Monday, January 30, 2012

The Worst Week of the Year in College Football

National signing day is fast approaching the world of college football, and for some, it's a time to dream.  For them, it's a time to count stars and watch pixelated online highlight videoes of their team's newest members. For others like me, it's a time to head for the hills and hide as this time of the year represents the worst of college football.  Things like turning a basketball game into a command performance for a high school football player by the #2 team in the country, for example.

Recruiting is an important part of college football, but it's just that...a part. I would have hoped that some fans would have learned the lessons of the Steve Pederson/Bill Callahan error to put this time of year in proper perspective...but sadly, not. So we'll be inundated with amateur speculation and anal-ysis that is, at it's core, pure speculation.  That is if you choose to read or listen to pay much attention to it.  And as is my tradition during this worst week of the year, I'm unplugging.

Sadly, I wasn't able to unplug in time to avoid this gem from the Big Red Network:
Nebraska may have had to alter its recruiting strategy late in the game when Lester Ward and Collins Okafor announced their intent to leave Nebraska after four years with degrees (and kudos to them for earning those degrees).  They added a big back to their recruiting class yesterday in three-star running back prospect Imani Cross from Georgia.
Oy, vey.  The idea that Nebraska's coaching staff would have somehow have been surprised or had to react to the graduations of Ward and Okafor is one of the most absurd ideas I've heard.  The coaches monitor the academic progress of every player, and were well aware that both players were on their way to graduating. It's far more likely that graduation plans have been well planned for some time. It wasn't really "announced" last week; instead, someone noticed that the names were missing when the roster on were revised at the start of the spring semester.

Sadly, that's the type of "information" we get during recruiting week.  Idle speculation and prognasticating.  It reminds me of the the commentary during the opening minutes of Iron Chef on the Food Network.  (One of my wife's favorite television shows.)  For those of you unfamiliar, "Iron Chef" originated in Japan, and is a battle between two chefs to create unique dishes from a "theme ingredient".  As the competition begins, the commentators try to analyze what each chef will do with each ingredient.

Recruiting coverage is like turning off Iron Chef at the ten minute mark of each show just as the chefs are beginning to do their work. All the important work is still to come.  A chef who makes bad decisions or does a horrible job with the finest ingredients makes bad food.  Take Hiroyuki Sakai's Callahan-esque decision to make ice cream out of trout.

That's why this week is the worst of the year. Yes, the jimmies and the joes matter.  But it's what you do with the jimmies and the joes that matter more.  (Even Food Network knows that it's more than the ingredients, judging by their latest show, "The Big Waste" where chefs work their magic on food headed for the garbage.)  I'll be looking elsewhere for entertainment.  If you are looking for something more productive to do, the UNO Mavs are playing Bemidji State this weekend. For now, this blog will be back after the silly season is long over.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Lunch Thoughts: Dirk Runs Statistics and Fails on Summarizing

Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald broke out his spreadsheet to analyze Nebraska's turnover statistics in recent years.  It doesn't take a math major to know that it's not good.  Too many turnovers on offense, and not forcing enough on defense.  But Dirk digs in anyway.  The problem with Dirk's analysis is that he only does two and four year comparisons.  That give you numbers, but what do they mean?

I argue that the only numbers that are relevant now are the 2011 season numbers.  Shawn Watson and Ted Gilmore are gone on offense, and Nebraska has a new offensive coordinator in Tim Beck.  So changes have been made on offense, and we saw improvement from 2010 to 2011, going from losing 16 out of 45 fumbles in 2010 to losing 11 out of 32 fumbles in 2011.

Statistics can be handy to help you identify problems and areas that you need to improve on.  But trying to pin the sins of Watson onto Beck doesn't get you very far in trying to determine what problems still exist.  It would be like evaluating Bo Pelini's defense by combining it with Kevin Cosgrove's disaster of 2007.  The numbers will be altered, but would it be meaningful?

Great wins by Nebraska basketball over Iowa last night, both for the men and women.  I don't get ESPNU, so I didn't see the game and could only listen to the tail end of the game.  Doesn't mean a lot in the grand scheme of things, but at least Nebraska can continue to say "better than Iowa."  (Of course, we've always known that. It's just now that Husker fans have "scoreboard" to point to.)

UNO goalie Ryan Massa appears to be recovering well from a concussion suffered one week ago. That's great news, but I wouldn't rush to get him back into the lineup. If he's truly ready to play next weekend against Bemidji, fine.  But concussions are nothing to take chances with.  Here's hoping he's at full strength in the closing month of the season.

