Tag Archives: nebraska cornhuskers

2017 Big Ten Predictions

23 Sep

This is the first full weekend of Big Ten action, which means it is time for some predictions* on how the teams will finish in the respective divisions.

*Or, given some of my history with prognosticating, blind guesses.

For today, we’ll predict by division.  Throughout the season, we’ll do a power ranking 1-14.  Let’s dive right in with the East.

East

  1. Ohio State.  I know, I know.  They have looked pedestrian (by their standards) in the first few weeks, and they have a quarterback controversy brewing.  But…you pick against an Urban Meyer team at your own risk.  They’ll get it figure out, and when they do – watch out.  Plus, they get Penn State at home.
  2. Penn State.  Arguably the best offense in the league, but they have the hardest set of cross over games (at Iowa, at Northwestern, Nebraska) in addition to that trip to Columbus.  If they repeat as division champs, they will definitely have earned it.
  3. Michigan.  The Wolverines have Ohio State at home, but they drew the suddenly competent Purdue and perennial power Wisconsin, along with the boat rowers from Minnesota.
  4. Maryland.  The Terps made a splash with a convincing win at Texas, and it wouldn’t shock me to see them climb up into the top 3.  But until they beat one of the teams above them, they’ll be middle of the pack.
  5. Michigan State.  After a nightmarish 2016, the Spartans are back and…well, nobody really knows yet.  The only thing we really learned from their two non-conference games (35-10 over Bowling Green and 28-14 over Western Michigan) is they would be a title contender in the MAC.
  6. Rutgers.  I started out with a bit of a stunner, and let’s continue that down at the bottom.  Yes, the Scarlet Knights are a familiar 1-2, with the lone win coming against an FCS school.  But they have been competitive in those losses – including nationally ranked Washington.  More importantly, they have an ideal draw from the West to steal some conference wins:  at struggling Nebraska, at Illinois, and Purdue.  Win two of those – and probably the game against Indiana – and Rutgers could escape laughingstock status.
  7. Indiana.  The Hoosiers are a decent team, and in the West they might be middle of the pack.  But in the East, Indiana has two options:  pull some big upsets or wait for basketball.  You’re just under 50 days, Hoosier fans.

 

West

  1. Wisconsin.  Heading to Indianapolis at 11-1 or maybe 12-0 is a decent possibility for the Badgers.  Michigan is by far their toughest crossover game, but they have to come to Madison, as do West contenders Iowa and Northwestern.  Sconnie could have the division wrapped up by Veteran’s Day.
  2. Iowa.  Predicting the Hawkeyes second is more about my uncertainty about the rest of the division than my confidence in Iowa’s chances.  Iowa has two convincing wins and an OT comeback against Iowa State.  But their conference schedule is brutal:  Penn State, at Michigan State, at Northwestern, Ohio State, at Wisconsin, and at Nebraska.  Still, do you trust and of the other teams more?
  3. Nebraska.  This may be a homer pick, or maybe I’m scared off by a flaky Northwestern team and PJ Fleck’s hyper enthusiasm, but I’ll take Nebraska third.  Questions – and drama – abound in Lincoln, but if Mike Riley can get things settled, NU has the talent to compete.
  4. Northwestern.  The perennial trendy pick to win the division has already been blown out by Duke.  But maybe this is the year?  If so, we’ll know by November 1 as the Wildcats open at Wisconsin, followed by Penn State, at Maryland, Iowa, and Michigan State.
  5. Minnesota.  I’m going to have to pace myself on the P.J. Fleck “row the boat” references, so I’m not high and dry (sorry) by Week 8.  Fifth is a realistic spot for a first year coach building his cult…I mean culture.
  6. Purdue.  The surprise team of the West, the Boilers gave Louisville a scare and beat Ohio and Mizzou convincingly.  Will they finish out of the cellar?  I’d guarantee it.  Can they make some noise in the division?  Probably, but not enough to be a legit title threat.  By Thanksgiving, I may want to flip this pick with Northwestern.
  7. Illinois.  In Indiana, they have basketball to look forward to.  At Illinois?  Well, by falling on Jim Delany’s “Friday Night Lights” sword multiple times, they have a couple of extra Saturdays free.  So that’s something.

 

Big Ten Championship:  Give me Wisconsin 34, Ohio State 31 in a thriller.

Under the radar pick:  Michigan surprises everyone by rolling to a 42 – 10 win over the Badgers.

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Improving Nebraska Football: A to Z

16 Sep

 

Hello loyal readers, family members, Twitter/Facebook e-migos, and those who blindly click on hyperlinks!

As you may know, this column is also available on HuskerMax.com.

Why should you CLICK THIS LINK and read this fine piece of Feit Can Write content on a site that is not feitcanwrite.com?  Well, to put it bluntly, I get paid cash money for the views I get there.  I like cash money (even if it is more like coin money).  My beautiful wife and three adorable children appreciate it when I earn cash money and spend it on them.

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*   *   *

During the off-season, there was an article in the Lincoln Journal-Star that stuck in my memory.  More accurately, it was a quote from Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst inside that article:

“Every single day (after the Iowa game) we talked about, ‘How are we going to make our program better? From A to Z,'” said Eichorst.  “When we got back from the bowl game, we did the same thing. ‘How can we make our program from A to Z better?'”

The Journal-Star article – a recap of a May speech by Eichorst and Mike Riley – is understandably short on specifics.

But the concept stuck with me:  If I was in charge of improving the Nebraska Football program from A to Z, what would I do?

Here are my recommendations, from A to Z.  Most of these are directed at the folks inside Memorial Stadium, but there are things for you and I to do as well.

A – Embrace your Alumni – A program like Nebraska as a ton of strengths.  One of the biggest ones should be its alumni base.  Their passion, involvement, and support (financial and intangible) can do amazing things to further the University and all of NU athletics.  Certainly, that applies to graduates of UNL, but I’m primarily focusing on previous players.

Let’s face it:  relations between former players and past coaching staffs have been strained – or even non-existent.  Yet, having a strong network of support from former Huskers (especially those in the League or involved with coaching) is huge.  To his credit, one of the first things that Mike Riley did as head coach was reach out to former letter winners with open arms.

