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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Mack Brown to the Longhorn Network: Ask My Lawyer

So this fall it came out that Mack Brown isn’t exactly happy with the Longhorn Network. All those trips across town to tape The Mack Brown Show three times a week, that’s wearing on poor ol’ Mack, coupled with the fact that all those practice highlights on LHN is giving our opponents the advantage. This is the point where Husker fans ask, “So Texas, that was worth nearly destroying the Big 12? By the by, that’s for giving us the push we need to go to the Big 10.”

Brown’s complaints about his commitment to the network is, in part, a by-product of longevity in the coaching world. I remember watching him on the sidelines during the 2010 Texas-Kansas State game, belching at his players while a Wildcat returned an interception. I remember thinking to myself that this coach who wore a sophisticated mesh workout shirt with the Longhorn head on it, just looked tired of being a hands-on coach. Since 1985, Brown has been in a head coach of a FBS program, twenty-seven years without a break. Even though Colt McCoy got UT to the 2009 National Title game, the Big 12 was extremely watered down and Jordan Shipley was the only skill player of note on that team. With McCoy’s leadership gone, Brown had to take it over, and even with elite coordinators, Texas has hit a ceiling.

So it’s not surprising that Brown’s now complaining about his LHN commitments. Texas is in an on-field funk, and suddenly, their gem of a network is a problem. To get conference games on the network, they have to show the game on over-the-air channels in the market of the visiting team. According to Blair Kerkhoff, more people in Kansas than in watched last year’s Texas-Kansas game (whose LHN telecast was announced in glamorous fashion by Brett Musberger during the Red River Rivalry), and this year’s Cyclone-Longhorn game was even shown on the local ABC affiliate in Omaha. The vehemence is palpable.

But my advice Nebraska fans: let this one go. If Pat Fitzgerald, Dan Mullen, Chris Pederson or any young coach, takes the Texas job when Brown retires, either one of them will have the energy to take care of the LHN commitments. That coach will, after all, have one of the best jobs in America. (BTB, if Fitzgerald ends up at Texas, he’ll have one of the best ten to twenty year runs of a coach at one school ever.) Just be thankful that you have a good new conference, even if you haven’t had the highest success on the gridiron.

So, what does the long-term future hold for LHN? It’s only been a little over a year, and remember, it took a while for the Big 10 Network to catch on, although there were a lot more markets that wanted BTN’s content. If LHN continues to flounder, it could hasten Texas’ potential trek to the Pac-12 with Oklahoma. The Longhorns will continue to profit, but it likely be more work than they expected, and the network won’t be the gem everyone thought it would end up being. Smile slyly, Husker fans.

Hold on…

Wisdom of Nicodemus (Kansas)

Nicodemus Museum

Nicodemus Museum

In August of 2010, I was taking a swing through Kansas to visit National Parks and collect stamps for my National Parks Passport. I had just finished a final visit to Hastings to examine our fields and had spent the night in Stockton, Kansas. My first destination was Nicodemus, roughly twenty miles to the west.

The Nicodemus National Historic Site is a model to how much anyone can get when they care deeply about something. Nicodemus is an outpost town, almost a ghost town on US Highway 24. It’s 60 miles north of I-70, and three hours from Manhattan, the closest city over 100,000. There’s a retirement home, a couple of churches, and a few places where some people may or may not live. And there’s the national historic site.

Nicodemus is a national historic site because it is the first African American settlement west of the Mississippi founded during the reconstruction period. Basically what happened was several black families moved out to a place where they thought the railroad would be built through, but the railroad was built further south. A lot of families left the community, but a small number stayed, and the community now has a parade every year at the end of July to celebrate their heritage. The displays are set up in a community theater/multipurpose building, and take a person less than an hour to go through, video included. After I left, I wondered why our debt-ridden government was subsidizing a small community historical society. (Probably because it was hidden in the middle of nowhere.) I wish they would have had more on the African Americans who moved west after the Civil War and took up farming and ranching. It’s a very underrepresented part of our country’s history.

But at the same time, I had another thought: good for the people who got their community recognized. They worked hard to get their community recognized, and they achieved that goal. It took years of going to Washington and lobbying, but they got some recognition because they cared and were persistent.  They even got on national news programs. I wish I could borrow that work ethic. And their ancestors did do something remarkable by moving out to the prairie, far from their homes. That is pretty cool.

African Methodist Episcopal Church

African Methodist Episcopal Church

Busiest street for miles.

Busiest street for miles.