The ugly story about former Nebraska quarterback Patrick Witt and the allegations of assault that may have scuttled his Rhodes Scholarship interview are quite surprising. I'm not sure if we'll ever get the complete truth on this one.  It does cloud my original perceptions of Witt from his 2006 commitment to Bill Callahan.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Night Dessert: What's Up With Doc?

With Nebraska basketball, it was the best of times this week --- and the worst of times.  The Huskers upset of ranked Indiana was thrilling, but the beat-down by Ohio State was disappointing.  (Some might call it appalling.) I've been a defender of Doc Sadler for years, but in year six, the excuses are starting to wear thin.  No doubt in my mind that Sadler inherited a mess from Barry Collier, and Sadler has improved things.  His late hiring meant that his first couple of recruiting classes were haphazard.  So I've always looked the other way towards the talent shortage . . . up to now.

Sadler's teams generally have always played hard with solid defense. I have no doubt that Sadler is a good gameday coach in my mind.  But in year six, there still are no playmakers on this roster, and really haven't been since Aleks Maric graduated. And Sadler doesn't really get credit for Maric; Maric was a holdover from Collier.  Bo Spencer sometimes makes plays, as do Dylan Talley and Toney McCray - but none are players you can go to down the stretch. Would Andre Almeida have been that guy this season?  Maybe, if he was healthy.  But that's probably relying on hope more than anything

Sadler's best playmaker to date has been Christian Standhardinger, who showed great promise on the court yet found a way to continually stay in Sadler's doghouse.  He tried to transfer to LaSalle before finally enrolling at Hawai'i last fall. Looking over the Nebraska roster, I don't see any redshirting players to give me hope that things are going to get better. I don't follow recruiting, so I'm not sure if Sadler is pursuing any difference makers. At some point, Sadler has to get some players into the program. Facilities aren't an issue anymore; people rave about the new Hendricks practice facility and the new Haymarket Arena should be a draw as well.

I just don't want to pull the plug on Doc Sadler yet... but the excuses are starting to become tiring.

Thanks to a kids birthday party, I missed today's AFC Championship game, but did get to see the end of NFC title game.  Kyle Williams is going to have a rough offseason in the Bay Area after muffing one punt then fumbling another in overtime. It was an awkward position for Williams, who was filling in for the injured Ted Ginn on punt return detail. It kind of reminds me why Bill Callahan put Santino Panico back to return punts in 2004; he wasn't going to make plays, but he wasn't going to turn the ball over either.

So now we've got another Boston versus New York championship.  So glad I've pulled the plug on sports talk radio this month.  First thing I thought of was former Omaha sports talk host Matt Perrault's famous claim that no Manning would ever win a Super Bowl.  Then both Mannings went on to win the next two Super Bowl MVP awards. I get why Perrault made that prediction: he's a Boston homer and in losing a ratings battle, he wanted to draw attention to himself.  Back in the mid 90's, a local reporter asked ESPN's Mike Tirico about some of the outrageous things that had been said on College Gameday that season.  Tirico responded by reminding the reporter that Gameday was an entertainment show; outrageous comments get people to watch and respond.

Perrault tried the "outrageous" approach in Omaha; it failed, and he bounced to Des Moines before returning to the east coast.  He lost that battle to KOZN's Kevin Kugler and Mike'l Severe at that time, and AM 590 folded their tent.  Dropped all their local programming, and the ratings approached 0.  Things changed a year ago.  ESPN switched their radio affiliation to AM 590, and KOZN-AM 1620 picked up Fox Sports Radio.  590 added a new afternoon show, and their ratings are improving at the expense of 1620.  And 1620 seems to be playing the outrageous game...or at least they did earlier this month.  Sadly, I pulled the plug for a while to see if it blows over.

And with another Boston/New York matchup, it's not worth taking another chance on sports radio for a few more weeks.

The World-Herald reports that I-back Collins Okafor will graduate this spring and bypass his senior season. Not surprising in that Okafor never seemed to crack the depth chart.  He had an outstanding high school career, but it never seemed to translate to the next level...even when depth at I-back was an issue, he still didn't see the field.  Best wishes to Okafor though as he moves on with his life.

Friday, January 20, 2012

UNO Goalie Massa Injuried in Overtime Victory; CHN Steams

UNO defeated Minnesota State-Mankato tonight 2-1 in overtime. The victory was bittersweet as UNO goalie Ryan Massa was flattened in his goal crease in the opening minute of overtime by MSU's Evan Mosey. Massa was motionless on the ice after the hit, and eventually was taken off the ice on a stretcher.  No word at this time about Massa's condition.  No penalty was called at that time, though moments later, Minnesota State slashed Massa's replacement, Daryn Belfour. UNO's Bryce Aneloski scored on the power play for the game winner.

