Monday, January 28, 2013

First Weather Forecasts For UNO Hockey Outdoors Look Ominous

We're now getting close enough to the "Battles on Ice" outdoor hockey game between UNO and North Dakota to start looking at real weather forecasts. I've already started planning; I picked up a box of pocket warmers at Menards yesterday. I bought my tickets back in October, so I'm really looking forward to this one-of-a-kind event.  But the first forecast from KSHB meteorologist Gary Lezak (based in Kansas City) gives me pause.  You can check it out yourself by visiting his new Weather2020 site.  Here's what Lezak's team says for next week:
A cold and stormy week is in the Weather 2020 forecast. This will be an active week of weather across the plains states. Expect a strong and fast moving storm to move across between Monday and Wednesday with snow likely across Nebraska and Iowa and a few rain showers farther south. A powerful storm system will be likely either with that mid-week storm or a weekend storm system around February 10th. Kansas City, Omaha, and Des Moines will likely have snow from this second storm. This is probably not a great week for outdoor activities.
It's rather imprecise at this point, and it confirms my fears from December. Bad weather could happen late next week...but maybe not until Sunday.  All hockey fans care about is Saturday afternoon, though. So all we can do is wait and watch.  It doesn't help that the last two Saturdays would have been great days to be outside for a hockey game; you have to figure the weather is going to turn at some point.  This is Nebraska of course.

There's a ballpark over
there, somewhere. Promise.
I plan to provide periodic updates on the construction of the rink at TD Ameritrade Park, but this first update is pretty brief.  Can't really tell much of anything due to the fog.  Even so, I don't think much is going on yet. The rink for the outdoor game has been set up for the Figure Skating Championships as a warm-up/practice sheet of ice over at the CenturyLink Center, and they are probably still breaking it down in preparation to move it across the street.

The Lincoln Journal-Star had a great article last week about the event.  The Omaha Sports Commission says that over 10,000 tickets have been sold.  Not bad.  I had my hopes this would sell out, but that isn't happening.  Wish it had been promoted more; it's a shame that the Lincoln paper is doing a better job covering this than the World-Herald.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dirk Thinks Turnovers Were Nebraska's Biggest Problem

Once again, I got sucked into reading something in the World-Herald that wasn't worth the time to read, let alone the paper to print it on.  It was hard to miss, with a big banner headline on the front page of the sports section proclaiming "Error Message", and a photo of Taylor Martinez coughing up the ball against Wisconsin.  So I flip in, and start reading:
"Nebraska didn't have one turnover in the 2012 opener. Then the dam broke. By New Year's night, the Huskers had 35. Dirk Chatelain studied the tapes, charted the miscues, and revealed startling numbers on the biggest problem facing Big Red."
Yep.  According to Chatelain, Nebraska's biggest problem wasn't defense.  It was turnovers.  Nevermind the 70 points that Wisconsin scored.  Nevermind the 63 that Ohio State scored.  Nevermind the 653 yards that UCLA racked up, or the 589 yards that Georgia amassed.

Nope.  Biggest problem was turnovers.

Now, that's not to say that turnovers weren't a problem in 2012.  They were an issue.  But it wasn't the biggest issue.  And Dirk's "research"?  Merely a laundry list of every turnover.  So where's the analysis?  Again, he just compares the total to other schools.  So what's his point?  Nebraska turns the ball over too much.

Guess what?

We already knew that.  Every Husker fan already knew that.

So tell us something that we don't know about these turnovers.  He gets close when he points out that Ameer Abdullah and Martinez rank in the top eight nationally in turnovers.  We kind of knew that already. 

The only real insight is Nebraska's five turnovers on punt returns. That's a staggering number IMHO, and something that needs to be addressed.  From my perspective, Ameer Abdullah's days as a punt returner should be over now.  He'll start spring practice as the top I-back, and he needs to focus his attention there.  There's no shortage of receivers that should get a shot at fielding punts this season:  Jamal Turner, Jordan Westerkamp, or Tyler Wullenwaber for starters.

