Friday, December 31, 2010

Huskers Offense Vanishes in Holiday Bowl

In tonight's Holiday Bowl, Nebraska had it's worst offensive performance since the Oklahoma State game in 2007. It reminded me of some of those painful Orange Bowl losses against Miami back in the 80's and 90's...except for one thing.  Nebraska wasn't facing Miami in their prime, but rather, a .500 Washington team that the Huskers beat by 35 three months earlier.

It was a night and day performance offensively.  Defensively, the Blackshirts played fairly well in the first half, but not so well in the second half. Even so, the game was essentially over at that point without a sign of life offensively.

Thanks to ESPN's coverage of the Music City Bowl as well as the Stanford/UConn women's basketball team, I missed much of the first half, so I'm not quite sure what to think about where it all started to go wrong.  Listening to Bo Pelini's post game press conference, I'm not quite sure he knows either at this point.  It was all the same problems that we've seen over the last month of the season, except that this wasn't against ranked opponents. This was a 6-6 team that ranked 103rd against the run this season.

Credit goes to Washington; they were ready to play and were the aggressors on defense. And for whatever reason, Nebraska really didn't try to take advantage of that aggression, instead trying to be patient and see whether the offense could work their way out of trouble.  Something they never really did.

My initial take is that the problem started right up front.  The offensive line couldn't deal with nine men in the box in the run game, and lost confidence. And it all steamrolled downhill from there, especially when the Huskies sacked Taylor Martinez on a three man rush that rolled over the entire line (and Roy Helu as well).

Martinez had another sketchy performance at quarterback tonight.  It looked like he was physically fairly healthy and had much of his speed and elusiveness back. But November and December took their toll on him mentally, and he struggled with his decision making throughout the night.  He took unnecessary sacks, and threw some ugly passes.

That had to give Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson a huge case of heartburn.  The running game was almost non-existant, and Martinez wasn't handling the passing game all that well either.  In hindsight, you could make a good case to pull Martinez, but at that point, Martinez was probably playing better than anybody else offensively.  What do you do?  Nebraska had run the Wildcat formation with Burkhead further than it ever should have gone, as evidenced by Burkhead's fumble that set up Washington's first score.

Would I have like to have seen Zac Lee come into the game instead of Cody Green?  Yes, mostly because I think Lee is a better passer and makes better decisions.  Green came in, and struggled to get the ball to wide-open receivers.  Granted, the Huskies had eased up on their pressure at that point, but I think Lee was more likely to be able to make some connections in the passing game.  That in turn could have opened up some runs, especially if it was done earlier in the game.

Defensively, the secondary was locked down on Jermaine Kearse and the rest of the Husky receivers, especially in the first half.  Jake Locker couldn't complete a pass until the second half, and even then, he only completed 6 of 18 passes for the game. The big problem was the inability to stop Chris Polk.  He went for nearly 300 against Washington State earlier this month, and he was the dagger in the heart of the Blackshirts.  If Nebraska's offense could have managed something .... ANYTHING .... Nebraska could have survived that outburst from Polk.  But not with the offense stuck in neutral, or reverse like it seemed to be at times in the second half.

Which brings me back to where the offense goes from here.  We'll see where the staff goes from here.  I get the feeling that Shawn Watson is very likely headed to Miami of Ohio.  If so, I wish him well.  Obviously, Nebraska needs to find a new linebackers coach as well.

Offensively, I'm curious to see where the offense goes.  Taylor Martinez has a lot of physical talents to take advantage of, but if it's going to be at quarterback, he needs someone to help teach him the way.  Is that Joe Ganz?  Don't know.  I would have thought Scott Frost would be another great candidate, but I don't get a good vibe on that anymore.  If it's not going to be Martinez, could it be Brion Carnes?  You never know.  The offensive line also needs to rebound quickly from this night.  It starts in the weight room ASAP, as these guys need to pull themselves out of the Jack Murphy Stadium turf after getting steamrolled by Washington.

Nebraska also needs to find playmakers at receiver to replace Niles Paul and Mike McNeill. I know guys were open tonight, but we need to find someone to become more consistent.

Bottom line as we move into the wee hours of the night.  Tonight might have been the worst offensive performance by a Husker team in a bowl game ever, considering the level of competition.  (I hope Washington fans don't take too much offense at that; most of the previous turds were against national championship contenders.)  But let's also remember that Nebraska won 10 games this season and has a Big XII North title.  10-4 is still an improvement over the previous regime, and the worst thing that can be done is to lose the faith.  I still believe in Bo Pelini and his staff, and want to see how they react and move forward.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wednesday Night Beer: Casey Martinez Fesses Up

Casey Martinez, who's son Taylor has been the subject of rumor after rumor in recent weeks, opened up to the Los Angeles Times today about what happened after Taylor went to the locker room with a first half injury. He confirmed the conventional wisdom out there that he initiated phone calls to the medical staff as well as to his son, and that his son returned the call, thus violating team rules and incurring the wrath of Bo Pelini when he returned to the field.

So now we know the story, but what we don't know is how this situation should evolve.  Bo Pelini knows (and even freely admits) that he should have handled it a little later. But what about everyone else? The medical staff probably should have held off on the discipline issue until halftime rather than distract the coach while the game was underway.

As for Taylor and his father, I'm not sure what the point of talking to the Los Angeles media about this is. If Taylor wants to be a quarterback in college football (and possibly beyond), he needs to open up himself with the local media first.  This is one of those lessons that a young college student sometimes has to learn the hard way. Martinez is a unique and special athlete who's going to need to be molded into a college quarterback by Pelini and his staff.

I'm also questioning why Casey would reopen this can of worms a day before the Holiday Bowl. Just what everybody needs, another distraction.