After the game, UNO's concern went immediately to the condition of Massa. Dean Blais quickly left for the hospital to check on Massa, drawing the ire of College Hockey News reporter Dan Myers. And like some reporters, he started tweeting in frustration at Blais' absence. It all began with the following tweet:
That's not the point. As the head coach, he needs to be available and accessible for the media.
In doing so, Myers became yet another member of the media who forgot that it's "not about you" when it comes to coaches dealing with the media. In this case, Myers felt the media took precedence over his unconscious freshman who had just been sent to the hospital strapped to a gurney.

UNO fans questioned that on Twitter, and rather than rethink his original and admit his mistake, he upped the ante and played the victim in a series of tweets:
Twitter is a double-edged sword.  It's the fastest way news gets out; post something on Twitter, and if people deem it important, it spreads like wildfire.  And with mobile phones, it's easy to fire off a tweet, and start a fire.  Sometimes you start a fire, and don't realize it.  And that happened to Myers tonight.  He took offense at Blais' decision to look after his player.  Blais was right, Myers was dead wrong.  Does Myers deserve an answer to his questions about the game?  Yes.  But in the moments after the game, Blais had a more important job.  Check on his player, and make sure that his player's family (who likely were listening to the game over the internet and were assuredly anxiously waiting for news) knew what was happening.

Hopefully Massa just suffered a concussion (as if that's a minor thing, which it's not) and won't suffer any long-term ill-effects of tonight's hit.  In the meantime, UNO will need to get another goaltender to Mankato in the morning.  And the WCHA will need to review the video of tonight's game.  After watching UNO's Alex Simonson get a five minute major and game ejection for charging Duluth's Kenny Reiter last Saturday night, Mosey's hit likely deserves similar action.  The first TV replay looked like it was a knee; the UNO YouTube video is inconclusive.  Some would argue that UNO's Brent Gwidt pushed Mosey into Massa, though it's likely that Mosey was going to collide with Massa no matter what.

(Footnight:  Nice move by the Mankato public address announcer to select Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" and the Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane" to "entertain" the crowd while Massa lay motionless on the ice.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Hockey Outdoors at TD Ameritrade Park Rumors Persist

Black and Blue, a Lincoln Stars blog, reports that the rumored outdoor hockey game will now be a doubleheader with the Stars and Omaha Lancers playing in the afternoon, followed by the UNO Mavericks versus North Dakota.  The games would be played on Saturday, February 9, 2013.  I like the idea of both Omaha teams playing outdoors.

I hate the idea of a doubleheader.  Let's not forget this is February in Nebraska; is it a good idea to ask fans to spend 7-8 hours outdoors in a single day?  Plus, let's not forget that the NHL has changed the starting time of the last two Winter Classics due to weather conditions.  (A point that I brought up on MavPuck, which was referenced by Black and Blue.)

Spread the games over two days...or better yet, two weekends.  Schedule the games for mid-late afternoon, because once the sun goes down, it'll only get even colder in the stands.  Don't get me wrong; this should be a great event.  Wisconsin is considering another outdoor hockey game; this time in Chicago at Soldier Field.  Will it be a money maker?  Hard to say; it's not cheap to set up a temporary rink.  But it's an event; it'll bring people to Omaha.  It'll fill hotels, as well as bars and restaurants around the downtown area on game day.  (Another reason to spread the games over multiple days.)

And it helps in recruiting by showing prospective hockey players that Omaha is a great place to play college hockey because not every school can pull these off.  Wisconsin can.  Michigan can.  Michigan State has.  Now I think Omaha can do it as well.

Just not a doubleheader, please.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mavs Upset #1 Duluth

The crowd last night was just over half as large as the previous night's "Sell Out Duluth" crowd, but the volume at game end was almost as loud. Amazing what a better night's performance does to give a crowd a reason to cheer...and boy, did UNO give it's fans something to go crazy for last night.  The defensive breakdowns from Friday night were absent, and freshman goaltender Ryan Massa put on a veteran performance with 43 saves on 44 shots.

In recent seasons, UNO has seemed to run into quite a few "hot goaltenders" as they peppered a goaltender with shot after shot with almost nothing going in.  Last night, the role was reversed:  the hot goalie wore the crimson and black, the shots all were controlled by Massa and no rebounds were available. Did Massa stake a claim to be UNO's full time goalie?  He might get a nod, but it seems that UNO coach Dean Blais likes to play multiple goalies.

