Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Overpaid Kirk Ferentz Gets Fired and…It’s a Bigger Waste? What About Bo Pelini?

“Kirk Ferentz is overpaid!” I’ve heard this blurted out so many times, the persistence is to the point where I feel like I have to support Ferentz. This year however, there’s some justification for Hawkeye outrage, with home embarrassments by Central Michigan and Penn State, and, if they loose at Indiana on Saturday, Iowa faces the likelihood that they won’t make the postseason for only the second time since 2001. On the flip side, Iowa isn’t all that much different than in years past when they’ve struggled. Considering the changes on Ferentz’s staff and how many freshmen are playing, 4-4 is what Iowa is.

For as many complaints as there are about Ferentz’s annual salary, Iowa fans and media are quick to justify the lavish expense. We’re in the middle of nowhere Iowa, we have to pay more to keep Ferentz from going to the NFL. But Ferentz’s current contract, not his annual salary, deserves the most criticism. Ferentz had already been criticized for making too much when he was being paid more than $10 million to go 32-19 between 2006 and 2009 (and those were his good years). Iowa then signed him an ten year contract in 2009 after going to 11-2. In light of how Charlie Weis’ ten year contract kept Notre Dame from firing him in 2008 (Weis will still be receiving checks from South Bend through 2015), giving any coach a contract longer than seven years is asking for trouble, unless it’s at a school like Oklahoma or Texas who easily out-recruit their rivals. Overpaying a coach is only worth it if the school can get out of the contract when it needs to.

(Update: After publishing this piece, I went back and lookead at the scores from Iowa’s 2009 season. The only win against a ranked team was at Penn State by 11. They beat Northern Iowa and Arkansas State by a combined 4 points and edged a 5-7 Michigan team at home by 2. You get what you pay for, Hawkeyes.)

But let’s play around with a scenario. With his contract the way it is, Ferentz will more than likely stay at Iowa through the 2017 season (gulp), giving him nineteen season at Iowa. Hypothetical scenario: Ferentz had bottomed out in 2006 and 2007, won a total of eight game combined, and was fired. Let’s also assume that Iowa had to buyout one other football coach between 2008 and 2017, not unreasonable. Suppose Ferentz’s buyout would have cost Iowa $5 million ($3 million was what Nebraska had to pay Bill Callahan in ’07, and his contract wasn’t as good as Ferentz’s at that time), and the other coaching buyout was $4 million. $9 million just to make two coaches go away? Of course, Iowa would have paid a new coach much less than it pays Ferentz now, but still, it is considerable. If you factor in the damage to ticket sales and attendance that would come with a bad hire, the damage for such action would raise that number from just that figure, plus the damage to the football program’s continuity.

Let’s not forget one crucial factor in this debate: college coaches are already underpaid in light of the revenue they bring in. Iowa’s football revenue in tickets (about $34 million, from seven games and tickets priced at $70 each) and TV revenue ($25 million, reasonable assumption given the Big 10’s packages) is probably around $60 million. Ferentz doesn’t even make 10 percent of that.

Nebraska fans, you could be facing this issue in the near future as well. Bo Pelini looks like he may just win the Big 10 this year and command an extension himself. Like Ferentz, Pelini has NFL experience, and there are always his ties to LSU that keep Husker nation on edge. Giving him a ten year-contract would be different given his age, but NU shouldn’t go down that road. If he finishes 11-2, negotiations should start at six years, $3 million per, and be willing to go as high as $3.5 million over seven years. An eighth year wouldn’t be a killer, but should be avoided.

What the Ferentz debate is really all about is if it’s worth it to keep a coach if you’re going to bowl games every year, which Iowa has every year but one since 2001. (Even in 2007, the Hawkeyes were bowl eligible.) Oregon State stuck by Mike Riley after he had two loosing season in a row and now they are winning again. On the other hand, Auburn canned ten year-coach Tommy Tuberville after one 5-7 and got the highs and lows of Gene Chizik. The question is this: do you want bowl games every year, or do you risk the big hire?

