Nebraska Should Leave the Big Ten

A lot has changed since the Nebraska Cornhuskers played their last college baseball game.

On March 11, 2020, the Huskers beat Northern Colorado 8-1, their third straight win. However, it would be the final game the Huskers played in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the remainder of the season, the Big Ten tournament, and the College World Series.

Even though the pandemic is still very much on-going, college sports have mostly returned. The schedules for the Huskers football*, basketball, and volleyball seasons were all impacted by both the pandemic and mandates from the Big Ten office.

*My apologies if I triggered anybody’s PTSD caused by a summer of self-inflicted scheduling woes, anti-Nebraska rhetoric, and Sir Yacht tweets.

In a normal year, the college baseball season would be starting in a few short weeks. We would be reading about the 14″ inches of snow from last Monday’s storm that is forcing the team to practice indoors as they prepare to open their season in Arizona or Texas.

But this will not be a normal year. As of this post, there is no baseball schedule for 2021. The Big Ten Conference has yet to announce anything, although it is widely believed that the league will make teams play a conference-only schedule. Here is the latest information from Kendall Rogers of

The conference-only plan would be especially hard on a team like Nebraska that is a) and in need of experience for a young roster, and b) at the far western edge of the conference. The closest Big Ten team (Iowa) is 300 miles away. Penn State, Maryland, and Rutgers are all over 1,000 miles from Lincoln.

Of Nebraska’s 12 conference rivals in baseball (Wisconsin does not play baseball), the average distance from Lincoln is 740 miles. That is either a lot of time on airplanes with possibly infected passengers, or an even longer time counting wind turbines on I-80.

* * *

For a long time, I have been an advocate of schools like Nebraska belonging to two (or more) athletic conferences:

  • A national, power conference for football and men’s basketball. Think the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big XII, and PAC 12. The Jayskers out there would still belong to the Big East for basketball.
  • One (or more) regional conferences for Olympic & non-revenue sports. Probably the majority would belong to the same regional league, but there may be situations where a sport is not widely offered, or there is an incentive to play elsewhere.

My argument has always been primarily based on two indisputable facts:

  1. Even in normal times, it is asinine – and fiscally irresponsible – to fly a 25+ student-athletes 1,200 miles to play a baseball series at Rutgers, when there are a dozen schools within a three hour drive. When athletic departments are laying off employees and cutting sports, it is indefensible.
  2. FOX and ESPN aren’t paying billions of dollars for the TV rights to air regular season, collegiate Olympic sports. Bluntly, and with few exceptions, nobody is watching.

Here is what I wrote way back in 2013:

It just makes financial sense:  Schools can dramatically cut travel costs and operating expenses for sports that already lose money.  TV networks don’t get burdened with a bunch of lower end TV rights for volleyball matches, wrestling duals, and gymnastics meets that the average fan does not want to watch.  If there is an audience for SEC baseball or Big East lacrosse games, the smaller leagues can sell those rights independently.

Yes, it may be a little confusing for fans who have always identified their school with a single league to have to familiarize themselves with two different sets of conference rivals, but it sure beats cutting the baseball team because your new conference foes up north don’t play the sport, or losing the gymnastics team because it is too expensive to fly them all over the country for meets.

* * *

When I first made the two conference argument, I never expected that a power conference would be so openly apathetic about a sport – to the point where it might be a competitive disadvantage to stay.

But here we are.

It is brutally obvious that the Big Ten does not care about baseball, and they certainly don’t care about the 13 schools who field baseball teams.

Will that ever change? I joked that the best bet to spur Big Ten interest would be to rename the College World Series to the “Summer Rose Bowl”. Then I was reminded that a prestige Big Ten program (Michigan) was a game away from winning the most recent CWS in 2019.

So I’m not very optimistic.

* * *

To be crystal clear: I am in no way saying Nebraska football should leave the Big Ten.

The TV money is the best of any Power 5 conference. The academic perks and prestige are too damn good to give up.


As many (myself included) have written, the relationship between NU Football and the B1G could be a lot better – on both sides. But having the football team leave would be foolish and reckless.

That said, the University of Nebraska has 22 intercollegiate sports. For the vast majority* of them, it makes little sense to have your competition be in a different time zone.

*From a Nebraska perspective, volleyball would likely be an exception. The Big Ten is the premier volleyball league, and NU Volleyball is better for playing in that league. I imagine there are similar scenarios for other leagues / sports. If so, keep them under the power conference umbrella.

* * *

Let’s go back to that March 2020 baseball game against Northern Colorado. Fans of the baseball program know Northern Colorado well. And for good reason. In 16 of the last 17 seasons, the Bears have made the 458 mile trek from Greeley to Lincoln for a mid-week series against NU.

You remember the famed “500 mile radius” that used to get referenced in football recruiting? Here is what it looks like, centered precisely on A.D. Bill Moos’ office:

I’d imagine Moos could put together a very respectable baseball league, track meet, wrestling invitational, or pretty much anything else with teams inside this circle.

I would imagine that even if the Northern Colorado Bears don’t make the “Great Plains Conference”, they would still be invited to play at Haymarket Park on a sunny Wednesday in March.

And isn’t that ultimately the point?

A Rebuttal to Dan Wetzel

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

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*   *   *


On Thursday, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports posted a column entitled “Nebraska’s messy marriage with Big Ten getting uglier every day“.

While the impetus for the column was the news of Nebraska’s proposal to play Tennessee-Chattanooga this weekend (filling a hole created when Wisconsin cancelled) being rejected, it quickly turned into a rehash of the same over-inflated talking points used by national writers when Nebraska (amongst other schools) were pushing the conference to restart the football season.

In the interest of fairness – and to avoid taking any of Wetzel’s words out of context – everything he wrote is below in bold font. My responses are not.

On a Thursday morning conference call, Big Ten presidents discussed an exemption request from Nebraska to allow the Cornhuskers to replace Saturday’s canceled football game against Wisconsin with a non-league opponent, the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

It got zero traction, league sources told Yahoo Sports. There was no need for even a show of hands, let alone an actual vote. No one was in favor of granting it. The league’s previously agreed-upon rules — conference games only — was reaffirmed. 

Hold up.  “No one was in favor of granting it”?  So you’re telling me Nebraska brought this request to the committee, but was not in favor of supporting it.  That seems………unlikely.  Your credibility is off to an amazing start.

Also reaffirmed was the belief around the Big Ten that Nebraska, even after nine years of membership, remains a difficult philosophical fit for the league.

Did they do an actual vote on Nebraska being a “difficult philosophical fit”?  A show of hands?  Or are you adding 1 + 1 and assuming it equals 3?

The Huskers’ request was met with knowing eye-rolls … of course it would be Nebraska that is already trying to rewrite the protocols everyone agreed to just last month in an effort to get a 2020 season played.

Dan, I know Barry Alvarez is a Nebraska alumnus, but when he said the conference should “reevaluate” the 21-day policy for positive tests on Tuesday, he was most definitely speaking as a Wisconsin Badger.

Likewise, Jeff Brohm was not speaking as a representative of Nebraska when he asked to be able to call his fellow Purdue coaches during the Iowa game as he recovered at home from COVID-19.

Even worse, rather than simply obeying the rules or even just asking for permission in the first place, Nebraska had gone out and negotiated a potential deal with Chattanooga.

This contradicts what Dennis Dodd of CBS reported.  He tweeted that the Nebraska – UTC game had been through “many levels of approval” within the conference: 

I’ll trust an athletic director speaking on the record over an anonymous source every day.

Then the Huskers took it to the league and basically made the presidents say, “No.” 

There is some suspicion that it was done to purposely create headlines and signal how football is more important to Nebraska than the other schools. The Huskers say it was an honest argument.

“We believe the flexibility to play non-conference games could have been beneficial not only for Nebraska, but other Big Ten teams who may be in a similar position as the season progresses,” said Nebraska chancellor Ronnie Green and athletic director Bill Moos in a joint statement. “Ultimately, the Big Ten Conference did not approve our request, and we respect their decision.”