Finally, a Bill Callahan Story

Yesterday, Bill Callahan pops up in a national story, likely against his wishes. Since getting fired by Tom Osborne in 2007, Callahan took the buyout Steve Pederson prepared for him and retreated to NFL filmrooms. He did quite well as the Jets offensive line coach, turning D’Brickashaw Ferguson from a bust into a three-time Pro Bowler and resurrecting the Jets’ running game. He even helped Matt Slauson, a former Nebraska protege, become a good NFL player. But in five years, he offered only a small congratulatory comment to Osborne upon the latter’s retirement and made no other statements about his time at Nebraska.

I don’t think that most Nebraskan want to hear from Callahan. Callahan hasn’t hurt Nebraska football long-term; instead of winning just enough to keep his job (ALA Tommy Bowden or even worse Ralph Fridgen), Callahan graciously failed quickly and got out of town. In fact, he left Bo Pelini better players than he got from Frank Solich.

But now, there is an intruing story involving Bill Callahan magically changing a game plan on the Raiders the Friday before the Super Bowl in a “sabotage” attempt, according to Tim Brown. My Husker reaction: who cares. We here in Nebraska already knew that Bill Callahan wasn’t a great coach. The two people who hired him to be a head coach were Al Davis and Pederson, both of whom are known to hire yes-man coaches who they can feel free to meddle with. (It won’t be a surprise if, at this time next year, Jerry Jones taps Callahan to replace Jason Garrett.) If anything, Callahan changing his game plan two days before a game is inconsistent with his stick-to-the-playcalling-sheet-at-all-costs nature.

But one thing in the story that does seem to be consistent with Callahan’s nature was that Barrett Robbins snapped under the weight of information that Bill Callahan was giving him. Whether it was because Callahan changed the game plan or not, Nebraska fans can always remember the Huskers’ offensive players looking like they were stuck in concrete with all the routes and checks they had to run. Given how much information a center has to handle anyway, one could see how Robbins could easily become overloaded with the over-prepared Callahan as his head coach.

“Sabotage” was thrown around Nebraska numerous times during 2007, and certainly Callahan didn’t fight as hard as he could have to keep his job, if it’s true that he refused Kevin Cosgrove’s resignation. There’s the image of him without his headset on after the loss to Missouri, showing up to press conferences in business shirts as opposed to Husker gear after Pederson’s firing. I don’t think he quit so much as he didn’t mind going back to being an NFL assistant as much as coaches who are willing to adapt and change.

So, here it is, the lowly Bill Callahan sighting. I don’t bring up to mock him, just because he so rarely pops up on the radar. It may another five years until another good story about him comes out.

Exactly William

Manti Te’o Hoax: The Naive Guy from the Back Island?

Manti Te’o-fake girlfriend hoax that Deadspin broke this week, is one of the most bizarre stories in sports or popular culture, mainly because there wasn’t a clear motive for the perpetrators, other seeing how long they could make the prank go on. The girl’s picture was a girl Te’o was different than the girl he he talk to on the phone? Quite complicated.

But in Te’o’s defense-yes, he lacked judgment in this manner. But given his background, it’s plausible that he could have been hoaxed in this manner. Te’o came from a small island culture which are generally more inclusive, and from a religion, Mormonism, that is a very inclusive, which religious bodies are to some extent. He choose rural, isolated Notre Dame over Mormon Mecca BYU and USC, who imports numerous Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, so clearly he was looking for an out of the way community. He was in a different, rural place, away from his family and the people he loved. Could he have been so blind to fall for this scheme?

Let me share a bit of personal experience. Like Te’o, I went to a private school away from where I grew up, Concordia University Wisconsin, a school nestled into the burbs north of Milwaukee. The large chunk of the student body had been raised in smaller communities and gone to Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod schools, and a few were even homeshooled, as I was. Most of them were well-adjusted and had discernment, but there were that ten percent of students who you wouldn’t have been shocked to see them fall for the Nigeria e-mail scam. Very disappointed, yes, but shocked, no.

In this particular story, there is a bit of gap I see in the media, having mostly to do with values. Not only is a lot of the media considering that Te’o is a bit socially awkward, but they find it inconceivable that Te’o would fall in love without a physical element. Yes, he should have been suspicious, but does anyone want to consider the fact that some people do actually remain chaste and are capable of having a relationship based more on communication rather than raw physical desire?

There has been speculation that Te’o was using the girlfriend story as a cover for homosexuality, a line that the original Deadspin report didn’t say but lead the reader to believe. I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand; frankly, nothing that comes out about Te’o after should surprise anyone. Maybe he invented Lennay Kekua so he could turn down girls and stay a virgin.

