Thursday, August 29, 2013

Preseason Big Ten Power Poll Ballot

With the death of the BlogPoll, the CN staff decided to implement a staff "PowerPoll" of the Big Ten teams. In the interests of full disclosure, here's my preseason ballot.  Remember, this is a "Power Poll", which ranks the teams in terms of perceived strength  Because each team plays a different schedule, it doesn't necessarily mean that this is a predicted order of finish.  And because it's preseason, it's all just a guess.

1: Ohio State

With Braxton Miller back after an undefeated season, it's hard to vote anybody else on top at this point.

2: Nebraska

Most of the offense is back, which should be even better in 2013. And I'm cautiously optimistic about the defense; no, Bo Pelini didn't forget how to coach defense. He may have made some mistakes in recruiting early on; let's see if he's figured it out.

3: Michigan

The Weasels are the trendy pick, but I have enough questions about their running backs, receivers, and secondary this season. And that's even assuming that Jake Ryan returns at 100% in October...which I really doubt.

4: Northwestern

The Wildcats are a team you want to rank higher, but I can't get over how Nebraska dominated them last year - outside of the special teams debacle.  Look at that stat sheet again if you can't look past the final score.

5: Wisconsin

Despite a new Bert-free coaching staff, I don't see the Badgers dropping significantly.

6: Penn State

I don't know when the Sandusky-scandal sanctions will finally take hold, but Bill O'Brien is a heck of a coach.  Underestimate Penn State at your own risk.

7: Michigan State

That defense is amazingly good.  But that offense is amazingly putrid.  Last season, LeVeon Bell salvaged the offense, and he's off to the NFL.  If anybody thinks that Andrew Maxwell is going to be any better in 2013, just remember that the quarterback competition went from a two-man race to a three-man competition to a four-man "Can anybody throw a decent pass" debacle.  They say when you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one.  What does it mean when you have four?  Simple.  It's a mess.  I reserve the right to upgrade Sparty if they decide to burn Damion Terry's redshirt and play him, but with no quarterback, a converted linebacker at running back, and receivers who can't catch the ball, I just don't see how the Spartans can be seriously be considered a contender.

8: Minnesota

Jerry Kill has a reputation for putting together solid teams.  I almost could rank the Gophers ahead of Sparty.  I think they'll surprise in 2013.

9: Indiana

The offense should be pretty good and they may also pull of an upset or two.

10: Purdue

A few too many questions with a new coaching staff.

11: Iowa

Other than linebacker and the offensive line, I have a hard time finding much to be optimistic about in Iowa City.

12: Illinois

Will Tim Beckman even survive the season?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Cautiously Optimistic" About Husker Football in 2013

After a long winter, spring, and summer of discontent over the end of the 2012 Nebraska football season, it's finally time for 2013 to kick off. Well, discontent for others... I'm not discontented. Disappointed over the B1G championship game?  Absolutely! (/wisconsin scores again)  But discontented?  Nope.

I'm not as bothered, or as fatalistic about Nebraska's prospects in 2013. Are there concerns?  Absolutely.  Don't last year's problems portray even more problems this year?  Maybe...but likely not.  From my perspective, the success or failure of Nebraska in 2013 depends on improvement in four areas:  defensive line, linebackers, pass protection, and ball security.  The first two are related, as are the last two.

I expect improvement on defense in 2013.  Fans should demand it. They will be young, and they will make mistakes.  But I think the new guys are a significant upgrade in talent.  I keep hearing good things about Vincent Valentine at defensive tackle; the question is more "how good can he be" and how can Nebraska bring out more of his ability and realize his potential.  Randy Gregory looks like he can be the playmaker Nebraska has lacked at end in recent years.

The new linebackers are supposed to be more athletic than their predecessors. Speed was the issue, in my opinion, in covering UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, Ohio State's Braxton Miller, or Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. Fix that, and some of those deep gouges don't happen. Sign me up with KOZN radio's Damon Benning on that "cautious optimism" bandwagon.
On offense, pass protection was the number one problem last season. When Taylor Martinez got blindsided or pressured to throw early, that's when many of those turnovers occurred. Fix the pass protection, and turnovers should improve in turn.  Can pass protection improve?  That's not quite as clear; it's been a point of focus this off-season and the coaches have talked about utilizing more depth on the line this season.  But improvement there is what I hope to see.