Once again, UNO had to fight off a five minute major penalty - this time due to sophomore Alex Simonson's charging Duluth goalie Kenny Reiter as he tried to leave the ice after a delayed penalty call against the Mavs.  I initially thought it was a bad call; Reiter looked like he was going to play the puck, and since he was out of the crease, he was fair game.  After the game, I looked up the rule, and realized that it doesn't really matter whether the goalie is in the crease or not.  He's a protected player, and goalies can't be hit unless it's inadvertent.  Simonson really didn't have a whole lot of choice in the matter; he could hope that Reiter wouldn't play the puck, but if he did, the play would go on with the Bulldogs having the extra man.  Is the rule right or wrong?  I'm not going there; hockey teams frequently only dress two goalies a night.  The tradition of the game calls for the goalie to be protected, and if you let Simonson's hit go unpenalized, Ryan Massa would have been drilled in retribution at some point.  Then all heck would break loose.

That being said, Reiter probably was more deserving a Golden Globe for his dive after being hit.

It was a gritty, gutty performance that can only help UNO down the line.  Expecting four points this weekend against the #1 team wasn't realistic, but two points keeps UNO in the mix in a tie for 4th place.  Even more important, UNO bumped up to #20 in the Pairwise rankings according to Sioux Sports.  That's nowhere near the Mavs need to be...but at least it's approaching the right neighborhood.  UNO can't afford to lose their focus this week as they play the last place "Purple Cows" of Minnesota-Mankato.

Jim Suttle's "Crazy" Ballpark Toboggan Run Should Be Part of Omaha's Outdoor Hockey Plans

Tonight, I'm watching BTN's replay of the Michigan-Ohio State hockey game being played at Progressive Field and noticed something rather interesting in left field behind the rink:  a huge ramp.  Turns out this is the second year for Cleveland's "Snow Days", where they built a sledding ramp in the baseball facility.  Last winter, over 50,000 people came downtown to go sledding in the baseball stadium.
Photo Courtesy of WBUR

Why bring this up?  Well, I remember the first time I heard this idea, when it was proposed by Jim Suttle in his mayoral campaign.  In typical partisan fashion, first political blogger Street Sweeper at Leavenworth Street, then former mayor Hal Daub ridiculed the idea in a desperate attempt to brand Suttle as a crazy guy.

Fast forward three years...and suddenly Suttle's idea  is reality. And thankfully, Daub didn't get elected, and Sweeper's politcal acumen continues to misfire.  (How'd that recall prediction work out again?)

Why bring this up now?  Tweaking a couple of tired, closed-minded individuals is always fun...but that's not the point.  While it's not been formally announced, the rumor mill is pretty strong that UNO is planning to play North Dakota next February outdoors at TD Ameritrade Park.  I love the idea of playing an outdoor hockey game; today's Michigan/Ohio State game drew 25,864 and I would expect thousands of NoDak fans to follow the Sioux to Omaha for a chance to play outdoors.

Adding a toboggan run to the festivities might limit attendance slightly, but it would add quite a bit to the festival atmosphere for the outdoor game.  And yes, I'm solidly behind the idea of playing an outdoor hockey game in Omaha at the ballpark.  Will it be cold?  Yep.  Is it something you'd want to do annually?  Probably not.  But it's a fun, unique event that's become wildly popular in hockey.  The NHL's Winter Classic has become a resounding success making inroads on a day that (prior to ESPN's bastardizing of New Years Day) college football dominated.  Over 100,000 people attended a Michigan/Michigan State game at the Big House last year, and there have been successful college hockey games in Wisconsin at both Camp Randall and Lambeau Field.

You wouldn't want to do it every year.  But it's something that attracts interest from players and captivates the interest from casual sports fans. That makes it something that Omaha should do, and do in such a way that ensures its success.  And if a toboggan run makes it all that more of a big deal, successful event for the city of's something that should be considered.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mavs Defense Burned by Top-Ranked Duluth In Front of a Sellout Crowd

In front of a packed CenturyLink Center crowd, UNO came out looking like a team that had only played two games in the last month against the #1 team in the country.  And before about two-thirds of the crowd had even reached their seats, Minnesota-Duluth converted two defensive breakdowns into two fairly easy goals. Add in a couple of undisciplined penalties, and it was hard to imagine an even worse start for UNO in the game.
UNO settled down and tied the game early in the second period on a couple of nice goals by Matt White and Terry Broadhurst. But Duluth came out strong in the third period as J.T. Brown scored two quick goals early in the third period to break the game wide open.

Tonight's game was odd in many aspects.  All of the goals were scored at one end of the ice (the far goal from my seats, I might add).  UNO pulled goalie John Faulkner for an extra skater with six minutes to go in the game, surprising many fans as well as the referees.  I didn't have a problem with going with a empty net with so much time in the game.  Duluth hasn't lost a game since mid-October, and wasn't going to surrender a late lead easily.  Blais doubled down, and maybe sent a reminder to his team that they needed to pay attention to Duluth on the rush.  UNO controlled the puck for much of the first two minutes with the extra man, but eventually Mike Seidel found the empty net to give the Bulldogs a 5-2 lead.