(A Companion Piece)

Man with answers?

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.

Big Cities or Little Towns?

Seward My Anchor

I’m divided when it comes to “being from Seward”. I don’t think of myself as a lifelong Seward resident, even though that’s what I am. When I asked, I say this is where I’m from, not with any conscious shame, but with a wondering if I’m really in the best place for myself. Not that I run from the title or feel I have anything to be ashamed by it. Would I like to live in a larger city with more opportunities and new things to do every weekend? Yes, it depends on where my life goes, and I’m not very big on planning.

Small towns can be risky places. There have been many times over the past summer I have been driving around Nebraska and Wisconsin and have come across children and teenagers roaming the street, having that board look in their eyes. Heck, I even find myself doing that. I’ve debated this with some of my friends here; while you can find events and culture wherever you live, there are certain limitations to smaller towns. If you grow up in one and have a circle of friends who you click with, you can have a very happy, productive life. But if you burn through your bridges, you can become isolated and bitter, and gossip can eat you alive.

But I’ve felt at home in small towns to. When I visited Omro, Wisconsin five times this past summer, it felt very peaceful and free. Driving through the parts of Michigan that are off the beaten path, I find myself wondering what it would be like to live there. Of course, I visit all these northern states in the summer and understand that nearly four months of bitter cold can be wearing on a person. (By the by, the reasons barns in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have slating roofs is for all that snow to fall off.)

Over a year ago, I spent a month roaming around San Francisco. I visit Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities regularly. I don’t know that I’d care for a huge metropolis, but a mid-sized city with enough parks and walking trails would be great. California is a great place to get lost, but I won’t want to live there long term if I wasn’t making huge money. Omaha seems like it would be a good place, as would Des Moines. But if I got the right job offer, I’d jump at the big city.

For me, it comes down to quality of life. Where can I find the right place to accomplish the goal of being the best and most effective writer I can be? Any place that has a working internet connection will do; beyond that, I’ll forge any path.

Bright Lights

Identity: Husker Nation Crosses the Plane for One Long Train

Husker Sojourners…

(Only to brag a little: I did write that Husker fans were capable of putting 20,000 in Ryan Field earlier this year. Here is the proof.)

Who are Husker fans? I asked myself this question as I paced the lobby of my hotel room in downtown Chicago before last weeks Nebraska-Northwestern game. There was a strong contingent, along with BYU fans and Notre Dame fans who were staying there. The BYU fans were polished, with sharp polo shirts, the older men with heads having a touch of gray. Notre Damers look like they buy their gear at American Eagle Outfitters, the place where young people spend $200 on clothes with wear-and-tear designed into them.

Once observed, the characteristics of Nebraska fans emerged. Their hair was a bit thinner, and when they were in groups, their body language made the groups seemed more isolated. Compared to the regular tourists at the hotel, Nebraska fans looked a little more burdened and their shirts had more wear on them. For most of these fans, this would be their most expensive trip of the year, and it showed, especially in a husband and wife with a young child who were sitting the comfy lobby chairs speaking quietly. This was, of course, the early morning crowd. By eight, the red mesh polo shirts of the better off-Husker fans emerged from their rooms.

While I’m sure it wasn’t intended to be rude, there were a couple of examples of rural behavior that stood out. At breakfast, there was a party of three older adults who took a table for six, and after breakfast, had coffee and had the paper spread out on the table. Having spent enough time in urban environments, both are a no-no. Space in a city is precious, and you don’t waste it like that.

This behavior continued on the CTA train our family took out to Evanston. The breakage of rule on this train was horrid. People getting on the train and not moving to the back immediately when it was standing room only. One guy who forced his way back to a seat when I had been standing by it before he got on. Then there was the sardine can-ride back to the city. Mercifully, the train skipped a few stops on the way, but it was wall-to-wall standing room, people pressed to me on each side. I had a few nice conversations, but I mostly held on.