As for Martinez's fumbles, some of that is a direct result of issues on the offensive line.  At least three were the direct result of blind-side hits.  That goes on the offensive line more than Martinez. Think that's why Pelini sought out a junior college offensive tackle in Matt Finnin, to help protect the blind side? But Chatelain doesn't really discuss that.  Of course, some Husker fans will eat up Chatelain's superficial look at the Husker turnover list and use it to bitch and moan for another couple of months until signing day?

The question isn't how Nebraska's turnover issues compare to other teams.  The question is really how does Nebraska fix those turnover issues.  Chatelain doesn't go there.  And that makes this pretty much superficial.

And pretty silly when you look at the end result on the season.  It's true that Nebraska might have managed to squeak out a win at UCLA if they had held onto the ball.  Maybe the Capital One Bowl against Georgia as well.  Maybe.  But Nebraska was going to lose to Ohio State with that defense.  And Nebraska was still getting smoked by the Badgers in Indianapolis with a zero-turnover game.  Not when the Badgers were jet-sweeping the Huskers into oblivion that night.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Mavs Get Road Sweep Their Beaver Nemesis

UNO hockey is returning back to Omaha after a much-needed sweep of their nemesis, the Bemidji State Beavers.  Friday night, UNO won 5-3 with Johnnie Searfoss scoring two goals in his return after suffering a back injury three weeks ago.  Matt White also added two goals, and Hobey Baker candidate Ryan Walters had two assists.  Tonight, UNO won 2-1 behind goals by Searfoss and Dominic Zombo.

Walters remains the nation's leading scorer with 39 points, though that's not helping him in the fan voting for the Hobey Baker Award.  Walters is barely hanging onto fourth place, as fans from North Dakota and Boston College are doing a much better job of stuffing the ballot box for Corban Knight and Johnny Gaudreau.  Walters is tied for second nationally with 15 goals, while White has now moved into a tie for sixth place nationally with 14.

The Mavs finally return home this weekend to play eleventh-place Michigan Tech, followed by the long-awaited series with #5 North Dakota in two weeks.  The sweep puts UNO in second place, tied with Minnesota in the WCHA standings, just one point behind conference leader St. Cloud State.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is Figure Skating a Sport?

Over the years, I've periodically had discussions with Tim McMahan of The Reader over various sports topics from across the cubicle wall.  One of the more contentious discussions over the years revolved around figure skating: Sport or Not?

Typically, this debate comes up at the Olympics.  Today, it was because the US Figure Skating Championships are in town this week. I take the position that it's not; Tim says it is. He gives his reasons in this week's "Reader".  He brings up some good points, but I still believe that while figure skating is a competition, it's not a sport.  Does it require talent?  Yes.  Does it require skill?  Yes.  Does it require incredible physical effort?  Yes.  But that, by itself, doesn't make it a sport.  Dancing requires much the same physical effort and similar skill, but even fewer people would consider it a sport.  It's a performance, meant to be judged.  It's an art form, not a sport.  Doesn't make it less than a sport; heck, when you consider how society views the winner of "American Idol", you might argue that it's more than a sport.

Emrick calling UNO Hockey earlier
in January 2013.

One thing we did agree on today is that poker, despite it's television deal with ESPN, isn't a sport.

Speaking of the Figure Skating Championships, hockey fans may recognize a familiar voice if they tune into NBC's broadcasts.  Mike "Doc" Emrick will be back in Omaha to be the host of NBC's broadcasts. Emrick was in town three weeks ago to call a UNO/Colorado College hockey game; I'm sure UNO hockey fans wish he were coming back to call another Maverick game.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tim Brown Confuses Bill Callahan's Bad Coaching for Sabotage

In an interview this past weekend, former Oakland Raider receiver Tim Brown repeated his allegation that Bill Callahan "sabotaged" the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII ten years ago.  This morning, the comments are all over the news, from NBC's Pro Football Talk to ESPN and Yahoo! Sports.

