Derek Johnson Muses

It is my daily goal to make everyone around me better people, thanks be to God.

Tag Archives: B1G

BCS Chaos: Cases for Auburn, Missouri, and Ohio State

It’s only fitting that BCS goes out with a bang, or some other big controversy, and thanks to Auburn’s win over Alabama, we’ve got one. Now all the SEC lovers are out there telling us how daunting it is to go through the SEC, how the Big 10 has fallen completely off the map. But in the case of Auburn, I’m not buying it.

Yes, the SEC is still the best conference, although I don’t think they run nearly as deep as they have over the last few years. (Still, they have four BCS-bowl worthy teams.) But if you are going to buck tradition and put an one-loss team in the national title game over a multi-loss team, it better be pretty obvious that the one-loss team is better than the undefeated. And that’s not the case when you comare Auburn and Ohio State.

If we’re going to ask who has Ohio State beaten, just look at Auburn’s best wins: every bowl eligible, major conference team that Auburn has played stayed within one score of the Tigers, including the dregs of Washington State, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State, arguably the twelfth best team in the SEC. LSU was up on Auburn 21-0 early in the second quarter, and led them 35-14 in the fourth quarter. And you have the matter of their two miracle wins. If Auburn deserves to be number two in the country, they should have beaten a really good team soundly, and they haven’t.

Having watched both teams, I would say that, if Auburn and Ohio State played on a neutral field on equal rest, the game would be a coin flip, with a slight edge to the Buckeyes because they have the more dynamic quarterback. Granted, Auburn has a very good defensive line, but they lack the down field passing game to press Ohio State to match them score for score. And let’s not forget Auburn’s history: they have not exactly dominated their non-conference matchups and bowl games. Of their last eight bowl games, they have only two wins by multiple scores, and even their national championship team struggled Oregon, Clemson, and from the SEC, Mississippi State. Clemson in fact has beaten Auburn twice in non-conference play, West Virginia once LSU, Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina under Steve Spurrier mowed through their bowl games and important non-conference games; Auburn does not.

The lamest case for Auburn is on the SEC’s history. Everyone making that case should be remind of how Notre Dame campaigned on its history a year ago. If you’re going to crack Notre Dame for close home wins against BYU and Pitt, you have to crack Auburn for close home wins against Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

Missouri, on the other hand, can be seriously considered for the number two spot over Ohio State. Even though some may make the case that they lack seniority in the SEC, just look at the Tigers’ resume: they have crushed three good SEC teams on the road in Vanderbilt, Georgia, and Mississippi, dominating the Commodores from the first snap of the game. Missouri has beaten ten of twelve teams by at least thirteen points. They only teams that have been closer are Texas A&M and South Carolina. And Missouri led the Gamecocks 17-0 in the fourth quarter before Connor Shaw stage a late comeback and the Tigers lost on a missed field goal in overtime. That is a resume worthy of a National Title Game.

Still, when I watch Missouri, I don’t know that they are vastly better than Ohio State. Earlier this year, I thought they were one of the most compelling football teams I had ever seen on television, the way they just flat out whipped Georgia and Florida. They don’t pass the eye ball test the way that Alabama and LSU do, but they execute like no one’s business.

If I was compelled to vote an SEC team into the National Title Game, I would choose Alabama, because I feel their best is better than anyone else best, except maybe Florida State’s. If they had a few field goals against Auburn, they could have beaten the Tigers going away. They lost to LSU in 2011 for virtually the same reason, and, as the rematch proved, they were clearly the better team. If I were a voter, I don’t know right now who I would choose as my top two, but I would take the week to think about it. The one thing that has changed for me is that I wouldn’t feel as bad voting Ohio State number 2 as I would have three weeks ago.

Nebraska at Michigan 2013: in Pictures

I’ve written a detailed recap of Nebraska’s win at Michigan over at HuskerMax.com, but I want to take some time here to share some photos from that great day in Ann Arbor.

Caught Michigan's police escort to the stadium.

Caught Michigan’s police escort to the stadium…

Northwest corner

Northwest Corner of The Big House…

Inside

Inside…

A memorial

A Memorial…

Wolverines taking the field under their famed banner...

Wolverines taking the field under their famed banner…

Huskers enter a few minutes later...

Huskers enter a few minutes later…

The opening kickoff....

The opening kickoff….

Michigan backed up....

Michigan backed up in the second quarter…

The game's final moments...

The game’s final moments…

Final Score!

Final Score!

Beating A Want-to-Be Rival was Fitting Way to Close Out the Devaney

A note on these post: as I announced on Twitter this past Monday, I will now be contributing to the website HuskerMax.com. It’s been a bit of a drought between the end of Husker Locker and joining Husker Max, and I’m grateful to David Max and Joe Hudson for the opportunity.

I’ve decided to continue to post Husker content here, because I can use my photos here. But I would appreciate it if all of you here click over and read my work on Husker Max, as I am paid by pageviews for my work on that site. Thanks to all for continued readership and support.

Tim Miles watches over his team.

Tim Miles watches over his team.

Last Saturday, I went to the Nebraska-Iowa game at the Devaney Center on a bit of a whim. It was the third Nebraska basketball game I’ve been to this year, and in all cases, I have wanted to care about going to Nebraska basketball more than I actually wanted to go to the games themselves. And even after the game, I felt like I didn’t learn anything towards whether or not Tim Miles will be the right coach long-term, only that he’ll have one nice conference win on his resume for next year.

