College Football

2016 Nebraska Predictions

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

*   *   *

Time to gaze into the crystal ball and make some predictions about the coming season.  Some of these are virtual locks to happen, but I am going to go out on a limb a couple of time.

Feel free to hold these against me throughout the season – assuming I don’t retract this post first.

Let’s start out with a doozy:

This is Keith Williams’ final season in Lincoln*.  He is a hot, hot, hot commodity, as witnessed by the parade of NFL talent coming to work out with him this summer.  It’s no secret that the receivers are the best position group on the team – and maybe in the conference.  Williams has made a name for himself on the recruiting trail too.

So where does he go?  I don’t see him moving on for a coordinator or head coaching job – every portrait of him paints him as a guy who truly loves the technical craft of being a wide receiver.  But I could see a big name college making a big push for him as a receivers coach, with a combined sales pitch of a big, big raise and easier access to talent.  The other possibility I see is Williams getting a job with an NFL team

*I wrote the previous two paragraphs prior to Williams’ August DUI arrest. While that third offense probably decreases the likelihood of another school poaching him away, it does increase the possibility that Williams does not return due to his legal issues.  I don’t necessarily he gets fired by Mike Riley or Shawn Eichorst; rather forces from outside the athletic department play a role.

Nebraska does not lose five games by less than a touchdown.  To be clear, I’m not saying that the Huskers won’t lose five games.  But if they do, they won’t all be last second heart breakers like BYU, Miami, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Northwestern.

Nebraska has a 1,000 yard rusher.  In 2015, Terrell Newby led the team with 786 rushing yards, the first time since 2008 that a Husker has failed to reach 1,000 yards in a season.  Assuming Riley holds true to his goal of finishing in the top three in rushing in the conference, this should be easy to obtain.  The big question is which of the backs gets the necessary yards.  I’ll put my money on Devine Ozigbo, but I think Newby could definitely get it done too.

The elusive 1,000 yard receiving season remains out of reach – for now.  Nobody has ever gone over 1,000 receiving yards in a season at Nebraska.  Jordan Westerkamp came the closest, racking up 918 a year ago.  But I doubtful that Westerkamp can match his yardage numbers from 2015.  That’s not a knock at Westy – arguably the best receiver to play at Nebraska – but more of a compliment towards the other receiving options on the team.  There are lots of guys deserving of targets, but only one ball to go around.

But don’t worry, I predict Nebraska has a 1,000 yard receiver within four seasons.

The Huskers throw fewer interceptions than 2015.  This one is (hopefully) a gimme, as matching the 21 picks from a year ago requires averaging 1.6 INTs a game.  Again, if Riley and Langsdorf stick to the ground game, this should be a slam dunk.

Nebraska still ends up negative in turnover margin.  As noted above, I think the Huskers cut down their interceptions thrown.  And I’m hopeful the defense can get some more turnovers too.  But they’ve been negative for so long, I don’t see a dramatic turnaround in one year.

Nebraska qualifies for a bowl game (without having to rely on their graduation rate).  To accomplish this, Nebraska needs to find six wins in their schedule.  Assuming Tommy Armstrong stays healthy, I feel confident in six wins.  But I’m not willing to predict nine (or more) wins until I see this team play a few games.

Move over “did you know they’re roommates?”, there’s a new go-to factoid.  Did you know that Armstrong and Jordan Westerkamp are roommates?  If you’ve watched any Nebraska game over the last few years, I guarantee you’ve heard this tidbit before as announcers love to sprinkle in little nuggets of information not found in the box score.

While we’ll continue to be reminded of how the QB and the WR live together*, it will be overshadowed by a new “did you know?” fact:  punter Caleb Lightbourn can solve a Rubik’s Cube in under a minute.

*And the announcers never mention their other roommate, tight end Trey Foster.  Poor Trey.  Your name is a symbol of your status as a third wheel.

Normally, I’d link to the video, but I’m so confident that you’ll hear about (and probably see) this accomplish every week that I’m not going to bother.

What about you?  What predictions are you willing to make?

2016 Husker Preview – Reasons for Pessimism

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.

2016 Husker Preview – Reasons for Optimism

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 off-season is always an optimistic time for the college football fan.  Everybody is undefeated, and the world is filled with positive, glass overflowing stories of why this year will be better than last year.

Yes, coming off of a disappointing 6-7 season, pretty much anything is going to be an improvement.  But the key is knowing where to be optimistic and where to be realistic.

So where should you be optimistic of the 2016 Husker team?  Let’s count the ways:

Nebraska has excellent front line talent.

For better or for worse, the roster looks very different from the day Mike Riley took over.  After shaking out some non-contributors and other who didn’t buy in to the Riley way, the depth in some positions is paper-thin.  But I really like Nebraska’s top end talent.

