Sunday, April 30, 2006

Maric declares for the NBA Draft

First it was Spinelli, and now Aleks Maric may be leaving for the NBA. Maric has declared for the draft, but has not hired an agent, so he will remain eligibile for a while longer. If he pulls out of the draft within a week of the draft, he'll still be eligible. I'm not sure if he stays in the draft and either goes undrafted or doesn't like where he got drafted, he would retain his eligibility. My guess is not, but that's just a guess.

My guess is that this is more testing the waters than anything. 56 underclassmen have declared for the draft, and only 60 players will be drafted. However, Maric could still decide to turn pro and head to Europe or home to Australia.

What does this mean for Husker hoops? Well, the momentum that Steve Pederson saw at the Big XII tournament is disappearing fast. Tom Shatel discussed it in today's World-Herald and that Husker Hoops is "sailing to no port. Or is the ship sinking?"

If Maric does not return, the future of Husker basketball looks extremely cloudy. First, you have to wonder about others on the roster--- will they return or will they ask for transfers? If you have any more defections, then where do you restart the building process? And can Barry Collier do it with the black cloud of his departure looming over his head? If Nebraska has to start over again, it will require a minimum three-year commitment to the head coach.

If Maric leaves in June, what does Nebraska do? Do they let Collier finish out next season, or do they pull the trigger when nobody is changing jobs? Illinois was able to hire Bill Self over the summer when Lon Krueger got an NBA offer, but the Illini were an established program. Husker hoops is really starting to look like a muddled mess.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Spinelli to Wichita???

According to the Lincoln Journal-Star and the Omaha World-Herald, Husker assistant basketball coach Scott Spinelli is leaving the Huskers for a lateral move to Wichita State. Which raises the following question: WTF???

Is Wichita State a better program than Nebraska? Not likely; while the Shockers did make the Sweet 16, the MVC is still a mid-major conference.

So why this move? Looking around, there are two theories which probably explain it:
  • Barry Collier was almost fired this spring, and probably doesn't have much job security.
  • WSU coach Mark Turgeon is a hot commodity as a head coach and Spinelli could be positioning himself as Turgeon's successor.
But still, this looks bad for Husker hoops. A lot of people credit Spinelli's work in recruiting as a reason why Collier was retained. Spinelli's departure will not only hurt Collier's recruiting momentum, but will also increase the perception that Collier is on his last legs at Nebraska.

This can't be good.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Leon Jackson: Victim of Recruiting Hype

In a not-so-surprising development, Leon Jackson has decided to transfer from Nebraska after spending his first year bouncing between running back, safety, receiver, and back to running back. This shouldn't be a surprise; Jackson showed his frustration last fall. Was this the right decision for Jackson and Nebraska? Yes and no. No, because you'd like to see a player with his talents stay on at Nebraska. However, if he's really unhappy, it's a good thing that he's leaving now rather than sit and mope. Best for him to move on. Will he be successful elsewhere? Perhaps, though the odds are stacked against him. Occasionally, players who transfer find success elsewhere -- see Zac Taylor. But more often than not, the player doesn't find the success he expected elsewhere either.

Do I blame Jackson? Not really; he's still a kid and still learning.

I blame the hype machine, fed by the Recruiting industry. Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for, even admits the monster they've created:
"They're built up so much by these Web sites that they feel like they've got to play or they're a disappointment. These Web sites have made these kids superstars before they ever get to college."
And, as Jackson's high school coach, Steve Graff says, they take these player's ego for a ride.

Recruitniks take these rankings as a guarentee that these players simply can't miss; the rankings are the end-all/be-all final word on the worthiness of a player. But oh-so-wrong. Even Lemming admits that half of these "blue-chippers" don't pan out, and even those that do usually take two or three years to develop.

Just more proof that these recruiting experts are irrelevant and mostly make-believe.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Evaluating Talent: Even the NFL Gets It Wrong

Scanning some Husker forums over the past week, I've seen several threads concerning Harrison Beck and the status of his sore shoulder. The injury itself doesn't sound serious, and likely will just need some extended rest. That leads to questions about whether Nebraska is going to recruit a Junior College quarterback to compete with Beck for the starting job in 2007. Invariably, the response from some recruitniks is to repeat a party line of "there is no problem with Beck; Beck is the man; please ignore the man behind the curtain". The implication is that it doesn't matter if Beck only completed 1 out of his 10 passes last season, it doesn't matter if observers are concerned about Beck's slow development. All that matters is that Rivals rated him highly and Bill Callahan and Jay Norvell say he's fine.

