nebraska cornhuskers

2015 Husker Preview: Reasons for Optimism

Finally.

We’re now less than a week away from the start of the 2015 season.  Mike Riley and staff get to write their first chapter in the pages of Husker history.  Will this season be a repeat of Bill Callahan’s disastrous 2004 season or will it have the success and promise of Bo Pelini’s first year?

Here are ten reasons why you should be optimistic going into this season:

1.  The schedule is favorable.  Let’s be clear:  With two teams that finished 2014 in the top 20 (Michigan State and Wisconsin) the 2015 slate is hardly a cake walk, but there are many things to like.  What appear to be the toughest games (Michigan State and Wisconsin) are at home.  The most challenging non-conference opponents (BYU and Miami) will be missing key starters due to injuries and/or suspensions.  The rest of the conference lineup looks doable.

Put it this way:  Look at Nebraska’s schedule and tell me the game(s) where NU has absolutely no chance of winning.

Exactly.

2.  The offense should cater to Tommy Armstrong’s strengths.  I’m of the opinion that anybody who claims to know what the Riley / Langsdorf offense will look like without seeing them on the field is blindly guessing.  We have some ideas from the practice reports, but things like run/pass ratios and the types of passes are mostly unknown.  I’ll freely admit that I don’t know what the offense will look like against BYU, and I certainly don’t know how it evolve by November.

But here’s what I do know:  Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf will sink or swim with Tommy Armstrong.  And since no first year coach wants to sink (even the previously mentioned Callahan), Riley and company will do everything in their power to ensure the plays they call are ones that put their quarterback in a position to succeed. Short passes, roll outs, deep balls, and yes, zone read keepers all seem likely to be staples in the offense.

3.  The simpler defense will allow the Blackshirts’ athleticism to shine.  Remember Sean Fisher?  He was a highly touted recruit who was dripping with athletic ability.  Before, and even after, he broke his leg, he possessed a lot of speed.  Coming off the bus, he looked like somebody who should be a star player.  But yet, he largely struggled at Nebraska.

Certainly, that nasty leg injury took a big toll, but I always got the sense he was thinking too much on the field.  It felt like he needed to process a large amount of information before he could unleash his physical gifts.  And remember, Sean Fisher is an extremely bright individual – somebody who graduated with a 4.0 GPA and is currently in med school.

I wish Sean Fisher could play in Mark Banker’s defense.

The 2015 version of Fisher – linebacker Josh Banderas – rather famously compared the new scheme to high school football where you attack instead of read and react.  That mentality should help several Huskers to show off their athletic talents.

4.  The defense will focus on stopping the run.  Bo Pelini’s defenses were usually very strong at stopping the pass.  In the Big XII, where teams liked to spread you out and throw it all over the field, this was a recipe for success.  Not surprisingly, Pelini won two Big XII North titles outright, and tied for a third in three seasons.

But then Nebraska moved to the Big 10.

To say that the Big 10 over the last five years has been a “three yards and a cloud of dust” league is a little simplistic, but there is no denying that Big 10 teams are primarily run oriented.  More appropriately, a Big 10 team isn’t going to pass if they can run over – or around – you.  Most pundits will tell you that Nebraska beats Wisconsin in 2014 if they made Joel Stave throw it 25 times.  But Stave only attempted 11 throws, because Melvin Gordon had record-setting success with his 25 carries.

Going back to the mid-90’s Glory Days, Charlie McBride’s defensive philosophy was rather simple: take away the run and make ’em beat you through the air.  Against the “fun and gun” Gators or Peyton Manning’s Tennessee Volunteers that sounded like a suicide mission.  Instead, it meant the defensive line could pin their ears back and pressure the quarterback.

A defense that focuses on stopping the run will be vulnerable to the pass, so Banker’s scheme will test Nebraska’s secondary.  But aren’t you willing to take your chances against the arms of Joel Stave, Mitch Leidner, and whomever Iowa trots out?  Me too.

5.  This is a young team with a lot of potential.  The current roster lists 21 seniors.  Of those, I count three who will likely start on defense (Byerson Cockrell, Daniel Davie, and Jack Gangwish) and four who start on offense (Alex Lewis, Chongo Kondolo, Ryne Reeves, and Andy Janovich).  Feel free to add Jamal Turner as another starter / contributor and we should probably expect that this will be Maliek Collins’s final season as a college player.

Other than that?  There are a lot of juniors, sophomores, and freshmen (both redshirt and true) who will see a lot of time this fall.  Getting a young core of players a lot of experience will pay dividends in the future.

6.  The road to Indy is manageable.  From most accounts, Nebraska’s biggest threats in the Big Ten West are Wisconsin and Minnesota.  As I noted above, Nebraska gets Wisconsin at home.  Minnesota is clearly the toughest opponent on the conference schedule, but TCF Bank Stadium doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being an intimidating place to play – especially when Nebraskans have shown they like to travel to the Twin Cities.

After that?  The rest of the conference road games are at West cellar dwellers Purdue and Illinois (who just first their head coach) and Rutgers.

It remains to be seen if Nebraska can win the West, but it would be tough to create an easier road to Indianapolis.

7.  The defense has strength at all three levels.  Think back to some of Nebraska’s best defenses.  Most of them had a talented – if not star – player at all three levels (line, linebacker, secondary).  On paper, Nebraska’s defense looks very strong up the middle with Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine at tackle, Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey at linebacker and Nathan Gerry and Daniel Davie in the secondary.

8.  The cupboard isn’t bare at running back.  Let’s state the obvious right off the top:  Nebraska will not have a ball carrier who can consistently do the things that Ameer Abdullah did over his stellar career.

But don’t get caught up in the notion that Nebraska is devoid of talent in the backfield.  My guess is Terrell Newby starts, and displays the talent that made him a four star recruit.  He may not be a 25 carry a game workhorse, but I won’t be at all surprised if he gets 1,000 yards this year.

Beyond him, you’ve got freshman phenoms Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo, who have garnered a lot of buzz in fall camp.  From the practice reports, both have flashed potential and have earned carries and receptions.  After those two is the underrated (and possibly overlooked) Imani Cross.  At a minimum, Cross should continue to be a reliable 3rd down/goal line option.  Next in line is a former message board darling Adam Taylor.

And if all else fails, just give the ball to fullback Andy Janovich and get the heck out of the way.

9.  The assistant coaches are experienced teachers.  As you may recall, the biggest knocks on Bo Pelini’s staffs were their inexperience and inconsistent ability to develop three and four star recruits into star players.

Look across Mike Riley’s staff.  You’re not going to find anybody who was recently promoted from grad assistant or guys whose most significant coaching experience was at a golf course.  Receivers coach Keith Williams spent the summer having NFL wide receivers coming to Lincoln to workout with him.  Offensive Line coach Mike Cavanaugh focused on technique and intensity, and makes legendary line coach Milt Tenopir a guest of honor at practice.

One more:  How many of you felt that Pelini and Nebraska would have been better with a dedicated Quarterbacks coach or Special Teams Coordinator?  Riley’s staff has both, which leads us to the final item…

10.  Special teams should remain special.  Make no mistake, Nebraska had very strong special teams units in 2014.  Punt return was clearly a strength, but the Huskers excelled in many other areas last year.

