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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…

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

Simple Crystal: Huskers-Hawkeyes, & Looking Ahead to the Badgers

In his book Desperate Networks, Bill Carter recounts the story of how The Apprentice came to be on NBC. Mark Burnett was developing the show in the early 2000’s, he pitched it to ABC. At ABC, Lloyd Braun, then president of the network, loved the show and wanted to buy it before Burnett the room; unfortunately, due to the cost of the show, he had to take it up the chain of command at Disney. Disney management, misinformed on how the new brand of reality TV worked, didn’t understand that they had to commit to an entire run of episodes and made an embarrassingly low offer to Burnett. So Burnett pitched the show to NBC, who, like ABC was wowed in the room. We know the rest of the story.

On the field Saturday, Nebraska and Iowa were two teams who played mediocre games on offense. The difference was, Nebraska could buy their way out of their mistakes.

This was the game that Nebraska fans feared was coming. On a short week, Nebraska faced its only its second 11 A.M. kickoff of the season, against a team with nothing to loose. After throwing the wide receiver screens that Husker fans dream of the previous week, Tim Beck went back to an ultra-conservative, 33% passes, 67% runs. Iowa limited Nebraska’s offense to the max; neither Kenny Bell or Jamal Turner had a catch. But after a season of his team overcoming his loss, Rex Burkhead came off the bench and bailed out his teammates, setting them up for the conference title game they’ve striven all season to get to.

There was a lot of irony in this game. Iowa holding Nebraska to 259 yards of total offense, their lowest of the year. Good stretches of red-clad fans in Kinnick Stadium, a sign some Hawkeye faithful bailed on the team. Brett Maher, after failing to nail teams deep, nailed Iowa inside the five and hit two very good punts into the wind. But in the end, both teams turned out to be the teams they were meant to be. Iowa found a way to loose down the stretch, and Nebraska put Alonzo Whaley’s interception on the close win highlight reel next to his own recovery of Montee Ball’s fumble and Jamal Turner’s two go-ahead touchdowns.

Sealed deal

So, after this close win against a genuinely terrible team, the question of just how good Nebraska is seems most valid, even more so when they were beating average teams like Northwestern and Michigan State. Are they as good as Pelini’s 2010 team? My guess is this team is slightly better. Of course, there is the issue of which team was better healthy. But I would say this team is guided by a more even keel; the 2010 team had seven game where they failed to score after halftime, and faded down the stretch. Going into the Big 10 Title, this team has better momentum and hasn’t gone downhill after a peak in late October/early November.

Which leads to the question, has this team peaked? While I thought that was the case going into the Big 12 Title Game two years ago, I don’t think that’s the case this time. This was a more conservative game plan, given the wind and what Nebraska is going to play for next week. Don’t kid yourself, Bo Pelini playing for the Big 10 Title Game. Over the last two weeks, Ameer Abdullah has had only 32 carries, and even Burkhead’s carries were limited when he came back.

But the main reason I don’t think Nebraska has peaked is that Pelini has saved his defensive juice. Each of the last two years, Pelini has built special game plans for the teams he thought he would need to beat to win his division title, Missouri in 2010 and Michigan State in 2011. Even with a veteran defense, Pelini hasn’t throw out that one special defensive game plan this year, even for Michigan. That send a powerful unspoken message to the players: our goals is a conference title, period.

If Burkhead doesn’t get at least 35 touches in the Big 10 Title Game, I’ll be rather surprised. The indoor environment, a negligible factor for the power-running Badgers, really helps Nebraska, who opted to throw the ball 14 times in the wind yesterday. Even though Wisconsin has improved since the two teams played on September 29th, there’s no question that Nebraska is the better team, with the better quarterback by far. But between the two teams, Wisconsin plays with the better mojo. If the Badgers turn a Husker turnover into points quickly, it could set them up for a long day.

Tthe biggest variable is what will Wisconsin choose to do on defense. Last time around, the Badgers played an aggressive zone, figuring that Martinez would eventually make mistakes and Nebraska’s offensive line would let up, which it did at times. Yesterday, Iowa did a great job of clogging the middle of the field, even Nebraska tried to spread the field. Wisconsin, if they mix up their defense, has a shot to really confuse Nebraska.

But, as we saw yesterday and throughout the season, Nebraska has the talent to buy their way out of their mistakes.

Not About Pleasing 70 Year-Old Fans: Nebraksa’s Alternate Uniforms and Helmets

The Future of Nebraska Uniforms?

