Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dean Blais Resets the Mav Hockey Roster

After Bill Callahan's first losing season at Nebraska, several players departed the football team when they sensed that their skills weren't a match with the new direction of the program.  A similar thing seems to be happening with the UNO hockey program with two very notable distinctions:  (1) the departures are less contentious and (2) Blais, unlike Callahan, has a strong record of success (Two NCAA national championships plus a World Championship, vs. "Dumbest Team in America")

This offseason, UNO has seen John Kemp, Mike Phillipi, and Ryan Kretzer depart the team for various reasons. In my mind, it's not a huge surprise as these players were recruited by a defensive-minded coach, and aren't necessarily a good fit with a run-and-gun offensive mindset. In fact, I was surprised some of these departures didn't happen sooner, though the changes of last summer were so sudden that it didn't leave players much time to reconsider their plans.

Today's World-Herald featured several highly regarded USHL players that will be joining UNO next season.  Three were among the top twelve scorers last season: Brock Montpetit, Ryan Walters, and Matt White. A fourth, defenseman Bryce Aneloski who led defensemen in scoring last season in the USHL.  See that offensive focus starting to take hold in Omaha?  All in all, 11 new players could be on the UNO roster by this fall.

This is a good news, bad news situation for UNO.  First the bad news: these guys are inexperienced, and will need time to not only adjust to this level of competition, but also to the endurance level that Blais demands of his team.  In some respects, this might be the 2009-10 season all over again trying to up their game to the level that Blais expects.

That's a short tern negative.  The good news is that we saw last year how Blais can get his team ready to play late in the season as UNO made their playoff run.  The key for UNO this season is to avoid that midseason slump that afflicted the Mavs in December and early January.  UNO dug themselves quite a hole last season, and it took quite a run in February to get back into position.

With such change in the lineup, it's going to be even more important for those returning juniors and seniors to set the tone early on; they now know what Blais expects.  Will it be Rich Purslow, Alex Hudson, or maybe Matt Ambroz?  Or maybe someone else.  Somebody will need to step it up this year, because going into unfamiliar territory in the WCHA, leadership could be the x-factor.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Night Dessert: A Rosenblatt Finale

One of the major criticisms of the end of the Rosenblatt Stadium era is that "it (the CWS) just won't be the same" downtown as it is on top of the hill.  It's kind of a silly argument because the CWS isn't the same event in 2010 that it was in 2005...or 1995...or 1985. It's a suprious argument because things would be changing even if there wasn't a new stadium.  Years ago, there weren't beer gardens up and down 13th Street.  Back then, ESPN didn't dictate a series that nearly runs two full weeks, when you consider the opening ceremony on a Friday night and a potential UCLA/South Carolina game three on Wednesday night. Omaha made Rosenblatt work for so many years, despite having a concourse designed 65 years ago for a capacity half of what Rosenblatt currently allows.  And let's not forget the NCAA's requests for a "clean zone" around Rosenblatt...

Change can be difficult, but things continually change in life. The important thing is to try and only change the things that don't work. From the Rosenblatt era of the CWS, those are things like cramped concourses, bathrooms, skyboxes, traffic, and parking.   I think tailgating will be different, but still possible in the larger Qwest Center lots. Add in other lots around downtown, and I think it's going to still be possible to do much of what people want to do. The Old Market is going to be an even more festive alternative to tailgating, and the developing North Downtown area has plenty of newer businesses (Slowdown, Barley's, Goodnight's, Old Mattress Factory) that are going to quickly become new CWS traditions. And don't count out Zesto's...lots of rumors about placing a new Zesto's just south of TD Ameritrade Park.

After watching 18,000 people spend the day at the Motivation seminar on Monday, I have no concerns about traffic on game days. Folks who insist on traveling on Cuming Street will get backed up, but there are no shortage of alternative routes downtown, and most of them didn't get backed up anywhere nearly as bad as 13th Street does.  And let's remember that the seminar coincided with morning rush hour; I don't think ESPN is going to demand any 8 am first pitches...even if we get another week of monsoons.

