Published Monday, September 17, 2012 AT 8:55 AM / Updated at 6:32 PM
Mad Chatter, Sept. 17
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

Week 3 of Big Ten football went about as well as weeks 1 and 2.

With Michigan State losing badly to Notre Dame, six of the league’s top seven traditional programs have lost a game. And Ohio State, the lone exception, was on the brink of defeat against mediocre Cal.

What’s it mean? Well, the Big Ten jokes are only beginning (they’re a lot more fun when your school isn’t part of the league, aren’t they Husker fans.) But move past the punch lines for a moment. Recognize the opportunity for Nebraska.

There isn’t a game on the schedule the Huskers can’t win. Nothing like last year’s trip to Madison.

The Big Ten is staggering through its worst non-conference season in — I don’t know — forever. But 10 years from now, nobody will remember that. The winner still gets a trophy. The winner still gets to hang a banner in its palatial practice facility.

It’s hard to understate the stakes for Bo Pelini over the next seven weeks. The top half of the league is bunched so tightly, the smallest personnel changes, schematic tweaks, in-game decisions or lucky bounces could make the difference between 11-2 and 7-5, between ecstasy and agony.

How is this fallible Nebraska team possibly good enough to win the school’s first conference title in 13 years? In this Big Ten environment, that’s the wrong question.

The right question is, who’s better?

>> How is Nebraska going to divide carries when Rex Burkhead returns to the lineup? That’s a big question as Ameer Abdullah continues to shine.

Rex has obviously earned the right to start — and to carry the majority of the load — but for every 10 Burkhead carries, Abdullah deserves six or seven. There aren’t 10 teams in America with a 1-2 punch like Nebraska’s. I expect Tim Beck to occasionally put No. 22 and No. 8 on the field at the same time.

>> I wrote a game column Saturday about Eric Martin’s emergence on defense. Something I didn’t address was Martin’s potential liability in the run game. Since he’s undersized at 250 pounds, he’s not as effective against quality rushing teams.

John Papuchis said after the game that he’s learning this won’t be a defense of starters and non-starters. You might see certain players one week, then it will switch the next depending on the foe. Whatever Nebraska does, it needs to keep giving Martin chances on third down.

He’s the No. 1 pass rusher on the team, and No. 2 isn’t even close.

>> Lee Barfknecht traveled to Wisconsin this week to document the mess in Madison. In hindsight, we probably should’ve seen it coming.

You can’t lose six assistant coaches in the offseason without taking a hit. And a year after Russell Wilson flourished, Bret Bielema appears to be getting burned by his mercenary strategy at quarterback. When times get tough, players in the locker room are naturally more willing to fight for teammates who have been around a while. That’s not Danny O’Brien.

>> I understand there aren’t 25 really good teams in college football. But why can’t pollsters get past their preseason biases and rank teams based on merit?

Case in point: Wisconsin. The Badgers are 24th in the coaches’ poll. Seriously? After nearly losing at home to Northern Iowa and Utah State? After losing on the road to Oregon State? Meanwhile, a Big Ten team with three BCS-conference wins — Northwestern — is still unranked.

The coaches have proven themselves incapable of ranking teams properly, especially early in the season. The only answer — until we get our playoff in 2014 — is holding the first official poll until mid-October. At least then voters will have six weeks to watch some actual games.

>> If I see one more offensive coordinator put his quarterback in the shotgun from the 1-yard line, I’m gonna throw a Popsicle at my Plasma TV.

Arizona State, trailing Missouri by four points late in the fourth quarter, had third-and-goal at the 1-foot line. One foot! Todd Graham, a spread offense guru, went shotgun. Mizzou stopped the QB draw for a 2-yard loss. Then Arizona State failed on fourth down. If you can’t get 1 foot on a quarterback sneak under center, you should blow up your offense and start over.

The irony: Gary Pinkel is famous for the same goal-line strategy. This time, even Pinkel had to laugh at Graham’s lunacy.

>> Manti Te’o didn’t need to play a single down Saturday to be an All-American. But the Notre Dame linebacker surely earned thousands of new fans with his performance at Michigan State. Last week, on back-to-back days, his grandmother and girlfriend both passed away in his native Hawaii. Read Dan Wetzel’s column on Te’o and the emerging Irish.

>> As I mentioned on Twitter Saturday night, Stanford reminds me of traditional Nebraska teams. You win big games at the line of scrimmage, and nobody (outside the SEC) is tougher in the trenches than the Cardinal. Now, are they fast enough to beat Oregon? I doubt it.

>> You thought Bo Pelini and John Papuchis had a stressful week following 653 yards at UCLA? At least they’re not Carl Pelini. His Florida Atlantic defense gave up  713 at Georgia on Saturday. And this week the Owls go to Alabama. On the bright side, he could give up 1,000 and I’m not sure (senior) citizens of Boca Raton would notice.