It's going to be a full 20 hours of local sports action starting tomorrow evening.  At 6 pm, the UNO Mavericks return to the ice to face 8-9-1 Quinnipiac.  After the last holiday break, the Mav hockey team returned sluggish, and were swept by Bemidji State.  Doesn't sound like that's the case this week, and that should set UNO for a good run in the second half of the season. These out-of-conference games against teams from the East don't necessarily impress the casual sports fan in Omaha, but are huge for helping set UNO's ranking for potential post-season action.  That game should end about 45 minutes before the Holiday Bowl ends; hopefully this year, the Music City Bowl will be over to allow us to see the opening kickoff.

Then at 11 am the next morning, the Mavs face off against Quinnipiac for the series finale. Considering many local sports fans will be sleeping in, it could be hockey on the radio during breakfast.  Sounds like the local weather is going to be nasty, so it'll be a good day to sit around the house with hockey on the radio and bowl games on the TV.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cody Green Thinks Some Fans Should Lay Off Watson As Well

A couple of quick notes about Shawn Watson from today's Omaha World-Herald

Says Cody Green:
‘Hey, you know what? It’s time to back off a little bit.’
My pre-Christmas post about the excessive criticism of Shawn Watson got a lot of responses, and I posted nearly all of them other than the super simplistic "Watson sucks" messages. I'm not suggesting that Watson shouldn't be criticized at at all, but if you are going to continue to criticize the guy, have something to back it up beside the generalities.  And frankly, after reading all those responses, I think the critics are talking more out of frustration than anything else.

Tom Shatel adds this little item that refutes some of the criticism from the comments:
And, to be fair, Watson did an admirable job of taking the big step toward the Pelini vision. He called several good games in 2010. Even put his foot on Missouri's throat with the power run game.
I criticized Watson's decision to leave Taylor Martinez in the Big XII Championship game in the second half, so I don't believe that Watson shouldn't be questioned, but after a while, it's gotten too much and too unsubstantiated.  I don't believe that we should blindly believe in our coaches no matter what, like the folks at BigRedBoard used to insist on during the Callahan/Pederson Error.

In the meantime, isn't there a game on Thursday night?  (Friday morning?)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas to All!

Merry Christmas to you and your family this holiday season.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Enough with the Shawn Watson Bashing

It seems no matter where I turn the last couple of weeks, I've read slam after slam on Shawn Watson, and while he's certainly shouldn't be immune to criticism, it's gotten old and nearly pointless at this point. Yes, we know what happened in the Big XII Championship game.  Criticize him for not changing quarterbacks if you will, but when you have a running quarterback who's has injuries to both feet, you've got an issue with what you can do.

And let's not bring up his previous championship game performances either; those were different teams that had their own offensive issues.  2005 was a Colorado team that mailed it in, while the 2009 Husker offense had their own problems with injuries at quarterback and running back.

I'm not praising Watson at all, but the constant chirping has gone far enough at this point. It's no longer original, and pointless. Do you really think it's going to encourage Miami to hire Watson?  Do you really think it's going to convince Bo Pelini to fire Watson?  Do you really think it's going to convince Harvey Perlman or Tom Osborne to force Pelini's hand?

I just don't see the point, other than bitching and moaning.  What have I missed?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

UNO Taking a Wait-and-See Position on New Arena

Over the weekend, the hardest working sports reporter in the area, Chad Purcell, checked in this weekend with Trev Alberts on the long rumored UNO arena at Chili Greens. My initial take is that Dean Blais may have inadvertently scuttled those plans with the Mavs hot start to this season.  The rumors had UNO thinking that a 7500 seat venue, but with UNO averaging over 6900 fans for games played during football season, it's become clear that 7500 is ridiculously small.  Said Alberts:
"We're in this new league, and we're winning at unprecedented levels. What happens to our crowds? I mean, let's not limit ourselves. We do have a 16,000-seat facility. Would I prefer to have 16,000 people every night? Absolutely. So is there some merit to some patience? Probably. We're (ranked) eighth in the country, and historically our first-half crowds have been impacted by Husker football, and that's understandable. But we have increased our attendance both years that Dean has been here -- what's going to happen here in the second half? Let's say we're a top-10, top-five program, and we're playing Denver and Wisconsin -- what's the impact of that? Can you grow to 16,000 consistent fans?”
A lot of UNO fans have wanted a UNO arena of their very own, if only to spite MECA for bumping UNO hockey for rodeos, wrestling, and concerts, but that's short-changing the program. Alberts recognizes that the focus needs to be to develop the overall program to be everything it can be, and then worry about what the right facility for it is.  A lot of people point out that a 7500 seat facility would still be one of the largest facilities in college hockey, and could be a great atmosphere.

Which is true....but could UNO hockey be even more?  Look at Creighton basketball; the old Civic Auditorium was fairly comparable with the rest of Missouri Valley basketball programs. It may have been about 10% smaller than average, but comparable.  The moved to the Qwest Center, which held about three times as many fans as usually attended Bluejay games in the middle 90's.  The Bluejays developed into a regular winner, and soared to 15th nationally in attendance last year.  Ten Big XII schools trailed Creighton last year in basketball attendance.

Dean Blais is making UNO hockey nationally relevant; they've been ranked in the top ten for nearly two months now, and show no signs that they'll slip down the line.  How many hockey fans will show up in January and February?  Hard to say, but if UNO plays in January like they did in October and November, I foresee sellout crowds in February.  How could UNO downsize their crowds and shoehorn them into a small arena?