I’ll be honest: you may be right.  It is definitely in the realm of possibility that Nebraska only asked the league to convey how important football is here; or as way to thumb their nose to the conference. If so, then the Huskers would owe Tennessee-Chattanooga an apology for using them as a pawn in their PR gambit. Of course, this is all in the same realm of possibility where Illinois could still win the College Football Playoff.

But I would argue that going to the league for approval is exactly what a good, respectful conference citizen is supposed to do.  Nebraska went through the proper channels and asked for permission. 

I’m glad you quoted it, but I feel the final sentence in the joint statement from Bill Moos and Ronnie Green is worth repeating:  “Ultimately, the Big Ten Conference did not approve our request, and we respect their decision.

Again: Nebraska got stood up by Wisconsin, and sought out a replacement game. Nebraska asked for permission and was denied. Nebraska said they respect the decision. By all accounts, the matter is closed.

In a perfect world, that would have been the final sentence in your column. But you’re just getting warmed up.

This is the state of affairs between the Big Ten and Nebraska, a partnership borne of equal-parts desperation and money that has turned into misreads and mistrust.

“It’s like an unhappy marriage,” one Big Ten source said. “It doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit. Yet no one can afford or figure out how to divorce. So nothing is going to change.”

Regarding your source’s quote, something you wrote previously applies here too:  “There is some suspicion that it was done to purposely create headlines.”

But your anonymous source is correct in one regard:  Nothing is going to change.  Nebraska is not going to go anywhere voluntarily, and the Big Ten is not going to kick NU out. 

There was nothing inherently wrong with Nebraska contemplating adding a new opponent, of course. 

It wasn’t the Huskers’ fault that Saturday’s game was canceled — Wisconsin pulled the plug as its COVID testing approached (but did not exceed) the league’s mandated numbers. While that decision is allowed under the Big Ten’s rules, it hasn’t stopped speculation across the league that the Badgers were motivated to avoid playing without head coach Paul Chryst and some of their key players, all reportedly out with COVID.

I appreciate you acknowledging this.  I just wish that before you took a column’s worth of shots at Nebraska, you would have written 1,100 words on how Wisconsin failed themselves and the league by being the first team to cancel a game. Or written about the “speculation” the Badgers are gaming the system by avoiding playing. Or even investigate the rumors of how/why the Badgers have such a widespread outbreak.

But why put in the time and effort (and risk alienating a charter member of the league) when there is low-hanging fruit to be picked?

If Wisconsin couldn’t play, then why shouldn’t Nebraska change gears on the fly and try to get a game in? After all, who knows if the Cornhuskers will be hit by COVID and have to cancel additional games. Might as well get as much of a season in as possible while you can.

Again, it’s not an argument without merit.

But watch as Dan ignores the valid argument he just made in order to make a point!

What it is, however, is an argument made to the wrong entity. There was simply no way the Big Ten was going to grant it. Even asking spoke to a complete lack of understanding about how the venerable league operates and what it values. 

The Big Ten is about unity. It’s about following the rules everyone previously accepted. It’s about erring on the side of safety and precaution. It’s about not rocking the boat. Right, wrong or ridiculous, it is what has worked for well over a century.

It is both wrong and ridiculous. The Big Ten’s “unity” is, at best, a century old piece of mythology.  I’d put it right up there with the dubious (and pompous) fantasy that the Big Ten is the purest, most perfect mix of amateur athletics and higher education to ever grace God’s green earth.

I’ll freely acknowledge that we Nebraskans knew about the all-for-one / one-for-all mythos when we joined.  Heck, coming out of the selfish dumpster fire that was the Big XII, it was a huge selling point.

But how can anybody with a shred of credibility claim that storied “conference unity” survived Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State, and others (and yes, that includes Nebraska) fighting to play football in the last three months?  The conference publicly acknowledged the August vote to cancel the season was 11-3. (On a related topic, presidents of public universities lying to their constituents must be another thing that that – right, wrong, or ridiculous – has worked for well over a century).

To paraphrase all of our parents:  “Nebraska, if the rest of the conference jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”  Dan, your answer appears to be that the Huskers should jump, while singing odes of praise to Jim Delany that they ever got the opportunity to stand on such a prestigious and storied vessel.

It’s why despite the quarterback depth chart red flag, Wisconsin will get the benefit of the doubt for canceling the game earlier rather than later. And it’s why trying to play a non-conference opponent with unknown or unsupervised testing requirements won’t.

I know you read part of the statement released by Bill Moos and Ronnie Green. You must have missed this part:

The discussions we had were with teams that had already implemented stricter testing protocols than those mandated by the Big Ten Conference. Those details were non-negotiable if we were to bring a non-conference opponent to Lincoln.

The Big Ten isn’t alone in this. The SEC has similar conference-only standards this season. And when, say, an outbreak at Florida caused its game against Missouri to be postponed, leaving Mizzou with an open date, the Tigers didn’t go out and try to schedule a fill-in. Missouri stayed in line and didn’t play.

I love the subtle dig of using Mizzou in the example, as the Tigers were long rumored to be a favorite to join the conference before Nebraska was invited to join.  Sadly for the Tigers, the biggest requirement for B1G membership is not total, unwavering obedience to the company line. 

 So why did Nebraska think it was special?

“This might fly in the Big 12,” another Big Ten source said of Nebraska. “But they aren’t in the Big 12 anymore.”

Maybe they should go back.


Look: I’m a big fan of using this format to take shots at horrible opinions barfed up (pun intended) by writers looking to score some cheap hate clicks.

But some takes are too stupid to mock.

To be clear, there is no movement to kick Nebraska out of the league and there is no known movement for Nebraska to leave.

But as Wetzel and others (Hi, Pat Forde!) have shown, the lack of any such movement will never stop wild speculation.

But as the COVID crisis has shown, there is a clear gap between the two entities’ ways of doing and thinking about business. 

Since Dan does not expand on this point, allow me to do so.  Nebraska wanted to play this fall, wanted to do so safely, and believed they could do so with fans in the stands. 

The Big Ten did not. 

Once Ohio State sided with Nebraska, the Big Ten reconsidered their position.

It was June of 2010 when Nebraska accepted the Big Ten’s membership offer. The Huskers were eager to leave the Big 12, which they felt was overly influenced by the University of Texas and on the verge of collapse. Due to geography, there weren’t a lot of options. Joining a safe, stable and very wealthy conference to the east made a lot of sense. 

The Big Ten, meanwhile, was seeking a then-12th member (it’s now at 14). A border state school with a huge football brand (it won three national titles in the 1990s) was appealing. 

The belief that the Nebraska name would deliver strong television ratings, despite having such a small population, overrode the concerns that the university as a whole wasn’t as committed to academics as the rest of the league. 

Without going point by point, can we acknowledge that Dan is viewing this through a hindsight prism that makes the Big Ten like a benevolent savior, instead of a pirate who raided the wreckage of another league for their collective monetary gains?

What seemed like a potential fit, however, hasn’t been. 

Nebraska football has struggled in the Big Ten, failing to find new recruiting turf to make up for the pipeline of Texas talent the Big 12 offered. Since 2014, it’s under .500 in league play. It has shown no ability to contend for championships. Its national brand, meanwhile, continues to grow weaker with high school talent and television viewers alike.

And its sparse population adds little to nothing for other schools to recruit (both in terms of football talent and potential students, the way Rutgers and Maryland do).

Yes, it is no secret that NU has struggled in the Big Ten – especially by NU’s standards.  I, like many people who know Nebraska football beyond the 30,000 foot overview you’re using, will tell you many of those struggles are due to a poor coaching and leadership.  The three coaches who recruited the talent involved in those “since 2014” teams had three different recruiting strategies, three different systems, and limited levels of success with development, strength & conditioning, and culture.