This year, I expect the special teams to maintain last year’s standard – even with the amazing De’Mornay Pierson-El sidelined for 6-8 weeks with a foot injury.  With a dedicated coordinator in Bruce Read overseeing the units, and talented players like punter Sam Foltz, I expect NU’s kick and return game to be an edge.

End of Year Blowout – 2014

If it’s the end of the year, that typically means two things:  1) I’m a couple of posts shy of my annual goal and 2) I’ve got some odds and ends that never got finished.  Therefore, we grab one virtual stone, take aim at two metaphorical birds and fire off some miscellany:

Randy Gregory goes pro.

All year, I’ve been seeing Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory listed as a top 5 – or at least high first round – pick in the 2015 NFL draft.  Some experts have him as the #1 overall pick.

Coming into the season, I probably would have agreed with that.  Gregory had a great 2013 season and looked to improve as a junior.  But four months later, I am not sure why Gregory is still considered a lock to be a top 10 pick.

Don’t get me wrong, Gregory is an athletic freak with a strong upside, but when I watched him play this season I rarely thought “this is one of the best players in college football” or “this guy is NFL ready right now”.

He has an amazing motor, hustles like a walk-on, and is relentless in his pass rushing – and maybe that’s what the Mel Kipers and Todd McShays are going off of.  But I also see a guy who – while improved – is still questionable on run defense, appears injury prone, and sometimes loses his composure.

Clearly, if he’s going to be a top 10 pick he made the right decision to go pro, but I’m not sure I’d want my NFL team to take him with their first pick.  The reward may not be worth the risk.

There’s Bo place like home.

Author’s note:  I wrote this after it was announced that Bo Pelini was going to return home to be the head coach at Youngstown State.  This also happened to be the night before the second Pelini Audio Bomb was dropped.  After that beauty hit the fan, I didn’t think this would be well received:

Good for him.  Whether or not you liked Bo, supported him, or wish he would have been fired a year ago, I would hope you think this is a good move for him.  It was very clear during Bo’s tenure just how much he loves his hometown, and how much pride he has in his roots.  I don’t want this to come across as a swipe at Bo, but I think that when a coach truly loves the school, city, or state he represents, it generally leads success.

I don’t claim to know what Bo’s career goals were two months ago, or are today, but Youngstown State seems like a good fit for where he is at now – and a great stepping stone for future opportunities.  Even with Youngstown State’s history, there won’t be nearly as much pressure to win as what he felt at Nebraska.  It’s unlikely that Pelini will face 20+ media members after every practice.  Once again, his boss is the legendary, championship-winning coach and not a lawyer.  And most importantly, he’s back around family and friends.

Nebraska gets a new trophy game

Author’s note:  This was from a post tentatively titled “Freedom isn’t Free (but apparently, ugly trophies are)”

Big Ten loves it some trophy games.  Fine.  That’s part of who they are, so it should be embraced and cherished.  In that regard, I’m all for putting a trophy at stake in the Nebraska – Wisconsin series.  With both teams now in the West division, that matchup looks like an annual winner-take-all battle royale.

But whomever is responsible for the actual trophy has no idea what makes Big Ten trophy games so unique and fun.  The draw and desire is not to see two programs honoring “freedom”, “heroes”, or some other broad term that most everybody already respects*.

*I’m looking forward to future trophy games honoring “America”, “Moms”, “Apple Pie”, and “Three Day Weekends”.  Maybe Nebraska can get a trophy game going with Purdue or Rutgers for one of these themes!

Big Ten trophy games are about peculiar items that are only considered “trophies” by the teams involved:

A bronze pig.  A jug.  A wooden turtle.  A giant ax.  A spittoon.

Yeah, some of these are cheesy and corny*, but I feel that was part of the draw for Nebraska fans when we joined the Big Ten.  We could picture ourselves getting worked up over a bronzed ear of corn, a big cow, or some other random item.

*Yeah, that was intentional.  Memo to Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Big Ten leadership:  stop being embarrassed by the agricultural roots of our great states.

Nobody is getting worked up over the ultra generic Heroes Trophy (presented by Hy-Vee!) and I don’t see many players or fans getting too hyped over the Freedom Trophy.

And that is what is the most disappointing about this – it is just such a huge missed opportunity.  Nebraska and Wisconsin seem like natural rivals – and they have since the day NU joined the conference.  Two traditionally powerful schools, priding themselves on homegrown talent, big offensive lines, powerful run games, and passionate fans.  The ties between the two programs (Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez was a NU player and assistant.  Nebraska’s AD Shawn Eichorst worked at Wisconsin) are big.  With both teams in the same division, the matchup just seems destined for a heated rivalry.  Adding a trophy should have been the cherry on top, but in this case, it was a swing and a miss.

Both Wisconsin and Nebraska are states that are proud of their agricultural roots, and are widely known for the food they produce.  Wisconsin is synonymous with cheese and if you want a good steak, find a cow raised on Nebraska corn.  A cow would have been a natural trophy – something with meaning to the two schools and states, something unique, and something that respects and honors the legacy of Big Ten trophy games.

But apparently somebody thought it would be better to go broader.

And that is disappointing to me.  The Big Ten could have done something unique to honor the people and culture of the teams involved.  Instead, they opted for something vague, non-specific, and unnecessarily self-important.  It makes me sad, but given this is the same conference that gave us Legends and Leaders, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the Big Ten went for the most pompous route instead of the one that makes the most sense.

Ironically, the design inspiration appears to be taken from a December 2013 post on knowitallfootball.com, where J.P. Scott wrote:

“I was rooting through some Husker gear when I came across a lunchbox that had “Huskers” painted onto one side and the Wisconsin “W” misprinted on the other.”

Seriously, toss a big ol’ flag in the middle and there’s your Freedom Trophy!

2014 World Series Games as Husker Bowl games

Author’s note:  The genesis for this post was the heartbreak of the Kansas City Royals’ Game 7 loss to the San Francisco Giants.  It reminded me of the 1984 Orange Bowl, where Nebraska was so close, but fell just short.  The original idea was to take each game of the World Series and find a comparable Husker bowl game (preferably one with national championship implications).  I didn’t games 2 -5 done, but here is what I had:

Game 1:  Giants 7, Royals 1 is the 2002 Rose Bowl (Miami Hurricanes 37 – Nebraska 14).  Some may question if the Royals should have been there, much like Eric Crouch’s Huskers were questioned for appearing in the Rose Bowl.  A game that was not as close as the final score indicated, as the Canes and Giants were dominant in all phases of the game.

Game 6:  Royals 10, Giants 0 is the 1996 Fiesta Bowl (Nebraska 62, Florida Gators 24).  Few gave the Huskers a chance against the vaunted Fun and Gun offense (“Nebraska can’t run on grass”) just like nobody gave the Royals much of a chance of coming back down three games to two.  At best, it was expected to be a close, hard-fought game that came down to the wire.  Instead, it was over in the second.  The Huskers exploded for 29 second quarter points to take a 35-10 halftime lead.  The Royals batted around in the second inning to score seven runs.