A wise UNO fan said that last year, all the old assumptions about what UNO could do went out the door when Trev Alberts was hired. Right now, we don't know what UNO can do down the line, but it appears the finances don't support the size of arena that UNO leads at this time. In fact, Alberts even mentioned that UNO is going to need a partnership, and that any arena has to support the community. That's well and good, but this community is currently spending over $150 million to build two baseball stadiums (when one would have been sufficient).  Is there going to be any support to build a new UNO arena, even though the Mavs currently play at an NHL-caliber arena that's under 10 years old?  I just don't see that as viable at this point in time.

So for now, I think UNO's arena plans are on hold.  UNO needs to wait and see where Blais takes this program, and how fans react to a national contender in hockey.  Then, UNO needs to take the pulse of the community to see if a new arena makes sense for the Mavs and the community. That's something that isn't clear today, and frankly, isn't possible. So waiting is the logical step for the time being.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Standhardinger/Sadler Separation Not a Surprise, Except For the Explanation

To almost nobody's surprise, forward Christian Standhardinger told Husker basketball coach Doc Sadler that he was leaving Nebraska. The reason Standhardinger gave was lack of playing time, which was cut short by Sadler in response to off-the-court issues regarding academics.  After quitting the team, Standhardinger grabbed a laptop and finished work on a class project, telling the Lincoln Journal-Star that he was getting A's and B's in his classes.

There's a huge disconnect there between what was said and what actually happened. Both Standhardinger and Sadler took the classy way out on this; no need to sully the issue further. Obviously, there was something wrong in the relationship between Standhardinger and the Husker basketball team.  On the court, Standhardinger looked like the best playmaker I've seen in a Husker basketball uniform since glory days of the Danny Nee era at times. At other times, he was either on the bench or no where to be seen. Steven Sipple of the Journal-Star suggests that it was a chemistry issue, which makes about as much sense as anything.

Sipple suggests that Nebraska's recent run of success might be related to the absence of Standhardinger, and there's something to the notion of addition by subtraction. Hard to read too much into where Nebraska basketball is at this point.  Since returning from Puerto Rico, they have two decent wins over TCU and Southern Cal to show on their resume, but even so, those teams don't really match up well against the Big XII.  (Though Kansas's struggle with Southern Cal on Saturday might be a contrary indicator.) The Huskers should be 12-2 going into conference play, which sounds good until you realize that the Huskers were 12-3 going into conference play last season.

Translation: We really won't be able to judge where Husker basketball is until they start conference play, and even then, we might not really know much until late January.  The schedule starts off with Iowa State, Kansas, and Missouri, all of whom are orders of magnitude better than anybody else the Huskers have played to this point.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Night Dessert: Big Ten Division NameFail Heading for Reversal

Chalk another one for the Big Ten and Jim Delaney for recognizing that the "Legends and Leaders" division titles met with nearly universal disdain ("90%") and making it clear that unless fan opinion mellows out down the line, the Big Ten will readdress the names. One of my philosophies of life is that people aren't defined so much by their mistakes as much as how they react to their mistakes.  We all make mistakes (some more than others), so admit to them and try to make things right in the end.  That's true leadership.

Steve Pederson's latest search for a football coach certainly went faster than his last one, but the initial reaction to Pederson's search is pretty low. Pitt blog "Cardiac Hill" summarized his immediate reaction to Michael Hayward in one word:
"Ugh."'s Brian Bennett notes Hayward's 10-15 record in two seasons at Miami of Ohio, and points out that most folks are underwhelmed. The Redhawks did win the MAC this season after a horrible 2009 season, but that's it for Hayward. Prior to Miami, Hayward was offensive coordinator for Notre Dame, though Charlie Weis took over playcalling duties in Hayward's final season in South Bend. Sounds like Stevie P still has that magic Pedeyshine touch.

UNO hockey managed to pull off a split against Colorado College this weekend with a 3-0 victory tonight after taking penalty after penalty last night in a 5-2 loss.  A road split was what I was hoping for this weekend; CC has been playing well as of late, rising to #20 in the polls. Now the Mavs get a holiday break, and hopefully making a big push in the second half of the season.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ad Agencies Gone Wild: Big Ten Unveils Lame Logo, Absurd Division Names

Much to nearly unaminous disdain, the Big Ten unveiled their new logo and division names today.  Rather than risk offending anybody by selecting any icons or history, Jim Delaney and the Big Ten brass decided to do that "vision thing" and brand the two divisions as "Legends and Leaders".  Or "Dungeons and Dragons".  Or the double "L"s. 

The idea is simply absurd.  Northwestern football has been better the last 15 years than the previous 50, but they're not a legend.  Indiana and Purdue aren't "Leaders" in football.  Nebraska and Michigan may consider their programs "legendary", but I'd bet they consider themselves Leaders.

This is all branding run amok, where an agency got paid way too much money to sit in conference rooms and talk to people in high positions but never tested their work to see how people reacted to it.  It's a product that likely met the stated objectives of the powers-that-be, but failed to account for the end customer. It's ramming a vision down the throats of the college football world, damned be to whatever people think about it.  We're the B1G TEN, dammit!

Frankly, the B1G TEN made this one harder than they needed to. The simple answer was to go with geography for the division names; uninspired, yes...but it wouldn't be as ridiculed as this one.  Personally, I still think that the way to go would have been to appeal to the history of the conference with the division names, but combine it with a futuristic logo.  The Big Ten Network logo actually works here; just add a twelfth star to the design.  I understand the desire to not offend any of the other schools by selecting icons like Bo Schembechler or Woody Hayes. select a couple of icons from the now-defunct University of Chicago football program.  Namely, the Stagg Division and the Berwanger Division.  Stagg, of course, refers to legendary head coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, while Berwanger refers to Jay Berwanger, who won the first Heisman Trophy playing for Chicago.  Who's going to be offended by using a couple of old Maroons?

