Monday, October 29, 2012

BlogPoll Week 9 Ballot: Convinced on Notre Dame

A couple of weeks ago, I drew the ire of Notre Dame fans for considering the Irish's overtime victory over Stanford as a tie. I'm still convinced that Notre Dame didn't win that game, as the officials missed the Cardinal's game-tying touchdown to end the game prematurely. However, it's impossible to dismiss Notre Dame's victory over Oklahoma in Norman this weekend.  I no longer can separate Notre Dame from the other BCS contenders at this point, so they make the big jump this week.

Lots of teams are out this week for their own version of suckage.  That creates lots of openings for new teams, including Nebraska at #19.  Sounds a little high at first, but the BCS standings spot the Big Red at #20.  And who goes ahead of Nebraska at this point?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Blackshirts Awarded on Weasel Stomping Day

Some Husker fans may doubt that this same defense that got torched by UCLA and Ohio State deserves Blackshirts, but the Blackshirts are now in the possession of the Nebraska defense after a second strong defensive performance in a row. Some will want to throw an asterisk on this performance due to Denard Robinson's injury.  If you choose to asterisk that performance, that's your prerogative.

I'll disagree with you, though.  It's true that Robinson's absence pretty much eliminated any chance Michigan had to win the game, but Nebraska had the lead at that point, and furthermore, Nebraska had the lead on the stat sheet at that point.  The Blackshirts were defending Robinson and Michigan pretty well in the first half, so unlike the folks on BTN's Final Drive claimed, the injury didn't change the game.

It probably did seal the victory for Nebraska. It's unfair to compare redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Bellomy to Joe Bauserman, the Ohio State senior quarterback who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn last year...but it's a comparison that's hard to ignore.  Bellomy probably is a little more mobile than Bauserman, but also more inexperienced.  A 3 for 14 performance passing - with three interceptions - pretty much eliminated any opportunity for Michigan to come back.

Last week, Nebraska had multiple opportunities to intercept Northwestern passes, but tonight, Nebraska capitalized on them.  Nice to see the secondary finally coming away with the ball, and more importantly, Nebraska coming out +1 in turnover margin.

Many will criticize the productivity of the offense, but that conveniently ignores that in conference action, Michigan stands atop almost every major defensive statistical category:  scoring defense, total defense, and passing defense.  The one category they don't lead is rushing defense, where Michigan trails Ohio State by 1.2 yards a game.

Taylor Martinez had another solid, warrior performance.  He got stripped of a ball just before halftime when he probably was down, and getting bent over backwards as well.  Listening to postgame radio coverage, I didn't realize that Martinez injured his ankle on the play, which makes his second half play even more impressive.  His interception was an underthrow; he was trying to get the ball to a wide open Tim Marlowe on third down....but credit Michigan for tipping the ball for the interception.

Biggest disappointment on offense to me was center Justin Jackson; a personal foul penalty for a chop block and several bad shotgun snaps. Maybe Jackson is doing a good job elsewhere on his blocking, but all season long, it's been an adventure for Taylor Martinez taking a snap, and it's not his fault that his center is channeling Phil Niekro.

After the game, several players were sporting the Blackshirts which they finally earned. Bo Pelini takes way too much criticism over the Blackshirt tradition.  The idea that Pelini doesn't believe in the Blackshirt tradition is just plain ass-backwards; if anything, Pelini has made the tradition stronger.  Under Bo Pelini, the Blackshirt is something that you have to earn.  Last week, Pelini apparently tried to award the Blackshirts, but the defensive players turned them down, saying they hadn't earned them yet. How refreshing is that accountability?  Remember how Kevin Cosgrove sported the black in 2007? 

So now Nebraska controls it's own destiny to be the West division champion and head to the Big Ten championship game.  It's not a lock, by any means.  Michigan State's defense is probably better than Michigan's...and the game is on the road.  Penn State is saltier than anybody expected, and Minnesota is improved as well.  And while Iowa is really struggling this season, the Hawkeyes always seem to beat somebody they shouldn't.  Both 4-0 and 0-4 in the final month of the season are not out of the realm of possibility.

But enough of that.  As Nebraska-Omaha hockey fans can attest, any day that you beat the Weasels of Michigan is a great day.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Is Michigan A "Must Win" Game for Bo Pelini?