From a travel perspective, this a great win for Husker nation. On my way walking to the stadium, I actually admired Minnesota fans; last year, the Minnesota-Nebraska game looked like a neutral site, 50-50 fan split. This year, as I walked to the stadium, I expected Husker fans to be the majority. I don’t think they were, but still it had to be an embarrassment for Northwestern. Somehow though, I ended up with a Wildcat fan sitting behind me, in the Nebraska section no less.

Team on the Field after Northwestern took a 28-16 Lead

All that said,, and Northwestern fans should be ashamed Minnesota fans cheer harder. Bandwagon fans if there ever were some, you could barely hear the Purple People as Taylor Martinez was driving to win the game. Meanwhile, Northwestern had to use a silent count; hopefully, this is the impetus that get Fitzgerald to leave Northwestern.

As far the stadium itself, Ryan field was the worst stadium experience I’ve had. Northwetern needs a jumbotron in the south end zone, better restrooms, and a better concourse. Husker fans may be used to using portable toilets, but not a stadium. Really, Northwestern, if you want to use the slogan “Chicago’s Big 10 Team”, you can’t ask Chicagoans to come to such an outdated stadium. If this was the Bears or the Cubs, you won’t tolerate this. Go ask Iowa State how to improve your stadium.

On the train ride home, I had an intriguing experience. I met a woman who became a Nebraska fan during the Callahan years. Yes, really. When I asked her why, she said her roommate, who is a Nebraskan, sold her with her enthusiasm and stories from the 90’s. I needed that experience to remember how great it had been, and can be if you let it.

Heading out…

Other Husker Road Trips: Minnesota last year, Iowa State two years ago.

Church Work: Taping for Shut-ins

A while back, I saw a blurb in the St. John bulletin asking for someone to help with the tape ministry at St. John, which made audio tapes for the older adults at St. John. I called about, and it turned out that our family friends Gene and Marian Faszholz were in charge of the production. So I began helping them make tapes for the shut-in members of the congregation.

I know what you are thinking: can’t we just digitally record the service? Yes, the service is recorded digitally and with full video. There is a ministry that distributes DVD’s but so far, we haven’t worked out a way to easily distribute a distribute an audio recording or CD’s, so we’re stuck with tapes until these machines break. The machines have already been paid for, so anything else we get out of them is gravy.

On the Sundays I tape, I arrive around 8:10 to set up the taping equipment. It’s stored in the work area behind the fellowship area by the pastor’s offices. I take the three bulky tape copiers out of the cupboard, plug them in, and stock them with tapes. I take a clean tape that’s never been used before and write the date on it, and head upstairs.

The taping equipment is up in the corner of the balcony at church. During the school year, I usually have to climb past choirs (bells or voice, and sometimes both), to get to the tape deck and where I insert the tape. I have a little over forty minutes of record time, so I have to cut certain things out, like the pre-service announcements, or a couple of the hymn verses. Time has never been a problem, and once the service is done I head back down to the tape room.

Tape Deck

Once I’m there, I plug the tape into the first machine, careful to get the right side up (otherwise, I will have to stay late and record the eleven o’clock service). It usually takes me half an hour to get all of the tapes I need, during which time I sort the bulletins to send with the tapes, or just read the news bulletin. I need thirty tapes for all of the routes and another seven or eight for the church office, in case someone wants to pick them up during the week. I’m lucky-when Gene started working with the tape ministry ten years ago, he had to make twice as many tapes.

Yes, Tapes.

When I started, there were three delivery routes, so I always had to take a route to either Heartland or around town. But since there have been a few death, and we only do two routes now. While I enjoy not having to deliver and going to Bible study instead, I do miss seeing the people at Heartland. It’s great to be a presence in their lives.

(Worship Committee)

How Much Irrelevance Do You Need? Distributing Phone Books.