Or it could be something a little more sinister than that. Since the unveiling of the new name for Omaha's former professional baseball team, I've realized that sometimes it doesn't matter whether anybody likes the name or not as long as long as people talk about it. Bad publicity isn't bad; it's still publicity.  It doesn't matter if people call it crap as long as people are talking about it.  Just don't misspell the name.

So that also provides us with the solution. Like Omaha's former baseball team, don't even mention the new name.  Brian Cook of the MGoBlog suggests that fans, bloggers, and writers simply refuse to acknowledge the proposed names, and go with the generic East/West division names.

So we have the East Division with Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, and Wisconsin and the West Division with Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Northwestern.  It's not 100% geographically accurate, but close enough.  The "East" schools are generally east of the "West" schools.

At least for now; I get the feeling this one might have a lifespan somewhere between the new Gap logo and New Coke.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sluggish Mavs Sweep Michigan Tech

After last week's sweep by Bemidji State, the UNO Mavericks fell to #10 in the USCHO rankings (#9 in the USA Today poll), and while the Mavs played better against last place Michigan Tech, they also made Tech look better than they have in recent weeks.

Thursday night's game started slow with a scoreless opening period, but the Mavs broke the game open with gaols midway through the second period to open a two score lead. UNO controlled the puck most of the night, but something just seemed to be off much of the night.  Despite outshooting Tech 53-19, it took an empty net goal in the final minute to seal the victory in the series opener.

Friday night wasn't any better, with another sloppy first period until Brock Montpetit fed Ryan Walters on a rush for UNO's first goal of the game.  If you saw highlights on KETV this weekend, you saw a second period goal that didn't count as instant replay showed the puck was kicked in by Joey Martin.  Two minutes later, the Huskies tied the game with an easy rebound goal.  Two third period goals gave UNO the victory in a game that was a lot tougher to win than one would have thought. To their credit, the Huskies played one of their better games of the season, leading Tech coach Jamie Russell to claim that they deserved two points for their effort.  (Participation ribbon perhaps?)   I understand the desire to be rewarded for playing one fo their better games of the season...but UNO was clearly the better team, even if the Mavs didn't play that well all weekend.

This weekend will be much tougher, with a trip to fifth place Colorado College in the final games before the Christmas break. Last year, the Mavs struggled even worse in December, but rebounded solidly after New Years', putting together a nice run in the second half.  This year, they don't so much need to turn it aroudn as much as regain some of the momentum of October and November.

Monday, December 06, 2010

2010 BlogPoll: Final Regular Season Ballot

How fair is it to drop a team who lost a close conference championship game to a higher ranked opponent? Not at all in my book.  Most teams don't play in these games, so they stand pat on the sidelines. So yes, I'm leaving Nebraska and Florida State right where they were last week.  South Carolina does drop a little due to getting blown out by Auburn, though.  That blowout does earn Auburn a bump to #2 over TCU in my book.

Since it was a light week, not a lot of changes this week.  Virginia Tech gets a bit of a bump for their victory, while Arizona gets the boot for missing two extra points at the end of the game.  In comes USC, and I give them the edge over Hawai'i, if only for the head-to-head victory to open the season.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sunday Night Dessert: Only One Redeeming Factor of Holiday Bowl Rematch

When word of a Holiday Bowl rematch with Washington came out this evening, it took a while to digest what the point is.  10-3 Nebraska versus 6-6 Washington?  What's the point of this, especially after the Huskers absolutely destroyed the Huskies in Seattle?  Even the Washington fans over at the UW Dawg Pound can't believe this, as Washington and Nebraska will now play three times in the span of 365 days.

Iowa fans over at Black Heart Gold Pants aren't exactly thrilled to get Missouri, though they might take some solace in the fact that they'll probably find it easier to get tickets from the ticket office in Columbia than the one in Iowa City.  Missouri fans are, of course, thrilled because, well, they agree with the Iowa, Washington, and Nebraska fans that the Huskers got screwed on this one.

That's OK. I've found one redeeming factor for the Holiday Bowl matchup. Both games are late night affairs with 9 pm kickoffs...meaning the game will end the next day in Omaha.  For the Insight Bowl, that next day is Wednesday, which means a short night of sleep before having to go to work. For the Holiday Bowl, that next day is New Years Eve and a holiday, which means a chance to sleep in (kids permitting).

Whatever. It's important to put the disappointment over losing the championship game behind them, and focus on the rematch with the Huskies.  An eleven win season is still possible.

It wasn't a good weekend on the ice either, as UNO got swept by Bemidji State this weekend up north. From what I understand, it was an ugly weekend of hockey as the Beavers trapped the Mavs to gut out the wins. Look for UNO to slip out of the top five in the rankings this week.  Had to figure UNO was going to slip up one of these weeks.

The one bright side for the weekend was the Husker basketball team pulling off the second half comeback against Creighton. This win does wonders for keeping the chirpiness down around town. More importantly, it's a second win in the last two weekends with a big second half comeback.  Last year, Nebraska had a problem finishing games, breaking down in the second half, and more importantly, in the closing minutes of the game. Reversing that trend this season is certainly a welcome change.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Turnovers and Quarterback Issues Doom Nebraska in Final Battle with Oklahoma

Nebraska dominated the first quarter of tonight's final conference matchup with Oklahoma, but offensive mistakes the rest of the way doomed the Huskers in the end. It almost seemed like two separate games; Nebraska was rolling early on behind a dominating offensive line performance and a stifling Blackshirt defense. I admit it, I was feeling pretty good when the Huskers were up 17-0.  But the Sooners struck quickly, and the momentum was clearly on the side of the Sooners.

The Blackshirts played well enough to win tonight.  I would have liked to have had an answer for the running back screens, but overall, it would have been enough if the offense could have delivered.

