebraska/Kansas State football game to FX? Here we go again... In the end, fans end up the losers in this power play.

A quick reminder. #4 Notre Dame comes to the Qwest Center to play the UNO Mavs in hockey this weekend. Certainly a busy sports weekend in this area. That's something to be thankful for!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

As the coaches churn

The Sporting News' Tom Dienhart is reporting that Nebraska offensive coordinator Jay Norvell is the frontrunner to take over to replace Dan McCarney at Iowa State. Not a surprise to me; I've felt Norvell was the best coach on the Husker staff ever since he arrived. Losing Norvell is inevitable, in my humble opinion, and losing him to a Big XII rival would be double-trouble.

Dienhart also says that former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini is one of the leading candidates at Michigan State. At least one MSU fan is pushing Bo to take over Sparty (thanks DoubleExtraPoint for the tip):

Down in Columbia, Gary Pinkel's contract extension was termed "insane" by AJ the HuskerH8er. Perhaps the timing of the announcemen was insane, right before Dan McCarney's final game in Ames. But Mike Alden really didn't have much of a choice here: either fire Pinkel or show him the money. Pinkel was basically in the same situation that Barry Collier was at Nebraska this spring with only 2 years left on his contract. Pinkel's contract status was an albatross around Pinkel's neck that would make it very difficult for Pinkel to recruit. Pinkel even acknowledged it in today's Columbia Daily Tribune:
"I think when you get under three years, people wonder. For example, last year after the bowl game, we won our bowl game and nothing happened, so all our competitors were like, ‘Oh, are they going to keep Pinkel there?’ You know how that goes."
Perhaps the timing was bad; certainly waiting until after the end of the regular season would have made more sense. But it had to be done. Alden couldn't make the same mistake Steve Pederson made last spring and hope that Pinkel would bail him out by finding another job.

Speaking of Steve Pederson's mistakes, the folks in Athens, Ohio are certainly celebrating the Bobcats' first championship and bowl bid since 1968. When you consider the progress that the Bobcats have made in their last 2 years under Frank Solich and that Nebraska is just now getting back to the level it was at when Solich left, it's obvious that Solich is a pretty darn good football coach. North Carolina and Iowa State certainly thought so, considering Solich before eventually looking elsewhere.

Oh, and just to be fair, I do have to give props to Steve Pederson's hire if I'm going to criticize his handling of Barry Collier. The Omaha daily's Tom Shatel said it, and I'll say it: It doesn't happen very often, but Dana Altman got outcoached Saturday night by Doc Sadler. And that's the best news for Nebrasketball since the team walked out on Danny Nee and into Bill Byrne's office over 10 years ago.

Matt Perrault on KXSP made one of the more inane comments I've heard on Saturday, calling the Nebraska game an "autowin" for Creighton. In Perrault's defense, he wasn't in town for any of the matchups prior to last season, but he neglected to do any research to show just how close the matchup between Nebraska and Creighton has been the last few years. I guess that's why the Jim Rome-wannabe is drawing an audience only comparable to NPR...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Cryin' and Whinin'

A few quick thoughts while dealing with a very cranky newborn assistant blog editor:

3 months ago, I suggested that the gap between Nebraska and Creighton basketball wasn't as big as BrieJay fans thought it was. Tonight's Nebraska's 73-61 victory over the somehow rated Creighton squad certainly bruises some of those egos. Certainly, you should have seen this coming with how the shorthanded Husker team performed in the early going versus the overrated Jays in the early going this season.

It's a shame that this game was only televised on ETV2 statewide, a channel only carried by a few cable systems and folks with HDTV. It was a bad scheduling decision (playing the game the same night as the class B high school championship game) as well as Nebraska AD's continuing snafu in wanting to maintain ironclad control over Nebraska broadcasts. The game was produced by Cox for NET, and word has it that the broadcast featured a dog barking over Matt Davison's halftime commentary. Looks like Cox continues to prove their ineptitude; just ask Cox subscribers in Omaha how ABC looks in HD.

