Monday, November 28, 2011

Silly Season of Idle Speculation

Now that the regular season in football is over, we're now into a silly season...especially since reporters (like us fans) planned on having a game this Saturday. Nature abhors a vacuum, so into the void comes idle speculation. Take this "gotcha" from Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald:
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini at an August booster event: "We're not playing around here for second place. Our coaches should be expected to win. You guys put the pieces in place for me to do that."

Pelini in November when asked what there is to play for after being eliminated from title contention: "You compete. It's not always about trophies."

Makes you wonder what the NU fans who agreed over the summer to rent 20 suites at Lucas Oil Stadium for this week's Big Ten championship game think.
Well, what do you expect Pelini to say? Nebraska should be playing for a Big Ten championship.  I think everyone would agree with that as the goal for the season. But once the Big Ten championship slipped away, what else is there to do? Call off the rest of the season? Call out the executioner?  Nope, you pull yourself off the carpet, and continue to compete. Should you be disappointed in the season?  To some extent, yes. Nebraska didn't meet expectations.  But Nebraska did win nine games in 2011, and has a chance to win ten. That's a fairly decent season by most accounts.

Then came the report about Bo Pelini talking to Ohio State from WTVN-AM talk show host Jeff Rapp this afternoon. It was quickly followed by denials from Pelini and Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne. That led to a Twitter spat between KOZN-AM's Mike'l Severe, Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald, and Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star.  So what's to make of the whole brouhaha? Stop and think about it, and apply your smell test to it.  Did someone from Ohio State talk to Bo Pelini?  Possibly.  But stop and think what "talk" means.  Embattled Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary "talked" to Armen Keteyian of CBS...but it was hardly an interview.  In fact, it was hardly a conversation.  But he did say that he didn't have anything to say about the situation.

Same thing here.  Someone from Ohio State very well might have contacted Bo Pelini.  Bo could have simply said something like "Aren't you hiring Urban Meyer?" and ended the conversation there...and that would have been a "contact".  Didn't mean any discussion of substance occurred or that Bo Pelini "interviewed" with Ohio State?

Am I being naive?  Perhaps. But use a "smell" test on this. Even though Bo Pelini is an Ohio State alum, why would he interview with Ohio State when the Buckeyes pursuit of Urban Meyer has been the worst kept secret in college football?  Just doesn't make sense.

And that's what we get now that the regular season is over.  Can we get a bowl bid lined up quickly so that we have something meaningful worth discussing?

BlogPoll Ballot: Going For Four-Straight "Whack Job" Ballots

I didn't realize it until today, but I've been named the last three weeks as the "Whack Job" ballot of the week.  Can I do four in a row?

Three weeks ago, it was for dropping LSU to 3rd after that 9-6 overtime suckfest with Alabama three weeks ago; I moved Oklahoma State to #1.  Keeping Oklahoma State #1 the next week earned me another award two weeks ago.  And last week, I earned it for a throw-away #25 vote for Iowa State. (In my defense, three AP voters voted for the Cyclones last week, and Sagarin still has Iowa State #29 after losing to Oklahoma yesterday.)

I figure I'll get it this week for keeping Alabama behind Oklahoma State. Hey, I don't see any reason why I should vote Alabama ahead of Oklahoma State.  Yes, Alabama did lose to a better opponent..but the game was at home, and frankly, neither team played well.  Oklahoma State's loss was on the road and had extenuating circumstances.  And frankly, Oklahoma State/LSU looks like a more enticing game than a rematch of LSU/Alabama.

Nebraska moves up to #19 mostly through inertia. I'm keeping Alabama #3 because (a) I'm still not convinced that Alabama is better than Oklahoma State, and frankly, we already know who the better team between LSU and Alabama is.  (Guess what... that will probably earn me a fourth straight whack-job ballot.  See if I care...) Southern Cal's whitewashing of UCLA was impressive enough to vote them into the Top Ten.  I can't vote Arkansas any higher than #8...and frankly, I easily could bump them after USC.

