Friday, September 30, 2011

It's Finally Here: Nebraska in the Big Ten

Tomorrow night, Nebraska's move to the Big Ten becomes reality as the Huskers take the field at Camp Randall. Sure, we celebrated the move last year and on July 1st, and laughed as the Big XII imploded over the last few weeks.  BTN has televised a couple of Husker football games, and Nebraska's volleyball and soccer teams have played conference games.

But now it's real.  The days of playing Kansas State and Missouri are over.  Now it's Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.  All the anticipation reaches a crescendo tomorrow night in Madison, Wisconsin.  Seemingly tens of thousands of Husker fans will be in the area...perhaps has many as 40,000 in the area, and maybe 20,000 in the stadium.  It's a historical moment and many people just want to be a part of it.  ESPN GameDay will start things off as the sun rises, and ABC's primetime telecast will take us well past sunset.

What do I expect? Heck if I know. Nebraska has been inconsistent this season.  Wisconsin hasn't played anybody.  The Nebraska team that emerged from halftime against Washington will win this game... easily.  The Nebraska team that played the first half of the Fresno State game probably gets blown out.  I've ran through every scenario in my mind:  blowout win, blowout loss, close game.  Taylor Martinez taking the nation by storm with a performance like he had on the road last year against Washington, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State. Or Martinez melting down like he did late in the Big XII championship game.

I've been asked time and time again what my prediction is.  My mind doesn't compute this one.  Too many variables, too many possibilities.  So I've taken the approach that it's a historic game, and needs a historic score.  And I look back towards some of those classic matchups between Nebraska and Oklahoma, two Big Reds in the 70's.  35-31 perhaps?  Maybe.  But I'm going back to my first Nebraska-Oklahoma game in 1978.  John Ruud decapitating Kelly Phelps.  Billy Sims fumbling on the three yard line.

Nebraska wins 17-14.  And that works for me.  Badgers?  We don't need  no steeenking Badgers.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thursday Night Beer: Saturday Night Hockey For Diehards Only

I've got to hand it to a few of my friends who are UNO hockey fans that are showing excitement for Saturday night's exhibition game against British Columbia. Let's be honest: this game is for diehards only. There likely will be three or four times more Omahans in Madison, Wisc. than will be inside the CenturyLink Center. It's an exhibition game; it doesn't even count.  And it's simultaneous with one of the biggest regular season Nebraska football games in quite some time.

And when I say "diehards", I mean that the only people who'll be there are people who could not care less about Nebraska football.... or outright loathe it. Or are forced to be there. So some UNO fans will put on their brave face and show up, but I'll be surprised if there are more than 4000 fans in attendance on Saturday night.

From my perspective, the season really starts the next weekend on Friday night against Mercyhurst in the Stampede.  Speaking of the Stampede, with UNO playing in the season opening IceBreaker tournament in Kansas City, will this be the final edition of UNO's tournament?  One can only hope. The Stampede started with a noble goal, but with excessive ticket prices and lackluster attendance, it's simply not worth it for UNO.

One final hockey note:  it's an ominous sign that senior Alex Hudson was suspended for a training-camp violation.  It's not the fact that he'll miss the exhibition game; that's no big deal.  It's the idea that one of UNO's most talented players, a senior, and a captain, would put himself in that position.  That's starting the season out on the wrong foot. 

The World-Herald's Rob White and the management of Omaha's former AAA baseball team likely needed a chiropractor this week after straining to pat themselves on the back for their 1% attendance increase out at the Trailer Park. So 2010 was not a "normal" year? OK...then what makes 2011 a "normal" year?  New stadium, new merry-go-round, etc. And the institutional amnesia of the history of the franchise ("never before turning people away") makes the story even more ridiculous.  Bottom line on the Trailer Park: it doesn't matter the attendance.  They charge more for tickets, charge for most parking, and keep all of the concession revenue. So as long as attendance doesn't drop much, the new stadium is a financial windfall for the owners of the franchise.

And of course, taxpayers will be holding the bag...once the county board finally admits how they are going to pay for it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

BlogPoll Ballot: Huskers Stay #16, Sooners Still #1, Welcome K-State

After Saturday's so-so performance against Wyoming, I'm not moving Nebraska up - or down - on my ballot. I still think Nebraska could be a top 10 team, and a victory this week should shuffle things up a whole bunch. But until Nebraska plays like a Top Ten team, I can't rate them in the Top Ten.  It's still early though.

Here's my ballot:

The additions for this week are Arizona State (in because of an impressive victory against Southern Cal and their only loss to Illinois doesn't look so bad) and Kansas State (for winning in Miami).  Dropping out are Ohio (losing to Rutgers) and, yes, Texas A&M. I'm even more skeptical of the Aggies after blowing a game at home than I am of the Huskers. Win this week in Jerry World, and we'll talk.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Huskers Beat the Spread Against Wyoming...So Should Fans Be Disappointed?