Fittingly, the opponent was a team that I wanted cared more about beating than I actually did care. I want to rout against the Iowa Hawkeyes, want them to be Nebraska’s blood rival. But, for whatever reason, they haven’t seemed to be that, in football or otherwise, maybe because beating them has come easy. When I stopped for a quick lunch at Runza, there were numerous Iowa fans there, and as I made my way into the arena, the generous number of black-and-gold clad fans made me upset. But given the product that Nebraska’s put on the court of the last year, it wasn’t like I had a right to be mad at my fellow fans.

There were plenty of Iowa fans up in the rafters and throughout the arena, although not close to the Nebraska-at-Northwestern ratio in football this past year. But it was embarrassing in terms of how much noise was made in the first half. As a whole, it was nowhere close to the sellout it was said to be with were blocks of empty cushioned seats across the arena, the apathy the Bob has become known for. Given the abrupt change in date from Thursday to Saturday, there were bound to be some no-shows.

In typical Devaney Center fashion, I didn’t pay attention early in the game. It was obvious Iowa’s rooster, while not vastly superior, was better. All of their players were thicker, and were looking to step out and shoot. Nebraska’s roster is full of tightly muscled guys who wish to do nothing more than cut to the basket, except none of them are good enough to do it consistently. While Nebraska got behind by the number of free throws they missed, I worked on my to-do list for the upcoming week and took a few pictures. With Iowa leading by 18 at halftime, I went out to the concourse, sat writing in a corner, and didn’t realize that the second half started until they were two minutes in.

I went back to my seat, wondering when Husker fans would start exiting the building. (Answer: the first did so around the ten minute mark). Eventually, the Huskers made a run and got the game back to about ten points, and I thought, Okay, this will be a nice memory of the last time the Bob kind of rocked.

Except that Miles’ crew didn’t stop with just getting the game back to about ten. They got it to seven, and at that point, people started getting out of their seats when Iowa brought the ball to the other end of the court on offense. As the duel carried on, I never expected Nebraska to come back, but I didn’t think that they were not able to come back either. Turns out, they got the better of Iowa, and the nothing-but-net three ball to give Nebraska was a fitting great moment.

I grew up when Nebrasketball was a viable team every year. Not great, but at least they were making the postseason every year in the 1990′s and had shots at the NCAA’s. Success in college basketball at Nebraska wouldn’t be as meaningful as the football success, but given how college basketball has been watered down, it is success that is seen in a different light. Leaving the Bob last Saturday with the silenced Iowa fans, it was nice moment, but it will be a while until any Nebraska fans know if it was the start of anything. I’m not even going to judge how good of a coach Miles is off this year, because of his history suggests he takes more overlooked, great plains players. But early signs suggest it’s not a disaster.

As far as the rivalry with Iowa, I don’t know if it’s going to get chippy just because some Iowa fans from Omaha got disappointed for driving an hour to see their team loose on

Gallegos before attempted the free throw to put Nebraska up for. Curb your enthusiasm, please.

Gallegos before attempted the free throw to put Nebraska up for. Curb your enthusiasm, please.

the road on a Saturday afternoon. Yes, Nebraska’s dominating Iowa in all sports, but I think Nebraska fans assumed this. (As someone who occasionally has to stand Des Moines sports radio, I know whose standards are higher.) I don’t know what’s going to have to change to make this a better rivalry or make me care more about it, but then again, maybe nothing needs to change. Maybe it just needs to give us final minutes like on Saturday.

With ten minutes to go, I moved down to some of the cushioned seats that were a few rows up from the exits. Even with the late game drama, there were still fans who made their way to the exits right after Dylan Talley made the go-ahead three, and left as soon as Ray Gallegos made the free-throw to put them up four with 2.3 seconds to go. I hope that tradition of leaving early ends with the move to Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Where Pelini Should Have Succeeded

Last year, Terrence Moore was a Blackshirt who impressed. He wasn’t elite, but he’d made the most of what he was-a former three star player who redshirted, stayed with the program, and became a very solid contributor who finally had a chance to start when Jared Crick got hurt. Bo Pelini got the most out of him. Up until this year, there were points in the careers of Cameron Meredith, Eric Martin and Will Compton where I’d thought Pelini had gotten the most out of them. Funny how that works.

Pelini had a number of seniors who had been contributors since they were freshmen or sophomores-Cameron Meredith, Baker Steinkulher, Eric Martin, Will Compton, Sean Fisher, PJ Smith, along with JUCOs Joseph Carter and Damion Stafford, and Courtney Osborne on the bench. Mel Kiper Jr. notes that one of the things that has separated the players that Bret Bielema and Kirk Ferentz have sent to the NFL is their polish, that their respective coaches got the most out of what they had. The same cannot be said of Pelini with these players; you can’t be as horrid as Nebraska was at time this year on defense when you have experienced player, not one of whom has maxed out. Compton at times has been Nebraska’s “playmaker”, and Martin somehow had 16.5 tackles for losses. Smith looks like he had the most growth potential, but never reached it.

Why does all this matter? It matter because, when a fan base talk about firing a coach, the reason they would is because he hasn’t succeed when he has had the material to do so. If you have so many defensive players who haven’t developed and you are a defensive coach, that’s an area where you should do better.