Penn State stays in the poll mostly by inertia.  Not sure who I vote in at this point.  Same thing with Clemson.  Florida State and Southern Miss get the votes this week.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

UNO Hockey Sneaking Into WCHA Contention

I have to admit that I haven't paid as much attention to UNO hockey so far this season.  Goalie John Faulkner is having an off-year, and the Mavs started the season 1-3.  And while the Mavs did have a nice win at Wisconsin last month, they haven't pulled off the eye-catching upsets that they did last season.  (Sweeping Minnesota at Mariucci, a win at Michigan, and a stunning sweep of North Dakota.)

But the Mavs have been bouncing around in the lower parts of the Top 20 in recent weeks, and after a win and a tie this weekend against St. Cloud State, they find themselves in a tie for second place - one point behind Minnesota. 

Finally got a chance to catch the Mavs again this afternoon, and once again, I'm not quite sure what to make of the Mavs this season.  Strangely enough, the roster seems once again to be getting younger as Dean Blais remakes the lineup in line with his vision of speed and offense. In both games this weekend, the Mavs got off to a cold start as the Huskies dominated the play in both first periods.  This afternoon, the Mavs tilted the ice and carried the play in the second period and much of the third period.

The last two seasons, the month of December has not been kind to UNO hockey. That's a trend that UNO needs to break.  A neutral site series with Alabama-Huntsville in Nashville is up next weekend, followed by a trip up I-29 to play North Dakota just before the Christmas break.  Getting some points in Grand Forks could be a key sign to positioning the Mavs for a run in the New Year.

Friday, November 25, 2011

It's Blackshirt Friday as Huskers Pummel Iowa

If Nickelback fans liked
football, they'd look
like this.
Going into today's "Black Friday" matchup between Nebraska and Iowa, I felt the battle came down to which team wanted it more...and in my approach to the stadium, I got a bad feeling observing the number of Iowa fans in Lincoln. Certainly Iowa fans made their presence known today, buying any and all tickets available.  Frankly, the pre-game vibe was almost like Nickelback was in town; a passionate group of fans with some questionable taste. Iowa fans owned the pregame atmosphere.

Fortunately, the Huskers didn't share that same vibe.  Right from the start, the Blackshirts defended Iowa the same way they defended Michigan State.  Shut down the running back, and blanket the leading wide receiver.  Marcus Coker got a few yards, but never was able to consistently get the Hawkeyes into situations where quarterback James Vandenberg could capitalize with play-action passing. Add in Alfonzo Dennard locking down on Marvin McNutt...and the Hawkeye offense was essentially neutered today.

Of course, Iowa's offense was also hampered by really questionable play calling.  Example in point: After an eight yard reception by tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, the Hawkeyes faced a second and two late in the third quarter.  Needing something to happen on offense, I figured Iowa would try to throw the ball downfield in that situation.  The playbook should be wide open at this point, and if the pass is incomplete, the Hawkeyes still had a chance to convert a third-and-short.

I was wrong.  Offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe puts the ball in the hands of Marcus Coker, who runs right into Andrew Green on a blitz for a half-yard loss.  The third down pass goes incomplete...and the Hawkeyes have to punt.

Of course, the Blackshirts came to play today.  Lavonte David had another stellar game with a highlight reel play.  Fiedorowicz pushed David to the ground to convert a third and 11.  But David got the best of Fiedorowicz, regaining his feet to strip Fiedorowicz of the ball downfield.  Fiedorowicz got the double fail on that play:  offensive pass interference (declined of course) and the fumble.

Offensively, the Husker offense set the tone early by overpowering Iowa's defense.  Early on, only ill-advised penalties stopped the Huskers on the ground.  After the game, Bo Pelini said that Taylor Martinez sprained an ankle, so the offense became totally focused on Rex Burkhead...and the heart of the Husker offense ground out another sausage game:  159 yards on a school record 38 carries.  No long runs today; he just made his cuts and gutted it out despite barely being able to walk at times.