Looking at Nebraska's 38-14 victory over Wyoming, I think it's one of those situations where you ask whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. On one hand, Nebraska won by three scores and beat the spread . . .  On the other hand, I frankly don't think I've seen the Husker team I expected this season.  In fact, other than the third quarter against Washington, I don't think Nebraska has played to it's potential. And maybe that's the problem: were my preseason predictions and prognostications out of line?  At a certain point, you have to accept that Nebraska is what we've been seeing on the field, not what we had hoped we'd see.

Are we at that point?  Not yet...but I'm getting closer and closer to accept that my expectations were a little optimistic this season.  Nebraska's offense IS better than at the end of last season, but it's not anywhere near better enough. More concerning is that the defense isn't quite to the level we've become accustomed out of Nebraska in recent years.

Take tonight, where Wyoming true freshman quarterback Brett Smith found holes in the Nebraska secondary multiple times tonight. Is Smith talented?  Looks like it; he kept his poise all night. But he is a true freshman, and he's played two 1-AA and a MAC team so far in his college career. That being said... he also only completed 17 of 33 passes for 166 yards.  So while I shouldn't be pleased...should I be concerned?

Let's look at some positives... namely Rex Burkhead, who had a monster night: 15 carries, 170 yards, two touchdowns. Always steady, tonight, he simply couldn't be contained by the Cowboys. The other freshmen backs looked pretty good as well, combining for 87 yards on 15 carries. Brandon Kinnie broke out of his slump in fine fashion with three clutch catches. Loved the second quarter catch where he made two moves to get the first down.

But plenty of negatives, starting with Taylor Martinez in the first quarter. The last two weeks, I've felt that Martinez has improved his accuracy passing, but tonight, he regressed.  Hit a wide-open Kyler Reed at least partially in stride..and it's a touchdown.  Instead, Nebraska settles for a field goal.  Martinez took a bad sack by stepping up into non-existant pressure. That sack wasn't the fault of the offensive line.

One thing I took out of this week's game is that it seems Nebraska's coaching staff treated this game much like an exhibition game.  We saw lots of experimentation and lots of new looks. Sometimes it was to see how Nebraska would respond.  Sometimes it was to give our new Big Ten opponents something else to chew on.  Like the return of Rex Burkhead taking the snap and Martinez split out wide.  Like Eric Martin seeing some significant playing time early on. How about leaving cornerback Josh Mitchell back in Lincoln after he saw significant playing time last wee. Tonight, Corey Cooper was thrown into the fire for his first start.  Got burned a couple of times in his first significant playing time of the season.

So in that light, perhaps it's not a surprise that Nebraska still looks a little disjointed.  Nebraska's playing a lot of young players, especially in the secondary which is probably leading to some of the issues we've seen. That being said, it's time to get real.  Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State are all on the schedule next month. Up to now, you could excuse these problems.  Starting next Saturday night, it's time to stop making excuses and start executing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday Night Beer: I Just Can't Quit The Train Wreck Nebraska Left Behind

If someone ever put together a highlight video of the new Big XII Conference, the soundtrack would have to be Yakety Sax. My goodness, the story just gets weirder and weirder each and every day.  Can the dysfunctional family that is the Big XII be salvaged?  Strangely yes.  Despite Dan Beebe's negligence and Texas' arrogance, the Big XII makes sense for most everybody left in the Big XII.  I never really bought into the idea of Oklahoma in the Pac-12; it doesn't really fit.  But in the everybody-for-themselves world of the Big XII, everybody is desperate to find some foothold.

How does the Big XII survive?  Well, no matter what Tom Shatel says, Dan Beebe has to go. Heck, Fake Dan Beebe is more qualified, even after a 12 pack of Danny Dan juice.  The Big XII needs new leadership - someone who can take charge of the entire motley crew.  A Larry Scott/Jim Delaney type.  The other concession that will be necessary:  dismantling the Longhorn Network.  It's like toxic sludge or nuclear waste, destroying conferences and relationships.  Texas knows this, as the Big Ten, ACC, and Pac-12 (twice) have made it clear that those shenanigans will not be tolerated.  Texas knows they have two options: Big XII or independence.  (Though don't be surprised if the Texas to the Big East rumor gets floated...) And Oklahoma has made it clear that LHN can't be part of the Big XII going forward.

Tonight's announcement that the Pac-12 isn't going to expand for now might force everybody back to the table...but it doesn't solve the Big XII's problems.  It's more like a temporary restraining order.  Everybody is waiting for the next opportunity to bail until something - anything - changes.

Good move for UNO to move Maverick basketball to the new Ralston arena. It sounds more economical than playing at the Civic Auditorium, and frankly, my perception is that Ralston is closer to the campus (especially the South Campus) than downtown.   Will UNO ever build their own arena for hockey? I still have mixed feelings. A campus facility would be nice, but I get the feeling that UNO can't afford the size that UNO hockey needs.  I still think that Dean Blais will make a UNO hockey arena infeasible; if UNO hockey starts regularly drawing crowds greater than 10k-12k, there is no reason for UNO to build an arena.