Yup. I’m responsible.

In the two and a half years between my college graduation and my starting work for my dad, I work a number of temp jobs to get by. Of all those jobs, distributing phone books was one of the most interesting ones. Even though the jobs never lasted long and were tedious and physically draining, I somehow kept doing it. Maybe I am crazy.

I have done about seven or eight distributions, for all of the major companies like Windstream and Yellowbook. They all worked the same-you showed up to a warehouse in northern industrial Lincoln, sat through a boring orientation video, filled out the paperwork, and loaded your car with books. The routes were all based on postal routes. The workers was supposed to be able to walk a route in a single day, but they would always give us three to accommodate for the work of bagging the phone books. Plus, we had to go into businesses and them how many phone books they needed, so that took extra time.

That was the most taxing and somewhat embarrassing part of the whole job, walking into a business and in essence saying, “How many of these irrelevant books are you willing to take off my hands. At times it would be great, because you could dump twenty in a single office building. I once passed off six at a a pizza delivery place (multiple lines for people to call in). At other times, it wasn’t as great, and you’d get pushed out by the receptionist, which you couldn’t blame her for. I was, after all, giving them several pounds of information they could just as easily find online.

It was best to go about the distributing in the morning after eight, when people were at work and couldn’t say no and traffic in the neighborhoods was light. There was one instance where I was in north Lincoln, and it was before eight, and I was working my way down the block toward this one house where a woman was puttering around her car, getting ready to leave for work. I mentally prepared myself for approaching her, knowing that there was a chance she could say no to the phone book. I walked up and handed her the book. She made some remark about just getting another book, and I said I didn’t know anything about it. I started walking away and was to the end of the lane when the woman said, “You know, I really don’t need this.” So close.

The rate was five cents per book, twelve cents per stop (a single house counted as a stop). I received a raise of one cent per stop for every route I completed. Yes, it was a bit petty to be mad at that woman who didn’t want her book, but you don’t think about that at the time. You just know the more book I dump, the more I get paid.

That said, there were some people, none I knew personally, who would put two books in a bag and deliver them to the same house, using more book and getting paid more. This was a bad idea for both them and the other distributors like me who did it the right way. First, the extra five cents they made was used up in the time in effort to bag the books and carry the heavier bags. Second, because of this, I had people coming up to me and screaming, “Please don’t leave more than one phone book!”

I got it, though. The internet has more or less made phone books irrelevant. (Also the reason some of the distributors cut the size of their books in half.) But I still did the work because it was work and I needed the work.

Church Work: What I Do For Worship Committe

Where I watch the sermon from when I’m on Worship Committee Duty

A two years ago, I was asked to be a part of the worship committee at St. John Evangelical Lutheran. As I wasn’t doing a lot at the time, I said sure, and since have been privileged to serve my Christian community in such a capacity.

Worship committee members are part of the ushering team at St. John and do a lot of the coordinating of the various participants in the service (acolytes, lay readers, etc.). One WC member is on duty at each service (two for 8:30 communion services), along with the usher teams, and mostly just handout programs at the beginning, help with offering, and direct people up to communion. They are also have the responsibility of finding a communion assistant if one doesn’t show up, or lighting the candles if one of the kids doesn’t show up (done both). Post-service, they collect bulletins and go up the aisles to collect attendance registers and take them to the office, and change the hymn boards. I’ve even had the privilege of setting up for baptism.

By and far the biggest responsibility of the worship committee is responding to a medical emergency if one arises during the service. This happened once when I was serving (thankfully others were there to help as well), a second time when I wasn’t to someone who was sitting directly behind me. There’s an automatic defibrillator that all of us are trained to use, and Clark urges all of the members to take CPR courses annually.

One of my friends told me when I first started that I had the perfect demeanor to be an usher. I suppose she’s right, although I hadn’t put a lot of thought into it. Sure, it’s a couple of meetings over the course of a year and staying late after service, but with everything God has done for me, it is the least that I can do to serve His people.

