It's going to be a great double-header weekend for football fans locally. Thursday night brings us the second season of the Omaha Nighthawks before the Saturday "third time in a year" rubber match between the Huskers and the Washington Huskies. It'll be interesting to see how the Nighthawks do this season. I don't think the Nighthawks will sell out the first game, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a crowd of between 17,000 and 20,000 fans downtown. Scheduling the first game for a Thursday instead of Friday night might have been a bit of a mistake IMHO. (I suppose they were trying to prevent a conflict with a concert on Friday night...)
It's going to be an all-out new look for the Nighthawks on offense. Jeff Garcia is out, and in comes Heisman Trophy winners Eric Crouch and Troy Smith. The Nighthawks won't be running a traditional pro-style offense, though it could be argued that the Nighthawks didn't run much of any offense last season. Having a deep stable of quarterbacks makes running a college-style offense a little more practical at the pro level, though one might wonder how that will play with the NFL types who are going to be need to be wooed to ensure the league's existance after this season.
Can the UFL survive into 2012? I'm somewhat optimistic that it can...but only if Omaha fans continue to support the Nighthawks. The UFL needs more markets to support teams like Omaha did in 2010, and if Omaha fails to pull through again this season, I don't know how the NFL can be convinced to invest in the league. And even if the UFL fails, big crowds might convince someone to look at Omaha, perhaps the Arena League. (Now that the authorities are investigating the owner of the Omaha Beef, the future of that team looks even more cloudy.) I still maintain that the UFL serves a useful purpose as a training ground for skill players as well as a source for football-ready free-agents during the season. NFL Europe failed because it cost too much to fly players to Europe. And now with the NFL Network, the UFL represents another source of programming to fill in during the season.
In any event, I'm excited to check out the 2011 season of the Nighthawks. I see some familiar names on defense, such as defensive end Jay Moore and linebacker Steve Octavien. (I'd have loved to see Octavien spend some time working with Bo Pelini; he's got the natural talent, but who knows how much damage three years of Kevin Cosgrove did to his development.) Maurice Purify and Marlon Lucky didn't survive the final cuts. It'll be interesting to see how much rust is on Eric Crouch after being out of football for so many years.