Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Night Dessert: Lost in Freaky Friday

With all of the buzz over Alex Henery's 57 yard field goal, I nearly forgot to mention the other "can you believe that" play from Friday's game. Did anybody else catch Roy Helu's third quarter hurdle over a Colorado tackler who tried to go too low? Track coach Gary Pepin might be knocking on Bo Pelini's door if he's searching for a high hurdler next spring. Hopefully that'll end up on YouTube soon. In any event, I think Nebraska will be even stronger at I-back next season with Helu taking over as the expected full-time starter.

After Missouri's choke job in the snow at Arrowhead yesterday, Nebraska claims a share of the Big XII North title. Of course, since only two teams tied for the North (unlike in the South), head-to-head is the tie-breaker, so Mizzou gets to play a second game in Kansas City. Now, the question needs to be asked: Is finishing 5-3 and tied for first in the North anything to be proud of? Maybe if you're Iowa State, you put that "fake" trophy on your equipment trailer. Nebraska? Nope. But by that same manner, it's a nice bounceback from finishing tied for last place in the division. It is what it is: a sign of improvement.

Nebraska's 54-52 victory over Creighton in basketball was ugly in every sense of the word. The best thing that can be said about this game is that it'll keep chirping from the Hilltop down. Nebraska has won three out of the last six, and leads the series 11-10 over the last twenty years and 24-18 lifetime. In other words, neither school can brag about "ownership" in this series.

Tough weekend for UNO hockey in getting swept at Ohio State this weekend. Both losses were painfully late, with the winning goals scored with 2 seconds left on Friday and a minute and a half on Saturday. No time to pout: third place Alaska comes to Omaha this upcoming weekend.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Oh Henery! Huskers Beat Buffaloes 41-30

With 4th and 25 facing the Huskers, the fans in the South Stadium discussed the options left at that point. And of course, there really aren't a lot of good options on 4th and 25. Throw a shorter "Hail Mary" pass? I asked if anybody would dare send kickoff specialist Adi Kunalic's big leg out to attempt a 57 yarder. Nobody had any good ideas; there almost was a sense of disbelief that Nebraska screwed around too much today and was actually going to lose this game. The Huskers emerged from the huddle, and I was shocked to see Alex Henery out there preparing to kick a field goal. (First thought: ANOTHER FAKE?!?!? Second thought: Absolutely not. Not in this situation.)

The disbelief continued as Henery went through his preparations. Surely Colorado is going to call a timeout and ice Henery... right? Nope, the ball is snapped and Henery launches the ball in an eerily quite Memorial Stadium. It's a long, long field goal, and it seems to be traveling in slow motion. Wide right, it appears. D**n. Then suddenly, a little draw. It's going to hit the f*-in upright! The stadium still is quiet. But the draw becomes more pronounced, and finally the ball drops behind the crossbar.

And Memorial Stadium exploded like it hasn't since Eric Crouch caught "Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass" against the Sooners in 2001.

It was an adrenaline shot to 81,000 Husker fans, who seconds before were standing in resignation that Nebraska had made one too many killer mistakes against a spunky, yet short-handed bunch of Colorado Buffaloes. There were the opening four plays, when the Buffs attacked the Husker secondary for 148 yards and 14 points. After that, the Pelini brothers spent an extended amount of time on the sidelines with the defense, making adjustments. The remaining 55 minutes of the game: 143 yards for the Buffaloes.

There was a disasterous fake field goal that turned a likely ten point lead into a tie game. I've ripped Bill Callahan for running fake field goals and punts, and I'll leave it like this: I've had enough of fake kicks, and do not want to see another one anytime in the next few years.

There were penalties, and fumbles in the red zone. There was a fifteen yard sack that looked to take the Huskers out of field goal range with only two minutes left in the game.

Suddenly all was forgiven now, in large matter. And once Zach Potter tipped the ball to Ndamakong Suh, who then ran over Cody Hawkins on his way to the end zone, victory was assured, ripped out of the jaws of defeat.

Several players deserve game balls for today's performance. Potter, Suh, and Ty Steinkuhler kept CU's running game in neutral and kept the pressure on Hawkins most of the day. Roy Helu with 215 yards of offense. (Anybody still going to argue that Helu isn't NU's most complete back?) And, of course, Alex Henery with the school record, game-winning, field goal.

It's a win, and Husker fans are relieved to have it. But it shouldn't have been that close. Credit Colorado for making the plays to take control of the game early on and throughout. But there will be plenty on this week's game tape for these players to review and correct over the next month.

Husker Mike's PostGame Colorado AudioBlog

Initial, unfiltered reaction to Nebraska's 40-31 victory over Colorado.

Gabcast! Husker Mike's PostGame AudioBlog

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Just What is it With Barney Cotton?

As the speculation over the possibility of Ted Gilmore leaving for Wyoming continues, speculation is also heating up over the future of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. It would make sense that both coaches might be looking to move on; they were originally hired by Bill Callahan and may view their position at Nebraska to be merely a transition thing. (Though it should be remembered that both men aren't just placeholders, but also coordinators.) If either or both men get head coaching jobs, obviously they'd move on.

Which raises the question: who would replace them? In the case of offensive coordinator, there's already one man on the staff who has experience at three different 1-A schools. And that prospect seems to scare the bejeebers out of some people.

Ask some fans about Barney Cotton and you get some strong reactions. Can't recruit. Can't coach. Can't call a game. Yadda, yadda, yadda. He just rubs some people the wrong way.

Maybe some of those people were disappointed in the offense's performance in 2003. They expected Cotton to throw the ball more, and were disappointed when, if anything, Nebraska ran the ball more. That raises the question: just what kind of offense would you have run with Jammal Lord at quarterback?

Some Iowa State fans weren't big fans of Cotton either. In Cotton's three seasons, the Cyclones passing attack rated 8th, 2nd, and 6th in the conference. Scoring, they were 11th , 5th, and 11th. Total offense, they were 10th, 6th, and 9th. While not exactly dominant, those numbers were generally better than Nebraska's those seasons.

