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Husker Hot Takes – 9/26/2014

Turn on a fan, because I have more Husker Hot Takes:

The Boyd is Back in Town. 
Pioneering Strength & Conditioning coach Boyd Epley has returned to the Nebraska athletic department as the Assistant Athletic Director for Strength and Conditioning.  The reaction I saw was all very positive.  Of course, Husker fans have a strong affinity for bringing back people that they associate with the pre-Callahan glory years.  Epley certainly fits the bill.

Frankly, I’m not real sure what to make of this.  On one hand, I certainly know and appreciate the many innovations Epley is responsible for, as well as the physical advantages the Huskers had over most of their opponents during his 35 year tenure.  Yet, I also heard rumblings from many outlets about a drop-off towards the end of his first run in 2004.  Additionally, the rash of athletic pubalgia injuries in that time was concerning.  I guess I’m in wait and see mode on what Epley’s day-to-day role will be – and how it will translate to results on the field and court.

The important caveat in this hire is that Epley will oversee all sports – except football.  This has the detractors of current S&C coach Tim Dobson (who apparently is responsible for every ACL injury in Lancaster County since 2010) plotting for Epley’s triumphant return to football – possibly in time for his 70th birthday later this year.

Tim Miles Lands Another Big-Time Recruit
This week, highly touted basketball recruit Ed Morrow, Jr. gave his verbal commitment to play for Nebraska.  Now, I know even less about basketball recruiting than I do about football (read:  absolutely nothing), but the hype metrics (four stars, #62 in the nation per ESPN ) are very impressive.  Obviously, Tim Miles and his staff are doing an excellent job on the recruiting trail, as Nebraska is poised to have it’s best hoops class ever.

But let’s also give credit to an unlikely figure in Nebraska’s hoops revival:  Tom Osborne.  It was Osborne who worked to get the world-class Hendricks practice center built.  It was Osborne who helped broker a deal to get Nebraska into the Pinnacle Bank Arena, and you better believe that Osborne’s support played a role in the arena ballot initiative getting approved by Lincoln’s voters.  And finally, Osborne gets credit for firing the ultimate nice guy, Doc Sadler, and for finding/hiring Tim Miles.

And since Morrow is a basketball recruit, let’s give a big assist to the 91,000 fans who attended the Nebraska – Miami football game last Saturday.  The atmosphere and fan support in Memorial Stadium was impressive.  It is very easy to imagine Miles telling Morrow that it gets just as crazy inside The Vault.  A great game day atmosphere pays dividends for all Nebraska sports.

Ameer Abdullah offers some tough love for Jameis Winston
After Monday’s press conference, Ameer Abdullah was asked about Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who sat out last week’s game for yelling something inappropriate in the middle of Florida State’s campus.  As is Abdullah’s style, he was honest, yet measured in his comments:

“Great reward brings great responsibility, and he needs to mature and understand that every decision I make has dire consequences, not only to myself but my family, team, coaching staff and university. And before I act, I need to make sure I represent myself in the right way.”

On the surface, this is rather odd.  I mean, when is the last time you saw an athlete from one school discuss an athlete from another school / conference – especially in a negative light?  But both Abdullah and Winston are from the Birmingham, AL area and have known each other for many years.

Regardless, I find it fascinating to see Abdullah offering such advice publicly.  Had Ameer said something to the effect of “Yeah, I’ve reached out to him to share my thoughts and opinions, but I’d prefer to keep it between us” nobody would have batted an eye.

Was Ameer out of line with his comments?  I don’t think so.  As we discussed last time, Abdullah is a natural leader who is not afraid to call it like he sees it.  And given Winston’s off-field exploits in the last year, he’d be wise to listen to his old friend Ameer.  Abdullah clearly has his life pointed in the right direction, and the sky is the limit for what he can accomplish.

The Cornhusker Marching Band will #FearAmeer. 
On Wednesday, the Director of the Cornhusker Marching Band tweeted that the band will spell out “Fear Ameer” during their halftime performance of the Illinois game.

*Side note:  I bet that software that created this image is fun to play around with.  I’d have those pixelated performers going in all sorts of crazy formations.  Hell, I’d write this entire section in marching band formations if I was smart enough.

In the past, I have been critical of the band for halftime shows that many fans find uninspiring.  Therefore, I love that the band is doing unique and potentially viral – I guarantee national outlets like ESPN, Deadspin, Bleacher Report, and others will show it.  Embrace the star player, get him (and your band) some hype.  That is the definition of “win/win” in the social media age.  My question is will this a one time deal, or will the Pride of All Nebraska continue to step out a little more?  Maybe they don’t go full Ohio State viral video mode, but I still believe there is room for improvement in their halftime shows*.

*Case in point:  The theme from last week’s Miami game was songs to commemorate the writing of the Star Spangled Banner.  Seriously?  No disrespect to the talented musicians in the band, but I have no desire to watch that.  With the 1994 National Championship team being honored at the Miami game, the theme “Songs of 1994” (featuring Ace of Base, Salt-N-Pepa, Tag Team, and Snoop Dogg) should have been an absolute no-brainer.  It would have been a fun performance for fans to watch, and I’m guessing more enjoyable for the band members to play.