Look across the top 22:  The number of guys with legitimate NFL potential is much higher than the number of “this is the best we can do?” guys.  To put it another way:  talent-wise, I’d put Nebraska’s starters up against anybody in the Big Ten, and especially the West.  Some of these are names you know (Westerkamp, Carter, Gerry, and others) and some are going to be new (Stoltenberg, Knevel, Farmer, and more).

The challenge obviously is with keeping guys healthy and depth.  Until I see something different on the field, I still believe there is a decent gap between the 1’s and the 2’s at a majority of positions.  But I expect that gap to decrease and younger guys get more reps and more comfortable with NU’s system.

Tommy Armstrong

I get it.  With Armstrong, it is much easier to focus on the negative than the positive.  And he has done things over the years to earn that negativity, but here is why you should be optimistic on #4:

  • He is going to be a four-year starter.  While a lot of that has to do with NU’s QB depth and development, being a four-year starter is huge advantage in terms of experience and poise.
  • It is his second year in the Riley/Langsdorf system.  Tommy should be more comfortable in what he is doing, and know how to execute the offense better.
  • Along the same lines, Riley and Langsdorf know how to use Tommy better than they did a year ago.  Armstrong is not Sean Mannion, but that doesn’t mean he can succeed in Langsdorf’s offense.  NU’s coaches know his strengths and weaknesses, and can call plays that put him in a position to be successful.
  • He is surrounded with talent. Armstrong’s receivers are likely the most talented group in school history.  Nebraska has four capable running backs to take the pressure off the passing game.  Finally, his offensive line should be improved, giving him more time to operate.  With the talent around him, the hope should be that Armstrong is able to thrive in the “game manager” role.
  • The defense should be improved.  Nobody inside the program would say this, but last year I often got the sense that Armstrong felt he needed to score on every position because the defense wasn’t always capable of stopping other teams.  How many of his interceptions were the result of him trying to force a throw or make something out of nothing.  If Tommy has faith the defense can hold a team to 20 points of less, I think he’ll be more inclined to play it safe on offense.

Should you expect Armstrong to be an All Big Ten quarterback?  Probably not, but if he can protect the ball and make plays with his feet, Nebraska can improve greatly.

 

The coaching is improved.

From everything you see and hear, John Parrella is a major upgrade over Hank Hughes.  Parrella is an energetic, passionate teacher who has the NFL experience to command attention.  Additionally, he is a native son, NU alumnus, and proud caretaker of the Blackshirts tradition.  But the improvements go beyond Coach Parrella.

I’m a firm believer that, top to bottom, this staff has better teachers and developers of talent than the previous staff.  We saw some of that last year with the surprising success of Trent Bray’s linebackers, the receiver play, and other individual positions.  I’m excited to see the technical growth and development after another spring and fall camp working with these coaches.

Riley and his staff rightfully took their lumps for some…um…curious decisions during games.  But if you look at the course of the season, the decision-making got better as the season went on (with a notable exception against Iowa).  In what should not be surprise to anybody, the Big Ten is a vastly different league than the Big Ten.  More importantly, the expectation level, pressure to succeed, and everything else is much higher at Nebraska than at Oregon State.  The firing of Hughes should show that Riley and company are serious on winning – and winning now.

The “Year Two” jump

It happens frequently in college football: In the first season after a coaching change, a team struggles and puts up a bad record. In year two, everything seems to click and dramatic improvement occurs.

There is a lot of logic for why this occurs so often.  In the second year, the players who didn’t transfer out should be fully bought in to the new staff and the system they run.  Schemes and concepts that were new a year ago should now be second nature. Especially on defense, less thinking almost always equals faster play.

Additionally, the coaches are more comfortable with the players they inherited, have two classes of their own in the system, and have first hand knowledge of what it takes to be successful at their new school/conference.

While I think expecting a Year Two jump on the level of Bob Stoops at Oklahoma is beyond optimistic, it’s very reasonable to believe NU will be noticeably improved in many areas – including their overall record.

Surely, Nebraska’s luck in close games will change, right?

If you lived through 2015 season – especially the seven losses – you probably don’t need a reminder of how Nebraska fared in games decided by a touchdown or less.  Let’s just say it was not good.

To me, “luck” is a coin flip – those moments where you can’t predict which way a football will bounce when it hits the ground.  Sometimes you catch the Hail Mary.  Sometimes your opponent catches it.  The best you can do is hope that the football gods eventually bring you good fortune.

But a lot of Nebraska’s close losses came down to things that NU can control:  calling a better play, properly managing the clock, having presence of mind on the field to not audible into a pass or commit a stupid penalty.  Experience can be an excellent teacher, and the 2015 Huskers went through an advanced course in bad experiences.

Hopefully they learned from it.

History says Huskers must get tough at the top – A rebuttal

In today’s Omaha World-Herald, longtime columnist Lee Barfknecht lays out his case for how Nebraska – particularly the football program – can return to national prominence.  In Barfknecht’s opinion, it all boils down to a single word:

Toughness.