I do know that Bo Pelini thinks enough about Barney Cotton to make him associate head coach with the Huskers, and got Cotton an interview with LSU in 2007. Whatever concerns some fans have about Barney Cotton apparently aren't shared by Pelini.

And frankly, that trumps whatever scuttlebutt folks dredge up on Cotton.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Notre Dame Preparing to Join the Old Big Eight

Let me be completely honest here: I despise Notre Dame. It's probably the same type of hate some folks have towards Nebraska, and then some, as it's rooted in jealousy. They've earned their place in college football history, but over the last twenty years or so, they have been living off their legacy. It really got started in 1993 when they whined about losing their spot in the Orange Bowl after losing to Boston College. Their TV deal with NBC is the most outrageous in college football. And when they aren't horrible, their name recognition lands them in bowl games that they aren't qualified for; they've lost nine straight bowl games over the last fifteen years.

Part of their problem is their whole hubris. After fearing that Lou Holtz would surpass Knute Rockne as the winningest coach in Irish history, they began a revolving door of coaches that continues to this day. After nearly losing to Navy the previous week, the Irish lost to woeful Syracuse on Saturday, bringing out the calls for Charlie Weis' firing.

I'll be honest here. I don't watch Notre Dame much, so I don't know whether Weis is the problem or not. I do know that three years ago, Weis was supposed to be the wundercoach, getting an absurd ten-year contract for fear he'd jump to the NFL. Now all of a sudden, he's an idiot. (Which he might be for all I know...)

Notre Dame is improved this year, but not enough. Irish fans expected a New Years Day bowl team as part of their birthright, and since that's not happening, someone has to pay. So unless Weis can some how figure out a way to upset USC this Saturday, they'll be 6-6 and get an OK bowl bid that they don't deserve.

And if they fire Weis this year, they'll essentially apply for membership in the old Big Eight conference as one of the little six that go through the motions every three or four years. Hire a Woody Wiedenhofer, muddle through three or four years, fire him, and start over. Lather, rinse, repeat. It helped ensure that Nebraska and Oklahoma dominated the Big Eight in the 70's and 80's.

You see, athletic programs all are looking for the next Bob Stoops or Urban Meyer, who just jump in and bring home trophies right away. Problem is, that just doesn't happen very often. It usually takes time. Colorado nearly axed Bill McCartney before the Buffaloes finally got some traction in the late 80's. Iowa State nearly gave up on Dan McCarney before started bringing Ames some bowl teams. Sometimes it takes time.

Listen, I'm not a Weis fan. He didn't deserve his ten year extension, and he's proved it the last couple of seasons. But 6-6 is still better than 3-9, correct?

Notre Dame can keep hope for the next Meyer, Stoops, Holtz, or Rockne, and continue the vicious cycle that brought them Gerry Faust, Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, and now Weis. Or they can take their punishment and let Weis attempt to pull himself off of the petard he's hoisted himself on. Frankly, I think Notre Dame has more to lose by making a change.

Week 13 Power Poll

Did Oklahoma take Texas Tech behind the woodshed or what? I'm not so sure Oklahoma isn't the best team in the country; right now, it's a toss-up between them and Florida. Yes, Alabama is undefeated, but frankly, Florida and Oklahoma look much better than the Tide.

Texas fans may protest that head-to-head should mean something...and it does. But one thing we've learned is that on any given week, anything can happen. Oklahoma had their "any given week" against Texas; Texas against Tech. But Texas also had a hiccup against Oklahoma State, and frankly, Oklahoma has looked stronger in most of their games this season. So I'm resorting to my "which team do I think is REALLY better"...and the answer is clear: Oklahoma.

1. Florida
2. Oklahoma
3. Alabama
4. Texas
5. USC
6. Utah
7. Texas Tech
8. Penn State
9. Boise State
10. Oklahoma State

Big XII Standings
1. Oklahoma
2. Texas
3. Texas Tech
4. Oklahoma State
5. Missouri
6. Nebraska (AJ the Huskerh8r still thinks Kansas is better than Nebraska. Personally, I think he's still nursing the effects of drinking too much in Cozumel. Yeah, Kansas looked better than Nebraska against Oklahoma, but Nebraska looked better than Kansas against Texas Tech (37-31 OT vs. 63-21) and Iowa State (35-7 vs. 35-33). And there is the little issue of 45-35 in a game that wasn't really that close...)
7. Kansas
8. Baylor
9. Colorado
10. Texas A&M
11. Kansas State
12. Iowa State

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mavs Sweep Michigan State

Tonight UNO continued it's best start of the hockey season in the program's brief history with a 3-1 victory, sweeping Michigan State after last night's 7-1 victory. The Spartans have been struggling as of late, only scoring four goals in the last five games and losing six straight, and UNO took advantage early and often this weekend.

This year's UNO squad was faster and more physical than Michigan State. Back in October, I wondered if the talk about being faster and more physical was just talk, but now the evidence shows it's real. Something else is UNO's domination of the third period; this season, UNO is outscoring their opponents 18-5 in the final period.

UNO now finds themselves in 2nd place in the CCHA, tied with defending national runner-up Notre Dame. Up next for the Mavs is Ohio State, who's tied for fourth place with Alaska, Michigan, and Ferris State. Some people attribute UNO's fast start to a weak schedule, but it's not as light as some fans might think. They split with 4th place Ferris State last week, and split a series with Bowling Green (who is only one point out of fourth) on the road. In recent years, UNO has combined slow starts with struggles against some of the teams they really should have beaten. All that has seemed to change this season.

Nebraska to the Gator Bowl?

With 3-8 Syracuse's upset this afternoon of 6-5 Notre Dame, you have to expect that Nebraska now jumps to the top of the Gator Bowl's wish list, as long as the Huskers take care of business against the Colorado Buffaloes next Friday. Everybody assumed that Notre Dame would beat the hapless Orangemen, and that a 7-5 Notre Dame would be attractive enough for a New Years Day bowl.

