Friday, August 31, 2007

Prelude to the 2007 Season

Tickets? Check. Binoculars? Check. Parking pass? Check. Just about ready to kick off the most anticipated season opener of the Bill Callahan era, from my perspective. No, it's not just to see the new tunnel walk... though judging from the number of hits today, I'd say a lot of you are focusing on that. I get the feeling that this might just be much ado about nothing, based on Randy York's N-sider blog on Mikey Bo's contributions apparantly are just a prelude to the actual tunnel walk, which will still feature the Alan Parson Project's Sirius. I've heard all sorts of speculation on both sides of the equation, but perhaps it's best to leave final judgement until tomorrow. (What are you going to do about it now anyway?)

For the first time in the Steve Pederson era, Nebraska is trying to get control of a story rather than waiting for it to blow up in their face. Randy York is starting to look like Pederson's second-best hire since arriving in Lincoln, trailing only Doc Sadler.

In any event, the real story is football. Here are my areas of focus for tomorrow:

Sam Keller: Keller acknowledged his gunslinger past, and mentioned that this offense forces him to play within the system. How fast and how well has Keller learned this offense. Will he trust his mind over his arm? What kind of decision making will he show tomorrow.

Defensive Line: While the 2007 line has talent, they lack a lot experience and depth. They have some big shoes to fill, replacing 3 guys still in NFL training camps and another (Ola Dagunduro) who was just cut.

Running Back: Has Marlon Lucky turned it up a notch? How healthy is Cody Glenn? How much of the offense have freshmen Roy Helu and Quentin Castille grasped while Lucky and Glenn have been sidelined this fall?

Also of interest: How is the depth in the secondary? Can the receivers get seperation and hang onto the ball? Can the offensive line protect Keller better than they protected Zac Taylor?

The 2007 season is finally here. I'm tired of questions; it's time for some answers.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

New Tunnel Walk Music for 2007 Husker Football

KETV-channel 7, the Lincoln Journal-Star, and 1620 the Zone (podcast) are confirming today that Nebraska is working with hip-hop DJ Mikey Bo to revamp the Tunnel Walk entrance for the 2007 season. What's it sound like? Well, you can go to Mikey Bo's MySpace page to hear a preliminary version, or you can look at an attempt to mesh the preliminary soundtrack with last year's video, as posted on YouTube:

My initial reaction: skepticism. First of all, we need to remember that this is a draft "teaser" version and that listening to a draft cut on headphones or a cheap set of computer speakers isn't anything close to what it could look like in a stadium filled with 85,000 fans and visuals projected on a 120 foot wide screen.

But why skepticism? Even though it's only 13 years old, the "Tunnel Walk" is now a Husker tradition. Yes, the Huskers stole the idea of entering to "Sirius" from the Alan Parsons Project from the Chicago Bulls. And yes, the idea of following the team out of the locker room on the HuskerVision screens came from Steve Pederson. Fans had no idea what was happening on September 17, 1994 after the screens went black with about 6 minutes before kickoff, when suddenly the deep bassline began reverberating from the new sound system, followed by simple dancing stars and suddenly the team appeared on the screen as they left the locker room. It was an immediate hit with everyone. By midseason, opponents had elected to wait in the locker room rather than be on the field when the Tunnel Walk was in progress.

The tradition was cemented on January 1st, 2005 when Nebraska made a deal with Miami and the Orange Bowl officials. The Hurricanes could use their smoke screen entrance at the Orange Bowl if the Huskers could enter to the sounds of Sirius. Husker fans in the Orange Bowl immediately recognized "their song"...and the rest of that night is history. The next season, animation was added to feature the Sears Trophy and the tradition built on itself.

Last season, Nebraska tried something different with disappointing results. The animations had become kind of stale, so instead we got Keith Jackson introducing it, a brief highlight video, and 3 players explaining why "I play for Nebraska". The highlight video was usually the best part, but the other parts usually fell flat as the HuskerVision team put together a package that may have been amazing inside a sound controlled studio or theatre, but disintegrated in a stadium filled with 85,000 screaming fans.

The HuskerVision team simply overproduced this video, adding in a dramatic underscore and adding in subtle sound effects that made it very impressive when being viewed in silence. That's exactly the opposite of what you want in a dramatic entrance with 85,000 people in the stadium. Fans stop their applause and screaming several times...once for the inane fireworks, then again when Keith Jackson appears, then again to try to listen to the players explain why they "play for Nebraska". End result: a muddled, disappointing mess.

Compounding the disappointment was the end of the opening animations, which became the truest form of tradition, a natural evolutionary tradition. You can't force tradition. (Remember Chip Davis' awful "alma mater"? They tried to force it for a few years before finally giving up on it.) So while it was a noble attempt, it simply didn't work.

So rather than return to the tradition, apparantly the athletic department has tried once again to tinker with tradition. Will they be successful with "take two"? I don't know, and I don't want to prejudge it before it happens. The "teaser" track I've heard shows a little promise if used as a prelude to Sirius before the team appears, especially if used as part of a brief highlight video. Sirius is the key to making this work. Yes, it's been used over and over again by countless sports teams. It's not unique to Nebraska. But what made Sirius so successful is that simple deep bassline that reverberates through the stadium, and it's been used in every tunnel walk, including the walks by three national champions. I don't hear that bassline in the demo yet. Maybe it's my speakers, maybe it's my sound card. Maybe they are still working on it.

