Friday, August 31, 2012

Prelude to the 2012 Husker Football Season

Once again another season of Husker football is upon us. I'll admit it, I'm optimistic about the Huskers this season. I don't buy into the talk of 7-5 or 8-4, and frankly, I don't think the doubters have much of a case for their pessimism, other that "Nebraska lost 3 regular season games and should have lost to Ohio State."

All that is true, but I still go back to, at it's core, I think Nebraska can defeat anybody on their schedule this season. Wisconsin doesn't have Russell Wilson, and the game is in Lincoln.  Michigan still has Denard Robinson, of course, but caught quite a few breaks last season. And almost nobody believes that Northwestern was really better than Nebraska. I'm not predicting 14-0, mind you.  I think they'll lose a couple of games this season and finish the regular season at 11-2, and hopefully go back to the Rose Bowl with a B1G trophy.

Some people say I look at Nebraska with rose-colored glasses; they may have a point. But I also don't look at everything with a negative bias either - even during the Bill Callahan days. Heck, I even sensed a quiet optimism about that horrible 2007 season; boy was I wrong there.

Bo Pelini mentioned playing for championships this morning at the Big Red Breakfast, which reminds me of the 2007 talk about playing for a national championship. Granted Pelini didn't use the "national" context, but what's wrong with talking about playing for championships?  Shouldn't that be the goal?  And the Big Ten championship is something that certainly is in reach for this year's squad.  It's a tough schedule, mind you...but there's nobody on that schedule that the Huskers cannot beat.  (The reverse is also true: outside of Idaho State, there isn't anybody on that schedule that the Huskers cannot lose to.)

I'm not feeling down about Taylor Martinez; he improved dramatically in his game management abilities at the end of last season.  If his ankle is finally recovered and he's improved his fundamentals for his passing, he can seriously be the best quarterback in the conference.  (Martinez's numbers aren't that much behind Denard Robinson.)  I want to see if Jamal Turner is finally ready to show us all of the talent that wowed us in the 2011 spring game. It sounds like he's ready to be a full-time player and not to be a liability without the ball.

Will we see depth evolve on the offensive line?  Will I see the second-teamers able to spell the first-teamers in the second quarter?  Keeping guys fresh up front builds depth and wears down defenses. Will we see Imani Cross at I-back?   Can Ameer Abdullah or Braylon Heard be trusted to give Rex Burkhead a break during games?

Last year's biggest problem was the defense, in my opinion.  I don't think Pelini has forgotte how to coach defense, but something wasn't right last year.  Even without Lavonte David, I think this team could be better on defense if only because I think they'll be better coached.  I'm anxious to see what the Rich Kaczenski and Terry Joseph bring to the table.  Kaczensi has an impressive record of turning out NFL talent at Iowa, and with last year's injury plagued bunch, I'm looking for a major jump in production up front.

In the secondary, it just seemed that Corey Raymond just never clicked with Pelini or the players. Players were out of position too often.  Can Joseph fix that?  I think he's built a better relationship with his players, and I'm excited to see the new guys.  Everyone knows about Mo Seisay, but I'm more curious about the Jacksons.  Harvey caught my eye in last year's spring game, and Charles is an up-and-coming youngster.

Tomorrow it all begins. I'm still on record wishing that the season didn't begin until the week after Labor Day, but that's just me.  I'd love to have one final long weekend before football begins, but if the money says we have to start this weekend, start this weekend we will.

I'm not buying Ralph Russo's prediction; with Southern Miss starting a quarterback who's never thrown a college pass and a few questions on defense (outside of defensive end Jamie Collins; watch for #8), I'm predicting a 38-9 Nebraska victory.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Meaningless 2012 Preseason BlogPoll Ballot

I really hate preseason polls; they are meaningless predictions at best...but those preseason predictions become the baseline for future polls. In the past, I've tried to ignore it, but this year, I'm throwing in my meaningless ballot to counteract some of the misguided hype I read elsewhere.  So this is a bold ballot and mostly a crapshoot. But I'll tell you why I've ranked some teams where they are.  Disagree if you want. Better yet, tell me why.  I'll reflect on it and take it into consideration when the polls start for real next week.

On all of these, I stand to be corrected.  Oregon is #1.  Why?  Just a hunch, and only that.  A lot of hype went to USC and I'm not sure Alabama is a lock to repeat.  I'm wishy-washy here, but I'll throw some love towards someone who isn't getting any.  Once the season actually kicks off, this will almost certainly change.

LSU still #4?  Honey Badger don't care...and the Tigers have enough talent to overcome his special teams magic.

Nebraska #13? I think a lot of people are dismissing Nebraska because they seem to disappoint each year.  Yet we see other recent disappointments like Texas and Notre Dame getting votes...and sometimes ranking them higher than Nebraska.  Have a little consistency folks; just what has Texas done to warrant a top 15 preseason ranking?