And yet… your claim about the national brand growing weaker is dead wrong.  At the high school level, the 2019 recruiting class was NU’s highest ranked in eight years, with a similar ranking in 2020. 

As for TV viewers, the 2020 game against Ohio State was the highest rated broadcast of the season.  The 2019 matchup between the two teams had equally high rankings.  Obviously, the Buckeye juggernaut plays a big role in that number. But I’m guessing OSU vs. Rutgers or Maryland are not matching those ratings – even with their much larger population bases.

Meanwhile, in 2011, Nebraska lost its membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities, of which every other Big Ten school belongs.

This is true, but much like everything else you’ve written, you have never bothered to look past the headline to learn why.  This article from the Columbia Missourian has some excellent details, but here are the Cliffs Notes:

  1. Due to how the University of Nebraska system is structured, the Lincoln campus (what the sports world knows as “NU”) no longer received credit for research done at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
  2. As a land grant school in a Midwestern state, NU obviously does a lot of agricultural research.  The AAU does not consider ag research to be equal to economic and medical research.

One other note:  almost a decade later, aside from the stigma of having been “kicked out” of the AAU country club, there has been little to no impact on the University of Nebraska.

In the meantime, Nebraska continues to operate in a way that is sometimes foreign to many in the conference. The mentality and experience that makes the school think it is doing the right thing just isn’t prevalent elsewhere in the conference. 

I guess this is true, too.  Unlike most of the Big Ten, Nebraska does not consider the Rose Bowl to be the pinnacle of athletic competition.  The results on the field aren’t there yet, but I can assure you that Nebraska’s goals go way beyond Pasadena. Most of what Nebraska is doing under Scott Frost is geared towards rebuilding a championship caliber program.

It’s unlikely any other Big Ten school would have even considered adding a Chattanooga to the schedule.

Dan, is your issue with Tennessee-Chattanooga?  Would Nebraska have been okay if they tried to schedule a MAC school?  Does that satisfy some double-secret Big Ten by-law for non-conference games?

Nebraska doesn’t have any (or many) options of course to change leagues.

Despite a vocal minority of Husker fans who are fed up with the Big Ten’s poor leadership, holier-than-thou attitude, and perceived reluctance to actually compete, Nebraska fans, faculty, and alumni have no desire to leave.  We understand the academic, financial, and athletic advantages (in that order) that Big Ten membership brings.

We would appreciate it if the league would realize that Nebraska standing up for their student-athletes (including those in non-revenue sports that continue to complete because football makes money), as well as the local economy is not a threat to THE BIG TEN WAY ®. 

Its football team’s mediocrity only weakens its hand even if it wanted to leave.

Dan, you have typed yourself into a hypocritical conundrum.

You’ve made it clear that a mediocre Nebraska football team is bad for NU and the Big Ten (I agree, btw). So it would naturally behoove the Huskers to make some serious strides – and soon. For a young team (like, for example, the 2020 Cornhuskers), the best way to build is through live games against actual competition. Intra-squad scrimmages aren’t going to cut it.

Do you see the issue yet? Okay, I’ll keep going…

So far this year, the Big Ten has reduced Nebraska’s schedule from 12 games to 10, and then down to 8+1. With the Badgers bailing to get their COVID under control, Nebraska lost yet another opportunity.

Nobody is saying the Huskers are a threat to make the playoffs – or probably even win the West, but any experience this young core can get now will pay off down the road, which – say it with me Dan – IS GOOD FOR THE BIG TEN.

Meanwhile, you are chiding the Huskers for wanting to improve, while criticizing them for not improving.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten is loath to do anything other than grumble privately.

Well….grumble privately (and anonymously) to you in the hopes that you’ll turn it into a column that becomes fodder for national talk shows. Mission accomplished!

It’s way too even-keeled to boot some school out. 

A fact that surely gives comfort to schools like Rutgers and Maryland who have brought nothing athletically to the conference.  Not to mention the many conference schools who have been involved in scandals, criminal activity, and other things just slightly more distasteful than trying to schedule a football game with an FCS school. 

In this article from Forbes (titled, “As Scandals Mount, It’s Time To Ask: Does The Big Ten Have A Cultural Problem?“, there are seven schools listed who have been involved in a major scandal in the last decade.  The article is from 2018, so it doesn’t have the racism claims that rocked Iowa’s football program this summer.  It may surprise you to learn that article makes zero mention of Nebraska.  Maybe Pat Forde and you can update it with a list of Nebraska’s sins over the last two months.

So this carries on, like a lot of nuptials. Neither side is happy, or even sure they know who exactly they married in the first place.

Should Nebraska and the Big Ten ever break up, we’ll make sure they get full custody of you.

2019 Nebraska Alternative Uniforms Reviewed

Nebraska and Adidas released the alternate uniform the Huskers will wear at some point in the 2019 season.  I can’t help but feel like I’ve seen it before – and no, I’m not talking about the photo* that leaked out from the hype video shoot a few weeks ago.

*How mad do you think the Adidas folks were about this image stealing their thunder?  The one time they shoot the hype video on location – instead of from the comfort of their ad agency’s studio – and the full uniform leaks out.  

How familiar are these uniforms?  Here is how I feel like the design process went for this year’s alts:

{Scene:  Adidas U.S. Headquarters, Portland, Oregon. A random Tuesday in June}

Account Rep:  Hey, Nebraska wants their alternate uniform to be black this year.  I don’t have a lot of requirements, other than they want to release it in time for their Fan Day in early August.

Lead Designer:  Um…It’s the middle of summer.  There is no way we can create a black alternate uniform in time.

Account Rep:  Don’t we have a single alternative uniform template that we use for colleges?  Usually the only thing you guys do is update the colors and logos, and send it off to the factory in Asia.

Lead Designer:  We’re trying to get away from that.  The guys on the Basketball Design Team were making us look bad.

Account Rep:  So what can we do?  Scott Frost has a history with Nike, and his A.D. has a policy to never tell Frost “no”.  Nebraska is our oldest, and one of our best clients.  Surely we can do something for them.

Design Team Intern (flipping through a book of previous Nebraska uniforms):  Look at these black uniforms they wore back in 2013.  What if we clean these up and pass them off as new?

Lead Designer:  Hmm…that could work.  There is definitely room for improvement on these.  Maybe incorporate some elements from their current practice jerseys.  What do you think?

Account Rep:  I really don’t care what they look like, as long as we can debut them before the season starts.

Lead Designer:  That’s what we do best!  We’ll have a sketch ready by the end of the day.


How similar are the new set to 2013?  Here is a side by side comparison (image by @BrettSBaker)

As is the custom, we’ll go from the top down.


helmet side

The improvements from the 2013 set start at the top.  Adidas got rid of the weird gradient facemask that was black on the outsides and red in the middle, and replaced it with a basic black facemask that works much better.  Nebraska’s signature sans-serif “N” remains, but it is now black instead of red.  Both the 2013 and 2019 versions have a black helmet stripe that is noticeably thicker than normal.

Our video model has a red chinstrap, which I would suspect gets swapped out for black or white when the players get them.

I would have been okay with Adidas being a little more aggressive in their design on the helmet.  Possibly a black helmet with white “N”, or even the script Huskers in black instead of the helmet N.  That said, I have no issue with the lid.

Grade:  B



Yes, I am an unabashed old-school fuddy-duddy who thinks Nebraska’s uniforms are fine as they are, thank you very much.  But there is more to my dislike than me being averse to change.  My biggest objection is the black jersey, for two primary reasons*:

  1. Only the defense – Nebraska’s storied “Blackshirts” – should wear black jerseys.  Period.  Does it really make sense that some third string wide receiver gets to wear the same black jersey as Mohamed Barry and the rest of the defense?  What in the name of Charlie McBride is going on here?
  2. After the defense’s disastrous performance in 2018 (31.3 points per game allowed, 12th in the Big Ten) black is the last color Nebraska should be wearing against the majority of the teams on their schedule.