That by itself is the antithesis of "tradition"... you simply cannot change tradition haphazardly if you want it to continue to be a tradition. Traditions evolve very slowly through the years, and if you feel the need to continuously tinker with it... it's not a tradition.

I'll reserve judgement until I see the finished product, but color me skeptical.

Update: The 2007 Tunnel Walk sucks...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Omaha Pushes a CWS Move Downtown

Much to the chagrin of the "Save Rosenblatt" folks, Omaha's city leaders are moving ahead with plans to build a new stadium downtown. And while I agreed with the "Rosenblatt Stadium is just fine" opinion in the past, the NCAA's position has changed my mind. Tom Shatel put it best in his column today. The #1 priority for Omaha is to save the College World Series.

What keeps the College World Series in Omaha? It's the fans, who come out in record numbers each season. But don't kid yourself who runs the show: it's the NCAA and ESPN, not Omaha.

The NCAA is based in Indianpolis, where Victory Field is a showplace, a gold standard for how to build a new ballpark. It has plenty of parking and nearby exhibition space for all the things that go on outside the stadium. It's visitor friendly too, with plenty of hotels and restaurants nearby.

ESPN is owned by Disney, who has a little bit invested in Orlando, where coincidentally, they are also looking to build a baseball stadium.

The NCAA recently notified Omaha that they are invoking a 150 day clause in their current contract where the NCAA and Omaha will engage in exclusive negotiations. After that, the NCAA is free to look elsewhere. What does the NCAA want? Well, the NCAA already has a bad enough reputation so they aren't going to make demand, but rather make "requests".

We already know about the NCAA's request for the "clean zone" to eliminate much of the "Mardi Gras" aspect of the CWS. Bye bye to the beer tents and flea markets. Now the NCAA also is mentioning hotels and restaurants nearby.

Now, it's starting to look like a no-brainer to move the College World Series to downtown, specifically next door to the Qwest Center. There are already 3 hotels within 6 blocks with 4 more already under construction. The Qwest Center provides all of the meeting and exhibition space you'd want for the NCAA's Corporate Partners. Nearby is the Riverfront plus the Old Market with more restaurants and hotels. How do you put this around Rosenblatt? Simple... you have to demolish even more of the neighborhood that the "Save Rosenblatt" folks cite as the reason to keep the CWS at Rosenblatt.

Yes, we probably could keep the CWS at Rosenblatt for a few more years as it currently stands. But the NCAA wants something more out of the CWS, and eventually they'll move it if Omaha doesn't meet their needs. They are asking nice now. They may not ask so nice in the future. Or worse, they'll stop asking and simply move it home. Don't believe me? Well, Indianapolis is now the permanent backup facility for the Final Four basketball tournament and is guaranteed a Men's AND Women's Final Four every five years. If Indianapolis can grab Final Fours two out of every five years, don't kid yourself that they won't grab the College World Series if Omaha balks.

Don't think our city fathers don' t know this? That's why the downtown stadium is the best plan for the College World Series. Rosenblatt has served us well, but the NCAA has served us notice that the CWS has finally outgrown the stadium on the hill. The question is no longer whether we want the CWS at Rosenblatt, but rather if we want the CWS in Omaha 10 years from now.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Big XII Roundtable: The Face of the Team

Apparantly, the Crimson & Cream Machine is going to make the Big XII Roundtable a weekly affair. Here are this week's questions:

Pick one current player to be the “Face of the Franchise” for your team. You can only select one player so tell us why you selected the person that you did.

I'll take Bo Ruud. Not necessarily the flashiest player, but almost always the smartest guy on the field and a hard worker. He bleeds the Husker Red tradition as he comes from a family full of former Huskers: brother Barrett, father Tom, uncles Bob Martin and John Ruud (he's the guy who devasted Oklahoma's Kelly Phelps on that kickoff return in 1978), and great-grandfather Clarence Swanson.

Tell us what makes your team’s stadium great, traditions, facilities, etc…

282 straight sellout crowds dating back to 1962 pretty much says it all. Steve Pederson has upgraded the facilities and while not the flashiest, it does the trick. And Nebraska's Tunnel Walk has pretty much set the standard for video introductions:

Perhaps the high point was the 2001 Tunnel Walk salute following 9/11... if this doesn't move you, I don't know what would:

Hypothetical – Your team has to vacate their current stadium and play a game in another Big 12 stadium which one would you pick for them to play in and why?

First of all, you pretty much have to eliminate every other Big XII North stadium, as they all are just plain too small. Missouri's is probably the best of the bunch, though. The setting at Kansas is the best, especially if the leaves are turning. The only Big XII stadiums I haven't been to are Colorado, Texas A&M, and Texas. Oklahoma has seriously upgraded their facilities since I've been there, but I think I might choose A&M, though I wonder if the Corp will let the Huskers use the field.

Unthinkable – Take your team’s biggest rival’s head coach and make a case as to why he would be a good fit on your sideline.

Which raises the question: who is Nebraska's biggest rival? Colorado? Well, ABC would like it to be so. Texas? Not a lot of history. Kansas State? In recent years, perhaps. But when you think Nebraska football, there can only be one team that screams "rivalry": the Oklahoma Sooners. And that makes this question almost too easy, as Bob Stoops is easily the best coach in the Big XII conference. Some people think he's too arrogant, but I'm not sure I see it. What I do see is a guy who's won more conference titles than anybody else.