I know a lot of people were following the United States' run in soccer's World Cup, but for me, it was mostly a curiousity.  I understand the nationalistic fervor of most fans, but with games on during the workday, it's tough to pay much attention. The ESPN broadcasts are essentially "foreign" as well, with British play-by-play announcers on the call. The whole concept of "extra time" or "stoppage time" seems downright primitive when basketball and hockey work in tenths of a second. Football isn't quite that precise, but they'll use instant replay to put a second back on the clock. In soccer....well, we're told at the end of regulation we've got "about" four minutes to play.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Night Dessert: Incoming!

A few quick late notes:

I wasn't anywhere near Rosenblatt tonight, but from west Omaha with all of the lightning I observed, I'm not sure that game one should have even been begun, let alone completed.  From about 6 pm on, the thunder was pretty constant, and all coming from the east and southeast.

Sadly, today's Oklahoma/South Carolina game was the best of the series so far.  Sadly, because only a couple thousand fans were able to stick around for the finish.  We'll see how many people will answer the morning bell for a 10 am first pitch between Arizona State and Clemson....weather permitting.  How early will they open the parking lots for the tailgating?

If the weather forecast for tomorrow holds, this could all be repeated Tuesday morning as well.

Over at the US Open, it was amazing to see how two rusty golfers stay in contention at Pebble Beach, which was in control of the weekend. Anybody catch Y.E. Yang's adventures on the 14th hole on Friday evening? Been there, done that:  chip on and watches it roll off, tries the putter and it does a U-turn as well...then it just gets embarassing.  The big difference is that only a couple of people catch me doing it on the local muni...and it's certainly not televised on ESPN.  But when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are able to devote themselves full-time to golf, the rest of the world better watch out.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thursday Night Beer: Some CWS Tailgaters Beverage Choice This Year is Whine

The final College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium seems to be bringing out the worst in some fans this year. It all started last week when some people started to set up their tailgating tents and grills last week.  That's right, tents and grills started to appear around the stadium long before the first pitch of the Super Regionals. Needless to say, that drew the ire of the City, who still needed to get the stadium ready for the event. But I had to shake my head at the idea that people thought they could leave their tents and grills outside of Rosenblatt for three weeks or more. Call me ignorant, but if the city didn't confiscate it, I would fully expect someone to wander off with it. I guess it's a testament to the people who frequent the College World Series, but I just can't fathom why people think that this would be allowed.

The ire of tailgaters was raised further when the city erected a chain link fence around Rosenblatt.  Ugly? Yes. Unnecessary? Well, in this day and age, I'm not so sure. Security at every major sporting event is up.  Ten years ago, you weren't patted down going into a stadium.  Then 9/11 occurred, and our world changed. I remember standing in line for nearly 90 minutes just to get through the front gate of the Rose Bowl in 2002.  Security is up everywhere.  But I have to laugh at the idea this "kills tailgating".  I don't think people park their car at Arrowhead Stadium in August and drive it home around Christmas.  In this day and age of cell phones, it isn't that difficult to find someone in a parking lot.  Anybody remember Dingerville?  It started out innocuously enough..but eventually, abuse brought that to an end.

It's always interesting to read others perceptions of conference realignment, especially people who are paid to give opinions but don't bother to put a lot of thought into them.  Take Jeff Schulz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who completely ignores the politics of the Big XII conference and Nebraska's investment in research to go for the easy story.  It's all about the money, as far as he's concerned.  It makes for a nice column, but when the only research he does is look for a picture of Harvey Perlman and Tom Osborne at last week's Regents meeting, it's pretty easy to dismiss his opinion as ignorant.  Only problem is that a lot of people will share those opinions, and in our world, perception is reality.

Speaking of realignment, Chip Brown brought another outlandish idea to the debate: Arkansas and Notre Dame to the Big XII. Nevermind that there really isn't an explanation why any school would suddenly be interested in joining a conference that nearly vaporized last weekend, let alone a staunchly independent school like Notre Dame or an SEC school.

Here's the funniest side effect of conference realignment.  Seems that with Colorado and Nebraska exiting the Big XII, the lyrics of the Kansas fight song won't be relevant anymore.
Talk about the Sooners, the Cowboys and the Buffs,
Talk about the Tiger and his tail,
Talk about the Wildcat, and those Cornhuskin' boys,
But I'm the bird to make 'em weep and wail. 
I wonder if they can work Chip Brown and Dan Beebe into the revision...
Talk about the Sooners, the Cowboys and the Cats,
Talk about the Tiger and his tail,
Talk about Bevo, the Orange Blooded Savior of our Land,
And yes Dan Beebe, our check is in the mail!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Does Dan Beebe Read CornNation?