Having read this column a couple of times, I think it all boils down to a single word:

Bull___.

I know that over the years, Lee has proudly embraced his title of “Nebraska writer Nebraska fans love to hate”.  But I’ve never hated him or his work.  Actually, quite the opposite.  I tend to appreciate his experience, his no-nonsense approach, and the cutting wit he unleashes at anything – or anybody.  But this is not his best work.

The most passionate of Husker fans usually don’t care for his words and actions – all stemming from an infamous vote in the 1997 AP Football Poll – but he usually makes good points and delivers them with a strong – if rough around the edges – style.

But this is not one of those times.

For ease of showing you why, I’ve pasted the original World-Herald column below, along with my comments.  Lee’s words are in bold.  Mine are not.

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People who know what I do for a living occasionally ask if I’m going to write a book about Nebraska football. It’s true that I’ve seen a few things.

Before I start laying the snark on thick and heavy, let me state this:  I would read this book.  For all of his quirks, Lee has a talent for taking old stories from the barroom to the page without losing their humor or timing.

I sat across from Bob Devaney at his desk in the old South Stadium and shared a few end-of-the-day cocktails while discussing “world events.” (Hey, when they name buildings for you, you can bend the rules about no alcohol on campus.)

As we go through this column, we’re going to play a game I like to call “Lee Barfknecht Bingo”.  When Lee uses one of his tried and true tropes, you can mark a space off on your card.  We’re going to start the game off with a two-fer:  Lee references the length of his career, and Lee waxes nostalgic for the old-school journalistic access he used to have.  Keep watching those Bingo cards, because we’re likely to have a winner today.

I watched Tom Osborne come within a whisker of using the F-word to describe “that dadgum Sports Illustrated guy” writing a story that Osborne was sure to dislike.

I don’t want to doubt a man’s journalistic integrity, but raise your hand if you think Osborne has ever come close to cursing – let alone an F-bomb.

And I’ve seen grown men cry when I went to the Minnesota locker room after Nebraska beat the Gophers 84-13.

There are plenty more tales. But if a book ever comes, be prepared for a big chapter on a topic almost never addressed:

How in the world did Nebraska get good at football in the first place?

Actually, that topic has been addressed in several Nebraska Football books over the years, but whatever.

That’s not a knock.

It’s important to call out the one sentence in your column that is not a knock.

It’s a compliment to the ingenuity, work ethic and toughness — especially the toughness, which we’ll address later — it took to overcome a virtual automatic disqualifier to success: being a small-population flyover state with a wide geographic area.

Nebraska, from the chancellor’s office on down, took football seriously from the beginning, and it thrived. The Huskers won 77 percent of their games from 1900-40, and finished the 1940 season in the Rose Bowl, the school’s first postseason trip.

What followed was two decades of darkness, notable for lackluster administrative commitment to the sport after World War II and shaky coaching hires.

NU posted three winning seasons in 21 years, and won 37 percent of its games. That’s a level of misery an old Kansas State fan could identify with.

I hope some of the other program historians (Mike Babcock, I’m looking in your direction) weigh in on if that 21 stretch of misery was truly due to “lackluster administrative commitment to the sport”.  Furthermore, how would you quantify what a “lackluster administrative commitment to the sport” looked like 60 -70 years ago?  Is Lee basing his thesis of “lackluster administrative commitment to the sport” solely on “shaky coaching hires”?  Or is there more to it?  And if there is more there, what lens is he viewing it with – one from post-war NU or one from the arms race era of college athletics?

In big-boy college athletics, I’m a firm believer that coaches win games while administrations clear the way for championships. That’s why I love what Nebraska Athletic Director Tippy Dye declared as he searched for a new football coach in 1962.

Dye’s goals were for Nebraska to be No. 1 nationally, and to hire the best coach in the country, regardless of name or location. Boosters, community leaders and his boss were in lockstep with him.

No argument here on administrations “clearing the way” for championships, or an AD whose stated goal is to be number 1.  Unless somebody can point me to a quote that says otherwise, I’m pretty sure the current athletic department leadership at Nebraska has stated they want to win championships – just like every other AD since Tippy Dye.

Dye picked Devaney, coming off four conference titles in a row at Wyoming.

The former amateur boxer and assistant to Michigan State legend Duffy Daugherty whipped Nebraska into shape immediately, going 9-2 his first season to start a staggering 40-year run of success. What followed were five national championships between Devaney and Osborne, his hand-picked successor.

But since Osborne’s successor, Frank Solich, led NU to the 1999 Big 12 title and the 2001 national title game, this program has lost its championship mojo.