CornNation's Jon Johnston calls this year's Nebraska vs. Michigan game the biggest of Bo Pelini's career.  It reminds me of an past conversation with AJ the Huskerh8r and whether this is a "must win" game.  In 2006, Nebraska was muddling through year three of the Bill Callahan experiment; was beating Missouri a "must"?  I didn't think so at that time...though it was getting pretty close.  (And for what it's worth, Nebraska and Callahan did just that in 2006.)

Is this the case in 2012 with Michigan?  I tend to lean towards the same answer, but the circumstances are different.  2012 Michigan is much better than 2006 Missouri.   2012 Nebraska is much better than 2006 Nebraska as well.  But the circumstances do parallel.  The Big XII North wasn't terribly strong in 2006...just like the Big Ten's West division in 2012.  And you do have a fan base that isn't completely sold on the head coach.

Bill Callahan was able to skate through his first few years by merely showing progress each year from his inept first season.  Bo Pelini's fourth season wasn't an improvement on his third, and if Nebraska loses to the Weasels at home, it's going to be impossible to show improvement from 2009 and 2010.  Nevermind that every one of Pelini's teams has been better than any of Bill Callahan's teams; Husker fans aren't satisfied with the current level of the program.  "Better than Bill Callahan" is not necessarily an achievement.

Win this game, and Nebraska is 6-2.  Bowl eligible, and in the driver's seat for a trip to the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.  That's a clear sign of progress IMHO.

Lose, and Nebraska is 5-3.  Almost no chance to make it to Indianapolis, and needing to win out just to have a nine-win season.  Nine wins almost seems like the bare minimum for Husker football; heck, nine wins wasn't enough to save Frank Solich's job.

Can Nebraska beat Michigan?  Absolutely, but the maddening mistakes need to be cleaned up first.  Last week, many of them were, but new ones sprung up in special teams.  Nebraska has the best offense in the Big Ten, and the defense has shown signs of being closer to what Nebraska needs.  (Second half against Wisconsin, first quarter against Ohio State, and most of the Northwestern game.)  Meanwhile, Michigan has been blasted by the good teams they've played and overwhelmed the bad ones.
It's not a guaranteed win.  Nothing is for sure with this Nebraska team.  But it's a game they can win.  More importantly, it's a game they really need to win.  Not quite a must win....but really a need to win game.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nighthawks and Red Sky Depart Downtown

The UFL has once again cut short it's season; this time, after four weeks.  Is this the death knell for minor league football in Omaha?  Probably not, but the UFL is absolutely going through it's death throes. This time, the UFL says they'll finish this season in the spring.  Nearly everybody will probably chuckle at that prospect, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them try.  This might be an attempt to gauge the interest in another spring football league.

Spring football will be difficult to manage in Omaha, though. TD Ameritrade Park won't be available for the Nighthawks, so they'll have to find another venue to play in.  The NCAA doesn't mind football being played after the College World Series...but they will mind the CWS playing field being torn up by football players.  So that's not happening.  Where would they play?  Most likely, Burke High School would be the site.  The jumbotron from Rosenblatt is already installed there, and the stadium can hold crowds of 10,000, as the state high school track meet can attest.  With the crowds they've drawn this season, you could even try setting up portable bleachers around the field at the Salvation Army's Kroc Center.  Problem with both of those suggestions is that beer sales wouldn't be supported at either location.

The Trailer Park out in BFE might be an option, though it's questionable whether a football field could fit into the playing field.  UNO played a soccer game there last fall, but it was a non-regulation field.  The outfield fence at the Trailer Park is 310 feet, versus 335 feet downtown; not sure there's room for a field.  It would allow beer, and the capacity would be more than sufficent for the crowds the Nighthawks have been drawing.

But the sad fact is that there is no point in the Nighthawks resuming play until the owners can show how this league can be viable.  Fans are voting with their wallets; there's no point in spending money on tickets if you have no assurance the games will be played.  Or if the players and coaches will be paid, for that matter. I was shocked when the UFL's owners tried to play this season despite having little organization and no marketing.  Will they actually try it in the spring?  My guess is that they will, based on what they tried this year.  But should they?  It's not worth trying at this point, from my perspective.  Not if the UFL is going to try to operate this way.  There is a market for pro football in Omaha, but not when it's run like this.