Prediction Time
Tell us who is going to win

Opening week predictions are usually more guesses than anything else:
TCU over Baylor
Colorado State over Colorado
Iowa State over Kent State
Kansas over Central Michigan
Auburn over Kansas State
Missouri over Illinois
Nebraska over Nevada
Oklahoma over North Texas
Georgia over Oklahoma State
Texas over Arkansas State
Texas A&M over Montana State
SMU over Texas Tech

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Weekend Wrap: Barfknecht Yanking Husker Fan's Chain

I see Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald is at it again, with some critical thoughts about Husker football. Barfknecht's contrarian commentary on Husker football is nothing new, having voted for Michigoon as national champions in 1997 or slamming Husker recruiting in 2001 (and praising Colorado's Marcus Houston and Craig Ochs as players that would haunt the Huskers for years). This year, he points out that while Nebraska running the table in the Big XII North is a step forward to the program, you shouldn't read too much into it since Baylor also went undefeated against the North.

I almost hesitated to even mention Barfknecht's past history with Husker football, but I did it to at least dismiss the common perception from some that he's "anti-Callahan". What he really is trying to do is go against the grain by providing balance to counteract folks that just assume that all is well in Lincoln. Is he right or wrong? Who knows at this point...but I will say that we'll start finding out for sure in 6 days when the football season finally gets started.

Let's face it, folks have analyzed, predicted, and fabricated just about everything and anything they can from the vapors that occasionally get released from the program. This Saturday, the curtain goes up on the 2007 Huskers, and finally we'll have something definitive to analyze. I must say I find myself more intrigued with this season than the last few.

The Journal-Star is reporting that Armando Murillo may have unseated Andre Jones at corner, which probably shocks the folks who think that Cortney Grixby is too short to play. While fans might think Grixby is too short, his technique, physical presence, and leaping ability more than make up for it. The lack of depth at corner last season forced Grixby to play hurt at times and other times play soft. Depth should not be a problem at corner in 2007.

The Journal-Star also reports that freshman kicker Adi Kunalec is leading the race for kickoff duty, but that it's still unclear who will handle placekicking: Kunalec or Alex Henery. In any event, word of Kunalec putting the ball in the endzone regularly from the 30 yard line is welcome news.

Also, someone has noticed that the Huskers now list Zac Taylor as a graduate assistant football coach at Not sure how that works, as I thought that college football was limited to 2 grad assistants, but perhaps some additional reorganizations are forthcoming.

ABC has announced the coverage maps for this Saturday, with Big XII areas as well as the Rocky Mountain areas getting Nebraska-Nevada. West Coast gets Washington State-Wisconsin, and the east coast getting either WSU-Wisconsin or Boston College-Wake Forest. According to ABC, the Husker game will NOT be shown in HD.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

WTF? Lil Red into the Mascot Hall of Fame?

Bill Byrne did some good things as Nebraska's athletic director: skyboxes, HuskerVision, and Haymarket Park. He also made a few mistakes as well, such as failing to keep football facilities competitive with the rest of college football. One of his bigger mistakes though was trying to replace Herbie Husker with that infernal blow-up doll Lil Red.

I never really understood the logic behind replacing Herbie with Lil Red. Did Herbie's overalls portray a hick, backwards image? Perhaps. But Lil Red wears overalls too. Did Herbie's costumes get a little worn out? Under Byrne's watch, Herbie started to resemble Raggedy Andy becoming softer and more out of shape. Steve Pederson did a nice job with redesigning Herbie, and he even won Capitol One's "Mascot of the Year" in 2006.

Lil Red has two tricks...thumping around inside the plastic suit like he's having a seizure, and then spinning around and jumping up and down on his head. That's it. He can't really move about in the stands. He's supposed to be "kid friendly", but I've seen kids run away frightened by the oversized abomination. Everyday Should Be Saturday called him a "mutant" and "Satanic". He's even been nominated as one of "eight mascots that need to die". (I've always thought that the best way to get rid of Lil Red would be to take him out to Boulder and let Ralphie gouge him.) (Disclaimer: Just inflate the suit without anybody inside; we're only out to get rid of the cosutme.)

I thought that by now, he'd have faded off as a fad that came and went like Cabbage Patch Kids, disco, and the mullet. But now comes word that somehow Lil Red has been nominated for the "Mascot Hall of Fame". (Side note: What the heck do we need a Mascot Hall of Fame for anyway?)

The other nominees seem worthy: Michigan State's Sparty, Miami's Ibis, the Seattle Mariners' Moose. Previous inductees include the San Diego Chicken and Philly Phanatic. No argument there. But Lil Red? Puhhhhhhleeeze!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Big XII Roundtable: Preseason Predictions

The Crimson and Cream Machine, an Oklahoma Sooner blog, decided to open up a preseason Big XII Roundtable. Like the Big Red Roundtables, each participating blogger will post their responses and link to each other for comparison. Much of my responses may seem to be repeats from last month's Big XII Blog Predictions.

Pick a team (other than the one you blog about) from the north and south divisions and explain why they may be the best team in the division.
In the South, I'll take the Sooners. Best coach in the Big XII and the best defense to boot. Yeah, he has to find a new quarterback, but at least this year, he had all spring and summer to find one. Last year, he lost Rhett Bomar days before preseason practice and still brought home the trophy.