Now, for Notre Dame to finish 7-5, they have to upset USC in Los Angeles next weekend. So let's go ahead and presume a 6-6 finish for the Irish. That's good enough for the Sun Bowl, but the Gator Bowl pretty much laid it on the line for the Irish:
"At 7-5, they're still Notre Dame. We've never taken a five-loss team in our history, so there would be a lot of discussion," Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett said. "But I think with a victory over Syracuse this week Notre Dame is still very high on our list."
In other words... no way do the Irish play on New Years. So right now, it sure looks like Nebraska, Oklahoma State, or Missouri will be in Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday Night Beer: The Worldwide Leader Buys the BCS

Today, the BCS accepted ESPN's higher bid to televise the Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and BCS Championship games. Some sports fans might snicker, wondering what the big deal is. If you're one of the 90% of households in this country who subscribes to ESPN, you might even cheer this decision initially. You figure that ESPN will do a better job with announcers and production quality since they cover college football all year around, so it sounds good, right?

The problem is that this is the next step down a slippery slope as big events move to cable TV. Big deal, you say? I've already got cable, so no big deal. As Lee Corso says... "Not So Fast!" Just ask yourself the question: "Where is ESPN getting the extra money to outbid Fox?"

Then look in the mirror.

You may not realize it, but if you have cable or satellite TV, you are indirectly paying for ESPN, to the tune of around $40 a year. So where will ESPN make up the extra $25 million each year? Look in the mirror.

You see, ESPN has cable TV behind the proverbial eight-ball. Nearly every cable system has ESPN on their basic package. As ESPN has added more and more major sports (such as the NFL and Major League Baseball), the fees ESPN charges your cable company have gone up dramatically. And they can easily do it, because ESPN holds all the cards. If your cable company says "No" to the higher rates, ESPN will simply pull the plug. And what would be your response if your cable company dropped ESPN? You'd probably switch to another cable or satellite provider. ESPN now has a monopoly on sporting events, and can do whatever they please.

Consultant Kevin O'Malley tells USA Today that there really isn't much of a limit to what ESPN can charge your cable company; perhaps as high as "$8-$10 a month". And what choice will we have except to pay the Mouse? Absolutely none.

Oh and what does this mean for getting some sort of playoff? Well, ESPN won't risk their golden goose, so look for nothing to change until the expiration of this deal.

Turning to a sport that actually has a playoff, UNO's hockey team cracked the Top 20 this week, coming in at #19 in the USCHO/CBS College Sports Top 20. In the USA Today Top 15 poll, they are near the top of the teams "also receiving votes". Up next for the Mavs is a home series against Michigan State. Another big series that could put UNO in solid position to make some noise this season.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Week 12 Power Poll

Well, it was a pretty quiet week in college football. No compelling matchups to speak of, so everything is pretty much where we left it last week.

1. Florida
2. Texas Tech
3. Alabama
4. Texas
5. Oklahoma
6. USC
7. Boise State
8. Utah
9. Penn State
10. Boise State

Big XII Standings
1. Texas Tech
2. Texas
3. Oklahoma
4. Oklahoma State (dropped out of the top ten nationally after a lackadaisical victory over Colorado)
5. Missouri
6. Nebraska
7. Kansas
8. Baylor
9. Colorado (It's a bit of a leap of faith to jump the Buffaloes, but they stunk less this weekend than the rest of the bottom four... I almost went the lazy route and made it a four way tie for ineptness...)
10. Texas A&M
11. Kansas State
12. Iowa State

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Night Dessert: Obama Wants a Playoff

Sorry everybody...more political talk; though it's still college football related.

Will Barack Obama's support for an eight-team college football playoff make a difference? Maybe a little, but let's face it: a playoff isn't coming anytime soon. But it does add a little more credence to the topic. And let's be honest...a college football playoff better be pretty low on Obama's agenda, far behind the economy, national security, al Qaeda/Osama, getting Iraq straightened out, etc.

One reason why playoffs aren't coming anytime soon is that the BCS is still in charge. In fact, they are now negotiating a new television package. ESPN has now joined the bidding, offering $125 million to televise the championship game as well as the Orange, Fiesta, and Sugar Bowls for four years starting in January 2011. (The ESPN/ABC contract for the Rose Bowl doesn't expire for another five seasons.) Fox is currently only bidding $100 million for those four games, up from $82.5 million a season currently. If ESPN's bid is accepted, that's a 50% increase in money, and that's not going to help convince college presidents to switch to a playoff. (Even though a playoff will bring much, much more revenue than the BCS would.)

ESPN's bid comes with a little detail: all of the games would be played on cable, rather than on broadcast TV. If you are among the 92% of Americans who get ESPN, you might think that's no big deal. But it is. Part of the reason ESPN can afford to bid so much for the games on cable is that not only does ESPN sell advertising on the games, but ESPN also charges your cable or satellite provider for the rights to carry ESPN. So guess where ESPN plans to recoup the extra money they are paying the BCS? Your cable/satellite company. Where is your cable/satellite company going to get the money? Take a wild guess.

It's not chump change either. Last year, ESPN was charging around $3 a month per subscriber. So if ESPN's bid goes through and the BCS ends up on cable...ultimately you'll be paying the price for it.

Sammy Vegas at DXP has an interesting spin on the old transitive property of college football by proclaiming that Nebraska is now the best team in the Big XII North by comparative scores. Only one problem.... last month, Missouri throttled Nebraska rather convincingly. Would the game be a little closer now than last month? I'd like to think so, but since the Tigers still have scoreboard, they still are the best in the North. The transitive property for college football never holds, since people can usually find a situation where a defeated b, who defeated c, who defeated d...etc. Last year, it was Stanford defeating USC that made all sorts of absurd hypotheses possible.