For 8:30 service, I arrive at 7:45. I collate programs and news bulletins for most of that time, greet people as they come in. I love it when we have an usher group of teenagers during lent because it usually means I can sit back and let them do all the work, and it’s great to have them involved. I always end up pacing a lot during the sermon, because I worry about having to help someone who might have a medical emergency. Surprisingly, Pastor Ratcliffe doesn’t find this distracting.

Why Huskers Fans Won’t Hate the Buckeyes as They Did the Longhorns, and Aftermath of the Shootout in the Shoe

Who’s Your Number One Enemy, Husker fans?

Off-field politics aside, the reason that Texas became the program that Nebraska fans were most antagonized with for the better of the last ten years was that Mack Brown won many a game against the Huskers with more talented players who didn’t play as hard as the guys who wore red. For over a decade, Husker fans would listen to Brown wax poetically while Husker players simply seemed empty. One thing Husker fans will appreciate about loosing to Ohio State is that as they did on Saturday night is that Urban Meyer would be fuming in the press conference if his teams played Nebraska in the same underachieving manner Brown’s Texas teams did.

It’s really the great part about being in the Big 10. Nebraska fans will no longer have to suffer regular fatigue of a passive fan base who are as come-and-go as Texas’ is. Ohio State fans are more like Nebraska fans: blue collar, many working in agriculture. Three years ago in September, I drove in a loop from Cincinnati to Hillsboro and back up through Lima, Ohio, and the whole corridor is littered with Buckeye-named businesses and little Brutuses line the shelves of Pamida

But still, Nebraska has to look up at the Buckeyes, and face the reality that even if they pay a great game on the road against the Buckeyes, they still could wind up loosing. Which was exactly what happened.

While disappointment is natural with a lot, there really isn’t a lot to be disappointed with from an offensive perspective. Against Ohio State, Nebraska’s usually below average offensive line was completely over-matched from the first snap. Even after handing the Buckeyes an easy seven, the Huskers ran the ball extraordinarily well. Unlike the loss at UCLA, the offense never shrunk and kept making plays, or at least trying to make. If Nebraska had held Ohio State to a field goal at the end of the first half, they could have tied the game at the beginning of the third quarter. (Like Kansas in 2007, the Huskers scored to 31 points between the first half and the first drive of the third. In both cases, it was all that could have been asked.)

Which leads to a coaching call that may have turned the game, Bo Pelini’s attempt to “ice” Carlos Hyde before fourth and one. In many ways, the situation can be evaluated like an opposing coach calling a timeout as a kicker winds up, or even attempts in some situations. Coach’s don’t get that much criticism if the kicker makes the kick after the timeout; really, the timeout is going to be wasted anyway, and the move is criticized just because it looks hookey. But when considered, the extra time does more to help the kicker, especially if he’s running on to the field trying to beat the cock.

It was no more evident here. Bo Pelini calls a timeout, and if Ohio State had to live with the play it was going to run out of their hurry-up offense, more than likely, they would have just kicked a field goal. I don’t blame Peini for using defensive timeouts, if he feels he can get his guys into the right situation. The problem is when he can’t, he’s his own worst enemy.

It ended up being much worse…

So where does Husker Nation go from here? The goal of winning the Big 10 is still attainable, even if it would be as meaningless as winning the Big 12 North back in the day. Going 5-1 down the stretch would guarantee winning the Legends, but that’s unlikely with road games at Northwestern, Michigan State, and Iowa (they’ll get better, believe me). 4-2 seems much more believable and attainable; the biggest challenges will be containing Dennard Robinson and not slipping up in the last three weeks of the season. Stealing a game on the road will also be a challenge. Michigan State is the hardest game to read. While the Huskers never seem to pack their defense, the Spartans don’t seem to have the quarterback to exploit the Blackshirts the way Braxton Miller and Brett Hudley have. Whoever does end up representing the Legends in Indianapolis may end up being the luckiest team, not the best.