In the North, the best team not named "Nebraska" would be the Missouri Tigers. I think Chase Daniel is the best quarterback in the conference, the best tight ends, and they'll have one of the top offenses in the conference, with Tony Temple as the featured back to keep defenses from thinking they are one-dimensional. They'll be a fun squad to watch this season.

If the Big 12 Conference had a Heisman trophy candidate who would it be and why?
I don't think the Big XII really has a Heisman trophy candidate this season. If one emerges, it will likely be a surprise, and I'll throw a couple of darkhorses. Nebraska QB Sam Keller was considered a darkhorse last season before his former teammates revolted. If Keller masters the West Coast Offense, he has the capability to post huge numbers if his receivers can get themselves open in big games, unlike at the end of last season when they went AWOL at key times. That's a big "if". Another name to keep an eye on is Oklahoma State's Adarius Bowman, who was named a preseason all-American by

If you had to place a $100.00 bet on a current Big 12 head coach being fired at the end of the season who would you pick and why?
If I had to put money on anybody, it would be Missouri's Gary Pinkel. Pinkel tempts Tiger fans with some big wins, then befuddles them two or three times a season by losing games they shouldn't. He got an extension to keep his recruiting moving forward, but expectations are growing in Columbia. Guy Morriss at Baylor would be a candidate, but does anybody think changing coaches will make a difference in Waco? Some people think Bill Callahan could be on the hot seat, but his job is safe now that Steve Pederson got a five year contract extension.

The one non-conference game, not involving your school, you would pay money to see would be?
I'd probably have to vote for Miami vs. Oklahoma. Will Randy Shannon return the aura to South Beach? And how will Oklahoma's new quarterback deal with the spotlight.

Which of the four Big 12 schools currently ranked in the AP Top 25 doesn't belong there?
I'd have to go with Texas A&M. Last season, their conference games were only decided by 31 points. Their biggest margins of victory were against Baylor (10 pts) and Texas (5 pts without Colt McCoy) They got throttled in the Holiday Bowl.

Make a case for one of the 8 Big 12 schools not ranked as to why they should be.
Missouri. Granted, preseason rankings are just guesses, but they'll be loaded on offense and can't be much worse than last year on defense.

Tell us the offensive and defensive players who are going to make the biggest impact on the conference this season.

On offense, Chase Daniel from Missouri. That offense is going to be loaded. (My second and third choices are Keller and Bowman, who have the capability to explode.) But from a consistency perspective, I think Daniel is the conference offensive MVP.

On defense, I'll take Oklahoma's Reggie Smith. The entire Sooner secondary is outstanding, and Smith is the leader of the bunch.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Marlon Lucky Dinged Again

In his second practice since recovering from a concussion, Marlon Lucky took another hard hit on Friday and missed practices today and yesterday. Bill Callahan emphasized that the trainers are just being cautious and that Lucky is "day-to-day".

However, two hard hits in a row knocking him out of practice raise all new concerns about Marlon Lucky. Concussions are nothing to kid about, so the staff is likely being extra conservative. When combined with Cody Glenn's continued injury struggles throws huge question marks into the Husker rushing game.

Who's left at I-back? Sophomore Major Culbert, who moved to I-back from safety shortly before the Cotton Bowl. Freshman Marcus Mendoza, who participated in spring practice. And incoming freshmen Quentin Castille and Roy Helu. In other words, nobody who has taken a snap in a college game.

That's not to say these guys aren't talented, but extremely inexperienced. Which is a problem with the West Coast Offense, where the playbook resembles an encyclopedia and a premium is placed on the ability to pick up blitzes. The sole bright spot is that these young backs are now getting plenty of reps in practice to learn these roles now that the returnees are spending time on the sidelines. How much will they pick up?

Lucky's health is now another key point to keep an eye on as we move forward into the 2007 season, as the I-back situation now becomes more and more unclear due to injuries and inexperience.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Husker Bombshell: Keller Takes the Lead at QB

Who'da thunk it? The Journal-Star reports that Sam Keller took most of the snaps with the first string offense in Friday's scrimmage. Seriously, though, it's probably right on schedule. Up to now, it really hasn't been important to come out and label Keller as the starter. But with 2 weeks until the first game, it's time to begin preparations for the season opener, and that means it's time for Keller to start getting the majority of reps in practice

Several features over the weekend in the local media on freshman Adi Kunalic. The biggest story is that the word on Kunalic's big leg was correct. In practice, he's been booming 60 yard field goals and putting kickoffs into the end zone against the wind. How big is that? Well, first of all, remember Nebraska has struggled with this the last couple of seasons, and this season, the problem is magnified with kickoffs moving back to the 30 yard line. The World-Herald adds some nice background on Kunalic's journey from pre-war Bosnia to Fort Worth to Lincoln.

The Associated Press points out that the onus is on Bill Callahan to break through this season. Even last year, we've heard excuses, excuses, and excuses as to Nebraska's struggles. (And usually the excuse points back at Frank Solich. If anything, can we finally quit blaming Solich for Callahan's failures?)

Bovine blog Scipio Tex at "Barking Carnival" takes a satirical look at Billy C and the Huskers. He also talks about the intriguing early October matchup in Columbia:
"Bill Callahan vs. Gary Pinkel - mmm, it just doesn’t get any better than that, does it football fans? If you don’t have the chills right now, I pity you."