Ohio #21?  Hey, some call them a BCS darkhorse. They have just as much right to be here as the Bovines.

Who's not here?

Michigan State.

Ahh, Sparty.  The great defense, led by freak William Ghoulston...and defense wins championships.  True.  But you've got to have some offense, and the Spartans don't have one.  Or at least one that's played college football.  Andrew Maxwell hasn't even seen much garbage time at quarterback  Their top returning wide receiver caught four passes last year after switching from cornerback at midseason.  Yeah, Le'Veon Bell and four starters return on the line, but let's be honest.  Calling the Spartans inexperienced on offense is being generous.

Boise State

Kellen Moore and company are long gone.  They might be ranked eventually, especially if they take down Sparty.  But not for now.


Give me a reason other than "recruiting" and we'll talk.

Ohio State

Probation.  I have to learn to be more consistent about either including them or not.  They're out for now.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Lunchtime Thoughts: Solich & Ohio in the BCS

Sports Illustrated's Holly Anderson says that the Ohio Bobcats are not only her pick to win the MAC, but also could be a candidate to sneak into the BCS this year. That's right...Frank Solich's team is the consensus pick to win the MAC, and if they can knock off Penn State next Saturday, could set themselves up for a run as a BCS buster.

Can you imagine the carnage in some circles (I'm thinking the BRB insiders still cloistered in their parents' basement, holding seances to channel Bill Callahan here...) if Solich gets Ohio to a BCS bowl.  More seriously, does that put additional pressure on Bo Pelini if the Huskers can't get to a BCS bowl this season?

Best answer to that is to remove all doubt and win this year.  Then hopefully we'll see both the Huskers and the Bobcats in BCS bowl games.  (Preferably not the same, unless it's the second game in Miami...)  (H/T to NET/BTN's Kevin Kugler for this one.)

Well, we're four weeks from the apparent kickoff of the Omaha Nighthawks season, and can't you buy tickets yet, we still don't even know where the games will be played.  We know that the Nighthawks have started to hold tryout camps, so something is definitely happening.  But can the Nighthawks actually pull everything together in the time remaining? Five weeks ago, they announced they were playing and now halfway to the season opener, we still don't have any idea where or how to get tickets.

If you were looking for a plan to show the people of Omaha this is going to work out long term, well, this ain't it.

The rumor mill is heating up over at MavPuck that a new arena announcement for Nebraska-Omaha could be forthcoming in the next couple of months.  Many UNO fans are ecstatic with the news; I'm more concerned than enthusiastic at this point.  I've grow increasingly concerned that UNO is building an arena for the wrong reasons:  escape MECA and downsize capacity.  Downsizing capacity means fewer hockey fans paying more to attend games.  That's a huge negative to me.

Maybe UNO has figured out a solution to build an appropriately sized arena (10,000 capacity) without fleecing Maverick fans.  But I'm skeptical because the rumor mill hasn't indicated that the past plans for a too-small arena have been fixed.  The devil is in the details, of course.  I simply don't find news of a UNO arena to be "good" or "positive" until I finally hear that UNO isn't just building whatever they might be able to afford.  When UNO hockey is averaging 8,000 fans a game downtown, who in their right mind thinks a 7,500 seat arena is sufficient?  (Ooh!  Ahhh!  Smaller than the Knights place!)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sharp & Peter A Morning Upgrade for 1620 AM

It's a little premature to cast a verdict on the KOZN-1620 AM radio's new morning show after two weeks, but so far, it's looking like a huge upgrade for "The Zone".  For starters, I love having local sports talk on the AM drive.  I've never understood why Omaha's sports talk radio stations have gone with the national shows in the morning.  Mike and Mike, I kind of understand, but the revolving sewer of total tripe that Fox Sports flushes across the nation's radio waves makes it difficult to understand why nobody hasn't tried to go after the morning drive.

The new combination of Gary Sharp and Jason Peter have a lot more substance than their predecessors, Matt Schick and Nick Bahe. "Schick and Nick" sometimes seemed to veer towards goofball "Morning Zoo" radio, which some people seemed to enjoy.  After a while, it got tiring though.

The real judge will be in September once football season starts. Neither Sharp nor Jason Peter are known for pulling their punches, so it'll be interesting to hear their takes once the season starts. Peter apparently had a reputation from his Lincoln radio days of being excessively negative, but so far, he's seemed to justify his criticism in his negative comments so far.

Speaking of Lincoln radio, Nick Bahe has found a new radio home in Lincoln on 93.7 FM "The Ticket" on the afternoon drive. (Is there a market for talking Creighton and Kansas basketball in Lincoln? I jest, I jest!) So essentially, Omaha traded Bahe to Lincoln for Jason Peter. I think that's a major upgrade for Omaha personally.