UNO hockey got a split this weekend against Ferris State. UNO had a disappointing performance on Friday night with Matt Ambrosz out due to a suspension from an incident the week before. Generally flat, and except for some inspired play on the power play in the second period, the Mavs generally let Ferris control play much of the game. Saturday night, they pulled out a 4-2 victory to gain the sweep. UNO is now tied for 6th place with Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State. The Spartans come to town this weekend reeling, having lost four straight conference games.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Blackshirts are Back - If Only For a Half

Much has been made about the awarding of the Blackshirts to most of the starting defense this week. Some feel that giving up 35 points to Kansas isn't Blackshirt worthy. Others think that no Blackshirts should have been awarded this season; box 'em up and bring them out next season. Nevertheless, Bo made the call to award them this week. It's not a decision I necessarily disagreed with, as I think the defensive line more than earned them last week.

But at halftime today, Bo's decision was certainly validated as for the first time in over a year, we saw a defense worthy of the fabled black practice jerseys. The Blackshirts allowed 7 points to be scored and only 117 yards, 64 of which were on that long touchdown pass. The Blackshirts were all over Josh Freeman, who somehow is being regarded as a first round draft pick. That's got to be based on measurables; he's got the size, speed, and arm that makes NFL scouts drool. But I've got to wonder how many recent K-State game those NFL scouts have watched. Freeman game is simply not consistent; he'll complete a few long passes each week, but for the most part, he struggles to complete much more than 50% of his passes. That's not going to cut it in college football, and it's not going to cut it at the next level.

His game today was shortened by a concussion suffered from that hit Zach Potter laid on him in the second quarter, but let's be honest, Freeman struggled from the opening snap of the game. Even TB over at BringOnTheCats is wondering why Kansas State's offense looks better with backup Carson Coffman at quarterback. (And if you were wondering, Carson is the younger brother of stud Missouri tight end Chase Coffman.) Now, in the second half, the Blackshirts seemed to not play with the same intensity as in the first half. Hard not to let up a little bit with a big lead, but still, a lot of the credit has to go to Coffman.

On offense, other than a bad pass that got tipped and converted into a pick-6 to open the game, Joe Ganz had another fine game. Go up and down the stat sheet, and you'll find nice performances. Roy Helu, 80 yards and two touchdowns. Quentin Castille, 51 yards, a touchdown, and a collison with KSU cornerback Otis Johnson that you heard on the FSN pay-per-view broadcast. Even Marcus Mendoza got 10 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown. Here's an idea of the domination: NU's rushing AND passing yardage exceeded K-State's total yardage.

The scoreboard didn't reflect the near total domination by the Huskers today. Throw out three plays (Ganz interception, Freeman bomb to Ernie Pierce, and the Brandon Banks kickoff return), and this game looks like a K-State/Nebraska game prior to Bill Snyder taking over in Manhattan. Yeah, that's a bit of would-a, could-a, should-a, but this game wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tuesday Night Beer: Playoffs, Blackshirts, and Suspended Glenn, Oh My!

In his column today, Tom Shatel really wants a college football playoff, but can't figure out how to do it. He recognizes that the current BCS formula of inviting the major conference champions is a disaster this year, since right now, that means that you are inviting Penn State, Pitt, Oregon State, and North Carolina to the mix.

Unfortunately when the BCS was originally set up, nobody anticipated that the SEC and Big XII would be absolutely dominating college football. So while it's easy to squeeze Florida and Texas along side Texas Tech and Alabama, there's no room for Oklahoma and USC. Or Boise State and Utah for that matter.

With all the complaining about the BCS in recent years, I think the BCS formula is about as good as you can get for seeding teams for an eight team playoff. I proposed this in 2006, and I think it still works in 2008. Take the top 8 teams in the BCS and put them in the playoff. Everybody else can go to a bowl game. Yeah, that weakens the bowls, but you know what, if that means the end of the Independence or Poinsettia Bowls, who really cares?

So if the current standings hold, here are your proposed matchups. Except for the national championship game, every game is held at the home field of the higher seeded team. That's the way they do it in the NFL, that's the way they do it in division 1-AA and division 2. No reason to make BOTH teams travel and try to sell thousands of tickets to a neutral location when fans will struggle to travel on short notice.
  • Penn State @ Alabama
  • Utah @ Texas Tech
  • USC @ Texas
  • Oklahoma @ Florida
The next week, the Penn State/Alabama winner would play the Oklahoma/Florida winner, and the Utah/Tech winner would play the USC/Texas winner. Give a two or three week break, and the winners play in the national championship game on a neutral field.

Bo Pelini and the defensive staff broke out the Blackshirts this afternoon. While I have no qualms about giving the prized practice jerseys to the defensive line, I'm not so sure the secondary has earned them. There's absolutely no question in my mind that guys like Ndamakong Suh and Zach Potter have earned them, and if Pelini doesn't want to give them to only some players, then that's fine. In any event, it might be the extra incentive to continue to improve this week.

One guy who didn't get a Blackshirt was Cody Glenn; instead he's suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. The "cone of silence" is pretty strong so far. Nothing in the police logs, and even the rumor mill is remarkably silent so far. So there's no point in speculating as to what he did, whether's it's justified, or whether he'll be back at any time. And like all suspensions, it's irrelevent how much Nebraska needs him or not. Decisions like this are made for a reason, and football doesn't matter one iota. If he did something wrong, he needs to pay the price for that misbehavior, no matter whether he's a benchwarmer or an all-American. Note that Glenn is suspended indefinitely as opposed to dismissed, so there's apparently still a chance that Glenn can make amends and return to the roster.

And UNO hockey is now #16 in the country according to the power rankings. USA Today has UNO just outside of their top 15 (3rd on the list of "Also Receiving Votes"), as does CBS College Sports (top of the list of "Also Receiving Votes"). With Ferris State (also a team "also receiving votes") coming to town this weekend, a good performance should place the Mavs in all of the ratings. Nice.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Year Later, RUTS Still Stings

Last year, Nebraska's starting quarterback and I-back scored three fourth quarter touchdowns to extend a 52-17 lead into a 73-31 blowout. It's was running up the score, pure and simple. And while Kansas State didn't complain publicly, it's not forgotten either:
"I don't think anybody's not had lingering feelings over that game," K-State defensive end Ian Campbell said. "Plus, I mean, it's Nebraska. If you're a K-State fan, the Nebraska game is a big game.