Game 7:  (Giants 3, Royals 2) is the 1984 Orange Bowl (Miami Hurricanes 31, Nebraska 30).  The games were so close, yet so far away.  The opponent controlled most of the game, a key injury (Rozier / Sal Perez HBP) left fans wondering what could have been.  But these two games will be forever remembered for a critical decision made late in the contest.  Should Nebraska go for two to win outright?  Should third base coach Mike Jirshelle have tried to send Alex Gordon home after his single was bobbled and booted around the outfield?  As much as fans may disagree (Nebraska probably would have won the National Championship by kicking the extra point to tie / Gordon may have beaten the throw or the relay may have been off-target) it says here that the right decision was made.  Osborne gained so much more than he lost by going for two.  Gordon likely would have been out by 10 feet, and the next batter (Salvador Perez) had homered off of Bumgarner earlier in the Series).

Braxton Miller is out for the season. 

Author’s note:  This was written shortly after Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the 2014 season due to injury.  A local radio station was making the case that this injury was bad for the Big Ten, and therefore, bad for Nebraska.  I didn’t buy that.

It sucks for Miller and to a far lesser extent, Buckeye fans.  But I just do not feel compelled to feel bad because the Big Ten’s “best chance” at getting a team in the playoffs and therefore, restoring glory and respect to the conference is gone.  Yeah, Ohio State has a far tougher road to get into the playoffs – let alone win the Big Ten East, but I’m not really sure how that impacts me as a Nebraska fan – especially since Ohio State was not on Nebraska’s schedule, nor do they play either of the teams expected to contend for the West title (Wisconsin or Iowa). 

This may be 15 years as a fan of a Big XII school talking – but I don’t take a lot of pride in the successes of fellow conference schools.  Sure if the championship game came down to say, Alabama or Florida State versus Michigan State, I’d want the Spartans to win.  But I’m not going to chant “B-I-G” the next time a Big Ten school wins a title. 

*Or would it be “Bee-One-Gee”?

Heck, I think Nebraska fans are more likely to find amusement in the stumbles of conference mates (such as the typo in the Texas media guide) than gain pride in something that Illinois does.  Besides, getting a team into the playoffs isn’t going to magically erase the stigma that the B1G is the weakest of the Power 5 conferences.  That will take multiple years of bowl wins, non-conference victories, and most likely a national title or two.  As good as Braxton Miller is, he can’t do all of that by himself.

The “Obama Presidential Library” is unveiled in a Norfolk parade

Author’s note:  A Fourth of July parade in Norfolk, NE contained a controversial float of the “Obama Presidential Library” – a Obama caricature sitting in front of a dilapidated outhouse.  

As is my custom, I’ll do my best to leave my political views out of the discussion.  If you want to read an impassioned response from a conservative or a liberal, you have many options.  I’d rather try to view things from both sides of the street.

I am not at all surprised by the float’s popularity.  The joke seems to be lifted right out of my Facebook feed, which is often filled with images and other memes mocking President Obama.  Obama is not popular with many of my Facebook friends, and I’ve seen more than one person use language that was rather disrespectful.  That’s part of life with a left-leaning President in a very conservative state like Nebraska.

I’ve seen many people asking what the response would have been if it was a conservative politician being lampooned.  Certainly, in an ultra red state like Nebraska there are several options (the governor, both Senators, and all three U.S. Representatives are Republican – and the odds are microscopic that a Democrat will win any of those offices in November’s elections).  So I can understand that a hypothetical float mocking the accomplishments of Governor Dave Heineman’s 10 years in office would not be well received – if it was even allowed entry into the parade in the first place.  But that’s not the point.

Personally, I’ve had enough with the “where was the outrage when so-and-so was ridiculed” straw-man arguments.  Yes, folks mocked George W. Bush (as well as Bush Sr, and Reagan), just like folks mocked Clinton and Carter.  And I’ll guarantee that whichever Republican wins in 2016 will be mocked too.

Let’s all acknowledge that democrats bash republicans and republicans bash democrats.  Let’s also acknowledge that this childish back and forth is one of the things most people hate about our current political culture.  At some point, somebody needs to be the bigger person and say “This is over the line.  There is a time and place, and this is not it”.

In one local article, a defender of the float said it is nothing worse than a “political cartoon” in a newspaper.  That is a fair point.  I’ve seen sharper jabs in political cartoons than what the float was trying to convey.  But there is a difference:  There are not too many young minds who read the editorial/opinion pages.  The ones that do probably can understand the concept of political satire.

But when an outhouse float goes down Main Street USA to the applause and laughter of the crowd, it becomes tougher to explain to a child why we should continue to respect the office, especially when the current President is depicted outside a dilapidated outhouse.  I don’t have a problem if you don’t respect the current President, but I do take issue with being disrespectful of the office.

 

Now What?

By the time you read this, Mike Riley will have been formally introduced as the new coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Much has already been written and said about Riley – a guy who was completely off the radar in the Huskers’ coaching search.  I don’t have much to add that has not already been said elsewhere.  Besides, I think it is time to more forward.  Today.  Now.

To that end, I have some to-do items and friendly suggestions for all of the stakeholders in the Nebraska Football program

Head Coach Mike Riley

You have the most to do, so you go first.

Earn the trust and respect of your players.  As you probably know, Bo Pelini was extremely beloved by his players.  They were shocked and hurt when he was fired, so some may view you as the bad guy (or the agent of a bad guy).  Job one will be to get your new players to trust you, respect you, and ultimately buy into the culture you’re going to create.

How do you do this?  Well Coach, I’m hoping you know the answer better than some amateur writer.  I’m putting my trust in you that you can get this done.

Hire the best damn staff you can.  The need to hire a talented staff full of teachers and recruiters is of the utmost importance.  You’ll probably get some pressure from the fans to look at an offensive coordinator who works down the road from where you used to coach.  You can investigate that if you want.  Frankly, I’m more concerned about putting this program in a position to win titles than in the number of guys with Nebraska ties.

I assume you’ll bring some guys from your Oregon State staff, and that’s fine – especially if they are the best person for the job.  I would humbly suggest that you give serious consideration to a handful of Bo Pelini’s assistants.  There are some guys there who can help you.

Also – I absolutely love your idea to hire a full-time special teams coordinator.

Immerse yourself in the culture and tradition.  You said you are a history major, so you have come to the right place.  Nebraskans value and cherish the rich history of this program, and a healthy respect for where Nebraska has been will serve you well.

Learn to love walk-ons, Blackshirts, Runzas, and red hot dogs fired out of an air cannon.  Talk in reverent tones in how Devaney’s 1971 team kicked the crap out of the Alabama team you played on.  Speak with respect of what Tom Osborne did.  Give some love to the players from the Solich, Callahan, and Pelini eras.  There are lots of good guys from those teams that are worthy of your respect.

Recruit, recruit, recruit.  Salvage this class and land some surprises.  Make a (positive) statement for how you will do things at Nebraska.  I’m hopeful that you are a helluva coach, but your job – and your ability to meet the standards of Nebraska fans – will be much easier if you bring in NFL-caliber talent.

Decide what you want to be, and build your team around that.  I have my ideas on what would work both offensively and defensively, but nobody is playing me $3 million for my football strategies.

Use the talent at your disposal – and make no mistake, the cupboard is far from bare.  Understand the conference you’re playing in, and the weather concerns of this great state.  Then build a winner.

Tear down the wall.  You’ll hear a lot about the “us against the world” mentality that Pelini often operated in.  As a result, this team often felt into that mindset.  The result was an unhealthy, toxic environment that led to mistrust, players and coaches on the defensive, and ultimately, Pelini’s dismissal.