Add in a few nice catches by Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa, and you had enough offense to win the game today. Nebraska is banged up, and probably wouldn't have been in a good position to compete next weekend in Indianapolis if they had qualified.  But it was enough against Iowa.

It wasn't a thing of beauty today in Lincoln today. But it was a solid win that doesn't so much as earn Nebraska "bragging rights", but rather denies Iowa fans any "bragging rights" for the next twelve months.

So now Husker fans can sit back for the next week and eye a New Years Day bowl game against the SEC.  Will it be the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, or the Outback Bowl in Tampa?  My preference is the Outback...if only because the Outback is televised on ABC.  (Hey, I'm not traveling, so destination doesn't matter to me at this point...just the television broadcast!)  We don't know the opponent at this point, but having five and a half weeks to heal up is a good thing for the Big Red at this point.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Suh Lets the Packers Get To Him

If you were watching this afternoons game between the Packers and the Lions...or saw any sports highlights today, you couldn't miss seeing Ndamukong Suh stomp on the arm of Evan Deitrich-Smith in the third quarter.  That act ended his game, and might actually end his season.

Here's the video, in case you haven't seen it:

First and foremost. Suh deserved his ejection; there is no excuse for stomping on another players arm.  Much like Ben Cotton's personal foul penalty in last year's Texas A&M game, the stomp was a reaction to a dirty play by the opponent.  Watch the replay again... Deitrich-Smith takes down Suh well after the play is over; 4 seconds after Aaron Rodgers releases the ball.

But that's where the similarity ends.  Suh's response was far worse than the original foul; he let the Packers take him out of the game. It was a dumb penalty, and with a nationwide audience watching it, it cemented his reputation that Suh is the game's dirtiest player. Hard to argue that after what happened today.

In his postgame comments, Suh seemed to be in denial about what he did... and that's probably making it even worse, if that's possible. Almost assuredly, Ndamukong Suh is going to be fined and suspended.  Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira says he'll be suspended for multiple games, suggesting that it's comparable to the five-game suspension given to Albert Haynesworth in 2006. 

There are only five weeks left in the NFL season.  If Suh gets the same penalty, his season is over.

No doubt in my mind that Suh wasn't the instigator here...but in every situation, the retaliator is the one who gets caught. And in this case, the retaliator upped the ante and the retaliation escalated the situation. That's something Suh is going to need to think about in the coming weeks.  He's too talented to let this happen to him; he needs to play smarter and not pull stunts like this on the field. And when a situation like this comes up, he needs to admit his fault rather than deny that he stomped on the guys arm.

That message will be coming loud and strong at him in upcoming days. He'll be the talk of sports radio, and his endorsees will let him know about it as well.

"Black Friday": Huskers versus Iowa

When the whole "Heroes Sponsored by Hy-Vee" concept was announced this summer, it immediately rubbed me the wrong way. If there is one thing we learned from Nebraska's time in the Big XII, rivalries cannot be manufactured.  They grow organically, unlike what Bill McCartney tried to do at Colorado.  ABC and the Big XII tried to force the issue, but Nebraska fans never accepted Colorado as their rival.  When Colorado had a good team, it was a big game.  But when Colorado sucked, as they mostly have ever since McCartney retired, it wasn't.

So now we have another "rivalry" game with Iowa and Nebraska. It makes more sense geographically, because of the closer proximity of the two campuses and the population centers of the two states.  But frankly, it probably doesn't stand the test of competitiveness, which in my mind is the biggest reason for a rivalry.  Nebraska vs. Oklahoma became a rivalry because the games had a history of meaning a lot.  1971 Thanksgiving Day is "THE" game of the century, though the term is starting to become trivialized through overuse.  Iowa fans like to trumpet how Iowa has had more success in recent years than Nebraska, with more Top Ten rankings and better bowl berths. Except they forget one simple fact:  Iowa's record since the turn of the century is only marginally better than Nebraska's record.  Or to put it more simply:  Iowa's best decade of football is only marginally better than Nebraska's worst decade of football since the Eisenhower administration.