UNO hockey got swept this weekend by #6 Miami. Friday night's 7-3 loss was rather disappointing to fans, but CSTV's "Rink Rat" had some positive things to say about the Mavs:
UNO's puck movement is as good as any team I've seen this season, with the possible exception of Minnesota. They're doing a lot of good things out on the ice tonight, but this Miami team is very, very good, and the Mavericks don't have the goaltending they need to stop the RedHawks.
As for the team (UNO fans are) dedicated to, they have some good offensive punch, but they're playing three freshmen on defense and a freshman in net. They're just not there in their own end right now, and I'm just going to get annoyed if I start writing about the goaltending right now. It's hard enough for Minnesota to count on outscoring their opponents every night, let alone UNO.
Tonight, the Mavs lost 2-1 to the Redhawks on a late goal in the third in an improved effort. The results for the Mavs aren't what fans want, but it's not as bad as it might seem. However, next up is #5 Notre Dame on Friday and Saturday night, so it doesn't get any easier. Fortunately, these games are at home.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Few Thoughts from the Maternity Ward

Thanks to everyone for the good thoughts regarding the newest member of our family. Plans are to finally head home tomorrow, which means we'll no longer be able to call on the hospital's great staff of nurses to bail us out after tonight. On the other hand, it will be great to be able to spend a night in my own bed instead of on the couch here...

Lots of consternation among Mav fans over being swept at Yost last weekend by Michigoon. Friday night's game was close, but UNO lost 2 different two-goal leads. As Terry Leahy would say, "Beware the 2 goal lead". Speaking of Leahy, he and play-by-play voice Greg Harrington went a overboard in talking about how great it was for UNO to keep it close with a program like Michigoon. 5 years ago, it was one thing to be in awe of the Weasels and to accept moral victories. Now is a different time. UNO has played for a conference championship and made the NCAA tournament. Losing 6-4 isn't a moral victory anymore. A punchless 5-1 loss on Saturday night is even worse. Next up are the conference leader Miami Redhawks. UNO has a tough stretch of games coming up with many on the road, and UNO needs some wins badly over the next couple of weeks.

I did get to catch a little of Nebraska's season opener in basketball against the Mavs last night on the radio. How about Aleks Maric playing so much and so well 11 days after his appendectomy? Yes, it was against a D-2 opponent, but it's also against a D-2 program that gave Creighton all they could handle last week. Nebraska is still extremely short handed after a rash of injuries forced the Huskers to put student manager Nick Krenk, son of former Husker tight end Mitch Krenk, into the game last night for 13 minutes. Saturday night, the Huskers take on Creighton in a reversal of situations. Last year, the Bluejays were injury stricken and throttled the Huskers. This year, the Jays appear to be the overrated team and the Huskers are the shorthanded squad.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Welcome to the world, Rachael

My apologies to folks expecting sports commentary, but in the grand scheme of things, sports are just a (usually) fun diversion from the more important things in life. Today is one of those days I'll always remember, with the birth of my beautiful baby daughter Rachael, born this morning at 7:59 am to my even more beautiful wife. For those folks scoring along at home, she came in at 8 lbs. 6 ounces and 22 inches. Good vocal cords too!

Right now all is well here with mother and daughter. Gramma is pretty happy as well. Needless to say, this is one of those life changing moments, and only God knows where this new adventure will take us. Others who have kids tell us it is one of the most amazing events they've experienced, and the first few minutes have seemed that way so far.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

Tell me if you've seen this plotline before: Nebraska gets off to a good start and takes a commanding lead. The Huskers are running well, throwing well, and playing pretty good defense. They look like a pretty darn good football team. Then around halftime, they hit a wall. The offensive line becomes a sieve, the running game gets stuck in neutral, Zac Taylor couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, and the defense forgets how to tackle. We saw this against Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma State. And saw it again today.

What's the problem? Hard to say, but it's probably a combination of factors. Players losing focus? Probably. Coaches not making adjustments? Perhaps. Coaches making bad adjustments? More likely. Opposing coaches making better adjustments? Sure looks that way. Opponents getting momentum and outplaying the Huskers? Definitely.

