It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We hit football, football and more football. Denard Robinson and Frank Solich, Megatron and The Battle for Millard, Rece Davis and Nebraska’s offense, a female field-goal kicker and a 500-pound lineman. But first, rivalry talk.
The World-Herald’s College Football Preview section, perhaps the best thing we do all year, is coming out Sunday. You can read it online. But you’ll get far more goodies by buying a paper.
Here’s a teaser: We surveyed fans and asked 10 questions about the state of the program. Included in those questions, “Over time, Nebraska’s Big Ten rival will be …”
I recall a big debate a year ago about this exact issue. Many people said Iowa. I said Michigan or Ohio State, depending on who was the Big Ten’s Top Dog. Why? Because Nebraskans are conditioned to chase No. 1. Making a big deal of beating Iowa (a second-tier program) would be a sure sign that Husker standards have dropped. Apparently, most fans agree with me:
Michigan 37% (1,370 votes)
Wisconsin 34% (1,269)
Iowa 20% (741)
Ohio State 8% (279)
Penn State 1% (43)
Will the numbers change after Iowa beats Nebraska? Probably a little bit. But for now, you can throw that Heroes Trophy in a closet.
>> Let’s play a little game called “Opportunity distribution.”
It goes like this: Nebraska’s offensive pie is only so big this fall. Our goal: Divvy up the touches, like pieces of pie. In 2011, Nebraska took 904 offensive snaps. Let’s say, for the sake of simplicity, the number this fall is 900.
How would you distribute those rushes and receptions?
Let’s start with run/pass ratio. Last year, the Huskers ran the ball 611 times — 68 percent of its snaps. That was the most in the Big Ten.
I understand the desire to improve the passing game. We’ve heard a lot of talk about making NU’s more balanced. I just don’t see the Huskers turning into a 50/50 offense, nor do I think it’s wise. My hunch is you’ll see the rushing number drop only a little bit — from 611 to about 550. Pass attempts will jump from 293 to about 350.
Now, how do you distribute those 550 carries?
In 2011, Rex Burkhead rushed 284 times and Taylor Martinez 188 times. That was 77 percent of the team’s rushing attempts! I haven’t done the research, but my guess is Nebraska has never — in its history — had two players take such a large percentage of the rushing burden.
(For comparison, I looked at 2001, a season in which Nebraska leaned heavily on Eric Crouch and Dahrran Diedrick. They totaled just 65 percent of NU carries.)
Burkhead’s and Martinez’s numbers should decrease. Let’s give Burkhead 230 and Martinez 150.
That leaves 170 carries for everyone else. Ameer Abdullah needs to get 70; last year he received only 42. Imani Cross gets 50. The fullbacks get 15. The remaining 35 carries go to wideouts, backup quarterbacks and reserve I-backs.
Agree? Disagree? You tell me.
Now, the passing game. If Nebraska throws 350 times, let’s assume it completes 210 — 60 percent would be an improvement from last year’s 56.
Kenny Bell gets 40 catches, compared to last year’s 32. Quincy Enunwa gets 35 (he had 21). Jamal Turner gets 30 (he had 15). Tim Marlowe gets 15 (he had 12).
Tight ends Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton combined for only 29 catches in 2011. They need 55 this fall. That leaves 35 receptions for the I-backs and backup receivers.
Is this a formula for success? How would you change it?
>> ESPN analysts Mark May and Lou Holtz appeal to the least common dominator, but their studio host – Rece Davis — is consistently excellent. He co-hosted the Scott Van Pelt show Monday and said something about the college football polls that made me want to reach through my radio and shake his hand:
“A lot of voters feel like it’s somehow a poor reflection on them if they move teams around too much. I actually think that is precisely what they ought to be doing for the first four of five weeks of the season anyway. It ought to be reflective of what they see on the field. I think a lot of times, they think, well I had that team No. 5 and they won, so I have to leave them there. No you don’t! …
“I would like to see pollsters move teams around a lot in the early part of the season. Now, October, November, a team has played seven, eight, nine weeks in a row and they have a sluggish game, pollsters should be in tune enough to realize that’s why. No. 4 plays very poorly and squeaks by against an unranked team, you dont’ have to punish them in early November if it’s their eighth straight game. That kind of thing is going to happen. But early in the year, shuffle the deck as it reflects what’s happened on the field.”