As such, I think this "rivalry" means more to Iowa fans than Nebraska fans.  Nebraska fans opinions are still jaded by the memories of 60-3 and national championships. Some fans even are ready to fire Bo Pelini after losing a third conference game of the season. Bottom line is that Nebraska fans expect their team to play at a higher level than Iowa currently or historically has. That's not a good basis for a mutual rivalry.  That being said, if either team raises the level of their play, that school probably won't consider this much of a rivalry either.  (Yes, Iowa fans...if Iowa becomes a consistent Big Ten and national contender, then yes, Iowa fans won't consider Nebraska a rival either.)

The "Heroes Game" designation is an interesting attempt to justify making the game something more than it actually is..but it has absolutely nothing to do with the matchup.  It's artificial.  It's not a bad thing to honor people who have made contributions to their community; it just has absolutely nothing to do with the football game.  So no matter what Hy-Vee and the athletic departments want us to think, I'm not going to use that moniker going forward.  (Not that I care what Hy-Vee thinks; I rarely shop there because despite it's proximity to my house, they are always have the highest prices and are typically out-of-stock of what I came there for.)  It's just as bad as that Legends/Leaders crap that Jim Delaney is trying to sell...

Leave it to the academic side of the house to come up with a better theme for this game.  On Facebook, the the two schools are having a little contest to get the most fans, calling it the "Race to Black Friday".  Once I saw it, it immediately resonated.  Black Friday - the day after Thanksgiving.  The Blackshirts.  Iowa's black uniforms.  It just fits. It's clean; it's a natural extension of the term everybody is using for the day anyway. Maybe it's not original, but unlike Farmageddon, it hasn't been used for a football game before.  (Dear Iowa fan... don't plagiarize Iowa State and Kansas State.)

So who's win the initial "Black Friday" game? On paper, my biased perspective favors the Huskers.  James Vandenberg is the type of quarterback the Blackshirts typically feast on.  Can the Huskers handle Marcus Coker?  That's the key battle in my mind.  Iowa's offense feeds off Coker setting up the combination of Vandenberg to wide receiver Marvin McNutt.  And if Alfonzo Dennard can lock up on McNutt, I like the Huskers in this situation.  Iowa's defense has a lot of holes this season, and really aren't outstanding at any position. The defensive line is missing the three guys they sent to the NFL last I think this could be a good opportunity for the Husker offense to get untracked.

But it really comes down to who wants this game more.  Winner gets a couple of relatively meaningless trophies and a better bowl bid.  Fans get the bragging rights for a year.  But that's it.  And I'm not so sure that Nebraska fans really need the bragging rights; Husker fans just want to avoid listening to Squawkeye fans lording this over them for a year.  While Iowa did defeat both Northwestern and Michigan (two teams Nebraska lost to), they also lost to woeful Minnesota.  Again.

And most importantly, Iowa just doesn't seem to play well on the road this season.  So my prediction is Huskers 31, Iowegia 17.  We'll see how that works out tomorrow afternoon.  Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 21, 2011

BlogPoll Ballot: How Do You Account for F-Bomb Saturday

Lee Corso's "Oh, eff it" pretty much summarized yesterday in college football.  Too many upsets, too many weird things happened on the field.  Some people have said you can take positions 4 through 25 on their poll ballot and mix them up anyway you want...then light it on fire.

But I'd go even further.  Some people are voting Alabama #2... and my question is "Why?"  Do you really want to see LSU and Alabama play again?  We already know who the better team is.  And frankly, Alabama was not impressive against Division 1-AA Georgia Southern.  The Tide led by 10 at halftime, and let Eagles gain over 300 yards on the ground.  So I'm supposed to vote them below Oklahoma State, who lost on the road to a pretty good Iowa State team in overtime.  Oh, and that loss happened just hours after they heard the news of the women's basketball coach being killed in a plane crash.

And my answer is "No!" Heck, the only reason why the SEC escaped upsets is because they played cupcakes.  And they struggled.  Florida trailed Furman.  South Carolina kept it too close with The Citadel.  And one of my rules in voting is that losing to a good team means more than beating a bad team.