The problem is that (a) Rivals has moved onto high school juniors now, and (b) of course Callahan and Norvell are going to say Beck is fine. Are they going to dash Beck's confidence? Are they going to come out and rip their players, especially after the criticism Callahan took for his "dumbest team in America" quip?

The fact is that talent evaluation is an art, not a science. Even the NFL gets it wrong... Can you say Ryan Leaf? Akili Smith? How do you explain Kurt Warner? With the NFL draft this weekend, an AP story talks about the number of undrafted players who turn into stars. Let's face it, talent evaluation is simply opinions and even the best frequently get it wrong.

That doesn't mean that Harrison Beck is a bust...far from it. The pedigree that the recruitniks awarded to Beck isn't worth anything. The questions that some raise about Beck will eventually need to be answered by him...and on the field. If he answers the call and develops into the quarterback people claim he is, people will remember that pass he threw into the West Stadium against and laugh about how far he came.

Update: Another article via the Omaha World-Herald from the Washington Post about the NFL Draft and how it frequently is a crap shoot.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Forbes: KC Royals made $20 million

Tonight, the Kansas City Royals snapped an 11-game losing streak against the Cleveland Indians. In the past 2 years, the Royals have forced their remaining fans to suffer through losing streaks of 19 games, 9 games, and 8 games (three times!). Ah, the woes of a small market team; they just can't afford to pay major league salaries.

Or is it that they just don't want to?

According to a Forbes story, the woeful Kansas City Royals made over $20 million last year; their payroll for this year is just over $47 million.

It sure looks like Royals owner David Glass is running the Royals like he ran Wal-Mart. While keeping costs low may be good for business, it's bad baseball. We saw this last summer when the Royals tightwad ways kept former Husker Alex Gordon in Lincoln last summer instead of in the minor leagues.

A lot of frustrated baseball fans in Kansas City blame Allard Baird, and while he probably hasn't helped things any, the blame belongs higher. Dick Howser and Ewing Kauffman must be rolling in their graves, wondering what has happened to their franchise.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Remembering Brook Berringer

Has it really been 10 years? April 18th, 1996, Husker fans were anticipating the celebration of Nebraska's back-to-back National Championships when the horrible news came out about Brook Berringer's death.

Berringer wasn't the greatest football player, but he may have been one of the greatest people to ever wear a Nebraska uniform. And that's no knock on his football talent; he was in line to be drafted by the NFL. Berringer took over the Huskers' after Tommie Frazier was sidelined with blood clots and directed the team into the 2004 National Championship game in the Orange Bowl against Miami. The next season, Berringer found himself back on the sidelines as Nebraska repeated, yet didn't allow his disappointment to become a distraction in a season full of distractions.

I think Tom Shatel summed up the feelings of Husker fans everywhere with the final line of his column today:
Just let me get a tissue first.

Some other links:

Monday, April 17, 2006

Husker Hockey?

Chris' Western College Hockey Blog today speculated on the potential of expanding college hockey. Annually on USCHO, the idea of a Big Ten hockey conference gets raised, raiding the WCHA for Minnesota and Wisconsin and the CCHA for Ohio State, Sparty, and the Weasels. Could this happen if Iowa or Penn State were to elevate their club programs to Division 1?

Outside of the Big Ten, Chris feels that a fertile ground for expansion of college hockey would be Lincoln, Nebraska and the Cornhuskers. And, on the surface, this makes perfect sense. Nebraska USHL teams in Kearney, Lincoln, and Omaha draw well. And let's face it, there isn't a Husker sport that doesn't have a decent fanbase. (Some people might consider men's basketball an exception, but history shows that hoops fans are likely just hibernating...)

Could the Huskers start a Division 1 hockey program? In the immediate future, the answer is no. The Memorial Stadium expansion project is going to eat up any and all resources for the forseeable future. But long term? I'd have to say the idea sounds very intriguing.

There are two existing roadblocks that immediately put Husker Hockey into the penalty box:
  • No Arena with ice
  • Title IX
However, Lincoln is already discussing a new arena to compete with the Qwest Center. And Title IX issues could be easily addressed by simply adding women's hockey.