"You don't want to get beat like that by a rival or anybody. It sits sour with a lot of people, fans and players included."
"We've talked about it quite a bit," Prince said. "Last year's game doesn't have any impact on the outcome of this game, but just from a preparation standpoint of understanding what the game is all about and what we're attempting to do in the game, it's important for them to understand the atmosphere surrounding the game."
One year later, Ron Prince finds himself in the reverse position. He's already been told he's been fired, but he gets to stick around. How big is the grudge that remains from last year's game? While Prince has been unsuccessful against the big names of the Big XII North, he does have a couple of pelts from big opponents. Is this a trap game where the opponent has been gunning for you for over 365 days?

Week 11 Power Poll

One thing is for sure...Iowa's upset of Penn State, while it ends the sentimental story of watching JoePa go for another national championship, it also spares us from watching another Big MAC team get demolished in the championship game. So thank you Iowa!

1. Florida
2. Texas Tech (I'm not sure what team Nebraska played in Lubbock, but this team looks pretty dang good!)
3. Alabama
4. Texas
5. Oklahoma
6. USC
7. Boise State
8. Utah
9. Oklahoma State
10. Penn State

Big XII Standings
1. Texas Tech
2. Texas
3. Oklahoma
4. Oklahoma State
5. Missouri
(huge gap)
6. Nebraska (They have scoreboard on #7 and #8)
7. Kansas
8. Baylor
(another huge gap)
9. Kansas State (Ron Prince is out, and they kept it close against Missouri for a quarter. So I'll put them on the top of the motley crue at the bottom of the Big XII barrel.)
10. Texas A&M
11-t. Iowa State
11-t. Colorado (Buffies almost lost to Iowa State at home, with the Clones making it to the Colorado 1 yard line as time expired.)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sunday Night Dessert: Sun, Insight, or Alamo Bowls?

With Nebraska's 45-35 victory over Kansas, Nebraska is now bowl eligible, so now it's not a question of "if", but rather "where". So let's start laying the groundwork. First, with undefeated Texas Tech and 1-loss Oklahoma and Texas, it seems like a good bet the Big XII will also nab one of the BCS's wildcard spots. The odd man out of that battle will likely end up in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl. I'd expect the Holiday Bowl to take either Oklahoma State or Missouri. (Interesting aside: Nebraska still has a chance to make it to the Big XII championship game in Kansas City. All it takes is 2 Nebraska victories to give the Huskers a 5-3 conference record and two Missouri losses to give the Tigers a 4-4 conference record. Of course, that means that Kansas and Iowa State would have to beat Missouri. You may stop laughing now.)

But then comes the interesting wrinkle. After the Holiday Bowl, the Gator Bowl then gets a choice between a Big XII team and a Big East team. So that's either Missouri or Oklahoma State over the woeful Big East and the second best team between Pitt, West Virginia, and Cincinatti. So that's an easy choice for the Gator, correct? Not so fast. Seems that for the purposes of bowl selections, Notre Dame is considered part of the Big East. And the Gator was very interested in the Irish until they lost 17-0 to Boston College yesterday. Now, they are under "discussion". Notre Dame might be the selection this season as I'm sure the Gator would likely want to get their obligation to the Big East completed, grab Notre Dame as a bonus, and still be able to choose a Big XII team next season. After the Gator's selection, then the Alamo Bowl would choose, which would be Nebraska's first opportunity if (a) Nebraska wins out and (b) the Gator chose a Big XII team. If the Gator Bowl chooses Notre Dame or another Big East team, then the Sun Bowl would choose next.

Got that? The Journal-Star did their own prognostications last week, but they don't assume two BCS bids for the Big XII. Not sure who WOULD get those BCS bids otherwise, but that's another discussion entirely.

UNO hockey is quietly off to their best start ever after taking four points against Western Michigan this weekend. Some fans will look at the meager competition and point out UNO should be 6-1-1. Perhaps. But anyone who assumes that anybody would win three of four on the road is probably foolish at best. UNO finds themselves in 7th place in the conference, which doesn't sound so good until you realize that UNO has played two or four fewer games than everybody above UNO in the standings. The points from those games would put UNO at or near the top of the CCHA.

There are some major rumors flowing out there about a realignment of college hockey. The Denver Post reports that in order to disband College Hockey America (and eliminate their automatic tournament bid), the WCHA might expand to 12 teams. And to make it work, the proposal is for UNO to move to the WCHA, which rejected UNO's bid ten years ago. UNO in the WCHA is a mixed bag for UNO. It's closer travel, meaning shorter road trips against teams like Colorado College, Denver, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. It also would mean the end of annual battles with Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. Offhand, I don't see a lot of value to UNO in this switch, but it might be forced upon UNO for the betterment of college hockey.

Just when KMTV in Omaha decides to stop force-feeding Omaha Kansas City Chiefs games, suddenly the Chiefs start showing some signs of life. Hard to argue with televising the Colts/Steelers game today, though. I did find it curious today to turn on my radio and instead of hearing Mitch Holthus describing the Chiefs/Chargers game, I heard Jim Rome-wannabe Matt Perrault doing a postgame talkshow after a Creighton exhibition basketball game. So not only could Chiefs fans not watch the game, they couldn't listen to it either. Pre-empted for a game that didn't matter and doesn't count. Mmmmkay.

