Saturday, January 31, 2009

National Signing Day!

Yes, it's time for the worst week in college football. National Signing Day is this week, and as usually, recruitniks are frothing over as usual, obsessing about rankings and statistics and prognosticating greatness.

And of course, it's as absurd as ever. Perhaps some of them will take time-out to watch the Super Bowl. Two great quarterbacks will be leading their teams onto the field in Tampa. Imagine the pride their families and alma maters must be feeling. And of course, the recruiting geniuses spotted these two early on.

Uh...wait...stop the presses. Ben Rothelisberger didn't even play quarterback until his senior season of high school. He ended up getting a college scholarship to Miami ... of Ohio. No "blue chipper" there.

Oh, but what about Kurt Warner? You know the former league and Super Bowl MVP? Had to be a huge get for somebody some signing day. Uh, no. He ended up at 1-AA Northern Iowa, and in fact, was third on the Panthers depth chart until his senior season. And then we all know the story of Warner. Tried out for the Packers, got cut, went to work for Hy-Vee as a stock boy, then played in the Arena game, then NFL Europe, then suddenly burst onto the scene in St. Louis. Now he's preparing to play in his third Super Bowl.

Yep...those recruiting geniuses were all over these two as well.

Here's some more classics from the past, in case you missed them on recruiting coverage:
And with that, it's time to take a break from the absurdity of this week. Talk to you again when sanity rules.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Tale of Four Quarterbacks

With National Signing Day only one week away, I thought about reminiscing about past signing days and how those recruitnik dreams panned out, especially in terms of four quarterbacks.

The first quarterback was rated four stars by Rivals and three stars by Scout. Rivals had the 6'4" quarterback rated the #9 pro-style quarterback in the country and the #27 prospect overall in one of the largest states in the country. Scout was less impressed, ranking him merely the #38 quarterback in the country. Among the schools that offered him scholarships were Michigan, Illinois, and Arizona State.

The second quarterback was rated two stars by both Rivals and Scout. The 6'3" quarterback didn't make any national lists, but did squeak into the top 25 list of his midwestern state. Other schools interested in him were Ball State and Eastern Michigan.

The third quarterback was a consensus four star recruit by both Rivals and Scout. The 6'1" quarterback was consider Rivals #3 pro-style quarterback and Scout's #11 overall quarterback in the country. This quarterback was recruited by Florida, Florida State, Miami, and Michigan among other schools.

The fourth quarterback was a consensus four star recruit as well. The 6'6" quarterback made the Rivals100 as one of the top 100 prospects coming out of high school, and Scout named him the #11 quarterback in the country. Among the other schools offering scholarships to this prospect were Oregon, Texas A&M, and Colorado.

At first glance, one of these stands out like a sore thumb. He barely gained any interest from MAC schools, while the others all were recruited by big names from BCS conferences. So let's concentrate on the other three names, who were destined for college football greatness.

#1 was Sam Keller, who would become Arizona State's starting quarterback late in 2005 and went 4-4 before becoming injured and losing his starting job to Rudy Carpenter. He then transferred to Nebraska, and went 4-5 as the starting quarterback before a collarbone injury ended his senior season.

#3 was Harrison Beck, who was pulled out of his redshirt late in his freshman season to throw 10 passes, completing one to a Husker receiver and one to a Kansas State defender. He then transferred to North Carolina State where he's throw 240 passes, completing 119 of them for four touchdowns and 16 interceptions. After a particularly horrific performance in the bowl this past season, his teammates were reported ready to "kick his ***" for laughing about his latest interception.

#4 was Josh Freeman, who backed out on his commitment to Nebraska to attend Kansas State. He went on to go 14-18 as a starting quarterback for the Wildcats, scoring 44 touchdowns but also throwing 34 interceptions in his career. Despite his career losing record as a quarterback, he declared for the NFL draft and is viewed as a potential first round draft pick by Mel Kiper of ESPN. Ironically, if people ranked Big XII quarterbacks this past season, Freeman would rank by most in the lower half (and maybe lower third) of quarterbacks.

Kind of a disappointing run for those quarterbacks. But let's go back to that other guy; the guy that only got a sprinkling of interest from the MAC initially. He went on to ride the bench for most of his first three years in college. But he got his break late in 2007 when he came in to replace the injured starter, and then went on to a 10-6 record as a starting quarterback, including some record setting performances (including a 510 yard passing game in just his second start). For a career with just 3 seasons (and really only playing 16 games), he threw for 44 touchdowns against 18 interceptions.