I sure hope Lee doesn’t try to boil the failures and shortcomings of the program since 62-36 into a single point, because that would be ignorant, misleading, and/or lazy.  There are a host of reasons – both internal and external –  why Nebraska has fallen from a championship-level powerhouse to an “Others Receiving Votes” school.  You definitely cannot do all of those reasons justice in a 1,500 word column.

That brings us to today’s topic, just six days from the 2016 opener:

Will the Huskers ever get good enough to win championships again?

No excuse exists for a school that spends the time, energy and money on football that Nebraska does to go 16 seasons without a conference title. That goes double when you play in the woefully average Big 12 North and Big Ten West.

First off, what the hell does “woefully average” mean?  A division can be average, or woeful, but not both.  And what about the short-lived Legends division?  Personally, I always considered the Legends to be spectacularly mediocre.  But I digress…

Yes, the Big XII North and Big Ten West have been – woefully or not – average over most of the last 16 seasons.  But let’s not pretend like the Big 8 was a grueling gauntlet for most of the Devaney/Osborne years.  Personally, I believe that in the conference championship game era, a division title is equivalent to a conference title in the pre-BCS era.  You played one really good team (Oklahoma), and few above average teams (Colorado and Missouri or Okie State) and bunch of nobodies (Iowa State, K-State, Kansas, etc.).  How is that different from the path NU took to win the Legends in 2012? Or the Big XII North in 2006, 2009, or 2010?  It’s not.

Swallow hard before you read the following:

A suggestion:  World-Herald editors may want to consider printing this disclaimer before the next click-bait column they publish.

Nebraska has the third-longest conference title drought among the 14 Big Ten schools. Only Indiana and Minnesota (both 1967) are more barren. You are known by the company you keep.

On the surface, this is a great and damning stat that helps set the stage for the point that Lee is about to make.  But when you look a little deeper, this stat is fluffed up bull.  For example, look at some of these memorable championship seasons:

  • Four of those teams (Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue) shared their championship with another team.
  • That Northwestern championship squad (2000) was so great they ended up in the Alamo Bowl where non-conference champ Nebraska narrowly defeated them 66-17.
  • As for the other B1G newcomers, Maryland won a 9-team ACC in 2000.  That is a legit championship, unlike Rutgers:  The 2012 Scarlet Knights were one of four teams (in an eight team Big East) who finished 5-2, which technically made them co-champs with Cincy, Syracuse, and Louisville.  Louisville was the conference’s BCS representative, mainly due to beating Rutgers head to head.

Are any of these “championships” more impressive than being one second away from defeating Texas in Dallas in 2009?  I get that in sports, titles are the ultimate decider for an argument, but there are a lot of apples being compared to oranges here.

We all realize the landscape of college football has changed dramatically the past 20 years. Many of the competitive edges Nebraska used to hold — in strength training, nutrition, facilities, TV appearances, academic support — are gone or dwindling.

Translation:  “I acknowledge these things may have as big of an impact as what I’m about to mention, but they don’t fit my narrative so I summarily dismiss them.”

So is something else: toughness.

When is somebody in charge at One Memorial Stadium Drive going to throw open a window and scream, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” instead of tweeting mushy motivational sayings?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a window at One Memorial open.  Do they lift up?  Crank out?  Maybe the issue is not with toughness, but an inability to open the windows.  Somebody get Maintenance and Facilities on the phone!

Also, mark off the Bingo square for “veiled shot at Shawn Eichorst”.

Nebraska has long achieved athletically in ways the outside world never thought possible. Two major reasons were the guts to hold people accountable and sheer determination.

It took toughness from Francis Allen to turn Nebraska into a national championship gymnastics school.

It took toughness from Dave Van Horn and his Husker baseball team to perform a College World Series miracle while playing at decrepit Buck Beltzer Stadium.

It took toughness from Terry Pettit to build a national championship volleyball empire from scratch, and more grit from John Cook to demand more excellence going forward.

It took toughness from Connie Yori to turn Husker women’s basketball into a top-15 program nationally, arguably NU’s most underrated success story. Why she isn’t still in charge makes little sense.

I’m not touching the Yori issue, but otherwise the answer is clear:  to win championships you simply need to hire legendary coaches!  Feel free to mark off “overly simplified solution to complex problem” on your Bingo card.

It took toughness from Bill Byrne to hire strong-minded coaches with successful pedigrees, to modernize Nebraska’s facilities despite roadblocks from old-guard boosters, and to set expectations for what turned into the Golden Decade of NU athletics (1992-2001).

I was not aware that Byrne hired Francis Allen, Terry Pettit, and Tom Osborne.  Good to know.

One of Byrne’s favorite things as athletic director was to tell his coaches, “You need to think about how to win a national title, and I’ll do everything I can to help.” It wasn’t a threat. It was about building a championship mindset.

Is anybody in NU’s athletic administration doing that today? The scoreboard in most sports says no.