All week long, e-mail boxes throughout the state were filled with stories that Taylor Martinez was suspended last week and was transferring somewhere else.  Those rumors turned out to be just that; bogus internet garbage just like the stories about Bob Davie's cable guy or the the banker in Ghana that needs my help to transfer $25 million out of his country.  Martinez started, and sadly, finished the game.

I have no issue with Martinez starting tonight's game. He looked more mobile than he has since the first half of the Missouri game, so it was an easy choice for him to start. But against the best defense he's faced all year, he made way too many mistakes.  Trouble holding onto the ball.  Holding onto the ball too long and taking a sack.  Panicking and throwing the ball into coverage for an interception.  Martinez made a lot of freshman mistakes, and this late in the season, a quarterback shouldn't be making those mistakes. Granted, in September and October, Martinez wasn't so much a quarterback as another running back, amazing us with his legs, making us forget his limitations throwing the ball.  We saw a little bit of a dual-threat quarterback emerge against Oklahoma State, but he regressed back tonight.

Which raises the question, why was Martinez allowed to finish tonight's game? Midway through the fourth quarter, Rex Burkhead seemed to take over with Martinez moving to wide receiver.  All that to set up a deep throw to Martinez?  Martinez was open, but Burkhead couldn't get the ball to him until the coverage caught up to the quarterback.  The Wildcat is a nice diversion and wrinkle, but down the stretch, that seemed to be all Nebraska had available.

Which makes no sense to me.  Were both Cody Green and Zac Lee unavailable tonight?  Was Rex Burkhead really the best backup quarterback available tonight?  I didn't hear that asked in the postgame press conference, and it's the number one question I have about tonight's game.

Credit goes to Oklahoma for winning tonight's game; they made the plays tonight, and Nebraska didn't.  But Nebraska's coaching staff has to answer the question as to why Nebraska didn't pull Martinez tonight.

And that's the question that's going to eat this state and the Husker fan base tonight.  The Blackshirts played well enough to win, but like last year, couldn't do it all. At least last season, Zac Lee made a few plays down the stretch to give the Huskers a chance.  This year, the Husker quarterback wasn't making plays much of the game, and didn't get pulled, even though there were two other options that have shown that they could make plays in previous games.

Why?  Why?  Why?

Big XII Media's Bitterness Mars Nebraska's Exit from the Big XII

I haven't seen any latest version of the "Don't Let The Door Hit You On Your Way Out, Nebraska" story that has become a staple of Big XII region columnists this week.  All week, newspapers throughout the Big XII region have featured their own revision of the "Nebraska: Good Riddance" story that seems plagarize AJ the Huskerh8er's old blog more than have any original thoughts.

If you've read one, you've read them all for the most part:  Nebraska fans aren't perfect, Bo Pelini yells too much, Nebraska tried to destroy the Big XII Conference, and Nebraska thinks they are the Harvard of the Great Plains.

Blah blah blah.  Of course, Nebraska fans aren't perfect.  Sure, we don't shower visiting fans with urine and we actually show up at games at home, on the road, and at bowl games. (Glancing southeast towards Columbia.)  But Husker fans go overboard at times, especially in expressing their displeasure at Dan Beebe towards his conduct over the last couple of months.  Husker fans got a little validation this week when UNO hockey coach Dean Blais said that UNO received similar treatment from the CCHA last season before jumping to the WCHA this year.

Dan Beebe played the victim last week, claiming that Big Red fans were out of control.  And the media outside of Nebraska ate it up, taking Dan Beebe at his word because he never exaggerates things (oh, like television contracts).  The Nebraska media took the time to try and verify Beebe's claims, and found that the authorities essentially gave up trying to substantiate any threats to the Big XII Commissioner.  Vile-mouthed? Yep.  But Beebe's failure to send someone to Lincoln last week had zero to do with safety and everything to do with sending Tom Osborne and Nebraska a message

Does Bo Pelini yell too much during games? Yep.  He even admits that he went too far against Texas A&M.  He's learning how to be a head coach as well too.

But the rest?  Pure bitterness, and easily understood (and dismissed).  The dynamics of Nebraska leaving the Big XII almost ensured it.  You've got schools like Missouri, Kansas, and Kansas State who faced an uncertain future with the best options looking like the Mountain West or the Big East.  You've got schools like Oklahoma and Texas A&M who weren't exactly enamored with their options either.  And of course, you've got Texas holding the remaining nine other schools hostage to their every whim.  Some of these writers admit their envy, suggesting that if their school had an interest from the Big Ten, they'd do exactly the same thing Nebraska did.

No, the N doesn't stand for Nowledge.  (Ha!!! That was so clever the first billion times I read it!)  Nebraska has improved their academics in recent years, and the Big Ten opens new opportunities that aren't available in the Big XII.  Academics in the Big XII are good...but they're better in the Big Ten.  It's a real reason for Nebraska to make the move, especially considering the instability of the Big XII.  The money will eventually be better in the Big Ten, but for now, it's a breakeven proposition for the Huskers.

This is what it is:  an ugly divorce.  Totally to be expected.  Nebraska fans are feeling a little uppity, especially with the perceptions of the actions of some in the conference and looking forward to new rivalries and new opportunities.  The rest of the conference is defensive, disappointed that their school is still a "proud member" of something that will be less than what it once was.  Some will write "just leave", which is simplistic at best. (Like Nebraska could have switched leagues immediately and began play in the Big Ten this year.)

