Saturday, August 30, 2014

Huskers Obliterate Florida Atlantic to Open 2014 Season

Nebraska posted all sorts of impressive statistics in the Huskers 55-7 season opening victory over Florida Atlantic:  784 total yards (5th most in Nebraska history, most by a Big Ten team since 1905). 200 yards allowed, 8.7 yards per carry average on offense. But one statistic stood out the most to me:  Zero Turnovers.

Turnovers have been an issue throughout Bo Pelini's tenure in Lincoln, but last season, turnovers became a critical problem that directly led to November losses to Michigan State and Iowa. Today, it was a clean performance as last year's fumbling freshmen became sensational sophomore contributors.  Quarterback Tommy Armstrong showed better touch on many of his passes, wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp was the leading receiver on the day, and I-back Terrell Newby rushed for 107 yards on the day.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that Ameer Abdullah ran like a man possessed, rushing for 232 yards on the day. (Mistake on my part: I could have sworn that Abdullah came out of the locker room in street clothes after halftime. I tweeted it...then quickly realized I was wrong.  Sorry to anybody who was misinformed due to my mistake.)  Frankly on offense, there wasn't much that didn't work right, other than a few first quarter penalties for illegal blocks downfield.

Defensively, you really couldn't ask for much more after Florida Atlantic's first series.  49 yards in the second quarter, -1 yards in the third, and 74 in the fourth. The absence of Randy Gregory was alarming initially until it was eventually acknowledged that Gregory "probably" could have returned. It wasn't necessary, especially with the way the rest of the defensive line was playing. If you've been wondering who Jack Gangwish was during preseason practice, well, now you know. Greg McMullen was very impressive as well at the other defensive end spot.

Great opening performance for the Huskers.  But it's too easy to overreact to a single game against an overmatched opponent.  Last time Nebraska opened the season with such an impressive performance was 2007...and we all sadly remember how the rest of that season went. I don't suspect any similar sort of tailspin in in the works for 2014, but I don't know that anybody anticipated what happened in 2007 either.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

2014 Big Ten Predictions

Over at CornNation, the team dropped our predictions for Nebraska and college football in general, but I thought I'd go into the Big Ten a little more in depth, now that I've finished my 2014 opponent previews.  And yeah, it's got a homer pick in it.

I'm not locked into these picks, and I'm certainly not arrogant enough to guarantee this is how it'll turn out. Because I also know that somebody will probably call me out if I'm wrong.

East Division

1. Michigan State

With the best defense in the east division, there's no reason to deviate from the reigning conference champs.

2. Ohio State

Don't sleep on Urbz...but my pick would have still been Sparty on top even if Braxton Miller were healthy this season.

3. Michigan

The narrative on Brady Hoke swung 180 degrees way too fast. I think Michigan could be better on offense this year with a more competent offensive coordinator, and that should put the in the upper half of the east.  That might not be enough to satisfy Weasel fans.

4. Maryland

Not quite sure what to think about Maryland's transition, so I'm sliding them in here.

5.  Penn State

I think they start really feeling the depth issues from the Sandusky sanctions this season.  Bill O'Brien and now James Franklin have done an amazing job working around the limitations, but can't deny that depth is going to be a concern.

6. Indiana

We know the Hoosiers have a pretty good offense, but the defense has been mostly non-existant.

7.  Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights were horrible throwing the ball and defending the pass in the "AAC" (aka the former "Big East") last season. To put it kindly, Rutgers is in B1G trouble.

West Divsion

1. Nebraska

Yep, I'm making the call. Part of it is faith in the Huskers. Part of it is the realization that as I reviewed the other contenders in the Big Ten's west division, the other contenders tend to have even more questions.  I think the arrival of Alex Lewis makes the offensive line better, even if officially there is only one returning starter.  The defensive line is ready to start making a name for themselves in the Big Ten.  The questions are:  can the freshmen hold onto the ball as sophomores?  And can somebody please block for a punt return?

2. Wisconsin

This is a team that could either race for the four team playoff...or have their season over before most people start decorating for Christmas. Too many questions at receiver and in the defensive front seven for me to list them on top of this list, but I wouldn't be completely surprised if they are a top ten team by the time Nebraska returns to Madison. So I'm picking them 2nd behind the team I'm simply more comfortable with.