In any event, things were looking rather bleak for the Big Red until Barry Turner blocked that long field goal attempt by A&M with 1:43 left in the game. Suddenly, there was a glimmer of hope. Todd Peterson made 2 clutch catches (including a 22 yard reception on 4th & 3), A&M takes a dumb roughing the passer penalty to turn a 4th & 10 situation for the Huskers into 1st & goal, and Maurice Purify made the leaping catch for the win.

ABC may have named Zac Taylor player of the game, but my vote goes to Peterson, the unheralded no-star walkon from Grand Island.

Maurice Purify is the best pass-catching wide receiver to ever wear Husker red. Of course, considering the history of Nebraska's I-formation offense, that's a little like saying you've found the best Italian restaurant in Ecuador. He's likely to be the first Nebraska receiver to get drafted to the NFL since Irving Fryar.

This was a game Nebraska and Bill Callahan needed. Oh sure, Nebraska still had the inside track for the Big XII championship game, but another loss against the a southern division team would still have left a lot of questions. And with Kansas State's upset over Tejas this evening, the North may finally be ready to rise out of the muck. And if Colt McCoy is lost to the Bovines for an extended period of time, fans can certainly wonder if Nebraska couldn't surprise in Kansas City in 3 weeks.

But not if they continue to meltdown in the 2nd half.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

UNO Hockey: It's Michigoon Week

This weekend, Nebraska-Omaha heads to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigoon Weasels...and just to get everyone in the right frame of mind, here's a little Weird Al:

But seriously, this is UNO's first game in a long-series of games where they only play 4 games at home over the next 2 months. Following this weekend's series, UNO heads to first place Miami-Ohio. The Mavs definitely need to bring home some points this weekend against Michigoon.

When these two teams met last February, it was a great series with UNO taking 3 points, thanks in part to Alex Nikiforuk's game winner late on Friday night:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Coaching Change at Iowa State and the Fall of the Big XII North

While not surprised, I'm a little disappointed that Dan McCarney is out at Iowa State. Yes, they've struggled this season, and choked the last couple of years when they've been in a position to win the Big XII North. But on the other hand, just the fact that Iowa State has even been in contention for a division championship should be worth keeping the guy around. But that's the state of college football today, where patience is seldom practiced.

On the other hand, the idea of Iowa State competing for the Big XII North title the last couple of years is a solid indication that the North division isn't what it used to be. I've read some Husker fans that seem to think that winning the North in 2006 is an accomplishment that makes them better than any other Husker team this century. They claim the trophy, and don't realize the trophy doesn't mean as much as it used to.

What do I mean? Let's look at the Sagarin ratings of the Big XII North over the last few years:
1998: Champion: #4 Kansas State, Nebraska #9, Rest of B12N: 12, 29, 62, 68
1999: Champion: #2 Nebraska, Rest of B12N: 4, 32, 68, 71, 78
2000: Champion: #9 Kansas State, Nebraska #4, Rest of B12N: 30, 54, 77, 83
2001: Champion: #8 Colorado, Nebraska #5, Rest of B12N: 21, 40, 72, 93
2002: Champion: #19 Colorado, Nebraska #41, Rest of B12N: 5, 35, 51, 132
2003: Champion: #13 Kansas State, Nebraska #23, Rest of B12N: 41, 57, 72, 106
2004: Champion: #32 Colorado, Nebraska #68, Rest of B12N: 52, 57, 60, 61
2005: Champion: #36 Colorado, Nebraska #24, Rest of B12N: 30, 32, 39, 56

What about 2006? Nebraska is #27, and the rest of the B12N: 33, 54, 80, 100, 110.

Up until 2004, the Big XII North champion has been a top 20 team and usually there were multiple teams in the top 25. Since then, the North has been a shadow of it's former self. This year, while Nebraska and Missouri are looking better, the bottom part (Kansas, Iowa State, and Colorado) has fallen to new lows for the conference.

People who think that winning the Big XII North in 2006 is somehow better than finishing 2nd a few years earlier are simply deluding themselves. In many respects, this is like grading on a curve. Don't get me wrong, the title isn't something to not be happy about. It just doesn't mean that Nebraska in 2006 is somehow better than they were a few years before (2000, 2001, 2003).