What did Brown say?
"We get our game plan for victory on Monday, and the game plan says we’re gonna run the ball,” Brown said last Saturday on SiriusXM NFL Radio (via Mike Florio of “We averaged 340 (pounds) on the offensive line, they averaged 280 (on the defensive line). We’re all happy with that, everybody is excited. (We) tell Charlie Garner, ‘Look, you’re not gonna get too many carries, but at the end of the day we’re gonna get a victory. Tyrone Wheatley, Zack Crockett, let’s get ready to blow this thing up'."
Most everybody thinks this is all new...but it's not to readers of CornNation.  Brown said the same thing in March 2011 in an interview with Dallas' Sportsradio 1310, The Ticket.

So did Callahan sabotage the Raiders in the Super Bowl?  Rich Gannon says absolutely not; he had too much to gain by intentionally losing the Super Bowl.  Bill Romanowski said much the same thing.

I don't believe Callahan tried to intentionally blow the Super Bowl, much like I don't think Callahan sabotaged Nebraska during his four years in Lincoln.  Callahan didn't try to lose.

Callahan just isn't a good head coach.  He's a great offensive line coach by all accounts; perhaps one of the best around today.  But as a playcaller and a head coach?  Over his head.

Bill Callahan was all over the board as a playcaller.  He would go into ruts and go heavy run or heavy pass, and almost always at the wrong time.  His offenses looked balanced on the final stat sheet, but when you look at series of play calls, he typically be either pounding the rock on every play or abandoning the run.  Usually with bad results in critical situations.  Throw the ball on third and short, late in the game against Texas?  Oy.  Turtling against Southern Cal?  My oh my.  And that 2004 loss to Iowa State?  Yikes.

That's not sabotage. That's just incompetence.

So now Dallas is thinking about handing Callahan the keys to the Cowboys' offense next season?  Good luck with that, Cowboy fans. That's the best news the NFC East has heard in years.

I mean, we know he's done it before.  But it's a job he's done very badly.  Just look at Callahan's record.  It speaks for itself.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Why Fans Should Enjoy The US Figure Skating Championships

It's been over 45 years since Omaha has hosted the US Figure Skating Championships.  Things have changed since then; the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum has been demolished and replaced with an upscale retail development. The costumes are sleeker and more streamlined, and the event is now televised by NBC.  So what else has changed since professional figure skaters competed in Omaha? Lori Fairchild, the senior postiche director of this year's event, graciously answered a few questions about what fans should expect.

Q: Some fans may only be familiar with figure skating in the Olympics, such as the whole Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding drama. Is that what Omahans should expect?

Lori:  Oh, no! Figure skating isn't like a Denver Pioneers hockey game at all.  It's an event filled with grace and skill, as the arena is filled with people await in silent awe of the beauty unfolding before their very eyes.

Q:  So it's more like Creighton basketball, right?

Lori:  No, not nearly that quiet.  Though the affection fans show their favorite skaters can be quite similar, I must admit.  That's why we kept the Bud Bar open and fully stocked with Zima ever since their last game against Northern Iowa.  We're hoping many of them will stick around until the end of the Championships.

Q:  Tell me more!

Lori:  The skaters have put in years of effort to make it to this level.  The intricacies of each movement require careful choreography to put it all together.

Q:  So it's more like Michigan hockey, then?

Lori: No, no, no. Unlike the Weasels, everyone here has already mastered the basics of skating.  You'll be amazed as they twirl and gracefully move around the center of the ice.

Q:  Ahh!  I get it now.  It's more like Bemidji hockey! 

Lori:  That's a little closer, but figure skating simply isn't ugly like the neutral zone trap.  It's beautiful moves by beautiful people wearing beautifully designed apparel designed specifically for each performance.

Lori:  You mean like Oregon football, right?

A:  Kind of, except that it's visually appealing, not garish.  Not quite Nike Pro Combat in design, mind you.

I want to thank Lori for her time explaining the US Figure Skating Championships, and I wish all of performers the best of luck this week.  Enjoy your time in Omaha!