The biggest problem for Te’o in this story is that he was shown to be way too naïve. Major college football players, and stars specifically, are told that they are targets. The fact that he and Kekua never Skyped face-to-face or that she always canceled when they were supposed to met should have made Te’o suspicious, and he should have called the relationship off after the first time she didn’t arrive at a pre-arranged meeting. Just a story of young Jack leaving home for the first time.

Why I Never Want to Check Bags

I don’t fly that often, but when I do, I never want to check bags, except when it’s a longer trip. My belief with this was cemented on a trip I took to Florida two years ago this January, and if I ever do marry, this is the logic of why we never check bags, dear wife.

Any time you get a text before seven in the morning, your day probably is not going to go well. When it happens on the day when you’re flying, it’s probably going to go even worse. This text I received as I was leaving my barber shop in Lincoln, saying that the flight I was going to leave on had been canceled. The flight was supposed to take me to Memphis, where I would connect to Orlando to met my family. I stopped in the northeast Wal-Mart parking lot and called Delta, arranging to connect to Orlando through Atlanta. Thinking my problem solved, I got breakfast at the Engine House to kill some time I now had.

I arrived in Omaha on time for my flight, but then the flight was delayed due to “mechanical issues” until around four. Since everyone was connecting, they gave us a number to call to change our connecting flights out of Atlanta. I called and was given two options for changing my flight: one that would leave at 7:25, a little less than thirty minutes after I would arrived in Atlanta, and another that left around 10:30 eastern and would get to Orlando around midnight. Not wanting to press my luck, I took the later flight. After I rescheduled, I sat and watched a Delta flight to Minneapolis board two gates over and wondered if I should have asked if I could have rescheduled through Minneapolis.

We finally took off from Omaha a little before four, and initially, I thought okay, there’s still no guarantee that I would have make the earlier flight. But throughout the whole hour and forty-five minutes we were in the air, I kept kicking myself. I would have had a chance if I’d taken to make the connection if I’d taken the other flight, and now I’d have to stay up past midnight. At least the book I was now about 150 pages into (Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith) was starting to get to the good part.

But as we neared Atlanta and I began looking out the window down on the snow-covered streets, I thought, Why not just try to make the other flight? I fully expected to be rebuffed, but I decided to just go to the gate and see. I’d have to rush, but I could be out off the plane and into the terminal a little after seven, meaning I could make it before it took off. What else was I going to do, wait?

As we descended to the lane, touched down, and taxied to the runaway, I calculated and recalculated the seconds and minutes in my head, forever trying to capture the best estimate of when I would be through the gate. I was sitting in the front of the plane, which helped me enter the walkaway right before seven, but I had to wait nearly eight minutes for them to give me my carry-on back. (Only small planes fly to Omaha.) That time wasted, I was even less optimistic about my chances, but on reflex, I went to the board.

If they didn’t list flights by cities, I may have just said screw it. But I saw the flight and the gate. I had never been to Hatsfield-Jackson for a connection, but I followed the right signs out of instinct, weaving my way through the crowded airport. I’m not sure how long it took; it couldn’t have been more than ten minutes, which feels odd given that I had to weave my way through four or five hallways. When I rushed up to the desk at the gate, there was no line. I was sure I was now officially screwed.

I went up the attendant and asked, “I’m scheduled to go on a later flight to Orlando, can I take this one instead?”

The woman looked completely neutral “Do you have any carry-on luggage?”


She took my ticket, tore it, and gave the stub back to me. She didn’t stick it in a machine, check the computer, or call anyone.  “Any open seat.”

I thought it was a dream, but my body was already walking down the walkway to the gate. “Thank you so much.” I yelled back, feeling as if I owed this stewardess a hug for throwing four hours of my waiting time in the garbage. I wouldn’t have been shocked if I’d gotten to the plane and they told me it was full, but that didn’t happen.

The flight for some reason was only two-thirds full, and I had a whole aisle to myself. The great part about rushing to make a flight in time is that, if you get there, you don’t have to wait much until take off. I just had enough time to call my sister and tell them I’d be coming in by nine after all. I enjoyed book in my empty aisle, feeling like I was the luckiest guy in the world.

That is why I will only check bags if I’m pressed to.