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Few Final Thoughts on Mizzou

Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha Daily writes a critical look at the state of the Husker program in yesterday's paper. Barfknecht doesn't dispute the position of Steve Pederson and Harvey Perlman that the program was "tired"; heck, Barfknecht wrote scathing articles about Frank Solich's recruiting. My favorite was when he raved about Colorado's freshmen Craig Ochs and Marcus Houston in 2000, and how Nebraska would fear them for years to come. Oops.

But Barfknecht does raise some valid points:

  • Winning the Big XII North title isn't exactly a great accomplishment. Since Kansas State won the North (and then beat the latest "greatest team ever" for the conference title) in 2003, the Big XII North has been one of the worst divisions of any BCS conference. Certainly Nebraska has been the most talented team in the division the last few years.
  • If 2003's 9-3 record wasn't very impressive (thus sayeth Harvey Perlman), how does 2006 shape up?
  • Bill Callahan is 11-11 in Big XII play during the league's worst down cycle, playing in the worst division in the conference.

Callahan's prized 2005 recruiting class has already lost 8 players (including several of the blue-chippers), and Callahan's 2006 class was only #20. The 2007 class is currently rated #26.

Beating Missouri is good. But if Nebraska truly wants to show improvement, games like Oklahoma State need to become bad, distant memories, not recurring attractions.

I'm surprised more people haven't discused Gary Pinkel's brain damaged timeout following Chase Daniel's 4th quarter completion despite being sacked by Bo Ruud. The official's blew the call originally, and fans and the Husker coaches were protesting the call. Why in the world would you call timeout and give the refs time to review the play? You could easily see from the sideline that the call was questionable, and that letting the play get reviewed would cost the Tigers 15 to 20 yards. So why not get to the line quickly and get a play called. Time was running short for the Tigers, and 4th and 7 is much better than 4th and 23. Not to mention wasting a timeout. Heck, if Missouri would have raced to the line, there was a good chance that Nebraska would have been forced to challenge the play... As it was, the timeout gave Bill Callahan time to plead his case and then give the replay official in the booth time to look the play over.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Billy C Schools Pinkel

Thursday I suggested that today's game matched each team's offensive strengths against the other team's defensive weakness, and the question was which team would capitalize on this more. Well, the Huskers handed the ball off to Brandon Jackson 32 times for 115 yards and delivered the 34 points I predicted.

However, Missouri failed to challenge Nebraska's injury depleted linebacker corps and vulnerable secondary. Partly due to Cosgrove's nickel schemes to play the youngsters in the secondary? Yes, to some extent. But really, it was almost as if Gary Pinkel didn't even want to try to exploit Nebraska's weakest link on defense.

All game long it was a steady stream of what I call the "Statue of Liberty" play, where Chase Daniel took a shotgun snap and didn't move, handing off the ball to a running back on a sweep. And yes, Tony Temple did get 100 yards running that play, but he also ran about for about 200 meaningless yards east/west as this play was strung out for minimal game most of the day. Missouri failed to challenge the Husker secondary most of the day, choosing to throw mostly short screen passes.

As the game went on, I couldn't help but wonder whether Missouri fans felt like Husker fans after the USC game, frustrated by the game plan. Sure enough, AJ the HuskerH8ter agreed.

A few other thoughts about today's game:
  • Bo Ruud came up huge today. I've read a few folks implying that Ruud wasn't even talented enough to play for any division 1 school, let alone play for Nebraska. Funny, I've heard the same talk about Scott Shanle and big brother Barrett Ruud in past years and both those guys are playing on Sunday's in the NFL.
  • Hard to choose a favorite highlight reel catch between Maurice Purify, Terrence Nunn, and Nate Swift today. All three should make highlight reels.
  • Chase Daniel looked a little off today. Perhaps someone on Missouri's training staff needs to supply him some energy bars during the game. I don't think this supplement helped him much. Certainly they have something better available.
Score this one for Callahan and the embattled Kevin Cosgrove.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Little Nookie on the Eve of SlapFest

Tonight at the Qwest Center, UNO overcame another shaky performance by Jerad Kaufman in goal to tie the Alaska (Fairbanks) Nanooks 5-5 tonight in hockey. Mr. Hobey himself, Scott Parse, had assists on UNO's opening goal as well as UNO's game tying goal with 1:22 left in regulation. Phat Dogg Dan Charleston got UNO tied the game in the 2nd period with a short handed goal followed by a power play goal midway through the period.