Whoa. The 2-star guy far out surpassed the 4-star guys? Who was that guy, and how did the recruiting services get it wrong?

Simply put, recruiting services tend to focus on only part of the picture. They focus on the measurables: height, weight, speed, arm strength, etc. They tend to ignore or dismiss the intangibles that they can't evaluate. So what happens is a quarterback like Joe Ganz tends to fall through the cracks of the system because for whatever reason, talent evaluators can't quantify what's inside players.

But that something is something that can be observed, if you look hard at the person. Character counts, and how you respond to adversity might be as important, if not more important, than having the greatest 40-yard time or having the strongest arm. That drive is something that isn't apparent to folks focusing on measurables. But you see in the responses to adversity. When Sam Keller got passed on the depth chart at Arizona State, his father flew him around the country to find a new program. Josh Freeman's father didn't even wait for adversity to come at Nebraska, pushing the eject button and diverting Freeman to Kansas State before he even had a chance ot sign. And we all know about Harrison Beck's disappearance at Nebraska.

Joe Ganz? What was his response to getting jobbed out of the starting job at Nebraska? He worked harder, and didn't complain at the time. That's character. That's something that was completely missed by the so-called experts.

And thus became yet another example of why the only meaningful information you'll find out next week as recruits sign letters of commitment is their names and home towns. The rest is pure speculation at best, and frequently irrelevent when they actually hit the field.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday Night Beer: Omaha's Fascination with the Cubs

I must say that Omaha's reaction to the Ricketts family's purchase of the Chicago Cubs surprised me. Apparently many people were thinking the same way I was; it's a sobering message to the Omaha and Kansas City Royals. Kansas City's inept management of the allegedly big-league Royals over the last fifteen years has turned a once proud franchise into a joke..and by proxy, their loyal AAA franchise three hours north. Until last week, Omaha's remaining Royals fans were reduced to praying that somehow, some way, Sarpy County could find a way to build a ballpark small enough to make a Royals crowd look impressive.

Then the bombshell of the Ricketts purchase hit, and suddenly baseball fans started emerging from the woodwork when the idea of the Cubs AAA franchise playing downtown started to emerge. It's not a slam dunk by any means. First, TD Ameritrade hasn't bought the naming rights to the downtown ballpark. Secondly, Des Moines still holds the rights to the Cubs AAA franchise through 2012. And finally, we still have to wait to see what happens with the Royals. Do they head south to Texas, leaving Omaha without a AAA franchise to swap with Des Moines?

But let's make on thing clear. If TD Ameritrade does purchase the naming rights to the downtown ballpark, there definitely is an incentive for the Ricketts family to have their AAA baseball team playing in "TD Ameritrade Park" versus Principal Park. Joe Ricketts owns a significant chunk of TD Ameritrade, and is on the board of directors. Pete Ricketts is on the board too. Not to mention the lead Ricketts in the whole Cubs transaction, Tom Ricketts, is yet another Ameritrade board member. It may not make much of a difference to the Cubs finances whose name is on the stadium where the Cubs AAA team, but it sure makes a difference to Ameritrade. And that is where the money for this transaction is coming from, and with three Ricketts on the Ameritrade board, they've got a significant interest in seeing the Cubs in Omaha.

On that same note, Tom Shatel thought he was first in suggesting a Cubs exhibition game in Omaha. Let the record show I proposed it a day before he did.

Kind of a crappy Saturday for the local teams. UNO hockey got pasted at home by Miami after UNO spent most of the first period in the penalty box. Nebraska basketball lost a squeaker at home against Oklahoma State.

But truth be told, UNO fans can thank their lucky stars that former Omaha Lancer Andrew Conboy reneged on his commitment to UNO to go to Michigan State. Conboy's freshman season ended on Saturday night when Conboy and Corey Tropp combined on an assault on Michigan forward Steve Camper. If you think the video was bad, check out what found on their video. Conboy's season ended after Spartan coach Rick Comley reviewed the tape and suspended Conboy for the rest of the season for his actions.

