Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Big Ten Power Poll, Week 4

The big news is that Michigan finally fell from their perch atop my Power Poll ballot, as submitted to CornNation.com.  Their season opening victory over Central Michigan now looks like an abberation after close calls against Akron and winless UConn.  And their win over Notre Dame doesn't look all that great after watching the Irish struggle with Purdue and then Michigan State.  So now my new #1 team in the Big Ten is Wisconsin.

1. Wisconsin

They got hozed by the refs at Arizona State. They've been the most consistent team in the Big Ten, in my opinion.

2. Ohio State

Why not Ohio State on top?  Buffalo scored 20, Cal scored 34.  We'll learn more this Saturday.

3. Northwestern

They are winning. Maybe not the toughest competition, but they've been winning.

4. Nebraska

Tough call between Michigan and the Huskers. Both teams have their issues, but Wyoming is way better than Akron, while South Dakota State is probably comparable to UConn.  And Michigan hasn't played anybody like UCLA to this point.

5.  Michigan

I suspect that Oklahoma is going to go Boomer Sooner all over South Bend this weekend, and that week two victory by the Weasels over Notre Dame isn't going to look nearly as good.

6. Penn State

Their loss against Central Florida might not be as bad as it looked.

 7. Michigan State

I wish Nebraska could play the Spartans next...the Blackshirts need a boost of confidence, and the Spartans offense is so anemic, it could be that spark the Big Red needs.

8. Minnesota

Gophers are 4-0.

9. Iowa

Nice win against Central Michigan.

10. Illinois

The loss against Washington wasn't that bad, really.

11. Indiana

Slapped around by Mizzou.  Really?

12. Purdue

102nd in passing offense, 106th in rushing offense, 117th in points scored, 94th in points allowed.  That's bad football. And this team nearly upset Notre Dame?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Blackshirts Struggle While Offense Rolls In Huskers Blowout of South Dakota State

About all we knew about South Dakota State going into this game was that they were a pretty good division 1-AA team with a heck of a running back.  Today, the Blackshirts made Zach Zenner look even better, as Zenner rushed for 202 yards on just 21 carries. You'd like to think it was a long time since Nebraska gave up a 200 yard rushing day, but it hasn't.  (/Wisconsin scores again)

Take absolutely nothing from Zenner, who rushed for 2,044 yards last season and has 742 yards in four games this season.  He was a 1-AA All-American last season and seems headed in the same direction in 2013. But Nebraska's defensive line sure allowed Zenner to make it look easy.  Bo Pelini after the game criticized his defense for being unable to get off blocks, and that started right up front. That's very disappointing after the defensive line started to look promising the first three weeks of the season.

I knew Zenner was going to get some yards, but what really depressed me was quarterback Austin Sumner's ability to sit back in the pocket and find wide open receivers, especially early on. Yes, that starts up front, but the secondary didn't help much either.  I noticed in the second half that Pelini inserted redshirt freshman LeRoy Alexander, who caught my eye a few times.

Offensively, the Huskers were pretty much unstoppable - except when they stopped themselves with turnovers.  Quarterbacks Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg were efficient, combining to complete 20 of 25 passes for 305 yards. Armstrong looked poised and comfortable in his first game action with the game on the line; a very solid debut.  In fact, it was so solid that some people think Nebraska should have a quarterback controversy.

Wait.  Stop.  If you said that Taylor Martinez should be benched in favor of Armstrong, walk that statement back right now.  Hit the delete key if it's not too late.  Armstrong looked good...but it was still against a 1-AA program that has never defeated a 1-A opponent.  The last time they played a 1-A opponent, they lost to Charlie Weis and Kansas in 2012.

And this is a 1-AA opponent that doesn't have a very good defense.  Last week, Southeastern Louisiana completed 28 of 37 passes for 322 yards against South Dakota State.  The week before, North Dakota's two quarterbacks completed 28 of 45 passes for 437 yards.  The Jackrabbits are very good on offense, but they have some defensive issues.  They've got a lot to work on before North Dakota State comes to visit next weekend.

What we did see was that Armstrong throws a really nice ball and can be efficient in the quarterback run game. He's better than Martinez running the option, but then again, Iowa State's Marv Seiler was better than Martinez running the option.  Martinez is still clearly Nebraska's best overall quarterback when healthy.  He's got the experience and he still has the breakaway speed and intangibles that will keep him atop the depth chart once his foot is ready.