17 year old freshman goalie Jeremie Dupont came in early in the 2nd period in relief of Kaufman with the Mavs down by 2 and had another solid performance, following last weekend's shutout that earned him CCHA rookie of the week honors. I'm assuming that Dupont will start tomorrow night, and with another solid performance, might earn both starts next weekend when the Mavs travel to Ann Arbor to face the Weasels.

But first comes tomorrow's Husker game against Missouri. You really get a sense that the coaching staff knows the pressure is on this game. Tight ends coach Shawn Watson told the Omaha World-Herald:
"We've won some nice games, we've done some really good things. But we've got to win a big game."
And the World-Herald casts a tone on what this game means to Bill Callahan and Steve Pederson:

Win, and Nebraska likely goes to the Big 12 Championship game in Kansas City, Mo., as the experts predicted. Callahan, even with four or five losses, can claim progress - life is all about progress.

Lose, and many Nebraska fans will instinctively recall an autumn Sunday in 2003, when Athletic Director Steve Pederson, who had just fired Frank Solich, proclaimed his intolerance of mediocrity. They'll remember Pederson's words after NU drubbed Colorado a year ago:

"This is the reason we did what we did," Pederson said that night. "It's what we've been saying all along, that things will turn."

So which will it be? Will this be the beginning of something great tomorrow?

Or will it be the beginning of the end?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mizery: Strength vs. Weakness

Saturday's game vs. Missouri features a matchup that looks very bad for Nebraska. Missouri's spread offense will try to stretch the field and complete passes underneath, putting pressure on the linebackers. However, Nebraska's linebacking corp is hurting. Corey McKeon and Steve Octavien missed practice yesterday, and are very questionable. Lance Brandenburgh, who would fill in for McKeon, is also hurting.

Even if the Huskers were healthy, the spread offense has been a real challenge for Kevin Cosgrove. Cosgrove let Texas Tech jump to a 21 point lead last year after the Raiders hung 70 on the Big Red the year before. And last year in Columbia, Brad Smith ran untouched through Cosgrove's prevent defense.

So what's the solution? Well, Cosgrove is going to need to try SOMETHING different. With the shortage of healthy linebackers, it may be time to try some nickel and dime coverages, especially when Missouri tries to spread the field. Mixing up a healthy dose of blitzes wouldn't hurt either.

On the other side of the ball, there's a potential, albeit, smaller mismatch. Missouri has shown a vulnerability in defending the run. Oklahoma's Allen Patrick ran for 162 yards last week. I'm thinking that a heavy dose of Brandon Jackson is in order for this week. A nice side helping of Cody Glenn would be nice as well.

Saturday's game will probably come down to intangibles. The game is in Lincoln, and the home crowd seems to be worth about 2 touchdowns for the Huskers. In the end, it will come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes. Last week, both teams made mistake after mistake to set up this week's slapfest.

Somebody has to win this one...and since it's in Lincoln, I'll take the Big Red in a 34-28 victory.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Must Win for Callahan, Part II?

Before the Iowa State game, HuskerH8ter AJ asked if that game was a must win for Callahan. I said no at that time. In the end, it was a moot point; the Huskers won handily.

So, let's fast forward 4 games. After a victory against Kansas State, Nebraska returns to Memorial Stadium on a 2 game losing streak to face Missouri, with the winner having a 1 game lead and the tiebreaker in the race for the Big XII North.

Is this a must win for Bill Callahan?

My take: No...but it's awfully close.

First, why not: With a loss, Nebraska will be 6-4 which would still be bowl eligible, even if they were to lose out. It's tough to fire a coach who made it to a bowl game (not that it matters to a certain athletic director), and frankly, three years probably isn't enough time to judge a coach. Nebraska certainly doesn't want to hitch a ride on the coaching carousel that sabotaged schools like Kansas State, Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa State in the 80's and 90's.