There is an irony to it-all these players being freshmen on the iron wall, Ndamukong Suh-lead defense that stood up to the spread offenses of the Big 12, carrying the offense-less Huskers. If only all these guys would have molded their attitudes and work ethics after Jared Crick’s than Suh’s, as Suh’s displays of lawlessness since he entered the NFL shows what kind of a leader he must have been at Nebraska. Matt Slauson blasted Suh a year ago for two incidents at Nebraska and said Suh “wasn’t well liked”. Slauson didn’t say when those incidents occurred, but it’s fair to question the legacy Suh left for the Blackshirts when you see their fall.

But the Blackshirts struggles stretch beyond anything Suh has done and any of the recruited players Pelini has or hasn’t developed. Where Pelini has failed is to find chip-in walk-ons to contribute. Even the bad Cosgrove defenses have had overachieving guys who have played key roles, like Stewart Bradley and Ben Eisenhart. And give Cosgrove some credit (yes, I just wrote that) for developing Tyler Wortman and Matt O’Hanlon, the latter of whom made more timely plays than anyone else on Nebraska’s 2009 defense. Other than nickle/dime back Justin Blatchford, there isn’t a single, rounded out walk-on senior among the 2012 Blackshirts.

When you are a major college coach at a northern school that doesn’t have a lot of FBS prospects, it’s understandable if you are thin at certain positions like corner or wide receiver, positions where athleticism matters. But if you can’t find linebackers or safeties via your walk-on program, there’s no excuse. Iowa State had two three-year starter, all-conference caliber, senior linebackers. Kansas State’s 1998 11-2 was built on linebackers, and its resurgence the past year rest strongly with safety Ty Zimmerman. Wisconsin has good linebackers, as has Iowa over the years. In 2009, I was watching a game with a couple of guys who were remarking about how inconsistent Sean Fisher was linebacker. In three years, Pelini couldn’t find a better player to put in than Fisher.

But the good news for Husker fans: Pelini lost all those eight starters, and in spring and fall practices, will be able to hold essentially open tryouts for starting positions. Unlike the last two year, Pelini likely won’t have to replace multiple defensive. Of course, given that Pelini was so “loyal” to bad players man not give the good players incentive.

DSCN9395

The last home game for these Blackshirts….

Are Nebraska Fans Too Sensitive to Getting Blown Out?

Since Nebraska’s embarrassment in the Big 10 Title Game, the issue of getting blown out has come up time and again with Husker fans. Some fans are probably just relieved that Georgia didn’t run Nebraska off the field until the fourth quarter. Hearing Nebraska fans howl, “We’re tired of blowout losses!” is a statement that I tired of, not because I like Nebraska getting blown out, but because it doesn’t mean that fans aren’t getting the program they paid for.

First, let’s ask a basic question: why do blowouts happen in college football? They can happen for a number of reason: one team simply has more talent than the other (AKA, most September non-conference games), one team has more experience than other (due to injuries or senior graduating, AKA Iowa this year) one team is a bad matchup for another team (a spread option against a Big 10 team, like Florida against Ohio State in the 2006 National Title Game), or one team is at the end of a string often of tough games and is simply exhausted (Michigan State at Nebraska in 2011, or at Iowa in 2010). Often, these reasons happen simultaneously.

I have from the list above, omitted coaching. Not that some teams are poorly coached, but in college football, fans tend to blame the coach above all else, because he’s the one they can go out and replace. Coaches do poor jobs, but let’s deal with these natural flows before we get there.

Consider this, Husker fans: you have a finesse offense. Personally, I don’t like to use that term, but it is true. It is an offense that is quirky, built to run outside, let the quarterback run when need be, and have linemen who can pull and move in space. Now, this offense gives you a key edge, namely, when you are down in games, you feel like you have a chance to come back. It makes you a difficult team to prepare for. Team make take your smallish offensive line lightly (the PSU black shoe effect, if you will), but unfortunately, if another team’s front is bigger than yours, you are left exposed if they play their hardest, which Ohio State did this year.

With the exception of Wisconsin this year, every team that has blown Bo Pelini out has been very good, except for the Washington team who beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl rematch. The teams that have blown Nebraska out? The worst was the 2009 Texas Tech team that went 9-4. The other teams were Missouri (10-4) and Oklahoma (12-2) in 2008, Wisconsin (11-3), Michigan (11-2), and South Carolina (11-2) in 2011, and Ohio State (12-0) this year. Of course that does leave the Wisconsin team this year.
What does all this mean, Husker fans? For one, it means you’re not doing any worse than you should. If you are getting blown out by good teams, it has less to do with your coach than it does with your players. And since 2010, Nebraska has beat five teams who won at least nine or more games: Oklahoma State and Missouri in 2010, Michigan State and Penn State last year, and Northwestern this year.

And consider Michigan State: this past year, their biggest loss was by 14 points, at home to eventual unbeaten Notre Dame. All their other losses were by a touchdown or less, and they are 6-6. The two years prior to this one, Michigan State went 22-5 and got blown out four times. They weren’t a better team this year, and one wouldn’t take a 6-6 team that didn’t get blown out over a ten-win season any day.

But still, getting outdone in such a public fashion hurts, and leads to the “fragile and soft” labels. The pain of those won’t go away, and yes, Wisconsin was the anamoly this year. There isn’t an excuse for getting manhandled on a neutral field by a team that would finish 8-6 with a third-string quarterback. It would have been an embarrassment if Nebraska had lost that game by a touchdown. What they should have observed was that Wisconsin, in spite of their record, didn’t loose a game by less than seven all year.

