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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?”

“No”

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

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)

College Football Week 1: Rise of the Tech-ola Crap, the Fall of Big Schools #2’s

Around the country, top teams struggled with lesser competition. I’m not even going to count Ohio beating Penn State and Nevada downing Cal in new Memorial Stadium-Florida, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Georgia all struggled on some level to put away lesser, unheralded mid-majors at home. Pitt lost to FCS Youngstown State-by two scores at home, and Maryland barely got by William and Mary. Of course, Duke went out and crushed upstart Florida International, so who knows.

As I reflect on this phenomenon, I’d cite two reasons, beyond the Appalachian State effect. First there’s the super-conference effect: teams in every conference, not just the SEC are playing tougher conference schedules and can only count on so many carries from their stars in early season games (Rex Burkhead not coming back for Nebraska against Southern Miss, for example.) Depth has been depleted not just by scholarship reductions, but transfers. Two, all the mid-majors know they are going to have chances to move up, and need to showcase themselves in these games.

Florida, if you wanted an easier week one opponent, you should have scheduled a Big 10 team. But let’s not scorn Michigan-they took on the challenge of Alabama and there isn’t as much shame in being humbled by the nation’s best program and coach happens. The serious causaulty is that Dennard Robinson got hurt again. And speaking of the ‘Nard Dawg, shouldn’t Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez be even more commended for sliding and getting help with his passing game in light of Robinon’s constant injuries?

Big 10 teams exhausting lead backs in Week 1. Le’Veon Bell, Damon Bullock, and Montee Ball all needed to tote the rock more than thirty times to lead their teams to victory. Meanwhile, Nebraska lost their workhorse back Burkhead and thrived on offense. With all these teams exhausting their running backs with big games still to come, it could be long years in East Lansing, Madison, and Iowa City. Iowa has the most to be concerned about, with their losses at tailback in the off-season. But Michigan State and Wisconsin have new quarterbacks who should help shoulder the load as the season goes on.

The biggest assistant coaching gain and loss may have been on display in the Georgia Dome Saturday night, as Clemson’s defense, now under the leadership of Brent Venables, stopped Auburn’s offense, now minus Gus Malzahn. Nothing made me happier last year than watching Clemson revive their tradition behind a funky offense with Tahj Boyd and Sammy Watkins; with Venables, they could shoot into the stratosphere.

It’s only one loss, but the slow trot toward exile begins at PSU. The Nittany Lions are going to get every teams best shot, as teams know they are down. And judging by Bill O’Brien’s press conference, he doesn’t have the personality of an elite recruiter. Ouch. With games at Virginia, and home against Temple and Navy, Penn State is going to struggle to get a win in September.

Final point: great to see Erin Andrews hosting on Fox, but seriously, could ABC or Fox have a competitive game to switch to at least?

Five Mid-Major Coaches who could be Trading Up

Since it is college football’s off-season, and I’m a college football degenerate, get ready for some speculative stories. Today, here’s the five mid-major coaches who I think will be trading up to bigger and better jobs in the coming years.

  1. Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State: Granted, Malzah has not coached a game yet at Arkansas State, put his pedigree at Arkansas, Tulsa, and most recently Auburn will get him the dream job sooner rather than later. Malzahn runs the kind of offense that dazzles recruits, wins games, and most importantly to a university administration, sells tickets. He could get the next good job in the SEC.
  2. Steve Addazio, Temple: Earlier this year, I watched a video interview with Addazio on a Philadelphia news outlet’s website, and was blown away by his presence and ability to sell his program, when asked if Temple should be allowed into the Big East. Addazio has the perfect resume: assistant at a two major programs (Notre Dame and Florida), work and filled in for a top 10 head coach (Urban Meyer), and crushed a recruiting rival from a BCS conference on the road (Maryland). If Addazio goes into State College and beats Penn State next year, Nittany Lion fans may want him to replace Bill O’Brien someday, if he’s still available.
  3. Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois: the former Wisconsin defensive coordinator stepped in for Jerry Kill and didn’t miss a beat with the Huskies, guiding them to the MAC title in his first year. Kill, Todd Beckman, and Buth Jones all traded up from the MAC to better jobs after three years; it may take less time for Addazio and Doeren to do so, especially if Bill Synder heads back to retirement. (Doeren is a native of the Kansas City area).
  4. Mario Cristobal, Florida International: while it certainly helps that Cristobal is Cuban American and major colleges are eager to hire minorities, it’s more than his ethnicity that had Pitt calling him. This year, Cristobal nearly doubled attendance from two years prior for the fledgling FIU program, not an easy feat in event driven Miami. Even though his overall record is sub-.500, Cristobal beat Louisville this year and won the Sun Belt last year. Every school in the east needs to recruit Florida.