But here's why it's close: With the sorry state of the Big XII North the last 3 years, there is no excuse for not winning a title. Finishing the regular season at 7-5 most likely does not send a strong message that this program is in a resurgence after an 8-4 season in 2005. If a 75% winning percentage wasn't good enough for the Cornhusker football program in 2003, it's hard to accept these results.

Even if it doesn't result in the immediate firing of Callahan, a loss puts an end to all the goodwill gained from the end of the 2005 season. Already the and FireBillCallahan blog are back in action.

Here's another factor: In the Sagarin computer rankings, Nebraska's loss to Oklahoma State dropped the Huskers to #39. That's 5 spots behind Hawaii, 4 spots in front of Navy, and potentially even more problematic to the leadership in Lincoln, only 10 spots ahead of the Ohio Bobcats, a perennial bottom-feeder in the MAC that hasn't been to a bowl game since 1968. That's a comparison that has to be extremely uncomfortable to anyone who made outrageous statements about "gravitating to mediocrity."

The best way to keep this in check is to win on Saturday. Must win? No. But if they don't win, things are going to get rather hot.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mavs get 2 Players of the Week in Sweep of Broncos

In the reverse of the Huskers last weekend, the UNO Mavs started off slowly last Friday night, but went on to sweep Western Michigan. The CCHA went on to name Scott Parse offensive player of the week, as he scored the game winner Friday night and went on to finish the weekend with 2 goals and 4 assists. Parse is certainly keeping up the pace he set last year when he finished the regular season as the nation's scoring leader.

17 year old Jeremie Dupont saved UNO's bacon Friday night in relief of Jared Kaufman, who had an off-night in letting in 4 Bronco goals before getting lifted. He followed that up with his first shutout as a Mav in just his third college game in UNO's 6-0 victory Saturday night.

This weekend, Alaska heads south on their first road of the season; the Nanooks are tied with UNO for 2nd place in this early part of the season. Will the Mavs offensive juggarnaut continue? At home this season, UNO is averaging 6.6 goals a game...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Cowboy Up

Looking back at last Saturday's game against Oklahoma State, it's still not exactly obvious what the problem was. Or should I say problems. This one looks like blame needs to go across the board: offense, defense, special teams, players, and coaches alike. Some will play the talent card, but that's ignoring the fact that the Cowboys started 4 freshman and sophomores on defense and 5 on offense.

Saturday night, both Bo Ruud and Stewart Bradley commented that they could tell early on that something wasn't right with the team. Ruud recognized it in warmups, and Bradley realized it with the opening plays. Neither said, though, what the problem was. Perhaps it was the fact that Bill Callahan let the team know that Missouri had just lost (or, that's what Callahan told ABC's sideline reporter just before kickoff), which could have lessened the Huskers "sense of urgency". In baseball, frequently teams will turn off the "out of town" scoreboard in the midst of a tight pennant race so that the team focuses on their game instead of "scoreboard watching." Were the Huskers focusing on the wrong opponent this week?

Some folks suggested that Nebraska was tired after the Texas game. Perhaps...but Nebraska enjoyed a nearly 10 minute advantage in time-of-possession (34:59 to 25:01).

Game plan? Well, a heavy dose of Brandon Jackson sure started the game off right for the Big Red, jumping out to a 16-0 lead. I've criticized Callahan for not trying to be balanced, and on Saturday, Callahan's attempt to balance the offense after establishing Jackson turned out to be the beginning of the end. Even Billy C admitted that they started to throw the ball too much on Saturday.

On offense, I think you can find issues with just about everybody on offense. The offensive line had a horrible 2nd half. And when Zac Taylor gets pressured...very bad things usually happen. Last year, Taylor usually got knocked around like a punching bag. This year, Taylor is making poor decisions and is also having ball security issues when being sacked. Compounding this is the observations that receivers were out of position, running poor routes. That was to be expected in 2004, and might be acceptable in early September. But this was game #9, and many of these receivers have been running these routes for 3 years now.

On defense, I've pretty much thrown in the towel on Kevin Cosgrove. Wisconsin fans thanked Nebraska for taking him off of their hands, and I can see why. Yes, injuries have hurt the huskers, but everyone has injuries. Time and time again, we see poor fundamentals combined with telegraphed playcalls of unimaginative schemes.