The Mavs strategy also confused the WCHA officiating crew when they stopped play to whistle UNO for having two many men on the ice. Of course, they eventually realized that UNO's goalie had been on the bench the entire time, and referee Brad Shepard had to admit his mistake.

Faulkner may have allowed five goals in the 6-2 loss, but it's hard to blame him for tonight's loss.  At times, UNO's defense looked downright Cosgrovian in futility, leading to easy goals for Duluth.  All told, UNO wasn't up to the challenge tonight. That's to be expected when a veteran team like Duluth takes on a UNO squad with only seven upperclassmen. But assistant coach Mike Hastings (who coordinates the defense) is going to have some painful video to review from tonight's game.

Very disappointing result with a national television audience on NBC and a paid crowd of 16,138 watching.  Some might quibble with the attendance, but with hundreds of people in standing room areas, there were likely at least 15,000 in attendance tonight.  A very good crowd for UNO that was loud.  The Mavs pulled out all the stops tonight:  free t-shirts and $1 concessions before the game to ensure that a large number of fans were on hand for the early faceoff.  The lines were long, but actually were managed well.  The CenturyLink Center handles a crowd of 15,000 fans better than the Civic Auditorium ever handled a crowd of 6,000.

Unfortunately, all UNO fans can take solace in is that UNO played with the #1 team in the country for about half the game tonight. Hopefully tomorrow's a different story...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Angry Fan: Pelini Not Saban! Arrgh!!! Bad!

There's no denying that Nebraska fans are disappointed over the 2011 Husker football season.  Some are downright angry, and much to my surprise, seemingly giving up on Bo Pelini. They aren't quite calling for Pelini to be fired; they just express total pessimism for the future of Nebraska football.  Take this entry from Brian Towle of HuskerLocker, where he compares Pelini to Nick Saban, he of the three national championship rings.

Saban's on top of his game right now, with two AP national championships in the last three years.  Add in his 2003 title with LSU and every Saban recruiting class since 2000 has a national championship.  An impressive stat, even if you factor in Saban's two years in the NFL and that his final LSU recruiting class earned their national championship with Les Miles, not Saban, as head coach.  Oh, and a defensive coordinator named Bo Pelini.

Saban's job hopping earned him hate from Michigan State fans, LSU fans , and Miami Dolphin fans. Everybody loves Raymond?  Everybody (except 'Bama fans) hate Nick.  And when Saban bolts from Tuscaloosa (not a question of if, but when), Bama fans will join the Saban hate parade.

But Saban's got the resume now.  Funny thing, that Saban didn't always have that resume.

6-5-1.  6-6.  7-5.  6-6.

That's Saban's coaching record his first four years at Michigan State.  25-22-1. 53% winning percentage.  An improvement over his predecessor (19-26, 42%).  But look at Pelini:  38-16 in his first four years at Nebraska for a 70% winning percentage. An even bigger improvement over his predecessor (27-22, 55%).

So Pelini's had better results than Saban in his first four years.  But what about the other criticism, such as an athletic department not demanding excellence?  I'm still trying to understand that one.  How do you hold a coach "accountable" for "only" going 9-4? Seriously.  I agree that 9-4 is disappointing for Nebraska this season, but please tell me how you hold a coach "accountable" for going 9-4.

Coaching and player development?  Not quite sure where he's going with this one, but he's blaming Pelini for not "prodding or reigning in his offensive coordinator".  Which is it?  Should Nebraska have been more aggressive or less aggressive offensively?  Towle doesn't say...just that Pelini's bad.  Saban recruits all year long...then implies that Pelini doesn't.  Implies, but doesn't back that implication up with any evidence.

It's angry fan talking.  And since not everybody shares the "grab the pitchforks and torches" uproar in loud (and of course, non-violent) protest, that must mean we're just peachy keen pleased with a four loss season. Here's the problem with that:  show me someone who's happy with that at Nebraska.  Nobody's happy.  It's just that some fans recognize that there are worse things than going 9-4 at Nebraska.  It's called perspective.

And that's something that Angry Fan is lacking right now.  Hopefully outbursts like this are cathartic...and that we get this out of our system quickly.

Pelini has been a better head coach than Nick Saban was in his first four years.  Hopefully, Pelini will continue to improve.  But criticizing Pelini for not being Saban is rather excessive at this point.  Pelini deserves a lot of criticism:  blowout losses and a porous secondary, for starters.  But his record to date has more than earned him time (and much more of it) to resolve those problems.