Rest Stop on the way to Eppley

Rest Stop on the way to Eppley

The Office’s Man Behind the Curtain

One of the most shocking, out-of-no-where moments for me on The Office (US) broken into one of its most sentimental. When Michael Scott was at the airport and telling the documentary crew “I guess this is it”, I thought “Wow, that’s right. If you had this documentary crew in your office for as long as Michael did, you feel very sad to see them go.”

But when Michael added “Hey, will you guys let me know if this ever airs?”, the show acknowledged something it almost never did: that the documentary crew was compiling a lot of footage for some reason. I wondered why, after six full seasons, the producers of the show would bring something that had only been acknowledged in passing, to the center of the discussion. But it was there and gone, until this past summer.

That was when Greg Daniels said we’d get to met the documentary crew, and again I wondered about this. Granted, at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t as invented in the because of how bad season 8 was (James Spader, really?) When I heard it, I thought “Why?” If the show didn’t improve creatively, no one would care.

But the show has improved creatively, in no small part because Daniels is back running it. Surprisingly, Ed Helm’s absence hasn’t hurt the show either; if anything, his absence kept show from making bigger mistakes. Daniel wrote big, multi-episode arcs for his characters, the thing that made the show successful back in the day. Even the Jim-Pam marriage strain is believable, and good.

So that brings up the question of whether or not revealing who is behind the documentary is relevant to the story. The fact that Daniel’s is going to reveal it all speaks to how television has changed since Lost. Ten years ago, people would have cared who was filming the documentary because, in the eight seasons the show has aired, the crew has barely impacted the story of the characters. When The Office first came on the air, I heard of people who watched the show for three or four years and didn’t know there was an unseen documentary crew filming the characters. In fact, it was a while until I realized that the crew was asking an unseen question to Michael, Pam, and Dwight during the talking head-cut scenes.

The American Office has sought to be less of a documentary than its British counterpart. While it ignited the ire of TV critics, Daniels went for a brighter look and a more buffoonish boss, which gave the show a longer life and more appeal. On the original British Office, the characters were people who you believed actually worked in an office called Wernham Hogg Paper Company. The characters on the American Office are like the people you believe work at Dunder Mifflin.

So that leads to the question of the barely-referenced documentary crew, and whether or not it should be revealed. While the British Office didn’t reveal its documentary crew, it did show the fame David Brent gained from the broadcast of the documentary in the Christmas special. While I have reservations, I think it could be done, and done in a way that’s interesting and that makes sense. Whatever way it’s done, less is more because it’s back story, and, as Stephen King wrote On Writing, the key word with back story is “back”. We don’t need ten episodes devoted to who the documentary crew is, but it could be interesting, as long as it’s not sold as this huge “reason for the series” (ALA Lost).

I do think that there could be a mockumentary that is the opposite of what The Office is: a show that brings the documentary crew into the foreground of the show, and lead cameraman is a series regular. The Office choose to be a different kind of show, and for its sake, let’s hope it knows how to break the fourth wall.

Shrinking the NCAA Basketball Tournament

College basketball isn’t something I care about deeply, partly because the college basketball program I grew up following (Nebraska) isn’t very good. I like March Madness, although I don’t make a point to fill out a bracket every year. I don’t write this post in bad will, but I assert a common point: the quality of college basketball is not as great as it was fifteen to twenty years ago because of how quickly stars bolt to the NBA. That’s not the fault of the schools that care about basketball: Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, and North Carolina are always interesting, and put out great shows on game day. But March Madness has diminished, and I have unconventional solution.

Cut the NCAA Tournament to 32 teams.

Such a solution would go against the nature of college basketball, a sport whose pundits want to make the selection committee cry because of the last five teams left out of the Tournament, most of which haven’t beaten a good team on the road or scheduled hard enough. College basketball’s inclusive mentality (the polar opposite of football) hasn’t help the sport gain more public support, and if anything, the tournament is going to get bigger rather than smaller. But let me make a case for it.

Play a 32-team NCAA Tournament over two weekends, keeping the Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday and Wednesday-Friday-Sunday format that used now with the First Four. The Final Four will be the next weekend. Around this tournament, have a bunch of smaller, consolation, 8-team tournaments that wrap up by the Sunday/Monday/Tuesday that the NCAA Elite Eight wraps up. These 8-team tournaments can be considered the “minor bowls” of the college basketball postseason, and pod seeding can keep teams closer to home. The Final Four can be played in the same manner it always is.

Benefits: More drama in late regular season games. This is the most obvious reason to reduce the NCAA Tournament. Yes, there is currently drama among the last teams in, but the debate is always about who is better, the ninth team in the ACC or the seventh team in the Big 12. Reducing the tournament would make a February matchup between the second and third teams in a particular conference all the more meaningful, as the looser likely would be out.