How Badly Is 1620 "The Zone" Missing Kugler?

When Kevin Kugler stepped away from 1620 AM's "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" afternoon radio show, I knew it was going to hurt the show.  While John Bishop has done an acceptable job trying to fill Kugler's role, it's clear the show is not what it used to be.  Nowhere is that more obvious is the show's Facebook page, which has sunk into a quasi-soft-core version of Maxim magazine last fall.  I "unliked" the page at the time, and looking now, it appears that nearly all of my Facebook friends have as well.

But that's not a terribly significant measure by itself. In radio, it all comes down to ratings, and Radio Online brings us the revelation that the ratings for 1620 are down about a third over the last year.  In the fall 2011 ratings, KOZN-1620 AM pulled in a 2.8 rating from 6 am to midnight during the seven day week.  Last winter, it was a 2.7.  In the spring, it was a 2.2, and this summer, it was a 2.4.  This fall, it dropped to 1.9.

Only the overall station numbers are available; nothing that breaks the ratings out by specific show or by demographic.  So there is a danger in using 18 hour a day numbers to infer anything about a four hour show.  But "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" isn't just any four hour show, it's the station's flagship program.  When KXSP-590 AM added Michael Gray's afternoon show, 590's ratings jumped from almost non-existant in the Summer 2011 to a respectable 1.6 in the fall 2011 book.  And since KOZN's ratings went from 3.0 in the winter 2010 book to 2.8 in the summer 2011 and fall 2011 books, competition doesn't explain 1620's plummeting ratings this fall.

Those numbers also show that the network affiliation switch from ESPN to Fox didn't have a direct impact either on the station's ratings.  What did change this summer?  The departure of Kevin Kugler, Matt Schick, and Nick Bahe.  I'm very skeptical that it's the end of the Schick & Nick show; from my perspective, Gary Sharp and Damon Benning are a great addition to the station. Schick & Nick got stale over the years as they seemed to go for stupid gags than sports talk.

My take is that it's the loss of Kevin Kugler. The show seemed to jump the shark last winter, and I stopped listening for a while last winter.  And I've only sporadically listened since.  Kugler was good, but the insufferable Mike'l Severe has actually begun to make former low-rated 590 host Matt Perrault look like a voice of reason in comparison.

It'll be interesting to see what changes ensue at 1620 if the ratings slide continues.  I really hope they focus on the afternoon show; Sharp and Benning have a good thing going in the morning.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Kugler's End of Overtime Call in Denver Gets the Deadspin Treatment

Former Omaha sports talk host Kevin Kugler was in Denver to call last Saturday's Denver/Baltimore game on the Dial Global national broadcast.  At the end of overtime, Kugler and partner Mark Malone expressed surprise that Baltimore would let the clock run out on the first overtime and switch sides of the field.

It came off, though, like Kugler didn't realize that the game was going to a second overtime and the Baltimore drive would continue onward at the 32 yard line. And that earned him a mention and criticism from Deadspin.  As well as on Twitter:

Safe to say that this one probably wasn't one of Kugler's better calls  But everybody has a slip-up once in a while, and Kugler's a great announcer.  It happens.

(Side note: Be sure to listen to Kugler's call of Nebrasketball tonight from the Devaney Center on BTN. Maybe Tim Miles gets his first B1G victory against Purdue..)

That being said, I do hate when teams let up and play for a field goal in a game deciding situation.  I understand the risk of turning the ball over, but there's also the risk of the kicker not making the kick  I always believe in taking advantage of every opportunity to win the game, and that not only means trying to score the touchdown, but also trying to get closer.