I suspect that Martinez will be ready to play in two weeks; heck, I suspect that if Nebraska were playing Illinois this week, Martinez would have started. It just didn't make sense to play Martinez when his foot was obviously bothering him last week.  Go ahead and rest him for a week or two, and see if that foot gets healthy.  In the meantime, Armstrong gets even more preparation for 2014.  He's going to be a good one down the line.  Just don't read too much into his performance against a bad 1-AA defense.  South Dakota State ranked 106th out of 114 teams in 1-AA in pass defense prior to today for a reason.

That's not 106th in 1-A with schools like Alabama and Texas.  That's 106th in 1-AA with schools like Stephen F. Austin and Weber State.  Frankly, if Armstrong and Kellogg DIDN'T put on a show today, Husker fans should have been alarmed.  Great game for Martinez's two understudies, but let's not go overboard.

Now Nebraska has a bye week with plenty of things to work on.  It all starts with the defense.  One change I'd like to see is to move Avery Moss to the other side of the defensive line and let both Moss and Randy Gregory start.  Find somebody - anybody - to man the other safety spot next to Corey Cooper who isn't a liability.  Maybe it's finally Charles Jackson time.

Bottom line is that if the defense doesn't get fixed in the next month, it won't matter what Shawn Eichorst and Harvey Perlman really thought about "AudioGate".

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Letter to the NU Board of Regents over Increased Costs for the UNO Hockey Arena

Today's Omaha World-Herald brings us a report that UNO is going back to the Board of Regents to approve an $11.6 million increase in the cost.  I've long been opposed to this arena, but I'm finally motivated to write to my NU Regent to express my concern.

Dear Regent Hawks:
I am writing to you as a long-time season ticketholder of UNO's hockey program to express my reservations over UNO's hockey arena. I've grown increasingly discouraged as to the lack of transparency regarding how UNO will pay for this arena, as well as it's reduced size relative to the crowds that follow the Mavericks.  Today's World-Herald reports that the capacity will remain at 7,500 seats, though rumors earlier this summer indicated that it may have fallen to as little as 6,800.  This contrasts to average crowds that were 7,864 in 2012 and 7,994 in 2011.

Why would UNO build a facility smaller than their fan base?

I'm also concerned about how UNO plans to pay for this facility.  I understand that rent at the CenturyLink Center is expensive, but I find it hard to believe that it's cheaper to own a facility you need for two dozen or so dates each year. The only conclusion I can make is that UNO intends to use the reduced supply of tickets as an excuse to increase ticket prices significantly for their existing fans, with no consideration being made to growing the fan base.  This building essentially crams UNO hockey into a too-small facility for the next 30-40 years.

Now I see that the cost of the arena has increased even further.  I understand that a lot of work has already begun on the arena, but  the building isn't completed yet.  I really question how UNO can make this building viable.  Council Bluffs built an arena 10 years ago that sits virtually empty, losing money.  Rumors are that the new Ralston arena is also losing money.  How does another arena become viable in the Omaha area.

I realize that you've already approved this project in previous votes; I'm hoping that you'll reconsider this project while it's still possible.

Thank you for your time.
Not sure it'll make a difference, but I at least have to try. 

Bo Pelini's "AudioGate" Is Over . . . Or Is It?

On Wednesday, NU Chancellor Harvey Perlman and Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst accepted Bo Pelini's apology over the released audio from the aftermath of the 2011 Ohio State game, declaring it over:
Coach Pelini has given us his assurance that he understands the seriousness and inappropriateness of his comments. We believe he is sincere in his apology and in his regret. We are prepared to put the matter to rest.
But is it really? If anything, the story got more bizarre on Tuesday into Wednesday morning as Perlman said he was still reflecting on the situation:
“I’m not going to talk about football today,” Perlman told the Omaha World-Herald, adding, “We’re disappointed and we are reflecting on the situation.”
Why leave the coach hanging?  Is the idea to make him squirm?  Were they actually considering firing the coach over this?  Who knows... But then the story took a couple more left turns on Wednesday.  First, they acknowledged that Tom Osborne already handled the situation last year:
Former Director of Athletics Tom Osborne became aware of these comments and the existence of a recording more than a year ago, and addressed the matter with Coach Pelini. We have observed, and many others have commented, that Coach Pelini’s demeanor has significantly improved since the time of this incident.
If Osborne already took care of the matter, then why the 40 hour delay between the two statements? Why not announce this Monday night and put this whole ugly situation to bed?