I’d love to see Nebraska get to a place where alumni are not identified as a “Solich Guy”, a “Callahan player”, or a “Pelini recruit”, but as a “former Cornhusker.”

B – Be Bought In.  As divided as the Nebraska fan base has been over the past few years, I think we can all agree that we all want Nebraska to return to championship level success and prominence.  But when we talk about how that happens, the disagreements start.

Some folks don’t like the coaching staff or AD.  Some question if an offense can win if they don’t run the ball 65% of the time.  Other question the loyalty and passion of other fans.  And on and on.

Instead, how about buying in to the current staff?  I’m not advocating blind faith or ignoring red flags.  What I am saying is quit pursuing the joyless victory of being the first person to say “See, I told you it wouldn’t work”.

Come together to support the program we all claim to love.  Mike Riley’s vision – and execution – may not be perfect, but that doesn’t mean we need to call for firings after every loss.

C – Coach ’em up.  Obviously, the desire of every college football program is to sign a boatload of five-star talent, turn them loose, and watch the wins pile up.  But for most schools outside of Alabama, it’s not that easy.

Between injuries, suspensions, and attrition, schools often have to take some lemons and try to make lemonade.  The ability of coaches to instruct, train, and develop their players into contributors is vital.  This is an area where Nebraska has excelled in the past (Milt Tenopir, amongst others) and can excel again (Trent Bray, I’m looking at you).

D – Devaney.  Not the NU legend, or his namesake sports center, but new hire Billy Devaney.  Aside from having a mouthful of a title (Executive Director of Player Personnel and Special Assistant to the Head Coach), he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in talent evaluation and player development.  I’m intrigued to see how his role evolves and how he helps shape the roster.

If nothing else, it has to be a plus in recruiting to be able to tell a recruit “we have a former NFL GM on staff, and he loves your film”.

E – End early games.  I hate 11 am home games.  Everything is so sleepy.  Downtown Lincoln has no life before a game.  The students are notoriously late to fill in for the early kickoffs.  The energy in the stadium tends to be low.  For the recruitniks, it’s tough to get Johnny Fivestar into town – especially if he has a game the night before.  The actual W-L numbers may not fully back it up, but I greatly prefer afternoon or evening games to brunch affairs.

There is no way to completely end early games – they are a reality when your conference has multiple TV partners that want to fill programming slots.  That said, the best way to escape the Beth Mowins / Joey Galloway shift is to win.  You don’t see a lot of Ohio State or Alabama kickoffs before noon CST.

F – Focus on fervent fans.  Nebraska enjoys strong and passionate fan support.  From impacting games with constant, intimidating noise, or the flood of social media “encouragement” given to recruits, it is clear that football matters here.  We fans want this program to be successful.

The University, Athletic Department, and the football program – in my opinion – do a good job of acknowledging and recognizing fan support.  But there is always room for more.  One of the most passionate and loyal fan bases in sports deserves all of the love and appreciation NU can give.

What does that look like?  I’m don’t have any specifics at this time, but I’d challenge NU to give back more.

G – Sell the Good Life.  The perception still exists (especially with recruits) that all Nebraskans drive tractors, cows wander freely, and corn grows on every corner.  The reality is that Nebraska – and especially Lincoln – is a great place to live, work, and go to school.

I recall a brilliant idea proposed on the Sharp & Benning show:  fly recruits into Omaha and drive them past TD Ameritrade ballpark, Warren Buffet’s house, all of the Fortune 500 companies, and into Lincoln in Interstate 180, with its impressive view of Memorial Stadium, Pinnacle Bank Arena, the new Hudl headquarters, and the Capitol.  Then, casually note that the time of the trip is the same as it would take to go 15 miles in some cities.

H – Hometown Proud.  In a perfect world, Nebraska high schools produce a couple of legitimate 4 or 5 star recruits every year, and they accept Nebraska offers without so much as a visit to another school.  In addition, a large group of in-state kids decide to walk-on with several developing into starters.

In reality, the Cornhusker state rarely produces five-star talent, and sometimes those talented kids go to places like Stanford, Iowa, or Notre Dame.  The kids who may have walked on 20 years ago are now picking scholarships from Ohio, Wyoming, or one of the Dakota schools over paying their own way.  While I don’t believe in Nebraska signing every guy who dominates Class B, I completely understand that those hometown kids are the lifeblood of the program – and often the best leaders and hardest workers.

I – Invent and Innovate.  Much of success that Devaney and Osborne shared can be traced back to Nebraska being a college football innovator.  Nebraska was one of the pioneers of strength and conditioning, which gave them a big advantage on the field in the 80’s and 90’s.  Now, every school has a monster weight room, and the S&C playing field has leveled out.

Nebraska needs to find the next way to gain an edge over the competition.  The new Athletic Performance Lab certainly has the potential to give that edge.  But my money is on the analytics department showing a return on investment first.  The easy analogy is to the “Moneyball” Oakland A’s, but the ability to have strong data can be a game changer.

J – Find the next Janovich.  Regular readers know that I am a big fan of Andy Janovich.  Go back through Husker teams all the way to Devaney and you’ll find Janovich-type players:   The in-state walk-on who worked his way on the field, earned a scholarship, and became a stand out player and team leader.

Those guys are getting tougher to find as they’re opting for scholarships to Wyoming, Ohio, or one of the Dakota schools instead of a chance to walk-on in Lincoln.  But the heart and soul of the program will always be in-state kids who want it more.  This is where having a strong connection with the high school coaches in the state can help identify those guys.

K – Kick up the kicking game.  The good news is Nebraska traditionally enjoys success in one or more facets of the kicking game.  Be it an accurate place kicker, a punter with a booming leg, or a put ’em in the aisles return man, even the worst NU teams have had a special teams bright spot.

Unfortunately, the bad news is NU has had a nasty trait of turning last year’s strength into this year’s weakness.  2015 was a prime example as many components of the kicking game regressed.

Without getting sidetracked by Bruce Read’s salary, the ability to be strong in special teams can – and should – be a game changer.

L – Line of scrimmage.  I am a firm believer that football championships – especially in college – are won from the lines out.