I listened to Perrault for about five minutes, and once I got over the shock of hearing him "analyzing" a basketball scrimmage (instead of the Chiefs game), I noticed that Perrault referred to "tonight's game" (which ended some time before 4:30 in the afternoon). Then he said it again. And again. And again. I counted four uses of "tonight" in the past tense this afternoon in just a few minutes once I started counting. Then I turned the radio off; who knows how many more times he did it before or after I listened.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Suh, Helu, and Potter Dominate the Jayhawks

Nebraska's 45-35 victory over Kansas was huge in several respects:
  • It's Nebraska's first victory over an opponent where a victory wasn't assumed from the start. (Baylor is much improved this season, to be sure. And Western Michigan is having a good season, even upsetting Illinois today. But Kansas is better than the other teams Nebraska has beaten this season.)
  • It clearly establishes Nebraska as #2 in the Big XII North. (AJ would probably just move Kansas into a 4-way tie for 5th place, if he weren't busy Finding Nemo...)
  • It's Nebraska's sixth win, making them bowl eligible. It won't be one of the premier bowls; the Big XII South and Missouri will all get chosen before Nebraska. But any bowl is better than no bowl, as you get another fifteen practices to help develop players.
Ndamakong Suh and Zach Potter were huge today; Mark Mangino noted that the Husker defensive line took the Jayhawks out of their game plans. Both showed great hands today as well; Suh on his touchdown pass, and Potter looked like he was posting up on the basketball court when he picked off a Todd Reesing pass in the fourth quarter.

Roy Helu continues to prove he's Nebraska's most complete I-back. He did it all: 16 rushes for 115, catch 8 passes for 61 yards, and pick up blitzers all game. What about Marlon Lucky, you say? Well, he's still a special athlete as we saw today when he took a couple of snaps at quarterback out of the shotgun. That's where Marlon Lucky excels: he's really a "Slash" player you can line up at I-back, quarterback, and wide receiver. He's Nebraska's best weapon in the open field and can kill you in so many ways, but he's got his limitations. Specifically, running inside. Quentin Castille had an impressive game as well, showing great speed and power as well as ball security.

What makes the 45-35 victory even more impressive is that Nebraska went minus-2 in turnover margin. Eliminate the turnovers as well as three or four defensive busts in the first half, and today's game might have been over at halftime. Seriously. Imagine if Eric Hagg would have tackled Reesing for a huge sack instead of merely bouncing off of Reesing, allowing Reesing to flip the ball to Kerry Meier for an easy touchdown. Imagine if Anthony West could have wrapped up Dezmon Briscoe on some of those long passes. Credit Kansas for forcing those turnovers and making those plays, but all day long, you got the impression that Kansas was lucky to be hanging with Nebraska.

Certainly a better feeling than last year's disaster in Lawrence.

For the second home game in a row, large sections of the student section remained empty. Yeah, it was Nebraska's coldest game in several years, but still, this was a big game and it's a shame that many students either stayed away or left at halftime. Maybe students are protesting their seats being moved; if so, it's a poor way to show it. The bluehairs elsewhere in the stadium made more of an impact than your empty seats.

Husker Mike's PostGame Kansas AudioBlog

Gabcast! presents Husker Mike's PostGame Kansas AudioBlog

Friday, November 07, 2008

Sanders Blowing Smoke On Scout Team Talent?

Today, Marvin Sanders spoke in Omaha at the Big Red Breakfast and talked up the youngsters on the Husker defense:
There was Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Alonzo Whaley at linebacker. Two of the three were strong candidates to play this season.

Then there was the secondary, which Sanders handles for head coach Bo Pelini.

"I looked at the back end, and I saw 6-2-plus safeties with Courtney Osborne and P.J. Smith," Sanders said. "John Levorson over at corner. Walk-on Jase Dean at a corner. Anthony Blue who's coming back (from knee surgery)."
When I read this, my BS-detector started to send off all sorts of warning signals. To be sure, it's probably still a little hypersensitive after the fraud perpetrated by the Recruitniks the last few years. But Sanders record speaks for itself with names such as Bullocks and Washington.

Certainly Blankman makes no bones about his belief that there is plenty of talent being redshirted this season. If these guys could contribute this season, why aren't they out on the field? Good question. In some respects, I think Pelini and company know they have the luxury to do that this season. (The heat might get a little hotter if NU loses to Kansas, but right now, the Huskers are on pace to show improvement from 2007.) I'd consider this "living beneath your means"; saving up talent for future years. Letting them acclimate to football at this level. These players might not have been ready to contribute at the start of the season, so why not save them for 2012?

I do think it's interesting that guys like Matt Holt, Matt O'Hanlon, and Lance Thorell have been called upon to pick up the slack this season instead of players like Blake Lawrence and Major Culbert. For whatever reason, Pelini seems to be putting more emphasis on fundamentally sound play over raw athleticism:
"It's not always what you think by the naked eye," Pelini said. "To play good football, you've got to have 11 guys doing the right thing every play and playing their responsibilities so it all fits and works. We haven't had that consistently the whole year."
But how does a true freshman walk-on such as Holt nail down this defense better than a 4-star player like Lawrence who has a year of college experience and had a six month head start in learning the defense? Is it a coaching problem, or a player problem? Or is it both? Or does it really matter? In the end, all that matter is that we're not continuing to discuss this issue two or three years from now.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Thursday Night Beer: Is Kansas the Acid Test?

The Nebraska/Kansas game might be the make-or-break game for both squads this season. Kansas is bowl eligible, but finishes up with Texas and Missouri. Nebraska's coming off of a pasting by Oklahoma, and would like to regain the momentum they had in October. Win, and Nebraska is potentially looking at an 8-4 regular season. Lose, and Nebraska needs to find a way to win at Kansas State or against Colorado to become bowl-eligible.

Speaking of Kansas State, it's no surprise that Ron Prince is out after this season. In today's world, college football coaches don't get much time to prove themselves anymore. Prince got off to a hot start in his first year, but after knocking off Texas last season, the program has gone steadily downhill. That lack of progress is probably the main reason that Prince was let go, but you also can't dismiss Prince's actions in leading the Wildcat program. He ran off Allan Evridge, then he ran off the equipment manager, who they named the athletic department's loyalty award for. His coaching staff was a revolving door as turnover was excessive. You know what they say: winning cures whatever ales you. But when you don't win, you'll find yourself without any support. Prince's signing of 19 junior college players was a desperation move that failed. You recruit junior college players because you need a quick fix, and in that quantity, that indicates you know you have a lot of needs. Judging from what I've seen of Kansas State this season, they've still got a lot of needs. And the big problem with so many junior college players in this class is that also means there aren't many freshmen in the program either. So the Wildcats will be feeling the pain of Prince for several years to come.

