Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Having My Kuchen and Eating it Too

With the last fall apples I bought, I decided to make apple kuchen because I wanted to make a dish that was slightly more filling than just a crisp. Plus, anything with the name kuchen has to be good, right? I managed to find a recipe online whose most exotic ingredient was shortening (turns out most kuchen recipes call for sour cream, an item I have to go out of my way to purchase). So I did up an apple kuchen, although my first time I made the mistake of putting it in a baking that wasn’t big enough, a fact I should have known when I could only fit two sliced apples on top of the batter when the recipe called for four or five. The result was more plain cake than apples and glaze, but I was not deterred. I baked it again in an appropriate-sized dish, and got the right topping-to-cake ratio.

So this time around, when I had to make a dessert for a get together, I decided to go out on a limb and make kuchen, but with some of the rhubarb that I had frozen over the summer. (During the summer months, I buy up rhubarb, berries, along with vegetables at farmer’s markets to freeze so I can have fresh vegetables into the winter. Really pays off.) This surely would be a delight.

The morning of my experiment, I got the rhubarb out of the freezer, and saw about a half bag of frozen blueberries, so I decided to grab them too. I remember when I froze those blueberries I was wondering what in the world I was going to do with them because there weren’t enough of them to make a regular crisp. Now, I found the perfect solution-blueberry rhubarb kuchen. Over this summer, I had found that rhubarb really brought out the flavor of a berry (a notion first discovered from a jam I’d bought in Frankenmuth, Michigan), and now I would have an even better kuchen.

So I made up the traditional dough and put it in the bottom of the pan:

½ c. sugar

2 c. flour

3 tbsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp shortening

1 egg + enough milk to make a cup

Side note, I use dry milk in all my baking.

Moving on to the glaze:

1 ½ c. sugar

3 tbsp flour

1 tsp cinnamon

3 tbsp butter, melted

This time around, I also added about 1/3 a cup of chopped walnuts and about 2/3 of a cup of old fashioned oats, whatever was left in the container. Nuts and oats always take fruit topping to the next level, plus I hate eating straight-up glaze that is nothing but pure sugar.

Then came a fun problem that I did not anticipate: removing the partially thawed rhubarb from the solution of sugar water that I’d frozen it in. I used the method I’d found on a fruit-freezing website, and the melting result a cold wintry mix of wet rhubarb slushy. (I could tell the method was flawed and took too long right after I did it this summer, and subsequently, all the rhubarb I froze was softened on the stove.) I did my best to drip off water from the rhubarb, hoping that some of the water that did end up on the dough didn’t ruin it. This is where the berries came in handy, and I avoided wading through the majority of the rhubarb. I finished spreading the berries and rhubarb over the dough, topped with glaze, and inserted the dish into the oven.

The recipe called for the kuchen to be baked at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, which of course explains why I had to bake it at 370 degrees for an hour, with no signs of overcooking. I am happy to report the dish was a great success, although the coffee cake part of the kuchen does indeed seem to be best served for apples. However, the blueberry rhubarb mix (with the walnut complement) is the perfect cure for on-setting winter blues. When I eat a casserole like this, I remember why I spend so much of the summer dragging around to farmer’s markets and such, getting up early on Saturdays, at times just getting home from long trips, and going out in a see of couples and people with kids that make me depressed and gleeful at the same time, and then laboring to cook it and freeze it. I can still taste the freshness in the food, and that matters a lot in the long term.

Joe Paterno’s fall, part 1: General thoughts, and Implications for the Church

I listen to ESPN radio on a daily basis, and since the Brett Farve-come-back-from-retirement story in 2008, there hasn’t been a story that gripped me to the radio then the Joe Paterno-Penn State sex abuse scandal. Interestingly enough, both situations featured the rending of an small town’s athletic program’s icon, although the situation at Penn State involves a far greater charge of sexual abuse against children. This tragic story has a couple of different angles, and it’s probably going to take me more than one blog post. So in this first post, I’m going to lay out my initial thoughts and turn my attention to how some conservative religions writers have touched on this issue, and how they could go deeper.

First of all, what happened behind the curtain at Penn State where retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was abusing young boys is a tragedy, and the only thing that is a greater tragedy is that Joe Paterno allowed it to go on. It is repeated that Paterno did met his legal obligation to tell his superiors about the incident, but really, Joe Paterno has no superior at Penn State. He should be the one facing perjury and obstruction of justice charges; the athletic director and university president happen to be the fall guys for Paterno. Paterno, in a sense, could have been blinded by generational biases, as domestic and child abuse were thought by his fathers to be matters that should be handled in the family. While that doesn’t excuse Paterno in any way for reporting the abuse or not confronting Sandusky, it does explain why he let the abuse go on for so long and allowed it to go unnoticed.

All this points to the fact that the gutless, Paterno-worshiping sports media won’t say: Paterno should have retired years ago. In an age where the responsibilities of a coach had grown enormously and coaches literally work themselves to death, a program can’t have an eighty year-old coach who doesn’t fully understand the seriousness of sexual abuse allegations. Granted, many of the abuse allegations happened before the 2004 incident where Paterno kicked the university president and athletic director out of his home when they even suggested he retire (at age 78). But if Paterno had retired in 1992 when he was 66, he would have coached for twenty-six seasons, more than a full coaching career. This was the danger of giving one man too much power was that, ultimately, he would abuse it, and it would hurt the university in the long run.

The national media is remarkably soft when it comes to Paterno. I remember an episode of Around the Horn from early 2007, when the topic of Joe Paterno coaching in the press box came up. The host Tony Reali, a young man of about thirty, set up the question for all of the reporters to come out and say that Joe Paterno should just retire if he was going to coach from the press box, but each one of the older columnists said that Paterno coaching in the press box was a great idea, and could even help Penn State. At the end of the debate, Reali was struck by the almost unanimous praise for Paterno’s flaying attempt to be Penn State’s coach.

Throughout the coverage of Paterno’s firing, members of the media struggled to separate their own emotions from Paterno. Whether it be longtime newspaper columnists or former Paterno players turned analysts such as Matt Millen and Todd Blackledge, the media seemed lost in the memories of the Paterno they knew and loved. Joe Pa was the last great coach of generation, and for him to be forced into is unfortunate, even if it had to happen. Truly, Paterno did a lot of good for college football, the university he served, and the players he coached, and all that will be remembered. But the stain of Paterno’s blind eye on Sandusky’s crimes will stick to resume forever.

The religious and conservative media were drawn to this story for obvious reasons. Paterno’s attitude for keeping the scandal in house unfortunately mirrors that of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal very closely. The large consensus I’ve noted among the aforementioned media, is first, is that it seems to be a chorus calling for immediate reports of any knowledge of sexual abuse. While that is a very important point in the consideration of this case, there is another strain of the Paterno story that churches should talk about because, as in the case of sex abuse scandal that hit close to me, it could be as common in such a cover-up in a church or in a small town.

I grew up in a large Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod parish that had a school, which, while I did not attend it, grew to a prominent feat of 400 students in a community of 6,000 people. It was a very well-respected school in our town, and our church body as a whole. The two senior teachers, the principal and the head art teacher, together with the parish music director, were jokingly referred to as the “holy trinity” around our congregations. While pastors came and went over the years, these people stayed in their positions. Nothing in the congregation and school happened without their say-so.