Update 1/27/09: Andrew Conboy has withdrawn from Michigan State, and University of Michigan police are considering looking into the situation.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ricketts Purchase of Cubs Adds New Wrinkle to Omaha Stadium Debate

Tonight, the Chicago Tribune announced that the Ricketts family is the winning bidder and will be the new owners of the Chicago Cubs, pending league approval. The Ricketts family fortune came from TD Ameritrade, which is also the leading candidate to purchase the naming rights for the new downtown Omaha stadium.

Now things start looking VERY interesting in Downtown Omaha.

For starters, with this combination, how do you open TD Ameritrade Park in the spring of 2011? Might I suggest the possibility of the Chicago Cubs playing an exhibition game in Omaha to close out spring training? If TD Ameritrade wants to get their money's worth out of the stadium name, why not bring in the team owned by the company's founders (who, by the way, still own a sizable chunk of the company)?

Want to think even bigger? Wouldn't it make sense to have the Cubs AAA minor league affiliate play in the stadium named for the company that the owners built? Outlandish at first, as the Iowa Cubs have done very well in Des Moines. But it's no secret that the Omaha Royals are in the market to leave the city of Omaha. Maybe they go to Sarpy County. (Hahahahaha!) Maybe they go to Texas.

Maybe they swap franchises with Des Moines.

Wacky idea perhaps? Well, it's more sane than the idea of the Chicago Cubs leaving Wrigley Field for Omaha.

It's an outlandish idea, but it certainly throws a new wrinkle into the whole stadium debate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Does the WCHA Now Secretly Covet UNO?

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association's decision to explore expansion is creating a rippling effect in college hockey. The primary benefactor appears to be Bemidji State in Minnesota. The Beavers are currently play in the CHA, which will probably become extinct once the NCAA strips the CHA of it's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. That leaves Bemidji and Alabama-Huntsville lost, and without a home.

So Bemidji makes a good fit for the WCHA, but that leaves the WCHA with an odd number of teams, which makes scheduling a royal pain. The WCHA ideally wants 12 teams. Alabama-Huntsville is simply too far from the rest of the WCHA teams, so that's not a great option.

So ten years after calling things off with UNO, suddenly the WCHA seems to have interest in Maverick Hockey. In fact, the WCHA seems to have their eyes on not only UNO but also Northern Michigan as well, which makes for an interesting set of options for the WCHA. If they can convince either UNO or Northern to jump, they've got someone to match up with Bemidji. If they could convince both to jump, the WCHA could play hard-to-get once again, feeling that the left-out team could find a home in the CCHA, perhaps paired up with Alabama-Huntsville.

But here's the catch. Why would UNO be interested in the WCHA ten years after being dumped unceremoneously on the way to the altar. When UNO started their hockey program in the mid 1990's, the plan was always to play in the WCHA. After UNO's first season, the WCHA got cold feet, and UNO found themselves being pushed towards what would eventually be CHA. UNO wanted no part of that, and instead found a great home with the CCHA.

To be sure, the WCHA is a better fit regionally for UNO. Colorado College and Denver to the west. North Dakota and Minnesota to the north. All are not only reasonable drives for UNO fans, but also for fans of visiting teams to drive I-80, I-29, or I-35/80 to Omaha for a weekend. It might also convince FSN to carry their college hockey broadcasts in the Nebraska area. (That's something I simply don't understand. FSN thinks that reruns of poker, sports bloopers, and the Best Sports Show are more interesting than live sporting events for some unknown reason.)

But while WCHA teams may have an edge on the CCHA in terms of college hockey tradition, the CCHA brings marquee names to Omaha that resonate with collegiate sports fans: Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State. For a program trying to grow it's market into the general sports audience who thinks football first, the CCHA names simply have better name recognition over the WCHA.

Frankly, I don't see UNO being interested in the WCHA at this time except on one condition, and that's for the greater good of college hockey in general. Especially after having been burned by the WCHA once before. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

A Momentous Day for America

After Sunday's Pittsburgh Steelers victory over the Baltimore Ravens, CBS interviewed Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin about the game. The biggest deal about Tomlin? He's the youngest coach to make it to the Super Bowl. Nary a word about his skin color.

Today, the United States takes the next step forward with the inauguration of Barack Obama. A day that many people thought might never happen is now ready to unfold in front of our very eyes. Certainly the eyes of the entire world will be on Washington, though really, it's not all about skin color.