And I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that ESPN formally introduced Matt Schick as the primetime studio host on ESPNU during college football season on Saturday nights. Since I don't get ESPNU, I'll have to take others opinions about Schick's performance on the national stage.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday Night Beer: Husker Depth Chart

Many Husker fans are treating Tyler Moore's departure from Lincoln as an indictment of assistant head coach Barney Cotton. Of course, almost all of them already had a negative opinion of Cotton.  I understand why; the offensive line has been inconsistent while he's been at Nebraska.  He could blame some of that on his predecessors originally, but now we're in year five.  The statute of limitations on blaming Bill Callahan and his staff has passed.

But when you read Brian Moore's comments to the Lincoln Journal-Star, this situation might actually give Cotton some job security:
"But I will say this, he loves Bo (Pelini) and he loves Coach (Tim) Beck, and we're still in regular contact with Bo and Coach Beck trying to work through this whole thing.”
It doesn't take much to read behind the lines...and that's the rub. Ideally, the Moores and the Nebraska coaching staff can resolve any issues and Moore returns to Lincoln int he spring.  But what if the problem is, in fact, his position coaches?  (Barney Cotton haters need to remember that John Garrison and Brendan Stai also coach the offensive linemen.)  Would Bo Pelini dismiss his assistants because a highly recruited player didn't like him?

Of course not. That would be an incentive for any player who has an issue with his assistant coach to threaten to leave in an attempt to force the coach out of a job.  No player should have that power - especially in college, where recruiting has led many players to have a sense of entitlement.  And thus, Moore's public comments only give Pelini more reason to keep his assistants instead of changing his staff.

That being said, if there are true issues with the assistant coaches, Pelini will need to act.  But pressure from players cannot be a factor in that decision.

In any event, it sounds like Brent Qvale was certainly pushing Tyler Moore, and may have actually passed Moore on the depth chart in the early part of preseason practice.  We'll see if that's a good sign or not next month.  No matter what you think about Cotton, Nebraska's offensive line needs to make a jump forward this fall.

Speaking of the depth chart, it seems that true freshman Tommy Armstrong is pushing Brion Carnes to be the backup this fall.  That's a good news situation, because it's always good to have depth...especially at quarterback when you are asking a quarterback to run the ball a lot.  But what does that say about Carnes, who supposedly turned the corner this spring?  The fact that Armstrong is doing this after just one week of practice is not a good sign for Carnes.  Maybe this is a sign that the distance between Taylor Martinez and Carnes is even greater than we thought.

And if that's the case, that makes last season's call for Martinez to be benched even more absurd.  Somewhere in central Nebraska, there's a city missing it's idiot.  Not that he cares, he's positive he's a smart guy !

Of course, this could all be coach speak to give Armstrong some confidence and push Carnes. We won't really know until we see them both in a game.  And that might not be until Idaho State...and even then, maybe not. Should Armstrong play in some garbage time or redshirt this season. The answer might depend on how healthy the coaches think Martinez will be this season, and how solid the coaches think Johnny Stanton is committed to the Huskers.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Quoting Pelini Out of Context Getting to Be A Pattern for the World-Herald

Dirk Chatelain had some good observations in today's World-Herald about Bo Pelini's recent comments about his players dealing with the hype that surrounds Husker football in Nebraska. He's absolutely right that Nebraska football dealt with even greater scrutiny in 1995, especially with the Lawrence Phillips controversy. He's absolutely right that the scrutiny that top college football teams face today is even greater than that.

And it's the job of Bo Pelini to train his players to deal with that.  Absolutely spot on.

But you know what's funny about all that?  If Bo Pelini were to actually read that comment, he'd probably agree.  In fact, he'd probably say something like "in other news, water is wet and it's effin' hot in Nebraska this summer."

Chatelain was likely referring to this quote from Pelini at Big Ten Media Days in July:
“You tell your players: Don’t read the blogs, don’t do this and that. But they’re human, they hear it, they see it.“I as much worry about it when things are going good as when things are going bad … because they ride the waves.You guys know. Not just the media, but I’m talking with the fan base, or in town. You play good and you’re the ’85 Bears. You lose and the sky is falling. Or you don’t play well and the world’s coming to an end. There’s not a lot of middle ground.”
But he missed this one that his co-worker Sam McKewon provided:
“That is a challenge here. But it's just the way it is. It's not going away. The fans' passion for it, and media, that's a positive. But there are issues with that, too, that relate to our football team and how you keep them focused.” 
Both Chatelain and World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel disregarded Pelini's statement that fan passion is a positive...and wrote the exact opposite.

I never read Chatelain's original blog post from last week; I simply don't read Chatelain anymore. At times, he just writes some of the most ridiculous and absurd things. But I do subscribe to the daily World-Herald, and they recapped it in Sunday's print edition, and stumbled into the headline before realizing it was Chatelain's work.  The headline in the paper was "Fan passion not a disadvantage", which frankly isn't that different from "the fans' passion for it, and media, that's a positive," but Chatelain tried to spin it to be different.