*Why yes, I did plagiarize and update my 2013 review of Nebraska’s uniforms for the preceding three paragraphs.  Hey, if Adidas gets to pass off old material as new, I can too.

The good news is my stance has softened a little bit since 2013.  While I still think only the first team defense should wear black, I really do like this version.  Adidas abandoned the “tire tread” motif, and they got rid of the numeral font that looked like it came from “The Longest Yard”.  I have my concerns about using red for the TV numbers on the shoulders and name on the back – but that is more about being able to read them from Row 47 instead of a stylistic concern.

My biggest gripe is the use of the Blackshirts logo on the sleeves.  In the press release, Adidas tries to spin it as “personifying the players’ relentless attitude, a skull-and-crossbones logo sits on the jersey’s sleeve caps”.  Filter out the b.s. and the takeaway is “we understand that this is a defensive logo, but it still looks cool, and we hope prospective recruits agree.”

Overall, I understand why black jerseys are popular.  And if Nebraska “needs” a black jersey, this is a pretty good version – even if it cheapens what “Blackshirts” once meant.   Allow me to plagiarize myself from 2013 one more time:  “Black will always be a cool color for young males, as it denotes toughness and strength.”  I guess that applies to third string wide receivers too.

Grade:  A



When it comes to the pants on their alternate uniforms, Adidas has really embraced a “less is more” approach.  I would have been okay with the 2013 version, with its black leg stripe and over-sized “N”.  Instead, it looks like Nebraska will wear their regular white pants.

At the risk of being alarmist, seeing the new jersey paired with the regular pants makes me a little concerned that this new ensemble will be used a more of a “third jersey” than a one time only alternate.

I really like Scott Frost, and I love how he is bringing the things he learned at his previous coaching stops back to Nebraska.  But I have no desire to see Nebraska getting into the mix and match “uniform system” that Central Florida has, let alone the weekly game of one upsmanship that Oregon plays.

Grade: B


In the hype video, we see three different Adidas accessories get some extended screen time.

  • The most notable item is a helmet visor that, when viewed from certain angles, shows a Blackshirts logo.  None of the pictures in the press release do it justice, so you’ll want to watch the hype video to see it in action.  Assuming such images on visors are game legal (and with the NCAA, one should never make assumptions) I would expect to see a lot of these throughout the year.
  • There are the (now) standard gloves that make a form a Blackshirts logo when the palms are placed just so.  It will be interesting to see if those gloves are reserved for defensive players, or if everybody gets a pair.
  • Finally, there is a pair a black cleats.  I’m no sneakerhead, but I think they look really sharp.


Grade:  A


Put it all together, and this is what it looks like from head to toe.

head to toe

A big part of grading the alternates that Adidas produces for football is managing expectations.  With 2019 being the 150th anniversary of college football, and the 150th anniversary of the University of Nebraska, I had hoped for some sort of 1969 throwback uniform.  So from that aspect, I’m a little bummed at the missed opportunity – even if Nebraska wore a “fauxback” uniform last year.

When I first saw the leaked image, I was disappointed.  I’m not a fan of NU wearing black, and let’s be honest – the overall look is little more than tweaks to the 2013 alt.

But the more I look at it, the more comfortable I am with it.

Why?  Indulge me in one more flashback, this time to Nebraska’s last attempt at black – the horrifically bad 2015 set:

I could get on-board with an all-black get up similar to this.  Just simplify the look.  Lose the tire treads, the reflective numbers, the stripes that look like they survived an attack from Freddy Krueger, and you’d really have something nice.

It may not be as #HuskerBold as adidas would like, but I’d wager it would be better received.

Give Adidas credit. They checked all of the boxes and made an alternate uniform that should appeal to the coveted kids as well as the cranky traditionalists.  That is a win in my book.

2018 Nebraska Alternative Uniforms Reviewed

On Saturday, Nebraska will wear special “Memorial Tribute”* uniforms, which draw strong design influence from the uniforms the 1923 Huskers wore.  Why 1923?  That was the first season NU played at Memorial Stadium.

*Let’s take a second to address Adidas’s ridiculous name for this uniform.  At best, “memorial tribute” sounds similarly synonymous and slightly redundant.  At worst, it describes an eulogy – possibly for the days when alternative uniforms didn’t need their own identity branding story.

Due to a chaotic and stressful October, I wasn’t able to give these a proper review when they came out.  So let’s fix that.

As is the custom, we’ll go from the top down.


2018 helmet

From the reaction I’ve seen, the helmet is the most controversial piece of the ensemble.  The intention was to make it look like a stitched leather helmet of the time.  This apparently has not clear to all who have seen it.  In looking for pictures and reaction, I came across comparisons to a jock strap and a sleep apnea CPAP mask.  One glass half full fan suggested that the Huskers “can use the protractors on their helmets to knock out some geometry homework on the sideline”.  I’m all for adding to the list of Academic All-Americans.

As for me, I get – and like – the concept.  If you’re going to throwback to 1923, it wouldn’t look right with the regular “N” helmet.  You go big to complete the look, and that is what Adidas has tried to do.  I’m hopeful that, in person, the helmets look a little better than the handful of promotional pictures indicate.

As it is, this is one of the few times in Nebraska’s alternate uniform history that the helmet is not the star of the show.

Grade:  C+



If you’ve read any of my previous reviews of the Husker alts, you’ll likely know three things: 1) I am an unabashed traditionalist, 2) I dislike unnecessarily gaudy uniforms that choose to promote Adidas’s innovations instead of Nebraska’s history, and 3) any alternate jersey where you can’t see/read the numbers from the stands is a failure.

In other words, I typically use most of this space to tell you everything Adidas got wrong.  Today, it is my great pleasure to tell you everything that Adidas did right.

  • Adidas mercifully retired their sublimated “Primeknit” that looked like lightning bolts or tire treads.  Their new miracle fabric – which looks somewhat like corduroy in the pictures – is perfect for a throwback look.
  • The panels on the front are a great nod to 1923, and offer some nice visual interest without being over the top.
  • I love, love, love the numeral font which was influenced by the old Memorial Stadium clock – and not the 2018 Adidas Alternate Uniform Master Template.
  • As an added bonus, I feel confident that I will be able to read these numbers from row 47.

The only thing I would change would be to put the player names on the back – in the same retro font as the numbers.  That said, I have no issue with using the “In the deed the glory” inscription back there, as it helps tie the “Memorial Stadium” theme together.

This, my friends, is easily the best alternative uniform Adidas has produced for Nebraska Football.

Grade:  A+



What color are these pants?  The Adidas marketing materials describe them as “buff,” which is “designed to resemble the first facade of Memorial Stadium.”  I take that to mean “buff” is a grayish limestone color.  Personally, I hope they are a shade of cream to really accent the gorgeous scarlet jerseys.

The pants do not have appear to have any stripes, bells, and/or whistles, which is great for staying out of the way and completing the throwback look.  Unfortunately, it’s really tough to give a fair grade to the sartorial equivalent of a neutral interior house paint.  Points are given for not stealing focus from the star of the show.

Grade: B


In a sharp departure from the last few alternate uniforms, the accompanying accessories are notably absent from the teaser images.  The apparently beauty of sporting a 1923 throwback is players 95 years ago didn’t bother with things like “base layers” or gloves that form a picture when put together just so) are not pictured.  The flexing uniform model has on a pair of plain red socks, and relatively plain black Adidas cleats.  I have no problems with this.

I’d be curious to see what the overall uniform would have looked like with red socks with a cream (or “buff”) stripe.  It may not have been what Nebraska wore in 1923, but it would have been accurate for the era.  As an example of what I’m talking about, check out the socks Iowa State wore with their Jack Trice inspired throwbacks.  That said, I’m on-board with the “less is more” vibe of these uniforms, so all red socks are fine by me.

Grade:  B


If I have not been clear enough so far, I love this uniform.