Last week, Tom Osborne announced that the program of his life, the Nebraska Cornhusker would wear a “futuristic” alternate uniform for a home game next year, which made this fan very happy. While I like traditional uniforms, I do think that alternate uniforms (even throwbacks) are necessary to appeal to young people (i.e., recruits), and that uniforms are in need of regular updating. But since many Husker fans do cling to the traditional uniforms, this is a debate that has to happen with care and respect.

To the fans who with to maintain the glorious tradition of the classic, unchanging red uniforms…this is not about you. Nebraska could go all Oregon and have different uniform combinations every week, and you wouldn’t suddenly throw on Michigan Wolverine gear or an Iowa Hawkeye jersey. Every Nebraska fan over forty, Osborne and Bo Pelini already have you, and don’t need to impress you. They need to impress four-star and five-star recruits who can help a team win National Titles. I still assume that is your goal, Husker Nation, winning the Big 10 and the National Title? Because great players win the National Title, not having the same uniforms.

To politely disagree with another blog, I doubt this is like the Yankees dropping the pinstripes, i.e., a fundamental uniform change. To be clear, a good alternate uniform at least keeps a team’s primary color, even if it is emphasized less or changed to a different color. Oklahoma State’s combat uniforms from last year all used the traditional Cowboy Orange in some form, and even most Oregon uniforms still use some green (except, of course, those horrid carbon grays from 2010, which even I didn’t like). As long as the alternate uniforms use traditional scarlet in some way, they’ll be consist with what Nebraska has always worn.

Can we get over the all-white uniforms from 2002, and the Colorado game in 2007? While I wasn’t in love with those unis (at the time, I had a college roommate from Wisconsin who claimed Nebraska had stolen the Badgers’ design), stop holding to the foolhardy belief that Nebraska has lost all but once since wearing the whites-with-red-gullet attire? They lost those games because they didn’t have good players those year; find a better argument against alternate uniforms.

As someone who has consistently wanted to see Nebraska have alternate uniforms, I would be okay if Nebraska had one or two throwback games a year. I’m surprised that throwback didn’t become an annual staple after the 300th sellout, where the Huskers wore uniforms were acclaimed by most fans. Young people do love throwbacks, and both tradition-rich programs Michigan and Notre Dame have worn throwbacks. Wearing throwback uniforms once or twice a year for a couple of years would be a great way to satisfy the fans who like tradition and fans who want different uniforms, and could serve as a test case for the alternate uniforms.

Which of these uniforms do you want to see Nebraska wear?

But when Nebraska comes out with their alternate uniforms, I ask these fans: give it a chance, and I don’t just mean one game. Let’s use the alternates for a couple of years before we decide if we want to keep them. And let’s have throwback day too.

There is an element of this uniform debate that I have begun to feel strongly about, and it is one that I feel now should be discussed. On their permanent helmets, Nebraska should switch to a larger, stylized “N” with that is common on most of their fan apparel and at the center of Memorial Stadium. Dave Kolowski wrote in his book Diary of a Husker that Bill Byrne (who just came from Oregon) had proposed this change to Tom Osborne in the mid-90’s but Osborne refused.

To those who disagree, go into your closet and pull out all of your Husker gear. Just count how many shirt and sweatshirts have the large “N” on it; I’m betting the majority do. Repeat the same exercise at Nebraska Bookstore or some other Husker outfitter and you get my point: while the small “N” may be have always been on the helmet, you could argue that the large “N” is more traditional now.

I know how many of you may be up in arms about this, but this change is a lot less radical than an alternate uniforms. I’m just suggesting taking a symbol that is much more recognizable, uses the same colors, and using it where it deserves to be. And for all of you who think the all-white uniforms look week, hold the small “N” next to the large, bordered “N” and ask yourself which one looks more intimidating?

In closing, I’d like to share a point that Colin Cowherd said on ESPN Radio about Oregon football. Cowherd (who worked sports in Portland as Oregon’s program rose in the late 1990’s and the early part of the last decade) has said the thing that got the Ducks out of the Pac 10 abyss wasn’t clinging to tradition, but instead focusing on what made the program better in the future, uniforms included. Husker fans, tradition is a wonderful thing, and young people do like it. But if you loose sight of the future and put tradition ahead of where you’re going, you ignoring what your players want and making the program about you. Need I remind you when Steve Pedersen did that?

(Want More Nebraska Cornhuskers?)

(Update: The uniforms are unveiled…)

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