Then one year, about a month after the art teacher had retired, a former student came forward with a sexual abuse charges against both the school principal and the art teacher. Before a meeting to determine what would be done with the principal, he committed suicide. Other victims came forward, and then congregation was torn apart. Ten years later, the school’s enrollment is half of what it was before the scandal.

The one similarity between this scandal and the Penn State scandal was that in both instances, there were individuals who had too much power. In the case of Penn State, it was the enabler who had the power; in the case of the parish school, it was the abusers themselves.

The reason Paterno was able to cover up Sandusky’s abuse, was quite simply, he was able to. He won big at a major college football program, and accumulated the praise and adoration of the university’s community for it. But unlike his contemporary, Tom Osborne, who chose to retire at sixty and put his institution first, Paterno used his power to cling to his position long after he’d reached retirement age, and the reverence of Paterno left the university exposed to the scandal that befell it. The scandal stayed in the closet because that was where Paterno wanted it to stay, and no one dared to challenge him.

Like Penn State University, many churches themselves are small organizations, and for those in rural communities, the pastor of a church or priest of a parish is often the most educated individual in the community, and thus the most respected. The rural areas of the country are desperate for educated people as all the talented young people leave for jobs in the city, and the urban church is desperate for the educated, able pastor to lead reforms for the poor and underprivileged children and families. While the vast majority of such religious leaders are indeed people who are above reproach, that doesn’t mean that they should ever be exempt from any scrutiny; in fact, Moses tells the Israelites in Deuteronomy 13 that they should test the prophets who come. Paul even exhorts his student Timothy to be judicious in his selection of teachers and warns him of false prophets.

And also like a university community, churches are often very insular institutions. Now, there are many positives to this. In the case of the school, it can provide a place for children to grow up it. Churches can be places of study, drawing closer to God, and healing for life’s hardships. But just as easily as a church can be a safe place, the walls can be used to hide abuse and allegations, under the guise of protecting the institution. While the institution may be protected in the short term, it is only being built up for long-term damage, not to mention scarring the lives of children. And when the church is found to cover sexual abuse up, the ratifications are much greater than in any other organization, as well they should be. If you teach abstinence in a culture of sexual freedom, you will get scored if such abuse is brought to light.

In light of these things, churches need to emphasize things like the doctrine of the ministry. I don’t know much about other church bodies, but in my church, it is taught that Christ gave a specific ministry office to his apostles, an office that is greater than the apostles themselves. (Matthew 16:18-19; 28:18-20). This teaching has been used to comfort many people who received the sacrament from priests or pastors who were themselves living in sin or went on to quit the ministry. While obviously this teaching doesn’t excuse the behavior of a pedophile, it can comfort a congregation who needs to deal with such a person because getting rid of pastor X doesn’t destroy the office the church has had for 2,000 years and will continue to have long after any pastor they know is gone.

So there are my thoughts on Joe Paterno, and what the church should learn from his scandal. I have many more thoughts on Paterno, what the scandal says about small colleges and rural America, the media’s coverage of his dismal, and the riots afterward, but I will save it for another post.

My bread machine and a new hybrid

Steve Martin wrote in Shopgirl that cooking is the main act that a single person does for himself or herself, which is probably the reason I cook a lot, and that this will be the first of many entries that deal with my cooking and backing. Cooking to my is a form of art that excise to the highest hilt.

Today’s story behind began several years ago at Christmas, when my parents asked me what I wanted, and the only thing that came to my mind was a bread machine. So I asked for a bread machine, and for the past five years I’ve been making my own bread. It always makes great bread, although sometimes I do miss getting certain breads from the store. But I make do.

I felt I needed to shake things up today. Too often I’m lazy with my bread machine and just make regular white bread. So I went my adama recipe, that calls for soaking oatmeal and cornmeal together, but  used some blood orange vegetable oil I’d bough in San Francisco. The potato water and the dry milk allowed to substitute extra wheat flour for the bread flour the recipe called for.  Any bread machine recipe that uses milk or a creamier liquid requires less bread flour.

The orange oil was something I’ve really struggled to find use for (drove me crazy because I paid so much for it), but it really paid off in this bread. The orange became the solid primary flavor, and it wasn’t to dry. I’m really going to like this loaf

 

Kansas Football’s bonheaded move

This weekend, the university of Kansas did its best to top former Nebraska Athletic Director Steve Pederson in coaching firing arrogance. While they didn’t have a 58-19 coach to fire, Kansas did its best in dismissing Turner Gill just two seasons, where Gill went 5-19. The consensus of the Kansas media was that Gill had too many blowout losses (of Kansas’ ten games against BCS opponents this year, only two were closer than a touchdown) and that he was too nice of guy to win at a school were only tough-as-nails coaches like Glen Mason and Mark Mangino had limited success. To top it off, such beat writers have suggested that Kansas does have good enough players to compete in the Big 12 now. Oh please, get over yourselves.

First, let me get some straight about Kansas. The quality of the Kansas football job has declined significantly since the job was open to years ago. With the new Big 12, Kansas only controls three of its non-conference games instead of four and has to play the six bad boys of the former Big 12 south every year, so the schedule is significantly tougher. If you think that doesn’t matter, remember the best team Kansas beat in their 2007 Orange Bowl regular season was a 7-5 Texas A&M team. With a lot of the same team returning the next year, Kansas went 7-5. Mark Mangino went 23-41 in conference games, against the Big 12 north without a dominate program. You’re not as good as you think you are.

Now that Baylor has their act together, Kansas football simply is the worst football job in the Big 12 now, plain and simple. This is the new college football landscape, where, if you choose to be a basketball school and ignore football all together (ala Duke and most of the Big East), you’re going to get left behind. The only thing you can do worse than ignore football is to ignore football, then come back and act like you care about it, like Kansas is trying to do. I’m saying you have to turn into Nebraska or even Iowa, Kansas. What I’m saying is, if you’re not going to care about football, you have to give Turner Gill four to five years to build a program. Unless there is a massive player revolt or the team completely (and from the looks of it, there isn’t-Kansas played pretty well against rival Missouri), you have to give Turner Gill more time. And if you’re going to take the Big East mentality and not care about football, why make your bad football job even worse? Even Duke, who pretend they don’t play football, has kept every coach they’ve had in the last twenty years at least four seasons, which makes the job more attractive. Last time out, they got a former SEC head coach to take the job

And now that you’ve fired him, do you really expect a marquee coach to want your job? Last time around, you bandied about the name Jim Harbaugh, a ridiculous joke that you thought you could get a coach who had his pick of either the Michigan job or an NFL job. Now, who will want to go into a league that is dominated politically by Texas (who could leave at any second) and whose second to worst football program upset a top-10 team on the road and whose coach went 13-0 playing SEC competition? Who do you think you are?