With that, here's my ballot for the week:

I can't raise Virginia Tech this week.  Not when they struggle to defeat North Carolina and really haven't beaten anybody of substance this season.  Baylor gets rewarded for their victory over Oklahoma.  Clemson gets penalized for getting blown out -- and not beating anybody all season long.

And yes, Iowa State gets a vote at #25.  Why?  Why not?  They have a victory over a top 10 team. And frankly, they're just as deserving as just about everybody else.  So in the immortal words of Lee Corso...

"Awwww,  eff* it!"

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Big Loss in the Big House as Michigan Dominates the Huskers

Take your choice between Nebraska's offensive line and special teams play; which was worse?  Frankly, I can't as both were horrible against the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan's defensive line had their way at the line of scrimmage, especially defensive tackle Mike Martin, who pretty much ate Mike Caputo alive at times today.  Absolutely no running room up the middle, and not much more on the perimeter.  That put Nebraska into third-and-long situations all afternoon...and Nebraska's receivers couldn't catch a cold today.

The Blackshirts had several opportunities early on to take control of this game, as the Huskers must have had a hand on at least three Denard Robinson passes in the first quarter...and Nebraska really should have intercepted a couple of them.  If Ciante Evans picks off Robinson on that first drive of the game, who knows where this game winds up.  Robinson gained confidence from that point on and played one of his better games of this season.

The front seven did play a pretty good game.  Baker Steinkuhler started the game by nailing Fitz Toussaint for a four yard loss.  Terrence Moore tipped and intercepted a Robinson pass, but probably shouldn't have tried to lateral the ball to Alfonzo Dennard.  It almost was an illegal forward pass..and risked giving the ball back to Michigan.  Cameron Meredith also seemed to be playing fairly well.

Then there are the linebackers. Lavonte David had a huge game, trying to keep the Huskers in the mix.  In the third quarter, Will Compton also made a few huge stops as well.  All told, it was a great performance up front.  The secondary had a few miscues, and that might have been the the final straw for the Huskers.  Let's start with Robinson's 45 yard pass completion to Roy Roundtree that set up Michigan's first touchdown of the afternoon.

Or maybe not.  I'm still trying to figure out how that wasn't offensive pass interference on Roundtree, who threw Dennard to the ground to make the catch.  That might be excused if that was the worst call of the game, but the officials were just getting started there.  A missed pass interference call on Kenny Demens on a third down led to yet another Nebraska punt.  Heck, even when the officials had a chance to think about a call, they still came out with a muddled explanation.  ("Snap violation?")

Any chance Nebraska had to come back ended when the officals decided to call a personal foul on that attempted blocked kick.  My first take was that it was a great acting job by the Michigan punter, but the instant replay showed he was tapped on the foot.  Five yard penalty? Absolutely.  15 yards?  Good grief. Bo Pelini will probably getting a reprimand for telling the media after the game that it was a bad call, but the fact is:  that was a horrible call.

While that ended any chances Nebraska had to come back, the horrible officiating was not the reason why Nebraska lost this game.  Michigan's defense dominated the Huskers today, and it started up front.  No room to run whatsoever meant Nebraska needed to throw the ball...and the receivers pretty much sucked all day long.  Make a catch, keep a drive alive...maybe something happens for the Huskers.

And we can't go into this review without bringing up special teams:  two fumbled kickoffs?  A blocked punt?  These errors turned a 10 point loss into a 28 point trip behind the woodshed.  It was the final straw that made this game way too ugly.

I probably shouldn't be listening to people vent on the radio or read their tweets this afternoon.  Husker fans should be disappointed...and angry.  That's not the point...the point is hitting the panic button and making irrational statements that you'll probably regret later on.  A loss like this certainly raises valid questions, but looking around college football today, a lot of teams suffered suckage today.  I have those same questions myself, and they need an answer.  But not today.  The wounds are still too raw, and there is another game to play for in less than six days.

