Bill Callahan had a problem. OK, he had more than one problem. But in four years at Nebraska, he wanted badly to operate a West Coast offense built on precision, short passes. This is the world he knew.
Seems to me a coach needs a few things to make that happen. One is an intelligent, accurate quarterback. Two is a set of sure-handed receivers who can get yards after the catch. We spent a lot of time from 2004-07 talking about the first issue. But the receiver deficiency was no less important.
Ask yourself this: From 2004-2011, how many receivers could you count on to make a play in traffic? How many receivers could you count on to catch a ball on the move, elude the first tackler and get a first down on third-and-long?
I can count ‘em on about two fingers. That’s a big reason Callahan (and Shawn Watson after Callahan left) never got the offense to work consistently.
This year, Taylor Martinez’s completion percentage is at 67 percent, compared to 56 last year. Give him credit for improvement. But even more credit should go to Nebraska’s receivers and tight ends. They have not only eliminated the drops that plagued them the past few years, they’re suddenly capable of grabbing 50/50 balls in traffic.
Kenny Bell may not be the Big Ten’s best receiver (as I tweeted Saturday), but he’s certainly top three. Quincy Enunwa showed his value at crunch time at Northwestern. Jamal Turner is a nightmare to cover in the slot — I’m still waiting for the trick play when he takes a reverse and throws downfield. All three of those receivers are back next year. Let’s not omit tight ends Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed, who are about as sure-handed as it gets.
How much easier is Martinez’s job now compared to two years ago, when receivers were apparently dipping their fingers in grease before games? In an offense built for the quarterback and running backs, somehow receiver is the best position group on the team.
Somewhere Callahan must be scratching his head.
>> There are (at least) two college football topics I won’t spend a single second analyzing in October: the BCS rankings and the Heisman race.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t break down the national championship race.
The top 10 teams, according to the BCS rankings, are Alabama, Florida, Kansas State, Oregon, Notre Dame, LSU, Oregon State, Oklahoma, USC, Georgia. But who will end up in Miami? That depends largely on schedules.
Here’s my 10 most likely to make it to the title game:
1 — Kansas State
Tough tests: Texas Tech, Texas
Breakdown: Its only road games are TCU and Baylor. And remember, unlike 1998 when the ‘Cats blew their national title chance at the Big 12 championship game, they don’t have to play an extra game this time. There is, however, one problem: Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame and Oregon would all have a better profile if they finish undefeated. More quality wins. So K-State, even at 12-0, could still get left out.
2 — Alabama
Tough tests: Mississippi State, at LSU, Texas A&M, SEC championship game
Breakdown: Four stiff challenges won’t scare the Tide, the nation’s best team. Even if they lose, they’ll be at the top of the one-loss group if they win the SEC.
3 — Notre Dame
Tough tests: at Oklahoma, at USC
Breakdown: If the Irish get by Oklahoma — and that’s a big if — the finish line is in sight. No way voters would leave them out if they’re 12-0.
4 — LSU
Tough tests: Alabama, Mississippi State, SEC championship game
Breakdown: No more road games of significance. That helps. If the one-loss Tigers win out and don’t get in, the SEC will scream bloody murder, even if there are two undefeated teams.
5 — Oregon
Tough tests: at USC, Stanford, at Oregon State, Pac-12 championship game
Breakdown: The schedule is brutal down the stretch. But Chip Kelly’s band thus far has been flawless.
6 — Florida
Tough tests: Georgia, at Florida State, SEC championship game
Breakdown: I like the Gators. I don’t like the schedule. Three high-profile showdowns, all away from the Swamp. Still, they could get in at 12-1 if they beat Alabama/LSU on Dec. 1.
7 — The winner of Louisville/Rutgers
Breakdown: Don’t laugh. Both teams are undefeated. And they don’t face a ranked opponent until they meet each other on Nov. 29. If the SEC and Big 12 start beating each other up, you never know.
8 — Oklahoma
Tough tests: Notre Dame, at West Virginia
Breakdown: The Sooners are gonna need a lot of help — starting with at least one loss from Kansas State. But the schedule is very doable.