There are no answers, just questions.  It's probably safe to say that Perlman and Eichorst didn't know about Osborne's actions on Monday. Why not?  Shouldn't Eichorst have gathered his staff to discuss the situation?  Since Nebraska associate athletic director Chris Anderson was identified early on as a voice on the tape, shouldn't she have been asked about what she knew of the situation?  And certainly wouldn't she have told Eichorst about her conversation with Osborne last year?  Osborne told the World-Herald tonight that he learned about the audio from Anderson.

So we're left with two possibilities:  Perlman and Eichorst never really bothered to look into this situation, or they were looking for an opportunity to dismiss Pelini only to have Osborne foil their plans.

Either option reflects rather badly on the current leadership at the University of Nebraska.  Pick your conclusion: incompetent, out-of-touch, indecisive, confused, wishy-washy.

And if Perlman and Eichorst's plan was indeed the latter possibility, then this situation isn't over.  Not in the least.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bo Pelini Haunted By the Ghost of 2011's Ohio State Game

On Saturday, Bo Pelini thought his players "had seen a ghost" when Brett Hundley went nuts in the third quarter, enroute to a 41-21 victory. Today, Pelini was haunted by some comments he thought he had made privately just prior to his postgame radio interview - two years ago.  Somebody sent the audio to Deadspin, who posted it on their web site today.  The money quote was "F*** the fans"...and that has many people in an uproar. Chancellor Harvey Perlman and "Director of Athletics" Shawn Eichorst (isn't the traditional title "Athletic Director"?) had to issue statements of concern, while Bo Pelini issued an apology.

In all of the reporting, much of the context of that quote seems to be lost.  So let's review what happened.  After Nebraska lost to Wisconsin badly in the Huskers' first game in the Big Ten, a lot of criticism fell onto Taylor Martinez.  Omaha World-Herald commentator Dirk Chatelain wrote a scathing article afterwards, suggesting that Martinez should be benched if he had just one more bad performance. Nevermind that due to injuries and transfers, the best available alternative was struggling freshman Brion Carnes, who has since transferred and is a backup at 1-AA Northern Iowa.  Considering the fact that Nebraska didn't really have a viable alternative to Martinez (a point that Chatelain even admitted), I felt that Chatelain's piece was a "muddled mess".  Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star called it "unfair".

In the rain against Ohio State, Nebraska fell behind 27-6 early in the third quarter.  Fans start leaving the stadium; some even boo. Martinez was actually playing pretty well at that point, compared to his teammates.  Lavonte David strips Braxton Miller of the ball, and then Miller has to leave the game.  Joe Bauserman can't hit the broad side of a barn, and Martinez led the school record comeback to win 34-27.  It was an extremely emotional post-game celebration as Pelini gave his embattled quarterback a game ball.
Next, Pelini heads to his post-game press conference where none other than Chatelain proceeds to ask a bunch of Taylor Martinez questions. Considering the source of the questions, Pelini gives Chatelain a piece of his mind, drawing applause from athletic department people looking on and outrage from Chatelain's friends in the media.

Fresh off of that, Pelini heads to the offices for his post-game radio interview with Greg Sharpe of the Husker Sports Network.  Prior to the interview, Pelini lets loose with his opinions, thinking that he's finally in private and can vent a little about Chatelain, Tom Shatel, and the fans who left early and booed.

But apparently Pelini wasn't in private.  Someone recorded Pelini's comments, and has held onto them for nearly two years.  Who isn't clear; obviously, it's someone with an axe to grind who also had access to the inner sanctum of Nebraska athletics that night.  Whether that's the athletic department or the network can't be determined, though.  I believe many members of the media knew of the existence of these comments for quite some time, as I've heard veiled references to it in the past.

Was Bo wrong to drop a bunch of "f-bombs"? Yes, but I understand why he felt that way.  It was an emotional win.  He felt wronged by Chatelain, and even more importantly, he felt that his quarterback was wronged. Pelini is immensely loyal to his players and assistant coaches, and he'll stand up for them whenever possible.  And he likely felt miffed by the fans who left early and booed.

But he wasn't alone.  I'm in absolute agreement with Pelini's comments that night; I nominated both Chatelain and the fans who left for the CornNation "Cobs of the Week" as the worst of the weekend.  I wasn't alone.  Chatelain won the "Cob" with 36% of the vote; the fans who left got 26%.