Where to go?

ESPN’s Eliminator Challenge: How I Made it Through the First Four Weeks

When Colin Cowherd encouraged his listeners to play ESPN’s Eliminator Challenge, I decided to give it a whirl. I started doing because I figured it wouldn’t require much effort and because it sounded fun. Of course with my brain, I ended up taking the simple challenge and search for complexities. And given that I’ve made it four weeks while 90% of the pool has been eliminated, I’ll share the strategy that’s gotten me this far.

The Eliminator Challenge requires participates to pick one winner every week, but individual teams can only be picked once. For example, if one picked Chicago to beat Indianapolis Week 1, you can’t pick Chicago this week against Jacksonville, or any other week for the rest of the season.

In order to finish with a perfect entry, one will have to pick seventeen teams. Even if one were to know team records at the end of the season, the participant would still have to pick five teams that did not make the playoffs. (Personally, I’m figuring that I will end up picking at least seven non-playoff teams.) Last year, there was one 9-7 that didn’t make the playoffs (Tennessee) and seven 8-8, so one will essentially have to rely on a mediocre team winning at some point in the season. This doesn’t have to be restricting: last year, there were multiple spots where one would have been comfortable picking the 6-10 Panthers to win.

All this considered, I figured winning the pool would requiring picking some bad and mediocre teams at the beginning and end of the year. Good teams could be counted on to win at any point in the season; figuring out when inconsistent team could win was the key.

Week 1: For the first two weeks of the season, every team plays its hardest, even the bad ones. The ideal pick would be a team that had an abnormally good year last year; they would play hard early, but fade in the middle of the year (Cincinnati early in 2010 after they made the playoffs in 2009 is a good example). Everyone talked about Houston over Miami, New Orleans over Washington, and Detroit over St. Louis, but I noticed Jacksonville was playing at Minnesota. It wasn’t likely I’d want to pick either team again, so I went with the Vikings since they were at home. When the Jaguars kicked a field goal to take the lead with about a minute, I stop following the game, only to check back ten minutes later and see that the Vikings had won. In retrospect, I would have picked the Lions. At the time, I didn’t think the Lions would fade as quickly as they have. At the same time, I don’t know that there are going to be that many situations where I will want to pick the Vikings, so overall it was a good first pick.

Week 2: In week 2, the best pick would be a desperate but talented 0-1 team playing at home. The Giants, Cowherd’s pick, fit that bill to a T. But I was wary of using the Giants so early. Houston, now at Jacksonville, was another popular pick, as was New England at home against Arizona (the Cardinals’ upset took a large percentage of the pool). I opted with Cincinnati, who was facing Cleveland and rookie Brandon Weedon at home. The Browns played their rivals tough, but the Bengals pulled away with the win. In retrospect, I would have picked either Miami (playing at home against an Oakland team traveling on a short week) or Buffalo, playing at home against Kansas City. I really do regret not picking Buffalo here. While Miami will likely be playing hard later in the year with their rookie, Buffalo plays hard in the first four weeks every year. Cincinnati I could have picked either in Week 4 (where they won in Jacksonville) or this week (at home against Miami).

Week 3: There were not a lot of gimmes on the schedule this week. I didn’t want to pick San Francisco yet, and Cowherd warned against it. I thought some about Carolina because they were hosting the Giants on Thursday. I gave a passing thought to Arizona, because I thought they were better than Philadelphia and would make a statement game at home. I thought some about Atlanta, but I didn’t want to take a team traveling cross-country on a short week. I seriously considered taking Buffalo, for the reasons I mentioned above, but they were playing on the road at Cleveland (if they were playing Cleveland at home I probably would have picked them). Instead, I opted to take the Jets over Miami, mainly because Cowherd said this was the Jets’ last winnable game for a while. Besides, I still needed to take some teams I didn’t think were very good. (If I hadn’t picked the Jets, I would have taken Indianapolis at home over Jacksonville, which would have bounced me.) CBS cut to Dolphins’ kicker Dan Bailey’s missed field goal in overtime right before he attempted it. After the Jets won I was most grateful that I wouldn’t have to rely on them again for the rest of the season. 38% of the pool was knocked out because they picked either San Francisco or New Orleans, another 6% for picking Pittsburgh.