Today's news that Texas has recommitted to the Big XII after all certainly is a surprise, considering all that has been said and written in recent days about the future of the conference.  In the end, it was a television deal that turned it all around... and where did that idea first come from?  Oh yes...right here:

But here's the problem. Dan Beebe might not have that much time. By then, the Big Ten may have already picked off one or more teams.  The Pac-10 may as well, forcing the SEC to join in the fun.

No, Dan Beebe is wasting his time trying to talk schools into staying in the Big XII. Even Texas is scouting out their options should the Big XII collapse.
His mission coming out of this week's meetings shouldn't be to convince teams to stay.  His mission needs to make the Big XII difficult to leave. And it all starts with negotiating a new television deal...and that's a process that needs to start now. 
Turns out Harvey Perlman had Texas nailed when he asked University of Texas president Bill Powers to commit the Longhorns' media rights to the conference. Texas refused, and set into motion to the move to the Pac-10.  Only problem is, the Pac-10 was demanding the same thing.  So as things seemed to be moving closer and closer towards Texas' departure, Texas pulled a fast one on the Pac-10, according to John Henderson of the Denver Post:
A source close to the Pac-10's expansion negotiations told The Denver Post that Texas insisted on better revenue sharing and its own network, which essentially killed the deal.
"In the 11th hour, after months of telling us they understand the TV rights, they're trying to pull a fast one on the verge of sealing the deal in the regents meeting," the source said. "They want a better revenue sharing deal and their own network. Those were points of principle. (The Pac-10) wants to treat everyone fairly. It's been that way for months of discussions."
That's right, at the last minute, Texas wanted to bring their rules to the Pac-10...just like they brought their rules to the Big XII fifteen years ago. Except the Pac-10 had the good sense to tell Texas where they could stink those rules.

Enter Dan Beebe, who turns out was actually doing his job, putting together a reasonable deal for the Big XII's next television deal. It looks like after Fox lost out on the ACC deal, they were more than willing to put together a blockbuster deal to keep things from disintegrating.  I've heard reports this includes coverage on local Fox stations nationwide as well as the FSN and FX cable channels.

And with the other nine remaining teams in the Big XII essentially at the whim of their lord and master, Texas is able to have their cake and eat it too.  They get the money they sought by leaving, they get the Longhorn Television Network they coveted, and they retain nine of the eleven serfs they previously claimed.

So everybody's happy.  Nebraska gets a more stable conference arrangement with huge academic benefits.  Colorado gets to pretend they are a California school now (just have to figure out how to pay off the exit fee for the Big XII on top of everything else they can't afford, such as a qualified football coach).  Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, and Iowa State stay in a BCS conference.  And everybody else gets rich, rich, rich.  Some (such as Texas) more than others, of course.

Well, until Texas starts feeling their oats again, or wants something more from the feudal system that is now the Big XII Conference.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Blasphemy Turns Five

Today marks the fifth anniversary of this blog, and oh, what a five years it's been. Back in 2005, Nebraska was getting ready for another College World Series appearance, and Bill Callahan was trying to erase the stink of Nebraska's first losing season since Bob Devaney arrived in Lincoln.

In fact, Bill Callahan is one of the main reasons I started writing this blog. Back in that time, having a contrarian opinion on Callahan and Steve Pederson was not in vogue. At that time, suggesting that Nebraska football wasn't on the right track was truly "blasphemous". Fans had high expectations at that time that Harrison Beck and Marlon Lucky were going to quickly restore Nebraska football to greatness.

Well, we know how well THAT turned out.

Looking back five years, could anybody have forecasted where we'd be in 2010?  Bo Pelini returns to Nebraska and nearly gets Nebraska back into a BCS bowl game.  Steve Pederson finally got his comeuppance.  Tom Osborne returns as athletic director. Now, Nebraska quits the Big XII joins the Big Ten. UNO hockey suffers budget abuse at the hands of a chancellor and vice-chancellor playing games with the books, then finally turns it around by hiring Trev Alberts and Dean Blais.  Omaha replaces Rosenblatt Stadium with TD Ameritrade Park, and Sarpy County builds the Boondoggle in BFE.  (And guess what, they still haven't said how they are going to pay for it!)