If it wasn't for lawsuits, I get the feeling that there would be an independent league team playing downtown next summer. Might even have started this season, for all we know. But MECA got themselves into a mess with the Northern League that's going to hold this up for another year. Could an independent league team make it downtown? That's debatable. Certainly not a team in a league like the Northern League, which almost makes the Big XII look viable (even with Dan Beebe in charge). But the American Association is another matter entirely. You've got regional rivalries (Sioux City, Lincoln, Kansas City) with reasonable travel. The schedule likely meshes better with Creighton and the College World Series.

Is it going to be as good of a product on the field as AAA baseball? Heck no. But the owners of the AAA baseball team that used to be in Omaha have reminded us time and time again that the vast majority of minor league fans don't care about the quality of play on the field.  It's about the experience and the surrounding atmosphere. That's a double edged sword for independent league baseball in Omaha. On one hand, you've got a gem of a ballpark downtown that's conveniently located, with ample parking, bars/restaurants, and businesses to help drive traffic nearby. The people will come downtown. But on the other hand, one thing we've learned from Alan Stein and company is that they won't allow anybody to outpromote them. It'll be tough to build an environment downtown that exceeds what's happening out at the Trailer Park...because the bar has been set very high out in BFE.

But considering the attendance out west this year, don't dismiss the idea of independent league baseball.  There's a reason why attendance at the Trailer Park didn't increase anywhere near what the average new ballpark does.

Monday, September 19, 2011

BlogPoll Ballot: Sooners Still #1, Huskers #16

After last night's thrilling victory on the road, I feel pretty confident leaving Oklahoma on top of my Top 25 this week. Some will still vote for Alabama or LSU...but I'm sticking with the Sooners.  The top stayed the same for the most part.  Florida State falls to 11, though that could be a little harsh.

I'm only moving Nebraska up one spot, mostly because I want to see more from the Huskers. That third quarter performance, if it repeats itself in October, will rocket the Huskers above many of those teams. Michigan State and Ohio State disappear after failing to show this weekend.  Georgia Tech arrives in the rankings this week with an impressive thrashing of Kansas.

I admit my selection of Frank Solich's Ohio Bobcats is a sentimental pick, but let me justify it.  Ohio has two impressive victories this season.  Ohio's 44-21 victory over New Mexico State was one week before the Aggies upset Minnesota in Minneapolis. Then Saturday's 44-7 victory over Marshall was bigger than #17 West Virginia's 34-13 victory over the Herd.  If you are using pure resume voting, you arguably could rank Ohio higher than a lot of teams on the list.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

For One Quarter Against Washington, the Huskers Look Like Contenders

There were a lot of things to like in Nebraska's 51-38 victory over Washington. There also were a few things to dislike: namely 38 points and 420 yards given up on defense. But after the Holiday Bowl debacle against those same Washington Huskies, Husker fans should be ecstatic with a win.

On offense, the Huskers finally got the I-backs unleashed...especially in the second half. The first half, it was the passing game that got the Huskers started...starting with the opening snap. Kenny Bell's 50 yard pass reception not only set up the opening score just 34 seconds into the game, but also kept Washington from stacking the box  the rest of the day. Like on the final drive the week before, Rex Burkhead found some running room. Not enough to keep drives going, but still more than he had seen earlier in the season.

In the second half, the Huskers pounded the ball at Washington.  Martinez only threw four passes as the Huskers rushed the ball 37 times. It wasn't anything fancy either; just pure bread-and-butter plays like pitch plays to the I-backs.  Even a couple of fullback traps, the first of which was a 36 yard gain.  Rex Burkhead was back in prime form, bouncing off of tacklers, juking and jiving for extra yardage.  Burkhead's not a game breaker, but the Huskers need a couple of yards, Rex is the man Nebraska needs in the game.  Taylor Martinez carried the ball 17 times, but it didn't seem that way because Martinez is becoming more judicious with his carries. Eric Crouch and Scott Frost might cringe to see a Nebraska quarterback running out of bounds or sliding to avoid a hit, but considering what happened to Nebraska after Martinez got hurt last season, avoiding unnecessary hits is a necessity. It also was nice to see Martinez taking extra care of the ball late in the game. Nebraska only had one fumble on the day, and that was on a punt.

Defensively, it was a mixed performance.  An average first half, an outstanding third quarter, and a bad fourth quarter. I liked Josh Mitchell entering the game at cornerback in nickel situations, as Ciante Evans does a better job at nickel than Justin Blatchford.  Andrew Green had a couple nice plays at corner, but several more blown coverages. Fortunately, it sounds like Alfonzo Dennard could be back in a couple of weeks. That can only help the Blackshirts to finally have their shutdown corner back on the field.  But does that explain giving up 38 points?  Not entirely.  This defense isn't playing to Nebraska standards yet.