The key part of that last sentence is the disclaimer “in most sports”.  Let’s ignore the National Championship the Volleyball team won as well as other conference championship teams – those don’t help Lee make his point.

Bingo card alert:  “Lee takes a direct shot at Eichorst”.  Is Lee implying that Eichorst is not offering to help his coaches win titles?  Or is question of “Is anybody in NU’s athletic administration doing that today?” a passive aggressive swipe at Eichorst for not doing a sit-down interview with Lee every month?  If you answer yes, feel free to also mark off “Lee is bitter because Eichorst prefers to not do interviews”.

And then there’s perhaps the toughest dude of all — Osborne.

Nebraska football always has been a far more fragile entity than the general public would believe, or want to know. It took Osborne, calm on top and paddling like crazy underneath, to keep what Devaney resurrected on track.

I’d love to know more about this statement.  If Lee does ever write that book, he should make it about this.

When it came time to put in the work necessary to play championship football, neither Osborne nor his staff and players took shortcuts.

The veracity of this statement really comes down to if you consider Prop 48 usage, some questionable disciplinary decisions, alleged steroid, and other rumors to be “shortcuts” or not.  Let’s just say that several of our former Big 8 rivals rolled their eyes at that claim.

Big Eight coaches used to discuss the dread they had seeing “Nebraska” on the schedule. It wasn’t the losses that bothered them most. It was the relentless effort the Huskers played with, and the physical beating inflicted that often lingered into the next game.

About a month after Osborne won the 1994 national championship, I asked if his quiet nature and strong Christian faith were ever at odds with the ruggedness his teams exhibited. He said no.

“You don’t win football games with choirboys,” Osborne said. “You’ve got to be tough to play. There’s no reason you can’t kick the tar out of somebody on the field and respect them off of it.”

First off all, that is a tremendous question to ask – and an even better answer.  It shows that Barfknecht is an excellent journalist (or at least he was in 1995).  And it helps show just how competitive the stoic Osborne was.

That culture has vanished since self-described genius A.D. Steve Pederson uprooted the Devaney-Osborne-Solich tree.

Bill Callahan’s West Coast offense was all about finesse and playing for field goals. Bo Pelini, despite his bully routine, put zero fear into opposing coaches. His teams tackled poorly, were fundamentally unsound and cracked in the biggest games on the brightest stages.

That Bingo card is really starting to fill up.  Mark down “Lee takes a shot a Bo Pelini”, “Lee takes a shot at Steve Pedersen”, and “Lee takes a shot at Bill Callahan”.

Now, we’re one year in with Mike Riley, an extremely nice man who went 6-7 and got outcoached by Purdue’s Darrell Hazell, who is 3-30 against FBS foes.

Check off “Lee makes a back-handed compliment”.  Also, in doing this exercise, I’ve really noticed just how little Lee cares for the Riley hire.  Clearly, he thinks that Eichorst could have – and should have – done better, but I don’t recall who he suggested NU pursue.  Probably Nick Saban.

And we’re four years in with A.D. Shawn Eichorst, also a very nice man whose Student-Athlete Experience policy is noble.

No, you cannot mark off “Lee makes a back-handed compliment” twice.

But a lot of the benefits and goodies that go to athletes today look to me like he’s spoiling children to get them to like him. Good luck finding many success stories where the teenagers are empowered and the adults (coaches) are hamstrung.

Check off “Lee makes a ‘get offa my lawn!’ statement”.  Maybe the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab can implement a test to gauge an athlete’s ability to walk to school, uphill, through a driving blizzard.

I cannot recall if Lee is on the bandwagon for paying athletes since colleges and the NCAA make billions off of their efforts.  I hope not, because that paragraph where he mocks Eichorst for doing everything in his power to give a piece of Nebraska’s profits to the student-athletes would make him a championship-level hypocrite.

So where is the toughness?

Good question.  Maybe the NAPL can set up a test for this.  Or maybe analytics guru Tucker Zeleny can develop an advanced metric for toughness – along with measuring an athlete’s “heart” and ability to be “clutch”.

Big Ten Network analysts asked that at a recent Husker practice, calling the workout “Pac-12 style.” That’s Riley’s old league, known far more for finesse than power. The Big Ten is sausage-ball, made at the line of scrimmage.

Absolutely.  Nebraska has depth issues at a number of positions – specifically on both lines – but Riley should spend every practice doing full contact scrimmages and Oklahoma drills before embarking on the first nine game schedule in a “sausage-ball” league.  Brilliant!

Toughness isn’t an issue at Michigan. Ask tight end Jake Butt about playing for coach Jim Harbaugh.

“He forces us to be tough,” the senior All-America candidate said. “When you practice for four hours and you’re smashing into each other, you don’t have any choice but to be tough.”

And how does Michigan A.D. Warde Manuel support Harbaugh’s methods and madness?

“He has free rein,” Manuel said. “I want Jim Harbaugh to be Jim Harbaugh.”