Will this blog last another five years?  Hard to say, because I'm not sure I expected it to go five years in the first place. Never expected to be asked to contribute to a preseason magazine like Cornhusker Kickoff either.

Thanks to everybody for stopping by and reading, and a special thanks to everybody who's commented over the years.

Friday, June 11, 2010

It's The End of the College Football World As We Know It....And I Feel Fine

Not really sure how to describe today's announcement of Nebraska's switch from the Big XII to the Big Ten. It's a bittersweet day for Nebraska. Bitter in that a lot of dirt was thrown on old traditions, but sweet in that a lot of exciting new opportunities just opened up for Dear 'Ol Nebraska U. This is simply one of those historic days that will take time to digest and figure out exactly what it means.

Perlman Runs Up The Score
Harvey Perlman opened up the public presentation at the Board of Regents meeting and went straight for the jugular. Like a lawyer, he went after the rest of the Big XII, portraying the rest of the Big XII as hypocrites who tried to penalize Nebraska for doing what they themselves were doing. The problem wasn't with schools looking out for their own best interests; that's what every school official needs to do.  The problem was with the college Presidents calling out Nebraska, and Nebraska only.  Missouri, where all of the speculation about conference realignment began, acknowledged today they never received an ultimatum. It was all about Nebraska being singled out.

Perlman hit the rest of the Big XII, and hit them hard. When word of the Texas power-play to drag the Big XII South west to the Pac-10, Perlman demanded that Texas show their commitment to the Big XII. And Texas folded, unwilling to put their television plans on the table to save the Big XII.  Thing spiraled out of control from there. Texas was only willing to commit through the end of the current ABC contract, meaning that this game would be played again in five more years.

After pleading that case, any doubt that the Board of Regents might have was completely vanquished. He not only leveled a damning case, he ran up the score worse than Tom Osborne ever did.

Tom Osborne Makes The Case
Osborne came up next and calmly made the case why the Big Ten was a good move for Nebraska. Concerns about travel and recruiting were quickly dismissed.  Then he leveled the final blow against Texas. One school leaving the Big XII doesn't kill the conference.  Two schools leaving doesn't kill the conference.  But six schools conspiring to leave the conference? That'll kill the conference, and that forced Nebraska's hand.  That in turn, forced the Big Ten to make the move that was consummated today.

What Does This Mean
This upcoming season will be the final season for Nebraska in the Big XII; it's a farewell tour for the Huskers. It wasn't a surprise to me; "Frank the Tank" mentioned it last week. Smart move for everyone; it limits the awkward transition period and allows the Big Ten to launch a championship game next year. Only problem is the extra termination fee, and I don't put it beyond Harvey Perlman to get that eliminated.

In fact, the transition has already begun. The Big Ten Network will start televising Nebraska games this fall. (I assume that excludes football and basketball games under contract with FSN and ESPN/ABC.  In any event, I think I need to call my cable company tomorrow.  Dish Network may be in my future...)  Schedules are going to be adjusted, though if the Big Ten retains 8 conference games a year, the transition could be seamless.

But the biggest change is going to be a mental one and that's something that'll take time to digest. No more games against Kansas and Iowa State. For the last few months, the assumption was that Missouri was tagging along, but they may be left by the side as well. But don't think that Texas is in the rear view mirror; it's not terribly likely, but I still think there's a chance Texas could tag along eventually.  Let's face it; they just can't quit us.

In recent years, Big XII football passed up the Big Ten.  After Bo Pelini's LSU squad manhandled Ohio State, I argued that the Big Ten wasn't worthy of an automatic BCS bowl bid anymore.  Even called them the "Big MAC".  Mostly for shock value, I admit.  But football is cyclical, and the Big Ten is improving.  But they still trailed the SEC and Big XII last year.  I'm not going to predict that Nebraska is going to dominate the Big Ten either; Nebraska hasn't done anything on the field yet to remotely justify any trash-talking.