As amazing as Tommie Frazier was, would he have been the same dynamic play maker if he played behind some of the lines from the Callahan or Pelini years?  Let’s just say that I have my doubts.

On the other side of the ball, every great defense is anchored by a strong defensive line that shuts down the run and puts heat on quarterbacks.

Mark my words: when the lines are dominating, success will follow.

M – Memorial Stadium.  Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium is one of the great cathedrals of college football.  As the Old Grey Lady moves closer to her 100th birthday, she’s never been in better shape.  Improvements, both big and small, have enhanced the game day experience for fans.

But as the watch-at-home experience continues to improve, it will be important for Nebraska to find new ways to keep Memorial Stadium as one of the great places to watch a football game.

N – Nike , Adidas, or Under Armour?  Much has been written and said about Nebraska’s current apparel and footwear contract with Adidas – and what should happen when that contract expires in June.

I don’t have a preference on the provider.  Instead, I want to be with a company that treats Nebraska differently than the majority of its clients, provides a top-tier deal, and can create uniforms and alternates that Nebraskans can be proud of.

O – Oregon.  Most of the things in this list should be considered long-term goals, if not core principles of the program.  This one is decidedly short-term.  NU needs to beat Oregon on Saturday.  Why?

Let’s start with Mike Riley.  There is a line of thinking that Riley left Oregon State because he’d never have the talent and/or resources to beat the Ducks in Corvallis.  So what would it say if he still can’t get it done at Nebraska?

Additionally, Oregon is going to be a big recruiting weekend, and an exciting victory in front of a raucous crowed sure never hurts.

Finally, while I think it can be shortsighted to paint the program’s narrative and direction based on a single game, I suspect other members of the media (both local and national) won’t have any issue with it – win or lose.

P – Put aside “P” named boogeymen.  Pederson.  Pelini.  Perlman.  Ask 100 Husker fans why the program has not won a conference title since 1999, and the odds are good that at least one of those three will be named.

Certainly, you can list off many things they did (or are accused of doing) that hurt the program.  Those three will always be polarizing figures who stir up emotional responses.  But how does that help us today or tomorrow?

It’s time to let go of the negativity.  Stop believing that people are (or were) conspiring to ruin the program, and come together to move forward.

Q – Quit losing.  Yeah, it is a simplistic answer.  But consider the deep-dive analysis of every nook and cranny of the program.  The hours of talk radio hot takes.  The message board and Twitter angst over the topic du jour…How much of that goes away if Nebraska wins 9, 10, or 11 games?

R – Recruit, recruit, recruit.  My interest in all things recruiting is rather minor.  I’ll read about the latest commits, look at their stars and other offers, but that’s about it.  I don’t watch their film and I mostly forget about them until they a) sign and/or b) start to contribute.

Mike Riley and his staff don’t have that luxury.  They appear to be organized, prioritized, and energized in everything they do around recruiting.  And they are not afraid to go after the big names.

Say what you will about stars, rankings, and the multitude of recruiting sites and services, but the numbers don’t lie:  there is a ceiling on any program’s success without multiple, high-end recruits.

S  – That’s what speed do.  College football is a speed game.  Yes, power in the trenches is vital, but the ability to run away from (or catch up to) the opposition wins games.  So many of Nebraska’s all-time great teams – and especially defenses – featured lightning fast guys flying all over the field.  This is part recruiting, part strength and conditioning, and part finding roles to get speed on the field.

T – Three hundred fifty and beyond.  The Memorial Stadium sellout streak will hit 350 games when Oregon comes to town.  But this summer, the AP confirmed what many have long suspected:  three times in 2015, NU asked “friends of the program” to buy up extra tickets at the last minute to keep the streak alive.

You may consider the streak a sham, but it’s continued existence is a lifeline to a time of prosperity and success.  It’s also a very tangible symbol of the passion Nebraska fans have for their team.

The streak is in serious jeopardy, but there are ways to protect it (another topic for another day).  Doing so should be a top priority of Shawn Eichorst.

U – Uniforms.  Hopefully by now, all of the staunch traditionalists (such as yours truly) understand that alternate uniforms aren’t going anywhere.  And since world peace is more likely than an alternate that appeals to the old school fans and the kids they are designed to impress, let’s hope they continue to make kids excited to wear the scarlet and cream – or white and chrome – without causing too much heartburn.  But I’m willing to settle for uniform numbers I can read from North Stadium.

V – Values.  The Athletic Department lists five core values:  Integrity, Trust, Respect, Teamwork, and Loyalty.  I tend to be cynical towards mission statements, core values, and other corporate buzz speech.

However, if the football program – and those associated with it – can live those values, I like their chances for success.

W – Weight Room.  I’ve been told by folks in the know that Strength and Conditioning does not win games – even if it usually gets blamed for losses.  It goes without saying that Nebraska’s strength and conditioning program is a vital part of if the program is successful or not.  Husker fans know the Boyd Epley story, and how Husker Power gave NU an edge in the 80’s and 90’s.

The challenge for Mark Philipp and his staff is building on Epley’s core principles to once again give Nebraska an athletic edge.  I have confidence they can get it done.

X – X Factor.  The Webster’s definition of an ‘X Factor’ is “a circumstance, quality, or person that has a strong but unpredictable influence”.

Throughout Nebraska’s history, the introduction of an X Factor has regularly been what propelled them from good to great.  It could be a coach (Bob Devaney), a player (Tommie Frazier), or a schematic concept (switching from a 5-2 defense to a 4-3 in order to get more speed on the field).

The challenge is identifying the X Factor and getting it to Lincoln.

Y – Youth Movement.  Here is a sobering thought:  Nebraska has starters who were not alive for the 1997 National Championship.  The coaches are currently recruiting kids who were not alive the last time Nebraska won a conference championship.

There is an entire generation out there with limited to no experience having Nebraska as a college football power.  The road back to championship football will be driven by kids who grew up viewing Boise State and Oregon as title contenders.  The challenge is getting these kids to understand what Nebraska was, and what it can be again.

Z – Zero Tolerance.  In addition to the tradition of on-field success, many Nebraska fans take immense pride in the program’s tradition of success off the field.  From Academic All-Americans to a program that has largely been free of scandal and wrong-doing, Nebraska is a program you can still be proud to support even when the on-field product is down.