In line to get that perfect shot of the Huskers

In line to get that perfect shot of the Huskers

Huskers Loose, but Get Some Capital

A lot was at stake in the Capital One Bowl for Bo Pelini. Two nationally televised blowout losses going into the off-season make the workouts and film study longer, not to mention a discontent fan base. But, for the fifth time in six tries, Pelini’s Huskers came out of the tunnel and made plays, and even got a little chippy with it, a welcome sight after several despondent post-game pressers. For the first time perhaps since Colorado 2005, the Huskers played to raise their reputation. All that SEC-is-king material made for great bulletin board material.

But ultimately, the Huskers fell short, and while there was more buy-in on the field then there has been in years past (maybe more than at any other time under Pelini). They lost respectably to a better SEC, but Pelini still made one really questionable decision.

Tim Beck changed he offense significantly since the Big 10 Title game, adding new formation (dual-protectors lined up directly behind the tackles in a three wide set) and tweaking old plays. The Burkhead-touchdown reception wrinkled Nebraska’s play action game, having running back go to the inside instead of the out. For the first time in a lot of years, the Husker offense seemed like it was more than a collection of random plays that were supposed to work, and the players looked they were executed a plan that made sense to them.

End of the matter?

Burkhead himself made sure that he wouldn’t be forgotten as a Husker. He ran with his trademark passion, but had the advantage of looking the healthiest he had perhaps been since the beginning of his junior year. The offense at times maximized its tempo, and made some lazy Dawgs run a little.

On defense, the passing yards given up weren’t great, but remember that Nebraska’s numbers in the secondary was helped a lot by the Big 10 conference oblivion to the forward pass. (Minnesota, similarly, was ranked in the top 25 nationally in pass defense.) The Blackshirts had good coverage on three of Aaron Murray’s touchdown passes; Murray’s TD at the start of the fourth quarter, a running throw that had to be laid over Will Compton, was a throw some NFL quarterbacks can’t make. Yes, there were mistakes, but there were several big plays that Georgia earned when Nebraska did everything right. Even the defensive line was active behind the line of scrimmage.

Which makes Pelini’s call to blitz Georgia on a third-and-twelve down by a touchdown baffling. A blitz on third-and-long in that situation basically said, if we go down, we go down swinging, not consistent with Pelini’s conservative, make-them-earn-their-chunks defense. While it looks bold, such a call demonstrates insecurity more than bravado. Yes, maybe even get a sack or an interception; backing Georgia up another eight yards would have meant a punt for the endline. But Pelini had already made his point when he blitzed on the first down of that drive; the smart call would have been to blitz one wisely, or drop everyone in coverage.

I’ve seen such insecurity a number of times in Big 10 teams in bowl games. The first time was when Ohio State kept blitzing Colt McCoy at the end of the 2009 Fiesta Bowl. On the play the Longhorns took the lead back, it was obvious that McCoy would find a hot read. Minnesota allowed a touchdown in a similar situation in their bowl game against Texas Tech this year. While it looks like you’re trying hard to stop the opponent, you’re not playing smart.

Thus, let’s count this as our official ingratiation into the Big 10, Husker fans: we’re aggressive on defense out of the fear of being embarrassed.

Nebraska had a real shot to win this game, more so than last year against South Carolina. The Gamecocks played with more intensity in the second half that day than Georgia did today. The Husker maximized more, but they still weren’t able to do enough. Like the rest of the Big 10, Nebraska watches an SEC team give half-effort versus their full-effort and still celebrate a double touchdown win.

So, how should this bowl game be remembered, Husker fans? Another loss, but one with not as many negatives as Nebraska’s bowl losses the last two years. Pelini showed that, with time to prepare, he could deliver a solid effort. But was this win just a product of time to prepare and desperation? Will Pelini, Beck, and the other coaches be changing every week in the Big 10 next season as much as they changed for this bowl game? Or will this just be shades of a B-coach rising for half-a-game when he had to turn down the heat? (Why Pelini isn’t a perfect fit at Nebraska)

Is Husker Nation Travel-ed Out?

Today, I checked flights from Omaha to Orlando around the time of the Capital One Bowl on a whim, and surprisingly, there were now some flights for under $500. Guess some bigwig must have noticed Nebraska fans weren’t buying their allotment of bowl tickets.

If the Big 10 Title Game was under-attended last year, this year’s attendance poor showing by Nebraska and Wisconsin (two-thirds of last years attendance) makes the early woes of the ACC Title Game look trivial. Carrying low momentum into bowl season, numerous Big 10 teams are selling paltry amounts of their ticket allotments. Granted, Nebraska, Michigan State, and Purdue are in worse bowls and/or have less momentum than a year ago, but still, the decline is startling.

Perhaps Jim Delany now questions adding a couple of East Coast outliers to his conference; just examining the travel habits of Nebraska fans, one of the country’s top traveling fan bases, should give the bowls attached to the Big 10 cause for concern.

Traveling fans are a huge part of the college football, both to bowl games and to opposing stadiums. I’ve made many of these trips myself, and while they’re memorable, they are also expensive and time consuming. The average tab for two from Omaha to Chicago runs around $1500-$2000; when my father and I went up from his apartment in Ames to go to Minnesota game last year, our expenses were around $300, but that was without hotel.