It may be tough to really evaluate this the first couple of weeks.  UCLA may give us a better chance, though the Bruins have their own issues this season. It really may not be until November when we really get a good read on the progress Nebraska has made this season.

USA Today's Paul Myerberg had a nice preview last week of Nebraska.  It's a very optimistic view; he puts the Huskers at number 11.  What was most notable is that he's making observations I've made but most everybody else either ignores or doesn't get. 

It's just one of the ways Pelini has grown since assuming one of the most prestigious coaching jobs in college football following the 2007 season. He's mellowed, for one, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. He's become more comfortable in his own skin. He has taken two hugely vital steps: one, he's admitted to his early regime's recruiting errors, and two, he's made efforts to amend his new-guy missteps. The only thing similar between the Pelini of 2008 and the Pelini of 2013 is the crewneck sweatshirt.
 Many people still hold to the perception that Pelini either can't or won't recruit.  He certainly doesn't recruit the way some recruitniks want him to.  But he's definitely changed things up.  Recruiting coordinator Ted Gilmore was gently nudged aside two years ago when it became clear to Pelini that there were talent issues. We saw those issues manifest themselves last season on defense.  Now we finally get a chance to see if the young pups who've been recruited since can solve the issues.  Cry if you wish about the Tobi Okiyemi's on the roster.  From my perspective, that's spilled milk.  Hopefully those guys get their education.  The focus is on who's coming into the program, and who'll we'll be seeing on the field.

It won't be perfect in game one, but I expect we'll see some good things.  And with a defense this young, seeing some good things in August and September should bode well for the future.  And if we don't see those good things, we'll have to be patient to see if it's just first game jitters before declaring the wheels have come off the cart.

I feel better that Nebraska has young guys coming in to fill the problem areas from last season.  Would you like to be a Michigan State fan who now has to hope that quarterback Andrew Maxwell has somehow improved enough in the off-season?  Not likely, especially when head coach Mark Dantonio has his quarterback depth chart as a four-way tie.  Would you like to be an Iowa Hawkeye fan who's hoping that Jake Rudock is the answer despite not being good enough to sniff the field with James Vandenberg struggling?

Some of these players we are counting on in 2013 weren't on campus last season.  Some were injured, while others were redshirting.  Bottom line is that they weren't the problem last season.

This Saturday, we get our first chance to see if they can be part of the solution.  Cautious optimism.  That's my mantra for 2013.

Monday, August 26, 2013

An Open Letter to Iowa Football Fans

Today, some @BHGP members stumbled across my preview of this season's Iowa Hawkeye football team on CornNation and took issue with it.  Rather than respond piecemeal, I'll respond in an open letter.

Dear Hawkeye Fans

Thank you for stopping by CornNation and reading my preview of the Hawkeyes. I understand you didn't like it and have a few issues with it.  That's fair; it's very likely that I made a mistake or two. I don't follow your team in depth, so I do my research and sometimes I run into bad, outdated, or just downright inaccurate information. And sometimes I miss things.

Did I get a few details wrong?  Undoubtedly.  I spend a few days each week reviewing an opponent before writing my preview, so I can't be as thorough as the people who cover the Hawkeyes full time. That being said, you aren't my target audience.  I'm writing for Nebraska fans, giving them an brief overview of each team. I think I do a fairly good job, compared to what the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal-Star, Big Red Network, and Hail Varsity provided this season.

That being said, I do want to address some of the criticism:

The “obvious holes” article you cite was written right before our game with you. THE LAST GAME OF THE SEASON. If those holes were so obvious, wouldn’t you have written that article right about the time you wrote this one?
Oh, that’s right, YOU DID. And while THAT article was also blatantly homerist (Pelini’s defense didn’t really eat . . . anyone alive last year, and JVB scored a rushing TD against it), it didn’t point out the “obvious holes” in the Hawkeyes.
And you guys wonder why we make fun of you over at BHGP. Even we aren’t that blatantly homer. You guys are more like WRNL than a serious blog.
Of course, when I reference "last year" in an article written in August 2012, I'm referring to the 2011 season...and specifically, teams that featured a drop-back pro-style passer.  Like Michigan State (24-3) or your own Iowa Hawkeyes (20-7).  Or Ohio State with Joe Bauserman...
Yes, JVB’s production dropped dramatically last year. He was also learning a new offense under a new coordinator. Mike didn’t mention that at all. Not having his go-to guy in McNutt didn’t help.
Did I fail to mention Greg Davis in the preview?  Guilty as charged; I did leave that out.  But I did mention McNutt's absence multiple times. 
Was it all his (Vandenberg's) fault? Not entirely; nobody stepped forward at receiver to replace Marvin McNutt as a deep threat last season.
Nobody last season filled the shoes of Marvin McNutt, and that inability to stretch the field made it a lot easier to defend the Iowa offense.
 But does that really solve the problem of the lack of playmakers in the passing game?
 So your objection is what, exactly?
Didn’t mention all the injuries on the offensive line, and what that did to the running game. Went from averaging 150 yards a game to somewhere south of 100 after Scherff and Donnal sustained season-ending injuries in the span of 3 plays against Penn State. The loss of those two guys – even when compared with everything else – was when the wheels came off.
 Again, did you even bother to read?  My specific reference to Scherff:
Junior left tackle Brandon Scherff (6'5" 315 pounds) started the first seven games last season until he injured his leg.
 Of course, even if Iowa averaged 150 yards a game rushing last season, the Hawkeyes would have been fighting Minnesota for seventh place in rushing average. Even with Scherff, and with the most difficult part of the schedule ahead, Iowa's offense had issues.
When you're using Bleacher Report, you know you're scraping the bottom of the barrel. 
 Your point is what, again? I was ridiculing Bleacher Report for claiming that Iowa was a darkhorse candidate to win the west division of the Big Ten in 2012. 

Bottom line, you didn't even bother to read my article.  Most of the things you said I missed were in there.  You simply didn't like my conclusions.  Which is fair.  If I were an Iowa Hawkeye fan, I wouldn't like this either.  But sometimes, the truth hurts.

The last time I received this type of response from an opponent was in 2009.  After spring practice, Colorado dumped their offensive coordinator and decided to implement a pro-style offense in Boulder.  I compared it to trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.  The gang at howled initially...but it only took six quarters for reality to hit them.  And hard.

Since then, Dan Hawkins has been fired (twice!).  And that offensive coordinator they called "terrible"? You've probably heard of him:  Mark Helfrich, now head coach of Oregon.

So when an Iowa fan says things like
Heaven forbid Iowa fans to think the articles written about the Hawks on a Hawk-centric website are better written and researched than some/most/all of the stuff Husker Mike puts out.
All I can do is sit back and smile. I've read it all before.  Thanks for your feedback.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Outfit a Missouri Fan in Husker Gear and Help Fight MS!

A friend in Kansas City is participating in the Bike MS event in Kansas City next month.  He's a Missouri alum, but he's offering to wear the colors of whichever fan base supports him the most.  He's hoping that his fellow Tiger fans will come through, but frankly, wouldn't it be awesome to have him wearing Husker Red instead?
I am excited to share with you that I have committed to peddling 73 miles in the upcoming Bike MS Kansas City Ride to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. I need your help and I am willing selling out for a good cause. So, with a donation today you can help choose if I wear for the event a MU Tigers (Go Tigers!), KU Jayhawks, K-State Wildcats, NE Cornhusker or Bike MS cycling jersey. When you make a donation please put which team jersey you prefer next to your name and the jersey with the most votes by 5 pm on September 23rd wins. 
So there's our challenge, Husker fans.  Your donations work in multiple ways:  it helps fight a disease, and it helps a Mizzou fan see the light... if for only one day.

Won't you help a Missouri fan Rock the Red in Kansas City?  Please donate... and share this with others!  Let's make this happen!

(Yes, he knows I'm asking Husker fans to help out.  Hopefully, we get enough of a response to really feel some Husker Power...and in a positive way!)

Friday, August 16, 2013

UNO Hockey's Matt White, Alex Simonson, and Preston Hodge Ticketed for Disorderly Conduct

From the "Nothing Good Occurs After Midnight" department, we get the following from the Omaha World-Herald:
Matt White, 25, Alex Simonson, 23, and Preston Hodge, 21, all members of the University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey team, were each ticketed Aug. 3 on suspicion of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.
White and Simonson are both senior forwards, Hodge is an incoming freshman defenseman.