That’s why I think it is important for UNL – and not just the athletic department or the football staff – has a very low tolerance for things that may harm NU.  We may have looked longingly at Baylor’s success the last few years, but I guarantee that nobody wants to trade places with them now.

I’m not willing to trade a handful of wins for a loss of integrity – even if “everybody else is doing it”.

2016 Husker Preview – Reasons for Pessimism

1 Sep

Hello loyal readers, family members, Twitter/Facebook e-migos, and those who blindly click on hyperlinks!

As you may know, this column is also available on HuskerMax.com.

Why should you CLICK THIS LINK and read this fine piece of Feit Can Write content on a site that is not feitcanwrite.com?  Well, to put it bluntly, I get paid cash money for the views I get there.  I like cash money (even if it is more like coin money).  My beautiful wife and three adorable children appreciate it when I earn cash money and spend it on them.

As always, you have my sincere appreciation for reading, commenting, and sharing (hint hint). 

Now, quit screwing around and CLICK THIS LINK

*   *   *

The Kool Aid is flowing fast and freely around the Nebraska football program.

Just months after getting a backdoor bid into a bowl game that allowed them to finish 6-7, some pundits are predicting Nebraska to win the Big Ten West.  Others* are saying Nebraska is a legitimate contender for the four team playoff.

*That one of those “prognosticators” is a character from a Dr. Pepper commercial should probably be at the top of this list.

Nebraska football in the 21st century has been an ongoing Peanuts cartoon.  Charlie Brown, wearing his Nebraska jersey, is confident that he can kick the ball through the uprights of their season.  But before the ball goes sailing towards championship glory, it is pulled away and Nebraska ends up flat on his back.

So how will Lucy Van Pelt pull the ball away this year?  Here are some things to watch out for:

Tommy Armstrong

At his best, he’s a dynamic playmaker who can beat you with his arm and his legs.  But far too often he beats his own team with bad throws and horrible decisions.  His touchdown to interception ratio got worse from his sophomore to junior season.  Husker fans will probably be dancing in the streets if he throws fewer than one pick per game this year.

Nebraska’s greatest chance for success in 2016 rests in Armstrong’s hands.  Do you trust him to take care of it?

Quarterback depth

Here’s the harsh truth about Tommy Armstrong:  as frustratingly inconsistent as he has been, he is still the best quarterback on the Nebraska roster.  And it is not even close.

Let’s take a quick look at the quarterback depth chart:

  1. Armstrong.
  2. Ryker Fyfe.  In his lone start – the rock bottom 55-45 loss at Purdue – he threw four interceptions and rushed for negative 35 yards.
  3. Patrick O’Brien. The true freshman has a ton of recruiting hype, but zero collegiate snaps (unless you count the Spring Game where he looked like a high school kid playing against college guys).
  4. Zack Darlington. He will take some snaps – as Drew Brown’s holder.
  5. A.J. Bush.  He could push for the starting job – at Iowa Western Community College.

Arguably the best quarterback on the team – Tulane transfer Tanner Lee – is ineligible to play in 2016.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Nebraska is a nine win team with Armstrong under center.  If Armstrong gets hurt early in the season, do you have confidence that anybody else can guide this team to a winning record?  I have doubts.

Danny Langsdorf’s play calling

We all saw the success Nebraska had running over UCLA in the bowl game (and hopefully you saw that UCLA had apparently attended a Bo Pelini clinic on rush defense).  We all heard Mike Riley state that he wants Nebraska to be “top three” in the conference in rushing.  But I fear that is going to be easier said than done.

Aside from not having a go-to back, an unproven line, and a coaching staff perceived to favor the forward pass, there is the notable fact that the best position group on the team is the wide receivers/tight ends.  Do you trust Danny Langsdorf to stick to the run when none of the backs can consistently get four yards, and he sees Jordan Westerkamp, Cethan Carter, and a host of talented receivers perimeter blocking in vain?

Turnovers

This one is short and painfully simple:  The offense turns the ball over WAY to often – twice per game in 2015.  Meanwhile, the defense does not take the ball away nearly enough – a hair over one per game.  Frankly, I’m surprised the 2015 turnover margin (-15) wasn’t bigger.

I’d like to be able to say I see a dramatic change on the horizon for the offense or defense, but I wouldn’t wager on it.

Inexperience

Sneak a peek at the current depth chart.  Looking at the top two for each position, I count 28 guys who are sophomores or younger.  Several guys will get their first game experience, start, or both against Fresno State.  How many of these guys will shine under the bright lights, and how many will freeze?  Are they prepared – mentally and physically – for 12, 13, or more games?

The inexperience is most glaring on the lines.  While Nick Gates and Dylan Utter are technically returning starters, both will be playing new positions on the line – along with three other new starters.  The defensive side is a little better, despite losing four players with eligibility left.  Ross Dzuris, Freedom Akinmoladun, and Kevin Maurice saw a lot of snaps last year, but they only have nine career starts.  Combined.

With conference games starting in less than a month, the kids will need to grow up fast.

The schedule

Remember last year how Nebraska did not have a week off until after Week 11?  The good news is this year’s schedule offers a week for rest, recovery, and fall weddings five weeks into the season.  The bad news is the slate may be more challenging than last year.  This year, the Big Ten goes to a nine game conference schedule.  This means trading South Alabama for another Big Ten East foe.

Looking over the schedule, there is a definite possibility that Nebraska may not win away from home this year.  Look at the road slate:

  • Northwestern – They were a 10 win team a year ago, and always play NU tough.
  • Indiana – Definitely NU’s best chance for road success, but the Hoosiers are starting to get things going, and could use a statement win.
  • Wisconsin – To put it politely, Madison has not been kind to Nebraska.
  • Ohio State – When Nebraska plays the Buckeyes, its realistic to think they might be 8-0 and ranked #1.  Maybe we can play this game in Columbus, Nebraska…
  • Iowa – Regardless of if you consider Iowa a rival, I can guarantee that they want to beat Nebraska – especially if they can repeat as division champs.

Nebraska had a losing record at home in 2015.  They can’t afford to do that again in 2016.