Unfortunately, a lot of people do read the Sunday World-Herald, and now, for the second week in a row, the World-Herald has taken something Pelini said out of context and twisted it 180 degrees from what was actually said.

Was this mistake a coincidence? Is it merely trying to manufacture a controversy?  Or is this sour grapes for Pelini's dressdown of Chatelain after the Ohio State game?  No matter how you look at it, the World-Herald's attempt to double-down on this bogus storyline really makes the daily fishwrap look bad.

And if you come across a Husker fan who only read the World-Herald's version of this report, do what Chatelain and Shatel didn't, and give them the rest of Bo Pelini's comments on the situation.

Friday, August 03, 2012

In 2013, the Cox Classic Moves to Berkshire Weekend?

Tom Shatel reported yesterday that next year's Cox Classic is moving to the spring to avoid the Senior US Open...specifically the first weekend in May.  He talked about how the party would change with it running on the same weekend as the Kentucky Derby.

That's all fine and good...but it won't be the big thing in Omaha that weekend.

The first weekend in May is the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting.  Hotels and restaurants in town are jammed as upwards of 40,000 shareholders come to experience Omaha.  That's probably not a big deal for the golf course, but how would Omaha handle two major events simultaneously?  Sure, Omaha hosted the Olympic Swim Trials and the College World Series simultaneously this year, but that was a combined crowd of 37,000.  Berkshire Weekend is an all-weekend party, much like the Cox Classic...and the Berkies outnumber the combined swim and baseball attendance by themselves.

I don't know what the hotel requirements are for the Cox Classic, but hotel rooms are in short supply during this weekend.  Flights out after the event will also be an issue as the Capitalists will be departing at the same time as the golfers.

Maybe that's the only opening on the tour next season, but other than during the College World Series, I'm not sure you could find a worse weekend to move the golf tournament to.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Omaha Nighthawks Have a Schedule (& Maybe a Coach)

 The UFL announced an eight week season for 2012, with all games televised by CBS Sports Network.  (That's the cable network formerly known as CBS College Sports and CSTV, not the over the air network you see on KMTV-Channel 3.)  Omaha will play home games against Virginia twice, and will travel to Las Vegas twice.  Here's the schedule, with all times central:

Friday Sept. 21: Virginia, 6 p.m.
Friday Sept. 28: at Sacramento, 10 p.m.
Wednesday Oct. 3: at Las Vegas, 8 p.m.
Friday Oct. 12: Virginia, 6 p.m.
Wednesday  Oct. 17: Las Vegas, 8 p.m.
Tuesday Oct. 23: Sacramento, 8 p.m.
Wednesday Oct. 31: at Las Vegas, 8 p.m.
Friday Nov. 9: at Virginia, 8:30 p.m.

With the television contract, it's no surprise that games won't be played on Saturday.  Obviously the game times are set by CBS; I'm sure Virginia fans are excited for a 9:30 pm kickoff locally

We still don't know where the Nighthawks will play for sure, but all signs point towards TD Ameritrade Park downtown. Both MECA and the UFL indicate that's what's being discussed...but it's not finalized yet. Frankly, it would be a major fail for both institutions to not come to an agreement. It's not like the baseball stadium is in use for anything else, and there really isn't another viable option in the area.  Both organizations kind of need the other, so it's likely going to happen.

And without a stadium, you can't sell tickets.  And with the first game 7 weeks away, that's a daunting task. They won't be able to raise prices this season...and probably need to offer season ticketholders a price advantage to buying the full slate.  Why would someone buy season tickets after the fiasco of the previous season?  I'd suggest setting season ticket prices back at 2010 levels, with single game prices higher.  The UFL needs quantity of fans to bring back the mojo of 2010.

Mixed news on the coaching front. It's reported that offensive coordinator Bart Andrus is being promoted to head coach, which shouldn't be a surprise.  Not that the Nighthawks had a great season in 2011, but they frankly don't have the luxury of looking around to find another coach.  Andrus previously was a head coach in the CFL and NFL Europe.  In 2009, Andrus went 3-15 leading the Toronto Argonauts.  From 2001 through 2007, Andrus coached the Amsterdam Admirals, going 34-36 and winning the 2005 World Bowl.  The Admirals lost the 2006 World Bowl.  NFL Europe folded after the 2007.  Andrus also was an assistant with the Tennessee Titans from 1997 through 1999, and then again in 2008.

So we'll have pro football somewhere around Omaha this fall.  But will the fans return?  The excitement of 2010 is long gone, and the stench of 2011 still lingers.  Fans will need a lot of encouragement to put there heart and wallets behind the Nighthawks, and there isn't much time for the UFL to convince fans that this is a long term proposition.