Would Husker hockey steal fans from the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks? Perhaps some. However, Creighton certainly holds their own fanbase in sports; they even outdraw the Huskers in men's basketball. If anything, a Husker-Maverick rivalry might provide a natural rivalry for both programs and would attract new fans to both programs.

Personally, I don't see this happening for a little while longer. But deep down, I think this is a winning idea long term.

Update: Revisiting Husker Hockey.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Spring Game Recap

Well, the third Spring Game in the Callahan era was much the same the previous two --- an uncompetitive blowout. I skipped this year's game due to a combination of the Easter holiday, the limited seating, and the expectation that the game would be uninformative. And from the sounds of things, I didn't miss anything. With the current format of Starters vs. Reserves, this game is really only suitable for two groups: families who want to introduce kids to Husker football at a reasonable price and the obsessed who will gladly jump on any opportunity to wear their red to Memorial Stadium.

This year's Spring Game featured a heavy dose of the running game, which is welcome news to those of us who feel that the Callahan version of the "West Coast" has been too dependent on the passing game in it's first two years. Tom Shatel of the World-Herald attributes this to a need to prove his committment to the aerial game to recruits. I've heard this theory from others in the past, and it makes sense. During the Osborne/Solich era, pro-style quarterbacks and receivers usually didn't consider Nebraska, and Callahan probably felt that he needed to prove this to skeptical recruits. However, the over-emphasis on the passing game undoubtedly cost us a winning season in 2004 and cost us a win or two in 2005.

So what did we learn? Well, Steve Octavien is a difference-maker, at least against out-matched competition. The gap between Zac Taylor and his backups Joe Ganz and Beau Davis (and apparantly Harrison Beck) is growing larger and larger. And Nebraska still doesn't have much depth on the offensive line, as the reserve offensive linemen were no match for the Blackshirts up front.

It appears that Marlon Lucky has made some progress in the last few practices to move into a tie with Cody Glenn as the top I-back. A lot of folks think that JuCo Kenny Wilson will make a solid case to start in the fall, but unless Wilson is a master at picking up blitzers, Wilson will probably only see spot duty. (Think Brandon Jackson in 2004, Lucky, and Glenn. 1st year running backs seem to be limited to specific roles in this variant of the WCO.) The starter this fall may very well depend on who blocks the best. For Nebraska to have any success in 2006, keeping Zac Taylor healthy is going to be priority #1. (If anything, Saturday's scrimmage proved that point...)

Folks looking to extrapolate Saturday's results to greatness next season should stop first and remember the false hopes that emerged from the last couple of spring games. Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald reminds fans that the successful ending to 2005 needs to be tempered by the fact that Kansas State, Colorado, and Michigoon were in shambles at the end of the season. (KSU and Colorado completely changed their staffs, while the Weasels hired new offensive and defensive coordinators.)

Friday, April 14, 2006

A few Spring Game Notes

From the sounds of things, Matt Herian is cleared to take the field for the first time in 18 months for tomorrow's Spring Game. For some reason, I think the first play just might be a deep pass to Herian, who deserves a huge ovation. Let's hope he's back to his pre-injury form in the fall...

Harrison Beck is also cleared to play despite his sore shoulder. Beck was struggling in camp before being injured, so I won't be surprised (or disappointed) if he doesn't play well.

The Kansas City media apparantly just heard about Bill Callahan's quip about Josh Freeman last month. It's sad when the 18 year old recruit shows more maturity than Nebraska's head coach. Freeman's response? "Life goes on. I play for K-State now."

Speaking of immature responses, apparantly Husker Information Minister Jim Rose is all in a tizzy over the Omaha Press Club's selection of Todd & Tyler as the next "Faces on the Barroom Floor". Apparantly Rose is leading a campaign advocating the cancelling of memberships over this. The Press Club provides a public service to the community, sponsoring debates this year for the US Senate and Nebraska governor races in the past month. But apparantly that's not as important as protesting a roast of a couple of morning show DJ's... During the uproar over Nebraska's coaching change, Rose continually belabored the point that the protests were hurting the program. Rose's protest of the Press Club over something as silly as a roast of Todd & Tyler hurts the community.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More on Beck

Harrison Beck missed his 5th straight practice yesterday with injuries to his hamstring and throwing shoulder. While the injury itself may not be serious, the loss of valuable practice time is. Let's face it, practice observers were reporting that Beck was still struggling before the injury. Meanwhile, Joe Ganz continues to impress, though nobody gives him much of a shot. In any event, this makes this weekend's spring game almost a non-event since Zac Taylor will probably only make a token appearance. Ganz and Beau Davis will likely take most of the snaps on Saturday, because even if Beck makes it back to practice, they probably will hold him out of contact.