I found some of Nebraska's strategy questionable late in the game, especially after Nebraska's final touchdown where Brett Maher pooched the kickoff, giving the Huskies the ball near midfield. Then with Nebraska facing a fourth down and two and under three minutes left in the game, Nebraska elected to go for the first down rather than kick a field goal.  Maher likely would have made the 39 yard field goal and given Nebraska a 16 point lead, which would have required three scores to lose the game.  Burkhead came up a yard short, and it wasn't until Austin Cassiday's interception that the thirteen point lead was solid.

Watching the game in the stadium, I didn't get the same feeling about the kick interference penalties that television viewers did. Of course, I didn't have to listen to the insufferable combo of Matt Millen and Sean McDonough either. The second call on the Rex Burkhead return seemed to be noncontroversial to me; Burkhead seemed to be hit simultaneous to catching the punt which should be a penalty. This isn't the old controversial halo rule where you get flagged for being within two yards.  The rule is you have to have an "unimpeded opportunity" to catch the ball, and on that play, it seemed pretty clear to me that Burkhead never had that opportunity.

Nebraska is 3-0 and the offense is starting to become consistent. I have faith that Bo Pelini will figure out what ails the defense; they may not be a top ten defense this season, but they'll be better down the stretch. And judging from what I see in the Big Ten conference this season, that might be enough to put Nebraska in position to win the west division this season.  And if we see more of what we saw in the third quarter when the Huskers were clicking on both sides of the ball, even more than that.  Much more than that.

Friday, September 16, 2011

We Can All Learn From Ameer Abdullah & Ron Brown

Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald brings us an outstanding feature on the relationship between freshman I-back Ameer Abdullah and Ron Brown, his position coach. Brown is a fervent outspoken Christian who frequently quotes scripture in his day-to-day conversation. With Brown, every he does revolves around Jesus Christ. He's been frequently criticized outside of football circles for that.

Freshman Ameer Abdullah is a Muslim.

This week, we were reminded of the horrors that 19 Muslims committed ten years ago. Some people try to push the blame away from the terrorists who murdered so many people on 9/11 and onto the entire faith and Muslims everywhere. That's patently unfair. Christians are also capable of unspeakable acts, and have done so in the past. Even today, some whackjobs take their faith to extremes, all in the name of Christianity.

Brown and Abdulah show us how we should deal with our differences. We should never compromise our beliefs...but we should always respect the beliefs of others. It is OK to disagree and believe different things. Disagreeing is not hate. Having a different opinion is not an attack.

Yet too often in our society, we try to ascribe evil intent to others who have sincere, differing opinions on what is right and what is wrong. Rather than try to find a way to come together and find ways to move forward, people reject the whole of those that don't subscribe perfectly to our ideals. People who don't subscribe to our personal political philosophy.  People with funny names.  People with different lifestyles. That doesn't mean you have to agree with everything.  It's ok to disagree.

It's not ok to dismiss the whole of another person because one aspect of that person conflicts with yourself.

We could all learn a lot from Ameer Abdullah and Ron Brown.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nighthawks Self-Destruct in Season Opener

Disappointing would have to be the best way to describe tonight's season opening game for the Omaha Nighthawks, who lost to Marty Schottenheimer's Virginia Destroyers 23-13.  Four turnovers and a bunch of penalties sunk the Nighthawks tonight, who actually didn't look too bad when they weren't self-destructing. Eric Crouch started the game, but split the snaps with former Oregon and Ole' Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Former Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith apparently was inactive; he was on the sideline in uniform sans helmet. The most surprising element of the new Nighthawks offense was the lack of running plays by the backs; the offense seemed to be based on quick throws by the quarterbacks out of a pistol or shotgun formation. Of the two quarterbacks, I sensed that Crouch was a slightly better passer downfield, though Masoli was deadly on rollouts. Crouch threw one interception that seemed to be a miscommunication between him and his receiver; Masoli threw two interceptions including a bad read.  Crouch also fumbled the ball on a fourth down play when a motion back seemed to knock the ball out of his hands on the fake handoff.

Virginia's offense was much more efficient statistically, relying on a dink-and-dunk attack of slants and inside screens that the Nighthawks struggled to defend until the Destroyers reached the red zone. Former Husker Jay Moore blew up a third down play at the goal line by fighting through a block to batt down a Chris Greisen pass. Perhaps that was a tactical decision by Schottenheimer to go with a simpler offense; if so, it paid off because the Destroyers were more consistent in their execution tonight. That may not necessarily be the case in the rematch in late October.