While fans in the past had short drives Lawrence, Manhattan, Columbia or Ames when Nebraska was in the Big 12, now Husker Nation has only two conference neighbors that are within a six hour drive. A large reason that Husker fans didn’t journey to Indianapolis was similar to why the NCAA had to go to pod seeding for March Madness: they were saving up for the bigger game. But beyond that, it’s clear from Nebraska’s huge presence in both Minneapolis and Chicago meant that fans now madk their plans further in advance, when costs were less. It also could indicate that traveling Husker fans are more likely to congregate at the easiest road game for them to get to with a surplus of tickets. This year, it was Northwestern, last year it was Minnesota, next year, it could probably be Purdue.

It will be interesting to see if schools like Minnesota and Northwestern start to follow the plan of Iowa State and make it harder for visiting fans to buy tickets to their team’s game without scholarship donations. This is doubtful; Northwestern is so bashful about their bowl ticket sales they don’t even release such data.

Looking at the Big 10, travel is even more of a concern for schools like Wisconsin and Ohio State, who look as if they will be giving up an annual road game in the Midwest to take a trip to Rutgers or Maryland. This arrangement will likely not hurt Nebraska, as they will only make the Rutgers or Maryland trip once every ten years, assuming the Big 10 stays at eight conference games as the SEC and ACC are doing. Still, with the Big 10 opening east coast offices, the question has to be asked, is it too much travel?

With the disappointment at the Big 10 Title Game coupled with the travel anxieties of Nebraska fans mean that Nebraska’s travel reputation will be taking a hit in the coming years? For the first few years of the Big 10, that’s possible, as Husker fans feel out the new locales. But after seven or eight years, Husker fans should once again rule the bowl scene. As I wrote last year, inevitably Nebraska will be getting drop in the Big 10′s bowl order to go to Phoenix and play a Big 12 team in what used to be the Insight Bowl. But super-conference are about the television eyeballs and not about fans waiting in long lines at Eppley Airport.

Memorial Stadium East?

Memorial Stadium East?

Husker-Fall: Where Have all the Good Players Gone?

We’ve all been there at one point or another. We work hard for a promotion at work, study for a degree, or take steps to accomplish a goal. We invest hours, days, weeks, and months in a single minded focus, and then, when we are a stone’s throw from the summit, we abandon the quest and thoughtlessly leave the hard work for nothing, telling ourselves we didn’t care about that goal to begin with. That’s what happened to Nebraska football on Saturday night: a team that had begun to move the attitude of the fanbase from pessimism to optimism once again surpassed their own disappointments.

It wasn’t just a loss; this Nebraska team looked like it was a mid-level program playing a paycheck, body-bag road game ten years ago, before such teams believed they had chances against top teams. It wasn’t like the 70-10 Texas Tech loss or the 76-39 Kansas loss, bad losses by bad teams. It wasn’t like the 63-36 fall from grace at Colorado, where Eric Crouch had a great statistical game while Nebraska’s defense was impotent against Chris Brown and Bobby Purify. This was a good team that had come back on the road showing no character in the battle for a conference title. At points, it appeared as though Nebraska could have allowed 100 points or more.

Failing in games, even big ones, is explainable at times, but not here. Nebraska had two weeks to set the rotation while the opposition banged with Ohio State and Penn State. A healthy and rest Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah weren’t given the chance to help Nebraska get out of the hole they’d dug. As soon as they got down, Nebraska choose to let Martinez throw on every down, the same way they had last year in Madison, the results shockingly more disastrous. Usually, Tim Beck is conservative to a fault.

But the defense is more liable. There is no way any team with an inexperienced quarterback should be able to run on you when you can sell out to stop it. It’s one thing to get shredded by Brett Hudley or Braxton Miller, athletes you have to account for. Making it easy on Curtis Phillips is another story. At least Nebraska was able to limit Hudley and UCLA for most of the second half; Montee Ball and James White were never limited.

Twice, Bo Pelini has had an emotional game that mattered to the heart of fans, this and Texas 2010. In both situations, his team laid inexplicable eggs. Now, many fans are offering to drive Pelini to Arkansae or Auburn, and it’s fair to talk about firing him. You just can’t look inept in such a big spot, when you have these weapons on offense and so much experience on defense. Now Iowa State 2009 and that game’s eight turnovers have a companion piece.

Two years ago, when Nebraska lost the final Big 12 Championship Game to Oklahoma, I did think they’d get a look at a conference title like this for a long time. Well, two years later, they got one and couldn’t pull it off. They may never get as close aswhen officials put a second back on the clock for Texas. Next year, Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller will be eligible for the game, and in retrospect, Nebraska really wishes the Buckeyes had taken their postseason ban last year.

To the other team in red, I’m not even going to acknowledge your championship that you received because Nebraska didn’t show up. You are my programs biggest enemy as of right now, and I want to play you every year until we beat brains in 70-0.

What really summed up last night’s loss is Bo Pelini’s press conference, where the coach spoke in a beleaguered manner and offered up no explanation for the lopsided loss. It as if he want to go to sleep and dream of being at LSU or Oklahoma, or another program whose talent would offset many of the mistakes he made as a coach. Because he makes a lot.