Saturday, August 18, 2007

2007 Husker Projection: Game By Game

With two weeks left until the first game, it's time to start really thinking about this upcoming Husker football season. A couple of weeks ago, I looked at the Huskers by position, so now it's time to look at the schedule.

In my eye, the keys for the upcoming season are still Sam Keller and the defensive line. Injuries always can change the prospects for the season, and right now, the Huskers have a couple of issues. Marlon Lucky is recovering from a concussion and now projected all-conference offensive guard Matt Slauson has injured his shoulder. So, based on what we know today, here's my expectations for the season.

Nevada: 80% probability of a Husker win
Nevada's unique "pistol" offense will throw some new wrinkles at Nebraska. On the other hand, a quarterback getting his first collegiate start in Lincoln against the Blackshirts will be fortunate to escape Lincoln with just wrinkles.

Wake Forest: 55% probability of a Husker win
OK, raise your hand if you thought that Wake Forest was a year away from being ACC champions when they came to Lincoln in 2005. Liars! Was Wake a one-year fluke? This game is Wake Forest's chance to dispel their doubters.

USC: 20% probability of a Husker win
The preseason #1 team seems to be everybody's choice to win the BCS national title. USC's alumni association is so confident of victory that they are selling t-shirts ridiculing Bill Callahan's horrible game plan from last year. I don't think Callahan is going to make that same mistake this year in Lincoln, though that doesn't necessarily mean Sam Keller is going to throw the ball 60 times either.

Ball State: 98% probability of a Husker win
Yeah yeah yeah, we know they played Michigoon tough last year. Guess what: The Weasels were almost as overrated as Ohio State.

Iowa State: 90% probability of a Husker win
With the exception of 2005, NU-ISU games in Lincoln are big Husker victories. With some people predicting the Clones to finish in last place, there's no reason to expect otherwise.

Missouri: 51% probability of a Husker win
4 years ago, Nebraska turned the ball over three times inside their own ten yard line, and once time inside the twenty, gift wrapping a Tiger victory. 2 years ago, Kevin Cosgrove decided not to worry about Brad Smith. Good news for the Huskers: Brad Smith is in New York and Gary Pinkel is still in Columbia.

Oklahoma State: 55% probability of a Husker win
Nebraska collapsed down the stretch in Stillwater, getting outscored 41-7 after taking a 16-0 lead. Fortunately, this year the game is in Lincoln...

Texas A&M: 60% probability of a Husker win
If Colt McCoy hadn't been hurt last year, I doubt A&M beats Texas and I wonder if Dennis Franchione would still be head coach of the Aggies. Will Franchione's squad be after payback after letting Nebraska back into last year's game?

Texas: 30% probability of a Husker win
Nebraska woulda, coulda, shoulda won in Lincoln last year. This year, it's in Austin where Nebraska hasn't won. Of course, Nebraska hasn't beaten Texas in Lincoln either. Oh yes, and Texas is the favorite to win the Big XII as well.

Kansas: 55% probability of a Husker win
Kansas took the Huskers to overtime in Lincoln last year, and the Huskers might have been lucky to win. 2 years ago, the Huskers were blown out in Lawrence. If Nebraska's resurgence is true to form, this is a game they win.

Kansas State: 70% probability of a Husker win
Some Husker fans have been waiting for Josh Freeman's return to Lincoln for nearly two years. Ron Prince isn't winning a lot of friends outside the K-State program, but taking the Wildcats to a bowl last season was impressive.

Colorado: 60% probability of a Husker win
I have the Buffs finishing in last place in the North this season. That being said, nothing would make the Buffies season like defeating the Huskers.

So what does this translate to?

Most optimistic: 12-1, Big XII champions. Lose to USC or possibly Texas. Callahan earns coach of the year honors and a big contract extension.

Most pessimistic: 5-7. We learn why ASU revolted against Keller. By the end of the season, Patrick Witt or Zac Lee is starting at QB as NU builds for the future. Injuries to I-backs turn NU one-dimensional. Lack of depth on the defensive line strains the rest of the defense.

Most realistic: 10-3. Losses to USC and Texas, plus Big XII title game. Huskers play in Gator Bowl and end up ranked just shy of the top 10, continuing the progress from November 2005.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

New Dates for the College World Series: Good for ESPN, Bad for Fans

Yesterday, the NCAA announced in 2008, the College World Series would begin on a Saturday and be extended for two days by converting a midweek elimination session doubleheader into single game sessions on two evenings. The real winner here? ESPN. The loser? Omaha fans.

Eliminating a midweek doubleheader is a bit of a positive for fans, but it's countered by the very real possibility that the stadium could be empty the second weekend of the series. The off-day in the series will now be on Sunday, and the "if necessary" games would be played on Saturday. Now, instead of the championship series beginning on Saturday, it will begin on a Monday. Imagine that... no baseball on the weekend???

These changes are being driven both directly and indirectly by ESPN. ESPN's television college has pushed some of the Super Regionals to finish on Monday, which makes it a tight schedule for the winner to get to Omaha, especially if weather affects a super regional, like this season's Oregon State-Michigan series. So moving the series to Saturday helps the teams in situations like this.

ESPN also gets more weeknight series games, with the championship series now being on weeknights with one fewer conflict with their Sunday night baseball game. So you could say that college baseball gets better exposure.