Beck's injury also means that Callahan and Norvell have to make a tough decision with less to work with...and that is whether to target a junior college quarterback, especially one that can arrive at the semester break. I wouldn't be surprised if that recruiting isn't already underway, encouraging potential targets to take enough classes over the summer to become eligible by Christmas.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Steve Attempts to Explain the NET Baseball Debate

Steve Pederson in today's Lincoln Journal-Star tries once again to explain the ill-fated decision to dump Nebraska ETV for Husker baseball. The first change in the story is that NET only asked to do 3 games, 2 of which conflicted with the Big XII's agreement with FSN. The implication is that it wasn't worth it to only have 1 game on NET, so that's where Cox came into the picture.

Of course, nothing is said about whether the athletic department ever gave NET the opportunity to try some other dates. We are left to assume that NET was denied the opportunity to look at other dates.

The next broadcasts on Cox will have a slightly larger audience. Charter Cable (which covers Kearney, Grand Island, Hastings, North Platte, and Scottsbluff) will carry the game as well as Cox cable systems in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Kansas. Still not the same reach as CSTV, though.

Pederson also implied that Kevin Kugler played a part in the decision to dump NETV, though he claims it has more to do with "branding" than Kugler's criticism on KOZN radio:
“As we do with Pinnacle and everybody else, we have made the request that we be able to select the talent for our broadcasts. A lot of that is branding. We want to use our people. We try to use Jim Rose as much as we can. We try to use Greg Sharpe a lot. He did the basketball broadcasts for us. We have asked (to have) input on that, which as far as I know, is pretty typical for most universities.

“Our issue is not one announcer. Our issue is we want our own announcer brand in our product, and that’s a pretty reasonable request on the part of any university.”

"Branding"? Does that mean that Steve Pederson will be requesting that ABC use Sharpe instead of Brent Musberger?

In other words, Kevin Kugler: "Good Night and Good Luck."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Husker Spring Football

Next week is the Husker spring game. Chances are I won't be attending for two reasons: (a) holiday weekend is booked solid, and (b) I don't learn anything watching the starters beat up on the scrubs. Let's face it, how many people thought that Joe Dailey's and Zac Taylor's spring game performances were any indication on how they'd play at the start of the fall? (Don't worry, Steve Pederson is not taking names...) It seems like the main reason to show up is to impress recruits.

So I'm going to go by what media folks are saying. Not that they know anything, but at least they're watching the scrimmages and practices. Here are some thoughts, based on what I've read and heard so far.

The Good
Zac Taylor Last spring and early into the fall, I wasn't that impressed with him; he seemed to be a serviceable quarterback, ala Trent Dilfer. He gradually improved during the season, but what impressed me more about Taylor is his toughness. In road games against Missouri and Kansas, Taylor showed me that while he doesn't have the running ability of a Scott Frost or an Eric Crouch, he did share their toughness and durability. And as he took a beating all season, I really started to admire his heart. This spring, it sounds like Taylor is just seeing enough work to stay sharp, which is fine by me. This is the first spring in 5 years that Nebraska has a solid returning quarterback who isn't learning a new offense.

Matt Slauson This freshman was a silent last-minute addition to the Huskers last fall, but might have been the key to the Huskers' performance against Colorado and Michigoon. Slauson's play on the offensive line solidified a line that made Zac Taylor a living bruise and limited the Husker ground game. Yesterday, KOZN's Sean Callahan said that Slauson is having an impressive spring and talked about this previously unknown walkon eventually being an Outland Trophy candidate in a couple of years.

Steve Octavien Octavien wowed the fans in the first quarter of the Maine game with playmaking that reminded us of Terrell Farley or Demarrio Williams. Then he broke his leg, and we all wondered, was that just a fluke against a 1-AA opponent, or is this guy for real. So far this spring, it looks like he is real. Earlier this week, Octavien knocked both Marlon Lucky and Cody Glenn off the field with injuries.