This is the sixth Nebraska alternate I’ve reviewed, and every time before I’ve wanting something more, something better.  For example:

  • 2012:  “I expected to hate the alternative uniforms, to find them too futuristic, and too detached from the tradition-rich history of Nebraska Football.”
  • 2013:  “I continue to find it offensive that Nebraska’s athletic apparel partner…thinks so little of one of their flagship schools that they cannot create something unique for them; something that no other school wears.”
  • 2014:  “I didn’t expect Nebraska’s alt to be a true throwback, but I was hoping it would at least draw some inspiration from an old Nebraska jersey.  A faux-retro Bugeaters jersey would have been beyond amazing, which is clearly too much to ask….  I should expect adidas to provide Nebraska something that is on the line separating flashy and gaudy.  Something that looks like it came off a generic corporate template, instead of being inspired by Nebraska’s rich history.  I should expect a mediocre alternate from adidas, because that is all they have ever given us.”
  • 2015:  “One of my biggest criticisms of adidas is how they put all of their schools through a generic template and fail to do anything unique – even for a once-a-year special jersey.”
  • 2016:  “Finally, adidas seems to get that gaudy designs won’t play here. Superhero costumes that barely resemble Nebraska Football don’t work here. Numbers that are impossible to read are a failure to the 90,000 passionate fans that show up here.”

While I know that Adidas doesn’t give a damn about what some two-bit blogger has to say, the “Memorial Tribute” uniform is not only visually satisfying, but personally gratifying.

And with the final keystroke of the previous sentence, I’ve already started lowering my expectations for next year, because the only place to go from here is back down.  I’ll make my peace with this on one condition:  we bring these uniforms back out in 2023 for the true 100th anniversary of Memorial Stadium

Grade:  A


Moral Buckeyes & Progress

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*   *   *

Let’s talk for a minute about “moral victories”.

Scott Frost doesn’t want to acknowledge moral victories, and I don’t blame him.  Most competitors would rather punch their mother than celebrate a moral victory.  You either win or you lose…and unfortunately this Nebraska team will end the season with more losses than wins.  Nobody wants to be a part of team that leads the league in moral victories.  That mindset percolates down to the fan base to the point where a moral victory has become taboo.

Personally, I don’t care if fans want to recognize or applaud a moral victory.  Because no matter if it is sarcastic (“Nebraska forced Ohio State to punt for the first time in three games!”) or honest (“Nebraska played well enough to beat a top ten team on the road”), you’re really doing the same thing:

You are acknowledging the progress this team is making.

And let’s be realistic:  while we all want to win – and win now – this program is not currently built for that.  If you’re still hinging your satisfaction with the 2018 Huskers strictly on wins and losses you will be disappointed.  Period.

But if you choose to acknowledge where this program has been – both in the last few years, and in the last  few months – I suspect you can see the signs of progress.  Forcing Ohio State to punt, not getting blown out on the road by a top 10 team, fighting until the very end – these are not thing you could count on previous Husker teams giving you.  We all want the wins, but I won’t apologize for being happy with the manner in which NU loses.  I won’t judge you if you want to do the same.

So what did we learn?

The offense can spread the touches.  It would be very easy for Frost and offensive coordinator Troy Walters to lock in on their proven offensive talents (Martinez, Ozigbo, Washington, Spielman, and Morgan) when calling plays on the road against the #10 team in the country.

And to be sure, that happened as Martinez, Ozigbo, and Washington combined for 47 carries, while Morgan and Spielman led the team with seven and six receptions, respectively.  But look at the other guys who got yards on Saturday:  Jack Stoll, Austin Allen, Bryan Reimers, and Mike Williams.  In addition, Spielman and Morgan each had a carry, and Washington and Ozigbo both caught a pass.

This approach is such a win-win.  It opens the field up for your playmakers and gives guys the experience to prove themselves to the coaches and their teammates.  Give credit to Frost and Walters for putting guys in positions to make plays, and to Martinez for being willing to find the open man.

The Blackshirts are capable of carrying their weight.  One of the narratives for this team is the offense can be explosive, which is necessary because the defense is a work in progress.  Some of that work seems to be paying off.  The defense is more aggressive, more sound, and much better at making big plays then they were a month ago.

Example 1:  After the botched onside kick gave Ohio State prime field position at the NU 31, there had to be a 90% chance of the Buckeyes scoring at least three points.  Instead, the Blackshirts stood strong and stopped the Buckeyes on four downs.

Example 2:  The Blackshirts forced several fumbles and recovered two.  The much maligned Lamar Jackson intercepted a pass in the end zone.  I’ll take my chances being +2 on turnovers on the road any week.

While NU seemed to run out of gas a little bit in the fourth quarter when it was obvious the Buckeyes wanted to run, the progress shown should not be ignored.

Ohio State’s black jerseys are perfection.   As somebody who is typically not a fan of alternate uniforms – and especially those that are black just for the sake of being black – I love Ohio State’s all black look.  Seriously, look at this picture.  Those are simple and clean, with crisp stripes that tie everything together.  They don’t need a space age custom font that can’t be read, nor any other unnecessary bells and whistles.  I challenge you to show me a better all-black look.

I’ve long been on record that only the Blackshirts should wear black jerseys, but I would happily reverse that decision if Adidas stole this design from Nike.

So what don’t we know?

What’s up with Caleb Lightbourn?   I ask this not to disrespect the young man, but out of a sincere sense of concern.  To put it politely, Lightbourn has had a very rough season.  He lost his punting job to Isaac Armstrong.  He’s had some big miscues in key moments that have cost the team valuable field position.  And after what I will generously call a botched onside kick attempt, he now has two entries on the list of Worst Husker GIFs of the 21st Century.*

*A list headlined by the undisputed champion titled (and I’m not making this up) “Nebraska lineman false start by falling on his ass“.

Personally, I feel for Lightbourn.  While I have no idea what the heck happened on that onside kick – or what it was supposed to look like – I feel strongly that his other blooper (the slip and fall against Purdue) was not his fault.  If you’ll remember, that was a damp, misty day and several other players were slipping and falling to the point where several people suggested NU had the wrong footwear on for the conditions.

But more to the point, I feel bad for Lightbourn for how his NU career has unfolded.  He came here in 2016 fully expecting to redshirt behind a senior starter.  Those plans changed dramatically on July 23, 2016 when Sam Foltz died.  After that, he had to replace not only one of the best punters in the conference, but a beloved team leader.

I doubt he’ll ever say it, but I think that redshirt year would have done wonders for Lightbourn’s skill level and confidence.  Instead, he’s ridden a roller coaster with more downs than ups, lost his primary job, and has “fans” openly mocking him and calling for him to never see the field again.  I hope he can find confidence, success, and end up in a GIF making an incredible play.

Just how aggressive is Scott Frost?  On NU’s first drive, Frost goes for it on 4th and 2, keeping a scoring drive alive.  He follows it up with an onside kick attempt.  Late in the third quarter, facing a short 4th & 1 from their own 13, Frost appears to ponder going for it, before calling a timeout and punting it away.

In the fourth quarter, down by nine, NU has a 4th and goal from the OSU 1.  Frost elects to take kick the field goal and cut the deficit to six points.  Ohio State takes the ensuring drive and scores at touchdown, and Nebraska responds with a touchdown of their own.  Down by five, with 1:55 left and two timeouts, Frost opts to kick it deep.  Nebraska never gets the ball back.

I offer these points not to question or criticize Frost’s decision making.  Obviously, hindsight plays a big role in determining if a decision was good or poor.  But nine games into Frost’s tenure at NU and I don’t feel if I have a good indication on if he’s going to be an aggressive, go win the game coach or a more conservative, don’t lose the game leader.  Certainly, there is a time and place for both, but it has felt inconsistent to me this year.  Maybe this will change as Frost becomes more confident in each of his three units.

Has the college basketball concept of “make up calls” come to football?   In the first quarter, Ohio State was called for offensive pass interference on a very questionable play.  Two plays later, Dicaprio Bootle was flagged for an equally questionable pass interference penalty.