The circumstances surrounding the disturbance are even more disturbing, though.  The three hockey players were allegedly harassing a group of African-Americans with racial slurs.  It escalated from there, and Hodge ended up being knocked to the ground and may have suffered a head injury; he was taken to a hospital and treated and released.  White is alleged to have thrown a punch, while Simonson shoved others.

Dean Blais issued the following statement:

“We’re still gathering information about what transpired. Once we’ve finished gathering all the facts, we’ll be able to comment further."

I suspect that if the facts of the case match up with this initial report, and these allegations are true, Hodge's UNO career may be over before it ever starts. White's playing days in Omaha may be over as well, no matter how prolific of a scorer he's been. Racism - especially when it leads to violence - cannot be tolerated.

It's also important not to presume guilt in situations like this.  But if this story is substantiated, Blais won't have much choice in this matter.  No way UNO can tolerate a situation like this.

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Uproar over Keith Olbermann's Return to ESPN

It's been curious to observe the reaction of many folks to Keith Olbermann's return to ESPN. Even before he appeared before a camera and said a word, the reaction has been swift and furious from some.
And we all know why... it has absolutely nothing to do with his work as a sportscaster.  It's his legacy of work at MSNBC and Current TV as a progressive commentator, and some people can't separate Olbermann the sportscaster from Olbermann, the advocate for President Obama's health care reform plan.

It's unfortunate when we let disagreements over politics and policy bleed over into completely separate discussions. I personally don't think much about George W. Bush's politics or eight years as President of the United States, but I suspect he'd be an enjoyable guy to sit next to at a ball game.  (And here it comes...someone will undoubtedly tell me to move to China in the comments...)

Olberman has made it clear he's going to cover sports, not politics. So I'm not sure why some people want to boycott ESPN because they disagree with his politics.  If you want to criticize him over his comments over A-Rod or the role of the designated hitter, fine.  If you want to criticize him over his moronic idea about replaying the final play of the 2005 Alamo Bowl, where Michigan tried to enlist the Stanford band, fine.

But because he skewered Republicans five times a week on another network?  What does that have anything to do with sports?  Remember, Olbermann's background is sports broadcasting.  He launched ESPN2, and nobody complained about him then.

So why now?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

A Few Nebraska Football Season Tickets Are Still Available

Following up on CornNation's article about donation requirements dropping, I contacted the University ticket office this morning.  The article is rather misleading in implying that the entire stadium is somehow "on sale" - it's not.  In fact, for the most part... it's sold out.

But note I said "for the most part".  There are still seats available in the upper end zones, though they require a $150 per seat donation.  Is this down from past years?  Yes.  That's a function of supply and demand.  Nebraska added 6,000 seats this season.  Most years, only a few hundred seats become available, mostly because season ticketholders pass away or choose not to renew.  I suspect that very few people choose to not renew, but rather sell their tickets on the secondary market.  So that cap meant that donation requirements are typically very high.

Thanks to the expansion of the stadium this year, an opening existed earlier this season to get into the stadium for less than in past years. Calling it a "collapse" is misleading, because I suspect this is a one year thing related to the expanded supply.  Next season, it'll start moving back up since there won't be any additional capacity.

Is Memorial Stadium at it's ultimate capacity?  I suspect it's approaching it, considering the population base in the region.  Further expansion would either need an influx of interest (either more people moving into the region or another national championship) or a reduction in price.  I don't ever see prices reducing, so I think that expansion is likely complete.

Note I said "earlier this season".  If you think you can call up and get seats anywhere in the stadium, you'll be disappointed.  Those tickets are now sold out.  But a few seats do remain in the upper end zone, if you are still interested.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Former UNO Receiver Justin Coleman Earns Scholarship at Iowa State

When UNO dropped football in 2011 to pursue a move from division II to division I, a lot was made about the students who were affected. And with good reason...the players didn't do anything wrong, but had to pay the price for the past problems of the UNO athletic department.  And while UNO's decision to drop football and wrestling was bad for the students who lost their teams, it was the necessary decision for UNO.

That's why it's nice to see things work out for the former Mavs... like former UNO wide receiver Justin Coleman.  He transferred to Iowa State as a walk-on, and took his game to the next level.

Now he's fighting for a spot in the starting lineup for the Cyclones...and earned a scholarship.
OK, it's not an "I'm so proud" speech... but still, a classy move by Paul Rhoads.  And great for Coleman, who's football career might be turning out even better than it would have at UNO.