From the conference's perspective, realignment is all about football. From Nebraska's perspective, it was about just about everything except football. It was about television contracts and trust. It was about stability and academics. Heck, thanks to the need to "buy our way in", Nebraska won't see any of that extra Big Ten money for a few years. Financially, Nebraska might have been better to stay in the Big XII, if it somehow were to survive the wandering eyes of Texas and the others in the South. But in the end, it's all those other benefits that make this decision a winner for Nebraska.

So a historic day comes to an end, and I was reminded this morning of an old song from my college days by KOZN's "Schick & Nick Show".  Today truly was the end of College Football as I know it.

And you know what?  I feel just fine, and looking forward to the future.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Nebraska's Move to the Big Ten Has A Surprising Reason

Last week as it became clear that Nebraska was being set up as the lead domino for college realignment, I started to second guess just why the Huskers wanted to leave the Big XII. Texas, if you want to believe them, seemed to be fully in favor of staying in the Big XII. Perhaps they realized that they wouldn't be able to throw their weight around in another conference, perhaps they like being the big dog. Other teams began to began to beg Nebraska to stick around. If schools really weren't leaving the Big XII first, then why was Nebraska going to make the jump.

The second guessing continued as reports came out that Fox Sports wanted to bridge the financial gap between the Big Ten and SEC deals and the Big XII's current deal. The report seemed to make sense after Fox lost out on the BCS and the ACC, meaning they were running out of properties to acquire. Shouldn't the Huskers try to salvage the Big XII and keep traditions like Nebraska-Kansas (104 straight games and counting) going? Maybe Texas would be willing to compromise on a few things to keep it intact.

But Nebraska isn't going to commit to the Big XII, even though the many of the circumstances that I thought would drive the Huskers out of the Big XII didn't seem to apply anymore.  But why?  That's when I began to learn about the difference maker. It's not the TV money or exposure, though it's nice. It's not the bowl lineup, which is full of desirable bowl locations.  (Tampa and Orlando on New Years, for example, plus the Rose Bowel if you like to tailgate.)

On Monday, KOZN radio's Kevin Kugler suggested on-the-air that the academic programs could really get a boost by joining the Big Ten. Yesterday, KLIN radio's Jack Mitchell tweeted a link to the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, the academic side of the Big Ten.  Then today, the World-Herald put it all together about what the CIC does for Big Ten schools.  It's a partnership that receives 12% of the research grants from the federal government.  The schools collaborate on classes and research projects. When something becomes a successful venture, the schools receive royalties from these findings.  And if you think football brings in big money, just check out what Big Ten schools take in.  Wisconsin, for example, $474 million in federal research grants in 2008 on top of $83 million earned on past research.

To put it in perspective...Nebraska's athletic department budget was $75 million in 2008-09.

Penn State, the last school to join the Big Ten, made noticeable jumps in the national rankings. They now are 15th in the nation in terms of academic quality as well as in federal research grants (about triple what Nebraska brings in currently.)

Nebraska is in the middle of converting the old State Fairgrounds east of the Devaney Center into the Nebraska Innovation Campus to push research into a new stratosphere.  The goal is to provide facilities to attract researchers and grant money to Lincoln, and thus enhance not only the University, but the city and state as well. When you combine what is happening with the Innovation Campus with the potential connections and cooperation available from the CIC, suddenly leaving the Big XII for the Big Ten takes on a whole new perspective.

People will say that Nebraska is leaving the Big XII for money, and it's hard to argue that point. It's just that the money involved isn't the money they are referring to.  Tom Osborne talked last night about this decision affecting the University for "the next 75 to 100 years" on his radio interview, and frankly, he wasn't talking about athletics primarily.  This is a big deal for the University of Nebraska as a whole.  Sure fans will be pleased with the end of pay-per-view football telecasts, replaced with HD telecasts on the Big Ten Network. Sure fans will like having multiple opportunities to play in a New Years Day bowl game.  Road trips to Manhattan and Stillwater get replaced by trips to Chicago, Minneapolis, and Madison.  (Note to Trev Alberts: work with the WCHA and Lincoln, and try to coordinate UNO hockey's road trips to Minnesota and Wisconsin with Husker football games for a three-game weekend.)  The distances between Big XII and Big Ten locations aren't that much longer in reality.  Iowa City is an hour further than Ames; Minneapolis is a couple of hours further than Lawrence.  Madison, Chicago, and Champaign are all easy day-drives as well.  And for those recruitniks, Jon Johnston of CornNation has the proof that membership in the Big XII didn't really have any effect on recruiting in Texas in the first place.  This is a move that doesn't have much of a downside and some upside to the athletic department.