You need to blow up that wall.  Get the team out of their bunker and into the light.  Let the fans and media embrace your program and throw their tremendous support behind you.

Nebraska players

It’s okay to still be hurt by what happened on Sunday.  It’s okay to still feel a love and loyalty for Coach Bo.  I’ll even tell you that it is okay to question if Nebraska is the best place for you going forward.  These things are natural.

Here is what I suggest:

Throw yourself head first into bowl preparations.  By Sunday night, you’ll know who you’re playing, where, and when.  Hopefully it is a good team in a fun destination.  At some point (maybe as soon as Monday) you’ll start diving into your practices and prep for that game.  Do whatever you can to improve yourself and prepare yourself to play a great game.

There’s going to be a lot said about the direction of the team during the bowl preparations – coaches hired, schemes discussed, etc.  Try to block that out and focus on the here and now.

If you want to dedicate your performance to Pelini and the coaching staff that recruited you, developed you, and gotten you to where you are today, you should absolutely do that.  I’m guessing the last 30 days haven’t been a lot of fun, and the season has probably been disappointing for you.  But you owe to yourself and your teammates to finish this season strong.  Give it all you got.

Think about your future.  Once the game’s over, feel free to consider what is best for you – academically and athletically.  Maybe you think that your skill set will not work in Coach Riley’s schemes.  Maybe you don’t feel a connection with the new coach.  As I said above, it’s natural to question these things.

But…

Don’t make hasty, impulsive decisions – especially if transferring may cost you a year of eligibility.  Talk it over with Coach Riley and his assistants, your family, and other people in your life that you trust to be honest and supportive.  Think not only about your playing career, but about your education and your life after football.  Where do you want to be, and how will you get there?

If, after all of that, you feel in your heart that somewhere other than Nebraska is right, do what is best for you, and ignore the small percentage of “fans” who are hurt by your decision.  Know that most Nebraska fans will respect your decision and wish you well.

Go all in.  If you’re staying with the Huskers (and I hope you do) then my advice is simple:  go all in.  Throw your faith in Coach Riley and his staff.  Help them adjust to Lincoln, and help build the culture and team that Coach Riley envisions.  Be a leader in offseason workouts and be ready to dominate in 2015.

Trust me, you can buy into Coach Riley and still be respectful to Coach Bo.  Besides, if you don’t, your playing time may be diminished.

Nebraska Media

Help us get to know the new coach and his staff.  Mike Riley seems like an interesting guy with a lot of experience and expertise.  Write the stories and profiles that help us know who this man is, what he believes in, and what his strategies and beliefs are.

Keep the criticisms honest and constructive.  It felt like, to me and other fans and observers of the program, that some of your criticisms of Pelini and his staff were rooted in personal conflict with the coach.  Many felt like certain media members took thinly veiled shots at Pelini, his staff, or players.  That needs to stop.

Nobody will deny that the media has a job to do, and that job sometimes involves being critical of decisions and asking tough questions.  That’s fine.  I hope the majority of Husker fans understand and respect this.  But the media needs to recognize the role that they (either collectively or personally) have played in the divide in the fan base.

Try to avoid Pelini comparisons.  I know that with every decision, change, and strategic move Riley makes, it will be very easy to compare and contrast that with what Bo Pelini might have done.  Don’t.  You’re better than that.  As for those of you appreciating the irony of this, given the previous point, I am hopeful that will be my final comparison.

Shawn Eichorst

You have led one of the better coaching searches in recent memory.  It was quick, quiet, and efficient.  The rumor mill churned out some names, but none of those were leaked from you or your office.  But your job’s not done:

Open the checkbook to let Riley hire a top-notch staff.  The rumor mill is churning out some big names who would make a splash.  It’s unlikely that all of them will come to Lincoln, but do your part to help Riley be successful by giving him a big, big budget for his assistant coaches.

Say “Yes.”  If you truly want this program to win conference championships and compete at a national level, be sure to say “Yes” when the coach asks for something.  That’s not a veiled accusation of anything that may or may not have happened in the past two years – frankly, I have no clue – but a simple reminder that you need to put your money where your mouth is.

Don’t completely retreat back into your bunker.  Be there to support your guy – especially if he loses a game or two this fall.  Loosen your stance on commenting on coaches during the season during his first year.  Let Coach Riley – and more importantly, Husker fans – know that you support him 100%.

Nebraska Fans

I’ve saved us for last, but that does not diminish the work we have ahead of us.

Embrace Mike Riley (figuratively).  I know many of you were hoping for a different coach (Tressel, Frost, etc.) or are underwhelmed by Riley’s resume or W/L record.  I get that.

But it is time to move forward.  Throw your support behind the coach and help him be successful.

Come Together.  Bo-leavers and Bo-lievers:  put aside your differences and unite behind Coach Riley.  I won’t tell you how you should feel about Coach Pelini or his tenure, but it is time to put that in the rear view mirror.

Relax on the local media.  You’ll notice I asked the media to take it easy on Riley and the players.  I think it’s needed.  But you need to reciprocate.

Not every article, column, or blog is an attack on the program.  Let go of your grudges against Dirk, Sipple, Lee, or any other writer who doesn’t agree 100% with your point of view.  We are fortunate to have some talented folks in the local media, and I have a hard time believing that any of them are intentionally stirring up conflict for clicks or kicks.

Be patient.  I have no idea how Mike Riley will do in his first year or two.  Maybe we’ll win the West and go to Indianapolis.  Maybe we’ll struggle and barely make a bowl game.  I don’t know.

But I do know that judging his first year or two solely by wins and losses is going to be a narrow-minded, short-sighted approach.  I’m more curious to see how his system is put in place and grown, how he and his staff develop the talent they have into something more, and the progress they make in big games (not getting blown out will be a great start).

Relax, take a deep breath, and be patient.

Now…how many days are left until the Spring Game?

State of the Huskers Survey – my responses

Since I asked all of you for your opinions on the State of the Huskers, and over 6,000 of you were kind enough to oblige, I figure the least I could do is share my responses and a brief justification*.

*Author’s note:  I composed this prior to Pelini being fired by Shawn Eichorst (that dude is really screwing with my writing schedule), so the responses refer to Bo in the present tense as Nebraska’s coach)

Here are the answers I provided when I took the survey last week.  Just promise you won’t hold any of these answers against me…