Both sides need to step back and take the high road. Down the line, both sides will wish they had acted differently this year.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wednesday Night Beer: Alex Henery Gets Snubbed

One of the biggest surprises (and disappointments) of this week is that not only didn't Alex Henery not get nominated for the Lou Groza Award as best kicker in college football, but that he didn't even get first-team All-Big XII. For both honors, he was beaten out by Oklahoma State's Dan Bailey. Henery is 16 for 17 on field goals this season; his one miss was the blocked 51 yard attempt against Missouri.  Meanwhile, Bailey is 24 for 28 this season and unlike Henery, he's missed an extra point attempt.  ESPN's David Ubben probably defines the best reason for picking Bailey; Bailey made his first 18 attempts this season, which is more than Henery has even tried.  Bailey also leads the nation in scoring.  Good point...but let's be honest, which kicker would you rather have?

Before anybody accuses me of "hating" Oklahoma State, let me add that I selected Mike Gundy on my ballot for the Eddie Robinson Award. That was a no-brainer decision; sure other teams have had better seasons than Oklahoma State, but very few people saw the Cowboys 10-2 season coming. They were picked to finish fifth in the South division in the summer.

I get the vibe from Lincoln that the coaching staff and team are laser-focused on this weekend's Big Eight Championship game against Oklahoma. That rubs me two ways: one, there's no way they are looking past this game, and they'll play well.  Or they'll be too tense for this one, like they were in October when Texas came to town. The best way to describe what happened that day was that Nebraska choked; the Huskers and their fans (myself included) wanted that game SO badly, that they just didn't make the plays they needed. I do think Nebraska matches up well with the Sooners, as I think Landry Jones might have almost as much trouble completing passes this Saturday night as he did last season in Lincoln. The x-factor in my mind is whether Nebraska's offense can put points on the board.

Update on the threats to Dan Beebe. Beebe filed a report with the Dallas Police Department, who are now looking into the situation.  Only one little issue with this whole story:

Beebe filed his police report yesterday.

Beebe was all over the media on Friday night, telling his tale of woe and how a small group of vile and out-of-control Husker fans made it impossible for him (or anybody on his staff) to come to Lincoln that day.  But apparently the threat wasn't enough to involve the police.  Beebe said last week that a lot of the messages included their phone numbers and e-mail addresses, meaning that it should be an easy job to track some of the lamebrains down. So what really happened?  Hard to say for sure exactly, but Beebe probably got a bunch of really colorful messages filled with f-bombs and other assorted obscenities.  But as far as threats go?  Well, you've probably already read them all by now, and the threat was so real to Dan that he waited a week to contact the authorities.

That's not to excuse the actions of the 2000 or so Husker fans who apparently contacted the Big XII offices.  But it does put it in a bit of perspective as to the level of the threat, which might be more tasteless than anything.

The tale of Omaha's independent league baseball team grows a little more intriguing. Seems the owners of the Omaha Flame issued a press release yesterday requesting the opportunity to appear at the December 15th MECA board meeting in an apparent attempt to take their negotiations to play in TD Ameritrade Park public and bypass Roger Dixon.  After the soap operas between the NCAA, the city of Omaha, the Omaha Royals, and MECA, I guess it's only appropriate that even the discussion of an independent league team goes this way as well.

Monday, November 29, 2010

2010 BlogPoll Week 14

Here's my BlogPoll ballot for this week:

I'm not penalizing Boise State as much for their road loss. I've been forgiving of losses like this all season.  I really struggled with finding a team to add into the lineup, and I was down to Hawai'i or Notre Dame...and went for the Irish.  I couldn't forgive Hawai'i for their loss to Colorado...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Night Beer: Dan Beebe Is Mr. Absurd

Does anybody still believe much of anything that Big XII Commissioner Dan Beebe says anymore?  How's that television contract coming along, Dan?  Seriously, Beebe dropped a few whoppers this weekend that continue to stretch the limits of his credibility. First, he claimed that it was too dangerous for anybody from the Big XII office to come to Lincoln for the last conference game for Nebraska and Colorado, with a division title on the line?  Well, maybe for Beebe, but what about Ed Stewart? You really think Mr. "Nebraska is still Nebraska, K-State is still K-State" would be in ANY danger?  Of course, the uproar over a division trophy is really silly.  I thought this thing was a ludicrous figment of Steve Pederson's imagination in 2006.  Let's remember that FIVE teams will be awarded one of these trophies this season:  Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M.

That's not to dismiss the stupid things that some Nebraska fans wrote, telephoned, and e-mailed Beebe over the last week. A few Husker fans have a history of saying and doing stupid things over the years, such as threatening Kevin Cosgrove. Indefensible, but that's life for a lot of people in the public eye. How many college football coaches have bodyguards, such as Missouri's Gary Pinkel?  Think that some crackpot Mizzou fan hasn't written a threatening letter to Pinkel?

Then Saturday night, Beebe went one step further, telling the Lincoln Journal-Star that Texas A&M's Tony Jerod-Eddie wasn't trying to molest Ben Cotton:
“Well, if you think it was that (jabbing at testicles), we’ll just have to disagree. I don’t think it was in that manner. And didn’t the Nebraska player say he was just trying to get to the ball?”  
 Wow.  Simply, wow.

The boys down at Bring on the Cats find Husker fans outrage over this matter hypocritical, since Chad May was allegedly poked in the eye by Christian Peter back in 1994.  Perhaps, but there are two key differences in the two situations.  First of all, this isn't a "he said; she said" situation (see Chase Daniel's since-refuted "spitting" allegation); there's actual video evidence. Secondly (and most importantly), Ben Cotton got flagged with two 15 yard penalties on the play.  Jerod-Eddie's stunt had a direct impact on the game, turning a difficult third and 14 into a ridiculous third and 44.  Nebraska was unlikely to get that first down on third and 14, but that still affected the field position after the punt.

There's only one response:  win the final Big Eight Championship game against Oklahoma on Saturday night.  Of course, it's obvious that just about everybody not wearing Husker Red will be cheering for the Sooners in this one.  That fact we should have known since last June.