In the second quarter, OSU’s Jordan Fuller was kicked out for targeting.  On the Buckeye’s next drive, the replay booth (with a possible assist by Urban Meyer) initiated a targeting review against a Nebraska player.

The only thing worse than making a bad call is making an equally bad call against the other team to try to balance things out.  Big Ten referees have enough to worry about without trying to make sure their bad calls are distributed equally.

The best thing I saw on Saturday:  Ohio State’s band is known for fun and creative performances that become viral sensations.  On Saturday, they spelled out the name of Tyler Butterfield, a Cornhusker Marching Band member who died last week in a car accident.

The worst thing I saw on Saturday:  The broadcast itself.  For most of the first half, Fox’s director seemed more interested in winning an Oscar for cinematography than showing a football game.  There were low angle shots, sky cam shots, close ups, and other unnecessary bells and whistles.  Just show me the game, and save the fancy camera angles for replays.

5 Players I Loved

  1. Adrian Martinez.  Performances like this are the reason Patrick O’Brien and Tristan Gebbia transferred.
  2. Devine Ozigbo.  The best way to appreciate how far he has come is to think what the 2016 or 2017 version of Ozigbo might have done in this game.  I guarantee those previous editions do not get 86 yards, a touchdown, and some key short yardage gains.
  3. JoJo Domann.  Some guys just have a knack for making plays.  JoJo Domann certainly appears to be one of those guys.  Kudos to Erik Chinander for recognizing this and getting JoJo on the field.
  4. Lamar Jackson.  “Development” can mean getting a walk-on to outshine a scholarship guy.  It can also mean getting one of the program’s top recruits to perform up to his potential.
  5. Tight ends Jack Stoll and Austin Allen.  Historically, Nebraska tends to ignore the pass catching (and mismatch creating) abilities of their tight ends.  So it was great to see Stoll haul in three catches – including a clutch one-hand grab on 4th & 2 – and Allen get behind his man for a 41 yard gain.

Honorable Mention:   J.D. Spielman, Stanley Morgan, Mohamed Barry, Aaron Williams, Jacob Weinmaster, sideline reaction shots of Urban Meyer looking upset.

5 Areas for Improvement – Special Teams Edition

  1. Punt protection.  A simple breakdown in protection led to a block and a safety that played a big role in the game.
  2. Kickoff returns.  No disrespect to Nebraska’s return specialists, but until you can consistently get a kickoff return past the 25 – without flags – I would much rather have you take advantage of the new fair catch rule.  To use a baseball analogy, it seems silly to swing for home runs when you struggle to hold the bat correctly.
  3. Onsides kicking.  Here’s the thing: if you have the confidence in your kicker to call a surprise onside in the first quarter, you should have an equal amount of confidence calling a traditional onside late in the fourth.
  4. Punt Returns.  Good news:  NU forced four Ohio State punts.  Bad news:  the lone return lost two yards, and another punt should have been fielded before rolling inside the 10.
  5. Punter Flopping.  Memo to Isaac Armstrong:  We all hate it when soccer players flop after the slightest contact, but if you can pick up a free first down by displaying your stunt man skills, you will be a hero.


Rejected Tunnel Walk Songs

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* * *

Change is coming to Nebraska’s beloved Tunnel Walk. It appears that “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project (by way of the Chicago Bulls) is on it’s way out and something new will be pumped over the speakers Saturday night.

But what is that new song?  Athletic Director Bill Moos wouldn’t say, only hinting that it goes with NU’s theme of  “Honor the past, live the present, create the future”.  I don’t really know what that means, but it is probably not code for “we’re bringing back the Mikey Bo Remix“*

*Am I the only one who thinks Mikey Bo looks a lot like Taylor Martinez?

Inspired by these two hilariously brilliant tweet by @IanAeillo, where he plays “Spanish Flea” and the Chipmunks performing “Funkytown” over a video of the Tunnel Walk, here are some other rejected Tunnel Walk songs.

“Let It Go” by Idina Menzel

After 20 years of bitterness and division within the program and the fanbase, it is time to come together. It is time to unite. It is time to to let go of all of the past failures and animosities. Plus, think of all of the Frost references!

If this doesn’t work, the Frozen soundtrack several other good options including “For The First Time In Forever” and “Fixer Upper”.


“1999” by Prince

What better way to “honor the past” by playing a song titled for the last time Nebraska won a conference championship?


“99 Luftballons” by Goldfinger

With one song, we can upgrade the Tunnel Walk – AND – satisfy the folks who think releasing balloons after the first touchdown is an environmental tragedy. That is efficiency, people!

I like the Goldfinger version better because it’s newer (we want to be accused of being stuck in the 90s, not the 80s) and a little heavier than the original Nena version.


“Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who

We have been duped by Callahan’s West Coast Offense, Riley’s Pro Style passing attack, and whatever the heck Shawn Watson and Tim Beck tried to do.  It’s time to go back to old school ways and principles – even if the fullback is dead.

And speaking of dead, since this song was famously used for CSI:Miami, just imagine the opportunities to start the Tunnel Walk off with a trademark Horatio Cain pun leading into the big “YEEEEAHHH!”


“Black Betty” by Ram Jam

In the grand scheme of things, this is not a horrible stadium song.  Heck, the Huskers have used this song for football and basketball in recent years.  But I just cannot pass up an opportunity to link to the most hilarious videos of all time.


“Yakkity Sax” by The Edwin Davids Jazz Band

Yakkity Sax – otherwise known as the theme music from “Benny Hill” – is one of those songs that just makes any video production more entertaining.  For example, nobody on this side of the Missouri River would willingly watch a video of all eight Nebraska fumbles in the 2008 Iowa State game…unless it is set to Yakkity Sax*.

*And even then, I only made 2:37 before I got so frustrated by that game I had to turn it off. My apologies, folks.


“Eye In The Sky” by the Alan Parsons Project

Did you know that our beloved “Sirius” is just the introduction for another song?  One would assume that any song that immediately follows a stadium pump-up anthem like “Sirius” MUST be an even bigger, badder, goosebump-inducing-ier song, right?  Right?


“Willie’s Chant” by William P. Wildcat

When I think of kick-ass entrance music, I think of our former conference foes in Manhattan, Kansas.  They knew how to get a crowd worked up to a medium frenzy.  This video fully encapsulates the awesomeness that was the Ron Prince Era.

Northern Illinois Reaction and Recap

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*   *   *

How do you sum up one of the most shocking losses in school history?

How do you accurately account for all of the things that went wrong?

How does a loss like this impact the big picture – for Mike Riley, Shawn Eichorst, and the program as a whole?

Frankly, I don’t know.  I’m still processing it.  So I’m going to pass on any sweeping proclamations, knee jerk reactions, scalding hot takes, or calls for anybody to be fired.

For now.

So what did we learn?

This is going to be a long year.  Think back on the time between the end of the Spring Game and the start of the season.  It was one of quietest and most drama free summers of recent memory.  The vast majority of the news was positive – big name commitments,  positive reviews about Bob Diaco’s defense, and several glowing reviews of Tanner Lee’s skill and potential.  Some folks refer to the summer months as the “Kool Aid Season”, and this year’s batch was as sweet and delicious as it had been in years.

And then the season started.

We’re just three weeks in, and have already endured two painful losses and a very close call, several key injuries, a defense that can allow yards (and points) by the bushel, an offense that is maddeningly inconsistent, and a coaching staff that seems to make a questionable decision every week.

Off the field that has a been a controversy about a coordinator not talking to the press after a game, a controversy about potentially losing the Black Friday game, angst over a contract extension signed a few months ago, and coaching seats that get hotter by the hour.  The athletic director – who prefers to stay out of the spotlight – has spoken publicly twice this week.  Fans are becoming divided on the future of the program.  And it’s technically still summer.

Let’s say Nebraska wins eight of their last nine games.  Even in what appears to be a best-case scenario, it still seems likely that the drama and division will continue to grow.