Final BlogPoll: On Top of My Ballot is ... Oklahoma State?!?!?!?!?

It's a principle thing. Is Alabama the best team in the country? Possibly. But let's not forget that the BCS tells us over and over that the regular season matters.  Alabama had a chance on their home field in November...and lost to LSU. So while the BCS formula gave us a rematch, the rematch runs counter to the foundation of the BCS. So forgive me when I question the relative motivation levels for Alabama and LSU.  Alabama had revenge on their mind...while LSU is told to nevermind the first game, you've got to do it all over again. Two completely different mindsets.  Yes, it was the big stage. But note the history of mulligans in bowl games.  1978 Nebraska/Oklahoma.  1996 Florida/Florida State.  2010 Nebraska/Washington.  It's tough to ask teams to do it all over again.

LSU has a fine resume:  they defeated both West Virginia and Oregon impressively. Plus an SEC championship game against Georgia.  Alabama's best non-conference game?  Penn State....with Rob Bolden at quarterback.

So why Oklahoma State?  I'm going to forgive the loss to Iowa State.  It was on the road (unlike the Tide), and the circumstances of the plane crash earlier that day were a huge distraction. (Hey guys, don't forget that later tonight, you'll be getting on a plane too!)

So Oklahoma State gets my vote for #1.  Alabama stays #3 because, well, they are the only one-loss team to get a mulligan. Positions 3 through 14 stay exactly the same.  I can't drop Wisconsin or Stanford for narrowly losing to great teams ranked above them; who should get bumped ahead of them?

Nebraska stays ranked at #21.  If you think that's a homer pick; fine.  Just remember I dropped the Huskers more than any other team. At the bottom of the rankings, I struggled with teams to put in the rankings.  Virginia Tech actually rises for giving Michigan everything they could handle.  Missouri enters the poll for a solid season.
I'll probably get a whack-job ballot for it; that's fine.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Sunday Night Dessert: LSU Already Clinches?

Yes, I know that the "BCS National Championship" game is still scheduled for tomorrow night, but frankly, I'm not sure I can take it seriously. After all, the BCS defines itself like this:
The BCS allows for preserving the significance of the regular season, which is the most meaningful in sports.
 If the purpose of the BCS is to "preserve the significance of the regular season", then I have no choice but to reflect back on the regular season.

LSU 9, Alabama 6.  Ugly, yes.  But most importantly, played on Alabama's home field, in front of their fans.

So while the winner of tomorrow night's game will hoist the crystal football, from my perspective, it's barely an exhibition game by the BCS standards.  So when I cast my BlogPoll ballot, I think I'll have no choice but to vote LSU #1 no matter what happens tomorrow night.

ESPN is talking that the BCS could transform into a four-team playoff system in the next contract.  It's a start, but I think we'll quickly find that there won't be interest in traveling to those semifinal bowl games.  Unless it's a 6-9 hour drive, most fans simply don't have the time or money to travel to one distant bowl game, let alone two.  You saw empty seats at most bowl games this season, and that's a trend that's likely to continue.  And in a "plus-one" system where two teams will have to play in two bowl games, even fewer fans will be able to do that.  Unless, of course, one of the games is a short, convenient drive.

After reading the uproar from Penn State alums over the hiring of New England offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien to replace JoePa, the more it looks like a bad idea getting worse.  Not having the support of the former players is strike one; Nebraska learned the hard way what happens when you turn your back on history and tradition from 2004 to 2007.  That makes the job even harder for O'Brien, who's the latest member of the Bill Belichick coaching tree to leave the nest.  For all the success Belichick has had in New England, it's never worked anywhere else.  There's the double failure of Charlie Weis (Notre Dame and Florida), plus Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels, and Todd Haley.  That's two strikes in Happy Valley.

I admit it... I muffed the NFL's new overtime rule.  My first thought after CBS and Jim Nantz announced that Denver defeated Pittsburgh tonight, I disagreed and expected the Steelers to get a chance.  Then my wife clarified it that if the first team kicks a field goal, the game continues.  Oh well - the rule makes sense though you really have to stop and think about it.

For those of you looking to turn the page past football, it's time to start thinking hockey.  Defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth is coming to town this weekend.  NBC is televising Friday night's game, and UNO is trying another sellout promotion.  As of tonight, they show only 3,358 tickets left.  Not sure what that means, but I'd guess that means a crowd of 12k at this point.  It'll be tough to top last year's Wisconsin game for atmosphere and crowd size, but you never know.