That wasn't the last shutdown recently at the downtown ballpark.  MECA and LiveNation pulled the plug on the Red Sky "Festival" last week.  That wasn't much of a surprise either; the first two festivals were a mishmash of different acts with no consistency.  I'm not sure how hard MECA tried to make this festival really work; it would have required a greater investment  and a willingness to lose money to establish a presence in this market.  Spend more on artists than you take in with ticket sales, and make it something that excites people.  Build that market, then try to wean it off a subsidy.  Come up with a theme so that it's a regional draw to bring in music fans in a demographic to take the effort to travel to Omaha.  It doesn't matter if it's indy rock, heavy metal, or country...just something that people would want to spend 4 days to watch.

It's a big venue that's underutilized.  That doesn't make it a "white elephant" though.  The ballpark was built for the College World Series, and it serves that purpose very, very well.  The NCAA is happy with it, and the CWS alone justifies Omaha's investment in it.  But it would sure be nice to have something else in that stadium after the Fourth of July.  Even independent league baseball would be better than nothing; we've been told that people attend baseball for the experience and not the quality of play.  And while the Trailer Park features the $5 merry-go-round, some people might be more interested in an experience that has restaurants and other entertainment options within walking distance.

Monday, October 22, 2012

BlogPoll Ballot Week 8: Staying with Alabama

Matt Hinton, the "Sunday Morning Quarterback" asked a rhetorical question this morning that made me stop and think about Alabama.  I've been operating under the fog of 'Bama's whitewashing of Michigan, Arkansas, and Missouri -- and just putting them at the top of the ballot by default. Hinton thinks Florida or Kansas State really deserve to be ranked on top.
He does have a point.  Kansas State beat Oklahoma, and Florida just demolished an injury-riddled South Carolina team.  But both teams have "hmmm" games on their list:  Kansas State's six point win over Iowa State, and Florida has a 13 point win over Bowling Green.  Alabama has been consistently impressive all season I'm keeping them on top.
I'm giving South Carolina a bit of a pass for losing to Florida with an injury-riddled squad, though South Carolina probably gave that game away at the Swamp.  Or maybe I just want to stick it to Notre Dame for protesting so vehemently last week. :-)

West Virginia was exposed as a fraud, so they are out of the rankings.  Arizona State usually would have fallen further, but I was struggling for teams to add to the rankings.  So they fall just 3 spots.  Louisiana Tech probably deserves some recognition for being 6-1, so in they go.  I hated to rank Boise State, but couldn't come up with anybody else.  Heck, I even considered listing Nebraska here...but held off for one more week. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Nebraska It's Own Worst Enemy Against Northwestern

Bo Pelini has often mentioned execution as Nebraska's biggest problem this season...and once again, it was Nebraska's biggest problem today.  If Nebraska executes today...this game isn't close.  Nebraska probably wins something like 45-14. 

You can summarize why this game was ever in doubt with this statistic:  Nebraska, three turnovers; Northwestern, zero.

We've heard calls for Taylor Martinez to be benched during the bye week, and criticism for failing to acknowledge the turnovers against Ohio State.  Fair enough.  But actions speak louder than words, and Martinez was on the money today.  Nearly 70% completion percentage, clutch runs, and magically trying to salvage that drive at the start of the fourth quarter.

"NegaTaylors" better watch out, though it's still early in the evening, but look for Martinez to earn some player of the week nominations on Monday.

The blooper reel from this game will be long and painful to watch.  Daimion Stafford's brain-dead personal foul penalty that negated a fumbled Northwestern punt.  Fumbled punts by both Ameer Abdullah and the normally sure-handed Kenny Bell. Tight end blocking calamity by Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton.  That drive at the start of the fourth quarter where Nebraska seemed to be discombobulating in spite of Martinez's magic.

A lot of people were concerned about Nebraska's ability to shut down a mobile quarterback.  Well, the defense did just that this afternoon.  Kain Colter only rushed for 35 yards, and only completed one pass.  He was effectively neutered.  Trevor Siemian wasn't much better, only completing 43% of his passes.  301 total yards on the day, with 80 of them coming on one play.  Will Bo Pelini pull the Blackshirts out of the closet this week?  There's a case to be made to award them after this performance.