5. Dave Christensen, Wyoming: While arguably his biggest achievement in coaching was turning around Missouri’s offense to a spread in 2005, he’s done an even better job to turn around one of the country’s most remote programs in Laramie. While his second year was a disaster when he lost his quarterback, Christensen won eight games this year with a freshmen quarterback, and like Malzahn, his offense will make him a popular hire.

End the Supremacy: Occupy the SEC!

Two days ago, I took to this blog and lamented Nebraska’s fall to a superior SEC team. It’s not just the Big Red-it’s the Big 10, and it was on display last year and this year. Other than Michigan State’s overtime win over Georgia (a game that a senior-laden team had to scratch tooth and nail to win), the Big 10 got rolled by southern teams. An off-year Ohio State team lost to an off-year team Florida. Iowa got rolled by a disappointing Oklahoma team. Michigan needs overtime to beat a Virginia Tech team who shouldn’t have gotten into the BCS. Wisconsin at least lost to a big-boy program in the Rose Bowl this year. Northwestern still can’t win a bowl game, and Nebraska’s home lay-down against the Wildcats was for naught. And of course, my Cornhuskers. It’s not even fair to pick on Penn State because their interim coach, and all the turmoil surrounding their program.

Today, I am coming with a plan: no longer am in morning, but I am proposing action. On the eve of the BCS Title game matching two SEC team, and the conference’s supremacy is at an all time high, I propose that Big 10 fans Occupy the South Eastern Conference.

Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous. That would because it is ridiculous. But the fact of the matter is, the SEC has gotten too good and powerful. Before we realize what has happened, the SEC will win eighteen out of twenty national titles (the other two likely going to USC or Texas), and many of our great northern programs will give up hope. Think about it: even with its own TV network and three stadiums that have 100,000, Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State have only two national title game appearances since the Buckeyes’ title win.

Don’t mistake this for complaining about two SEC teams playing for the national title this year: LSU and Alabama should play for the national title, that’s the point. The SEC has gotten the best players year after, and no, it’s not their fault that Michigan couldn’t hire a great coach for ten years, or that Penn State allowed Joe Paterno to coach into his eighties, or that Nebraska has to import California’s leftover football stars. Our society is built on multiple entities sharing power, and when that balance is upset, it’s not good.

What is the downside to the SEC having all this power and prestige? Granted, I can’t think of one off the top of my head, and I can’t see one coming around the corner. But as I said, it is not good when a single entity has all the power.

What I propose is, fans of the Big 10 teams go the campuses of Auburn, Alabama, Florida, and the other SEC schools. Walk around with sign that say, “Stop hoarding all the good football players”, “Snow makes tough football players tougher”, and “Limit SEC schools to 65 scholarships”. Tell recruit their not obligated to play for the traditional southern powers, and that they can often get on the field immediately in the Big 10.

Is this nothing but the hopeless griping of an inferior conference? Yes, in all likelihood, but we in the Big 10 cannot give up. We have to do everything we can to shift the balance of power back to our schools and programs, even if it means setting up tents inside the Swamp, Between the Hedges, and in Death Valley. Colin Cowherd will mock us, and we will deserve some, but we must stay the course. It’s our only choice.