The other disappointing aspect of the game was the size of the crowd.  Officially announced at 15,836, I'd estimate the crowd at closer to 10,000 tonight. It was a fairly loud crowd, but it's not the type of crowd that encourages the UFL to return in 2012. And that's a shame because football is a good, bonus use of TD Ameritrade Park in the fall. Yes, the sightlines at Ameritrade aren't the best for football, and surprisingly, the modern digital scoreboards are ill-suited for America's game. But like during the spring and summer, the area around the Park came alive with activity. It's just a great place to hold events.  But I worry that if more people don't come out in October, it might be the death sentence for outdoor professional football in Omaha.

Footnote:  Regular visitors may notice a new template here at Blasphemy. Not sure what happened, but a recent Blogger upgrade seemed to wipe out the old design as well as broke a lot of links. Hopefully everything is working again. Not sure when I'll have a chance to clean things up further, but it appears to be functional, if not a little bland.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Nighthawks and Huskers Make for a Great Two-Fer This Weekend

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. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chip Brown Doesn't Get It

Chip Brown of is pushing Texas towards the ACC once the Longhorns finish destroying the Big XII. But here's the funny line to me:
Texas is trying to convince Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to look east (ACC) - not west (Pac-12). Right now, OU is not thinking that way. Don't rule out Kansas as a possible ACC target.

It's time for Texas fans and faithful to start getting their heads around a possible move to the ACC. It's by no means a done deal. But it's looking more and more like Option No. 1 for the Longhorns if the Big 12 falls apart.
Can Brown be any more oblivious as to what is happening to the Big XII? The Big XII is suffering a mass exodus to get AWAY from Texas. Oklahoma and Texas A&M have had enough of Texas writing their own rules, and are want out. Brown simply doesn't get it: if Texas wants to maintain an association with these schools, it's Texas that must change.  First step is to dump the Longhorn Network, which is an financial windfall but a albatross in every other way. Thinking that Texas is going to be allowed to keep LHN and the rest of the baggage that sabotaged the Big XII along to a new conference is insane.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I Stand Behind My D+ Grade for the Huskers Against Fresno State

I spent a lot of time Saturday night and Sunday deliberating how to grade Nebraska's performance against Fresno State for CornNation.  The offense was inconsistent all night, and the defense couldn't get off the field. It was a win, but it was a win against an opponent who Nebraska should have handled better than they did. If it wasn't for some big plays by the youngsters, it was a game Nebraska easily could have lost. So I gave the team a D- on the game. Yes, it was a win...but it wasn't a good performance.

Almost immediately, someone at the Big Red Network chimed in on Twitter: "They won though right?"  Kind of silly, if you ask me. Most Husker fans knew that Nebraska beat Fresno State. Most also know that Nebraska didn't play well. That was followed up by "room for improvement obviously. But i'd hate to see your grade if they lost. :)" Well, I'd hate to see Nebraska lose to Fresno, but if they did, I think most fans wouldn't have a problem giving Nebraska an F for the game.  Heck, in 2007, I gave the entire defense a zero against Kansas. It concluded with "maybe I'm hung up on the D grade. Coaches always need to push for improvement. Just seems harsh coming from fans."

My perspective is that while I'm a fan, I call it like I see it. That's where the title "Blasphemy" comes from here...saying things that may not be what fans want to hear. But there is no sugar coating the way Nebraska played on Saturday. It wasn't a good performance.  And you know what, Bo Pelini feels the same way:
"We did not execute. We didn't execute, we didn't play well and anything else is an excuse. Plain and simple. We didn't play well. It had a lot to do with us, and that will get fixed. We know how to fix that." 
My guess is that far worse things have been said inside of the North Stadium offices over the last 48 hours, so it really doesn't matter what some blogger says on the internet. I'm not throwing in the towel on this season either: just because Nebraska hasn't played well in the first two games doesn't mean that the season is over or that Nebraska is going 5-7 again. It all comes down to how the coaches and players respond to the mistakes they've made. Survive, advance, and improve.

BlogPoll Ballot: Moving the Huskers Down to #17

One of the fundamental premises of this blog was to say what I think, no matter whether people like it or not. Hence "Blasphemy" in the title. During the Bill Callahan era, Blasphemy was what I espoused until everything collapsed in the fall of 2007. Since then, I haven't been so contrarian. There wasn't much of a reason...but my ballot for this week's BlogPoll might be viewed that way.

At halftime on Saturday, I seriously began questioning whether Nebraska even deserved to be rated at this point. A relatively better performance in the second half eliminated the question of not rating the Big Red, but still, Nebraska does not look like a Top Ten team at this point.  I'm not sure they look like a Top 20 team either...but as I looked around for teams to move ahead of Nebraska, I stopped at #17 because I ran out of teams that I felt I could rank above the Huskers.  Ohio State struggled more with Toledo on Saturday. South Florida came close, but I wasn't ready to do that. And I don't believe in Texas A&M at this point either.

