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Straight from the Cornfield, Episode 14

In this episode, I bemoan the sad current state of Nebraska football, the lack of an edge against Northwesten, and breakdown Mike Riley’s post-game press conference. Spoiler: he and Shawn Eichorst are secretly angry dudes.

Straight from the Cornfield, Episode 13

In this episode, I talk Nebraska’s win over Minnesota. The offense finally lives up to its teases of big plays, the defense records some key (new) stats, and Nebraska finally shows some energy on the sidelines! Looking ahead, I weigh the possibility of Nebraska playing unbeaten Iowa and Michigan State teams, and why an unbeaten Iowa fighting for the College Football Playoff could be just what Nebraska wants. Finally, I read your tweets and talk great players against Minnesota.

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Filibuster: Bo Ryan Reacts to Jarrod Uthoff’s Request for a Divorce

When I got out of the shower this morning, I heard some old geezer whining on ESPN Radio with Mike and Mike, and when I heard Mike Greenberg ask him to stay on through a break, I  assumed it was Bo Ryan, the Wisconsin basketball coach who was not allowing Jarrod Uthoff, a true freshman who redshirted this past season, to transfer. What I couldn’t understand is why Ryan would call up in the middle of a radio show he was being criticized on and offer up additional fodder. (Mike and Mike Interview.)

While Ryan clearly made his situation much worse, I was reminded of Darnell Autry wanting to leave Northwestern prior to the Wildcats’ miracle run to the Rose Bowl in 1995, a story that I read in Gary Barnett’s book High Hopes over ten years ago. Autry was even visiting Arizona State when Barnett called then-Sun Devils coach Bruce Synder and told him that Autry wouldn’t be given a release. The memory of that story struck me, so I serached for it and found a LA Times article (Link) from before the ’96 Rose Bowl about Autry’s literally playing Hamlet in the 1995 off-season. The difference between that situation and the Ryan/Uthoff was that, one, Autry’s debate stayed private, and two, we are listening to Ryan discuss the situation mid-divorce.

To be fair, Ryan should be angry at this point. Uthoff told him he was leaving while Ryan on vacation, and, with all that Wisconsin has invested in Uthoff’s development, Ryan has a right to expect a conversation with him. In many ways, Bo Ryan is like a spouse who has been asked for a divorce out of the blue; maybe didn’t even realize that Uthoff didn’t like it at Wisconsin. So he feels betrayed, but going on a popular national radio isn’t exactly keeping it “in house”.

The Divorcing Parties

But Ryan convinced Uthoff to come to Wisconsin. In his book A March to Madness, John Feinstein chronicled how Mike Krzyzewski did it: he flew back with each recruit after their on-campus visit to make sure they were the kind of player who fit in at Duke, a private, exclusive school which every urban high school basketball player might not be comfortable at. As much as Bo Ryan has to go out to seal Wisconsin, it’s no good if it is to someone who doesn’t want it. Granted, Uthoff may not have realized he didn’t want until he got to Wisconsin, but still, Ryan has to read every recruit and ask himself, will this guy gel on campus?

As for the transfer process itself, it needs to have some restrictions on it. Right now, Garrett Gilbert is taking a whooping 27 credit hours (nine more than I ever took a semester) to graduate from Texas and play this fall at SMU. College basketball is frustrating enough with its one-and-done, and now transfers? In my opinion, Doc Sadler was fired at Nebraska because players transferring (and other reasons here stated), and it’s always easier to keep an old customer than to recruit a new one. Ryan said that other NCAA coaches were supporting him in his efforts to restrict Uthoff’s transfer, and of course they would. Likely most have been in a similar situation, knowing that if the loose a good player already in the program, it could be big trouble

But where Ryan becomes petty is when he blocks Uthoff from transferring to Iowa State, a school that’s isn’t going to be playing Wisconsin in the next couple of years (and where a former Wisconsin Deputy Athletic Director, Jamie Pollard, serves as AD). When Ryan says, you can’t go to Iowa State, he’s basically saying, I’m so upset at you, I’m not even going to let you play in your home state. I’m making this personal.

This is the classic divide between older people and younger people. Hey, I’m the first to admit, young people can be cocky and brash to their elders, and I have been. But young people also have more options in this society then their elders did fifty years ago, and young people know their worth these days. They won’t put up with cranky old guys who are always whining about how much better stuff was forty years ago. The old guys may not like it, but look at Mark Zuckerburg-the guy had a great idea and drive, and he absolutely earned every penny of it. If they had the options we do now, who’s to say they wouldn’t have used all of them? (Being a young man in an old man’s church)

Then there’s the desperation of the rural northern program. While Madison is a great city, there aren’t a plethora of great basketball players who want to play there in the winter. Tom Izzo was willing to consider the Cleveland Cavaliers job because he was frustrated that, after six Final Fours and a National Title, he still had a hard time convincing top recruits to come to the alma mater of Magic Johnson in central Michigan. Consider how it must be for Ryan.