America has had minorities run for the Presidency before, but none mounted a challenge like Obama. I attribute that to the fact that Obama ran not as a black man, but as a leader who happens to be black. After years of partisan bickering from both sides of the aisle, we've finally elected a President who really does seem to welcome input from all sides and viewpoints. Maybe it's all just rhetoric to this point, maybe it's all been a facade. Maybe Barack Obama will govern like that liberal tag his detractors tried to pin on him during the campaign.

After eight years of scandals followed by eight more years that some characterize as the "worst presidency ever," Americans screamed for Change. Some put their faith behind a Senator from Arizona with a reputation as a maverick. Others put their faith behind a one-term Senator who seems to inspire confidence like no other American leader since Ronald Reagan.

In the end, Obama won the election over John McCain. But the victor has held his hand out to his opponent, looking to the Republican maverick for inspiration and advice. No trash talk. No claims of "scoreboard" or "mandate". No rubbing it in.

Shouldn't that really be the way life should be? Shouldn't that the way sports should be? Wouldn't life be better if we all followed the code espoused in the Husker Prayer, whether it be at work, at home, or at play?
If we should win, let it be by the code,
Faith and Honor held high

If we should lose, we'll stand by the road,
And cheer as the winners go by
Yes, today is a great day for America and the world. It's not because a black man is now the President of the greatest country in this world. You may not agree with all his policies. You may not agree with any of his policies. You see, it's because out of all the partisan rancor coming out of extremists on each side emerges something more centrist, something that allows this country to come together, if we allow it.

God Bless America!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Night Dessert: Mavs Lose in Warm Alaska, Doc's Team Puts on Another Show

Disappointing weekend for the Mavs this weekend in Alaska as they were shut down once again by Chad Johnson, currently the #3 goaltender in the nation. In four games against UNO, Johnson has allowed 2 goals in 255 minutes as three of the games went to overtime shootouts. No time for the Mavs to sulk, as next up is #9 Miami.

Anybody else catch former Mav Bill Thomas on NBC's "Game of the Week"? He wore a microphone in today's Penguins/Rangers game, and even got in a plug for his old college team.

Impressive defensive performance by the Husker basketball team last night against Kansas State. It's easy to dismiss Doc Sadler's four (and at times, five) guard lineup, but with the defense that they're showing, they'll be competitive against much of the Big XII. If Sadler can ever get his roster squared away, Husker hoops has a bright future if they continue to show that same kind of effort.

The World-Herald's Tom Shatel looks wistfully back at the Danny Nee era in today's paper. Problem is that for as great as the early to middle 90's were for Husker hoops under Nee, the final Nee years weren't anything to be proud of. Between player walkouts, awful fundamentals, and a me-first style of play, the final years of the Nee era weren't terribly watchable. Barry Collier had plenty of faults, but his teams weren't like the final farce of the Nee era.

Not that I necessarily blame Shatel for wanting to remember the good days of Nebraska basketball under Nee. I have plenty of great memories of heading to a sold-out Devaney Center to watch the Huskers upset a highly ranked Big 8 opponent (i.e. Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, etc.). I remember Dickie V telling fans in Lincoln to watch out for an incoming freshman quarterback from Florida named Tommie Frazier.

Is Doc Sadler recapturing some of that magic? Hard to say, but I like the way his teams play.

(BTW, if you are looking for some great Husker basketball coverage, check out HuskerLibrarian's coverage over at

I did catch something interesting with Nebraska's "other" division 1 basketball team. I gotta admit, I don't follow Creighton basketball much at all. It's not the coach or the team; they do a fine job in their mid-major conference year-in and year-out. Dana Altman does it right for the most part. Case in point is the case of Cavel Witter. He got into a shouting match with several Southern Illinois players after last week's game, but after thinking about it overnight (and a talking-to by Altman), he regretted his actions and actually apologized for starting it. I give Altman the credit here; I don't think Altman had to tell Witter to apologize because he didn't have to tell him to. Altman has set a standard for how his team plays and acts, and all that needed to be done was to remind his player that what he did wasn't anywhere near that standard that he wants his team to follow. And thus the apology.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wednesday Night Hot Toddy: Warmer in Fairbanks

It's flippin' cold out there tonight. Right now, it's -5 here in Omaha. But hey, I least I'm not on the UNO hockey team getting ready to head to Fairbanks for a series with Alaska t his weekend. Uh scratch that. Currently it's 31 in Fairbanks, and the forecast for the next three days is for high temperatures in the low thirties. That's right...the weather in Fairbanks is better than in Omaha.