So are Pelini's comments all that bad?  Not to me. The language, yes...but we already knew Pelini liked to swear. How can I criticize Pelini for saying essentially the same thing I said at the time, albeit more colorfully.  If I criticize him now, that makes me a hypocrite. That being said, it's part of a larger environment of Husker football.  Pelini first and foremost has to fix the defense.  I think he's making some progress, others disagree.  I see progress when I see talented first-year defensive players being disruptive in the first half; that's more than we've seen as of late.  But the issues have emboldened Pelini's critics.  Tommie Frazier called for him to be fired on Saturday, and many media members took to Twitter to take Pelini out of context at his press conference while it was underway.

It's clear that many people have an axe to grind and are getting more dirty laundry to air.  This is what came out today; who knows what comes out in future days.  Could this lead to Pelini's dismissal?  Earlier today, I thought not.  But after tonight, I'm not so sure.  After all, who really knows what Perlman and Eichorst are really thinking.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Are Husker Fans Calling A Code Red After UCLA Bombs the Blackout in Second Half

When Nebraska took a 21-3 lead over UCLA late in the first half, I was starting to feel the power of #teamSunshine permeating the Nebraska football program.  #teamSunshine is the term used at CornNation to point out that there are a good things going on in the Husker program.  I almost tweeted something about it, in fact.

I'm glad I didn't.

From that point on, #operationRaincloud became the dominant opinion.  Four of Nebraska's next five drives went three-and-out.  All told, after Nebraska took that 21-3 lead, Nebraska had just eight first downs and 146 yards of offense.  And most of that occurred after UCLA flipped that 18 point lead to a 17 point deficit.

I suspect most fans are upset about the defense; I'm not as worried about that.  In my opinion, Nebraska's offense is it's biggest issue right now.  We knew the defense was a rebuilding project, but the offense was supposed to carry the team.

That isn't really happening.  The running game is average, at best.  The real disappointment is the passing game.  This offseason, I've felt Nebraska had the best receiving corp in the Big Ten.  I still think that.  But for some reason, offensive coordinator Tim Beck seems content to just throw screen passes to them.  High percentage passes, I suppose.  But it doesn't stretch the field, and frankly, when you do it over and over, it encourages defenses to stack the box...and it only makes it more difficult to run the ball.

Today's offensive ineptitude probably was magnified by Taylor Martinez's ankle; after the game, it was in a boot, which probably explains why Martinez lost 13 yards rushing today.  Martinez pretty much was one-dimensional today, which makes Nebraska much easier to defend.  So why on earth do you call that many option plays (which Martinez doesn't run particularly well to begin with) when he's obviously injured?

I'm not as down on the defense as it seems other fans are.  I see good things from the young defensive line and linebackers.  Avery Moss and Randy Gregory each had eight tackles, and were disruptive at times.  (How he missed Randy Hundley on that one scramble in the third quarter is an amazing testament to Hundley's ability.)  The secondary is a huge disappointment.  Stanley Jean-Baptiste had another interception, but that seemed to be it.  Ciante Evans got schooled at times, and Andrew Green is just as out of position at safety as he was at cornerback.  Harvey Jackson missed a couple of tackles that enabled that third quarter meltdown, and while Corey Cooper led with tackles, his personal foul for a late hit led to a touchdown instead of a field goal.

So which is the real Nebraska:  the one that led UCLA 21-3, or the one that got blown out 38-0 over the last 35 minutes?  I lean towards the 21-3 version, personally.  Open up the passing game and utilize those "best receivers in the Big Ten".  Loosen up the secondary to allow Ameer Abdullah and the other backs to get some yards.  Get some first downs and get the young defense off the field.

My e-mail is full of calls for tar and feathers.  People comparing 2013 to 2007.  Folks, it's September 14th.  UCLA might turn out to be a pretty good team.  But in my opinion, Southern Cal wasn't what got Bill Callahan fired.  It was the narrow escapes against Ball State and Iowa State.  It was the blowouts by Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Kansas, and Colorado.

And despite all of that suckage, Bill Callahan stayed to the end of that bitter season.  So no, Bo Pelini isn't going to be fired tonight.  Or tomorrow.  Or Monday.  No matter how many people scream on Twitter, CornNation.com and on Big Red Overreaction. Now, if Bo Pelini can't start giving us more football like the first half and less (much less) like the second half, we'll have that conversation after Thanksgiving.