Warde, good on you for putting out a quote that will be trotted out every time Harbaugh does something crazy.

Toughness isn’t an issue at Ohio State. All-America middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan said the Buckeyes’ fall camp is no place for the weak or timid. All involved are utterly accountable to coach Urban Meyer — every play, every day.

“The sense of urgency we have comes from the tradition we have at Ohio State,” McMillan said. “Failure isn’t an option. They put us through the ringer.”

Depth isn’t an issue at Ohio State either.  When you can put 14 guys in the NFL and still be a preseason Top 10 team, you clearly have a talent level that most teams do not enjoy.  Also, how exactly does Urb hold players “utterly accountable”?  If he’s doing something with accountability that NU is not, this would be a good time to pass that along.

Toughness isn’t an issue at Michigan State or Wisconsin, either. Those schools have taken the former Nebraska way of doing things and successfully made it their own.

Where does all this leave Nebraska?

Having to respond to a widely read column that provides no answers or ideas other than a vague concept impossible to measure?  Much like his bizarre crusade to improve Nebraska Basketball by retiring Tyronn Lue’s number, this column is little more than an excuse for Lee to lash out at NU’s administration.  Friends, that is a final box on our Bingo card!

After 40 years of quality football, 20 years of darkness, then 40 more years of championship-caliber play, the Huskers are about to complete another 20-year period of failing to strike fear in opponents. You see it on the field, and I hear it in the press boxes.

Whether NU will soon pivot toward another long period of success remains a mystery. What is clearer is the road this school has taken to get there. It starts at the intersection of toughness and accountability.

I still don’t know what point Lee is trying to make with “accountability”?  Is he trying to say that Eichorst should fire Riley if the team is not three wins better – er, tougher – than they were in 2015?  I doubt that is the case, since a) Lee regularly writes about how schools on the coaching change carousel rarely exit, and b) it would ignore how Eichorst held Pelini accountable by firing him.

Furthermore, how does Lee account for the discrepancy between his poster child of toughness – Osborne the coach – versus a man who hired many of the coaches responsible for the poor championship “scoreboard” Lee chastises Eichorst for – Osborne the Athletic Director?  Pelini, Tim Miles, and Darin Erstad were all hired under Osborne’s watch.

Surviving the College Football Offseason

We’ve almost made it.

There are just 31 days left until the start of football season.

Yes, I know that football, in the form of college and NFL camps is already here. NFL preseason games will be starting in a week or so, and the first college game will be played before August ends.

But here, in the heart of Big Red Country, football season begins when the Cornhuskers take the field against Fresno State on September 3 – just 31 days from now.

In theory, this should be the easy part.  If you have survived the prolonged football drought between end of the Spring Game and the start of Fall camp, another month won’t be a big issue, right?

Wrong.

I don’t know why, but these last few weeks of the offseason can be brutal.  The anticipation builds, and thoughts of Football Saturdays fill your head, making time pass slower than a snail stuck in molasses.

Fortunately, help is here.  I have mapped out the next 31 days, providing you with a way to get your football fix, as well as help pass the time until kickoff.

Wednesday, August 3

Attend Fan Day, and show the nation how much our fans love this team.  Unless you are getting autographs for somebody under 13, let the little kids cut in front of you.

 

Thursday, August 4

Plan your menu for the season opening tailgate.  Burgers or brats?  Beer or Husker Punch?  Pretzels or potato chips?

 

Friday, August 5

Memorize the name, jersey number, and hometown for every player on the current roster.  Amaze your friends by naming all of the Gretna Dragons on the roster.

 

Saturday, August 6

Freak out about this year’s alternate uniforms and/or adidas.  Flood social media with your thoughts on why Nike / Under Armour / Russell Athletic would be better.

 

Sunday, August 7

Start growing your Ross Dzuris tribute mustache.

 

Monday, August 8

Mondays are the 11 am games of weekdays.  So let’s get fired up for 11 am games by listening to the soothing tones of Beth Mowins.

 

Tuesday, August 9

Donate to Team Jack.  And while you’re there, VOTE to help Jack’s dad Andy Hoffman win $100,000 to help fight pediatric brain cancer.  Be sure to vote every day.

 

Wednesday, August 10

In Nebraska, Football Season cannot start until Road Construction season ends.  Therefore, volunteer your time on road construction crews between your home and Memorial Stadium.

 

Thursday, August 11

Using Photoshop, Illustrator, MS Paint, or crayons, create a series of alternate Husker uniform and helmet concept drawings. Bonus points for creativity and a total disregard for tradition!

 

Friday, August 12

Resist the urge to share those uniform concepts on Facebook, Twitter, or message boards.  Seriously, just delete the evidence.