It wasn't a perfect performance, mind you.  Nebraska's banged up defensive line played pretty well the whole day.  Nebraska might have gotten lucky on some deep passes, and dropped numerous interceptions.  Want to see improved execution this week?  Look to the defense.

I saw more than one reference to Santino Panico after Kenny Bell's fumbled punt, and that has to be an area of focus this week.  Not screw up there, and this game isn't even close.

Will we see Rex Burkhead again this season?  We'll see how he responds, but it might be best to shut him down for a few weeks and let his knee heal up...especially if he can't be ready to go for the next two games.

The Huskers survived game one of a three game stretch that will make or break this season.  You can look pessimistically at the three turnovers and the one point Escape in Evanston.  Or you can look at Nebraska's domination on the stat sheet and see signs of optimism.  Total yards:  544 to 301.  202 yards rushing to just 180 for Northwestern. 69% passing completion to just 43%.

Yeah, Nebraska can win these next two games.  Not if they continue to screw up the way they did today, mind you.  But if Nebraska makes plays like they did in the second half in roaring back against Northwestern, the Huskers can survive and advance.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mavs Blast Northern Michigan 5-2

My first impression of tonight's hockey game between UNO and Northern Michigan is that the Wildcats might be one of the worst team's I've seen play in quite some time.  UNO pretty much dominated the play the entire night; final shots on goal were 41-13.  At one time in the 2nd period, UNO held a 3-0 lead, and Northern Michigan only had two shots on goal.


So I went to see just how bad Northern Michigan is...and saw that the Wildcats swept Wisconsin last weekend in Green Bay to open the season.  The Wildcats are ranked #17 in the USCHO poll this week.


So did Northern Michigan just have a bad night tonight, or were the Mavs simply on fire tonight?   No way to know, but suddenly, that 5-2 win looks a lot better than it did when I left the CenturyLink Center. UNO simply skated around and through the Wildcats all night long and controlled the puck for long stretches of the game. Northern did manage to get a couple of rushes put together in the game, and those led to both Wildcat goals.  Probably not a good sign for senior UNO goalie John Faulkner, though he probably could have taken a Northwestern cat-nap in goal much of the evening.

UNO wore alternate uniforms that seemed to have the logos everywhere they could stick them on the jersey...and didn't put names on the back.  Bad move for the first game of the season; there was a bunch of "who's that guy" thoughts for the night. They looked kind of amaturish with logos stuffed anywhere they could...featuring a little "Mavs" tramp-stamp at the bottom of the back.  Whatever.

For the action on the ice, Matt White and Brock Montpetit had strong nights, as did freshman defenseman Nick Seeler.

Closing off the south end upper deck didn't improve...and probably detracted overall from the atmosphere at the game tonight.  Stashing the Red Army behind the students meant much of the sound from the "buckets of boom" were muffled by the empty stands, and the students took a while to get into a rhythm with the chants.  It's the first game in my new seats in the upper deck.  I suppose it's nice to not have to look through the net, but I'd still rather be in my old seats....which happen to sit outside the Hefty bags they've dropped from the ceiling to allegedly improve the atmosphere.

It'll be curious to see how Northern Michigan reacts tomorrow night to getting shelled.  Tonight's game got a little chippy at the end; that's probably a fore-bearer of things to come.

UNO Arena Proposal Goes to Regents Next Week

UNO is asking the NU Board of Regents on Friday, October 26, 2012, to approve a "Letter of Intent" for a $76.3 million project to build an arena just south of Ak-Sar-Ben.  This is the first step towards finalizing any sort of plan; it isn't the final plan.

According to the agenda, the project can be summarized as such:
This agenda item would approve the President entering into a letter of intent with the Developers. The letter of intent would signal the University’s intention to enter into a ground lease, facility lease, and other agreements once the sources of funding and developer financing are identified and the terms are acceptable to both parties. Negotiated ground and facility leases and related University financing documents, if any, will require formal approval by the full Board of Regents.
Of the $76.3 million, $35 million will be donated, $31.3 will be financed by the developer, and $10 million will come from the city of Omaha...presumably for street and utility work.