But those benefits pale next to the benefits to the University as a whole.  That's why Nebraska is leaving the Big XII. Unlike the athletic money, the academic benefits will take time and effort to develop, but the potential to far exceed athletic benefits is very much real.  That's why Nebraska is breaking with tradition.  That's why Nebraska is potentially disrupting much of college football.  It's unfortunate that schools like Iowa State and Kansas may be harmed if Texas carries through with their threat to destroy the Big XII.  I would hope that reasonable minds could try to salvage the Big XII and add a TCU, Louisville, BYU, or Utah to keep the conference viable.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Nebraska's Conference Alignment Drives the Future of College Sports

So much has been written and tweeted this weekend about the impending dissolution of the Big XII depending on how Nebraska responds to the ultimatum launched by the University of Texas last week. I know, I know...officially it's being delivered by the Big XII conference, but really at it's core, this one is coming from Austin. It's rather ironic because I think when this story began earlier this winter, I felt this was a defensive move by Nebraska in reaction to moves being made by others in the conference.

So how the heck did Lincoln become the epicenter of this battle? Certainly Texas has been playing both sides of this battle by using their position to drive the debate in their favor. It's interesting to read the reports of Chip Brown, who now writes for the Texas Rivals.com web site. While his initial report of the Pac-10's push to invite the Big XII South has been corroborated, much of the rest of his reporting seems to give the impression of a vendetta against Tom Osborne. He continues to be the only media outlet that seems to doubt that the Big Ten is interested in Nebraska for whatever reason. Nevermind the fact that this story wouldn't even be happening if there weren't some substance behind the Nebraska/Big Ten report.  Nevermind that numerous reporters (much closer to South Bend, I might add) continue to report that Notre Dame is not budging at all in resisting the urge to join the Big Ten.

Yesterday, he tried to insinuate that Osborne's dislike of the spread offenses now in vogue in the Big XII was driving Osborne to move the Huskers to the Big Ten.  (Later, he said it was merely a retweet from the Texas Tech Rivals' site...but that original tweet is nowhere to be found.) Today, he tweeted about "Tom Osborne's disgruntled view of Texas" and how it came to"infect the perception of the relationship between UT and Nebraska."

So what's going on?  Osborne offered the following quote to the Lincoln Journal-Star on Saturday evening:
When is "eventually", and what are these facts? Hard to say, but I think it will be a few weeks from now. I think we're in for a couple of stressful weeks here as a huge game of chicken is being played between Lincoln and Austin. The administrations at Nebraska and Texas will probably discuss matters, but frankly, that ship may have already sailed. The time to address Nebraska's concerns was prior to delivering an ultimatum. Make the Big XII a better conference, and nobody is considering other options. That didn't happen, and instead Texas offered up the ultimatum. But how does this ultimatum really solve Nebraska's concerns with the Big XII? It just fuels the seeds of disagreement and makes a dysfunctional  relationship even more so.

I'm surprised nobody has suggested to "stay together for the kids."  I have no doubt in my mind that Nebraska will come out of this ok.  Texas will be fine as well.  But Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State?  They may be irreparably harmed by this issue.  Colorado may end up in the Mountain West, and frankly, that's probably where they belong anyway.

In the end, I think this Friday's deadline will come and go, and Nebraska will receive an extension of a few more days.  At some point in the next couple of weeks, unless someone comes up with an 11th hour plan to improve the revenue stream for the Big XII and the perception of Texas dominance of the conference (which hasn't been helped in the last week, I might add), Nebraska will eventually bolt for the Big Ten.  It's a move that makes sense both athletically and academically for Nebraska.

It may be tough on tradition, but I don't think Texas has left Nebraska any choice in this matter.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Elections Have Consequences: Will Nebraska Break Up the Big XII?