State of the Huskers header

1. What is the biggest issue facing the Nebraska football program?

Schematic deficiencies
Reason:  I feel Nebraska has the talent to win the West, but I question the approaches taken on offense and defense.  Yeah, you probably could say this is on the coordinators, but I look at it like this:  bring in the coordinator of your choosing.  If he runs the exact same scheme as what’s being done now, would he be successful?  On the flip side, would Beck or Papuchis look better with a different scheme?
2. What is the primary issue holding back the offense?
Offensive Line
Reason:  It starts up front for this team.  When the line is playing like “hell in a helmet”, the offense moves very well.  When they play like “Grandma Helen in a helmet”, Armstrong and Abdullah have problems and Beck looks bad.
3. What is the primary issue holding back the defense?
Defensive coordinator / scheme
Reason:  The Big Ten is a run-first league, but NU’s defense is designed to stop the pass.  As a result, teams often run at will against NU even if they have a below average QB.  (see also: Wisconsin, 2014).  You can put that on Papuchis (the guy with the coordinator title) if you want.
4. Do the fans and local media have unrealistic expectations for the Nebraska program?
No, as Tim Miles says “You get what you tolerate”
Reason:  If I had it to do over, I’d preface this question with a question defining what you believe the expectations are for Nebraska.  Without that, it’s tough to say they are too high or out of touch.
5. What do you believe the national perception of Nebraska is?
Low.  Nebraska is known more for Pelini’s anger, cats, and ugly losses in big games.
Reason: I think Nebraska’s name is still one that perks up the ears of casual fan, but with NU falling on their face in nationally televised games against ranked teams, Nebraska’s notoriety seems to be coming more from the dedicated Pelini Sideline Rage Cam and viral videos (the cat, Jack Hoffman, Harlem Shake, pranks, etc.)
6. Are you happier with where the Nebraska program is today compared to when Bill Callahan was fired?
Yes.  Top to bottom, the program is better.
Reason:  There is not any one aspect of the program that was better in 2007 than it is today.  A year or two ago, you probably could have cited recruiting and overall talent, but I feel like that has improved.
And for those who said the 2007 team would probably beat the 2014 Huskers, I never gamble on the Huskers, but I’d make an exception for you.
7. What is Bo Pelini’s biggest weakness as a head coach?
Lack of composure in stressful situations
Reason: If you think back through all of the bad losses (I’ll wait if you want to take a shot first), there almost always is a turning point when the flakes become a snowball, which becomes an avalanche.  When that point happens, I rarely see anything to give me confidence that the moment is being recognized and addressed on the sideline.  If anything, I feel like the pressure ratchets up.
8. What is Bo Pelini’s best quality as a coach?
Able to identify aresa of deficiency (recruiting, media perception, punt returns, etc.) and make improvements
Reason:  Despite his exterior, and “what do you think?” responses, I think Bo is very introspective and able to identify and acknowledge his shortcomings.  Even the staunchest Pelini detractor should be able to acknowledge the growth he has shown in how he recruits and gets talent, how he has let his guard down more often with the media, and has made drastic changes to the punt return game.  Critics will point out that it has taken a while for this side to come out – and that there is plenty more work to  do.  I agree, but I do see this as a big strength.
9. What upsets you the most about Bo Pelini?
Blowout losses
Reason:  Let me start by acknowledging that some blowout losses are due more to the players than the head coach.  But since Pelini strives for a “point the thumb, not the finger” culture, those ugly losses end up on his bill.
10. What is Bo Pelini’s best win at Nebraska?
vs. #9 Michigan State, 2011 (24-3)
Reason: I really wanted to answer the 2009 Holiday Bowl over Arizona, as that was one of the more dominating performances of the Pelini Era, but Michigan State, 2011 gets the nod for being a division game against a higher ranked opponent (even if I was not particularly impressed by Sparty on that day.
11. What is Bo Pelini’s worst loss at Nebraska?
at Texas A&M, 2010
Reason:  The A&M loss has almost everything a Bo-leaver could want: multiple sideline eruptions, costly penalties, inept offense, a nationally televised embarrassment, fall out from the Martinez confrontation as well as Carl Pelini allegedly breaking a camera.  The only thing this game does not have is a larger margin of defeat.
12. Is Bo Pelini a better coach today than he was in 2012?
Yes.
Reason:  He has learned a lot of lessons (call it on the job training, if you like) and has improved his recruiting, his game planning, and when he pours his focus on something (i.e. punt returns) they do get much better.
13. Do you believe Bo Pelini can win a Big Ten Championship at Nebraska?
Yes.
Reason:  He was close in the XII, twice.  If we buy the popular notion that the Big Ten is a lesser conference than the XII, then he should be able to get it done.
14. Should Bo Pelini be fired before the end of the 2014 season?
Undecided
Reason:  I hear the reasons of the Bo-leavers (blowout losses, the Groundhog’s Day style of his core issues, the fact that he hired the two coordinators who may be hurting him, etc.).  I also hear the reasons of the Bo-lievers (growth, improving talent, etc.)  I’m leaning towards some big changes (possibly including Bo), but won’t commit to it.
15. Will Bo Pelini be fired before the end of the 2014 season?
Too soon to tell
Reason:  Eichorst is an enigma that few people even claim to know, so any speculation is pure guesswork.  I think to have a chance at saving his job, he needs to coach two very clean, dominating performances against Iowa and the bowl opponent – i.e. get his team to play to their full potential instead of to the level of their competition.
16. Who is Nebraska’s best coach?
Rick Kaczenski (defensive line)
Reason:  The D Line is the strength of the defense, and one of the brightest spots on the team.  Even better, they are young, young, young.  Certainly, you can give credit for recruiting to the staff, but their development and growth goes to Coach Kaz.
17. Who is Nebraska’s worst coach?
Tim Beck (offensive coordinator / quarterbacks)
Reason:  When he’s “on” as a coordinator, he can call a beautiful drive that leaves defenses grasping at straws.  When he’s “off”, he rides the same play too much, goes away from his strength, and tries to score  17 points on every drive.  And for being the guy (officially) in charge of developing quarterbacks, the career of Taylor Martinez (as well as the inconsistency of Tommy Armstrong, Jr.) is a poor reflection on their coach.
18. If changes are made to the NU coaching staff, who should be let go?
Both coordinators
Reason: Regardless of if Bo stays or goes, changes are needed on both sides of the ball.  By and large, the assistants do a good job, but the schemes are questionable.
19. Can you fire a coach who consistently wins 9-10 games?
Yes – We’ve done it before.
Reason:  If Bo gets fired, it will be more about the 3-4 losses than it will be about the 9-10 wins.  Period.
20. What does the Nebraska Football team need most?
A full-time, dedicated special teams coordinator
Reason:  If we believe the old coaching mantra that special teams are a third of the game, shouldn’t we have a full-time guy in charge of them instead of a bunch of guys pulling double duty?  That’s how special teams becomes an after thought, which is how the 2012 and 2013 punt return teams are formed.
21. How many more seasons should Bo Pelini get to take Nebraska to the “next level” before he is replaced?
One more year
Reason:  Let him make whatever changes he feels is necessary.  But lay it on the line:  Indy or bust.
22. On a scale of 1-10, how would you describe your level of passion for the Nebraska Football program?
8
Reason:  If you’ve ever sat within five rows of me at a game, you would probably concur (if not put me a little higher).  I did not go to 9 or 10, solely because I have a very passing interest in recruiting and I don’t read every single word that is written.
23. Has your level of passion for the Nebraska Football program changed in the last year?
My level of fanaticism has not changed.
Reason:  Things may not be all peaches and cream, but I’m still passionate about the team.
24. What are your feelings on 9 win seasons?
A nine win season is a successful season.
Reason:  I am on record saying that 9 wins matters.  That piece lays out my case.
25. Are you a season ticket holder?
Yes
26. If Pelini and his entire staff are retained for 2015, would you purchase/renew season tickets?
My decision to purchase season tickets is not dependent on the head coach.
Reason:  Even during the Callahan years, I never considered dropping my ticket.  I hope to hold a season ticket until I die.
27. Where do you go for Husker news and opinions? (Select all that apply)
Message board(s)
Blogs or websites not affiliated with NU
Twitter
Sports radio
Print media (newspapers and magazines)
28. If additional losses would help spur changes to the coaching staff, would you root for the Huskers to lose one of their final two games?
I would never root against Nebraska
Reason:  I know the term “true fan” gets thrown about way too much.  But I’d love to hear somebody justify how can call them self a “true fan” while rooting for Nebraska to lose.
29. Would you be willing to sacrifice Nebraska’s NCAA record sellout streak if it resulted in a coaching change?
No, the streak is a sacred record.
Reason:  Regardless of who the coach is, I’m not sure the streak makes it another five years.
30. If Nebraska (regardless of the coach) was guaranteed to win a conference championship and make the Playoff in 2017, how many losses would you tolerate in the next two seasons in order to get a conference championship?
7 or less (NU goes 9-4 and 10-3 before the championship season)
Reason:  I believe in 9 win seasons.  I do not want anything less than 9 win seasons.  For all the big talk from some fans and media members, they would never endure back to back losing seasons even if Jim Delany hand delivered the championship trophy to their door.
31. Would you be okay with Nebraska coaches and staff knowingly breaking NCAA rules if it resulted in a competitive advantage?
Never. Nebraska does not cheat.
Reason:  If we learned anything this off-season (with two players being accused of stealing bikes), Nebraska is not paying players – or at least not enough to afford decent transportation.  Now, I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen at Nebraska, but I don’t want coaches intentionally breaking laws.
32. Is there an “SEC bias” in college football?
Only because they have had success in the last 5-10 years
Reason:  My reasoning can be found here
33. Are you excited for the College Football Playoff?
No, I do not think a playoff is good for college football.
Reason:  Prepare your torches and pitch forks – I’m not a playoff guy.  With some refinement, the BCS could succeed in it’s original mission of matching #1 vs. #2 in a winner take all game.  All a playoff does is invite more controversy.
34. What do you like best about college football?
Rooting for my team
Reason:  I watch very, very little of the NFL.  Why?  Mainly, it’s because I don’t have a team that I care about.
35. Should college football players be paid?
Yes.  Allow players to earn money for their likeness, jersey sales, autographs, etc.
Reason:  My thoughts are outline here.
36. Which announcer team do you like the most?
Kevin Kugler & Glen Mason
Reason:  I believe a good announcer is like a good umpire – he’s so good at his job that you don’t really notice he’s there.  And when you do notice him, it’s for good reasons (a strong call or excellent point) as opposed to bad ones (a blunder, bias, or other error).  To that end, Kugler is one of the finest play-by-play guys in the business.  Glen Mason is the former coach who provides good information and insight without kowtowing to the Coaches’ Fraternity Honor Code.
37. What is the best conference in college football?
SEC
Reason:  The SEC has a depth of top teams.  By the way – I continue to be amused that so many of you say there is an SEC bias, yet you also feel the SEC is the best conference.
38. Is the sustained success of the 1993 – 1997 Husker teams possible today?
No, the success of Osborne’s final five teams cannot be replicated today.
Reason:  Those years – especially the three championship years – were lightning in a bottle.  Teams may come close, but there are too many demons waiting to tear down success in today’s world.
39. What is your opinion of the Blackshirts tradition?
I would like to see it handled differently from how Pelini does it.
Reason:  Hand them out at the end of fall camp to the 11 starters (and maybe a nickel/dime guy).  Trade out if guys lose a starting job.  Repossess if you give up 400  yards to Melvin Gordon.
40. Can a “true fan” be critical of coaches and players?
Yes, but only to a point
Reason:  Never, ever go personal to a player or coach’s family or loved ones.  Do not drink and tweet.
41. Who is Nebraska’s defensive coordinator?
Bo Pelini
Reason:  I couldn’t resist adding this question.
42. Do you care if players speak to the media after losses?
This does not matter to me
Reason:  If I were a credentialed media member looking for quotes for the piece I need to have done by deadline I’d feel differently.  But as a fan?  I’m not going to lose sleep if Taylor Martinez doesn’t want to talk.
43. What is your opinion on the firing of Frank Solich?
It was the right call.
Reason:  Take Pedersen and Callahan out of the conversation.  Solich had the first four loss season in 30+ years, and started the dominoes of Devaney/Osborne streaks falling by going 7-7.  
44. Have you forgiven Bo Pelini for his profanity-laced comments following the 2011 Ohio State game?
Yes, I accepted his apology
Reason:  It was a heat of the moment thing when adrenaline was pumping.  If we forgive Richard Sherman for what he did on national TV, surely we can forgive Pelini for saying things that he thought were off the record.
45. Was the decision to join the Big Ten Conference a mistake?
No
Reason:  Aside from the academic boost, as long as Texas still sits unchecked in the XII, Nebraska was wise to get out.  That fact remains unchanged no matter how many crappy Big East/ACC rejects Delany adds.
46. In what state do you live?
Nebraska
Reason:  I was born and raised in The Good Life.  I do not have any desire to live anywhere else.
47. Are you male or female?
Male
48. What is your age?
49. What is the highest level of school you have completed or the highest degree you have received?
Bachelor degree
50. Are you an alumnus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Class of 1997 (Advertising)