Should some of the younger defensive players be seeing more action? Many fans are calling for more of Ricky Thenarse, Major Culbert, Ndamakong Suh, and Barry Turner. It's interesting that the Cosgrove is playing the more experienced players over the younger players, which was not my expectation 2 years ago.

So do we just chalk last Saturday up to "just one of those bad days"? I could buy that if it was just a few things that went awry, but in the 2nd half, just about nothing went right. Couldn't run, couldn't throw, couldn't tackle, couldn't cover, couldn't kick. Nebraska ended the game +1 in turnovers and had a 10 minute advantage in time of possession; two indicators that would indicate that you are playing ok.

I know I expected to lose a game we shouldn't, and maybe this was it. But looking ahead on the schedule, two games tougher than last Saturday's are ahead on the schedule, and that's what scares fans.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

An Embarassing Collapse

Brandon Jackson has a dominating 1st quarter leading Nebraska to a nice 16-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter. But what followed has to be the most disappointing Nebraska collapse I can remember, getting outscored 41-7 down the stretch before finally scoring a meaningless touchdown at the end.

Or should I say "embarassing".

The thing is, there really isn't any single thing that Husker fans can point to. Nebraska was dominated in all aspects of the game in the final 35 minutes: offensively, defensively, special teams.

Perhaps one turning point was when Callahan subbed Marlon Lucky in for Jackson. Jackson probably could have used a breather, but by that same token, it seemed to be the turning point in momentum that Nebraska was never able to recover from.

Defensively, this might have been one of Nebraska's poorest performance in terms of fundamentals since the 2001 Colorado game. Between horrible, horrible tackling, soft coverage on receivers, and being exposed in overpursuit, it was a horrible performance by the Blackshirts.

Maurice Purify shows his talent as a big-time receiver, but someone needs to get this kid's emotions under control as he was called for his third personal foul of the season. It's only a matter of time before Purify gets flagged in a critical situation.

Special teams were abysmal today as well. 2 missed extra points as well as being unable to get kickoffs to the endzone. Franz Hardy making some extremely poor decisions to run kickoffs out of the endzone put Nebraska's offense into holes.

Brandon Jackson's 180 yards rushing looks like an anomoly. When was the last time Nebraska had a rusher perform like that, yet get blown out like this?

Thanks to Oklahoma's defeat of Missouri, Nebraska still has a shot to win the Big XII North. But right now, that should be the least of Nebraska's concerns as Nebraska needs to regroup. Missouri and Texas A&M are better than any team that Nebraska has beaten this season, which is a very troubling notion.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

How to NOT Market a Program

Here's a head-scratcher for you. Despite playing home games this season against Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas A&M this season, Oklahoma State does not expect any sellouts at the smallest stadium in the Big XII. Why?

Ticket prices.

Despite getting a $165 million donation from T. Boone Pickens earlier this season, the Cowboys jacked up prices as much as 71% according to the Tulsa World.

Against Texas A&M last weekend, the cheapest ticket available at game time was $175. For this Saturday's game against the Huskers, ticket prices start at $85, with a top price of $525.

You read that right.

$85 for the cheapest ticket for a team that went 4-7 last season (1-7 in the Big XII conference)?

But that's not the worst of it... tickets to the Oklahoma/OSU game start at $100 each.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Now the season begins

Looking over the season so far, the season hasn't been much of a surprise. Nebraska is 6-2 like we thought. Several of Nebraska's opponents (Louisiana Tech at 2-5 and #124 in the Sagarin computer rankings, Troy at 2-4 and #132 in Sagarin, and Iowa State at 3-5 and #78) are much weaker than originally thought.

But things get a whole lot more difficult down the stretch. First, the good news. Colorado is struggling badly at 1-7 and #99 in the Sagarin ratings. But before the regular season closes out against the Cocoa Puffs, the Huskers have to deal with 3 of the most improved teams in the conference. Oklahoma State is 4-3 and #56 in the Sagarin ratings is up next. After that is Missouri is 7-1, tied with the Huskers for 1st in the Big XII North, and #24 in the Sagarin ratings (2 behind the #22 Huskers). Then it's a road trip to College Station vs. 7-1 Texas A&M (#34 in Sagarin).