So who will replace Prince? BringOnTheCats' have endorsed TCU's Gary Patterson. He'd be a good candidate. South Florida's Jim Leavitt will also get some mention. But the leading name appears to be none other than Bill Snyder. Some people might think that would damage Snyder's reputation if he failed to bring K-State back to the success the Cats enjoyed around the turn of the century. Maybe, but Snyder's turnaround at Kansas State was a miracle, and failing in a second try shouldn't tarnish that accomplishment one it.

The real question is whether Snyder would want to do it? That hasn't been said yet, but there's a good chance that Snyder is interested. Legends frequently don't know what to do when it's over. Tom Osborne rejected job offers from Houston and Michigan State after retiring from Nebraska, then decided to become a Congressman for six year before then running for governor, teaching, then finally becoming athletic director. Bill Parcells has retired how many times as a coach? Let's be honest, coaches don't know when to retire.

On the stadium front, in the Sugar Land, Texas election, all four stadium proposals to fund and build a stadium was approved earlier this week. So that moves Sugar Land into the lead in the race for the Omaha Royals. Sarpy County revealed this week that they plan to use increased sales taxes to fund the stadium. The devil is in the details, but this might be more palatable to some folks in Sarpy County, though I'm still skeptical that it would be sufficient to build a stadium. These developments pretty much put the pressure on Omaha if they really have any interest in having the Royals play downtown. I sense that MECA didn't take Sugar Land or Sarpy County seriously, and wanted to sign the Royals on their terms. Which might still happen, but seeing that the Royals now have options, might be a gamble that failed miserably.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Monday Night Beer: Extremely Premature Bowl Speculation

This afternoon, Kevin Kugler and Mike'l Severe on KOZN-1620 AM radio discussed bowl possibilities for the Huskers. First of all, any bowl speculation is premature at this point. Nebraska needs to win at least one game to become bowl eligible, though with three winnable games coming up, I think it's more likely the Huskers go bowling than not. And after last season, any bowl game is a good bowl game for Nebraska. But some bowl games are better than others.

Here is the Big XII pecking order after the BCS selects their team(s): Cotton, Holiday, Gator (choice of Big East or Big 12 team), Alamo, Sun (if Gator doesn't choose a Big 12 team), Insight, Independence, and Texas. Now, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and Missouri will all be chosen ahead of Nebraska, so the best Nebraska can do is the Alamo Bowl. Most likely, it's one of the lower tier bowls: Sun, Insight, Independence, and Texas. Most of the speculation today revolved around the Insight and Sun Bowls, with Kevin and Mike'l preferring the Insight Bowl in Phoenix over the Sun Bowl in El Paso.

Unless you are definitely planning to travel to the bowl game, you definitely don't want the Huskers to end up in the Insight Bowl. Tempe has some advantages as a destination: weather is pretty good and plenty of activities. Tempe's New Years Eve block party is one of the world's best places to spend New Years Eve, though that is going to be tough for football fans since the game will be going on simultaneously with much of the festivities. (On New Years Eve in 1995, if you weren't in a restaurant by about 5 pm, you weren't eating. And with a 3:30 pm local time kickoff, that's going to be midway through the 2nd quarter...) But the worst part of the Insight Bowl?

It's televised on the NFL Network.

Oh sure, if you have NFL Network on your cable TV, it's not a problem. But with only about 42 million homes having access to the NFL Network, most people can't watch it. On the other hand, the Sun Bowl is broadcast by CBS nationwide; it's available to just about anybody with a television set. That makes it a no-brainer decision: the Sun Bowl is a MUCH preferable bowl game over the Insight. It's not even close.

UNO hockey got a needed split over the weekend on the road at Bowling Green to open the conference schedule. UNO's 5-1 record is the best in the program's history, though one has to admit that the competition hasn't been the strongest to this point. They are getting votes in the USCHO poll, which is a positive sign. Junior Eddie DelGrosso was named CCHA defensive player of the week. Goaltending has been strong this season, which is a marked change from the last few years. But we probably won't know much about the Mavs until later this month when Ferris State and Michigan State come to town.

Week 10 Power Poll

After this weekend's games, I'm not so sure what I think anymore. Tech is obviously better than I thought. Florida and Oklahoma too. I'm not so sure about Alabama anymore though. So things are starting to fluctuate a bit.

1. Florida (Two back to back blowouts of pretty good teams. Who is better than the Gators right now?)
2. Texas Tech (I'm not sure they're better than Texas, Okie State, or Oklahoma, but they've got scoreboard for now.)
3. Texas
4. Alabama (The glow from that Clemson victory is fading...)
5. Penn State
6. Oklahoma State
7. Oklahoma
8. USC
9. Boise State
10. Ohio State

Big XII Standings
1. Texas Tech
2. Texas
3. Oklahoma State
4. Oklahoma
5. Missouri
6. Kansas
7. Nebraska
8. Baylor
9. Texas A&M (The suckiness of the North is pushing the Aggies up the standings...)
10. Colorado
11. Kansas State
12. Iowa State

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Change I Still Bo-lieve In

Nebraska fans were certainly guilty of having the "audacity to hope" for an upset last night...but those dreams were quickly dashed last night once Dominqu Franks intercepted Joe Ganz's first pass of the night. (OK...maybe I've seen a few too many political commercials in recent weeks. No matter which way you lean, be sure to vote on Tuesday!) So while we may have hoped for the best, we saw the worst.

But let's put it in perspective: Oklahoma is the #2 scoring offense in the country. If you've followed college football this season, you had to expect the Sooners to put points on the board yesterday. Nobody really has stopped Oklahoma this season. Nebraska needed to play a perfect game to compete...and Nebraska was nowhere near perfect last night.