And with the series lasting two extra days, it's probably good news for Omaha's hotels and restaurants. Fans who know their team might be in the championship series by Friday might be persuaded to spend the weekend travelling to Omaha, so you might find tourism up.

How will this work? In recent years, I've wondered if the day off makes the series "too long" and gets people out of following the series. Moving that interruption to the weekend will only serve to highlight that interruption. A key focus item for the City to make this work is to find some sort of activity to keep fans occupied that 2nd weekend.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Here's a prediction for you: Kansas to win Big XII North

ESPN polled 12 of their "experts" for their picks of conference championships and 9 of 12 picked Nebraska. 2 picked Missouri. The other expert's choice? Would you believe Kansas? That's right: Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. picked Kansas. Insane? Not so fast. First of all, they play Nebraska at home and Missouri at Arrowhead. They don't play Texas or Oklahoma either. Then when you consider how the last three Kansas-Nebraska games went (my blood pressure would rather that we didn't), it's not completely insane.

All 12 experts selected the Big XII South champion to win the title. 10 picked Texas, only 2 picked Oklahoma. And all 12 picked USC to win the national championship. 3 of the 12 pick the Ohio Bobcats to repeat as MAC East champions, by the way.

JJ over at CornNation found a rather comprehensive preview from Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star, where he thought we had the best linebackers in the Big XII and 3rd best offensive line, running backs, and believe it or not, secondary. I don't disagree; when I did my predictions I found holes in just about everybody's secondary. Kerkhoff either doesn't feel sure that Sam Keller is going to start or he's not buying the hype, ranking the Huskers 7th in the conference. I think Kerkhoff is very generous with our special teams play; our kickoff returns were nothing special last season and our kickoffs were downright horrible as well. That's a huge concern in 2007 with kickoffs being moved back 5 yards.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Concussions, Hamstrings, and other assorted injuries

Last week, Major Culbert told the Journal-Star that he wanted to move back to safety...but in light of the injuries that Marlon Lucky (concussion) and Cody Glenn (hamstring) suffered on Saturday, Culbert will probably be staying at I-back for a little while longer. Freshmen I-backs such as Quentin Castille, Roy Helu, and Marcus Mendoza usually only see spot situational duty while they learn their assignments, especially in the passing game, so Culbert will likely stay on offense this season.

Hamstring injuries have also hampered expected starting offensive guard Andy Christensen and receiver Chris Brooks at the start of preseason practice.

Buzz out of Lincoln is that Sam Keller is starting to pull ahead of Joe Ganz at quarterback. In other breaking news, it's hot and humid in Nebraska. Seriously, though, does anybody seriously NOT expect Keller to be the starter barring injury?

Kevin Cosgrove and Buddy Wyatt tell the Omaha World-Herald that they are pleased with how the defensive line is progressing, which is huge considering that last year's starters are now in the NFL. Tomorrow's World-Herald features Zac Potter, who decided that he needed to supersize himself like Adam Carriker, so Potter feasted on cheeseburgers and pizza last season. Problem with that is that Carriker's size was better suited to nose tackle, so that's where the Rams moved Carriker. Meanwhile, Potter worked off the extra weight and is showing the promise he showed as a freshman. This does raise a concern with Cosgrove in that he appears to favor size over speed, as Barry Turner has added 20 pounds at the other end. On the other hand, if you are going to play more 3-4, you probably want your 3 linemen to be bigger to free up the linebackers to make plays.

One name that I'm hearing is Curenski Gilleylen...and it's not in reference on how to pronounce it. The true freshman wide receiver is bringing his sprint speed to the field and is raising some eyebrows in his ability to stretch the field and give the Huskers a deep threat in the passing game.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tearing Down the Orange Bowl?

Word out of Miami is that the University of Miami is thinking about moving from the Orange Bowl to Dolphins Stadium after this season. Many Cane fans are fighting to keep the team in the legendary stadium, as an empty Orange Bowl will likely succumb to the wrecking ball. Some of Nebraska's greatest moments came in that stadium, winning three National Championships (1971, 1972, and 1994) and two heartbreaking misses (1983 and 1993).

Nebraska had to play Miami in the Orange Bowl on their home field 4 times, getting blown out twice (23-3 in 1989 and 22-0 in 1992). But that one victory in 1994 certainly carries a lot of great memories for Husker fans. I remember making the decision to try and get to that game. Tickets for that game were the outrageous (at that time) $42 and flights were expensive as well. But I was determined to get to that game.

New Years' Eve morning brought 4 inches of snow in Omaha, forcing me to use the snowblower to just get to the airport. The snow meant a 3 hour flight delay, but I still made it to South Florida in plenty of time to stroll along the beach that evening. Getting to the hotel ( was an over-priced Spring Break dive motel), we asked the manager what the best way to get to the Orange Bowl the next day. The manager laughed at us and said that it was too dangerous and that we'd be better off staying in our room and watching it on the 19" color TV.

Yeah right. I spent all this money to watch this game on a crummy portable television set?

The Orange Bowl is an old dumpy stadium in a bad part of town. We ended up paying to park at a Dairy Queen, figuring that it probably was about as safe as we could find. We headed to the "official" tailgate party outside the stadium; nothing fancy and certainly not dangerous. Headed inside, and yes, the facilities were primitive. A Cane fan in line at the restroom yelled at the Husker fans for not using the sink as an additional toilet to get the line moving faster. We all know how the game went; when Cory Schlesinger burst into the end zone with 2:46 left, I remember hugging my father harder than I'd hugged him in years. After the game, Husker fans stayed in the stands, in part to celebrate but also out of fear as to what they would find outside after the game. Leaving the stadium, chants of "Who's House? Husker House!" echoed through the concourses where so many times, the Huskers had left dejected.