:Eliminate Automatic Bids and Get a Better Field. There would have to be a new selection process, and no disrespect to Missouri Valley Champ or the A-10 Winner, but you more often than not have no shot to win the Tournament. Guarantee that the Tournament will include a certain number of conference champs (20, 22), and leave up to the schools to play a tough enough schedule.

:The Lesser “Bowl Game” Tournament Would Direct Agreements with Conferences,
which would lead to the conference and teams getting more money directly. And unlike the bowl system, cold weather cities wouldn’t be excluded, so you could have tournaments in Chicago, New York, and Boston.

:Lesser College Teams get More Chances to Improve. Remember that streak of NIT winners reaching the NCAA’s the next year? All those games help teams get better. A lot of teams in the middle who exit the Tournament in the first round loose an opportunity to get better. With 8-team tournaments, college basketball teams have the opportunity to win a tournament and go into the off-season with momentum for the next year, as their counterparts in football do.

:Making the Tournament Mean More. The great programs won’t celebrate appearance, but when Iowa or Pitt hang banner for making the tournament, they will represent special teams. And all the teams who are annually good can get in.

Biggest Unknown: How will the Lesser Tournaments Fair? Will NC State fans care about winning the Capitol One Tournament in Orlando? Will Iowa State fans head to Chicago to watch the Cyclones play the MAC Champ? What would be really telling is if Kansas fans would drive to Omaha or Oklahoma City after a disappointing year.

Biggest Myth: Coaches will have Less Job Security. For the record, college football coaches have much less security than college football coaches, save for a handful of basketball first jobs, because of the money in football. If anything, winning one of the “Bowl Tournaments” will do more to help a coaches image than just going out in the first round of the NCAAs or in the third round of the NIT. Keeping your job will still come down to recruiting and filling your arena.

This formula isn’t perfect, and yes, the great 5/12 upsets will be gone from the NCAA’s. But the Tournament is expanding itself into oblivion, because college basketball is nothing but a good ‘ole boys network that will put routine over what’s best for the sport any day. This system increases the value of the regular season, the urgency of the postseason tournament, and keeps more teams involved longer. It won’t happy, but I’d love to see it

January Get-Up

It’s been a good couple of weeks around Seward. Since the mega-snow that fell around December 20th, the snow has gradually melted away, and I’ve worn shorts outside. Gradually, I’m starting to adjust to warm weather, and yesterday morning, my subconscious gave me a kick.

Friday morning, I woke up at three and couldn’t get back to sleep. I was particularly frustrated because I had just got my awake/sleep balance to where I wanted it to be the day before, and now it was going to get thrown out of whack again. Normally, I can’t sleep, I’ll get up and read after an hour or so, but this time, I spent most of the next two hours tossing and turning. I really, really wanted to sleep normally, but my body would not permit it.

I admitted defeat around 5:20 and decided to take advantage of my insomnia by going for a drive and taking some photographs. Idealizing my path, I envisioned taking the interstate west, stop at Starbucks in York for my morning coffee, and get off at Bradshaw or someplace. By then, the sun would be rising, and I could happen upon some structures to photograph.

I got as far as Tenneco before I realized that I didn’t want to drive in such think fog unless I had to. So I decided to turn back and head into Seward to get some coffee and breakfast at Amigos. The only thing worse than trying to drive in fog was trying to drive in fog without coffee.

So I went to Amigos and ordered a breakfast biscuit, a donut, and coffee. I caught up on Facebook and read the news, all the while trying to turn out the country music that was playing above me. Once I was bored, I decided to try taking Highway 34 out of town this time.

The sense of adventure from this new course lasted until I got two miles outside of Seward and found the fog even more intolerable. All of a sudden, I remembered that I had some trays and carts to wash, and I turned back toward home. Great plans, only to be abandoned.

Later on Friday afternoon, I went for a walk and realized that I hadn’t taken as much time to walk around Seward, even though I could. I’ve been writing a lot recently, trying to break ground on a new story, and I needed that head-space.

World Waking Up...

World Waking Up…

Where Pelini Should Have Succeeded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The last home game for these Blackshirts….

Are Nebraska Fans Too Sensitive to Getting Blown Out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In line to get that perfect shot of the Huskers

In line to get that perfect shot of the Huskers

Huskers Loose, but Get Some Capital

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

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

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

End of the matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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