This weekend's UNO/Alaska series is another critical matchup. The two teams tied twice in Omaha in December, and UNO has lost three of their last four games. UNO has fallen to #20 in the ratings, right behind #19 Yale, who the Mavs pasted just after Christmas. The Mavs really need to come away with two or three points at least. Last weekend's series was rather painful to watch, as Northern Michigan really took it to the Mavs on Saturday night. The Wildcats are a better team than their record indicates, but UNO really needed the sweep.

Nothing like a cold snap to make you think of summertime sports...but that's the big news of the day in Omaha. USA Swimming and the NCAA have made an agreement to end the 2012 College World Series on June 25th or 26th in order to allow the Olympic Swimming Trials to begin on June 27th. All the details are still being finalized, but things are really looking promising for three unbelievable weeks of action in downtown Omaha.

Recruitniks can breathe a sigh of relief. Cody Green is enrolled in class in Lincoln. Now rather than worry about whether he'll actually follow through, now the worry is whether he'll live up to the hype. My suggestion: quit talking about it, and we'll eventually find out how he adapts to the college game. With an added spring practice for him, there's plenty of time for him to develop. Hopefully fans will allow him that time.

Former Husker linebacker Barrett Ruud missed out on making the Pro Bowl this season. So rather than planning a trip to Honolulu, he instead headed to a cabin in north-central Nebraska. I have this feeling that he'll eventually get that Pro Bowl honor, though the loss of Monte Kiffin as his defensive coordinator won't help his career.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Big XII Offenses Lament The Need to Runaround Suh in 2009

Offensive coordinators in the Big XII got the message today loud and clear: they'll need to focus on keeping Runaround Suh away from their quarterback in 2009. With apologies to Dion, Husker defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh announced today that he'll return to the Huskers for his senior season.

It's not really a surprise, as Suh had said all along he probably was coming back. But there was always that little opening, and it's tough for a college student to turn down millions of dollars from the NFL.

Was it the right move for Suh? Only he can judge for sure. Suh blossomed as the season progressed under the tutelage of the Pelini brothers, and it's not hard to imagine that improvement continuing with another season. Certainly LSU's Glenn Dorsey got value out of staying for a senior season with Pelini. If he turns late first round/early second round money into early first round draft money, it'll still be money ahead for Suh.

Looking ahead to 2009, that means the Huskers will have three returning starters on the defensive line: Suh, Barry Turner (expected to get a medical redshirt), and Pierre Allen. Add in Phillip Dillard at linebacker, and Larry Asante, Rickey Thenarse, Anthony West, and Anthony Blue, and depending on how you count, you've got seven or eight returning starters off a defense that, believe it or not, ended up second in the Big XII in total defense. (#55 nationally.)

After the BCS title game, the World-Herald's Tom Shatel noted that a great defense might be the key to stopping all the high-powered offenses in the Big XII. Well, with the return of Suh, Nebraska might be putting themselves in just that position. To be sure, Nebraska is going to need to answer quite a few questions on offense this spring and fall. But defensively, this group looks like it might be an effective counter to what the rest of the Big XII is bringing.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Reflections on Sooners vs. Gators

Not sure what was up with our local Fox television station here in Omaha, but after listening and reading some of the national press today, I'm convinced that KPTM-Channel 42 must have broadcast a different game. I mean, the final scores happened to be the same, but the national media all saw something breathtaking that wasn't shown here in Omaha.

I'm speaking, of course, about Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. All day long, it was "perfection", best ever, once in a lifetime player, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Whoa. Stop the car. Tebow is a great player, mind you. But some of the talk is getting a little insane. Especially since the key to Florida's victory last night wasn't so much Tebow as it was the Gator defense and Percy Harvin.

Yeah, Harvin. Remember him? 171 yards of offense? After spending the entire month of December frantically rehabilitating his sprained ankle? Uh, scratch that. Make that a fracture, not just a sprain. There's your MVP right there.

But hey, Tebow's a great story: he can run, he can throw, he can circumsize like no other quarterback we've ever seen. So let's run with it. And while we're at it, let's go ahead and crown the Gators the 2009 National Champions while we're at it.