As for what to expect on the ice, hard to say again.  The Mavs have been off the three of the last four weekends due to finals, Christmas, and an oddly timed bye week.  Will they be rusty or fresh?  I didn't get a good feel for how they've responded to the suspension of center Alex Hudson in the Quinnipiac series. 

Friday, January 06, 2012

Stereotypes, not Reality Driving Reaction to Pelini in the Capital One Bowl

In the hours after the Capital One Bowl, I dismissed the handful of "there goes Bo Pelini again" criticism. I was more concerned about the penalties and the mistakes during the game, and in our group (which included Pelini critics), nobody said anything about Pelini's discussion with the referees. As it was, we were all upset about the way the Huskers played.

But by Tuesday night, it was getting difficult to ignore those comments...especially after listening to sports talk radio.  It's obvious that a segment of the Husker fan base was extremely upset over Pelini's actions.  My question is still:  is it quantity (a large number of fans) or volume (a few fans being exceptionally loud about it)?  I haven't seen anybody say they changed their opinions about Pelini, so I lean a little more to the loudness of the Pelini critics.

Let's make one thing clear:  Nebraska did not play well in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina.  They made a lot of mistakes, and took a lot of really stupid sloppy penalties.  And everybody -coaches and players alike, need to be accountable for that.

But in all the criticism, one serious factual error exists in nearly ALL of the criticism of Bo Pelini.  It's cause and effect.  And in this case, Pelini's critics are absolutely DEAD wrong about it.  Bo Pelini's outburst came LONG AFTER Nebraska made the vast majority of mistakes.  Pelini's actions were an effect of Nebraska's breakdowns in the game, not the cause.

My associate over at CornNation, Jon Johnston, wrote an excellent article this morning detailing just that...and how certain members of the Nebraska media have been trolling fans to incite a reaction.  Why?  It's not because they hate the Huskers.  That's not the case.  They are merely trying to get attention.  They are the media - getting people riled up gets them to listen to their shows, read their articles, and react.

Matt Schick, formerly of KETV-Channel 7 and now a sports talk host on KOZN-AM 1620, started it off prior to halftime.  He criticized Pelini's halftime interview with ESPN's Quint Kessenich on Twitter even before it happened.
Please, Quint Kessenich, ask Bo Pelini what happened on that last play.
And it was all downhill from there.  There's no evidence that Pelini was riled up until the fourth quarter, long after Nebraska drew most of the flags. But never let Omaha's media,already burned multiple times in recent weeks for being lazy (Pelini to Penn State, Lady Gaga at the bowl game, etc.),  let go of an easy storyline.

We look for something to blame, and people hear Bo Pelini yelled at the refs, and jump on.  In this case, pile on.

Does Pelini get angry?  Yep.  A lot of coaches do.  Did you see Wisconsin's Bo Ryan after the referees waived off a game-tying basket at the buzzer this week?  How abou Frank Martin at Kansas State?

Pelini earned his reputation by his own actions.  That being said, Pelini has been much more controlled this season.  The outburst against the referees was really the first of it's kind this season.  Pelini deserved criticism after the Texas A&M game last year, and he's learned from it.  But against South Carolina, Pelini didn't really lose control.  Angry, yes. Out of control?  I didn't see it.

And Pelini's outburst had nothing to do with Nebraska's loss.  It was simple failure to execute.  Should Pelini be held accountable for his team's poor execution?  Yes, he should.  If his players aren't executing what he's been teaching, he needs to (a) find a different way to teach it or (b) get players in who can play fundamentally sound football.  That's his job.  And really, that's what the criticism needs to be this week.

Not about "Pelini yelling at the referees."  But that's what some members of the media have chosen to focus on this week.  Is that what we have to look forward for the next nine months?  I hope not.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Second Half Meltdown Dooms Huskers Against South Carolina

Throughout the first half and even for a little while into the second half, I was fairly confident about Nebraska's chances against South Carolina.  The Huskers seemed to be winning most of the plays, though South Carolina was making just enough big plays to foil the Huskers.  Blocking an extra point.  Popping the ball out of Ameer Abdullah's hands inside the ten yard line.  And of course, a "Hail Mary" to Alshon Jeffrey just before halftime.

Nebraska looked like they were going to buckle down and take the game over at halftime.  A nice run by Burkhead, and two passes to Tyler Legate and Kenny Bell.  Then, Martinez fakes out the Gamecocks on the zone read, and the Huskers have the ball at the South Carolina eight yard line barely one minute into the second half.

Game over.