Take one more look at the schedule.  Objectively, knowing this team finished 6-7 a year ago, how many no-doubt, 100% guaranteed wins are on the schedule?  If your answer is more than “seven”, you probably should lay off the Kool Aid until Signing Day.

Distractions

The 2015 season was derailed early by a series of close, heartbreaking losses and some lingering drama from players loyal to the old coaching staff.  After a year to implement their system – and flush out guys who weren’t buying in – everybody should be on the same page this fall.  Right?

Don’t count on it.

The tragic death of Sam Foltz – arguably one of the most proven and valuable players on the team – will have a big impact.  Everybody deals with grief and loss differently, and some people can be blindsided by it at unexpected times.  Then there is Keith Williams and the fall out from his drunk driving case.  Between the time away from practice during fall camp, the four game suspension, and any court proceedings during the season, some level of distraction is all but guaranteed.

Finally, there is Mike Riley’s job security.  In no way do I consider him on any type of “hot seat” entering the season.  But what if the team comes home from Ohio State with four (or more) losses?  It would take a lot to insulate the team from the angst and drama that would go along with another disappointing season.

B1G Power Rankings – Week of 10/5/2015

24 Oct

All season, I’ll be ranking the teams in the Big Ten from one to Maryland.  To see my predictions for how the season will play out, click here.

As always, if you think I’m right, wrong, or clinically insane, let me know in the comments.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Ohio State.  The Buckeyes can continue to muddle and struggle along for another month as they should be heavy favorites over Rutgers, Minnesota, and Illinois.  But eventually, they’ll have to play championship level football.
  2. Michigan State.  Yes, Sparty’s win was an absolute fluke, but a win is a win.
  3. Michigan.  “Golly gee, what an unfortunate way to lose a game in the final seconds” – Mike Riley, probably.  The Wolverines are the first of four teams taking this week off, which means a lot of time to potentially dwell on that epic loss.
  4. Iowa.  The Hawkeyes continue to take care of business and get a week off to rest and prepare for a stretch run at an undefeated regular season.
  5. Wisconsin.  There is a pretty steep drop off between # 4 and #5 in the league, and one could make an argument for a handful of teams in this spot.  Wisconsin gets the nod for now, but I’m willing to drop them down if another team gets hot.
  6. Penn State.  I’ll be honest, this is probably way too high for the Nitany Lions, but their lone conference loss is to the league’s best team.  Nobody below them can make that claim.
  7. Illinois.  Speaking of being ranked too high, here are the Fighting Illini.  They were idle last week after beating Nebraska and narrowly lowing to Iowa.  Are they a legitimate middle tier team?  This week’s game against Wisconsin will go a long way to deciding that.
  8. Northwestern.  After starting out at a blazing 5-0, the Wildcats are falling apart losing to Michigan and Iowa by a combined score of 78-10.  Pat Fitzgerald’s team usually plays Nebraska tough, so they could get back on track with a win in Lincoln.
  9. Nebraska.  It’s tough to overstate just how important the 48-25 win over Minnesota was for this team.  Not only does it give them possession of the $5 Bits of Broken Chair trophy for the first time, it also takes a lot of heat off of Mike Riley and his team.  Let’s see if they can continue their momentum against Northwestern.
  10. Minnesota.  Good news:  after getting thumped at home by Nebraska, the Gophers have a week off to get things back on track.  Bad news:  their next three games are Michigan, at Ohio State, and at Iowa.  Yikes.
  11. Indiana.  The bottom tier starts out with the confusing Hoosiers.  They go into the Horseshoe and hold Ohio State to 34 points.  Then two weeks later, they allow Rutgers to score 55.  The Hoosiers have an upset opportunity if they can catch Sparty in a Wolverine hangover.
  12. Rutgers.  I missed last week, so I did not get a chance to properly mock Rutgers for losing an upset chance against Michigan State by spiking the ball on fourth down.  It’s a good thing they beat Indiana, as the Scarlet Knights may not win again for another month.
  13. Purdue.  Losers of five straight, the Boilermakers limp into their bye week dangerously close to being the first conference team eliminated from a bowl game.
  14. Maryland.  The Terrapins allowed 42 points to Idle last week.

B1G Power Rankings – Week of 10/5/2015

8 Oct

All season, I’ll be ranking the teams in the Big Ten from one to Maryland.  To see my predictions for how the season will play out, click here.

As always, if you think I’m right, wrong, or clinically insane, let me know in the comments.

Prepare to disagree…

  1. Ohio State – Yeah, I know the Buckeyes are still not clicking on all cylinders.  But a game with Maryland should be a good way to work out some of the kinks.
  2. Michigan State – What do the Spartans have to do to jump Ohio State?  For starters, they can avoid falling asleep at the wheel like they did with Purdue.  They were probably looking ahead to Rutgers.  Put away the lesser teams and move on.
  3. Northwestern.  Northwestern is off to an amazing start, and a shutout over Minnesota makes them the current best of the West.  Now the challenge is to keep that title over their next three games (at Michigan, Iowa, at Nebraska).
  4. Michigan.  I thought about having the Wolverines at #3, but gave the nod to Northwestern for their overall body of work.  Besides, blowing out Maryland isn’t exactly newsworthy.  Beat the Wildcats and we’ll talk.
  5. Iowa.  Who is this team, and what have they done with Ferentz’s Follies?  I’m not sold on Iowa in the long-term, but give them credit for what they’ve done so far.
  6. Indiana.  Was taking Ohio State deep into the fourth a sign of progress or a fluke?  For progress, the Hoosiers will need to beat Penn State this week, not just play them close.
  7. Wisconsin.  The injury bug has hit the Badgers hard.  Fortunately, their next four opponents (NU, Purdue, Illinois, Rutgers) are a combined 9-7, with Illinois having the best record of the bunch.
  8. Illinois.  Give credit to the Illini for hanging around and finding a way to beat Nebraska.  But they’ll need to play better for the other 59 minutes to beat Iowa.
  9. Minnesota.  Minnesota’s total points in 2015 (77) will likely be matched by Baylor when they play Kansas this weekend.  The lack of offense at Minnesota is startling – even by Big Ten standards.
  10. Penn State.  I continue to be underwhelmed by what I see out of Penn State.  I’m not sure if that will change this year.
  11. Nebraska.  You have to go back a long ways to find a more surprising and painful conference loss than Illinois.  The Huskers must bounce back, and quick.
  12. Purdue.  Credit to the Boilers for not quitting against Michigan State.  If they can score 21 point this week, they’ll have a great chance against Minnesota.
  13. Rutgers.  Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald had a great line on Saturday:  “Rutgers is idle, and should remain that way.”  No arguments here.
  14. Maryland.  The Terps should be thankful that Hurricane Joaquin knocked them out of prime time.  Maryland’s three losses have been by 21, 39, and 28 points.  On a related note, South Florida (who Maryland beat by 18) must be a horrible team.