Who is the developer?  It doesn't say.  Who is donating the money?  It doesn't say.  But what we can say is the $31.3 will ultimately be paid by UNO over the period of time the Mavs are renting the facility from the owner.  Let's assume it's a 25 year arrangement at 4.5% interest:  Borrowing $31.3 million would mean a monthly payment of $173,980, or an annual payment of $2,087,760.

Where does UNO get that money?  Those are the key details that will tell us whether this is a good deal or not...and that information isn't available. UNO won't have to pay rent anymore to MECA for hockey.  UNO will receive all advertising revenue as well as concession revenue.  UNO may receive money for the naming rights for the building, but that may be part of the donated part of the deal. And, of course, UNO will have to take care of all of the maintenance and administration of the new building.

So can you really make an informed decision about this project at this point?  Not so much based on the information we currently have...other than it's a 7,500 seat building for a program that averages 8,000 fans each game.  And that's the rub in my opinion.  Last season, UNO's crowds after Christmas would have far exceed the capacity of this building.  Some point that some people got in for free for those games.  That's probably true...but it's far more likely that the paid attendance most of those games still wouldn't fit into this new arena.

Will this make more sense financially for UNO?  Many fans agree, but then observe that ticket prices are sure to go up moving forward to pay for this. Many have no issue with that, and that almost certainly will depress demand so that a 7500 seat arena might be more than enough for UNO hockey.

But when Dean Blais and Trev Alberts hint to Tom Shatel of the World-Herald that they expect to net around $3 million a year with this new arena, you realize that UNO is looking to gross something more than $5 million a year in revenue.  That means an average of $666 a seat in revenue, folks.

And that's my biggest concern.  UNO hockey tickets already seem to be priced high compared to other local sporting events.  UNO tickets currently start at just over $10 a game.  Lancer tickets in the new Ralston arena cost over $13 a game, but kids pay $10.  Creighton basketball starts at $11 a game.  UNO basketball starts at around $6 a game; Husker basketball starts at around $5 a game.

If UNO ticket prices go up, which nobody seems to dismiss, it doesn't take long to see UNO hockey as the most expensive ticket in the area short of Husker football.  Already, lower bowl season tickets cost more than Nebraska football tickets on a season-long basis.  (Granted, UNO hockey is 20-23 games versus 7 Husker home games.)

So is this arrangement too expensive for UNO?  Maybe it is...or isn't for the school.

It might be for the fans of UNO hockey.  Hockey's popularity was always based on drawing fans from a blue-collar background.  The expectations for revenue coming out of Sapp Fieldhouse are anything but blue collar.

Monday, October 15, 2012

BlogPoll: Rethinking Some Assumptions

One team I'm changing my mind on is Oregon State; yes, they were bad last year, but it's hard to dispute that they are playing really well in 2012.  So I'm giving them a big boost in the rankings.

One team I'm not changing my mind on is Notre Dame; in fact, in light of the gift they received from the officials in overtime, I'm counting yesterday's game as essentially a guess what, the Irish drop in my rankings.  Eventually, the luck of the Irish is going to run out.

Notre Dame fans are already hollering though.  Congratulations on being undefeated...but let's put that in perspective.  3 B1G victories isn't all that noteworthy this season.

Yes, I'm keeping South Carolina ahead of LSU.  I know, I know...scoreboard...but deep down, I think the Gamecocks are the better team at this point.  LSU just had their number on Saturday night.

West Virginia didn't even show up against Texas Tech, so they fall...and fall badly.  Iowa State stays ranked for challenging a top five team...that, and not being sure who to move into the rankings. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

UNO Arena Plans Too Small, Too Expensive

Trev Alberts and UNO plan to propose a 7,500 seat arena south of Aksarben Village for Maverick hockey, basketball, and volleyball.  If approved, UNO could begin play in a campus-adjacent facility in 2015 or 2016.  The cost of the project would be $65 to $80 million, and would not require direct funding from the state of Nebraska or city of Omaha, except for street and utility improvements.  UNO could, though, lease the facility from a private entity, who could use tax-increment or state turn-back financing, where revenues from the surrounding area are used to fund the project.