Maybe it's the disappointment from last night, but some people are guilty of making this loss worse than it actually was. Oklahoma is a pretty damn good team; no way this is worse than Colorado's 62-36 victory or even Texas Tech's 70-10 victory. We knew this was a bad matchup going into the season, and anybody who didn't think this was possible last night is in serious denial. We didn't want it to happen, but it happened.

It goes back to what I said after the Missouri game. I don't know what Rivals was evaluating, but much of the rest of the Big XII now has as good, if not better, talent than the Huskers. That's a problem that simply takes years to resolve. Bo Pelini can't go out to the free agent wire and pick up a free agent, or trade a few prospects to fill the holes. This isn't fantasy football; this is the real thing.

Many people are dumping on Pelini for his sideline demeanor last night. Of course, all that criticism comes from people watching Pelini; I'm not a lipreader, and nobody has provided anything resembling a transcript as to what Pelini is saying. All they see is Pelini yelling into his headset (which apparantly was malfunctioning last night), and make assumptions. And you know what they say about assumptions.

I bring this up because Pelini gave a talk to Louisiana high school coaches a year and a half ago that pretty much counteracts all of the criticism:
“I take this philosophy: There hasn’t been a player ever that has tried to make a mistake out on the field,” Pelini says. “If he made a mistake, he made it for a reason. Well, as a coach, you need to search for that reason — search for a way to get through to that kid. Ultimately, when you coach that way, the players are going to believe in you. And at the end of the day, they’re going to want to run through a wall for you.”

Pelini tells a story from 2003 when he served as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator. A defender made a mistake in practice, and one of the Husker assistant coaches castigated the player. The assistant ranted and raved and even ran from the sideline into the defensive huddle to get in the player’s face.

“I called the assistant coach over to me and said, ‘All that stuff you just did: Was that for you or for the player? Because I heard you yelling at that kid and not one time did you tell him what he did wrong,’” Pelini says. “I told the coach, ‘So, the next time, it’s on you.’”

The key, Pelini says, is “getting kids to understand what they’re doing so they can do it fast.”

“If I get after a kid, (later) I’ll walk up and put my arm around him and say, ‘You’re better than that, right? You know you’re better than that, right?’”
So yeah, the TV shows Pelini yelling, but people are making assumptions about what Pelini is saying. And right now, I bet that most of the people criticizing Pelini are dead wrong about what Pelini is saying out there.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Sooner Magic Strikes Early and Often

In the 70's and 80's, Nebraska fans became used to the sight of the Oklahoma Sooners scoring quickly in the closing seconds of the football game. Sadly tonight, all that Sooner magic occurred in the first six minutes of the game. Anybody who tuned in a few minutes late were probably shocked to see the Sooners up 28-love barely six minutes into the game.

And that's the ballgame. If you look at the yardage, it doesn't look like such a mismatch: NU 418 yards, OU 508 yards. First downs: NU 15, OU 21. But then there is the key statistic of turnovers: NU 4, OU 1.

To be sure, Nebraska wasn't going to win tonight's game without playing a perfect game, and frankly, I'm not sure that even then could Nebraska have won this game. Take that first offensive play: Dominiq Franks identified that overused wide receiver screen pass before the snap, and jumped on it before the ball ever left Joe Ganz's hand. Touchdown Oklahoma.

And that is why Bob Stoops is the best coach in the Big XII conference. The Sooner staff had their players ready to play, and had their players ready to exploit what has become Nebraska's bread-and-butter play this season.

Call me weird, call me a homer, call me an apologist for this staff, or call me desensitized to bad losses, but losing 62-28 to Oklahoma doesn't sting quite as bad as giving up 76 to Kansas and 65 to Colorado last season. The Sooners are #2 in the country in scoring, averaging over 48 points a game. I fully expected Oklahoma to put a bunch of points on the board...just not 28 points in the first six minutes of the game. Disappointed and disgusted, to be sure. Just not to the extremes of 2007.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports that Lydon Murtha and Marlon Lucky left the game due to injuries. I'm not so sure either was missed. In the second quarter, I saw two complete whiffs by Murtha on one drive. I guess I've never gotten over the scenes of Murtha getting repeatedly beaten in his early years of his career, so I'm never surprised when I see him regress back into a sieve. Lucky nearly got his head taken off on that high pass that was deflected for the second interception. But his absence wasn't felt not because of what Lucky wasn't doing, but rather what his eventual replacement did do. Quentin Castille continues to have issues with ball security which makes you wonder if he'll ever move beyond it. After the success Cody Glenn has had at linebacker, the idea of a position switch doesn't seem completely insane.

But Roy Helu made another strong bid for more playing time. Last week, I questioned why Helu didn't handle the ball more, and tonight, he once again came through when the other backs weren't. Please. Get Helu the ball more.

And before you get too worked up about getting blown out by the Sooners, just look at what the Big XII South did today. Texas and Texas Tech may have played the defacto national championship game tonight. Oklahoma State laid waste to Iowa State. And Missouri needed a field goal with under 3 minutes left in the game to beat Baylor.

I'll throw out another scenario: if somehow Alabama, Penn State, and Florida lose down the stretch, the BCS title game in Miami could match up two Big XII South teams. The South is just that good right now.

But enough of that talk... Nebraska needs to bounce back strong for their final three games. They are all winnable...and all losable if Nebraska doesn't play well.

Oh the Humanity. Sooners Discombulate the Huskers in the 1st quarter

Quite possibly the worst quarter in Nebraska football history...the only one's even close that I can remember are the fourth quarter of 2004 Texas Tech or 1988 UCLA. To be sure, the Sooners came out on fire. We knew the Sooner offense was lethal, so I'm not surprised that they are moving the ball that well.

What shocked me is how the Sooner defense has gotten their mojo back. The Sooners jumped on the swing pass to Todd Peterson, and it was game over at that point. Now, it's now just a point to get things calmed down in the wake of the Sooner buzzsaw we're witnessing tonight.