The offensive line is not good.  Nebraska finished with a total of 85 yards on 36 carries – an average of just 2.4 yards.  Tanner Lee was sacked three times, hurried on seven other plays, and finished with one of the weirdest stat lines you’ll see:  7 carries for -18 yards and 2 touchdowns.

In addition, three of Nebraska’s five penalties were against the offensive line.  I’d love to know which lineman graded out the highest, because I honestly have no clue who played the best – or, the least worst, if you prefer.

The defense came to play.  One of the biggest questions from the Oregon game was if the second half shutout was a fluke, Oregon taking their foot off the gas, or a turning point for Bob Diaco’s defense.

While not conclusive, the Blackshirts made a strong statement against NIU, holding them to just 116 yards (and zero offensive points) through three quarters.  Unfortunately, the defense couldn’t get the big stop they needed after Nebraska took the lead.  Northern Illinois flew 75 yards down the field in 2:28 to regain the lead.  But the defense certainly held their own.  The key – as with everything on this team – is consistency.

So what don’t we know?

Where are the substitutions on the offensive line?   I know Mike Cavanaugh prefers to keep the same five linemen on the field throughout the game, as he feels collective unit benefits from the continuity.  In theory, I agree with this approach.

But in real life, the approach raises more questions than answers.  How do you develop players and build depth?  When a player is clearly struggling to handle what the defense is throwing at him, doesn’t his presence weaken the entire unit?  And then there are injuries…

During the game, center Cole Conrad left briefly with an injury.  He returned shortly after, but could be seen limping in the fourth quarter.  Right tackle Matt Farniok apparently broke a bone in his wrist at some point during the game.  Yet, both played almost the entire game.

I’ve made my peace with Conrad, a former walk-on, starting over other highly touted recruits.  If he’s truly the best man for the job, he should play.  But the equation changes when a guy is hurt.  Is Cavanaugh telling us that a starter at, say, 80% health is still preferable over his backup?  If so, that raises some serious questions about depth and player development – especially of former four-star recruits.  If not, doesn’t that put more of a burden on the rest of the offense to compensate for an injured teammate?

Is DeMornay Pierson-El the best option at punt return?  Wow, that is sentence I never thought I would type.  But there is a part of me that wonders if that role is based more on what he did in 2014, than on what he’s done since.  Here are the numbers:

2014:  34 returns; 17.5 yards per return, three touchdowns.
2015, 2016, first three games of 2017:  32 returns; 7.2 yards per return, zero touchdowns.

In fairness, the 2015 and 2016 version of Pierson-El had to battle multiple injuries, as well as punt return schemes designed by Bruce Read.

But his senior season as a returner has not gotten off to a great start.  Against Oregon, he broke a cardinal rule by fair catching a ball inside his own 10.  Later, he appeared upset with himself after calling for a fair catch late in the game with his team needing a spark.  Against Northern Illinois, he fielded a ball at the 7, fumbled a return, and appeared to be pressing.  His best return of the day was negated by a penalty.

I have nothing but respect for DPE, his abilities, his potential, and how he has come back from injuries that may have ended the careers of other players.  But I have a nagging feeling that if it wasn’t for a special season before those injuries, somebody else would be returning punts for NU.

How do we account for Tanner Lee’s struggles?   On the season, Lee is completing just 52.5% of his passes, with a upside-down TD:INT ratio of 5:7. None of this matches up with the expectations Husker fans had going into the season.  So what is going on?

To my eye, there are many factors at play.  From biggest to smallest, I would point towards:

  • A porous offensive line.  Lee has been sacked six times in three games, and has faced constant pressure.  Lee appears to get flustered by pressure, which leads to bad throws and interceptions.
  • Drops by his receivers.  I haven’t found a good source to count drops and “shoulda caught its” by backs and receivers, but it certainly feels like there have been several – and often at critical moments.
  • Over-aggressiveness.  Lee has a strong arm and the potential for pin-point accuracy. In the Arkansas State game, he had a couple of passes that went through a narrow window.  Against Oregon and Northern Illinois, those passes were knocked down or intercepted.  Additionally, Lee appears reluctant to throw the ball away when under pressure.
  • Mechanics.  I’m no QB coach, but it appears to my untrained eye that Lee occasionally throws off his back foot.  I’ve also noticed a tendency to stare down a primary target.

There are probably others that I’m missing, but those seem to be the biggest culprits.  The good news is, these are all things that can be corrected.


5 Players I Loved

  1. Caleb Lightbourn.  It certainly felt like a day where the punter should be the MVP, and Lightbourn delivered.  He averaged over 47 yards on six kicks, which played a big role in the shutout the defense pitched for three quarters.
  2. Antonio Reed.  Going solely off the stat sheet, one would think Reed played a pretty decent game (second on the team with 5 tackles, including one for loss).  But the stat sheet doesn’t tell you that Reed, who is battling injury, was essentially playing with one hand.  His recognition of Northern Illinois’ trick play prevented a big play.
  3. J.D. Spielman.  I really like this kid.  He made big plays in the passing game.  He had an impressive 50 yard kickoff return.  And he had the presence of mind to get Tyjon Lindsey to take a touchback after bobbling the opening kickoff.
  4. Khalil and Carlos Davis.  The twin defensive lineman made a big impact on the Northern Illinois offense.  Carlos had five tackles and part of a sack, and Khalil played his best game as a Husker with a half sack, another TFL, forced fumble, and a deflected pass.  The defense needs pressure on the quarterback and the twins delivered.
  5. De’Mornay Pierson-El.  DPE had one of his best games as a receiver, racking up 101 yards on eight catches.  It’s great to see him making big plays.

Honorable Mention:   Former Navy SEAL Damian Jackson carrying the American flag, Mikale Wilbon, yards after catch by the receivers, Tanner Lee scoring two rushing TDs, Stanley Morgan Jr., biased announcer Les Miles, all of the fans who held their balloons through halftime until NU scored.

5 Areas for Improvement

  1. Offensive Line.  Yes, this is the third time I’ve called out the line in this piece.  But I believe it is warranted.  Any discussion about benching Lee is worthless until we see what he does with good protection.
  2. Tanner Lee.  That said, Lee needs to make some better decisions.  Throw it away or check it down to a back.  Stop forcing passes unless your receiver is the only one who can catch it.
  3. Receiver drops.  And speaking of the receivers, there were some very savage drops and passes that probably should have been caught.  It would be easy to point at some of the bigger moments – Spielman dropping a sure thing on 3rd and short; Connor Ketter short arming a wide open touchdown – and point to the inexperience of the players involved.  But if that is the case, the QB (and/or offensive coordinator) should not be putting those guys in that position.
  4. Lamar Jackson.  The young cornerback is here for two unfortunate plays.  The first was his attempt to shove a NIU receiver out of bounds after a catch.  The problem was the receiver was 4-5 yards in bounds, so the shove didn’t accomplish anything.  The second is an unsportsmanlike penalty that resulted from his frustrations boiling over.
  5. Memorial Stadium atmosphere.  11 am games suck.  We all acknowledge this.  The crowd is late to arrive, and slow to provide any sort of home field advantage.  On Saturday, it was obvious by halftime that the team was in trouble and could use a jolt.  Going into the fourth quarter, it was almost painfully silent.  Nebraska needs to do something to spark the crowd.  As my buddy Nate observed, “Wisconsin has ‘Jump Around’, and we have the Hy-Vee tailgate of the game”.  Nebraska can – and should – do better.

[COLOR=#FF0000][I]Dave Feit is a freelance writer living in Lincoln. Additional thoughts on the Huskers (and everything else) can be found on his blog ([URL=”” Follow him on [URL=””%5D%5BU%5DTwitter%5B/U%5D%5B/URL%5D or on [URL=””%5D%5BU%5DFacebook%5B/U%5D%5B/URL%5D.


Ah, Duck

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*   *   *

So….that didn’t exactly go as planned, did it?