Let's make one thing clear:  this is NOT an on-campus facility.  It's certainly closer to UNO's campus than the Century Link Center in downtown Omaha...but it's not on campus.  It's approximately 2 miles south of the main UNO campus on Dodge Street, and about a half-mile from the south campus where UNO's Peter Kiewit Institute and College of Business Administration sit.  It's actually closer to the College of Saint Mary than any UNO facilities.

The idea of a UNO arena at 64th & Center Street has some advantages.  It's gives UNO a facility they cannot be bumped from, which has been a problem at times for Maverick hockey.  They can have a practice facility adjacent to the arena so that the team doesn't have to lug their equipment across town from various facilities to practice, even when the arena is being used for something else.  It makes it closer to campus and more likely for students to attend.

But the size is too small for UNO hockey.  UNO has averaged 8,000 fans a game the last couple of seasons; a 7,500 seat arena creates artificial sellouts by limiting attendance below actual interest.  The World-Herald reports that UNO only sells about 5,000 tickets, on average, per game. Some of those are freebies that are distributed to supporters.  Many of those are student tickets, which really should continue to be free in a new arena to develop the atmosphere, which is one of the reasons why some fans clamor for a new arena.

Some UNO fans still clamor for the "good 'ol days" of playing in the Civic Auditorium and the days of raucous crowds.  There were some raucous crowds at the Civic.  The "Tuesday Night" play-in game in UNO's third season may set the bar.  Alex Nikiforuk's 6 second skate through Michigan's Jack Johnson nearly blew the roof off.  But those were the exception, rather than the rule.  UNO's "Red Army" "first rose against the tyranny of silence" at the Civic Auditorium.  Yes, at the Civic.  Meanwhile, there have been some fantastic crowds at the CenturyLink Center that have rivaled the atmosphere at the Civic.

How will UNO pay for this?  My guess is that UNO will find a private owner for the facility, and UNO will rent the building from this private owner.  The private owner will use tax revenue generated by Aksarben Village (thus putting some of the cost on taxpayers through a tax shift) to help pay for it.  Ticket prices will undoubtedly increase, though Alberts steadfastly assures that "We're not going to double ticket prices to pay for it."  They will go up.  Period.

And they will sell beer.  Yay, beer.

The devil is in the details, but from what I've seen, I see more negatives than positives on this.  7,500 puts an artificial cap on UNO hockey and is an admission that UNO hockey is as big as it can ever be.  That's disappointing.  I don't know how the financing is going to work out, but it looks like a negative as well.  More expensive for fans, more expensive for taxpayers.

Some UNO fans are extremely happy to hear these plans are finally moving forward.

I am not.

Friday, October 12, 2012

UNO Hockey Season Begins Tonight

The Mavs drop the puck on the 2012-13 season tonight in Kansas City with the Icebreaker tournament.  I get the feeling this is not going to be a successful tournament attendance-wise at the Sprint Center, as I only see a handful of UNO fans making the three hour drive down I-29.  I can't imagine a large local crowd either.  Tonight's game is against Army and will be televised on the NBC Sports cable network at 9 pm.

Tomorrow night, the Mavs will face off against either Miami Maine or Notre Dame.  If UNO wins tonight, UNO will play at 6:30 PM Saturday for the Icebreaker championship, which will also be televised by the NBC Sports Network. A UNO loss tonight means the Mavs will play at 3:30 pm Saturday afternoon with no television coverage.

You have to expect UNO to come out with a victory against the "Black Knights of the Hudson", as UNO color commentator Terry Leahy will use to describe Army about three dozen times tonight.  Army finished last season 5-23-7 against a fairly weak Atlantic Hockey schedule.  But it's the first game of a new season, so you have to expect the unexpected.

I joined most UNO hockey fans, it seems, in skipping Monday night's exhibition game against Lethbridge which apparently was best described as disjointed.  Not sure what to read of it.  I am concerned about the loss of Jayson Megna and Terry Broadhurst to the pros this offseason; when Matt White has to step in to center the top line, you have to expect some growing pains this season. They'll have to solidify quickly tonight, because No. 8 Miami No. 20 Maine or No. 14 Notre Dame will not be pushovers.  Get a split this weekend in Kansas City, and it's an OK start to this hockey season.  Come away with the trophy, and start getting excited.