So #17 is where Nebraska lands. It's early in the season, and I think Nebraska has Top Ten potential. They just aren't playing that way.  So down they go for now.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Against Fresno State, The Kids are Alright

Nebraska's 42-29 victory over Fresno State was far from a thing of beauty. For the second week in a row, the offense was a muddled mess and this week, the defense sprung a leak. Aside from a couple of long Taylor Martinez runs, the Huskers spent most of the first half in neutral.  And Martinez had his own troubles with two fumbles and a bad interception in that same time frame. But near the end of the first half, Tim Beck finally opened up the offense and threw deep to try and loosen up the Fresno defense...and Nebraska's young receivers came through.  Kenny Bell caught a deep pass late in the first half, and Jamal Turner added a couple of really nice catches in the second half.

But Nebraska couldn't sustain any drives on the ground for the most part today until late in the game. Defenses stacking the box is the problem, but even so, the Husker offensive line needs to open up more holes. And this week, the defensive line struggled. That's something that surprised...and really, really disappointed me. Last week, Fresno's line was a sieve, but tonight, they overpowered the defense - especially in the second half as Fresno's Robbie Rouse was typically three yards downfield before the Blackshirts could lay a hand on him. That's an ominous sign for next month, as I've seen comparisons between Fresno's offensive line and the lines we'll see in October and November. Fortunately in his postgame comments, Bo Pelini expressed his displeasure with the play. He knows his players must play better, and his reaction indicates that they can play much better.

I really couldn't put my finger on the problem tonight except it was all over the field. The secondary let Fresno receivers get deep twice tonight, though the Bulldogs only took advantage once.  Justin Blatchford is no Eric Hagg, and is a liability as the nickel back. Problem is that Sean Fisher is also struggling...meaning that there isn't a real good solution that's apparent on the field right now.  There's hope that when Alfonzo Dennard returns, Ciante Evans could move into that role.  That might be part of the solution, but that leaves Andrew Green on the field, and while I think he played better tonight, he also seems to be a bit of a liability.  With Daimion Stafford taking over at safety, I wonder if Courtney Osborne isn't a better option here.

Knowing Bo Pelini's history, I'm not terribly worried about the defense. He'll get this figured out. I'm becoming more and more concerned about the offense. It's not like there aren't some young playmakers to turbocharge this offense:  Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell made big plays tonight. Ameer Abdullah wowed everybody with his 100 yard kickoff return. And Martinez had some huge runs today.  So why does this offense continue to struggle? I think it comes down again to the offensive line.  This is a young line, with two sophomores and a true freshman starting...but they have to get better and quickly.

Until then, Martinez is going to have to throw more. In the second half, Martinez was much more productive throwing the ball. I wish I knew what happened to Brandon Kinnie. Kinnie developed into a clutch receiver last year, but this season, he's become a liability. It's almost like Ted Gilmore sabotaged him on his way out to USC. If this continues much longer, look for Kinnie to get the Menelik Holt treatment. Quincy Enunwa, Turner, Bell, and even Tim Marlowe are all outplaying Kinnie at this point.  Martinez's arm motion still looks unorthodox, but he delivered in the second half when Nebraska needed it.

One definite positive to take away from tonight's game is how Rex Burkhead ran late in the fourth quarter when we needed to run time off the clock. Fresno knew what was coming, and really couldn't stop it... and in that situation, could get away with stacking the box much more than they could earlier in the game. Maybe the line turned the corner late.

All told, it was a win, but it's not a win that gives you a lot of confidence that this team is ready to compete in the Big Ten in October and November. We saw a few flashes of potential in the second half, but those flashes must become more consistent over the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Big XII Implosion: "There, But For The Grace of Tom Osborne, Goes Nebraska"

You really have to try hard to NOT pay attention to the full-contact, metal-jacket-required, family feud between the remaining Big XII teams. Aside from the actual games, it's shaking the foundations of college football as the ridiculous soap opera keeps finding new ways to jump the shark. It's kind of like narrowly missing a huge accident, then watching the flaming wreckage in the rear view mirror.  And it's not just Nebraska's just about EVERYBODY in college football.  It was the lead story on BTN tonight. It's the lead story everywhere. The only people not paying attention? The people who are so scared of what could happen that they are hiding in the closet, fingers in the ears, singing "Lalalalala! I can't hear you! Lalalalala!" at the top of their lungs trying to avoid dealing with reality.

It's breathtaking how fast this situation has spiraled out of control.  In June, Berry Tramel of the Daily Oklahoman tried to tell us ten weeks ago that everything was "lovey dovey" in the Big XII without Nebraska. I thought that was revisionist thinking then, and now I bet that Tramel wants that column back in the worst way.

Can the Big XII be salvaged?  One year ago, I didn't think it could. Then the Pac-12 and Big Ten turned down the Longhorn Network concept, and I realized that Texas has no place to go. Since then, I've felt that the Big XII would survive in some form.  A&M was likely a goner.  Oklahoma or Missouri might follow as well, creating a new Big Eight conference.  In recent days, the talk is that Texas is going to leave for the Pac-12 or ACC, which seems to be silly talk to me.  No way those conferences accept the deal Texas has with ESPN for the Longhorn Network. And frankly, I'm not sure how many conferences want to accept Texas as a member. Texas has been exposed for what they are. Everybody knows how Texas plays with others. Who's going to accept Texas as a member without severe restrictions and guidelines on how the conference will be run? And would Texas even consider joining a conference with such an arrangement anyway?