And as far as the thought that Gill couldn’t succeed at Kansas because he’s a nice guy like Terry Allen, do you really think you should use your own history a measuring stick for success? Glen Mason had a loosing record at Kansas, ten games under .500 in conference play, just like Mangino did. You’re hardly the beacon for success. Evidently, you’ve learned nothing from the way college football has progressed in the last ten year: a surly drill sergeant coach doesn’t work coaching major college football. Look at all the top college football coaches-Bob Stoops, Mack Brown, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Nick Saban, Chip Kelly, Brett Bielama. Only Saban is more strict than seller, and even he can be somewhat charming when he has to be. And speaking of Mack Brown, he had a run of success at North Carolina, your equal in basketball, of 69-46, and he’s not going to be mistaken for a drill sergeant any time soon. Once again, get over yourself. Look outside you’re little world to get a clue on how to succeed.

Ultimately, this is a case of a school thinking that is so much more important than it is. Kansas will be lucky to find an experienced coach willing to come work in their let’s-ignore-football-and-whine-when-we-don’t-win mentality. Best case scenario, they pluck a superior position coach assistant a few years before he’s ready for a major job (ala Bowling Green landing Urban Myer, then wide receivers coach at Notre Dame). In any case, Kansas has sent a sign that they expect great results from a coach, even with mediocre resource. By the way, the old track around your football stadium doesn’t help your case that you really care about football, either.

Close of season Husker thoughts and assessment

It is disappointing to be writing this assessment on Thanksgiving Saturday, and not the first Sunday in December, like I would have the last two years. Still, the Huskers’ regular season is over, and I have compose my thoughts on it.

As I said in other posts, I thought Nebraska would end up going 8-4 or 7-5 this year, mostly because I thought they would get beat up physically in the Big 10. I was also terrified when, on the first weekend of the year, Gerry DiNardo used a dirty word to describe the Huskers’ performance against Tennessee-Chattanooga: sloppy. At 9-3, I personally have nothing to complain about overall, outside of few obvious spots. Surviving those injuries speaks a lot to coaching, and give hope to next year, when Nebraska should come back with more depth. The offensive line should benefit the most from the injuries this year, and I would expect that an experienced player will be starting at least four of the five offensive line positions in the fall. (I still think it will be another year until Nebraska gets a really deep, experienced offensive line that will all but guarantee a ten win season.)

On offense: In 2010 Nebraska ran a traditional, huddle based offense in the Big 12 where every other team ran the no-huddle spread. This year, they moved to the Big 10, the traditional offense league if there ever was one, and started running a no-huddle spread. Really, I didn’t think Nebraska’s offense looked that much different at the beginning of the year. The immediate improvement was that Nebraska began taking more shots down the field in their first few game, a glaring problem with their run-heavy offense a year ago. As the year went on and it became evident Taylor Martinez couldn’t be asked to read defenses, they began throwing short again, taking four yards when the corners played off and adding the outside wide receiver screens. What resulted was a Husker offense that rested on the toss play, the option and zone read plays, and straight ahead runs; on the drives where they were able to get long pass plays, they usually scored. While the offense isn’t an exotic spread, it at least didn’t look like the fake spread Nebraska ran last year.

The one greatest advantage Nebraska has with its new offense is the up-tempo style, increasing their number of plays per game, from 65.4 in 2010 to 70.2 this year. Ironically, total yards were down by around 8 yards a game, but considering Nebraska left an offensive league for a defensive one, that should be considered an improvement. Second half offense was a vast improvement from the previous year. In 7 games last year (half of the season) Nebraska’s offense scored seven points or less, including games against Idaho, South Dakota, and Kansas, teams Nebraska should have a physical advantage against. This year, Nebraska scored more points in the second half then they did in the first half seven times, and once equaled their second half total. The additional plays and hurry up undoubtedly saved Nebraska’s bacon against Ohio State earlier this year. Without the extra plays for Nebraska’s offense in that game, they might not get a chance to come back or win in regulation.

The one limiting aspect I see in the offense is that it seems content to rely mostly on Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead, particularly Burkhead. Yes, Burkhead is effective, and yes, he can carry the team, like he did against Michigan State and Iowa. But, it is dangerous for a team to be so tied down by one player, and not just because of the risk of injury. Pelini overusing Burkhead against Michigan State likely cost him the game against Northwestern, where Burkhead had 69 yards on 22 carries. Butkhead will also limit Nebraska because of his running style. While Burkhead does get a consist 4 yards per carry (keeping Nebraska in manageable down and distance) and the necessary yardage 3rd and short, he rarely provides long runs and too often runs into contact (his goal line fumble against Northwestern, for example.)

There is another problem with the Martinez-Burkhead heavy offense. Top high school recruits (which you do need to win the Big 10 and get to and win a BCS game, Huskers fans) want to see from a school that they can come in and play right away. This year, Nebraska had three freshmen running backs, and at no point, where they especially reliant on any of them in a significant game, save for Ameer Abdullah on special teams. Are they not playing because they aren’t ready? Perhaps. But if I’m a recruit who is my choice of the top programs, why would I want to go to a school that will play me as a freshmen, only to stick me back on the bench when they haven’t done enough to involve me? And if I’m a top running back, why would I want to go to a Big 10 school where I would get to run into an oversized defense 30 times a game and be worn out when I was drafted into the NFL?

On Defense: I think the Huskers did about as well as could be expected for a team that lost its top defensive tackle halfway through the season, and then another defensive tackle in a run first conference. Like I said, I expected this team to be especially beat up by the end of the year. The good new is, they’ll be deeper next year. Lavonte David once again was the natural playmaker in the back end, and Will Compton gradually emerged and improved as the season wore on, getting more of a chance to play now that Nebraska doesn’t have to play dime 80% of the time.

One thing I do feel I keep waiting for is one of these Pelini lead defenses to step up, and get a massive amount of turnovers, as his defense of 2003 did. This year, they had eighteen takeaways. What I would say in this instance is it gives that at least there could be a year in the future where Nebraska does get a huge advantage in turnover margin and wins 10 or 11 games.

There is of course, the question of the two huge losses on the road. Of the two, I would say Wisconsin would be the one Husker fans should be the most frustrated by. Yes, the Michigan loss was bad, but that was on the road, against a team that was peaking and embracing the style of their new coach. Nebraska had just been through an emotional game against Penn State and then had to make another long road trip it was poison. Michigan was also able to do what Ohio State was unsuccessful at: limit the number of plays Nebraska’s offense got. Nebraska only had 25 plays in the first half, and with the turnover on the kickoff, were down to touchdowns to start the second. At that point, the playbook was limited, and they were on the road.

The Wisconsin loss, yes, I think Husker fans should be upset with in certain regards, although it should be said that Wisconsin is a better team, with a better quarterback, and two running backs better than Rex Burkhead. But it is a game where Nebraska went on the road, with huge expectations and a national spotlight on them and in the moment, they looked a lot smaller. They never really made up for that loss in Madison all year, and there was a moment in that game, when Martinez threw his first interception, that I felt like once that one wrong thing happened, a dozen more would follow, a pattern with Nebraska that had begun at Colorado in 2001 and continues to this day. It’s sad that Nebraska didn’t have a moment great than that loss for the rest of the year.