Husker fans worked their ways through the streets surrounding the Orange Bowl in packs, worried about what we might encounter. When we made it back to the car, we toasted the Huskers victory with other fans in red. We also shared a few with some Cane fans in the vicinity, who ironically were afraid that the Husker fans were going to do them harm. (Maybe the reputation of the Orange Bowl area isn't so accurate.) We finally made it back to bed sometime around 3 am, and spent the next day on the beach, where it was a balmy 81 degrees. Flew back to Omaha the next day where the temperature dropped to -10 later that night. (90 degree temperature swings are never pleasant.) But what memories of that night in South Florida. I've always felt that, in terms of location, it was hard to beat the Orange Bowl as a great destination. Returned for the 1996 and 1998 Orange Bowls, this time now in Dolphins Stadium, which while much nicer, didn't have the sight lines of the old stadium.

I've been to the Fiesta Bowl twice (1990 and 1996) and the Rose Bowl (2002), and that 1995 Orange Bowl was something I'll always remember. From the way the 1993 season ended with a wide left field goal, that team spent the next 12 months on a mission for a National Championship.

Is Nebraska on another similar mission? A couple of weeks ago, I felt a quiet optimism coming from Bill Callahan and the leaders on the team.'s not so quiet anymore. In's starting to get loud. Steve Sipple of the Journal-Star reports that the team is ending their practices this preseason with cries of "National Championship". Good idea? Well, every team should enter the season with this goal. Heck, at last year's Big XII media day, a Baylor player proclaimed that the Bears were going to win it all. Which is probably the reason why turning this into a team chant is probably going to lead to a lot of ridicule, especially when the team finished the previous season unranked and on a two-game losing streak.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Slow Start to Fall Practice

Is it just me, or does it just seem to be a slow, quiet start to preseason practice? Of course, after last fall's Harrison Beck saga, you'd hope it would be quieter. The heat and humidity are going to approach oppressive levels over the next few days which should help team with their conditioning. Offensive lineman Carl Nicks told the Omaha World-Herald that he would be downing about 3 to 4 GALLONS of liquids a day to stay hydrated in this weather. Wow...that's a lot of trips to the bathroom...

Alas, tight end Hunter Teafatiller was downing the wrong types of liquids last Friday night, getting pulled over for driving under the influence, which was his second arrest of the summer. At this time, no discipline had been announced. Meanwhile, Mack Brown announced that two Texas players who were charged with DWI this summer would be suspended for 3 games each, with team punishments and community service required of each. Sure makes Callahan's one-game suspension for Maurice Purify look lenient.

I noticed that Steve Pederson reorganized many of the top positions in the athletic department, with the most notable being replacing Chris Anderson with former Sprint exec Randy York. Nebraska's sports information department has had misfire after misfire in recent years trying to clean up after Steve Pederson's many gaffes. The Big XII media didn't have kind words for the department a year ago either. Bringing in outside help is a hopeful sign that Pederson recognizes his past approach wasn't helping him at all.

Steve over at BigRedNetwork has some nice thoughts on the quarterback competition, even though the final result is pretty much known. On the other hand, Joe Ganz even told the World-Herald that he "plans on being the starter." While it seems absurd to pretend that Keller won't be the starter (barring some sort of injury), it does serve a purpose to motivate Ganz, Patrick Witt, and Zac Lee to be prepared. Plus, we still don't know how Keller will dial-down his gunslinger tendency in the controlled West Coast Offense. Keller even admits that he's got to change his game:
“Some games I throw a lot of interceptions. But that’s because I play kind of fearless. That’s always how I’ve played. I’m a fearless kind of competitor. But at the same time, one of your best attributes can also be your worst — some erratic throws here and there.

“I can see those perceptions (gunslinger, gambler, etc.). However, I will tell you those aren’t true anymore. Because this offense really forces you to take what the defense gives you and almost kind of slow down. Take a check-down. Take a secondary receiver.”
Keller is certainly saying the right things now. But talk is cheap in August. Let's check back later in September and see how things are going.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

2007 Husker Preview: Improvement by Positions

I started working this weekend on a position by position narrative analysis of the 2007 Huskers, but I realized that I was rehashing much of what just about everybody is posting everywhere. I mean, most folks know that our best I-back declared for the NFL early and was drafted by Green Bay. We graduated our entire defensive starting line. Etc. Etc.

Really, the question becomes... at what positions will the Huskers be improved and which will we be weaker? So here's my take, for what it's worth:

Quarterback: (45% chance improved, 35% about the same, 20% chance weaker)
Everybody is assuming Sam Keller (including myself) is going to be the starting quarterback. I agree, though you never know about injury or if Zac Lee takes the field by storm after sitting out most drills in the spring. But will Keller be an upgrade over Zac Taylor? That I'm a little less convinced of. Keller got a lot of hype last summer as a potential NFL draft prospect and preseason all-Pac Ten. His stats, however, suggest a little caution. He's only started eight games in college, and hasn't played since October of 2005. He's a career 58% passer. His eight starts? Against Purdue, LSU (in the wake of Hurricane Katrina), Temple, Northwestern, Oregon State, USC, and Stanford. We also still don't know what happened to cause his former teammates to ask Dirk Koetter to bench Keller for Rudy Carpenter. Bottom line: The upside for Keller is huge, and could take Nebraska to heights we haven't seen in many years. On the other hand, some skepticism is warranted.