It's just my luck this weekend.  Behind a touch of the flu and some travelling, I missed nearly all of the best parts of this weekend's sports action (Boise's second half choke, Nebraska basketball's second half comeback, and that wild fourth quarter in the Oklahoma/Oklahoma State game)  Arrgh.

I'm not sure how many people showed up at Rosenblatt yesterday for the UFL championship game. Frankly, that was a gamble by the UFL that came up craps.  There was no reason to award that game to Omaha, and hope that the Nighthawks would make the game.  A better plan would be to award the game to the first team to earn the championship game berth.  They may have issued 15,310 tickets, but frankly, more people would have enjoyed this game in Orlando or Las Vegas.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Huskers Claim Back-to-Back North Titles in 45-17 Victory over Colorado

Looking back on today's game, I think Colorado's only chance to win today's game was if instant replay hadn't overturned Rex Burkhead's fumble on the fifth play of the game.  That would have given Colorado the ball in scoring territory and momentum, and that was something the Buffaloes wouldn't have the entire afternoon. From there on, Nebraska was in control of the game.

Cody Green had his best game as a Nebraska Cornhusker filling in for Taylor Martinez and Zac Lee. Shawn Watson didn't ask him to do too much, but he did what he needed to do.  He gained confidence as the game went along, ran tougher than he has, and zipped some passes right on target.  Or maybe Colorado's defense is that bad; hard to say.  Suffice it to say that Green vindicated himself well from some of the criticism he's taken in recent weeks.

After that incompletion, Burkhead did just about everything on offense except kick.  He ran with power, dragging Buffy defenders with him as he plowed his way downfield, and elusiveness, reversing field a few times to find daylight. Then there was his two touchdown passes out of the Wildcat formation, including his improv flip to Kyler Reed after reversing his field. Roy Helu ran with power in limited action.

Shawn Watson has taken a lot of abuse in recent weeks for his playcalling, but today, he opened things up a bit.  A little less zone read, a whole bunch of Wildcat (almost to the point of excess), and even some power formations to let the offensive line tee-off and dominate the Buffaloes.

The Blackshirts dominated the Buffs for most of the first 40 minutes of the game to take control of the game, minus a few busted coverages on defense. Will Compton might have been the biggest factor in limiting Colorado's Rodney Stewart much of the game.  The defensive line had a quiet game statistically, but had the deflection that set up the first interception of Cody Hawkins.  The three second-half turnovers pretty much elminated any hopes the Buffs had to make a comeback.

Nice to see Zac Lee make it into the game late to take a few snaps in his final home game. Also Joe Broekemeier took advantage of his opportunity to fill in for Niles Paul with some clutch catches. The game finished up with a nice postgame presentation of highlights of Nebraska's time in the Big XII conference accompanied to fireworks. At the time, I was glad that there was no forced trophy presentation as part of it. The 2006 ceremony seemed forced, out of line and atypical of Nebraska; I could ridicule it easily as just one more of those stupid things Steve Pederson did.  Turns out that some people in Lincoln are upset that there wasn't a presentation, feeling slighted because Dan Beebe chose not to send a representative to Lincoln with the trophy.  Seems Beebe was feeling threatened after getting lots of angry messages from Husker fans, and chose to avoid any confrontation. I get the feeling from the Tom Osborne quotes that he's wishing that Nebraska could have left the Big XII immediately rather than deal with Beebe and his organization this season.

Nevertheless, Nebraska doesn't need that bedpan trophy. We know what Nebraska accomplished this season; first back-to-back Big XII North championships since 1996-97. If that isn't proof that Nebraska isn't getting closer to where Husker fans want them to be, I don't know what is.

So we wait until tomorrow to find out whether the Huskers will play Oklahoma or Oklahoma State.  (I assume that while Texas A&M is technically still alive to earn the South, the Aggies trail the Sooners too much in the BCS to make up the difference for the tiebreaker.)  Wouldn't a Nebraska/Oklahoma matchup be the perfect way to leave the Big Eight/XII behind?

Husker Mike's PostGame Colorado Podcast

Nebraska claims the final Big XII North Bedpan with a 45-17 victory over Colorado

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tuesday Night Beer: Did Carl 'Fess Up To Bo?

I must say I was impressed that Bo Pelini didn't wait for the inevitable question about his behavior to apologize to fans; he started his press conference with his mea culpa. He said what needed to be said yesterday, and from that perspective, I think this whole episode starts to calm down.  (Nevermind some ESPN talking heads who still have to work through their material...)  We'll see if we start seeing a "kindler, gentler" Pelini on the sideline.

I know that in certain segments of Husker fandom, Bo Pelini's apology isn't enough. I get that, but let's be honest: Tom Osborne was a special case, and aside from Turner Gill, there aren't a lot of men like that. When Pelini was being hired, I felt he had the biggest risk as he's rough around the edges. But he's got the biggest upside.  Eventually, I think he'll learn how to manage his emotions better on the sideline.

One thing I didn't like was Bo's explanation of what happened with Carl Pelini and the cameraman. When Bo said that Carl was trying to escort a player off the field, I thought back and asked "what player?"  I didn't have access to the video at the moment, but I couldn't remember a player in that vicinity.  Then the still pictures came out, and Carl's explanation fell on the floor. I don't blame Bo for this; as Carl's brother and boss, he took him at his word.  That forced Carl to issue his own statement of apology today.  Wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall when Bo found out that Carl's tale was fiction?

Bottom line was that Saturday night was not the Pelini brothers finest night. But they survived, and hopefully they've learned some valuable lessons. 