These next three games are against teams better than anybody else that Nebraska has defeated this season...and will define this season. Arguably, the Missouri game is the most important game, but if Nebraska wants to dismiss any doubt about whether the Huskers are "back", Nebraska needs to win them all.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Unpredictably Predictable

Slowly thawing out from today's freezing, blustery game... a most entertaining game that will go down as a classic. Like any classic, both teams had their opportunities, and it came down to the end of the game.

A lot of folks want to blame Terrence Nunn for today's loss, but that's not exactly fair. Nunn had a bad game, but Nebraska had plenty of opportunities to win this game. Personally, my heart sunk when I saw Zac Taylor drop back to pass on 3rd and 4 with just over 2 minutes to go, as I felt it was a bad call at that point in the game. Texas was out of timeouts, so "pound the rock". Yes, it was likely to come up short, but the clock will continue to run. The wind was at the Huskers back, so it was likely that Texas would get the ball around their own 20 with 2 minutes left and no timeouts. Could they drive the field against the wind? Personally, I think it was a bad call, but not Callahan's worst of the game.

My vote for the worst call of the game was near the end of the 1st quarter. NU has a 2nd and 1 at their own 45 yard line, and a fierce wind at their back. 2nd and 1 is kind of like the ultimate "free pass" in football; you can try just about anything and if it doesn't work (and you don't screw it up completely), you still have a 3rd and short. What does Callahan do? Line up in a power formation (signalling that you are going to play it conservative) and hand it off to Cody Glenn, who gets hit in the backfield.

All in all, I thought Callahan's game plan stunk in the first half for the most part. Except for Maurice Purify's long touchdown catch (aided by a double whiff by the Texas secondary), the Husker offense was mostly inept. Lining up mostly in power formations, Texas could afford to stack the line and stop both the run as well as the short passes to the tight ends.

But I loved Callahan's changes at halftime. And no, I don't believe the claims that "we didn't change anything at halftime". (Where did the 3 tight-end formations go then?) He opened up the game and showed some balance. In the first half, Callahan called for runs 6 out of 7 times, and the offense sputtered before getting to "2 minute offense" time. In the second half, Callahan called passes 7 out of 11 times on 1st down to open up the offense and start moving the ball.

I call Callahan's playcalling unpredictably predictable. Frequently Callahan tips his hand and goes "run, run, run" or "pass, pass, pass", but only rarely "run, pass, pass, run" and mixing it up play-by-play. In the 2nd half, we got more of the latter, and the Huskers got back into the game.

And when I start getting frustrated about Callahan's conservative playcalling, he'll pull a double reverse or an I-back pass out of his bag of tricks. Go figure.

Special teams were a key part of today's game. If Nebraska had won today, the blame easily could have been pointed at Greg Jackson who missed 2 field goals and had an extra point blocked. But Mack Brown switched to a walkon freshman kicker, who drilled the game winner in his first action in college football. Even after Bill Callahan tried to ice him by calling a timeout and then challenging the play before to drag things out even further. (Nice call, Coach. A review of a play via instant replay usually takes 2 minutes or more; far more than a timeout. Us fans in the south stadium were wondering what the heck Callahan was challenging until we realized that he just wanted to let the kid think about the kick a whole lot longer.)

On Nebraska's side, Nebraska's problems with kickoffs nearly led to disaster. Despite having a stiff tail-wind, Jordan Congdon was unable to get the opening kick anywhere near the endzone and Texas returned it to the NU 10. Congdon may have an NFL accurate leg, but he simply doesn't have the leg strength to drive the ball into the endzone. Hopefully we'll see more of Jake Wesch on kickoffs the rest of the season; Wesch did a nice job last year as the kickoff specialist.

In any event, today's game might have been just round 1. Even the Texas players and coaches expect to meet again in Kansas City. Last time we heard talk like that was after the 2001 Nebraska-Oklahoma game, and that season, neither team made it to the championship game after each got upset after Thanksgiving.