But at least in both those games, you can look at Nebraska and say, they didn’t have the talent to compete. That was not the case when they played Northwestern at home. In that game, they were hurt by a couple of things. One, they weren’t used to the week-in, week-out grind of the Big 10 (Nebraska played an even worse game against Iowa State last year and won that one.) Two, the aforementioned wear on Burkhead from the Michigan State game, yielding their Dave Wannstedt-depend-on-one-back-getting-40-carries offense impotent. Situational self-destructing to keep Northwestern ahead, like the fumbles in scoring territory and the long TD pass when they were only down 14-10. But the worst was allowing Northwestern’s final drive, made up of 13 running plays. Not being able to stop an undersized spread team from running the ball on you when you have to get it back, at home no less, is how you go from being a team that has a shot at a BCS game against your bitter old conference rival to a berth in the Capitol One Bowl against a South Carolina game who also has a bad home loss.

One stat I waited until the end of the year to check was penalties, especially since Pelini’s teams seemed to commit a lot of them, and they were a huge story last year. I knew this year would be less than last years, although that wouldn’t be saying much. The total through 12 games was 76 penalties, or an average of just under 6.5 per game. Versus a year ago, the Huskers committed 109 penalties in 14 games, or an average of 7.8 per game. So a notable improvement. I don’t recall Husker fans complaining as hard about penalties this years as they did last year, but perhaps that has something to do with the penalty disparity. Last year, the Huskers were penalized 46 more times than their opponents, an average of a little more than three per game, and they were also penalized on average thirty more yards per game than their opponents. This year, Nebraska’s opponents were penalized 71 times, 5 times fewer than Nebraska, and their per game penalty average of 5 yards. Thus, the lack of animosity.

It is worthy of note that this was Bo Pelini’s least penalized Nebraska team. In addition to the school record 109 penalties from a year ago, Pelini’s 2009 team previously set the school record for penalties with 100 (7.1 ppg). His first season in 2008, the team had 94 penalties (7.2 ppg). Definite improvement, I’m sure we can credit better Big 10 reffing.

One last thought on penalties: I don’t recall anyone complaining about penalties much in Pelini’s first two years, other than a little at the beginning of his first year. Kind of surprising given that in 2009, Nebraska did indeed set the school record for penalties, which yielded not a peep from the media. Just saying it is interesting.

I didn’t notice it until after the Penn State game, but for the first time, I thought Bo Pelini lacked some fire in his post game press conference. Then I thought back to the game at Wisconsin, after which I was surprised that Pelini looked like he didn’t want to fight a reporter. There were two things I made of it: one, the strain of moving conferences probably took its tool on Pelini. Eleven new opponents means more film study. Additional travel, different routines, always trying to judge a new opposing sidelines. (In addition to the events and uproar surrounding the Penn State game itself). Second, Pelini’s now four years into his coaching career at Nebraska, the longest he’s stayed at one place consecutively. I’m not criticizing him for moving around, I am just simply stating the fact, I think he’s realizing he’s in this for the long haul and that there are no shortcuts.

Looking over the college landscape and seeing how many coaches end up wining a national title in their first, second, or third year over the last decade (8 out of 12 national title coaches have), I wondered if it’s possible for a coach who has been at a job for more than five or six years to win a national title. While there are exceptions, I think the optimum situation where a team can win a national title is when a talented team at a school with resources gets an ambitious coach who gives them a significantly better system and game plan than they had before. It’s only way to get the new entitled high school athlete to buy and work together. Pelini’s already past year four at Nebraska, a school that has better than average resources and commitment.

Am I saying that players are already turning Pelini out or that he’s past his prime as a coach? No, but what I am saying is he’s past the initial bump that he gets from players who buy into the new coach. It may even be a sign he’s thinking even more seriously about going to an SEC school with better resources, and we all know LSU won’t keep Les Miles forever.

All in all this was a nice year. 9-3 is good; I hoped for better, but I’ll take 9-3 in this conference. Meanwhile, I’ll hope for a bowl game against a coach who might be looking for revenge against a Nebraska team he might have a better shot at this time around.

The firing of Maxwell Shearer, a Thanksgiving carroll

Every Thanksgiving, the story of Maxwell Shearer (not his real name) comes to my mind. Maxwell Shearer was a man who worked for my father’s former company and who was fired the day before Thanksgiving. You make think to yourself, oh, what’s this? A man getting fired on the day before Thanksgiving? What kind of cruel company does that to a man, and what does he do to deserve it?

Try being a sweet talker who skated on the accomplishments of others. You do that, you get what you deserve.

Yes, my father’s former company that sold corn, soybean, and forage seeds to farmers, was a dysfunctional mess toward the end of his time there, but the story of how Maxwell Shearer was fired tops the list of bad stories from inside the company. Maxwell was hired back in the mid-eighties to run the company’s distribution plant in Iowa. For the most part, it appeared that Maxwell was a good manager. The small, worn-down plant ran a large amount of seed for its size and developed kind of a spartan-bunker mentality among the employees. That’s the first half of how Maxwell was able to keep his job for so long: he hired men who would work hard for hard work’s sake, and not care if there were being taken advantage of by a small man with power.

The other half of Maxwell’s long stay in his mid-level management: he knew how to play the higher-ups. He remembered birthdays, sent Christmas cards at the right times, and always asked about how their kids were doing in little league. His slick talk, coupled with the efficiency that the plant ran with, kept Maxwell in his position for nearly two decades. If it hadn’t been for the company’s poor management decisions and sales record, he might still be running that little plant, trying to slick talk to his retirement. But things above his head caused his downfall.

That year, the company’s sales were down, and the larger seed companies began approaching the grower-owners about selling their company. Slowly but surely, various people began to be let go, and finally Maxwell’s turn came. The decision came, and Maxwell’s boss and the company’s director of human resources drove out to central Iowa to hand Maxwell his pink slip the fourth Wednesday in Novemeber, their hearts cold as ice.

It just so happened the day before Thanksgiving, Maxwell had a tradition of making a large turkey dinner for the people, with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and of course pumpkin pie. It was Maxwell’s yearly tradition, his act of endearing his staff to him. And it was into this yearly tradition, firing committee arrived promptly at 10:00 A.M., the timing of the firing itself showing the company’s dysfunctional nature.

Maxwell’s boss and his accompanying doomsayer walked into Maxwell’s office and delivered the bad news: he was fired. Maxwell sat there in disbelief. Day before Thanksgiving, and he was out of the job he’d jockeyed for so long to keep. Like most people who are fired, he probably had no idea it was coming. There was one thing that remained: the Thanksgiving dinner.

His superiors allowed him to keep his tradition of serving his traditional Thanksgiving dinner to his staff, so he went home and got the things he’d prepared and served them to his employees for the final time. By then, all of them knew that their boss had been relieved of his duties. They went through the line, and Maxwell place the turkey and fixings on their plates. Many couldn’t even look their boss-no, their former boss-in the eyes, as he sat there ate his final meal with him. Meanwhile, the firing committee ate in the corner with the private rent-a-cops they’d brought with them for the event in case Maxwell went AWOL. (He didn’t, by the way.) After lunch, Maxwell Shearer packed up his office and left the little, worn down plant for the last time. His employees went back to work, running seed and bagging it for the spring, wondering if their company would be sold. (It was, by the way.)