 

Saturday, August 13

Honor the memories of Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler by making a difference in your community.  #RIP27

 

Sunday, August 14

Vote in every online contest involving Nebraska, as many times as possible – including the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, which could give $100,000 to the Team Jack Foundation.  Repeat daily.

 

Monday, August 15

Send awkward “#Huskers!  GBR!” tweets to potential recruits.

Actually – don’t do this.

Ever.

Seriously, do not do it.

Instead, stare at the Countdown to Kickoff timer on the HuskerMax home page.  That is more productive – and far less creepy – than sending unsolicited messages to teenage boys.

 

Tuesday, August 16

Finally learn the words to “Hail Varsity”.  Practice in the shower, on the drive to work, or in meetings.

 

Wednesday, August 17

Reread all of my HuskerMax writings from the last four years, or check out some of my other musings here.

 

Thursday, August 18

Start carrying a helium filled red balloon with you everywhere you go.  Just in case.

 

Friday, August 19

Donate your old “My Bo-Friend’s Back” t-shirt to Goodwill.  Replace it with a Calibraska shirt or something that shows your fondness for Jayskers or Iowa.

 

Saturday, August 20

Practice setting up your tailgate spread in the Walmart parking lot.  Bonus points if you stay there all afternoon.

 

Sunday, August 21

Spend the day watching old games on BTN.  Or better yet, try YouTube where you can find forgotten games like this 1989 clash against Northern Illinois.  Gary Gdowski and Ken Clark look good running the option.

 

Monday, August 22

For those of you on Twitter, be sure to follow @ZombieDevaney, @NURadioCaller, @NoCoastHatch@FeitCanWrite and of course, @FauxPelini.  There are dozens of other great NU follows, but these are some personal favorites well worth your time.

 

Tuesday, August 23

Hire a band to play No Place Like Nebraska and March Grandioso for you.

 

Wednesday, August 24

Blame something on Steve Pederson, Bill Callahan, and/or Harvey Perlman for old times’ sake.  Bonus points if they could not possibly be responsible for whatever you’re blaming them for.

 

Thursday, August 25

Write letters to Big Ten West head coaches challenging them to punt to De’Mornay Pierson-El.

 

Friday, August 26

Spend a hilarious afternoon lost in the Tunnel Walk of Shame archives.

 

Saturday, August 27

This is the last Saturday before Nebraska football.  It might not be a bad idea to spend time with your spouse, children, or other loved ones – because January is a long ways away.

 

Sunday, August 28

Attend church, and pray for at least nine wins, zero arrests, fewer turnovers, better decision-making by the coaches, and good weather for the home games.  Bonus points if you yell “Down in front!” when the congregation stands up.

 

Monday, August 29

Revolve this week’s meals around the three basic food groups:  Runzas, Fairbury Hot Dogs, and Valentino’s pizza.

Bonus:  If your Ross Dzuris tribute mustache isn’t panning out, you should be able to get one of these delivered before kickoff.

 

Tuesday, August 30

Obtain a list of email addresses for all Heisman Trophy voters.  Just in case…

 

Wednesday, August 31

Go door to door selling remaining tickets so the sellout streak endures another year.  Collect deposits for the 2017 season.

 

Thursday, September 1

Create a playlist of songs that would be perfect to replace Sirius for the Tunnel Walk.  Keep this playlist to yourself.  Those songs suck.

 

Friday, September 2

Stay up all night worrying about our depth at long snapper, and obsessing because ESPN hasn’t mentioned Nebraska.

 

Saturday, September 3

Game day.  Get there early, cheer loud, and stay positive the first time a drive does not end in a touchdown.

 

I know these next 31 days will not always be easy, but if we work together as a team we can achieve anything – even the dog days of summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Nebraska 30 for 30? Careful What You Wish For

Over the last few years, Nebraska fans have been asking for ESPN to produce a “30 for 30” documentary on the “glory years” Nebraska teams of the mid 1990s.  I lost track of how many times I saw this idea come up on radio shows, message boards, or Twitter.  Finally, those requests have been heard as a film covering the 1994 and 1995 teams is being created.

Just be careful of what you’re wishing for, Husker fans…

On the surface, I understand the appeal.  The majority of 30 for 30 films are excellent.  They provide a great insight into people, places, and moments in time that make up the sporting landscape.  The unprecedented success of Nebraska between 1993 and 1997 (three national championships, with a missed field goal and a team wide flu outbreak standing in the way of five titles in a row) is certainly a memorable time for many college football fans.

What if I told you…

Then there are a personalities from that era:  the consummate winner Tommie Frazier, the beloved backup Brook Berringer, the passionate leadership of Grant Wistrom and Jason Peter, the hard-working in-state walk ons, the list goes on.  And never forget legendary coach Tom Osborne transforming from the guy who couldn’t win the big one to one of the greatest coaches in college football history.