Speaking of which, I still don't agree with why Denver took a knee at the end of the fourth quarter.  The Broncos have a hall-of-fame quarterback in Peyton Manning, and two timeouts.  Take a shot, with the understanding that you cannot risk a turnover.  You just might win the game in regulation and not even give Baltimore another shot.  I see the counterpoint; cold day, Manning hasn't thrown much.  But you have an opportunity to win the game outright.  If it goes to overtime and Baltimore gets the opening possession, Denver might not get another chance.  Try a couple of pass plays.  Baltimore has no timeouts, so if it gets to third down, take a knee and head to overtime rather than risk a punt and another miracle throw.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mavs Head into Bye Week Tied Atop WCHA

UNO managed to snag one point this weekend at #7 Denver.  On Friday night, UNO got off to a rough start by giving up a power play goal in the first two minutes of the game, followed by an awful short-handed goal.  UNO managed to cut the Denver lead to one only to quickly give up another one in the second period.  The third period looked promising after goals by Brent Gwidt and Ryan Walters tied the game with just over seven minutes to go.

But then disaster struck; Michael Young let Zac Larazza skate uncontested all the way down the ice just a minute later to put Denver back in front for good.  Larazza drilled another shot a couple of minutes later to restore the Denver two-goal lead, and that was all she wrote for UNO.  UNO did bounce back on Saturday night to force a tie with Denver.  Walters game-tying goal in the second period was his 15th of the season, which leads the nation. 

CBS last week tabbed Walters' as the current leader in the Hobey Baker Award.  For those unfamiliar, the Hobey Baker Award is comparable to the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the best college hockey player.  Fans can cast their vote daily in the fan vote, which counts for 1% of the overall voting.  Walters' currently trails Boston College's Johnny Gaudreau and North Dakota's Corban Knight in the fan voting.

Next up for UNO is one final series with Bemidji State.  Considering the Mavericks lack of success over the years with the Beavers, it'll probably be the last regular season series between the two schools for the forseeable future.  Not sure how to explain the Beavers success against UNO except to shrug it off as the perfect opposite of a Dean Blais team.  Blais prefers a fast-paced offensive style, while Bemidji plays a smothering, trapping slow-down game.  And typically, it only serves to frustrate UNO as the Beavers end up gumming up UNO.  Hence, I don't anticipate UNO willingly scheduling games against Bemidji in the future after UNO departs the WCHA for the NCHC. Next weekend would be a perfect time to finally jettison that Bemidji albatross once and for all.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

2012 BlogPoll Final Ballot

After last night's game, there shouldn't be any doubt as to who the #1 team in the country is.  It's after that where the argument lies.  I'll take "Orey-Gone", as Doctor Lou would mumble.  Notre Dame confirmed my long held suspicion they are overrated.

Yep.That's them at #13.  Right behind Florida, who laid a more surprising egg against Louisville. Stanford goes to #3, with A&M 4th.  I could easily go with A&M third though. 

Baylor skyrockets in this poll; does anybody want to play the Bears now?  Louisville enters at #16; beat an SEC team in a bowl game soundly, you get the credit.  Nebraska stays ranked; if I think Georgia is a top 5 team, then being tied in the fourth quarter should count for something.  Especially with this motley crue at the bottom.  The only other team I considered for a spot was Oklahoma State, frankly. 

Monday, January 07, 2013

Alabama's Good, Real Good, But Not 60-3 Good

Alabama's domination of a vastly-overrated Notre Dame is going to raise a lot of calls that Alabama's program is the best ever.  Certainly three national championships in four years is a major accomplishment.  But let's pause and look at Alabama's four year run:

2009: 14-0
2010: 10-3
2011: 12-1
2012: 13-1

Three national championships, two conference championships.  49-5

Now let's look at the program that Alabama will be compared to in these "all-time greatest" comparisons:

1993:  11-1
1994:  13-0
1995:  12-0
1996:  11-2
1997:  13-0

Three national championships, four conference championships.  60-3.

Drop 1993 if you wish:  It's still 3 national titles, 3 conference titles, and 49-2.

Bottom line:  Great four year run...but Nebraska's 60-3 run is still the standard for now.  It gets a lot more interesting if Alabama runs the table next year, mind you.  But for now, Nebraska is still the standard.