Environmentalist’s Idea Goes Over Like A Lead Balloon
Benjamin Vogt, an English professor at UNL, has started an online petition to have Nebraska halt the traditional practice of releasing red balloons after the first touchdown.  He calls the practice “mass littering” and claims the balloons are not bio-degradable (he buried one in his yard to back his claim) and potentially harmful to animals.  A quote from Vogt in the story Deena Winter of NebraskaWatchdog.org wrote this week:

“The reality is that while the balloons may indeed shatter, the pieces are not impossible for animals to eat…In fact, the fringe of shattered latex balloons mimics the shape of jellyfish, a favorite meal for many ocean animals.”

Okay.

I realize that I only minored in English, but my dad was a biologist with the Fisheries Division of the Nebraska Game & Parks for many years.  So I know that, yes, there ARE jellyfish in Nebraska (really).  But I also know that the only ocean animals within the borders of the Cornhusker state reside in fish tanks, aquariums, and the Henry Doorly Zoo.  While it is possible that a fragment of a balloon released from Memorial Stadium could find its way into the aquarium at your dentist’s office (Shark bait!  Hoo ha ha!), I’d like to see the wildlife casualty numbers before we scrap this beloved tradition.

Regardless, should the balloons go away, I am prepared.  Back in 2012, when there were concerns over helium supplies, I made a list of alternate methods to celebrate the first touchdown.  I think many of them still apply today.

The Most Popular Guy on the Team

Frankie London.
Eric Crouch.
Bobby Newcombe.
Tommie Frazier.
Mike Stuntz.
Joe Dailey.
Turner Gill.
Joe Ganz.
Cody Green.
Brion Carnes.

What do all of the above have in common? At one point in their career, they were the most popular player in the state:  Nebraska’s backup quarterback.

After his impressive debut in Nebraska’s 59-20 romp over South Dakota State, we added a new name to this storied list: Tommy Armstrong, Jr..  Time will tell if he follows the career path of Frazier, Crouch, and Gill or that of London, Stuntz, or Carnes.

To hear and read the collective opinions of our fans, Tommy Armstrong is destined to be a four-year starter, whose many talents will lead Nebraska back to glory.  Some have noted the similarities in circumstances with Tommy Armstrong’s first starts and those of Tommie Frazier and see a similar career path.

While some of the shine came off the Armstrong apple with his ugly performance at Purdue (6-18, 43 yards, 3 INT), many Husker fans are still very high on him.  And with good reason – Armstrong has lots of talent, athleticism, and potential.  But is he the clear choice to lead this team forward?

Martinez’s injured toe has healed enough that he will take some snaps against Minnesota.  A fully healthy Martinez is, in my opinion, the clear and obvious choice.  Heck, Martinez at 80% health may prove to be better for the offense than Armstrong.  Ron Kellogg III might channel some of the career backup magic that his position coach Joe Ganz had, and take control of the starting job.  We just don’t know.

Let me be clear:  I mean no disrespect to Armstrong – from what I have seen, I’ve been impressed with his talent, and am very optimistic about his future. I am just cautious about going all-in on a redshirt freshman who has not faced an opponent more talented than Illinois.  After so many years of hearing the recruitniks hype up every QB to step on campus, as well as the general fan obsession with the #2 QB, I’m a little leery of diving head first into Armstrong Mania.

The view from the backup QB pedestal

Consider two case studies from the Pelini era:

Cody Green was a much-hyped recruit, and fans wanted him to be the starting QB as soon as he got on campus.  He had a very unspectacular career at NU and transferred out.

Joe Ganz was a rather unheralded recruit, and despite the struggles of Sam Keller, not too many fans were clamoring for Ganz to start – until the offense started lighting up the scoreboard and record book under his leadership.

I’ll say it again so I’m clear:  I hope Tommy Armstrong is successful – just like I hope every Nebraska player is successful.  By and large, I am supportive of any player who I feel can help Nebraska win….

Which leads us to Taylor Martinez.

I just don’t understand the reaction I’ve seen from some of our fans.  Many were thrilled that somebody else was starting the last three games.  They were happy that he was hurt.  They hope he never sees the field again.  They truly believe that Nebraska’s best chance to win the division and conference title is with a redshirt freshman instead of a four year starter.

I know that many people within the fan base have issues with Martinez – both factual (he led the nation in fumbles) and emotional (he “quit” on the team following that A&M game).  But that does not mean we should take joy in his pain, or disparage a player who has done a lot of good things at Nebraska.

I get it:  some fans will never like or appreciate Taylor.  Heck, if you read some of my previous work, you’ll notice that I’ve been rather critical of him over the years as well.  But my criticism is usually constructive and never personal.  And I feel that I recognize the good things he does and the growth he’s made.  I don’t think many of his bashers can say that.

Has he improved over his four seasons?  Absolutely, and without a doubt.

Is he an NFL-caliber quarterback?  Heavens no.  (Of course, no NU quarterback has been NFL worthy since Brook Berringer passed away, but that’s another topic for another day).

But there is a difference between pointing out the things a person does not do well, and being rude and disrespectful. Saying I use too many run-on sentences and love bullet points too much is constructive (and honest). Saying that I suck, don’t know what I’m talking about, and would be easily replaced by a drunken chimpanzee with a keyboard is rude (and insulting to the chimp).

What’s my point with all of this?  I guess if I could have you take away anything from this rant, it would be that you can be excited for Armstrong’s potential without tearing down another Husker.

*Author’s note: The original framework of this post was started back in 2011 after Nebraska lost at Wisconsin, sparking calls from fans, message boards, and the media that it was time to bench Martinez in favor of Brion Carnes.

It just goes to show that some things never change. 

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