Coaching Changes Are Needed

2 Oct

I’ve had enough.

Nebraska’s uninspiring 2-2 start has me wondering just what is going on with our beloved program.  Yeah, I hear you say that they are two plays away from 4-0, but to me that is the same as telling me I’m a $1 lottery ticket away from being a millionaire – irrelevant.

I’ve seen enough football to know when something isn’t working – and friends, this ain’t working.

We need changes.  And we need them now.

Where should we begin?  Let’s start with defensive coordinator Mark Banker.  Hello?  Have you seen the passing defense?  Even Kevin Cosgrove is embarrassed by this defense.  You say that his rush defense is actually pretty good?  I don’t care.  Nebraska plays in the Big Ten West, a division so dedicated to rushing offenses that the forward pass is still a novelty.  But Joel Stave, Mitch Leidner, and whomever plays quarterback for Northwestern are going to throw for 450 yards against Nebraska, probably in the fourth quarter alone.  Get Banker out of here – now.

While we’re at it, let’s get rid of secondary coach Brian Stewart.  You know the problem with Daniel Davie this year?  Nobody is yelling at him.  I believe that for Davie to be an effective cornerback, he needs a coach willing and able to scream at him on national TV.  You know Riley is too soft to get the job done, so that puts it on Brian Stewart.  Apparently he’s not up to the task either, so he’s got to go.

And don’t get me started on the front seven of this defense.  Everybody says that Trent Bray is this hotshot up and coming linebacker coach, but he can’t get three starters on the field at the same time.  Instead he’s playing guys like Chris Weber.  Did you know he’s not the Chris Webber from the Michigan Fab Five team?  No, this Chris Weber is some white kid from Elkhorn.

Up front on the line, I have no idea what is going on.  Maliek Collins has yet to become an all time great player like Ndamukong Suh.  Heck, Collins may not even be the best player on the line this year.  That would be a former tight end.  Hank Hughes, I think you need to head back to Cincinnati.

But let’s not pretend that everything is peaches and herb on offense.  I think there need to be some changes there too.  Attention Danny Langsdorf:  I don’t care well Tommy Armstrong is playing, or that your offense is putting up big yards and 30+ points a game.  You need to scrap this pro style, West Coast, fancy pants offense for direct snaps to Andy Janovich.  Didn’t you watch the Southern Miss game?

Mike Cavanaugh, why do you only play five offensive linemen?  How are you supposed to build depth?  Haven’t you seen that one guy who sucks and the other guy who said those things on social media?  Since we can’t fire the players, we’re firing you.  And since lineman are supposed to block for running backs, feel free to hold the door open for Reggie Davis on your way out.  This bum Davis is incapable of convincing Riley that Mikale Wilbon should be the starter.  Don’t try to tell me that Wilbon’s lack of pass blocking ability may get Tommy Armstrong killed.  If Wilbon runs like he did on those three carries in the BYU game, we could win out with Janovich at QB….which come to think of it is not a bad idea.

I want to like this new receivers coach, Keith Williams, but Jordan Westerkamp has had like three balls hit his hands and not be caught.  That’s more drops than he had his first two seasons.  And don’t try to tell me he’s human, because I’ve watched the YouTube clip of that behind the back catch 200 times.  Speaking of receivers, I was told the tight ends were going to catch the ball in this offense, but the tight ends remain as effective as they were under Tim Beck – i.e. the apparent sixth progression after taking a 15 yard sack or throwing to Janovich.  I don’t care that as a grad assistant Tavita Thompson makes like $6.25 an hour, he needs to go.

Did you know Nebraska has a Special Teams Coordinator?  Seriously, that is his only job.  And get this – Bruce Read gets paid $450,000 a year.  For $450,000 a year, NU should never, ever miss a field goal, block at least three punts a game, and return the others for touchdowns.  And yet this chump Read allows an onside kick against Southern Miss?  Let’s go back to the days when one coach led a position group, coordinated the special teams, spearheaded recruiting, and put the “N” stickers on the helmets.

I think we need to make some changes in the strength and conditioning program too.  Michael Rose-Ivey and Josh Banderas are both out with groin injuries.  Since we blamed James Dobson for every ACL injury in the 402 area code, Mark Philipp needs to be held accountable for all pulls and sprains within the program.  But could you tell him that he’s been fired?  That dude frightens me.  Instead, I’ll tell Jamie Belt to pack up his dumbbells.  Look at this guy.  Seriously, this is an assistant strength coach?  Do you even lift, bro?  And what kind of name is Jamie?  My daughter is named Jamie.  She probably has a better bench press too.

If you look at all these losers who need to be fired immediately, there is a common thread* tying them together:  the chain of command that hired them:

*Okay, two common threads:  the chain of command and the ugly and unpopular adidas apparel everybody in the Athletic Department wears.  While we’re cleaning house, let’s send all of the adidas stuff to Goodwill – especially those alternate uniforms.  

Head Coach Mike Riley, it was a nice experiment.  Let’s see what happens when the nice guy coach from the crappy, underfunded program gets the keys to one of the richest and most passionate programs.  It worked for a while.  You said the right things, made us feel good, and won your way into our hearts with your “ah shucks” charm.  But enough is enough.  Bob Devaney didn’t start 1-2.  Neither did Tom Osborne.  Heck, even Callahan started 3-1.