But with threats of lawsuits running rampant, how can this conference realistically survive? Who wants to join the Big XII now? It's damaged goods now.

And thankfully, it's not our problem now. In 2010 when conference realignment speculation was running rampant, there was a concern that Nebraska would be left behind.  Thankfully, Tom Osborne took it seriously at the time and deftly steered Nebraska out of the quagmire. If there ever was any doubt about the wisdom of Nebraska's move, it's gone now. One could make the argument that the Big XII was a solid football and decent basketball conference, and that switching to the Big Ten might be a step back. But that was never the point about Nebraska's move to the Big Ten. It was a desire for stability, and for that, Nebraska fans are forever grateful that the Huskers aren't part of this mess.

Monday, September 05, 2011

2011 Blogpoll Ballot after Week One

These early week polls are more than a guess than anything. I purposely did not submit a preseason ballot because I think these ballots should be based on some sort of substance. But we're guessing as to how strong the opponents are, so it's still a work in progress.  But here's my initial ballot:

Now I'll justify those things that probably will seem out of whack with the "common wisdom" in the polls. Wisconsin looked impressive, as did Stanford in games against overmatched opponents.  So they go up in the rankings. The rest is kind of a "where do I think they fall after week 1". I thought Ohio State had a decent performance in week one, so they end up in my top 10. Michigan also looked impressive in a rain shortened game, comparatively speaking to what others did.  So I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt and putting them at #16.

I'm sure Baylor at #16 is going to raise eyebrows...but if TCU was considered a top 15 team preseason, then I have to give the Bears credit for a big win. And frankly, we're talking Baylor here. How often do we get a chance to recognize the Bears?  So I'm adding them to the polls now and see where things go from here. I've long been impressed with Robert Griffin, and am glad that Nebraska doesn't have to face him on the schedule anymore.

I think Oklahoma State and Texas A&M are both severely overrated in the polls, and so I'm putting them closer to where I think they belong.  A&M especially; sure they blew out SMU on the scoreboard, but that was due to horrible unforced errors by the SMU quarterback to open the game. 

Saturday, September 03, 2011

A Little Bit of Good, A Little Bit of Bad against Chattanooga

Right from the opening kickoff, you could see this was going to be a sloppy performance for the Huskers. Failure to field the opening pooch kickoff was one of those little things that hampered Nebraska the whole day. But for the most part, the Blackshirts made sure that no matter what happened today, Nebraska was never really in danger of losing to a 1-AA opponent.

Bo Pelini hinted that we'd see some traditional option as part of the new Nebraska offense, and we saw enough of it that had to make option-haters cringe. (It'll be interesting to see if the "No Option" flag that has flown in the booster parking lot behind the post office since 2004 will still fly next week...) At times, the option looked really rusty, as if it had been retired for seven years.  Other times, like on that first quarter pitch to Rex Burkhead, it looked like a thing of beauty.  And deep down, I absolutely loved that fourth down short-side option that ended 43 yards later in the end zone.  Why do you run options to the short side of the field?  It's very simple: usually there are fewer defenders there and less opportunity to have the play strung out.

The new offense was stymied by a rather ineffective performance by the offensive line. I get that Chattanooga stacked the box and clogged the running lanes..but we were talking about an undersized 1-AA opponent and there should have been more of a push.  Yes, it was a young line with true freshman Tyler Moore and sophomores Andrew Rodriquez and Spencer Long taking a lot of snaps...but I'd like to have seen more. But I also get the feeling that Pelini and Tim Beck weren't terribly concerned about it, because we didn't see a lot of subsitutions. That tells me that the coaching staff wanted to see these players play through the adversity, rather than trying to find different combinations.

I thought Taylor Martinez looked OK today, though I get the feeling that opinions about Martinez are all over the board. I think Martinez's passing motion has become a little more consistent, but he still doesn't step into his throws.  He gunned the ball into receivers all day, and while the accuracy was better than we've seen, the receivers couldn't handle those fastballs downfield at times.  Certainly the speed was back, and frankly, I think he looked more comfortable in this system than he did the last part of last season.

The secondary looked like they missed Alfonzo Dennard at times, especially when they lost containment on Joel Bradford, the Mocs 1-AA All-American receiver. Andrew Green seemed to give him a huge cushion at times, and at other times, nickel back Justin Blatchford couldn't keep up with him.

That was the bad, now let's look at the positives.  Brett Maher looks like he'll be a more than adequate replacement for Alex Henery. Henery has been oh-so-clutch the last three years, but Maher might have been even better today.  His first punt tilted the field and made up for the bungled opening kickoff...then he went and averaged 52 yards a punt on the day.  Perfect on field goals as well, including a 50 yarder into the wind.