State of the Huskers Survey – Results and Responses

Dadgummit, Shawn Eichorst.

I worked hard to put together a comprehensive survey intended to get a true pulse of the Husker fan base on a number of hot-button topics.  I put it out there, promoted it (thanks again to 93.7 The Ticket’s Gaskins & Stephens Show for having me on last week), and many, many of you took the time to take the survey over the last week.

I spent a good chunk of time Friday and Saturday night going through the 6,000+ responses, analyzing the data, and working towards putting out the results that so many of you were excited to see.  When I went to bed early Sunday morning, I was about halfway through this post and felt confident that I would have it ready for Monday morning.

And then Eichorst goes and fires Bo Pelini.

The key question in this survey (Should Bo Pelini be fired before the end of the 2014 season?) was answered for me by the one person whose response carries all the weight.

Mr. Eichorst, I understand that you felt you had to make a change – and I’m not going to argue that you probably made the right call.  But couldn’t you have waited until Monday? State of the Huskers header

*   *   *

Even with Pelini’s firing stealing some of the thunder from this, there is still a lot of good data in here.  Therefore, on with the show!

Before we dive into the questions and your responses, I would be remiss if I did not give proper thanks to everybody who completed the survey, who shared it with others via social media, and who provided constructive criticism for me.*

*The biggest thing I learned is that the Gallup folks make things look easier than they really are.  My site will not be changing from FeitCanWrite to FeitCanSurvey any time soon.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thanks to your time and efforts, I am thrilled about the sample size of this survey.  You can skip down to the demographics questions (46 – 50) to get more details, but here are the highlights showing how diverse the respondents were:

  • Over 6,000 respondents in under a week.
  • Survey results from 49 states*, the District of Columbia, and 42 locations outside the U.S.
  • Respondents very evenly distributed across age groups 30-39 all the way to 60+.
  • A good mix of UNL alumni, former students, and off campus fans.

*Come on Huskers in New Hampshire – let’s step up our game a little bit.  That said, I’m inclined to say we had representation from all 50 states:  my first non-dorm residence in Lincoln was on New Hampshire Street.  I lived there throughout college and another four years after graduation, so I’m practically a resident of the Granite State (even if I had to use Google to learn that New Hamp is the Granite State).