But whether Pelini stays or goes, Husker nation will be left to deal with the continued fallout. While Nebraska columnist rerun their letters of woe today, the other side’s media never talked down their team to begin with, the gamers who kept fitting even when they lost close. After so many close comebacks, Nebraska destroyed the fans’ new found belief that their team could overcome their mistakes. It’s like 2001 all over again-an 11-0 start to the brink of glory, then a giant fall off the cliff.

What is it good for?

What is it good for?

Maryland-Big 10: What Happened to Consensus? A Nebraska Perspective

Can this guy jump higher?

Can this guy jump higher?

When I first heard about the Big 10 adding Maryland and Rutgers, I didn’t pay much attention. (In my defense, it was a football Saturday.) I didn’t honestly think the Big 10 was that serious about expanding, not after they added Nebraska based largely on fit, a high-profile football program, and an icon at the helm of the athletic department. It took a couple of tweet from reporters Saturday night to figure out the Big 10 really was serious about expansion. A move by Notre Dame makes, and suddenly the careful Big 10 is jumping.

The Big 10 is paying its price for passing on Missouri before the Tigers opted to the SEC last fall. I knew then, and affirm now, that the Big 10 had to add Mizzou, as the number of quality schools available was going down. Other than the Irish, Missouri was the last complete culture fit for the Big 10. Notre Dame’s partial membership to the ACC, combined with the Irish emphasizing the importance of keeping series with USC, Stanford, and Navy (not Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue), finally made Jim Delany realize that he can’t add his white whale without leverage, in the form of pecking at the Irish’s new haven conference

Unlike a number of conference realignment moves, this one doesn’t involve fear of being left behind in the arms race or direct disgust over another school’s politicking or TV network. (Although Maryland has had healthy disagreements with the Carolinas.) This move is solely about a school in debt and a league gaining leverage and TV markets. Which begs the question, whatever happened to the Big 10′s quest to build consensus among its members and not moving too fast? Right now, Maryland’s leadership, its president and AD, aren’t Maryland lifers, and see this as a business move. What happens when the Terrapins big-shots who opposed the move (a poll on the Washington Post website showed 70% of fans don’t like it), get control of the program, which they will eventually will, chanting, “We’ll bring back the Maryland fans have always love!”

I don’t this is going to turn into a political mess, the way Texas broke off Oklahoma from the rest of the former Big 8 programs. I’m not looking for a fight here, but Maryland is bringing internal issues into the Big 10. Maryland is east coast urban, unlike the Big 10, which is mostly rural. More likely, the result will be something like Arkansas in the SEC: the Razorbacks have warmed to SEC, even though the rivalries aren’t as great as they were in the SWAC (although that could change with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri). Razorback fans would have loved to see Arkansas move to the Big 12, but it’s never going to happen. Of course, they forget they were outliers in the SWAC, the lone non-Texas school in that conference. Maryland seems to be on the same path: stranger in its old conference, outlier-to-be in its new one.

As a Nebraska fan, it doesn’t make that much difference to me personally who the conference adds. I’ve been two the campus of Maryland twice when I was in middle school. It has an early American, classic feel, but it’s much more urban than Penn State, Michigan, or Ohio State. Byrd Stadium has a gothic, dug-into-the-ground feeling that’s a little like Jack Trice Stadium. It could be rocking joint if they could fill it. Whoever came into the Big 10, it would probably be an eastern school (not Kansas or any other Big 12 school), and at least Maryland’s campus is easy to get to for traveling Nebraska fans. (Lots of airport options, lots of mass transit.) Given the state of Maryland’s cash-strapped athletic department, it isn’t outside of the realm of possibility that the Terps could be selling a few home games to the Huskers. Or the Buckeyes. Or the Wolverines.

Different red headed for these stands.

Let me say this to you, Maryland. I don’t expect you to be excited when you see cornfields in the cut-ins ABC shows of Nebraska games. Culturally, you’re not like Husker fans, Hawkeye fans, or even Nittany Lion fans. We’re farmers and mechanics, and you live faster, more urban life, and that is what it is. But your basketball program, which is your pride and gem, is going to be the rock tour in the Big 10. When Maryland basketball comes to Champagne, West Lafayette, or Lincoln, it will sell out the arenas and be the show.

I’m not going to blame you for wanting to play the best in the ACC, but it’s unlikely you would every be the face and center of that conference or pass Duke and UNC. For the record, you’re not as big national brand in basketball as you think you are: you’re more like Auburn football than Florida football. A good program, a recent national title, but your success isn’t as grand stacked up against great contemporary programs.

There are talented people who leave the best companies to be the face of a growing, solid organization (Doug Gottlieb comes to mind.) You’re not going to SEC where basketball is an afterthought. There’s only two traditional powers in the Big 10: Indiana is very rural, and Michigan State has such problems recruiting Tom Izzo thought seriously about taking the Cavaliers job when Lebron was there. You can be the best here, if your commitment to basketball stays the same, and I’m guessing you like the sound of that.

Irregardless of that, this is going to be a real test of Jim Delany’s leadership. His new school has a different background than his other schools, and it’s going to take a lot of work to get them on the same page.

(Why Terp fans failed to get on Friedgen)

Good Show: Huskers Ahead of the Curb, & a New Trophy Game?

Kickoff after Huskers had taken a 31-0 lead in the third quarter.