I-Back: (30% improved, 30% about the same, 40% weaker)
Why negative? Brandon Jackson is wearing Packer green, Kenny Wilson is out for the season due to chronic leg injuries, and Cody Glenn is still recovering from his sore foot. Why positive? Marlon Lucky seems to be a man reborn. And the offensive line should be even stronger this season.

Fullback: (1% improved, 20% about the same, 79% weaker)
Some compared Dane Todd to a 6th offensive lineman at times last year. Now Nebraska is desperately searching for a replacement.

Wide Receiver: (75% improved, 20% about the same, 5% weaker)
Everybody's back, so you have to believe this group will be better...which will be needed because the receivers were non-factors at the end of the season against Oklahoma and Auburn, forcing Zac Taylor to hold onto the ball too long or force the ball into coverage.

Tight End: (20% improved, 60% about the same, 20% weaker)
Matt Herian is in the NFL, but none of the replacements look to be the receiving threat Herian is. Can Mike McNeil make an impact here?

Offensive Line: (80% improved, 18% about the same, 2% weaker)
Losing oft-injured warrior Greg Austin and Chris Patrick, the offensive line is deeper and more experienced than it's been in many years. Matt Slauson leads the way as a preseason all-conference pick and even gets a mention on the Outland Trophy watch list.

Defensive Line: (1% improved, 9% about the same, 90% weaker)
Hey, when the entire group graduates to NFL preseason camps, you know you've got huge holes to fill. Ndamakong Suh will lead this pack, but just approaching the effectiveness of their predecessors is a lofty goal for this group.

Linebackers: (60% improved, 35% about the same, 5% weaker)
Losing only Stewart Bradley to the NFL, the Husker linebackers are considered the finest in the conference. Bo Ruud will lead this group, but some fans aren't even sure if he's the best linebacker of the bunch. There's even talk about playing some 3-4 in 2007 to take some of the load off the green defensive line.

Secondary: (70% improved, 25% about the same, 5% weaker)
Losing only Andrew Shanle to the graduation and the NFL, the Huskers may see oft-injured corner Zackary Bowman return to the field later in the season. Even without Bowman, this group will be more seasoned and will get some needed depth from Larry Asante, Rickey Thenarse, and Armando Murillo which will allow the Huskers to play more nickel and not have to play soft (i.e. the "bend and break")

Kicking: (20% improved, 40% about the same, 40% weaker)
This could be a huge issue in 2007 as Jordan Congdon leaves under questionable circumstances. The Huskers have had a problem with kickoff coverage in recent years, struggling to find someone who can put the ball in the endzone. Now the NCAA is moving kickoffs back to the 30 which will magnify this problem. Of course, trouble covering kickoffs can be a good thing because it means you are scoring a long as those kickoffs are following touchdowns.

Keys to 2007? The two most important areas to watch in the first part of 2007 is quarterback and the defensive line. As Sam Keller goes, so will the Huskers in 2007. And on defense, the adage goes "it all starts up front", and if the defensive line can't handle the load, it will put the strain on the rest of the defense.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Rivals Screwed Up Again - And More Proof of the Dangers of Recruiting Publicity

Recently I did something I knew better than to do, and that was to get into an argument with an anonymous internet poster over ratings...specifically, Matt Slauson. The weird thing is...we both were right. Frequent visitors to this site know what I (and Rivals own people) think about Rivals "ratings", but I couldn't help but point out that Matt Slauson was listed as a 0-star recruit when he signed with Nebraska in 2005 and is now preseason all-conference. Mr. Anonymous insisted that Slauson was a 3 star recruit. And sure enough, he was right also. Seems that Rivals rated him a 3-star recruit in 2004 and then completely forgot about him when he signed with Nebraska immediately prior to the start of classes in the fall of 2005. And Slauson will live on with duplicate, conflicting entries in the Rivals database... Maybe we should just average it out and say he was a 1 1/2 star recruit!

Last winter, the Knight Commission held hearings about the effects of recruiting on players. Now Husker fans have a prime piece of evidence. Remember Marlon Lucky's trip to the intensive care unit in February? Lucky talked to the Lincoln Journal-Star's Steve Sipple about what happened and how he's rebounded from the depths of hype:
Things were moving too quickly for Nebraska I-back Marlon Lucky throughout last season and into January and February.

“That was a horrible year,” he said Thursday. “All the stuff was just too fast for me. I mean, it had to slow down.”

The stuff to which he refers, he said, includes pressure from fans and high expectations. He was homesick. School was difficult. He lost his starting spot after five games. It was a lot to handle, he said. He prayed and took life a day at a time.
In any event, Lucky has rebounded from those depths and looks to be ready to turn things around. He had a good spring game, and rebounded in the classroom as well, earning a mention on the Big XII Honor Roll for the spring semester.

Kudos to Marlon. Looks like things are definitely turning around for him.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Time Out: Thinking of our Gopher Friends

A moment of silence and prayers for the folks up in the Twin Cities, where the Interstate 35W bridge into Minneapolis near the University of Minnesota collapsed into the Mississippi River this evening.