It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We hit Chip Kelly and Doug McDermott, Graham Spanier and Lawrence Phillips, the Redskins and President Obama, Rick Reilly and Kobe Bryant. But first, strength against strength in the Big Ten.
The conference’s best statistical offense in 2012 belongs to Nebraska. The conference’s best defense belongs to Michigan State. In fact, only four defenses in America are better than Sparty’s: Alabama, Florida State, LSU and BYU. Pretty good company.
All year, Tim Beck’s offense has walked the line between good and great. If the Huskers can push tempo and gash Michigan State for big plays, it shows they can do it to anybody in the country (outside the SEC). But that’s not the surest ticket to victory Saturday. Nebraska’s best chance to win is letting Michigan State’s offense lose.
Be patient. Be conservative. On third-and-10, be content to run a quarterback draw and punt the ball. Don’t let Michigan State’s defense create turnovers and give Andrew Maxwell short fields. The Spartans’ offense hasn’t scored two touchdowns in a regulation game since Oct. 6.
The best statement Beck and Taylor Martinez can make about their offense is to score 20 points and get out of Dodge.
>> Over the summer, Creighton’s first-team All-American visited the Amare Stoudemire skills academy in Chicago. He went to LeBron’s camp in Las Vegas. He competed against some of the best college players in the country.
But Doug McDermott’s best learning experience of the past eight months came in the 2011-12 season finale against North Carolina.
“It’s the first time he had an NBA player guard him and when he got by that NBA player, there was another NBA player waiting to block his shot,” said his father, Greg.
“I got exposed a little in that game,” Doug told me. “I wasn’t able to do things that I’m used to doing.”
Tonight, in an exhibition against the University of Mary, Creighton fans will see McDermott in uniform for the first time since Carolina. They’ll notice a player who’s more experienced against top talent. Certainly more aware of his weaknesses.
“I’m going to have to be able to play against guys that are 6-11 and block shots and are really physical,” Doug told me. “… I think I learned a lot about myself, being able to put it on the floor more and not just relying on post-ups and pick-and-pop 3s.
“If I’m picking and popping and a guy is flying at me, I gotta be able to give him a shot fake and put it on the floor two or three times.”
We won’t see McDermott turn into a small forward overnight. That’s not what the Jays need. His emphasis will still be the block. But when necessary, Doug believes he can be more versatile.
>> I watched the Big Ten Network’s one-hour special on the ’94 Huskers. One image was sort of jarring: During the Devaney Center celebration the morning after the Orange Bowl, chancellor Graham Spanier shared the stage with the Huskers.
Eight months later, he left for Penn State. And soon he was in the middle of the worst scandal in NCAA history. Spanier was indicted Thursday and the accusations are disgraceful. It’s unfortunate Spanier is part of Nebraska’s history.
>> Speaking of mid-90s Huskers, the last time Nebraska played in East Lansing, Mich., was Sept. 9, 1995 — the day before Lawrence Phillips attacked his ex-girlfriend. I found Tom Shatel’s column from that game.
He wrote it before the Phillips incident, but the paper didn’t hit door steps until Phillips was in handcuffs. The headline, ironically, was “NU dodges distractions.” I pasted it at the bottom of the Chatter.
>> Is this Chip Kelly’s last season at Oregon? Stewart Mandel says he’s a hot prospect for NFL GMs.
>> ESPN’s Mitch Sherman examines the budding recruiting war between USC and Oregon.
>> I think Alabama and Oregon get through Saturday night without much of a scare. Of course, one score will be about 24-10; the other will be more like 49-35.
>> Iowa State’s best defensive player, Jake Knott, tore his left shoulder two weeks ago at Oklahoma State. Doctors scheduled career-ending surgery. But when the surgery got postponed, Knott requested to play one more game — last Saturday against Baylor. He was named Big 12 defensive player of the week. What a story.
>> I contend one of the reasons a college football playoff is necessary now more than ever is the inequality between “major conferences.” The gap between No. 1 and No. 5 or 6, for example, is wider than it’s ever been. As a result, it’s almost impossible to rank teams.
In the old days, a one-loss team was almost always higher than a two-loss team, and so on. Not true anymore. Here’s an extreme example: South Carolina is ranked higher than Louisville in the BCS standings.