9 — Oregon State
Tough tests: at Stanford, Oregon, Pac-12 title game
Breakdown: The Beavers are under the radar at No. 7 in the BCS. But they’ve got seven more to play, three against Pac-12 heavyweights.
10 — USC
Tough tests: Oregon, Notre Dame, Pac-12 championship game.
Breakdown: A daunting road and the Trojans can’t afford to slip.
>> Ndamukong Suh is the least-popular NFL player, according to a survey. However, he’s probably more popular now because he sacked Jay Cutler. Why? Because Cutler is the second-least popular NFL player!
>> Tim Miles is holding a walk-on tryout Thursday afternoon. They’re not unusual, especially at rebuilding programs. Still, I love the thought of Division I coaches evaluating a kid who can’t dribble with his left hand. Here’s what Miles assistant Craig Smith told me in March about their walk-on tryout at Colorado State:
“You wouldn’t believe some of the guys that came to try out. It’s like, really? Are we that bad?”
I think Miles and Smith may be asking themselves the same question Thursday afternoon.
>> Fox Sports columnist Reid Forgrave was in town last week for Creighton basketball media days. He writes a column wondering if this is the Jays’ year. He always includes this hilarious quote from Grant Gibbs, speaking about the McDermotts.
“One day at practice, (Greg) was mad at (Doug), and (Greg) called him an SOB. So we were all like, ‘Woooo, that’s his wife he’s talking about!’ And then we were like, ‘OK, whatever, keep practicing.’ And then after practice, (Greg) grabbed Doug. He said, ‘Hey Doug, we gotta get you better, blah blah blah.’ And he said, ‘You can’t tell your mom I said that, by the way.’ ”
>> Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated studies the downturn in scoring in college basketball. To illustrate his point, he uses my favorite team of all-time — Loyola Marymount.
>> Want to make women’s basketball more entertaining? Lower the rims. That’s not my opinion, it’s Geno Auriemma’s. But I totally agree.
>> Oh, the calamity of the The Longhorn Network. It caused such a stir in 2010-11, many thought it was going to change college football. Then we realized nobody actually watched it. Now we find Mack Brown complaining about it, saying it gives opponents like Baylor an advantage in scouting.
Matt Hayes of the Sporting News gives us the top five highlights of the LHN:
1. Convinced Nebraska it really could stand up for itself, and the Huskers finally walked away from Texas (when they should have long ago before the Big Eight became the Big 12).
2. Convinced the Pac-12 it really could expand and make billions on television contracts. Look, if you’re gonna pay to watch Texas volleyball, you’ll surely pay to watch Washington State play Utah in football.
3. Convinced Colorado it’s not worth getting your brains beat in while the big dogs get all the cash. Why not get your brains beat in with the Pac-12 and get an equal share?
4. Convinced Texas A&M it’s a burnt orange world—and the Aggies are just living in it. Why not get back at Texas by leaving for the SEC, giving the all-powerful conference a pipeline to fertile recruiting grounds and overflowing television dollars?
5. Convinced us—now beyond a reasonable doubt—that just because you have your own television network, it doesn’t mean you can tackle.
>> Texas. Texas A&M. A Taylor Swift parody song. I wish I were this creative.
>> Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray skipped out on the media Saturday night after the Alabama loss. Coach Derek Dooley didn’t like it, saying his quarterback needed to “man up.”
“There’s a level of responsibility you have to the team and to the fans and to the media,” Dooley said. “If you don’t like it, don’t play quarterback.”
>> Missouri’s video operations director spent $7,605.50 at Vegas strip clubs. What’s the problem? He put it on a university credit card!
>> A statistical analysis of Andrew Luck and RG3, so far, gives the edge to Luck.
>> Is race a small factor in criticism of Cam Newton? Warren Moon thinks so.
>> Bob Costas and Joe Posnanski sitting down, talking baseball. Now who wouldn’t want to read that?
>> My World Series pick was the Cincinnati Reds. So of course, I know what I’m talking about. Give me the Giants in 7.