So was the story of Maxwell Shearer, the man who was fired the day before Thanksgiving. As bad and as belittling a man as he was, he still didn’t desire to be fired that way. But when you behave like that, you make your own exit.

 

How Nebraska’s New Rivalry with Iowa Can Help them Put their Old Rivalry in Cotext

This Friday, Nebraska starts a new series in the Big 10 with Iowa, an annual game already has a trophy (a corn bowl) and nickname that is more dorky than meaningful. Sorry, but since it’s called the Heroes Game, they might as well have just named it the HyVee Game and gotten even more money out of HyVee. But it is this series with Iowa, a school that Nebraska typically looks down upon because of their lack of national titles, that gives Husker Nation a chance to move on from a school with whom it closely identifies and whose success has handicapped Husker fans’ vision for the past ten years.

It is Nebraska fans old attachment to the rival of the previous generation, Oklahoma, that has caused them to look past what their program is now.

Nebraska’s no longer in the Big 12, and the Big Eight died years ago. They’ve gone out to make their own way in the Big 10, and start a new chapter when Oklahoma choose to keep its ties with Texas over Nebraska. But let’s get a couple things straight. One, Nebraska idolizes the old Big Eight, where they played Oklahoma on the day after Thanksgiving for the de facto conference title and the berth in the Orange Bowl. Yes, this is rivalry to Nebraska fans, but it became in its later years as much of a one-sided rivalry as Nebraska-Iowa State was or Texas-Baylor is. Oklahoma cared more about beating Texas, and in the conference realignment mess, it cares more about staying with in-state rival Oklahoma State (A program whose record over the last ten years is almost as good as Nebraska’s.)

Even the recent Oklahoma players didn’t find significance in the Nebraska “rivalry”. When asked at Big 12 media days 2010 about Nebraska’s departure to the Big 10, the Oklahoma players said they didn’t care about the Nebraska game, and instead grew up on the Oklahoma-Texas rivalry because the stakes were higher. Sure, he knows the old Oklahoma fans grew up on NU-OU, but that was then. There’s undoubtedly another factor that influenced the Oklahoma players to consider Texas a more worthy rival on the field than Nebraska: Texas has had more talent on the field and doesn’t get bowled over as easily.

Like any old rival, Nebraska fans envy Oklahoma’s success from afar. Even during this season, there were Nebraska beat writers who were suggesting that, since it looked like at the time Rick Neuheisel was going to get fired at UCLA and the Huskers’ non-conference was without headline, that Nebraska should just try to play a neutral site game against the Sooners. I have one thing to say about this: can we get over Oklahoma, Husker fans? I’m twenty-eight years old; there have been two relevant Nebraska-Oklahoma to the national championship pictures in my lifetime. And yes, Nebraska and Oklahoma have met twice for the Big 12 title, 2006 and 2010. So? Honestly, at the time Nebraska left the Big 12, I felt a deeper emotional reaction when Nebraska played Texas because of the way the Longhorns have bullied the “lesser” teams in the Big 12. Oklahoma could have been great matchup, if all the old Husker fans and beat writers didn’t have the game up on a pedestal.

Distance has only increased the idolization of Oklahoma rivalry, but it’s also the reasons that Nebraska fans need to understand as to why the rivalry has diminished. The most contentious rivalries in college sports, Alabama-Auburn and Missouri-Kansas for example, happen when two passionate fan bases occupy a shared area. The state of Alabama in the case of the former, and the city of Kansas City in the case of the later. The truth is, Nebraskans and Oklahomans are separated by a whole state and don’t see each other that much, lacking the opportunity to build the real contempt for each other that a rivalry would bring.

I know what some Husker fans will say that I’m destroying tradition like I’m Steve Pedersen. But I’m not saying that Oklahoma is no longer a rival of Nebraska’s in any sense. Indeed, really the whole Big 10 can be thought of at times as rivalry between everyone and Ohio State; same in the Pac 12 with everyone and USC. Nebraskans need to see Oklahoma as rival in the same sense that Miami and Florida State were rivals. They played in some great bowl games over the years, clash of the cultures, that’s it. We won some and lost some. Now we’re in a new place.

That’s why Nebraska fans should get excited for the Iowa series, even though Iowa’s accomplishments as a program don’t equal Nebraska’s. Nebraska and Iowa have had nearly identical records over the last four years. The Hawkeyes have always kind of had a cult following in Omaha, where it wasn’t really a crime to be a Hawkeye fan since Iowa and Nebraska rarely played each other. Now that they are, it is sure to start breeding contempt among the programs, and makes me wonder if Husker fans can live in the present and only admire the past.

Husker Nation has “The Talk”

I wasn’t surprised when Nebraska lost to Michigan. The team of my youth, the team of my heart, once again went on the road against a top-20 and got pummeled on the road (never mind that most top-20 teams win at home, or that Nebraska had just had a long road trip to Penn State the previous week and was in position for a letdown). And now, it is soul searching week in Husker Nations, as all the blogs and newspapers proceed to ask Huskers, OK, now Bo Pelini’s been here four years, how do you feel about your program? It is as if Husker Nation is a needy girl who is asking her boyfriend where the relationship is going.

Listen, I don’t think it’s unfair to have this conversation. Nebraska has gotten crushed on the road twice this year. One time was again in a national, high profile game at Wisconsin in front of College Game Day. In addition, there was the embarrassing home loss to Northwestern, the second time in Pelini’s tenure he’s thrown in a charity loss for a would be 5-7 team to get the extra win to go bowling. (The horrid Iowa State game in 2009 being the other.) Pelini should be evaluated (he is in his fourth year here), but only if we as Husker fans evaluate our attitudes and expectations.

Let’s face it: we as Husker fans had our expectations set in the nineties. 1993-1997. Five seasons, sixty wins, three losses. Three National Title, and a missed field goal from a third. Tommie Frazier, Ahman Green, Grant Wistrom, Jason Peter. Winning, then doing it the right way. That’s Nebraska football. Most fans believe that the only time Nebraska football was great since then was the short month between Nebraska’s magical win over Oklahoma on the last Saturday in September of 2001 until the huge loss at Colorado on the day after Thanksgiving. Now, on the ten year anniversary of that loose, Nebraska is about to start a new series (I’ll call it a rivalry when Nebraska fans care about beating Iowa like Iowa fans care about beating them), and fans are wondering how their program will hold up in a new league with new rivalries.

Going into the Iowa game, Pelini is 38-17, roughly the same record Kirk Ferentz had in years 3-6 after he’d rebuilt the Hawkeyes from the waning Hayden Fry years, and in the last four years as a matter of fact. There are some good wins, including five wins against teams ranked the AP top 20. Oklahoma in 2009, Oklahoma State and Missouri last year, Michigan State and Penn State this year. Until the win against Oklahoma, the Huskers hadn’t beaten an AP top 20 since that 2001 win over the Sooners, in embarrassing stretch in which the only other team from an AQ conference not to beat a top 20 team was Duke. We should be thankful and tearing our goalpost down after such a win, right?