UNO's Ryan Walters In Running for Hobey Baker Award

UNO junior forward Ryan Walters leads the nation in scoring with 33 points on the season, and his 13 goals also lead the nation. So it's no surprise that he's on the list of candidates for the Hobey Baker Award, awarded to the nation's best collegiate hockey player both on and off the ice. UNO's last Hobey Baker candidate was Scott Parse, who was a finalist in both 2006 and 2007.

Award criteria include candidates emulating the exceptional character traits exhibited by the award's namesake, Hobey Baker. An American super-hero, Baker was a World War I fighter pilot and was known as America's greatest amateur athlete in his day, excelling at hockey and football at Princeton. Award candidates must demonstrate strength of character both on and off the ice, contribute to the integrity of his team and display outstanding skills in all phases of the game. Consideration also is given to scholastic achievement and sportsmanship.  

The fan vote for the Hobey Baker award began today, which continues through March 10th, counts for 1% of the determination of the top ten finalists for the award.

In November, Walters was named the national player of the month for his 15 point performance in leading the Mavs to a perfect 7-0 record.

UNO fans have already started a Facebook page and declared the #wally4hobey hashtag on Twitter.  Not sure if anybody's started anything on Pinterest, but give them time.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Sustr Powers UNO Hockey Into First Place

About midway through the third period of a tied hockey game, Colorado College's Mike Boivin crashed into UNO goalie John Faulkner.  When the ref raised his hand to indicate a penalty, I expected UNO's Andrej Sustr to get a tripping call for sending Boivin crashing into the goal.  So did everybody around me in the upper deck.

Fortunately for UNO, the refs saw the play differently.  Boivin went off with a minor roughing call and it was UNO on the power play.  And instead of Sustr being the goat for drawing a critical penalty, Sustr became the hero, scoring six seconds later with a laser beam slapshot to give the Mavs a 2-1 lead.  A half-minute later, Josh Archibald fired another slapshot into the goal for a 3-1 lead that UNO was able to hold onto.

The game started pretty sloppy.  Not sure if the ice wasn't in the best of shape, if UNO came out extremely sluggish, or if Colorado College was fired up after being embarassed on Friday. Or maybe "all of the above".  UNO didn't get their first shot on goal until nearly midway through the first period, and that actually was merely clearing the zone while shorthanded.  That same power play gave the Tigers their first goal of the game a minute later.  UNO's offense continued to be nonexistent for rest of the first period and most of the second period.  I'm sure the celebration fish that gets thrown onto the ice after the first UNO goal of the game was getting well thawed and fragrant.
But Bryce Aneloski sent the fish onto the ice with a short-handed goal off a turnover generated by Brent Gwidt just before the second intermission to set up UNO's dominant third period.  As the third period unfolded, UNO seemed to wake up and take control of the game.

The win moves UNO into sole possession of first place in the WCHA at the halfway point of the season; that's the latest the Mavs have been in first place in the program's history.  That's not an accomplishment by itself, but rather cements home that this is UNO's best start to a hockey season ever.  And considering that Dean Blais teams traditionally have been stronger down the stretch, that's a really positive sign.

Next week, UNO heads to #11 Denver for a two game series.  The Friday night game will be televised by NBC at 9 pm central time.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Mavs Move Into 2nd Place Tie with 8-4 Victory over Colorado College

Yeah, that's plural men in the crease.
It didn't take UNO long to wipe the bad taste of last weekend out of their mouth; 1:13 to be precise when freshman Tanner Lane scored his first career goal of the game.  UNO had a second goal waived off shortly thereafter for men in the crease; an easy call as you can see.  Sophomore Josh Archibald got it back with a nice power play goal that gave UNO a lead they would never relinquish the rest of the night.

UNO exploded again at the start of the second period with junior Zahn Raubenheimer's diving goal as he was being hooked by Colorado College's Peter Stoykewch just 25 seconds after the intermission.  Archibald added his second goal of the night on the resulting power play to put UNO up 4-1. CC's Mike Boyvin scored the first of his three goals on the night to cut the UNO lead to 4-2 when UNO quickly added goals by Lane and Ryan Walters to put UNO in command 6-2.