Iowa is one of those opponents that plays up -- and down -- to every opponent.  They know all about disappointing losses; they underwhelm on a regular basis. But they also rebound nicely and upsets a team they have no business beating.  And that should be the focus this week, because if you think Squawkeye fans are annoying now, just wait until they manage to pull off an upset in Lincoln.

Beat Michigan

It's tradition, that makes it okay.

Beat Michigan.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Little Buzz For Weasel Week

Not sure if it's an overdose on Big Ten drama, or that Michigan has been down the last few years, but I'm rather surprised how little buzz there is for Nebraska's game tomorrow against Michigan. Maybe Husker fans could take a queue from UNO hockey fans, who likely would be ready to explode in full Weasel Hate mode by Friday afternoon.  Nevertheless, it is a big game between two 8-2 teams...and the winner could be in position to earn a BCS bowl berth.

Considering how both schools have fared in recent years, that should be a really big deal.

I somewhat get the lack of buzz:  we've seen Ohio State and Penn State.  Fan emotions took a huge hit with the unfortunate loss to Northwestern.  But let's not forget that the Huskers are in position to do something that nobody seemingly has done before:  defeat Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State in the same season.  And it's not like a trip to Indianapolis and a rematch against Wisconsin isn't out of the question either.  Not exactly likely, but upsets can and will happen. Don't ever give up hope.

But Michigan seems to be the Big Ten's version of Oklahoma.  Proud tradition. Coaches you despise.  And an annoying fight song that gets under your skin.  And there is the history of the matchup as well.  Bob Devaney pulling off that 1962 upset in the Big House.  2005, when Michigan needed the Stanford band to block better on that final kick return in the Alamo Bowl.  And of course 1997.

Michigan Man is still peeved about the 1997 split national championship. Nevermind that most people think that Nebraska would have won a head-to-head matchup.  Nevermind that Washington State spiked the ball with two seconds left in the Rose Bowl, yet the officials let the clock run out rather than risk Michigan being upset on the final play of the game.  Michigan points to the totally legal "Miracle at Missouri" touchdown catch by Matt Davison as to Nebraska's unworthiness that season.

Nebraska fans really haven't experienced much of a reason to hate Michigan at this point. But trust me, it won't take long.  Just ask UNO hockey fans after Michigan's alleged "goal" in the NCAA tournament in March.  (Before anybody asks..."probably a goal" is not a goal. And the replay that was used was not definitive, because the "white" that appears between the puck and the goal line is very likely the ice under the puck, in view because the puck is above the ice surface.  And please, Weasel fan...don't make me have to prove it.)

It likely won't take very long for animosity to build up, but rest assured it will.  Michigan arrogance will guarantee it.  It's inevitable. It's coming, folks.  It's coming.

Die. Weasel. Scum.

Monday, November 14, 2011

BlogPoll Ballot: Only Can Move Huskers Up One Spot

Frankly, I'd like to move the Huskers up higher this week...but there frankly aren't any other teams to move underneath Nebraska.  Not many teams lost on the day...  So I'm slotting Nebraska at #16.  A win this week at the Big House against Michigan would be huge; some feel it might be enough to get the Huskers a BCS bowl bid even if Michigan State wins out to get to Indianapolis and the Big Ten Championship game.

Here's my question:  If Nebraska goes 10-2 and gets a BCS bowl bid, is that progress on the season, even without a game in Indianapolis?  It's presumptions to assume anything, but getting back to the BCS after a 10 year absence is progress to me.  And that's a goal that's worth fighting matter what Michigan State does.

This is one of those weeks that it's tough finding teams to put in at the bottom.  Too many teams have too many blemishes on their resume.  Take Baylor...who gets in with an overtime victory over Kansas.  But do I keep a 6-4 Ohio State team in the Top 25?  Ugh.  TCU, who haven't beaten anybody except for Boise?  Do I vote for Notre Dame?  Heck, I even thought about voting for Missouri at 5-5.  Please, me out here.