No need to play next season at all. We all know what's going to happen this fall, right here on January 9th. (Has the electoral college finished tallying the votes between Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, by the way? Oh right...things change over time.)

Renny over at the Big Red Network got the alternative feed of last night's game as well, as he pointed out that Florida ran a similar bubble screen as Nebraska did against Oklahoma, except that the Sooners picked off Joe Ganz's pass. Florida gained 15 yards on it. That's Florida speed, correct?

Absolutely not. That was a case where Nebraska had run that play over and over and over so many times this season, that the Sooners knew what was coming as soon as the ball was snapped. They read the play, and reacted. Touchdown Oklahoma. The only impact speed had on the play was that it left an extra second on the clock once Dominiq Franks crossed the goalline.

Yeah, Nebraska needs to recruit well, but enough with the obsession with "top five" classes already. We need speed, sure. We need playmakers, absolutely. But we also need players that play hard and never give up. We need guys who take their game to another level when they get to college, not necessarily guys who put up huge numbers in high school. And more importantly, we need to coach these guys up and get them ready to play.

I see Oklahoma fell all the way to fifth in the polls for some reason. Especially bizarre after Oklahoma looked much better than Texas this week in bowl games. Texas nearly embarassed the Big XII in the Fiesta Bowl... Oklahoma just got beaten by a pretty darn good team.

One thing is for sure, we might have seen the first signs of a significant move away from the BCS format. Oh sure, the BCS is here for another five years. But after that, who knows. Some people have been pushing for a "Plus-One" format, where you take the top four teams in the BCS and match them up in New Years Day bowl games, then have the winners play the next week. It all sounded good until this week.

Florida, Oklahoma, USC, Texas, Utah. Oops. That's five, my friends.

Who would you have thrown out? Utah? Well, after Utah beat Alabama worse than Florida did last month, that argument isn't going to hold water.

Here's what'll happen: an eight or sixteen team playoff. Bowl games will be for everybody else who's out of the playoff. All games are played on someone's home field; fans are NOT going to travel to bowl games on one week's notice for two or three consecutive weeks. Ticket sales attest to the difficulty in selling some of this year's bowl matchups. And besides, home fields are how they handle just about every other playoff.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

2008 Final PowerPoll

The Gators earned it on the field tonight, but Oklahoma proved themselves worthy of their place on the field tonight. If Oklahoma's receivers make a couple of catches, rather than letting them bounce into Gator hands, we might be hailing Bob Stoops instead of coronating Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow.
  1. Florida
  2. Oklahoma (Yes, Bob Stoops lost another bowl game. But you know what...he keeps putting the Sooners into the BCS Championship game. That counts for something.)
  3. Utah (Undefeated, and their victory over 'Bama makes them worthy of consideration)
  4. USC
  5. Texas (No, Colt McCoy. Squeaking by Ohio State makes your claims of #1 even more shaky.)
  6. TCU (Lost to Oklahoma and Utah...)
  7. Alabama
  8. Oregon
  9. Georgia
  10. Penn State

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Nebraska's Gator Bowl Win the Best So Far in the Big XII

Let's quickly review the Big XII in bowls this season:
Alamo: Missouri squeaks by Northwestern in overtime.
Holiday: After Zach Robinson and Dez Bryant get hurt, it' s all downhill for the Cowboys as Oregon State win.
Insight: Kansas handles Minnesota rather easily.
Gator: Nebraska bounces back from a bad first half to upset Clemson.
Cotton: Texas Tech loses to a 4 loss Ole Miss squad.
Fiesta: Texas scores with :16 left to avoid losing to an Ohio State squad who had been beaten badly in their last three nationally televised non-conference games.

Two observations: At this point, Nebraska's win over Clemson is likely the Big XII's best bowl win so far. Texas narrowly escaped an embarassing loss, while Missouri narrowly escaped the Pinkel factor. When you consider how Minnesota finished the season, it's no surprise Kansas won going away. (How bad are the Gophers? They're apparently ready to hire Kevin Cosgrove to be their defensive coordinator.)

Other than Alabama and South Carolina, the SEC has been relatively solid in their bowl games. That doesn't bode well for Oklahoma tomorrow night. My New Year's Eve prediction was Florida 45, Oklahoma 42. When you consider the injuries to the Sooners, the Heisman jinx, and the poor performance of the Big XII South so far this bowl season, all signs point to an Oklahoma loss at this point.