Cody Glenn Husker fans loved the tough running this guy showed in short yardage situations last fall. Now, he's catching the ball, hitting his holes, and by all accounts, is the first-string starting I-back.

The Bad
Harrison Beck Zac Taylor is firmly entrenched as the Huskers' starting quarterback, and doesn't need much work this spring. That is giving Beck every opportunity to take his game to the next level. So far, it's not happening. Everybody talks about Beck's cannon for an arm, but it's erratic. Sometimes great, but then sometimes awful. There is a growing concern that Beck may not pan out, though it's still way too soon to know. At this point, he's developing much slower than people expected. (Of course, that's probably more the result of the unrealistic hype from Recruitniks than anything else...) Perhaps this is why Bill Callahan is still so worked up about losing Josh Freeman to Kansas State; he needed the competition and another solid QB in case Beck flops.

Marlon Lucky His kickoff returns against Kansas aside, I didn't see enough from Lucky to warrant his 5-star hype last season. Now, it sounds like Lucky is battling with Leon Jackson for the backup I-back position. Perhaps Lucky will be used as a "slash" player, alternating between receiver and running back to utilize his speed. At this point, he doesn't look like an I-back; word is that he may be closing his eyes approaching the hole in preparation for getting hit. (Apparantly these college players hit harder than the guys in high school...) Perhaps Nebraska should give him a shot at punt returns; it sounds like he's got the hands and the open-field running ability to excel there.

Matt Herian The unspoken story this spring is Matt Herian. Still hobbled 18 months after his broken leg, people are now wondering if Herian will ever be able to return from that devastating injury. You don't ever give up on a player as talented as Herian, but at this point, any contributions from Herian may be a bonus at this point. That's a shame, too, because Herian made plays we haven't seen since Johnny Mitchell left prematurely for the NFL.

The Quiet

So far, there hasn't been much discussion about receivers and the secondary. I get the feeling that Nate Swift and Terrence Nunn are quietly establishing themselves as the starters. However, I believe some fans are hoping that some of the young recruits will challenge them at those positions. We'll see how that turns out; those hopes generally didn't pan out last season.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Some Final Four thoughts

Well, I'll admit basketball prognostications this season sucked. I'm finishing last in both of my tournament brackets. And last month, I even dissed Cinderella, George Mason. Heck, I even agreed with Jim Nantz and Billy Packer on the mid-majors. I thought the RPI's were out of whack, but that's the great thing about the tournament. In the end, you have the capability to silence your critics, even if they are the guys calling the games. Last month, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tried to prove the Missouri Valley's worthiness, but ended up proving Nantz' and Packer's point instead. When seeded #6 or lower, the MVC had a lower winning percentage than any of the "big time conferences". The only conference that was even close was the SEC...and the SEC put 2 teams in the Final 4...

The rumor mill has Barry Collier interested in the Ball State head coaching job. Although it's being denied, I can't help but wonder if this isn't really part of a plan to get a coaching change in place without Pederson having to drop the hammer. Collier leaves with his head held high, and Nebraska gets a new coach. It's not heard of before...remember how Dana Altman left Kansas State for a woeful Creighton program?

I see Harrison Beck is now moonlighting as a rock singer in Lincoln now. Just saw some "highlights" on channel 3, and he sings worse than some of those passes he threw against Kansas State last November. (Just ask the guy in the West Stadium who caught one of Beck's errent throws!) A couple of weeks ago, Sean Callahan of Huskers Illustrated and Kevin Kugler of KOZN radio were discussing Beck, and the stat of a 40% completion percentage in practice was discussed. 40%? We might shake our heads at the idea of an Eric Crouch or Jammal Lord completing less than 50% of their passes, but Crouch and Lord made plays with their feet. 40%??? Even Mickey Joseph could do better than that. (I used to scream "Run Mickey Run" whenever Joseph dropped back to pass...) There is some concern that Beck needs to start establishing himself as the heir apparent to Zac Taylor, or Bill Callahan and Jay Norvell will dip back into the JuCo ranks for a quarterback. Beck may have the physical tools to be a great quarterback, but time and time again, I wonder about the mental makeup of Beck. Whether it's some of his comments when he was a senior (remember his blog?), or his sideline antics (dancing with the Cornhusker Marching Band during the Oklahoma game or oggling the Kansas dance squad), I really wonder about Beck.