When I was out on the street looking for a ticket to the Nebraska-Minnesota game yesterday, I disciplined myself. I told myself to wait up until the last possible minute, going against every instinct in my being that screamed “Secure your seat now!” My restraint paid off, and I paid only twenty to a cool guy who sold me one of his season ticket, ones that had been in his family since the early 1980′s.

In spite of the excitement of seeing Osborne lead the team out on the field one final time, the game was a wash. BTN might as well have shown the replay of last years’ Nebraska-Minnesota game, although they would have had to take some of the shimmer of the field from the Minnesota sun. Even though Minnesota managed to win the games they were supposed to this year, they still aren’t in the same class as the top of the Big 10 as athlete-wise. But this one of Nebraska’s two regional series, and that’s a good thing, even if it’s one-sided. Like Iowa State, I feel a more personal connection to the Nebraska-Minnesota game because I spend a lot of time traveling in that state. If these two schools end up playing for a trophy, I would suggest the trophy be named the Siouxland Prairie Dog and be a mounted prairie dog common to the region of southwest Minnesota, southeast South Dakota, and northeast Nebraska.

You’d get fired up to play for this, right?

At least, Jerry Kill  has given his fan base hope by going with freshmen quarterback Phillip Nelson, a lesson the some of the most experienced coaches in the Big 10 can’t figure out. Remember back in spring and summer when we kept hearing about how groomed Andrew Maxwell was to take over at Michigan State for Kirk Cousins? Now the fourth year junior who can’t beat a BCS team at home will have to fight it out with Goldie next week to get bowl eligibility. How about James Vandenberg at Iowa? The senior wasn’t even pulled when the Hawkeyes were out of the reach of the Wolverines. Mark Dantonio and Kirk Ferentz, at some point over the next two years, will again have to replace the stiff, two-year, punch the clock starters. Meanwhile, Kill rolled the dice in starting Nelson, and with the extra bowl practices this year and another year as the starter, he has hope to develop Nelson into a good starter by his third year.

Not unlike the decision Bo Pelini made in 2010 to go with Taylor Martinez over the incumbent Zac Lee.

Besides the fact that Nebraska has better players, Nebraska beat Minnesota because they had more ways to. Not wanting to rush back Rex Burkhead or burden Taylor Martinez or Ameer Abdullah, Tim Beck lined up a fullback out wide and threw wide receiver screens to Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner. Yes, Nebraska puts their offense on a running back, but today it was time to set up the rotation. Bucking Big 10 conservatism, Bo Pelini went for a score on the goal line with two seconds to go in the half. It didn’t work, but the point was made: I take situational chances. It’s not as great as Osborne’s glory days. If you watched Braylon Heard struggle behind the second-string offensive line and Ron Kellogg has passes clank. Like a lot of teams, Nebraska’s a couple of huge injuries away from disaster. Thankfully, a running back who gains four yards a carry consistently is easier to replace than a quarterback.

Right now, Nebraska’s at a different level organization-wise than other programs in the Big 10. They average 30 points per game versus BCS level competition pretty consistently, and most programs can’t get that unless their running back carries the ball thirty times a game. For the record, I do think that Nebraska will struggle against Iowa more than people expect. Not greatly, perhaps just a second quarter stretch where Nebraska can’t get the field position it needs in 14-6 game. But all Martinez, Pelini, and company have to do is set up the rotation, and they have enough weapons to do that.

Insides of the Stadium

The Rise: Does the Big 10 Need Nebraska to Whip Everyone?

Looking in…

Steve Spurrier’s success at Florida in the 1990′s had an impact that went beyond the Gators. Yes, the fun-and-gun was one of the first passing offenses that began to take football by storm in the late 1990′s, but Spurrier’s penchant for running up the score began to raise the standards of many of the schools in the SEC, getting good coaches fired and raising the level of play in the conference to where it is today.

Yesterday in East Lansing, Husker fans saw a piece of how they may just shape the Big 10 going forward. While it wasn’t a huge win, going on the road and beating a consistent Michigan State team they hadn’t lead all day was again a sign of how Nebraska’s basketball-on-grass offense is pushing them to the front of the pack.

There haven’t been that many times  in the past ten years when Nebraska fans have been overtly optimistic. At points in 2003, fans saw the potential if they could only get better players, but that staff was soon scrapped to satisfy Steve Pedersen’s ego. Then there was the 2006 off-season, post-Alamo Bowl win over Michigan, where Husker fans hoped Zac Taylor could get them a conference title, and of course, the glow of the 33-0 Holiday bowl shutout of Arizona. The Pelini years have been good, don’t get me wrong, but now that Pelini’s gone 4-1 in a huge stretch in the Big 10, fans have reason to believe the team can be viable for years to come.

To his credit, Pelini hasn’t rested on his defensive laurels, and instead, has innovated offensively. When the Huskers moved to the Big 1o, Pelini could have justified keeping a grind-it-out, milk-the-clock offense. Instead, he brought in the spread, and now, a fan base that used to go cold at the first sign of trouble begins to believe their team can comeback when they are down two score with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter. That wrinkle is how a coach buys multiple years in a place.

But the Huskers remain a paradox in and off themselves. While they deliver in the clutch, they wouldn’t even be in that position if not for penalties and turnovers getting the better of them. Yesterday, starting field position was again an issue, with only Nebraska drives starting past their own 31, and their own 42 and 45 respectively. But the bottom line is, the team doesn’t give up. They are built to come back in games, and if they are this good, imagine how good they could be if they actually got some turnovers in their favor.