Week 4: I was really tempted to take a good team like Baltimore or Houston this week, given how much of the pool had been “eliminated” and that two of my three picks won on overtime field goals. Looking over the NFL, I still felt that a lot of team would still play hard, given how many teams had a young quarterbacks they believed in (hopefully this means a lot of 5-8 will still be trying late in the season). I didn’t want to take Baltimore because they were playing on a short week and had just played to two very physical opponents. Arizona was coming off a statement win, so I didn’t want to take them either. Even though Green Bay was going to play like a man on fire after getting jobbed on Monday Night Football, I didn’t want to pick against a New Orleans team who was getting one of their last chances in the national spotlight. Nor did I want to take the Patriots over the Bills, because I knew there will be other good places to pick New England down the stretch. I had some reservations about picking Denver at home against Oakland. For one, they’d like improve as Manning got more comfortable with his new team, but the Broncos’ schedule is tough, and I still didn’t want to use San Francisco. So I went with Denver, and for the first time, I enjoyed my eliminator pick winning comfortable.

Even though the teams I’ve used up are a collective 10-6, I feel good with where I’m at. I’d like to have one team besides the Jets that I was glad was off the table, but I haven’t used any of the elite teams (San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta, Baltimore, Arizona, New England). This week, there were several teams on the schedule I felt comfortable picking: Green Bay, Baltimore, San Francisco, the Giants, Chicago, San Diego, and Houston. I’m going with the Giants. While I think San Francisco is more of lock, the Giants have only one more potentially lopsided home game, against New Orleans in December. Super Bowl Champs tend to fade late in the year after, so I don’t mind using them now. I’m mindful of the fact Cleveland blew out the Giants at home four years ago and sometimes a win-less rises up, but New York is 2-2 and needs this one. I won’t be beating myself up if the Giants loose this one.

Final piece of advice: in Week 7, the only lock is going to be New England over the Jets, unless you care to pick the Tennessee-Buffalo winner. I just might.

Nebraska vs. Wisconsin: Game of Shadows

Throughout Nebraska’s game against Wisconsin on Saturday night, there was one constant flowing through my head. Both when Nebraska was down and when they were coming back, I kept wondering to myself, should a veteran team be struggling at home against a young Wisconsin team at home?

It goes back to the same issue that I raised after UCLA: Nebraska is a weak team psychologically. Wisconsin came in with a freshmen quarterback and built a seventeen point lead. Reading some of the comments by Dan Gilbert and by some of the things Wisconsin coaches told Todd Blackledge, they didn’t take Nebraska that seriously.

I’m not saying that Nebraska has the wrong head coach at the moment. There’s still trying to figure out who they are in the Big 10, and how to use a no huddle spread can work. They need to get bigger and deeper on defense. Thad Randle was the first defensive lineman to get injured and won’t be the last to miss a game this year. But not taking advantage of a Wisconsin mistake until the last possession shows this team isn’t where it should be. If there’s a down year for the Pelini regime, it’s likely going to be 6-6, and we should consider if he’s just a good game coach who can’t recruit. (To know what I mean by that last statement, see this post.)

Also Husker fans, you don’t want to hear this, but Rex Burkhead is down as Nebraska’s workhorse back. No, he’ll still be an effective back at points, and he’ll get a lot of carries late in games. But he’s taken too many hits, so don’t expect him to be Superman.

It is too bad Wisconsin and Nebraska won’t met at Camp Randall in late September. Not that Nebraska can’t make other rivals, but this series is darn competitive.


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