But there are zero conference titles and BCS appearances, and only one really good bowl appearance, in the Holiday Bowl against an overrated Arizona team. This year, should the Huskers beat Iowa, they will likely be invited to play an SEC squad, likely South Carolina, in the either the Capital One or the Outback Bowl, an appealing game to Nebraska fans between two teams that had the potential to be BCS teams and a coach with a history against Nebraska. Satisfying? Well sort of.

Many fans keep asking, how close is the program from a BCS game? Two years ago, it was kick in bounds, plus a bad penalty, and one second put back on the clock from going to the Fiesta Bowl; last year, they could have been a couple of plays away from beating Texas A&M in 9-6 game, or a tying field goal against Oklahoma to send the game to overtime. This year, all it may have taken was getting a stop against Northwestern in the fourth quarter. (A highly more embarrassing loss than their loss at Michigan in my opinion.) So in other words, just a few coaching errors.

One way to evaluate Pelini, and the level of the program, is to look at how many big losses he’s had. Of the seventeen losses Pelini’s had, only six have been by more than a touchdown. Of those six, one was last year’s Holiday Bowl, a classic letdown against an inferior opponent after the Huskers failed to achieve their season’s goal. Four of them were against top 20 teams, and one was against a Mike Leach Texas Tech team that won nine games. Those losses are bad, but not nearly as bad as the aforementioned home eggs against Northwestern, Iowa State, and last years Texas team that went 5-7.

As far as talent goes, on offense, the Huskers have only one reliable skill player, Rex Burkhead. Taylor Martinez is interchangeable with the starting quarterbacks of many programs around the country who have at least eight wins. On defense, Pelini’s specialty, there is an abundance of players, although it will take some time in the transition to the Big 10 to develop the physicality and depth to withstand the grinding offense that Nebraska didn’t see in the Big 12. And all in all, Pelini hasn’t had a year where he’s had an unusually large number of starters return, and he’s never put a really consist offensive line together with five guys who’ve racked up a bunch of starts.

So I guess if you look at all that, you could describe Pelini as a “yeah, but” coach. Yeah, Pelini’s got a winning record, but he doesn’t have a year in which he doesn’t have a bad loss. Yeah, Pelini has put together SEC caliber defenses, but the offense is always lacking. And what about all the penalties and turnovers? Boy, does that ever say a lot about us Husker fans. National relevance, a coach in his prime, and we’re still not satisfied. It’s a blessing and a curse.

Betting thoughts on Notre Dame, and two ACC games

Boston College at Notre Dame (-24): This game is simple. Boston College, even though they’re 3-7 is still somewhat overvalued in the public’s mind, given how frequently they go to bowl games. Even though they’ve won a lot the past twenty years, it has been mainly because they’ve been able to recruit good quarterbacks (the Hasselbeck brothers, Matt Ryan, Brian St. Pierre).

This will be BC’s Super Bowl, for sure, but this is the new Notre Dame. Brian Kelly comes from the school of thought that you shouldn’t be embarrassed to run the score up on anyone, as we’ve seen. Yes, there will be 20mph winds in South Bend, but I still think the Irish can lay thirty or more on BC. It’s always smart to bet Notre Dame early because most their line come out a bit under, knowing that they will get Notre Dame money from the people who always bet Notre Dame. Get the 24 while you can.

Virginia at Florida State (-17): When I first saw that the spread in this game was 17, I thought I would instantly play Virginia. From a motivation standpoint, the Cavaliers on the surface should have more to play for in this game. They are a young team who is just now seeing how much better they can be. They came out hungry in a nationally televised game at Miami earlier this year. Florida State, while they are riding a five game win streak, had their goals for the season shattered back in late September and early October with consecutive losses to Oklahoma, Clemson, and Wake Forest of all teams. Now they are officially out of the ACC title chase, while Virginia would get into the ACC title game by winning its last two game. The Cavaliers would surely be my bet.

But then I dug deeper into the game. Yes, Virginia has improved significantly from the last three non-bowl teams and is motivated to perform well on a big stage (remember, Florida is a huge recruiting state for a team like Virginia). They have stopped rotating players, and have improved greatly since Mike Rocco has taken the majority of snaps at quarterback. They are run based team though, and run based teams usually struggle once they get behind.

But I found that Florida State doesn’t seem to lack a motivational edge in this game. Yes, they may not have met their biggest goals, but they are still hoping for a 10-win season and a good bowl game. This is the Senior Day for a class that underachieved in their first few years, and they want to go out the right way. The most points Florida State has allowed at home this season is 19, a back door cover by rival Miami last week. The second most points they’ve allowed at home were 16 by Maryland, a team with a passing spread offense. Virginia is a run-reliant team who only averages 26 points per game. Florida State averages 34 points a game, so Virginia would like have to score at least 17 to cover.

This feels like a classic dog or pass situation, but if the line drops to -15.5 I’ll take Florida State.

Clemson (-8) at North Carolina State: Like the previous game, I thought for sure I would bet Clemon when I saw the 7.5 which has now gone up to 8. But of course, books give you that line for a reason. They want you think that getting a top-10 as only a touchdown favorite on the road against a team that has four horrible losses (blown out by Cincinnati, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and lost at woeful Boston College) would be an automatic play on the favorite. But there are some caveats here. First, Clemson has reached most of its goals for the year. They are in the ACC Title game, and next week they have their rivalry game with South Carolina, a game they will have to win big if they hope to make a statement for the BCS Title game or an at-large BCS berth. North Carolina State has to win this game and against Maryland next week to become bowl eligible. (2 of their wins are against FCS schools, so only one counts toward bowl eligibility.) Like Iowa State did last night against Oklahoma State, a team on the brink of bowl competition may throw everything and the kitchen sink at the other team. Get a win here, and everyone might just forget about the Tom O’Brien chasing off Russel Wilson. Clemson has done a good job of covering the spread this year, save its last two games. In many instances, even Clemson fans have expected their team to disappoint them, but Clemson has persevered, outside the road loss at Georgia Tech. I’m going to wait until game time to bet this one, hoping to get a few more points on Clemson.

Betting Thought on Big 12 games

 

Oklahoma (-17) at Baylor: The Bear are still inflated for two reasons: their big win against TCU the first week of the season in a stand alone game and alleged Heisman candidate Robert Griffin. The Bears faded after they beat Texas last year. Unlike all the other teams in the Big 12, Oklahoma can play defense, and should have no problem limiting the Bears. They’re also a team that likes to run it up, even though they’re only 6-4 ATS, they score at will. The Sooners lost wide receiver Ryan Broyles for the year, but they have enough playmakers to survive the loss. This is the Sooners last real hurdle before a showdown with possibly undefeated Oklahoma State. Oklahoma could also bring a substantial fan presence to Baylor. Good bet to swallow the points on.

 

Texas Tech (+18) at Missouri: The fact that this line has not moved in the last few days just signifies how bad the public thinks Texas Tech is. Almost always when there is bad news about a team during the week, the line will go in favor the other team. Last week, several lines moved a point in favor of Nebraska when news of Penn State’s scandal broke (and the subsequent coaching changes). When news came down that some of the suspended Ohio State players wouldn’t return against Nebraska, the line moved in favor of the Huskers (who at the time where 1-4 ATS). Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel gets arrested for DUI, and the line stays at 18. All the public remembers is Texas Tech getting blown out by Iowa State, Texas, and Oklahoma State. The Iowa State (which I bet up) came after an upset at to Oklahoma, but there’s no excuse for the other two.