But the biggest thing that ticks me off is this nice guy persona.  What a joke.   I didn’t realize it until I heard the host of one of the 16 post game call in shows say it last week:  you don’t show any emotion on the sidelines.  This must mean that you either don’t care or cannot fix the problems that are right in front of your 62 year old eyes.  And have you noticed how Riley is still living out of a hotel after nine months on the job?  Clearly, he’s going to jump at the first good job offer to come his way.  He’s probably itching to get back to the Canadian League.

And then there is guy who hired Riley:  Shawn Eichorst.  Obviously, all of this is Eichorst’s fault.  He hired Riley and his Band of Beavers.  More importantly, he fired Bo Pelini – a good coach who won nine games a year.  NINE!!  Do you know how many schools win nine games or more a year?  Only the top 30% of teams in college football, that’s who.  Eichorst should have swallowed his stupid pride and allowed a subordinate to walk all over him, publicly disrespect him and the University, and lose games any way he damn well pleased.

I bet Harvey Perlman is smiling at all of this.  You just know he has been dead set on destroying the University ever since he took over.  You know he gave Pedersen a contract extension, right?  Right?  Clearly he is the exact same as he was back then.  You realize that Harvey since was named chancellor in 2001 (on April Fool’s Day, I might add) Nebraska has not won a conference championship.  Coincidence?  Nope, it’s a “no-incidence”, as in there no way that is a coincidence.  While we can’t fire Perlman, I am counting down the days until retirement ends Harvey’s reign of terror.  Mark my words, Nebraska will never lose again once that BCS-loving scoundrel is gone.

While we’re cleaning house, we might as well get rid of all of the under-performing dead weight that surrounds this once glorious program.  These chumps may not be directly coaching the players on the field, but I guarantee you that their shoddy performance is to blame for the 2-2 start.  When I call your name, come forward to collect your pink slip:

  • Graduate Assistant Max Onyegbule.  What the hell kind of name is Onyegbule?  The first time I typed “Onyegbule”, I dislocated three fingers and my Spellcheck didn’t work for a month – and I type “Akinmoladun” on a regular basis.
  • Recruiting Coordinator Andy Vaughn.  I was looking at the latest recruiting rankings and see that Nebraska has commitments from several three star prospects.  Three stars?  You can’t be a dominating program with three stars.  This ain’t Corvalis, bub.  Why Nebraska is even offering guys with less than four stars is baffling to me.  But you totally need to offer this kid from my small town Nebraska high school.  He is tearing up class C-2 this year.
  • Chris Brasfield.  You call yourself a “director of high school relations”.  Ha!  Are you telling me that high school kids and/or football coaches are supposed to take you seriously?  You’re wearing a freaking bow tie!!  Who do you think you are, Ross Dzuris?
  • Graduate manager Hardie Buck.  What kind of made up, adult movie name is Hardie Buck?  Get out of here.
  • Public address announcer Lane Grindle.  I don’t really have a problem with you, but the team has played poorly since you became public address announcer.  We can’t take any chances if we want to return to dominance.  I’d apply for the job, but those comments I made about Perlman likely taken me out of the running.
  • Cornhusker Marching Band director Doug Bush.  I noticed that when the band forms the shape of Nebraska during the pregame spectacular, the shape is not geographically accurate.  The southern border is often crooked, and your woodwinds cannot form the Missouri River to save their lives.  Also, remember when you spelled out “Fear Ameer” last year?  It is inexcusable that you have yet to spell out “Son of a Janovich” at halftime.
  • Chris Pankonin.  Sonny boy, I have had enough of this Hip Hop Hogwash you play over the speakers.  You need to play more Black Betty.  And Seven Nation Army.  And Nickelback.
  • Assistant AD for Digital Communications Kelly Mosier.  Hey mister social media guru.  I tweet all game long, and not once have any of my tweets been shown on HuskerVision.  Are you afraid of the truth I’m bringing about how far this program has fallen?  Does my love for homegrown fullbacks make you uncomfortable?  Don’t suppress my First Amendment rights, Kelly!
  • Der Viener Schlinger guy.  Every game I see you shooting hot dogs into the West Stadium balcony and the sky boxes.  Why?  Surely the rich folks in the fancy seats can afford their own hot dogs.  Let’s see you put a dog in the 600 level of East, tough guy.

Hopefully by now you’ve realized* that this was written in Sarcasm Serif font (12 point).  It has only been four games, so calling for anybody’s job is so over the top knee jerkingly crazy – even by Nebraska fan standards – that I struggle to find an appropriate way to describe how ridiculous you sound.

*If not, I kindly suggest upping the dosage on your meds and/or switching your allegiance to the Iowa Hawkeyes.

I get it – you are not pleased with being 0-fer against teams that do not have “south” in their name.*  It is frustrating seeing team after team roll up 300 yards of passing while the cornerbacks refuse to look turn and look for the ball.

*Any chance we can get the Badgers to go by “South Wisconsin” next week?  Or maybe Southern Michigan State?

Maybe you have doubts about this pass-happy offense.  Yeah, it looks good now, but you’re concerned about what happens in November when it’s 12 degrees and the starting I Back is still bouncing every run to the outside.  Trust me, I’m with you:  Option football, when coached and run effectively, if absolute poetry.

But it sure is nice to not have to resign yourself to a punt when it’s 3rd and long.  This team is pretty good in 3rd and long.  I’m not sure if any Osborne team (save 1995) could make that claim.

And maybe you don’t think a coach that wins nine games every year should have been fired.  You are certainly entitled to that opinion.  My opinion is Bo was fired for multiple reasons, but his win/loss record was not among them – but that’s another post for another day.  Regardless, I’m guessing you gave Bo and his staff more than four games – or did you bail on him when he started 3-3?

At the end of the day – or at the end of the season – making massive changes to the staff if likely not the way to go.  Replacing coaches every couple of years takes a toll and makes the sustained success we all want that much harder to achieve.

I’ll tell you the same thing I tell my kids when we’re in the car and they’re getting antsy:  Take a breath, be patient, and enjoy the ride.

We’ll get there.

Big Ten Predictions – 2015

30 Sep

The Big Ten conference schedule kicks off in full this weekend, which means it’s time to predict how the teams will finish within their division.  I purposefully wait to make my picks until the non-conference schedule is over, so I can have a better idea of who is a contender and who is a pretender.  Given my prognosticating history, I need all the help I can get.