I think this helps give a great cross-section of all Husker fans, which is exactly what I wanted.

*   *   *

For each question, I’m going to share the following data:

  • The question that was asked
  • Each of the answer options
  • The percentage of responses each answer option received
  • The total number of responses each answer option received
  • If the question contained an “Other (please specify)” option, I’ll share some of the common responses, as well as others that stand out to me.  I will directly quote these responses.
  • Finally, I’ll provide my interpretation, comments, and other feedback.  Some of these were written before Pelini was fired, but I’ll edit as many as I can.

Also, a full PDF version of the results (including pie charts!) can be found here:  State_of_the_Husker_Results

Finally, if you want to see my responses and a brief justification for each one, you can see my completed survey here.

Let’s get started:

*   *   *

1. What is the biggest issue facing the Nebraska football program?

 

My Two Cents: Hiring Coaches With Nebraska Ties

One of the things I’ll never really understand is the complete and utter obsession some fans have with hiring coaches and assistant coaches with some sort of Nebraska tie – a former player, former coach, was born here, did a social studies project on Nebraska in the 5th grade, once drove through on I-80, whatever.

I can understand the concept that maintaining the sacred culture and tradition of the football program is easier (but not absolute) if the person is from here, played/coached here, or “gets” the fabled Nebraska Way.  But it just doesn’t always work out that way.  Steve Pedersen was born and raised in Nebraska, and worked at NU long before he returned to become one of the most hated people in the state.

And this is not necessarily a Nebraska problem.  When Michigan fired Rich Rodriguez, the alumni, fans, and media made it clear that the Wolverines needed to hire a “Michigan Man” who knew and understood the program, the culture, and their proud traditions.  Enter Brady Hoke…

For me, I think the desire to hire somebody with ties to your school stems from safety and comfort.  Let’s face it:  change is scary.  Firing people opens up a Pandora’s box of questions – Who are we going to get?  Will they be worse than what we had?  Will they like us?  Will we like him?  The amount of unknown is overwhelming and can be frightening, so for some fans it makes sense to seek comfort in the arms* of a familiar name or face.  As the old idiom states “better the devil you know then the devil you don’t”.

*There is the start of a break-up/rebound/booty call analogy in that last paragraph.  I’ll let you run with that if you so choose.

This is not to say that certain candidates for Nebraska’s vacant head coaching job (i.e. Frost, Scott) would not (and should not) have a potential advantage because they know the lay of the land and what makes this unique and highly passionate fan base tick.  Certainly, there are advantages to be gained through this – but there are also landmines too.  Any baggage from your previous connections will be waiting for you at your destination.

Call me crazy, but I don’t really care if the coaches we hire are former players.  I care if they can lead a team, coach their position, develop talent, and recruit new talent.  Put it this way:  who do most fans think was the better coach – Barney Cotton (Nebraska native, former Husker player, and UNL grad) or Milt Tenopir (none of the above)?  Exactly.

Eichorst Removes Us From Bo-gatory

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

Here We Gopher Again

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

B1G Reasons for Giving Thanks

As the name implies, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect upon all of the good things in your life and be grateful for what you have.

But what if you are a football team playing in what is widely believed to be the worst Power 5 conference in the country?  What does a team like Indiana, Michigan, or Nebraska have to be thankful for in 2014?

Glad you asked.  I believe that everybody should be able to give thanks for something – even if you sometimes have to dig a little to find anything worthy of your gratitude.

What do the schools of the Big Ten have to be thankful for this football season?  Plenty:

  • Illinois:  Remember that time you dressed up like a team that didn’t look like Illinois?  And then you played like a team that didn’t look like Illinois?  That was pretty cool.

    “Wee! Nobody knows that we suck!” (photo credit: news-gazette.com)

  • Indiana:  You may bewinless in conference play, but you still hold the league’s best non-conference win (at SEC East leading Missouri)

    Dear ESPN, Kindly put this in your SEC bias and smoke it.

  • Iowa:  Forbes says you can now afford to fire Kirk Ferentz!

    My Iowa-born Mom is starting to regret her tattoo. (photo credit: cbssports.com)

  • Maryland:  Jim Delany’s check of bailout money did not bounce.  Now you can buy more hideously ugly uniforms to demonstrate the pride you have in your state!

    Maryland, we wear these to honor you. (photo credit: lostlettermen.com)

  • Michigan:  After failing with Rich Rod and BradyHoke, surely the third time will be the charm, right?  Right?

    Troll so hard (image courtesy elevenwarriors.com)

  • Michigan State:  The continued employment of BradyHoke is more than enough for Spartan fans.

    If I were a Spartan, this would be my PC background.  Kudos to car-memes.com for this one.

  • Minnesota:  Your coaching staff eats ice cream bars on the sideline of a frigid, snowy game without giving a single ____ what you think.

    “I wanted a Blizzard, not a damn Dilly Bar” (photo credit: athlonsports.com)

  • Nebraska:  You never have to face Melvin Gordon again.  And depending on if you are aBo-leaver or aBo-liever, you may be thankful forPelini’s jobstatus as of this weekend.

    “I’m sorry I got you fired, Angry Coach” (photo credit: AP)

  • Northwestern:  Nobody really has very high expectations for you, so it’s tough to ever have a “down” year.  Plus, Chick-fil-A for everyone!

    Nice touch with the Wildcat purple suit, KD (image credit dailycaller.com)

  • Ohio State:  The odds are good that Urban Meyer won’t have to shame eat an entire Papa John’s pizza after this year’s Big Ten Championship.

    “No garlic butter?!? Why does everything bad happen to me??” (photo credit: USA Today)

  • Penn State:  Despite the best efforts of the NCAA and Big Ten refs to screw you over, you can now go to a crappy bowl game (where refs from another conference will probably try to screw you over).

    B1G refs be like “Meh, close enough”.  (image credit: @Pauly_G220)

  • Purdue:  Be very, very thankful that this guy went to Indiana instead of Purdue.  Plus – you still have that really big drum, which is kinda neat in a totally Purdue sort of way.

    The bigger the drum, the bigger the punchline (photo credit: purdue.edu)

  • Rutgers:  Instead of getting beat by Houston,Cincy,UCF,andUConn, you now get blown out by Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska!  Welcome to theB1G time!

    If you want to be taken seriously when joining a prestigious academic conference, don’t treat your promotional copy like a 2 am text message (image credit: collegiatestadiums.com)

  • Wisconsin:  For the next 300+ days, nobody can take away your FREEDOM!!! – even if they wanted that generic, ugly ass trophy.

    It’s never good when you need five guys to lift the trophy (photo credit: news.wisc.edu)

  • And a bonus for the B1G Boss Man himself, Jim Delany:  Adding Maryland and Rutgers has TOTALLY made the conference stronger and more exciting.  The reputation of the conference is an all time high.

    Wait? That’s NOT Jim Delany? The eyebrows always fool me (image credit: muppet.wikia.com)

Quotaggedon

The days following Nebraska’s blowout loss at Wisconsin have been anything but dull.  One of the prevalent themes I’ve noticed are fans and media reacting (or in some cases, overreacting) to things said by coaches and players.  Here are four quotes that have been triggered the most reaction this week:

From Josh Mitchell on if NU should wear their Blackshirts in practice this week*:

“Personally, no I don’t think we should (wear them).  I think they stand for something better than we put out on film. I think it would kind of just be a disgrace to the former players who earned the right to wear them if we went out and wore them at practice this week.”