Husker Insight: Will Nebraska’s Population in the West Dictate Future Trips to Phoenix?

A couple of weeks ago, I had an interesting twitter exchange with Sean Callahan, the insider for HuskerOnline.com. Initially, Callahan tweeted that the cost of airfare from Omaha to Orlando (between $600-$700) was likely what was keeping Nebraska’s ticket allotment for the Capitol One Bowl unsold. I replied to him that the high air costs to Orlando would likely get the Huskers dropped to Insight Bowl in Phoenix several times in the coming years, to which Callahan tweeted his agreement.

The possibility of Nebraska playing in the Inisght Bowl over the next few years is one I had considered even before that twitter exchange. A similar thing happened to Iowa last year, the first year of the Big 10’s new bowl arrangements. Both the Gator Bowl and the Outback Bowl could have picked Iowa, but the both opted for Michigan and Penn State, teams with similar records who Iowa had beaten. Iowa, meanwhile, got relegated to the Insight Bowl. Should this be a situation that Nebraska fans should be concerned about?

My response is, while it is a bit slighting to picked further down in the bowl order, Nebraska fans shouldn’t be taking this personally.Bowl selection, as I’ve said in my articles about Missouri’s move to the SEC, is about which team can bring more fans, and most of the Big 10 schools other than Nebraska and Iowa have more retirees in Florida.

Besides, Husker fans should also consider the oppositions. The three bowls that the Big 10 has ties to in Florida are all match-ups with SEC schools, while the Insights are with the Big 12. Last year, Iowa may have been home on January 1, but they got to which Michigan and Penn State get worked by mid-level SEC teams. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes got to play Missouri, a team that had piled up beat one good team and worked nine others in the perpetual 7-on-7 Big 12. And of course, Nebraska fans would always get more excited about playing a former Big 8/Big 12 opponent in the stadium where they won the national title resoundingly over Florida. There would be so much demand for tickets they’d have to un-tarp the top of the stadium.

Recruiting is another reason that Nebraska should want to play in the Insight Bowl. While the Big 10 mainly goes after Florida players, Nebraska is, and will remain, most appealing in the western part of the country, where they have more alumni and fans. With the Big 10 schedule adding an extra conference game, the Huskers will play fewer road games, and with Big 10’s insistence of playing games at 9 in the morning when the west coast is still having brunch, a game in Phoenix every couple years would help the Huskers tremendously.

But it comes back the issue of being slighted: should Husker fans be upset when bowl officials, year after year, send their team to Phoenix instead of Orlando, Tampa, or Jacksonville? My response, is yes: there will be times that Nebraska fans should be upset with the Florida bowls if they pass on a good Nebraska team, even if the opponent in the Insight Bowl would be Oklahoma. You always want to measure your team against the best, and the best is the SEC, even though the fifth best team in the SEC can crush the second best team in the Big 10 (witness: Alabama crushing Michigan State last year).  If Nebraska were to have a BCS-caliber team that got passed down from the BCS bowls through the Florida bowls to the Insight, they should be upset about it.

But getting passed to the Insight Bowl doesn’t always have to be the worst thing in the world. Even Iowa fans set a record attendance mark  in the Insight Bowl last year after they’d been slighted and had to play Missouri when they would have rather played Nebraska. This just speaks to how great the Big 10 bowl allegiances really are: winner gets the Rose, a second BCS bowl is almost guaranteed, and the next three teams get to play SEC teams in Florida. And the team after that gets to play a top Big 12 in Phoenix. Even Penn State got passed on by every major bowl, and they still got to play in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, against an 11-1 Houston team.

So, in the future Husker fans, when your team gets dropped to Phoenix, it is fair to complain to guys in ugly yellow blazers. But remember, they are just trying to keep their jobs like you are. Go to Sun Devil Stadium, remember the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, and celebrating beating an old rival. Isn’t that what college football is all about?

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