Once conference play gets rolling, I’ll do a weekly ranking of Big Ten teams 1 through 14, but for the initial round we’ll keep it East and West.  As we’ll discuss, the two divisions could not be more different this year.  Let’s start with the East…

East Division

The second edition of the Big Ten East reminds me a lot of the Big Eight of the 1980s.  Ohio State and Michigan State play the role of Nebraska and Oklahoma – legitimate national championship contenders, who will fight for the title.  Michigan has the role of Colorado – a team with potential, but one that’s probably a few years away.  The other four teams will play the role of KU, KSU, ISU, MU, and OSU – teams that will peak at average and will pose little threat to the two big dogs.

  1. Ohio State.  I know the Buckeyes have not been clicking on all cylinders.  Quarterback is still a bit of a question, but this program has earned the benefit of the doubt until somebody knocks them down.  Also, they host Michigan State in the Horseshoe.
  2. Michigan State.  Oregon’s blowout loss took some of the shine off of what initially looked like a big Spartan win.  Regardless, it’s still the best win by a Big Ten team this year.  Michigan State has a challenging conference schedule with road games at Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio State.  If they win all three of those, they will have earned the division title.
  3. Michigan.  It’s not that I think Hail to the Harbaughs are the third best in the division, it’s that nobody else has impressed me enough to be ranked ahead of the Wolverines.  If I could, I’d insert a blank space to help illustrate the gap OSU/MSU and Michigan.
  4. Indiana.  Picking the Hoosiers fourth is as much about the mediocrity of the division as it is about Indiana discovering how to play non-awful football.  They may be 4-0 now, but there is a good chance they;ll be 5-3 or even 4-4 by November 1.
  5. Penn State.  There are good arguments to be made for any of the three remaining teams to be picked last.  From what I’ve seen of Penn State, they look rather dreadful despite having one of the finest quarterback talents in the country in Christian Hackenberg (hashtag sarcasm font).  But, they already own a head to head win over Rutgers.  Expect the Nitany Lions to beat a team they have no business beating, but to lose a lot of ugly games.
  6. Maryland.  In my first draft, I had Maryland ahead of Penn State.  But as miserable as PSU has looked, they haven’t been blown out by West Virginia and – yikes – Bowling Green.  Maryland’s season may be uglier than their uniforms, which is saying a lot.
  7. Rutgers.  I’m a little disappointed that Rutgers beat Kansas.  Had they lost to the Jayhawks, Rutgers would have been locked into the #14 spot in the weekly power rankings for the season, no questions asked.    Seriously, it might have taken wins over Ohio State and Michigan State to remove them from the cellar.  As it is, the odds are very good the Scarlet Knights will have more suspensions (five, not including coach Kyle Flood) than wins.

West Division

The West should be wild this year, as every team except Illinois and Purdue has a puncher’s chance of winning a trip to Indianapolis be blown out by a far better team from the East.  Before the season, this looked like a three horse race between Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Minnesota.  But strong starts from Iowa and Northwestern have pushed them into the conversation.  Predicting an order of finish is like flipping a five-sided coin – it’s damn near impossible.  The two biggest factors in the West will likely be a) who can protect their home field and who has favorable cross-over games with the East.  Teams that can win on the road and/or avoid OSU and MSU will have a leg up.  Regardless, I’ll be surprised if a team wins this division with fewer than two losses.

  1. Wisconsin.  Much like Ohio State, Wisconsin gets the nod based more on track record than clear potential.  The injury to Corey Clement is big (Husker fans, feel free to insert a cell phone joke here), and the NFL scouts aren’t lining up to see Joel Stave.  But the Badgers do have the easiest cross over games (Rutgers and at Maryland), have Iowa at home, and likely have a healthy mental edge on Nebraska.
  2. Minnesota.  Arguably the best defense in the division, the Gophers would likely be a strong favorite if a) their offense was better and/or b) they didn’t have the toughest schedule in the division (Michigan and at Ohio State).  Still, you underestimate Minnesota at your own risk.
  3. Nebraska.  The Huskers have the best offense in the division, a very strong run defense, and game-changing weapons on special teams.  But the Big Red has big issues with pass defense and pass rush, and is paper-thin at many critical positions.    There are other concerns with NU’s ability to avoid penalties and mental errors, and to avoid the one quarter each game where nothing goes right.  NU certainly has the talent and coaching to win the division, but this program needs to prove it can win big games again.
  4. Northwestern.  In the relatively short time I’ve been following the Big Ten, one pattern has become clear:  When Northwestern gets preseason hype, they fall apart.  When the Wildcats are ignored, they are sneaky good.  This is a sneaky good year, having beaten Stanford and Duke (thus winning the Brainiac Cup).  October is big for the other NU:  if they can go 4-0 or 3-1 against Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, and Nebraska, they could coast into Indy.
  5. Iowa.  Kirk Ferentz’s seat was getting very very hot, but four straight wins have the Hawkeye faithful ready for a return to glory  – or at least willing to hold off on shoving Ferentz out the door.  If he can get a program that has been mediocre (if not bad) in the last three years to Indy, he deserves a contract extension.  Cross over games with Maryland and at Indiana will help his cause.
  6. Illinois.  It’s never good when you fire your head coach a week before the season starts, yet the Illini may be better for it – especially in the long run.  The issue in Champaign is talent and consistency.  Don’t be surprised if they play a spoiler role for one of the teams above them in the standings.
  7. Purdue.  The bad news:  The Boilermakers do not currently have a win over a FBS team.  The good news:  Purdue probably could finish fifth or sixth in the East.

 

Big Ten Championship

If everything holds to form, we’ll see a repeat of Ohio State and Wisconsin in Indianapolis.  This time, the Badgers make the game interesting…for a quarter, before the Buckeyes rout them again.

Dark horse prediction:  Michigan State pulls the upset in Columbus and heads to Indy undefeated and ranked #1.  They face a Nebraska team who lost 35-17 to the Spartans in Lincoln as Connor Cook threw for 375 yards and five touchdowns.  This time, Cook goes out with an early injury and Mark Banker’s run defense shuts down the Spartans.  Mike Riley’s offense clicks on all cylinders as Nebraska shocks the nation with a 31-9 win.

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