On the local sports scene, Ralston just inked a deal with the Omaha Lancers to build a new 3500 seat arena on the old Lakeview Golf Course.  I'm not sure I see the logic in this development; it's going to use tax revenue from a proposed Menards home improvement store to pay for the $25 million arena.  That might fly, except I don't see the relationship between Menards and an arena.  I don't see a Menards store being dependent on the arena, so the arena is siphoning tax revenue away from the state that could be used on other programs.  That's not to say that Omaha couldn't use another recreational ice skating facility, but I just don't see the value in a Ralston arena. Like the Trailer Park at BFE, it's government welfare for sports franchises. And right now, government has much higher priorities for our tax money.

Speaking of baseball, the folks trying to bring an independent league team to Omaha are turning up the heat on MECA to play at TD Ameritrade Park. They have a franchise in the new 16 team North American Baseball League and thought they had a deal with MECA...only MECA is now holding out due to concerns about the league's viability.  It's curious to me why MECA wants to wait and see.  It seems that these independent leagues twist and turn from year to year anyway.  If the new league fails but the team is a success, they'll simply get absorbed into another league.  If they're willing to pay MECA's price to play downtown, I'm not sure I see a reason why not. It would diminish concerns that some people have about the new ballpark sitting idle all year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

2010 BlogPoll Week 13

Not a lot of changes this week...I drop the Huskers down below Oklahoma after this weekend's game...and move A&M ahead of Missouri.  At the bottom, Florida and Florida State move back in; I almost left Miami in despite losing to a ranked foe.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Pelini Brothers Need To Own Up To Saturday Night

Much has been written and tweeted about the conduct of Bo Pelini and his brother Carl during and after the Huskers 9-6 loss at Texas A&M.  We've always known Bo Pelini was a fiery guy, and we've become used to seeing highlights of Pelini when things aren't going so well. Sometimes it's valid, like against Virginia Tech in 2008 when Pelini got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.  Sometimes it's not, when Pelini flipped his headset over his shoulder against Tech in 2009.

Last night, Bo Pelini went over the edge with his berating of the refs.  Former Husker linebacker Blake Lawrence said on Twitter last night that Pelini's problems with this side judge dates back to 2008. In the end, Pelini's outbursts on the sideline didn't seem to help the Huskers, and considering the number of penalties called, probably hurt the Huskers more.

Then you've got the issue with Taylor Martinez on the sideline. For a couple of hours, the internet was full of rumors that Martinez was quitting the team. At this time, those rumors have been discredited. Even so, it was an ugly display on national television. In this day and age, television networks use more cameras than ever before, and I would be shocked if a dedicated "Pelini Cam" wasn't part of most network television broadcasts...just in case you get something juicy.  Assign someone in the truck to keep an eye on Pelini and call out to the director if something happens, and boom, you've got instant highlights.  I get that; that's what technology buys us today.  So while we enjoyed those shots of Steve Spurrier in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, now we cringe when the focus turns to the Husker head coach.

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman wasn't exactly pleased with what he saw, and he already discussed it with Tom Osborne this morning. I would be shocked if Osborne and Pelini hadn't already discussed this, and probably will discuss it further. While there will be discussions, I don't expect much to emerge from this officially, as long as the situation is addressed in some manner.

Here's what I'd suggest:  We know that Pelini's outbursts will be one of the first couple of questions on tomorrow's Big XII teleconference. Pelini needs to be prepared to address the situation, and by address it, I mean he needs to be contrite and admit that his emotions got the better of him. Don't mention the calls, don't mention the specifics of the situation. That'll get him in even more trouble. Just admit that he's got to do a better job managing his temper.  If he does this tomorrow as well as in Tuesday's press conference, Pelini will be just fine.

What he can't do is what Bill Callahan did five years ago after the throat slash. Everybody knew the question was coming, and Callahan denied even knowing anything about the controversy.  He never accepted responsibility, and in the end, he got reprimanded by the Big XII for it.  Callahan made the problem worse by not being upfront and contrite.  Denial got him no where.

Sometime next month, or perhaps better after the season is over, I'd hope that Tom Osborne and Pelini would sit down and go over these situations, and hopefully bring in someone like former Husker quarterback Clete Blakeman, who's now an NFL referee, to help provide some perspective from the other side. Nebraska's move to the Big Ten may give Pelini a mulligan in his relationship with referees; a new conference means new crews, and while they likely have heard about Pelini, they won't have a  personal experience to base it on.

I think Bo Pelini is still learning the nuances of being a head coach, but it's also easy for fans to confuse the manner with which he expresses himself on the sideline with the actual message that he's delivering. If Pelini was screaming and ranting with personal attacks on players, I don't think Pelini would have so much support from current and former players. Everything I've read and heard is that Pelini focuses on the mistake, not the individual who made them. If Pelini were to belittle a player in this manner, we'd have heard dissension from players by now. Lawrence confirmed this on Twitter this afternoon, saying that every player on the team is behind him.

So why does this approach work with players and not refs? My guess is that Pelini hasn't developed any personal relationship with referees...and shouldn't. So they get the full fury of Pelini; the "tough" without the "love."

I think Pelini knew that his approach didn't work by the time the team plane got back to Lincoln. I don't think Osborne and Perlman have to tell him or discipline Pelini; what they need to do is help Pelini find a way to grow and learn how to manage his actions on the sideline so it's not a distraction.

Brother Carl Pelini might have his own set of issues however, after his incident with the operator of, who turned his camera on Carl Pelini after the game, then quickly panned up and away from Pelini before the camera angle sharply shifted towards the turf. Since the camera turned away from Carl, we don't know what, if anything, he did...though it doesn't take much to assume that Carl could have done something with the camera. Again, at this point, coming clean is probably the best defense at this point, rather than let the story fester.