*It is worth noting that Mitchell was one of a handful of defensive starters who wore their Blackshirt to practice later the same day, which certainly played a big role in this quote getting legs.

From Jake Cotton on why the offensive line tends to commit false start penalties in big games:

“You’re just so dialed-in to what you’re going to do during the play.  You gotta take this footwork, you gotta do this, you gotta do that. And so I think when you’re thinking about all that stuff, you kind of get tunnel vision, and that’s when it hurts you.

“The lack of concentration isn’t that we were just thinking about class or girls or anything like that. It’s that we were thinking about the play and should have been more dialed-in to the snap count.”

From Kenny Bell on talk that Pelini should be fired:

“Anybody who says (Pelini) needs to go is crazy.  It’s literally insane. If nine wins, 10 wins isn’t good enough for you, man, I don’t know who you should be a fan of, honestly.

“The guy can’t do much more but win. Obviously, we want conference championships. But sometimes it’s not in the cards. It’s not easy to come out and win every single week.

“Give me a break. It’s absurd. It’s like me telling the mailman since he missed my mail a day, or dropped one in the snow, he should be fired. It blows my mind sometimes, the way people think.”

And finally, from Bo Pelini responding to a caller to his radio who asked about the direction of the program:

“If that isn’t the right direction, then you have a conversation with Shawn Eichorst and they’re free to go in another direction.”

I’m sure you can imagine the amount of hot takes, Twitter rage, indignant calls to sports talk shows, and pontificating that resulted from those quotes.

I’ll freely acknowledge that I probably could opine for 2,000 words on each one of these quotes.

But that would make me a hypocrite considering what I’m about to write…

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It is completely understandable that after an ugly loss, fans and media will try to look for answers.  They’ll try to find root causes, seek evidence to support their theories, or try to find ammunition to further their agenda about the program and its leadership.  But reading too much into a single quote – especially when you may not know the context or inflection with which it was said – is dangerous territory.

The example I’ll give is the infamous “we don’t need him” quote from Pelini after the 2013 UCLA game – where the “him” in question was Husker legend Tommie Frazier.  When you read those four words, they smack you right in the face, and force you to take notice – which is why media outlets who are primarily concerned about clicks, page views, and web traffic used that quote in their headline.

But…

Did you ever hear the audio of Pelini saying those words?  He was not particularly forceful, not in Angry Bo mode, nor did it appear as if he had those remarks cued up and ready to go.*

*Which was a separate mistake that I discussed here.

In the audio, he pauses and stammers and it appears as if he momentarily searches for a way to better articulate his feelings before saying “we don’t need him”.  That’s not me being a Pelini apologist, that is factual.  (And if you really want to look at things from an impartial standpoint – instead of one that is reverent to an all time great – to a certain extent, Pelini had a point – but is a separate conversation)

The point is, blind reaction to quotes without knowing context is a fool’s game.  Yet, how often do we seek out the context of a quote or listen/watch it being said before we react?

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One of the other things that stuck in my craw after Saturday’s loss was the tweets from a handful of Nebraska media members who made a point of noting that no defenders chose to speak to the media, nor did quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr.  The way these tweets came across, it felt to me like these players were being called out for ducking the media, with the implication being that by not talking they were failing as team leaders.

Certainly, I can understand this from a media perspective.  If I am relying on player quotes to round out my article or highlight package that has to be done on a tight deadline, it must be frustrating to not get any useful material.  I would want to be able to quote the quarterback or the captains – not the punter.

But as a fan?  I don’t lose sleep over a lack of generic noise (“we had a good week of practice”, “we need to go get ready for a very tough team next week”, “tip your cap to Wisconsin”).  For the most part, the sound bytes they get are filler with no nutritional value.

Unless those sound bytes contain something a little too honest, a little too juicy, or something that can be interpreted in multipe ways.  Then, that media member has suddenly stumbled on the foundation for a separate article, column, or radio segment,,,

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If I were a college football player, I would really question what is the benefit for me to talk to the media.

Giving interviews isn’t going to help my grades, get me more playing time, help me win awards, or boost my draft stock.  I can’t (legally) make money off my name, likeness, or sales of my jersey number, so being active with the media isn’t going to make me more marketable.

I’ve already been a highly touted athlete for years, so seeing my name in the paper or my face on TV probably is not as big of a thrill as it once was.  Maybe a cute girl sees me on TV and hits me up on Facebook or Twitter, but as a big time college athlete, meeting girls is probably not a big issue for me.

Seriously, why should athletes talk to the media?

I’ve heard some fans and media members who say that players need to be “accountable” by talking after games.  Giving interviews shows “leadership”, “integrity”, and other inspirational adjectives that make middle-aged guys feel good.

When a player declines an interview request after a game (win or lose) some fans and media are quick to call him out and make thinly veiled swipes at his leadership and maturity (see also: Martinez, Taylor).  But when that player does speak, we’re all too quick to put his words under the microscope or run them through some super computer to filter out clichés and check for sincerity,  signs of dissent, or other hidden messages that may be lurking between the lines.

It is a ridiculous double standard.  Why should a player have to deal with that?

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Wednesday morning, Mike Schaefer co-hosted the Sharp & Benning radio show.  During a discussion about Bell’s remarks, he Schaefer offered an excellent (and telling) opinion:

“We (the fans and media) elevate a spur of the moment quote from an 18-22 year old kid.”

“(As a professional who covers the team) I put too much weight on a kid that is 21 that is probably thinking when I’m asking him the question ‘I wonder what they have at the training table for dinner tonight?  I hope it’s this’ or ‘I can’t wait to see my girlfriend’.

“I don’t think they actively sit and think about the questions of which we ask them as much as we actively sit and rehash the 12 second quote that comes out of it.  Which is how you end up with players saying things like Josh Mitchell…And then you have people going on tirades on the message board.

“So much gets made of these quotes of in the moment situations for guys that are 18-22 that aren’t putting as much thought into it when they say it, as people are in evaluating every single line in that quote.”

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My purpose in writing this is not to say that we should stop interviewing student athletes.  We do learn a lot about these young men through the interviews and profile pieces done by the talented journalists in the Nebraska press corps.  Likewise, I’m not saying that we ignore or discount the things student athletes say in their interview and press conferences.  There are important insights than can be gleaned and valuable pieces of information that can be ascertained – even if the messenger is thinking more about that hottie in Econ than he is on the impact his words may have when they hit the front page of the Sports section tomorrow morning.*

*And maybe, another action item is for the Athletic Department to make sure their student athletes have some media training / public speaking experience under their belt before they are released into the land of microphones and smart phones.  Teach them to think before they speak, consider the impact of their words, and help them understand the role the media plays – and how that can benefit the player and program.  

I would hope (if not assume) that the University is already doing this, but if you have senior captains saying things that make folks inside the program cringe, it might be worth increasing your efforts.

In my opinion, the pendulum on how we as fans and consumers of the Nebraska Football media machine has swung too far to one side.  We look for “gotcha” moments and words that support our pet theories instead of taking what a player says at face value.  It is a behavior that could ultimately threaten the type and amount of access and information we crave.  So stop over-analyzing every word to come out of a 20-year-old kid’s mouth.

You can quote me on that.

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