This couldn’t be a better situational handicap. Texas Tech, having thumped three weeks in a row, goes on the road, where they can have an us against the world mentality. (One of the best bets you can make is to take a team that gets blown out at home and bet them if they go on the road the next week.) Missouri, on the other hand, is coming off their biggest win of the year against Texas, a team itself that was coming off a huge win against Texas Tech. Given how important the state of Texas is to Missouri in recruiting and that it’s the school’s last Big 12 matchup, it’s a huge win. After a slow start, the Tigers have worked their way back into the bowl picture. Both teams have five wins, making this a de facto play-in game for a bowl bid.

This game may come down to who needs it more. Texas Tech plays Baylor next week in Arlington, Missouri plays woeful Kansas in Kansas City. The urgency for Texas Tech is there, while it may be lacking for Missouri, with an easier opponent next week.

The weather will be 20 MPH winds with a small chance of rain. While this doesn’t bode well for Tech’s pass happy offense, it does bode well for a low scoring game. Missouri only scores 33 points a game, and is a run-oriented team. Even on a normal week, I would be taking Texas Tech, but Pinkel’s distraction and subsequent absence, I will definitely be taking Texas Tech.

 

Kansas State (+7) at Texas: Like Texas Tech-Missouri, here is another situational handicap. Kansas State is 8-2 and coming off an quadruple overtime win against Texas A&M. Texas is coming off a road loss at Missouri and the loss of their best running back Fozzy Whitaker. This is a spot where I would naturally favor Kansas State, but there are other variables to consider.

First, there is a revenge factor for the Longhorns. They were 5-7 last year, and four teams had what I would characterize as tear down the goalposts wins against Texas (UCLA, Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma State). In those rematches (Texas hasn’t played Baylor yet) Texas is 2-1 and covered in both wins. The loss was to 10-1 Oklahoma State.

While I don’t think Kansas State’s victory over Texas last year made their season like the other losses did for the other teams involved, it was significant for K-State nonetheless. Kansas State has won the last three against Texas, all in controlling fashion (Texas got a late score for a three point loss in 2006). While I don’t think Texas gets up for most games other than Oklahoma (the only school in the Big 12 they consider close to their level), I do think there will be some extra motivation. As far as motivation for the Wildcats, they’re playing with house money now. Many thought they’d be lucky to get to .500, but they’ve road a wave of momentum to 8-2, not even having a letdown after their first loss of the season to Oklahoma. Now, there are distinct possibilities that the Fiesta would take an 10-2 Kansas State over a 10-2 Oklahoma team, given how anxious Kansas State fans would be to go to a BCS bowl, so they should have the motivation.

Texas has made enough strides on defense, and should be able to limit Colin Klein. Kansas State has been the hardest school for me to figure out (before last week I was 0-6 betting Kansas State), and I almost hate to go against them. I lean slightly to Texas, but if the line gets inflated to Texas -8 or -8.5 I may go Kansas State.

Thoughts on Pac 12 betting this weekend

Cal (+18) at Stanford: Stanford has been one of the best covering teams who have been in the top 25 this season. Like most west coast teams, Stanford typically feels slighted because their games are latter, and the east coast doesn’t watch them, so the need to run it up. They lost their perfect season last week to Oregon, and usually when a team looses goal for the year, they have let down game, but I don’t see one here.
First of all, Andrew Luck is a good quarterback after a loss (kudos to ESPN blogger Ted Miller for his article). Second, the Cardinal will have to win out if it hopes for a BCS at-large bid (even at 11-1 they may be a long shot, given their poor traveling and that Jim Harbaugh is no longer their to whine them in.) Third, they are not playing the opponent who can challenge them on the road. Over the last two years, the Golden Bears have two wins on the road, by a touchdown at abysmal Washington State last year, and at even more abysmal Colorado in overtime this year. In all their other road games this year, Cal has lost by 8 (Washington), 28 (Oregon), and by 17 at mediocre UCLA. USC also crushed them at their temporary home at Pac Bell park, in what looked like a neutral site game.
Other than the typical rivalry motivation, I don’t see Cal having major motivation this year. Cal missed the postseason last year, so coming into this one their main goal was to get bowl eligible. Now that they have that, I don’t expect them to play that hard. Yes, they may throw caution to the wind and give a good half like they did in the first against Oregon, but ultimately, Stanford has too much physicality. Lay the points.

Washington (-2.5) at Oregon State: I attended the Washington-Nebraska game on September 17th, and walked out feeling very impressed with the Huskies. Other than a terrible turnover at the goal line on special teams and a fourth and two inside the Nebraska twenty Washington didn’t convert, the game easily could have been decided by three points. I walked out of that stadium thinking that they could win nine or ten games this year, and that Keith Price was a special quarterback waiting to happen. He didn’t get rattled when he was pressured and kept his eyes downfield.
Now, Washington is 6-4, but those four loses were all to currently ranked teams (Nebraska, USC, Oregon, Stanford), and all but one was on the road. The Huskies have also a good road win at Utah and have dominated most of the bad teams they’ve played. Keith Price might not play due to injury, but the Huskies will rely mostly on running back Chris Polk against the second worst run defense in the Pac 12, who just lost one of their starting defensive ends who quit the team. Oregon State, while playing at home on Senior Day, is 2-8, might have a coach on the way out. The public doesn’t know how good Washington is because they haven’t played as well against major opponents this year. Take the -2.5 all day.

Arizona at Arizona State (-10.5): There’s a murky middle in the Pac 12; sometimes I just bet against the team that had a bad week the week before. Arizona had the worse week in getting shelled at Colorado, but really, I’d just be throwing money away here. Pass.

Colorado at UCLA (-10.5): Colin Cowherd picked Colorado to cover as his value pick of the week, based on Rodney Stewart finally being healthy for the Buffs and UCLA just being not all that good. Bruins are unbeaten in the Rose Bowl this season in conference play and need a win to become bowl eligible and possibly save Neuheisel’s job. Remember when he was supposedly the best young coach in college football and got the keys to the Colorado program from Bill McCartney? Me neither. Agree with Colin; take Colorado, even though their one of the most reliable dogs to roll over and allow the favorite to cover.

USC at Oregon (-14.5): Pregame.com’s Bryan Leonard picked USC to cover in this one. I mainly agree, even if Robert Woods doesn’t play. USC won at Notre Dame and won’t be intimidated on the road. This is their last chance to make a statement this year. USC covers, although I’m not as firm on that one.

Utah at Washington State (+4): Cougars a huge day from freshmen quarterback Connor Halliday off the bench last week in their upset of Arizona State. Washington State is 4-6 and needs to win this week and next week at Qwest Field against Washington. Such urgency would suggest a good effort from the Cougars in what would already be characterized as an overachieving season for Paul Wulff. Utah is 6-4 and riding a three game winning streak. WSU might get some momentum from the freshmen quarterback; I think this is a dog or pass situation.