3. Minnesota

They aren't the most talented team in the Big Ten. They're probably the best coached team, though. And I like what their sophomores might be capable of doing in the passing game.  Jerry Kill has been a success at each level as he's moved up, and I have no reason to doubt that he's doing the same with the Gophers. Is this a stretch? Possibly. But I think they're going to surprise somebody like they did Nebraska last season. Just hope it's not the Huskers.

4. Iowa

Bill Connelly's preview attributed Iowa's successful 2013 to extraordinary health on offense and defense. Probably can't count on that happening again in 2014 (AIRBHG, anybody?), and more importantly, there are questions in the back seven on defense.

5. Northwestern

It's now Trevor Siemian's show, for better or worse. But without their best runners (Venric Mark and Kain Colter), best passer (again, Colter, believe it or not), and now best receiver (Christian Jones), I think Northwestern still has too many questions to address.

6. Illinois

Tim Beckman looks like he'll swirl the drain again this season.  Some youngsters should give the Illini a chance to feel optimistic, but I think they're still overmatched.

7. Purdue

When does basketball season start?

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Haters Keeping Bo Pelini On Their Hot Seat

Earlier this week, Martin Rickman of Sports Illustrated came out with a list of ten coaches on the hot seat in 2014.  And well below Michigan's Brady Hoke, Florida's Will Muschamp, and even Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, Rickman added a few names that didn't make his list, but thought he needed to briefly mention.

And halfway down the list, there's Bo:

Bo Pelini, Nebraska: A revamped offseason image took some of the heat off Pelini, but early struggles could wipe the shine away again.
Probably fair to list him there, despite the fact that Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst has repeatedly defended Pelini strongly. Most importantly, the last one was pretty much unsolicited.  A question about what Bo Pelini was doing different this spring (with all of the cat jokes) solicited the following response:
"He's a good ball coach, a good person, he's serious about his craft and he's very disciplined in his approach. We're lucky to have him at Nebraska."
Eichorst didn't have to go there...but he did. That's why Bo Pelini isn't really on a hot seat anymore. But that hasn't stopped the speculation from the Pelini haters, who seem to turn nearly every third thread into yet another debate on why Bo Pelini is on the hot seat. Never mind that Eichorst has pretty much stomped that talk after last season's Iowa game:
"volume of unfounded speculation and conjecture about our head football coach..."
It's like the instructions on your bottle of shampoo:  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Over and over and over again.

It's fruitless to debate this subject anymore.  Most fans have made up their minds on this. You either buy Pelini's record as a consistent nine or ten game winner...or you don't.  And even if you disagree with Shawn Eichorst, it really doesn't matter.  Eichorst has made his decision, and Pelini is staying.


Now, can Pelini work himself back onto the hot seat?  Absolutely. Heck, even Joe Paterno managed to get himself fired at Penn State. But nothing is on the horizon. Pelini is 1-0 since Eichorst first came out in support of Pelini, and won't lose again for at least three weeks. So why are we still discussing it?

One of the favored reasons for Pelini haters is that recruiting has slipped under his watch. That may - or may not - be true. I'm firmly convinced that  recruiting has an extremely long latency to evaluate...and that process takes years from the initial targeting of a recruit to finally determining how good the player actually is. So how is Pelini doing on the talent acquisition and development front?  Nick Handley from KXSP-AM 590 radio in Omaha found this on today.

Bucky Brooks ranked Nebraska #14 on his list of teams with NFL prospects, naming Randy Gregory, Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Corey Cooper, David Santos, and Byerson Cockrell as players to keep an eye on. Who's ranked lower than Nebraska in terms of talent?  #15 Clemson, #16 South Carolina, #17 Texas A&M, #18 Auburn, #19 Oklahoma, and #22 Texas.

Yes, it's one man's opinion...and somewhat premature to say. But it is an indication to feel optimistic about the future, and more importantly, it's a more thoughtful evaluation of Pelini than we get from the critics, who are convinced that if they call him "Pellllini" just one more time, people like me will suddenly see the light.