After years of losing 11-1 votes over various matters in the Big XII Conference, the tables have finally turned with Nebraska holding the key to the very survival of the conference.  Kind of ironic how this seems to have turned out. Essentially Tom Osborne and Harvey Perlman have been handed an ultimatum: either commit to the future of the Big XII now and eschew any interest from the Big Ten, or the Big XII dissolves.

I've long been in favor of Nebraska switching conferences for several reasons. Money is the primary reason; the Big Ten has the best revenue setup of any conference. But there is the issue of control of the conference as well. Right or wrong, there's a perception here in Nebraska that Texas sets the rules. When the conference was formed, Nebraska wanted the Big Eight's rules, traditions, and records to continue...but no dice. Texas wanted more stringent rules on academic qualifiers, and the rest of the league sided with Texas. Nebraska didn't want a conference championship game, but Nebraska lost thehttp://www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=13652090re too. Even this week, Nebraska wanted the Big XII championship game to alternate between Kansas City and Dallas...but Nebraska lost that battle 11-1 once again.

To be sure, not every decision went against Nebraska. In fact, some votes (such as the revenue sharing rules) work in Nebraska's favor overall. I'm sure Iowa State and Baylor would prefer that the Big XII adopt the Big Ten's revenue sharing rules, but Nebraska and Texas aren't going to be budging on this one. So in some respects, Nebraska is also guilty of that which they accuse Texas of.

But is this worth breaking the Big XII up over? In the eyes of Nebraska it seems to be. The fingerprints of Texas seem to be all over the story of the Pac-10 inviting the Big XII South (swapping Baylor for Colorado), according to the Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel. Texas wants the Big XII to succeed, because they think they can bully the rest of the conference around and game the system to their advantage. That's something they couldn't do in the SEC (schools like Alabama and Florida would call them on it), the Big Ten (everybody), or the Pac-10 (USC would stop them in their tracks).  No favorable revenue sharing, no ability to form their own television network instead of being bundled with the conference package. But if the game is up in the Big XII, then the Longhorns will do what's best for the Longhorns - whether that's in the SEC, Pac-10, or yes, even the Big Ten.

Ironically, this whole debate started when Nebraska got nervous that Texas would leave the Big XII and start a domino effect. So Nebraska opened themselves up to alternatives...and now the Huskers are the ones that seem to be in position to knock down the very first domino.

Here's what I think is happening:
  • Nebraska believes that an invitation from the Big Ten is forthcoming. Perhaps as soon as next week, as the Big Ten presidents are meeting this weekend in Chicago.  (Remember this from the "allegedly discredited" Kevin Kietzman report last month?) If the Pac-10 combines USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Cal with the likes of Texas and Oklahoma, the SEC and Big Ten will need to add schools with a resume. Nebraska and Notre Dame have the biggest resumes of the potential free agents. No way that they get left behind, no matter what Chip Brown wants you to think.
  • The Pac-Ten will invite the six Big XII schools as well this weekend. This starts the college football armageddon that will force the SEC to react. That puts pressure on Notre Dame and, yes Texas too, to make up their minds because a new world order is coming to college football.  Not only is the Big XII on the endangered list, so is the Big East, which is the home of the Irish in most of their other sports.
  • Oklahoma and Texas A&M are going to be free agents and will likely be discussing their options with both the SEC and the Pac-10.  My money is on the SEC here, especially if Texas turns to the Pac-10 or Big-10.
  • Kansas may look today like they are on the outside, but as this shakes out, the Jayhawks will end up somewhere.  Probably the Pac-10, but you never know about the Big Ten.
  • Baylor and Iowa State are scared...and rightfully so. Kansas State may sneak through.
Next week should be awfully interesting.  Grab your popcorn...and a good travel guide to the midwest.  Maybe one of those GPS units for those road trips heading east.  Especially if Frank the Tank's suggestion that Nebraska could begin playing a Big Ten schedule in 2011 comes out to be true.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Are Athlon & Phil Steele Drinking Too Much Big Red Kool-Aid?