The good news, if you want to see it, is in the big picture this loss doesn’t really hurt Nebraska.

Nebraska wasn’t ranked, so the loss just puts them lower in the “Others receiving votes” wasteland.  Only the most rabidly passionate fans believed Nebraska would make it to the College Football Playoff, so I think we all can accept that is not going to happen this year.  The big prize for the year – a West Division title, and a shot at that elusive conference championship – is still in play.

I know it is jarring to consider Nebraska in these terms, but this is where the team is.  No amount of complaining, denial, or anger is going to change that.  And with that uplifting lede, let’s dive in….

So what did we learn?

Nebraska’s offense must do a better job of helping the defense.  As you know, Oregon scored six first half touchdowns.  While you may choose to blame Bob Diaco’s defense for that, I’m here to tell you that Danny Langsdorf’s offense didn’t exactly help the situation.  Take a look at what the offense did in their drives following Oregon scores:

1st half drives following Oregon Touchdowns
Plays Yards Result Time of Poss
1 0 INT 00:12
3 3 Punt 01:35
4 75 TD 01:34
3 4 Punt 02:33
3 -5 INT 00:53
3 7 Punt 00:39
17 84   07:26

I’m not suggesting that Nebraska must answer every single score with a score of their own.  But I wonder if Langsdorf shares that opinion.  It certainly appears as if his reaction to the other team scoring is to try to score, and quick.  Heck, even the lone touchdown drive covered 75 yards in just four plays.

I can understand feeling like the offense needs to score every time out, but I also see value in a slower, grind it out drive that gives the defense a chance to catch their breath and make adjustments, slow momentum, and establish a field position edge.  It may not be as exciting as a quick strike answer, but in the long run it may be more effective.

There was improvement in the defense.  Aside from the obvious improvement from the first half (42 points) to the second half (0 points), there were some signs of growth from the Arkansas State opener.  In one of Oregon’s first quarter drives, they ran the bubble screen that Arkansas State used to gain a billion yards.  That play was stuffed for no gain, and Oregon mostly stayed away from it.  I saw some good examples of the defense “rallying” to the ball.  On one play, I counted seven defenders surrounding a ball carrier on the sideline.

Obviously, there is still much improvement needed – finding a way to pressure the quarterback would be a great place to start – but there were some positives to take away.

Mike Riley’s teams do not quit.   Raise your hand if at halftime you thought Oregon was going to hang 70 on Nebraska, and beat them by 50.  But the Huskers came out after half and did their best to save face.

And while I suspect my counterparts in Oregon are railing on the Ducks for taking their foot off the gas too soon / playing too conservatively in the second half, I think the second half result was more about the Huskers continuing to fight hard than Oregon coasting in.

I’m in no way suggesting that we as fans should be pleased with “only” losing by seven points.  Nor am I trying to carve a moral victory trophy out of the giant turd the Huskers dropped in the first half.  As poorly as NU played in the first half, they probably deserved an Ohio State style ass kicking.  That they refused to let it happen tells me a lot.

So what don’t we know?

How will Diaco’s defense look against a non-spread team?   We’re still way to early in the season for sweeping generalizations, but the early results suggest that pass-happy spread teams are bad for the Blackshirts.

This is another spot where the second half shutout can be encouraging to Nebraska fans.  Very few of the teams remaining on Nebraska’s schedule will throw it as much as Arkansas State and Oregon did – especially in the West division.

Where was the screen game?  In basketball, when a shooter is off, they often are able to get back on track with some easy shots like layups or free throws.  When Tanner Lee was struggling with accuracy, and Oregon’s pressure was getting more aggressive, it seemed like some short passes to the running backs might be a good way to get him going.  Instead, only one ball was caught by a back – a four yard gain by Mikale Wilbon.

Will there be a hangover?   This week’s game against Northern Illinois has the potential to be really good – or really bad.  Between any lingering effects from a frustrating loss, the sluggish nature of 11 am kickoffs, and a team looking ahead to the conference season, Northern Illinois could put a scare into the Huskers – especially if the defense continues to struggle.

Or, the Huskers, coming off a strong and focused week of practice, jump out early and put the game away early in the 3rd quarter; allowing the reserves to get some snaps.  I know which one I pick.


5 Players I Loved

  1. Tre Bryant.  A fourth quarter knee injury kept him from fully living up to the “All Day Tre” moniker, but 107 yards on 20 carries provided some much needed offensive balance in a game where NU threw 41 times.
  2. Luke Gifford.  Gifford is one of those players who just has a knack for the ball, and seems to always be around the action.  There were not a lot of bright spots in the defense’s performance, but Gifford was one of them.
  3. Stanley Morgan, Jr.  On Nebraska’s first drive of the second half, Tanner Lee proved that Stanley is his favorite target, as four straight throws went towards #8.  The last two accounted for a huge 4th down conversion and a statement touchdown.  Morgan added another touchdown catch on the next NU drive, and finished with team highs in catches (7) and yards (103), becoming the first Husker to open a season with 100 yard receiving games.
  4. De’Mornay Pierson-El.  DPE was just behind Morgan for receptions (4) and yards (67), including a highlight reel grab over the top of an Oregon defender.  His catch on the first drive lit the spark for a big second half.
  5. Nebraska fans.  Did you see all of the red?  For a fan base well known for showing up on the road, that was an impressive performance.  It was fitting that Saturday’s game was the anniversary of the legendary Nebraska takeover of Notre Dame’s stadium.  Kudos to all who made the trip.

Honorable Mention:   Eric Lee, Jerald Foster, Caleb Lightbourn, Aaron Williams, Matt Farniok, Matt Farniok’s hair, JD Spielman, Luke McNitt, Oregon’s duck stomping cancer logo

5 Areas for Improvement

  1. Pass rush.  Want to know how Justin Herbert managed to be 21-25 for 313 yards and 3 TDs – in the first half! – on Saturday?  The stat sheet has the answer:  zero sacks, zero QB hurries, and clear passing lanes.  That puts the defensive backs in a situation where they need near perfect coverage, which for a young and inexperienced group, does not end well.  How little was Herbert pressured?  If Autzen Stadium had a grass field, Herbert’s uniform would have ended up as brightly white as it started.
  2. De’Mornay Pierson-El.  If I could describe Nebraska’s day in one word, it would be inconsistent.  And nobody personified that inconsistency more than Pierson-El.  His first touch was a punt that he fair caught at the five.  95 yards later, he made that crazy, over-the-top catch.  In the second quarter, he had a false start penalty that turned a drive-extending 4th and 1 into a punt.  Speaking of punts, you could see DPE immediately regretting his decision to fair catch a 4th quarter punt, with NU in big need of a spark.
  3. Stanley Morgan, Jr.  On Nebraska’s first offensive play, Lee found Morgan 20 yards down field and put the wall in a great position for the catch.  Instead, the ball bounced off Morgan’s hands, his face mask, and into the arms of a Duck defender.  Above, we talked about Stan’s big day – 7 catches for 103 and 2 TDs.  But his first half was a very forgettable one catch for five yards.
  4. Tanner Lee.  Let’s be fair:  prior to Saturday, Lee’s last road start was November 21, 2015, at SMU, in front of what had to be a raucous crowd of 14,954.  So I think we can understand somewhat if nerves played a role in a day with four interceptions and a completion percentage under 50%.  While interceptions 1 and 4 were not Lee’s fault, no one will argue that Lee struggled throughout most of the game.
  5. Destro helmets.  By now, the shock factor from anything Oregon wears should be long gone.  But whenever they wear a shiny chrome helmet, as they did on Saturday, I cannot help but think of Destro from the G.I. Joe cartoons of my childhood.  And in finding that Destro image, I realized that almost every Oregon uniform is a homage to a one of the many great G.I. Joe characters.


An (Arkansas) State of Panic?

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Telltale signs suggest Nebraska football will travel bumpy road – a rebuttal

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