Nobody knew it at that point, but from that point on, South Carolina dominated.  Taylor Martinez makes an ill-advised decision to chuck the ball towards Kyler Reed who caught the ball for an eight yard loss, setting up a field goal...that Brett Maher missed.  The Blackshirts held, but then the penalty flags began to fly.  Four penalties on Nebraska's next drive.  Three more on the next.  And with the resulting short field, South Carolina punched in the deciding touchdown to essentially put the game away.  After that Martinez run, Nebraska only gained one yard of total offense in the final 29 minutes of the game.

One Total Yard.

Those penalties got downright ridiculous as the game slipped away.  I couldn't help but mutter expletives at Yoshi Hardrick, though the matchup against Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney is a tough one. I wish ESPN would have shown more replays to get a better feel for how the Gamecocks defensive line took over the game.  I knew once South Carolina went up two scores in the fourth quarter, the game was going to be incredibly difficult for the Huskers to come back on.  South Carolina's pass defense is ranked second in the nation for a reason, and passing is not Nebraska's strong suit.  (Insert "no duh" comment here...)

So Nebraska lost another bowl game, and this time to an SEC foe.  But I don't think this loss was due to SEC speed.  I think the Huskers matched up OK, and at times looked like the faster team. Jeffery beat Dennard once, but other wise, I don't think South Carolina out athleted Nebraska today.

They out-executed Nebraska, especially down the stretch.  Minus-two in turnovers.  Eleven penalties.  Imagine if Abdullah doesn't fumble in the first half, or if Martinez doesn't throw that interception just before halftime?  Nebraska easily could have led 23-9 at halftime.  Could South Carolina have come back from that deficit?  I don't see it.

Twenty-one years ago, I remember shaking my head after Nebraska lost a bowl game in Orlando; it was then called the Florida Citrus Bowl.  Many people at that time openly criticized Tom Osborne at that time, and I started to question him myself.  It seemed at that time that Nebraska was in a downward spiral, getting further and further way from the upper echelon of college football.

Or so it seemed.  We all know what happened next. Nebraska got better...a lot better.  And Nebraska's 60-3 record from 1993 to 1997 set the standard for excellence in the modern college football era. Not Southern Cal, not Miami, not Florida or Alabama.  Failure to meet that level of excellence led to the firing of Frank Solich after losing three games in 2003.  Since then, Nebraska has lost no fewer than four games each and every year.  So does this mean that it's time to pull the plug on Bo Pelini?

That idea is laughable. It's so absurd that it shouldn't even require a response.  But looking over the comments around the internets, a response is necessary.  No Husker fan should be happy about losing the Capital One Bowl today.  No Husker fan should be happy with the second half of today's game.  But I feel better about the performance of the Huskers today than I did after the 1991 Citrus Bowl ... not to mention last year's Holiday Bowl.

Doesn't mean I'm happy. A lot of tough questions need to be asked, starting with the offensive line.  This group needs to get bigger, stronger, and more dependable.  Barney Cotton is going to face a lot of scrutiny, and deservedly so.  The scrutiny that fans place towards the line doesn't matter, though.  Bo Pelini needs to scrutinize the lines play - and the coaching.  That's not only Cotton, but also John Garrison and James Dobson as well.  Scrutinizing doesn't mean firing, it means asking questions and having a plan to address the deficiencies that exist.

I look over the roster and I see evidence that there's a foundation of young talent available.  Andrew Rodriquez missed the game with a foot injury. Tyler Moore got eaten alive by Clowney late in the game, but he's a true freshman who can only get better. Givens Price is redshirting...and really should have been a senior in high school this season. A touted group of freshmen are redshirting.  Maybe they are ready to make an impact next season.  Or maybe they'll sit on the bench like Brent Qvale (who didn't look like he was even suited up today) or Jeremiah Sirles did this season.  I try to be patient, but I have to admit that patience is starting to run short.

Nebraska addressed the turnover problem this year; the backs and Taylor Martinez have improved dramatically in holding onto the ball.  But penalties continue to be an issue, and that was the start of today's meltdown  It's not acceptable, and it's something that has to be addressed going into next season.

There was a lot to like in the ball game early on.  The secondary was locked onto South Carolina's receivers, while Nebraska had open receivers all day long.  Even saw Jamal Turner in the game, drawing a pass interference penalty. Rex Burkhead ran well, and we saw some creative play calling with Burkhead under center.  It all came to a crashing end once the offensive line melted down, of course.  But before that, there was something to like.

The ending of the game left a bad taste in everybody's mouth, and it's something that needs to be addressed by everybody associated in the program once the plane returns the team to Lincoln.  Nine-win seasons used to be the standard at Nebraska, now it seems to be a sign of mediocrity.  Nebraska fans have high expectations of their football program, and while the Huskers have improved under Bo Pelini, they have fallen short of those expectations the last two years.