But not before the autumnal equinox.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

UNO Starts Asking for Donations for New Arena

Yesterday, many UNO fans received a postcard encouraging them to donate the athletic department in preparation for the move to the new arena.
Dear Maverick Supporters,

As work continues toward the opening of the Community/UNO Multi-Purpose Athletic Facility in 2015, we want to let know that the athletic department is creating a point system that will allow our top supporters to have access to priority seating, parking and other amenities.

While the system has not been finalized, it will reward and be the most considerate of Maverick donors and season ticket holders for their current support, as well as their past contributions.

In order to enhance your priority, please consider becoming a hockey or men's basketball season ticket holder and a donor to The One Fund. If you have any questions regarding season tickets or donations, please contact the ticket office at 402-554-6287. Go Mavs!
Short on details, of course. Heck, we don't even have many details about the new arena, other than it may have shrunk from the originally reported 7500 seat down to as few as 6800 seats. Nature abhors a vacuum, and in the lack of information, rumors fill the void.

But when we combine what we do know with the letter, we can draw a few conclusions.  With UNO setting capacity slightly below the Mavs' average attendance, UNO is counting on fewer fans moving forward.  That means that if this is going to be a success, UNO needs to get more money from their remaining fans - and that can be done two ways.  First, is to ask those fans to donate more, and offer those donors perks:  parking privileges, better seating, and other amenities.  The second is to raise ticket prices.  The first option begins with this postcard; the second is inevitable and we'll learn of it over the next couple of years.

Some fans still believe that this project will pay for itself merely by diverting concession revenue from MECA (operators of the CenturyLink Center) to UNO. But that revenue likely pales in comparison with the expense of managing a building 365 days a year.

I remain unconvinced that this arena is the right choice for UNO.  I think the cost is too high, and the capacity is too low for UNO hockey.  I simply don't see the need for a fourth hockey arena in the Omaha metro area.

Many of my fellow UNO fans disagree.  They feel UNO absolutely needs this arena, and they cannot wait for it to open, let alone for construction to begin.

I just hope they are prepared to pay the price for it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

B1G Power Poll, Week Two

I've heard some complaints about other media members (especially at BTN) putting Nebraska in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten standings.  Well, I did the exact same thing this week.  I can't, in good conscience, put Nebraska any higher than fifth. This week is the acid test though; Nebraska hasn't done anything to warrant a higher ranking to this point.  Beat UCLA, and all bets are off.  A good solid victory might be reason to vote Nebraska as high as #2.  A loss, on the other hand, likely moves Nebraska down the list. Nebraska is unproven at this point, so middle of the pack is all it is worthy of at this point.

So here's my ballot after week 2.

1. Michigan
Solid opening week performance against a nobody, then a win against Notre Dame. Nobody else has that resume at this point.

2. Wisconsin
Played two nobodies, throttled two nobodies.  This week against Arizona State counts for much more.

3. Northwestern
Two BCS conference opponents, two victories. Maybe a little closer than they should be against teams that will likely be way down the standings this season, but that's still a better resume than anybody else in the Big Ten.

4. Ohio State
Didn't look great against a bad Buffalo squad to open the season.  Looked better against San Diego State, though.

5. Nebraska
Wyoming may be better than originally thought after their 42-10 win over Idaho.  This week is the mid-term exam for the Huskers.  Nebraska doesn't need this game to win the West division this season, but Nebraska desperately needs to win to break the national perception of getting beaten badly in big games.

6. Penn State
Putting together a solid season.

7. Michigan State
The defense is great.  The offense is simply horrible.  Michigan State has scored two offensive touchdowns against teams that couldn't even win a home game against a 1-AA opponent.  They get a 1-AA opponent of their own, and then reality sets in. If the offense can't find a way to become merely mediocre, the Spartans won't even make it to bowl eligibility.

8. Minnesota
Not terribly impressive, but lacking a reason to rank them any lower.

9. Illinois
Last week after a scare from 1-AA Southern Illinois, the Illini pounded Cincinnati.  Which one is the real Illinois?  Keeping them at #9 for now.

10. Iowa
Losing to Northern Illinois is probably forgivable.  Having a bad Missouri Valley team hanging around in the fourth quarter is not.