From that point on, UNO seemed to play it safe until the Tigers cut the lead to 6-4 after the Boyvin's third goal with five minutes left in the game.  Matt White sealed the victory though with an unassisted goal 17 seconds later, and then Archibald claimed the hat trick in the final minute of the game.  It's the first hat trick for a UNO player since Bill Thomas (now playing for the AHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche) against Alabama-Huntsville in December 2005.

The victory moved UNO into a tie for second place with North Dakota and Denver with 17 points.  Since North Dakota and first place St. Cloud State are playing non-conference games, a UNO win on Saturday night moves the Mavs into sole possession of first place in the WCHA.

I'm trying to remember if UNO has ever been in first place in the conference before, except possibly in the first or second week of the season.  Certainly not after Christmas.  And with one goal and three assists tonight, junior Ryan Walters is the leading scorer in the nation with 32 points.  He leads the nation in goals with 13, and is second in the nation in assists with 19.

That's a big win for UNO tonight, but it'll be pretty hollow if UNO doesn't claim some points on Saturday night.  Especially with a road trip to #11 Denver next weekend...

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Doc Emrick Calling UNO Hockey On Friday

With the NHL holding professional hockey fans hostage this season, it's freed up NBC's hockey announcers to call college games.  And this weekend, it's UNO in the spotlight.  The Mavs game against Colorado College on Friday will be televised by the NBC Sports Network at 6:30 pm.  Emmy award winner Doc Emrick will be in the broadcast booth, with Pierre McGuire providing color commentary from his traditional "Between the Glass" position between the benches.

The Mavs were swept last weekend on the road at #5 Quinnipiac, which was a disappointment. Didn't get to see the games as I didn't have reliable internet access, but it sounds like UNO was close on Friday night in a 5-4 loss.  UNO did generate some pretty good offense that night, peppering Quinnipiac goalie Eric Hartzell with 37 shots.  Hartzell is only allowing 1.4277 goals a game (third in the nation), but only faces 20 shots a game on average.  If he had sat out last weekend's games, he'd be the leading goalie in the nation.

Colorado College is currently eighth in the WCHA with a 5-6-1 record.  UNO is tied with Minnesota for fifth with a 7-4-1.  The Mavs are 3 points behind first-place St. Cloud State, who is playing out of conference this weekend against Northern Michigan.  A win and a tie gives the Mavs a tie for first place; a sweep puts UNO in sole possession of first place to start the second half of the season.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Does Anybody Care About the US Figure Skating Championships

Later this month, UNO hockey gets the boot from the CenturyLink Center so that Omaha can host the US Figure Skating Championships.  Sounded like another big time event for Omaha that'll draw huge crowds, right?

You couldn't be more wrong.  Checking the Ticketmaster site, it looks like tickets are plentiful.  How plentiful?  For Friday night, the lower bowl of the arena looks about half full.  I'd guestimate that only about 5,000 tickets have been marked as unavailable on the Ticketmaster site. 

Granted, figure skating is not something that interests me, but I'm surprised at the lack of sales.  I assumed that Omaha would turn out like they do for every other big-time event, whether it's the College World Series, the Cox Classic, or what.  Maybe Omaha has overstretched themselves with this event, or maybe the promoters assumed that tickets would sell themselves.

If they did, they appear to be wrong at this point.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Huskers Valiant For Three Quarters, But Bulldogs Deliver Knockout Blows

After Nebraska got demolished by Wisconsin, some Husker fans dreaded what an SEC school would do to Nebraska. It all comes down to whether you view the Nebraska that got their rear-end kicked from Indianapolis back to Lincoln as the "real" Nebraska, or whether the ten-win Nebraska was the real one.