As soon as the dust settled from 2009 football season, the preseason prognostications began to filter in. Throughout the winter and spring, we saw experts and so-called experts throw out their preseason ratings, and frequently, Nebraska popped up in the Top 15. Fari enough, based on how Nebraska finished last season. That last-second reprieve from total BCS chaos, followed by a Holiday Bowl blowout victory certainly sent a strong message to the college football world. Even Bo Pelini jumped into the fray by proclaiming "Nebraska was back"...only to back down after the euphoria of the trophy celebration wore off.

The hype went up last week when Athlon revealed Nebraska at #7 in their preseason rankings.  Whoa.  Then Phil Steele, the king of the preseason prediction, one-upped that.  Or two-upped that.


Top Five? Nebraska?  What the heck are these guys smoking?

Over the weekend, Jon Johnston over at CornNation asked me for some brief predictions for the upcoming edition of "Cornhusker Kickoff" (arriving on magazine stands near you in mid-July!)  Frankly, I've spend most of the offseason reviewing 2009 for the magazine, and hadn't thought much in detail about 2010.  So I started to look at the schedule, and suddenly I start seeing something.

Western Kentucky, Idaho, and South Dakota State?  There are three games destined for pay-per-view.  Washington?  It'll draw a regional ABC telecast, and Jake Locker is going to be the watched by NFL scouts all season. But let's not forget that Washington went 5-7 last season either.  So it's not out of line to suggest that Nebraska will go 4-0 in the non-conference schedule.

So now we look at the conference schedule. Colorado is still the same Colorado team that keeps Dan Hawkins because they can't afford to fire him. Kansas loses a bunch of offensive talent, and starts over with Turner Gill.  That game's in Lincoln as well.  It took 8 (yes... EIGHT) turnovers for Iowa State to defeat Nebraska last season.  You think that's going to happen again, even if the game is in Ames?  Kansas State showed a heck of an improvement last season...but like Washington, couldn't get to a bowl game.  Yes, this game is in Manhattan, but still, you have to like Nebraska's chances in this game.

Texas A&M in College Station? They went 6-7 last season as well, and Mike Sherman is on Bruce Feldman's Top Ten List of Coaches on the hot seat.  Oklahoma State has to break in a new offensive coordinator and quarterback.  Those two games may be on the road, but on paper, Nebraska looks like the superior team.

Missouri comes to Lincoln the day before Halloween. The Tigers thought they had slain the beast, especially as the fourth quarter began in the monsoon. Then Ndamukong Suh launched his Heisman campaign, bookmarked by two touchdown passes from Zac Lee to Niles Paul, and suddenly the Tigers three game winning streak against Nebraska was over. Tiger fans may try to play the "Blaine Gabbert ankle twist" card, but with this year's game in Lincoln, Nebraska should be favored here as well.

That leaves Texas.  And we all know how that turned out last season, deep in the heart of Texas.  This year's game is in Lincoln, and won't feature Colt McCoy.

Look over that schedule again. Do you see a game Nebraska can't win?  Neither can I.  Do you see a game Nebraska should lose?  I don't either.

Suddenly those top ten ratings start making some sense, especially when you consider the way Nebraska ended 2009.

But "should win" doesn't mean "will win". I also remember that Iowa State game when Nebraska did their darndest to lost that game. And that's why I'm still skeptical about throwing Nebraska into the Top Ten.  Is Nebraska capable of being a Top Ten team?  Absolutely.  I believe Bo Pelini when he says that Nebraska's defense could be even better this season, even minus Big Mister Suh. And while Nebraska's offense was woeful during October and November, we saw a spark of life in the Holiday Bowl. Looking back at the 2009 offense, it became clear to me that injuries at I-back and the offensive line really hampered the offense. Compound that with Zac Lee's arm injury and the lack of production from wide receivers until Brandon Kinnie began to emerge late int he season.  All those issues seem to be correctable, and while nobody is going to confuse the 2010 offense with 1995's, all Nebraska's offense needs to be is merely average if the defense is stout.  If that's the case... a top five ranking is absolutely possible with a 12-0 record. That puts them into the Big XII Championship game, and with a win there, perhaps something even bigger than that.

But until they actually do it, I'm not quite ready to put them there just yet.  Call me cautiously optimistic, because while I want it and think it's entirely possible, expecting this is a reach for a program still recovering.