11. Indiana
Navy isn't bad...but it tempers the optimism from blowing out Indiana State.

12. Purdue
After Illinois blasted Cincy, that season opening loss to the Bearcats looks even worse.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Stanley & Ciante Are All Nebraska Needed to Defeat Southern Miss

Stat of the night: Blackshirts 14, Southern Miss 13.

The old football adage is that teams show the most improvement between their first and second games. And after three games where the Blackshirts got roasted for over a mile of total offense, Nebraska needed to show major improvement tonight.  And improvement is what Husker fans got.

Maybe Southern Miss is a shadow of their former "Anyone.  Anywhere.  Anytime." selves.  A fourteen game losing streak is proof of that.  But holding the Golden Eagles to 284 yards is still noteworthy.

Despite the first quarter defensive touchdowns by Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans, Southern Miss did total 132 yards of offense in that opening quarter.  Honestly, was that much of an improvement?  Hard to argue that, though the Pick-Six's left the defense on the field to get worn down on a warm evening.  I also got the feeling that Nebraska has depended too much on the dime defense and blitzing their way into generating pressure.  In the second quarter, we saw Zaire Anderson replace Mohammed Seisay, and frankly, the defense got better.  And frankly, I don't think Nebraska needs to blitz as much to get pressure on the quarterback.  Tonight, Randy Gregory had four official quarterback hurries, and I think he probably deserved double that unofficially.

And it's worth noting that Southern Miss only totalled 152 yards the rest of the game.  True freshman Josh Banderas started in place of David Santos, who apparently fell to third-string behind Michael Rose at middle linebacker.  Banderas only had three tackles, but seemed to be better in making the calls on the field. 

Offensively, it was another slow start for Nebraska, and I'm growing increasingly concerned about the offensive line. 20 rushes for 96 yards in the first half isn't going to cut it.  That was covered up by Taylor Martinez's passing, who completed a perfect 6 of 6 passes on third down tonight, converting five first downs in the process.  Fortunately, as the game went on, the heat wore down the Southern Miss defense, and the yards started flowing for "Two Men and a Truck", as Damon Benning has coined them.

In the second half, we saw Tommy Armstrong make his long awaited debut at quarterback. Many people wonder why Tim Beck bothers with option plays in his playbook.  Yes, Taylor Martinez doesn't run them very well.  But Armstrong does, and does it very well.  Ron Kellogg III also saw plenty of action, and frankly looked the best he's ever looked in his relief role.  Maybe that goes more on the Southern Miss defense, especially after they got wore out late.

So against Southern Miss, Nebraska took an inferior team behind the woodshed and beat them down as the game progressed.  It's probably what Nebraska fans expected from this game prior to last Saturday night.  Maybe that Wyoming game was just a bad night.  Or maybe Wyoming is actually a decent team; while Nebraska was blasting the Golden Eagles, the Cowboys beat Idaho 42-10.  Brett Smith threw for 295 yards and four touchdowns while Shaun Wick rushed for 110 yards.

Either way, we'll get a better idea how good Nebraska is next Saturday when UCLA comes to Lincoln. The good news is that the weather probably won't be nearly as hot, especially since Nebraska will be wearing those black uniforms for an 11 am kick.  The Weather Channel currently calls for an afternoon high of 79, which sounds downright refreshing after the first two games.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Week One Big Ten PowerPoll Ballot

I'll agree with Bo Pelini that Nebraska "left a lot on the table" against Wyoming on both sides of the ball.  But the only time I can primarily use "potential" or "expectations" in ranking is on the preseason ballot.  So I've got one performance from each team to look at, and that's what I used in voting on this week's Big Ten Power Poll.  I still have to use expectations for determining the relative strength of the opponent, though.

1. Michigan
Easily (and unfortunately as well) the Big Ten's best performance on opening week.

2. Wisconsin
Badgers were also dominant.  I think Central Michigan is probably better than UMass, though...hence, advantage Weasels.

3. Northwestern
Road win against BCS conference opponent with your starting quarterback out?  Even if Cal may not be very good, that's a good opener.

4. Penn State
True freshman quarterback getting the start in the Meadowlands.  Now, can you consider the new AAC a BCS conference?  Technically they are.

5. Ohio State
When you have to resort to two-point conversions and still can't beat the spread against a bad MAC team, you've got issues.

6. Nebraska
Offense was inconsistent, and the defense from the safeties and linebackers were atrocious. If Bo Pelini can find fixes there with the youngsters, all is not lost.  We saw major improvement on the defensive line, so it's not the same problems as last year.