Saturday was a good-to-great moment for Nebraska football. They came in off a big win, primed for an upset against a so-so team that was better than their record. There’s no question that Nebraska could have squashed Sparty in Lincoln. But the game was in East Lansing, and the Spartans got the game they needed from Le’veon Bell and their defense to stay in it. Nebraska just had a little more.

It maybe a bit premature to say that Bo Pelini is going to get coaches fired in the Big 10. Really, Urban Meyer is more likely to get coaches fired in the Big 10, with his aggressive recruitership alongside his offense. But both Meyer and Pelini bringing this exciting offense to the Big 10 is a good thing, and if they keep coming back or blowing out good teams, it’s going to be a rough go for the rest of the league.

Bo Pelini and crew are one step closer to their goal of a Big 10 crow, and the schedule is softening slightly. Penn State is a better team now than was expected, but Nebraska gets them at home. Fans should still be concerned about Pelini throwing in a charity loss to Minnesota or Iowa, but as we saw on Saturday, this crew can match anyone, and pretty soon, they’re going to get their best player back. Yes, Burkhead the Beast may return soon, but it says a lot to the leadership of this team that they’ve won all these games without him. That’s something to believe in.

Go Big Red vs. Go Blue: Why We’re Here

Charging Toward Indy?

I was excited to go watch Nebraska play against Michigan yesterday. Not in the same way I was before Nebraska played Texas in the “Red Out Around the World” (let’s not remember how that went), but because this was the biggest conference/division game of the season. If Nebraska lost, they’d have very little chance to win the Legends division. Unlike 2009 or 2010, the face-off for the division race wasn’t against the upstart Missouri Tigers, but a duel with the Michigan Wolverines, a program with a tradition and history equal to, and exceeding Nebraska’s in some areas. This was, after all, why Nebraska came to the Big 10, to annually go toe-to-toe with traditional powers for titles.

Observations of Michigan fans who made the trip to Lincoln: I saw so many #2 Charles Woodson jerseys , I could have puked. Even though Nebraska fans live in the past, you don’t see them wearing #15 Tommie Frazier jerseys. The best accessory by far was a couple of maize-striped, old football helmets I saw. Really, most Michigan fans geek it up in a classy way, without looking like the Notre Dame wannabes I observed last weekend. Of course, there was one fan who was clearly a Chicago stockbroker, who came in an overcoat and a 1930′s style hat, as if he were attending one of those baseball games that we now see on black-and-white reels.

In light of the reports of a ticket scam during the Wisconsin game, I pressed my luck in this game and bought my ticket on the street. Yes, I had a nervous moment when it took a second to scan at the gate, but it did scan. I have principal for buying tickets on the street: recognize the sharps. There are people who are selling tickets just to get rid of them, and there are people selling tickets to make a buck. The older and more tired the seller looks, the better the price. And this ticket happened to be two rows up from the 35 yard line on the Nebraska side, so it was my lucky day.

In this game, I observed most plainly what I saw in the season opener against Southern Miss: a team that executes on offense so different from the rest of the Big 10, it changes what fans demand. It was like watching a business forty years ago versus a business today with the benefit of technology. Throughout the first half, Michigan went up and down the field and dominated time of possession as they did a year ago. Meanwhile, Nebraska was getting nearly as many yards in less time and kept having the Wolverines rush to the line of scrimmage.

That leads me to ask: will it be good for the Big 10 if Nebraska rolls through November, winning four straight and ultimately taking the Big Ten title, zipping around Indianapolis as if they were the greatest show on turf? It might be. Of course, we’ll hear a lot of gripping about how the no-huddle isn’t fair to the defense, but eventually, it will just force schools like Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin to go hire offensive coordinators from SMU and Houston to install quicker attacks and play more exciting football. Remembers, it’s not just Nebraska running this, it’s Ohio State, and they are trouncing Penn State and Nebraska with lesser personnel. Quarterback recruits want to play in passing offenses where they’ll get reps, and the no-huddle will give them more reps in-games.

Which leads to another quarterback observations: I get that guys who are number two quarterbacks transfer all the time, but seriously, both Ohio State and Michigan can’t do better? Last year, it was Joe Bauserman winging balls into the tenth row, this year Russell Bellomy. Due to my lack of twitter in Memorial Stadium (come on, Verizon), I missed some great Bellomauserman tweets. The Buckeye’s predicament was understandable last year, but seriously, Michigan, Dennard Robinson is a senior and runs all over. You shouldn’t have that for a backup quarterback.

As the seconds ticked off the clock, I left the flock of Husker fans leaving Memorial Stadium with a box of free popcorn under my arm, hoping to find a TV with the Notre Dame-Oklahoma game on it, and I settled on Jack’s in the Haymarket. Nebraska has just beaten every power team in the Big 10, and can be claimed among the best teams. They won’t be extremely disadvantaged in any game yet this year. This team isn’t great, but in 2009, Pelini took a team that had no offense that was 4-3 and won six of his last seven in an offensive league. This team has improved on defense much more than that team, and as long as they can not make a huge mistake at the wrong time, they’ll be on their way to Indy. Watching Sports Center in the middle of a chaotic post-game bar crowd, I think I can finally say that Husker fans are getting close to what they expect from their coach and team.

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