But what I come back to is the point in the Mike and Mike interview where Ryan ended up playing his own defense attorney, trying to muddle the issue after he couldn’t defend himself with the facts. After Mike Golic asked him when the list of schools Uthoff could transfer to was so restrictive, Ryan went on about how it is when a team practices together every day and how Greenberg couldn’t understand because he didn’t play the game. Just what happens in a messy divorce.

Husker Losses’ Un-Definition: Conference Realignment’s Aftermath

We all knew there were going to be certain causalities when Nebraska moved from the Big 12 to the Big 10. The long series with Big 8 rivals all ended, and new schools, schools to the east of Lincoln, will now dot Nebraska’s conference schedule. Granted, this is the way major college sports has to move, from small regional conferences to larger ones that merit more TV revenue. The unfortunate part is that now, when you loose to a school like Northwestern, there’s this sense of un-definition that comes with the displeasure of loosing.

I was at Nebraska’s 9 home loss to Iowa State back in 2009 that featured eight turnovers, four inside the five yard line. I felt so horrid about the loss, when Nebraska beat Iowa State the next year 31-30, I left Jack Trice Stadium fumed over the fact that Nebraska hadn’t beat Iowa State worse than they did. That’s what you get out of the regional series. Contrast those two games to Nebraska’s home loss to Northwestern this past year, and you see what fans loose in conference realignment. While I still burnt on the Iowa State loss after a year, the Northwestern was just a loss. Maybe I jst assumed they were a pasty going, maybe it was the lack of history between Northwestern and Nebraska, or maybe I knew Nebraska was primed for a let down that week. Either way, the ghost of another formerly forlorn program in purple nicknamed “wildcats” was there to leave my heart empty that day; it’s just this program was from Chicago, not rural Kansas.

For Northwestern, it almost isn’t fair: the best coach in college football not named Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Mack Brown, or Les Miles just happens to be a Northwestern alum. Without Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern is likely struggling to get a conference win in the new, tighter Big 10. With him,  Northwestern walked into Memorial Stadium and completely worked Nebraska for four quarters, making plays the second the Huskers let their guard down. The Big 10 schools should all chip and help Arkansas (or another big-time school) offer Fitzgerald $8 million a year, and another $5 million a year to pay his assistants.

And in their own city, Northwestern alumni rank tenth or eleventh among Big 10 alumni in the city. Michigan and Michigan State probably wanted to be in the same division as the Wildcats so that they each get a fifth-conference home game every other year. Northwestern alumi care more about the Cubs, the Bears, the Bulls, and the Blackhawks over their football team. Plus, drum up the fact that Northwestern alumni Mike Wilbon and Mike Greenburg just happen to be major ESPN personalities, and the Wildcats’ success becomes particularly annoying the more it gets pumped. Consider all this, and I guess I have some reason to get pumped about playing Northwestern next year, even if the school is 531 miles and another culture from Lincoln.

The Northwestern loss showed Nebraska the realities of the Big 10 and of the super-conference: you have to win multiple big games in a row in order to play for the conference title or have a shot at an at-large BCS berth. In 2010, Nebraska had to win one big game, against Missouri at home, in order to get to the Big 12 Title Game. The next week, they went to Iowa State, played a so-so game, and were able to escape with a win. Michigan State was thought would be the de facto Legends Division title game, and given the special defense Bo Pelini designed for that game, he apparently thought the same. But the next week, Nebraska arguably played a game at home no worse than the game they played in Ames a year ago, yet got worked. Of the six teams that Nebraska will play every year in the Big 10, Northwestern’s program right now is fourth or fifth. In the Big 12 North, the fourth best program of the dissolving division were the Colorado Buffaloes, fresh off the Dan Hawkins-disaster.

So here we are in the new era of college football, the Nebraska-Northwestern series. Could this be an interesting series? Maybe; Iowa has drummed up some passion against Northwestern after Fitzgerald handed the Hawkeyes their first loss after a 9-0 start in 2009, so anything’s possible. There is something of a culture class: uppity, city academics, versus a rural farm school. But maybe this is just wistful thinking, a sign that Nebraska may end up as Arkansas has in the SEC (until Texas A&M and Missouri joined). At least Nebraska’s capable of putting 20,000 red shirts in Ryan Field every other year (did it at Minnesota), not that Wildcat Nation will find that embarrassing.

Could it be a sea of red?

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