7. Michigan State
The defense is scary good.  The offense has regressed even further.  I rank the Huskers ahead of Sparty because I think Nebraska has more room for improvement than Michigan State, and because I think Wyoming is going to be a much better team in 2013 than Western Michigan.

8. Minnesota
Defense is improved, and offense isn't nearly as as bad as Michigan State's.

9. Indiana
Big numbers on offense...but against a 1-AA opponent.

10. Iowa
Probably being harsh here for losing to a BCS bowl team, but it's still a loss at home.

11. Purdue
Got absolutely wiped out by Cincinnati.

12. Illinois
Southern Illinois had the ball on the Illinois three yard line when the game ended.  If they could have scored and converted a two-point conversion, the 1-AA team would have sent Illinois to overtime.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Huskers Testing My Cautious Optimism; Survive Wyoming

I went into this season cautiously optimistic about the potential of the 2013 Huskers. The first game didn't give me much to justify that optimism. A three point win over a Wyoming team when favored by 30 is concerning.  Giving up a school record 35 first downs is concerning.  Giving up 602 yards is concerning.

And I can hear the uproar; for some, it's downright alarming. Are people reaching for the panic button?  No doubt some are, but I'm going to hold off on that for now.  Nebraska played pretty poorly Saturday night on both sides of the ball.  Fortunately, they came away with the win...and that's pretty much the main positive on the night.

Credit Wyoming for playing well, especially quarterback Brett Smith.  In the first half, Smith and running back Shaun Wick repeatedly found seams up front in the Husker defense, racking up 178 yards on the ground by halftime. In the second half, it was Smith finding receivers through the air, and suddenly turning the game interesting even after many fans had already headed for home.

While the net result was similar to Nebraska's last two games, the personnel on the field were quite a bit different...and that should temper the reaction to throw in the towel.  Last year, it was seniors making mistakes and getting beat; against Wyoming, it was freshmen and sophomores who were being counted on in crucial situations for the first time.  Sometimes it went well; way too often, it went wrong.

Let's start up front with the defensive line.  The defensive ends didn't seem to have a great night, especially senior Jason Ankrah. Randy Gregory did a lot of good things, even if the referees disagreed. What was up with that roughing penalty?  In the stadium, I could have sworn I heard the ref mention "ejection", but fortunately that wasn't the case.  I have a lot of mixed opinions on the call. In the spirit of the new "targeting" penalty, I kind of see the call. It was a vicious hit...but I don't think it was illegal either, unless you are considering any vicious hit to be worth of a penalty.

Inside on the line, I felt a little better about Thad Randle's play, and I thought I saw some good things from Vincent Valentine.  Judging from the amount of snaps Valentine played, I suspect the coaches did as well.

With Wyoming lining up in the spread, Nebraska spent most of the night in nickel and dime defenses, and David Santos was usually the only guy in the middle. Coaches were continually screaming at Santos from the sideline, and in the second half, true freshman Josh Banderas saw quite a bit of playing time.

The secondary was off and on.  Stanley Jean-Baptiste had a great first half, but safety play seemed to be lacking quite a bit.  Mo Seisay has has moved into Corey Cooper's dime spot with mixed results; offhand, I think Nebraska's better off with Nathan Gerry as the dime linebacker.  Sometimes the coverage was fine; sometimes the quarterback and receiver just make the play.  Other times, especially in the fourth quarter, the coverage was lacking... especially on that last touchdown that made it a three point game.

While the offense put up decent numbers, there certainly was the potential to do a heck of a lot more.  Some of that apparently was by design; for some reason, Tim Beck called an awful lot of screen passes.  It never seemed Nebraska had much interest in stretching the field, being content to dink and dunk.  Backup I-backs Imani Cross and true freshman Terrell Newby were the highlights of the day.  Cross's first touchdown of the day was highlight reel material; the legend of the "Beast" only grows stronger.  He's shed a few pounds, but none of his power.  And I liked what I saw out of Newby in his first action at this level.

Bottom line on today is that while Nebraska was good enough to win today, that won't be good enough to win most weeks.  Next week is Southern Miss, who lost to Texas State 22-15 for their 14th straight loss.  But after that is UCLA, with another mobile quarterback, who beat Nevada 58-20.  Earlier this summer, I wasn't too concerned about UCLA.  If I don't see significant improvement on defense next week, I'll become very concerned.