Well, my take is the "ten win" Nebraska was the real Nebraska.  Nebraska gave Georgia everything they had for the first three quarters, but simply ran out of gas late.  The two differences in this game:

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was Peyton Manning/Tom Brady-like on third down.  The final damage was 11 completions out of 14 attempts when Georgia was under the gun.  The killer was that third and twelve, Murry hits Chris Conley on a short crossing route...only to race 87 yards for the clinching touchdown since Pelini sent the house.  Ballgame.  Sometimes it was bad coverage, but more often than not, it was Georgia simply making the play exactly right.  What killed Nebraska today was Georgia's precision on those critical plays.

But Nebraska was in it with a gritty, gutty performance on both sides of the ball.  Nebraska pounded the ball on Georgia to open the second half, and the Bulldogs appeared to be on the ropes midway through the second half when disaster struck.  Ameer Abdullah fumbled the ball away on third and one, and that dashed Nebraska's chances to win. Or did he?
The officials said Georgia recovered, and that's the way it goes. But at that point, the Georgia defense was seeming to be running on vapors, and were completely discombobulated.  Nebraska keeps that drive going, punches it in to take the lead, and it's a whole different ballgame.

Moral victory? Yeah, it's a loser proposition, but after the Wisconsin debacle, it's what it is.  Nebraska held it's own against an SEC squad that came within a few seconds and five yards of the national championship game.  Couldn't handle the Georgia receivers on third down, but Georgia couldn't stop the Nebraska ground game.

Nebraska's defensive line was admirable against the Georgia offensive line, but linebacker play was a little spotty, save for Will Compton's momemtum shifting pick-six interception in the first half.  Secondary play was spotty at times as well; sometimes great, and sometimes awful.  Stanley Jean-Baptiste is great in coverage, but missed twice on corner blitzes to have an opportunity to make a play.  Ciante Evans got burned multiple times today.

So once again in the Bo Pelini era, Nebraska loses four games.  Two 9-4 seasons; three 10-4 seasons.  Not great, not awful.  Some of the games were awful, and that's going to lead to a lot of kvetching in the new year.  So what do we have to look forward to in the new year?

Nebraska's offense proved itself against an SEC defense today filled with guys who'll play on Sunday next season. Does Taylor Martinez make some bad decisions passing the ball?  Yes.  Does  he make good plays happen more often?  Yes.  And the supporting cast on offense might be the best Nebraska has had since the middle 90's.  Seriously.  Name another Nebraska receiver better than Kenny Bell.  Irving Fryar?  Jamal Turner isn't far behind.

It's the defense where Nebraska has issues.  Some will run with the "Bo Pelini can't coach/recruit defense" card after today's game.  It's true that Nebraska's defense was awful this season, but saying one bad season overrides Pelini's track record throughout his career is inane.  Just because Monte Kiffin hasn't worked out at Southern Cal doesn't damage his resume.

Nebraska's defense will look completely different next season; it has to with the number of seniors that played this season.  Daimion Stafford, P.J. Smith, and Courtney Osborne depart at safety.  Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley, and Sean Fisher depart at linebacker.  Eric Martin, Cameron Meredith, and Baker Steinkuhler depart on the line.  An awful lot of holes to fill on a bad defense.

But there are a lot of players who redshirted this season who might be in a position to help next season.  Vincent Valentine, Greg McMullen, Aaron Curry, and Avery Moss on the defensive line. Linebackers Thomas Brown, Michael Rose, and Zaire Andreson.  Jonathan Rose in the secondary.  Are these guys an upgrade over who took the field for the Huskers this season?  Nobody outside of North Stadium really knows for sure.  Bo Pelini said he was excited about who was coming back next season, but what else could he say?
The bottom line is that some of these names will need to produce next season if the Huskers are going to break out of this four-loss pattern in the right direction.

There are far worse things than losing four games each season.  Bill Callahan proved that.  And hitting the panic button after "only" winning 10 games (and losing badly when you don't) is definitely the wrong thing to do.

That doesn't mean that Husker fans should be happy with the losses this season, or happy about a moral victory against Georgia either. Nebraska has to get better.  Period.