I hope I'm wrong, but I'm extending my margin of victory. Florida 49, Oklahoma 28.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

MECA Calls the Omaha Royals Bluff

Today's announcement that the American Association intends to approve an independent league baseball team to play in the new downtown stadium raises the stakes in the battle between the Omaha Royals and MECA, the operators of the Qwest Center and the new stadium. The Royals hoped to use Sugarland, TX and Sarpy County's pipe dream of a new Chalco stadium as leverage in their negotiations with MECA last year, but the two sides either wouldn't ... or couldn't budge.

So the Royals decided to move forward with exclusive negotiations with Sarpy County, and with nearly a third of that period gone by, there has been no public signs of progress. No plans on how to fund a $40 million ballpark, other than groveling to the Legislature for money.

Meanwhile, as expected, MECA now has an agreement for an independent league team to play downtown. That news has mixed implications for Omaha and baseball. On one hand, it means that if (when!) the Royals leave the Omaha area entirely, there still will be professional baseball in this area. It also means that there will be some activity in the new stadium in the summertime.

But let's not kid ourselves... it's not remotely the same level of baseball as the Royals. Might not even be up to CWS standards. Some people might wonder how Omaha can support two baseball teams, but that's not the question. The question is more likely: which one will Omaha support? The question might be answered for us, as while we know the downtown stadium will be built, the Chalco stadium proposal is, at best, just a dream.

Best case scenario for Omaha? The March 15th date passes by with no progress on building the Chalco stadium, and the powers that be (some might call them a Cabal)in Omaha bring MECA and the Royals back together to do the right thing. The whole downtown stadium came back from the brink several times last winter as MECA, the NCAA, CWS Incorporated, and the City went back and forth over proposals. At times, it looked hopeless as well. But in the end, the right thing was done.

Am I naive? Maybe. Am I stubborn? Perhaps. (My wife probably says "YES!") But I think while both sides have other options, both sides have much more to lose by staying with their current partners than by finally compromising and coming to an agreement.

A lot of people think the downtown stadium is too big for the Royals. Perhaps, but I wonder how the stadium will work when you divide the grandstand into two decks, allowing you to close the upper deck for smaller crowds, thus giving the impression of a 16,000 seat ballpark. Still too big, you say? Perhaps...but that was the size of Rosenblatt for years.

I'd argue that a 6500 seat Chalco stadium is too small for the Royals. Average attendance this season was nearly 5300 fans a night. That includes the 4th of July fireworks crowd...and those cold, windy April evenings when only die-hards want to head to the ballpark. Yeah, you have grass berms for standing room / general admission, but even that will limit crowds to around 10,000 fans. It's certainly possible that the Royals could pack a Chalco stadium on weekends...and still end up with lower attendance in Chalco, unless they can get large crowds during the week.

Bottom line is that this appears to be another round of hardball in the battle over the future of professional baseball in Omaha. We may have hit DefCon 4 today. But I remain convinced that the best plan for both MECA and the Royals is a deal with each other downtown, no matter how hard they try to spite each other. Time's a wasting.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sunday Night Dessert: The End is Near

Just three more games in this season's college football season left. It looks like I actually had one of my better week's with my picks; I'm 7-3 so far against the spread. I did miss the Georgia Tech/LSU game badly, and while I was wrong about Utah, I couldn't help but root for the Utes, who showed they belong in the BCS.

Unlike the Big MAC conference, who are once again proving themselves unworthy of consideration as a major football conference. Certainly Ohio State is unworthy of their Fiesta Bowl berth. Originally, I think the Fiesta Bowl might have hit the panic button and thought that the Buckeyes would flock en masse to the Phoenix area one more time. Well, that didn't happen. The Big MAC is now reduced to hoping that Texas is still moping about not being in Miami. If they feel they've got a score to settle, it could get ugly tomorrow night.

Although Ndamukong Suh says he's 99% sure he'll return to Lincoln for his senior season, I think I'll wait until January 15th passes before passing judgement. Nothing against Suh, mind you. I just think that until the date passes, it's always up for rethinking. It's going to be very tough for a college student to turn his back on NFL money. Especially when it comes time to pay the second semester book bill.