>> How’s this for parity? After two weeks of pro football, 20 teams will be 1-1. The Cardinals are 2-0 after beating the Patriots on the road. The Saints are 0-2 after losing to the Redskins and Panthers. There’s a reason the NFL is so incredible. It’s completely unpredictable. My Super Bowl prediction to start the year was Packers-Ravens. I’ll stick with Baltimore, but, at least right now, the 49ers are clearly the best team in the NFL.

>> Danny Woodhead almost scored the game-winning touchdown Sunday. Almost. His nifty 30-yard dash in the final minute was wiped away by Rob Gronkowski’s holding penalty. Then the Patriots missed the game-winning field goal.

>> The Kansas City Chiefs, for the second straight year, have started the season in flames. And look at the columns coming out of the hometown paper. Scott Pioli should spend this week hiding in his compound.

>> As always, Peter King is must-read on a Monday. Stewart Mandel‘s college overtime is pretty good, too.

>> Former NBA guard Sam Cassell blasted the NCAA for ruling his son, a Maryland basketball recruit, ineligible.

>> Jeff Passan, one of my favorite baseball writers, hammers away at something I love — the second wild card.

>> Finally, the funniest story I’ve read all month: The obituary for Kevin Gilbride’s mustache. Kudos to the New York Times’ Sam Borden, who reminds us that newspapers don’t always have to be serious to be great.

About Dirk Chatelain

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments. You can follow Dirk on Twitter (@dirkchatelain) or email him at dchatelain@owh.com

Comments

  1. Waskel Wabbit says:

    Yeah. Let’s be grateful that the B1G sucks this year. We should be happy that we suck too, just not as much as the rest. The door is wide open for us huh?

    1. Colorado Springer says:

      Let me try to be nice and say this—I don’t feel at one with you as far as your view of our beloved Cornhuskers. In fact, I feel that you don’t appreciate our team and need to find a more perfect team to root for. Maybe Alabama. Then you could be more happy in your rooting and maybe your betting. I feel that the door is wide open and that you should not let it hit you in the posterior on the way to Alabama.

  2. Ret Out says:

    Now that the Skers are in the Big 10 I hate to say it, but the Big 10 is so bad this year the jokes are never going to stop. At least we are not in the Big 12, we might not make it out with a winning record in that conference so hopefully we can take advantage and get to this Big 10 Championship. Michigan is still going to be a scary test for this Husker team. And by the way seeing an interception and a sack in the AR State game was nice to see cause I didn’t think I was ever going to. And I also see Nebraska with 4 running backs I feel comfortable in the game.

  3. redark says:

    It was great to see some new faces and quicker bodies on the field Saturday. Congrats to the coaches for coming out of their shells and trying some new strategies and players, I know it can be difficult to change at times. Ark St. Is not UCLA but there was actually some gang tackling going on and fewer missed tackles. GO BIG RED!

  4. Skytown J says:

    Rex Burkhead is one of my all-time favorite Husker players. But I don’t think he brings a whole lot more to the party than Abdullah does. That kid has been super impressive so far. Not as big/strong as Rex, but just as shifty and elusive. What a nice surprise he as been so far. And Heard has looked good in his limited touches. Now I see why Aaron Green tapped out.

  5. Chris says:

    Dirk,

    Since I can’t find anywhere else really to post it I have a question for you. Who was it that spent 3-5 minutes in the post-game presser asking Coaches Beck and JP questions related to Coach Pelini’s health. If I remember right, Coach Osborne went up to the podium first and gave a pretty good rundown on what was up with Pelini and personally speaking and due to HIPA rules thats all you need to know. I don’t know if one of you guys are just asking the athletic department to pull your creds again or what, but in terms of heath issues, you would think you would learn after what happened with Sean Fisher (calling his parents even before the coaches called them telling them what is up). Oh yeah, another thing on that, which one of you guys chased the ESPN reporter and Steve Sipple around town to all the local hospitals? HIPA rules also dictate that hospitals cannot give out that someone is a patient at their hospital.

  6. A Fan says:

    Who’s better? On the road, Ohio State, Michigan State and possibly Northwestern. Michigan has a mobile QB. Given our history of woe against quality opponents on the road… and our history of problems of getting a defense together to stop mobile QBs… I say we’ll lose 2 or 3 of the above games.

  7. NUCORNDEVIL says:

    Lets just hope NU sucks the best.

    1. Colorado Springer says:

      Ah Devil, I thought you only showed up after the losses. Its good to see you coming up with a positive statement after a decent game. Hey how about “Trojan”? I was hoping to hear from him too.

  8. Adam T. says:

    There is not a game on the schedule they can’t win? Let me introduce you to Braxton Miller and Denard Robinson! They are going to eat this defense for lunch just like they did last year. Not to mention Northwestern on the road.

  9. Idaho Husker says:

    I believe our defense will continue to improve and I look for this season to be a wild ride! Our offense has the potential to be top shelf! GBR!