Bravo, Mr. Davis. You’re spot-on.
>> Can Frank Solich beat Penn State, go 12-0 and make the BCS? SI’s Holly Anderson is predicting it. Wow.
>> One more teaser from Sunday’s college football section. We asked national media members what they think of Nebraska in 2012.
Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune: “Nebraska’s first season in the Big Ten left me wondering: What happened to the Blackshirts? Does Bo Pelini want to stick around (and do Huskers fans want him to)? Can I buy a Rex Burkhead energy bar? Year two should answer these questions.”
Matt Hayes, The Sporting News: “I see a team that couldn’t throw the ball last year in big games. One dimensional on offense, can’t sustain drives, defense gets tired and overworked. They have to be able to throw the ball consistently with Taylor Martinez to compete for the Big Ten title.”
Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: “Nebraska is just kind of there, at the moment. There is no buzz. There is no jazz, no sexiness. Observers are kind of waiting to see which way the program is headed. Up, down, same? Do something. Nebraska football is, at best, the fourth best story in the Big Ten right now. When two teams who can’t go to bowls are far more interesting, well, that’s an issue.”
Joe Rexrode, Detroit Free Press: “I don’t think Nebraska is getting enough attention. Obviously, a lot of this season will come down to the progress of Taylor Martinez. But I love Rex Burkhead and I have to believe the defense will be solid again. The schedule is horrific again, but they can get to Indy.”
>> Mike Hlas, an Iowa columnist, is picking Nebraska to win the Big Ten.
>> This comes from Dodd’s column this morning on Denard Robinson: “If Michigan’s quarterback doesn’t realize the stakes by now, well, there won’t be any be sense an Alabama linebacker can knock out of him. Three years into it and one season from the end of it, Robinson is about to play the biggest game of his career. Alabama is how we will remember him. It will be his legacy, part of Michigan’s history whether the Wolverines win the Rose Bowl or finish third in the Legends Division.”
Is Dodd right? I think he may be overstating this one a bit. If Michigan wins, it’s huge for the Wolverines and for the Big Ten. But if Denard goes 9-for-20 for 130 yards and runs for 40 more, I don’t think it will ruin his reputation as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks. The 2012 Alabama game is one of many big ones for Michigan this year; the Wolverines need Denard for all of ‘em.
>> I finally watched episode 3 of “Hard Knocks” on DVR. It’s clear to me the Dolphins are going to be terrible. But aside from that, Zac Taylor caught my attention. In the coaches’ room, his voice appeared to play a role in naming Ryan Tannehill the starting quarterback. And in the QB room, even though Taylor is only one year older than Matt Moore, he was responsible for telling Moore the bad news. It’s a tough job for a 29-year-old, but Taylor continues to present himself well.
>> Calvin Johnson might be the most physically impressive wide receiver in NFL history. Liz Merrill profiles Megatron, who has a 6-foot-10 wingspan, size-16 feet, weighs 239 pounds and runs a 4.35. Freak!
>> Oklahoma State hypnotizes its quarterbacks. And I thought Brandon Weeden was groggy because he was old.
>> The Lance Armstrong news is about as surprising as a dumb comment from Skip Bayless. Do we even care anymore? And are we better off just letting pro athletes take whatever they want? What if we redefined “cheating”? What if we lowered the standard for what constitutes “doping”? It’d be sort of like removing all the little clauses from the NCAA rulebook. I don’t know the answer, but I’m tired of believing in someone’s accomplishments, only to find the deck was stacked in their favor.
>> Pat Forde’s 10 big issues for the college football season.
>> Gregg Doyel says Graham Spanier is lying.
>> A small college in Pennsylvania has a 6-foot-11, 500-pound defensive tackle.
>> It’s the first Friday night of high school football, highlighted by Millard South-Millard North. If you had to take an out-of-stater to any game to show ‘em Nebraska’s best, this would be it. Big crowd. Two great coaches. Two proven systems. At least one of the two has played in the state championship game eight of the past 10 years. I’ll be there tonight.
>> Finally, perhaps the best sports story I’ve read this year: A female kicker tried to make the LSU football team. She didn’t, but her personal story is far more fascinating than the goal she pursued.
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.