It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We’re loaded, as usual. We have Greg McDermott and Tim Miles, Andy Roddick and Notre Dame, Doane basketball, UCLA football and the most passionate age group of Husker fans. But first, let’s take the theme of 10 one step further.
Here are 10 (mildly) bold Husker predictions for the 2012 season.
1– The breakout offensive star will be Ameer Abdullah. His fumble problems marred a good freshman season. He’ll get many more opportunities in 2012. I envision 600 total yards, not including returns.
2– The breakout defensive star will be Eric Martin. I know, I know, we’ve believed in Martin before. But I’m counting on senior urgency to kick in. He’ll lead the team with seven sacks.
3– At Michigan State, the ninth game of the year, Taylor Martinez will break Eric Crouch’s career total offense record of 7,915 yards. Martinez starts the season 2,356 yards short.
4– Martinez will complete 61 percent of his passes. His rushing numbers will look more like his freshman season, when he averaged 6 yards per carry. The problem: his turnovers will jump from 10 to 15.
5– The Blackshirts, despite a lack of star power, will statistically be better in 2012. They’ll finish in the top 30 in total defense — they were 37th last year. The weakness will be in the trenches. Stopping the run is still an issue.
6– Rex Burkhead will finish with 1,243 rushing yards, down from last year’s 1,357. That won’t be good enough to be a Heisman finalist, but it will exceed Ahman Green on the all-time rushing chart, good enough for second place. Burkhead’s Senior Day ovation will last 53 seconds.
7– Nebraska will place four players on first-team All-Big Ten: Burkhead, Spencer Long, Daimion Stafford and Brett Maher. Stafford will be a second-team All-American.
8– The Huskers will start 5-0 and be in the nation’s top 10 when they visit Ohio State. (I’m not buying UCLA as a serious threat. And Danny O’Brien isn’t Russell Wilson.)
9– NU will lose three of its next four games: Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Yes, Nebraska will be out of the Legends race by Election Day.
10– The Huskers will salvage the season by winning their last three games. At the Outback Bowl against Auburn, Maher will kick a 42-yard field goal as time expires. Heading into the offseason, optimists will say a 10-3 record shows Bo Pelini’s program is trending up. Pessimists will say Bo still hasn’t won anything of substance. It will all feel very familiar.
>> I think the Big Ten comes down to Michigan-Michigan State on Oct. 20. With the game in Ann Arbor, and a Wolverine senior class that has never beaten MSU, I’m taking Michigan.
>> As for national champions, I realize USC has the best offense. But I’m not convinced the Trojans are good enough in the trenches to beat the SEC’s best. I’ll take LSU to finish No. 1.
>> During football season, I write a column in the World-Herald every Friday (in addition to Sunday game columns). Today I examined what it’s like to be a UNL freshman who doesn’t remember Nebraska’s glory days. In reporting the column, I gave a lot of thought to the 1990s and the shadow it still casts on Husker football today. But which Husker fans feel it the most?
I think ages 10-15 are generally the time when most sports fans develop their allegiances. Who fell into that age range during Tom Osborne’s remarkable 60-3 run? The people now in their late-20s and early-30s. Thus, I think that specific age group is the most passionate about Husker football. And I think that age group has the highest standards. Am I right?
>> For the same column, I interviewed Andrew Bateman, a Lincoln optometrist who lived on my dorm floor in 2000-01. He made an interesting point. Expectations for the program, he said, are finally settling back to a manageable place. Fifteen years after the last national title, most fans are starting to recognize that 9-3 isn’t all bad. In fact, Tom Osborne finished most of the 1970s at 9-3.
>> You’re going to see it everywhere today. But it’s too good not to link. A Kent State player grabbed a fumbled punt and ran the wrong way!
>> T.J. Simers, the LA Times’ excellent smart-aleck columnist, was NOT impressed by UCLA’s win over Rice last night. Here’s Simers’ brilliant lead: “It’s been decades since I covered high school football, UCLA and Rice bringing back so many memories. The hope, of course, is that some of these players might really improve and go on to play in college one day.”
>> The first game of the Urban Meyer era at Ohio State reportedly isn’t sold out. This does not fit the ESPN narrative!
>> This Kevin Van Valkenberg story — about a semi-pro football player who died from injuries suffered on the field — is getting a lot of attention. For good reason. It’s brilliantly reported and written.
>> Another phenomenal writer lists 120 reasons why football will last forever.
>> Are you a fan of podcasts? Good, then listen each week to Sam McKewon and Jon Nyatawa talk Huskers. Here’s your Week 1 preview.
>> Pat Forde says Notre Dame has maintained its values during a chaotic era of college football. For that, the program should be praised, not chastised.
>> As Jason Whitlock writes, Notre Dame color analyst Allen Pinkett “chose the wrong words, but his sentiment is accurate.” I agree.
>> In another time, Andy Roddick might have won three or four Grand Slams. Not during the Federer/Nadal/Djokovic era. Roddick won a single major, the 2003 U.S. Open. His career resume is half-full/half-empty, depending on your point of view. SI’s Jon Wertheim, in a glowing column about Roddick, says it’s the former:
“The casual fan may regard Roddick an underachiever, a guy who won a major a few days after he could drink his first beer, and then never summited the mountain again. Nothing could be further from the truth. Roddick took a fairly limited game, a suspect backhand, and not much in the way of touch and authored a Hall of Fame career. He took a monster forehand and lively serve, self-belief and fighting instincts, and alchemized it into almost three dozen trophies and more than $20 million in prize money. Even as he started losing, first to the Big Three and then to time, he hired a full staff of the best minds in the sport — expense be damned — to help him maximize his career. Players talk about leaving nothing on the court. Roddick’s court is bare.”
I remember seeing Roddick at the 2002 Colorado game, when he was on the Husker sideline. And I remember interviewing him in late-2007, as he prepared to come to Omaha for an exhibition. I asked him about chasing Federer and he bristled; Roddick was never afraid to make a conversation uncomfortable. I hope he maintains a public profile, perhaps in broadcasting. His personality is too good to go into hiding.
>> The Big Ten didn’t do Tim Miles any favors on the scheduling front. The Huskers’ first four conference games: at Ohio State, Wisconsin, at Michigan, at Michigan State. I expect Nebraska to lose all four by a combined 100 points. I’m not kidding.
>> Remember when I wrote a whole column about how Creighton’s 2012-13 non-conference schedule fails to A) challenge the Jays’ best team in school history B) impress the NCAA selection committee, thus hurting Creighton’s seed C) give CU the national exposure it needs to elevate its program? For the past few months, Creighton has had one non-con opening. On Thursday, Greg McDermott announced that he’d filled it — with North Texas.
“I think North Texas as an opener will turn out in the end to be a great game for us,” McDermott said. “It’s not going to be an easy game. They’re going to be very talented, and there’s a reason they had a hard time filling their schedule, too.”
I hate to beat a dead horse, but Creighton has a brilliant basketball team that realistically could make the Final Four. But because the Jays are in a mid-major league, they need to play the toughest non-conference schedule possible. North Texas does not meet that criteria. McDermott’s quote is disappointing.
>> The Doane basketball team, led by new coach Jim Weeks (Mr. Intensity), is doing something very cool this weekend. The Tigers are taking a 93-county tour of Nebraska. They’ll play 12 minutes in each county. They’ll attempt to score 100,000 points, including 25,000 3-point baskets. It’s a team-building thing. It’s a way to expose the program to Nebraska. It’s also a way to drive each other crazy! I look forward to hearing how it goes.
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.