I'm trying to remember if there's ever been a weekend like this upcoming one as far as local sports go. Sure, we've had weekends with bigger games, but when you put the entire schedule together, you've got a weekend full of things to keep an eye on.
The marquee game is the Husker game against Texas A&M. Win, and the Huskers are Big XII North champions for the second straight year; that's something that only happened one other time: 1996-97. A month ago, this game didn't look quite as interesting as it did now. Back then, Nebraska appeared to be cruising with a stout defense and an explosive offense, while Texas A&M was wallowing at 3-3 and playing inconsistent at best. What changed? Simple: the quarterbacks. Taylor Martinez's leg injury just before halftime against Missouri caused him to miss nearly all of the next game and a half, and limited him last week against Kansas. It doesn't sound like he injured himself further last week, and it may have actually helped him with developing the other aspects of his game. Pardon me, though, if I express a little skepticism that Martinez is back to being "the old Taylor." I smell a whole lot of coach-speak here; I hope Watson is honest, and not just trying to sell us (or the A&M coaching staff) something.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M is on a four game winning streak thanks in large part on benching quarterback Jerrod Johnson. Ryan Tannehill has made the Aggies a much better team. I never was a big fan of Johnson despite his occasionally gaudy stats; like Josh Freeman at Kansas State, the measurables that draftniks and recruitniks covet never correlated with what was happening on the field. (Measurables are for fantasy football in my book...)
The Aggies defense is improved, but I'm still not ready to call them the "wrecking crew". They do rank first in the Big XII in rushing defense, but I expect the Huskers to try and hit them with a balanced attack. Ball security will be very important this week.
But while that game is the biggest one, it's not the only game. In hockey, #4 UNO takes on #8 North Dakota in the biggest regular season hockey series ever for the Mavs. UNO has never been ranked this high, and has never played North Dakota, despite the history of both schools in the old North Central Conference. That alone makes it a big deal, but then you've got the Dean Blais factor. Blais led the Sioux to two national championships before taking a shot at the NHL. Now he's back in college hockey, and has taken UNO to heights never seen before. It's a shame the Saturday night game is on at the same time as the Husker game because both games deserve the attention of fans. Sioux fans could care less about the Husker game; at last report, 2000 of them are driving down I-29 on Friday to spend the weekend in Omaha.
The Sioux had an impressive weekend, sweeping Wisconsin on the road. Sophomore goalie Aaron Dell shut out the Badgers for over 5 periods, earning WCHA defensive player of the week honors. This should be an exciting, memorable weekend at the Qwest Center.
If the Omaha Nighthawks offense hadn't completely disappeared over the last month, Friday night's season finale might be a little more intriguing. The game is sold out, but I've seen a lot of tickets for sale on the secondary market. It'll be interesting to see how many people show up for a game that's essentially meaningless, other than the final nighttime event at Rosenblatt. (I wonder if some people are planning to skip the football game to watch hockey?)
If that's not enough, Nebraska basketball faces off in Puerto Rico, starting tomorrow afternoon with a matchup with Vanderbilt. Friday afternoon could bring a matchup with Bob Huggins and West Virginia, while the Sunday game could be against North Carolina or Minnesota. We should start getting a better idea of how Doc Sadler's team rebounds from last season in these games. Is Andre Almeida the difference-maker Doc Sadler's teams have missed since Aleks Maric graduated?
Like I said...a whole lot of things going on this weekend. I really encourage people who haven't checked out UNO hockey to get their tickets for the Friday night game at least. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I think something special is happening with UNO hockey, and there will only be one more chance after this weekend to check out the Mavs before mid-January.