In the eyes of some fans, the documentary would (if not should) be a 90 minute love fest for all things Nebraska.  It would be like those silly hype videos K-State used to produce after they beat Nebraska – just with better production values.

But that assumption is wrong.

There is no drama or national interest in exploring why NU’s walk-on program and a large crop of in-state players were a vital part of that run.  Any discussion of how the 1995 team shut up Steve Spurrier and the ESPN talking heads would probably be left on the digital editing equivalent of the cutting room floor.  Yes, the 1995 team is likely the greatest team of all time, but don’t expect to watch a highlight video.

Instead, a Nebraska 30 for 30 will likely focus on the things that darken that period.  Lawrence Phillips.  Christian Peter.  Tyronne Williams.  Riley Washington.  The tension between Tommie and Brook.  Tom Osborne becoming a “win at all costs” coach.  CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg.  Scott Frost campaigning for a title after Osborne’s retirement.  Where Scott Frost was rumored to be the night Phillips was arrested.  The decline of the program after Osborne left.  Who knows what other skeletons and whispered rumors may come to life that would cast a permanent shadow over an era that Nebraska fans consider sacred?

In 2014, BTN produced “Unbeaten: The Life of Brook Berringer“, a beautiful and moving documentary on the life and playing career of Brook Berringer.  I’m guessing that film inspired a lot of the desire for a 30 for 30 film.

Best case scenario, the documentary is made by a film maker with Nebraska ties or who bleeds Big Red.  The film is a 90 minute highlight reel of the championship teams, with little to no mention on the player arrests during the championship run, and fades to black as Tom and Nancy Osborne walk out of Memorial Stadium the day after the 1998 Orange Bowl.  But do you really think ESPN would make that movie – let alone air it?  I don’t buy into the perception of an ESPN bias against Nebraska, but that film probably goes straight to the Watch ESPN app.

More realistically, expect a 30 for 30 on the 1994 and 1995 Nebraska Cornhusker teams to open with the embarrassing losses to Miami and Georgia Tech, and Osborne’s realization that he needed more speed – especially on defense.  Nebraska gets those players – by taking advantage of Prop 48 rules and taking guys with questionable character.  The film likely spends a chunk of time on Phillips and Osborne’s decision to reinstate him while trotting out the old narrative that Osborne was focused more on winning than helping a troubled kid.  The arrest records of other Husker players are discussed, possibly with more information coming to light on how things were swept under the rug.  Who knows what other skeletons will be found in the closet when people go in with bright lights and high def cameras?

Remember:  a lot has changed in the last 20 years.  The influence of Osborne and the football program – both within the University and in Lincoln – no longer exists in college football.  Crimes by athletes, especially those against women, are handled differently – and usually much harsher – than they used to be.  Things that we accepted as a price of success in 1995 may seem outrageous in today’s climate.  The average viewer is likely to come away from the film thinking “Wow, Nebraska was a great program – but at what cost?”

Will you and I watch it?  Absolutely.  Heck, ESPN will probably never have better ratings in the state of Nebraska then when this thing airs.  Will some fans be upset or disappointed by it?  I’d bet on it.  Will it be a good reflection of Osborne, the program, the University, and an era that fans consider sacred?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Bottom line:  You asked for a 30 for 30, and you’re getting one.  I just hope you know what you asked for.

The Greatest of All Time and the (North)worst of the Year

Thanks for stopping by!  While I am very grateful for those who take the time to read my work, I would greatly it if you read this one on HuskerMax.com.  

Why?  As a writer for the site, I earn a fraction of a penny per page view.  And with three mouths to feed, and a poor wife who becomes a football widow 12 Saturdays a year, I need those penny parts to keep everybody happy.  

Thank you,

Feit Can Write

Playing For Bits of a Broken Season

Thanks for stopping by!  While I am very grateful for those who take the time to read my work, I would greatly it if you read this one on HuskerMax.com.  

Why?  As a writer for the site, I earn a fraction of a penny per page view.  And with three mouths to feed, and a poor wife who becomes a football widow 12 Saturdays a year, I need those penny parts to keep everybody happy.  

Thank you,

Feit Can Write

Another Bad(ger) Break

Thanks for stopping by!  While I am very grateful for those who take the time to read my work, I would greatly it if you read this one on HuskerMax.com.  

Why?  As a writer for the site, I earn a fraction of a penny per page view.  And with three mouths to feed, and a poor wife who becomes a football widow 12 Saturdays a year, I need those penny parts to keep everybody happy.  

Thank you,

Feit Can Write

Take it on the Run

Thanks for stopping by!  While I am very grateful for those who take the time to read my work, I would greatly it if you read this one on HuskerMax.com.  

Why?  As a writer for the site, I earn a fraction of a penny per page view.  And with three mouths to feed, and a poor wife who becomes a football widow 12 Saturdays a year, I need those penny parts to keep everybody happy.  

Thank you,

Feit Can Write

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