Cameron Meredith looked like an all-American candidate at defensive end, and teamed up with Jared Crick on an interception early in the third quarter. Junior college transfer Daimion Stafford had a couple of highlight reel tackles.  He brings the wood like his predecessor who wore #3 in the secondary, Rickey Thenarse, but he seems to be much more consistent in his game.  Keep an eye on this guy: he might be the guy to fill that Dejon Gomes role in October.

Ameer Abdullah looks like he's going to be a gamebreaker as well. The struggles up front didn't allow him to do much in the rushing game, but he was electric on punt returns. He would have scored if only for the tackle teammate P.J. Smith laid on him in the fourth quarter.

And the no-huddle speed-up offense didn't lead to more penalties:  only three for 33 yards on the day.  And one of those was a completely absurd "roughing" the passer call on Josh Williams.

All told, I'm not sure what to take out of today's game.  It's a win: just ask Oregon State how a loss to Sacramento State fells. Eastern Washington nearly took out Washington, and Iowa State needed a last-second comeback to handle Northern Iowa.  It's a season opener, and you have to expect a few mistakes. I don't know how much of the "new offense" we saw today; it's obvious that execution really has to improve. We really didn't see much out of Jamal Turner until late in the game, and he gave us another hint that his performance in the spring game wasn't an aberration. I guess if it's possible to be unhappy after a 40-7 victory, I'll take that.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Prelude to the 2011 Husker Season

I admit it, I'm not a fan of college football on Labor Day weekend...especially games like Chattanooga, Maine, or some other money game against an mismatched foe. At best, it's an opportunity to put on the Husker red, tailgate, and watch the marching band.  All for the nominal (!) charge of $56 a person. Will it be a competitive game? I certainly hope not. And on Labor Day weekend, it just seems like such a waste of the last good-weather long weekend of the year. The weather is nice enough to do just about anything, so it seems to be a waste of a good long weekend to schedule a bad football game on it. The NFL kind of gets it:  most teams held their final preseason game last night, leaving the weekend wide open for their fans.

That's why I haven't been so hyped about the start of the football season yesterday.  Wisconsin/UNLV?  Yawn. Oklahoma/Tulsa? Zzzz.   About the only games worth it are Boise State/Georgia and Oregon/LSU.  The Husker/Chattanooga game?  Well, I'll be there, but I'm not all that hyped up for it.  In fact, my excitement factor was about 0 until yesterday when Kevin Kugler and Mike'l Severe put together a nice package of highlights that at least got me pumped up about football in general.

There are some things to keep an eye on tomorrow, even if the game turns out to be the mismatch it's supposed to be.  Here are the areas I want to keep an eye on against Chattanooga:

Offensive Line. I'm less concerned about the push, especially against an opponent like Chattanooga. Instead, I want to see who plays and the rotation.  Depth has been a huge issue in recent years, so I'd like to see a good rotation develop where if someone is tired or injured, someone else can step in.  That was the key of championship programs in the 90's, and I'd like to see it happen again. (And Tyler Moore certainly looks intriguing, though I don't know if Chattanooga is going to give us much of an opportunity to evaluate his performance...)

Secondary:  With Alfonzo Dennard out, there will three new starters back there....with a pro-style quarterback who was a big time recruit for Tennessee.  I don't know how much time B.J. Coleman is going to have to find his all-American buddy Joel Bradford, but I'd like to see how the new guys handle a pretty good receiver.

Wide Receiver:  I've been completely unimpressed with Ted Gilmore's group; at times, his receivers couldn't catch a cold in the middle of winter with a bunch of preschoolers. But guys like Jamal Turner, Kenny Bell, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste look like the type of game breakers we haven't seen at Nebraska in some time.

Backup I-Backs.  Nebraska is unproven behind Rex Burkhead.  Somebody has to jump out from the pack of Aaron Green, Braylon Heard, or Ameer Abdullah.  I don't know who it'll be, and it could be all three for all I know. But I want to see these guys in action.

Taylor Martinez from the chest up:  We all know about his running ability.  What I want to see is his development in making decisions and throwing the ball.  I'll forgive some of his shortcomings last season: he was a freshman and played injured the last half of the season. Now it's time to take his game to the next level.  The talk is fine, but now it's time to walk the walk.  I think he'll be better this season, so now let's see it.

In some respects, this Chattanooga game is like a bad opening act to a big concert. Lots of things to look forward this season, especially in October when the Huskers line up against the defending co-champions of the Big Ten. That's something to get really excited about. But tomorrow is simply a preseason exhibition game that's a lose-lose situation.  If you win big, it's because you played a mismatched foe.  If you don't win big or show any flaws, people jump on that. (See Wisconsin's defense last night against UNLV.)  And if you somehow DON'T win (can you say Appalachian State?), the season derails before it even got started.