Betting key Big 10 games this weekend

Minnesota at Northwestern (-15.5): Northwestern has had me fooled two of the last three week. After they lost to Penn State, they went to 1-3 against spread versus Big Ten teams (only cover against overrated Illinois). So I looked them up, and going back to last year, found that of their nine wins, only three had been by more than a touchdown. Including in those six TD or less are wins against woeful Central Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, and Boston College this year. I came to the conclusion that, since Northwestern had played it close against the tough teams like Michigan and Iowa, they didn’t have anything left for the lesser teams. But the public, who mostly bets the Michigans and Notre Dames, only accounts for Northwestern’s good games against their teams. Going into their game at Indiana, I figured Indiana at +9 had some value, given that the last four games between the teams had been close, so I took the Hoosier.
Needless, to say, I was disastrously wrong, as Northwestern blasted Indiana 59-38. This past week, I factored in the same in Northwestern’s game against Rice, figuring there would also be a hangover factor from Northwestern’s win over Nebraska. Again, I was wrong. This week, I am tempted to say that enough’s enough, throw up my hands and throw in the towel. But I may not.
Granted, Northwestern likely will play with some urgency because they need this win for bowl eligibility. (They play Michigan State next week, who may need to win to get into the Big 10 title game.) But they’ve had three high powered weeks in a row. The blowout at Indiana, the upset at Nebraska, the crushing of Rice. Vegas always sees trends coming and gets in front of them, especially when a team consistently covers.
Now the question remains, is -15.5 too many for Minnesota to cover. Right now, the Golden Gophers are just playing for pride, but they have a first year coach whose message is probably fresh. Teams with first year coaches often do elevate late in the year, as they are looking to the long term. Minnesota played well in their last road game at Michigan State, and they may play up now that they’re not facing such a daunting opponent; however, they did get shredded by Purdue’s spread attack.
This line has gone down from -17.5; leaning softly toward Minnesota, but I am going to wait until kickoff to decide.

Iowa (-1.5)at Purdue: This is a game where situation dictates how I will bet it. Iowa is going on the road, where they are 0-3 this season (remember, they started out as one of the youngest teams in college football this year). Last week, they got embarrassed at home by a Michigan State team that had been terrible on the road up until their win in Iowa City. Since the loss at Minnesota, the Iowa media has once again criticized Kirk Ferentz for not earning his paycheck. Now, Ferentz can take his team on the road, where they can relish the underdog role.
Purdue, on the other hand, made their season the week before beating Ohio State. Yes, they still need a win to become bowl eligible, but they have just as good a chance getting it next week at feeble Indiana. They have won their last two meetings with Iowa, in ’07 and ’08, Joe Tiller’s final two years.
The play here is simple: Iowa has gotten more experience, and Purdue is hung over and can get the win they need next week. Iowa has more to gain, given that this is their most winnable game left. Iowa is a bargain, whether you get them at -1.5 or even -3.

Penn State at Ohio State(-7.5): This the game were Penn State’s distractions start to affect the team. Last week, there really wasn’t an appreciable drop off in Penn State’s play; the energy from playing at home and the pregame activities probably helped the Nittany Lions play harder, and have a chance to win at the end of the game. But now reality sets in: Penn State has lost their head coach, and they have lost arguable one of their top offensive assistants who made adjustments on the sidelines and talked to the players directly when they came out of the game. At home, they may have been okay, but on the road, they’re going to be challenged. In addition to that, Penn State probably is an overrated team who wasn’t even covering against the bad teams of the Big 10, winning with defense, and who didn’t have confidence in their quarterback. A road game at Ohio State should exploit all those problems.
In addition, Ohio State is in a perfect position to pounce on Penn State. Ohio State is returning home from a bad road loss at Purdue, and young teams often play much better at home (witness-Ohio State’s last second upset of Wisconsin, an opponent they dominated for three and a half quarters). It is Senior Day in Columbus, and probably the last home game for interim head coach and Buckeye lifer Luke Fickell. Also, wide receiver Devier Posey is finally returning from suspension. Yes, the Buckeyes are ultra conservative, but their edge playmakers are better than Penn State’s by a mile. I bet this at -7, but even at -7.5, the Buckeyes are a good bet.

Nebraska at Michigan (-3.5): Full disclosure, I’m a Nebraska-native, die-hard Cornhusker fan. I don’t bet my team often, but I pick my spots (I am 5-0 betting Nebraska games this year). I don’t have really strong lean in this game, but if I were betting it, I would probably go with Michigan.
For the record, Michigan is the pick of Vegas Runner, Marco DeAnglo, and Steven Nover of Pregame.com. Here are my thoughts.
Before the season, I thought Nebraska would go either 8-4 or 7-5 in the Big 10; they’re 8-2 now, so any win they get from here on out is gravy for me. The major reason I thought they’d slip would be that they’d have a hard time adjusting to the physicality of the Big 10, a run straight ahead conference. They had primarily built their team to be undersized to deal with the Big 12’s wide open spreads. Sure enough, they’ve had a plethora of injuries at both defensive tackle and at offensive line Only two guards traveled with the team to Penn State last week, and star defensive tackle Jared Crick is out for the year. The Huskers are going to rely on two or three defensive tackles to play most of the snaps. They had to go on a long road trip to Penn State last week, and now have to do it again. Their offense consists mostly of running quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead, who at times has looked exhausted from overuse. With Michigan’s improved defense, they could slow down Nebraska’s options.
Michigan, on the other hand, is peaking. They are team that is embracing coaching and stepping up in spots. Much like Nebraska, they are team that is very reliant on Dennard Robinson, and the Husker coaches have shown in the past that they are capable of slowing down big play reliant offenses.
A key stat that came to me via Jon Nyatawa on twitter: Dennard Robinson has thrown an interception once every sixteen passes. Nebraska’s defensive backs have been jumped the ball pretty consistently the second half of the season and Nebraska typically drops seven into coverage on third and long. Could provide opportunities for Nebraska.
Motivation wise, both teams should have max motivation as this could be a de facto play-in game for an at large BCS bid, and Nebraska is still alive for the Big 10 title game. Yes, I think Nebraska, who is 3-7 against the spread, could put up a fight. But I like Michigan’s direction, and if you’re going to bet this, follow the sharps and take Michigan.

Wisconsin (-14.5) at Illinois: I don’t really have a huge feel for this game. Wisconsin, like many teams in the top 10, has consistently covered the spread this year, except in two places you’d almost automatically fade them, at Michigan State and at Ohio State. This game is on the road, and yes, Illinois is starting to turn into same old underachieving Illinois with four straight looses and Ron Zook’s job is in question. Wisconsin needs this one if it’s going to stay in the conference race, and if I were going to bet, likely I’d take the Badgers. But there are better games out there.

Indiana at Michigan State(-27.5): Like the previous game, I don’t have a good feel for this one. Michigan State is a naturally conservative offense, and they don’t always put up as many points on lesser opponents as they should. This could be a good spot to fade the Spartans, as they are coming off a huge road win at Iowa, dispelling some of the critics who say they can’t play on the road. The Hoosiers are 3-3 ATS, and even Illinois cover against them. Personally, I think Wisconsin to cover versus Illinois is a better bet then Michigan State cover against Indiana.

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