Steve over at the Big Red Network thinks that Florida Atlantic's victory over Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl means next year's season opener isn't a laugher anymore. Truth be told, while the bowl victory is nice for FAU, it really doesn't change opinions dramatically about Owls. Their only out-of-conference victories are Central Michigan, Alabama-Birmingham, and Western Kentucky. Even with the bowl victory, they probably won't crack Sagarin's top 100 college football teams.

On the Chalco stadium front, nothing new to report, though we'll probably hear something either later this week or next week with the Nebraska legislature scheduled to begin a new session on Wednesday. Here's the mood in Lincoln: they're looking for income and property tax cuts for the citizens of the state. They aren't looking for tax incentives for businessmen from out-of-state. And while they use Ted Turner as an example, you could just as easily say that state incentives for a baseball team owned by out-of-state interests probably will get just as cool of a reception. Not that we didn't already know that.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Blackshirts Dominate Tigers in the Gator Bowl

Today's Gator Bowl continued a trend that began in November, where the Huskers won a game that was much closer than it really should have been. A handful of plays in the Kansas, Kansas State, and Colorado games were the difference that prevented those games from turning into Husker blowouts. Same thing today. A missed tackle here, a bad decision there, and suddenly Nebraska found themselves down 14-3 at halftime.

When I reviewed Clemson's season for earlier this week, I noted two things. As C.J. Spiller and James Davis go, so goes the Tiger offense. And in the final two games, the Tiger defense created a bunch of turnovers.

That storyline pretty much played out today. The Blackshirts shut down turned the Tigers "Thunder and Lightning" backfield into a light drizzle, as they combined for 49 yards. It all began up front with Ty Steinkuhler and Ndamakong Suh up front. They spent so much time in the Clemson backfield, they may need to file a South Carolina tax return next year. Want some more evidence? Total rushing numbers for Clemson when you subtract out sacks of Cullen Harper: Four yards.

A lot of Husker fans are going to suggest that Nebraska "gave" Clemson those turnovers. Truth be told, Clemson's defense forced those turnovers. Especially that first fumble on the option pitch. Maybe it was inexperience in reading the option, but while you can blame Ganz for forcing the pitch, recognize that DeAndre McDaniel blew up that option play and essentially intercepted the pitch.

Nebraska's offensive woes weren't helped by some poor playcalling by Shawn Watson in the first half. The Husker offense gained an identity late in that Missouri blowout, adopting a spread look that loosened up defenses. That spread look was forgotten in the first half, as Nebraska tried to run the ball against a stout Tiger defense. When they weren't running the ball, they were trying short screen passes. All in all, it kept the Tigers defense in the box and made the Husker offense anemic.

Second half, they spread the field better and threw the ball downfield more, and not surprisingly, opened up the running game a bit. Quentin Castille came up huge today replacing the injured Roy Helu and Marlon Lucky. No fumble problems today, and Castille ran like a man possessed.

All in all, I never felt that despite the Huskers mistakes that they were ever out of the game, and so once Nebraska took the lead, it was more a matter of keeping the game under control.

So Nebraska ends the season 9-4, which is their best record since the last time Bo Pelini coached the Huskers in a bowl game. Certainly something to savor, and while the future of Nebraska football looks better after the 2008 season than it did after the 2007 season, there are plenty of questions that will need to be answered.

Who will take over at quarterback, now that Joe Ganz's eligibility is over? As Ganz went, so did the Huskers this season. Will Ndamakong Suh return for his senior season? He doesn't sound so sure now, as I'm sure the NFL has to be impressed by Suh's performance in the latter part of the season. Who will replace Nate Swift as a clutch receiver?

We'll have plenty of time to get answers to those questions. For now, Husker fans should savor a nine win season. I'm not sure that the Huskers will end up in the Top 25 after the bowl season, but nine wins is unmistakably a huge improvement from 5-7 in 2007. The improvement in the team as this season progressed is unmistakable, both in terms of just making plays, but also in character as well. This year, we saw a team that didn't dwell on their mistakes, and simply played harder as the game went on. They may have been outmatched early, but they always came back hard and finished each and every game strong, as evidenced by comeback attempts against Virginia Tech and Texas Tech, plus come from behind victories against Baylor, Colorado, and Clemson.

Is Nebraska football "back"? Is "Order Restored"? Hardly not. This is not where Nebraska football strives to be. But it's the first step on that journey. It may not happen next year. But this program definitely is moving in the right direction.