The Gamecocks are 7-2 with one great win (Georgia) and a bunch of mediocre wins; it lost a close one at LSU and got blown out by Florida. Louisville is 8-0 with a bunch of bad wins; Cincinnati is the best and the Bearcats took the Cardinals to overtime.
So I posed the question on Twitter this week: Who should be higher? The responses were fairly even, underscoring the critical question in ranking teams these days: When is a loss better than a win?
>> This is too crazy to believe. Since 1940, in 17 of the 18 contests in which the Redskins suited up before an election, a Washington victory at home has signaled the incumbent party would keep the White House while a defeat has meant the opposite. The only exception was 2004. So Obama will be rooting for RG3 against the Panthers; Mitt Romney will be rooting for Cam Newton.
>> Lakers fans are actually worried about their slow start. Folks, they play 82 games! And those don’t even matter! You can worry if they fall down 0-2 in the first round of the playoffs. Until then, as Kobe Bryant said, “shut up.”
>> Rick Reilly is back to his old ways — and that’s a good thing. Here, he writes about a football team sticking up for a girl with special needs who had been bullied.
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend. As promised, here’s Shatel from 1995 in East Lansing:
Thank goodness. The sun can come up, children can laugh and the rest of the football season may continue as scheduled.
Not the Love Bug. The loveable Bugeater.
Armed with a pardon from Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Byrne, the blonde-haired mascot bounded off death row and through the tunnel at Spartan Stadium, spurring the second-ranked Huskers to victory and saving the 1995 season.
“Yeah, I saw him as we were running out,” said outside linebacker Jared Tomich. “But I never really gave him a thought.”
“I was happy to see him,” said quarterback Tommie Frazier. “But the whole thing is kind of silly. I can’t do anything about it.”
“I guess Herbie’s a good man who’s been there through the years,” said center Aaron Graham. “But I really couldn’t care less.”
You could have fooled Byrne, who, in the wake of the craziest statewide controversy ever, brought the mascot back on Saturday. In a pre-game press release (the Herbster is that big), Byrne said, “… to eliminate the distraction, I have decided to table the decision on Herbie to concentrate on the season.”
That should come as a big relief to all the Herbie fans who caused the “distraction” in the first place. Now they can get on to bigger and better things, like getting a life.
In the meantime, they might want to look at what’s going on down on the field.
A monster is being created.
It might be too early to make comparisons to 1994 and reservations for the Fiesta Bowl. Then again, after what happened Saturday, maybe not.
This Nebraska season has been about something else. Riley Washington’s case. Lawrence Phillips and the NCAA. Controversial cartoons in the Daily Nebraskan. Yes, the Herbie thing. Meanwhile, behind the scenes lurks a football team that looks more automatic, deeper — better — than what Herbie saw last season.
If nothing else, the Huskers have the distraction thing down pat.
On Friday afternoon, Nebraska coaches and officials scrambled around their hotel here as the NCAA gave them late word that Phillips would be eligible for the game. Talk about potential disasters. Phillips may not be a mascot, but his 202 yards and four touchdowns came in rather handy on Saturday.
“The coaches really don’t fill us in on that stuff,” Graham said. “They just prepare us to play.”
You want distractions? Former MSU star Kirk Gibson was wandering around. Up in Byrne’s suite, composer Marvin Hamlisch (a guest of NU booster Dan Cook) was schmoozing, probably humming a few bars of “The Way We Were” as Herbie strutted in.
Then there were the distractions that the Huskers imposed on themselves.
Mike Minter badly fumbling a punt…a pass interference play to set up the Spartan’s touchdown … Frazier fumbling after a 21-yard gain into MSU territory … Reggie Baul fumbling on a punt return (NU recovered) … Frazier and Clinton Childs running into each other on a handoff … Michigan State quarterback Tony Banks carving up the NU defense on some nice timing patterns.
It was 10-7, Nebraska. Banks was cocky and Frazier was on the bench, bent over on all fours, writhing in pain from a thigh bruise. Nobody was looking for Herbie then.
It wasn’t pretty. Nebraska lost two of three fumbles and had four penalties for 55 yards. And somehow led 20-7 at the half.
Was Michigan State that bad? Yes. And Nebraska that good.
That was the ever-present theme Saturday. The Huskers appear to be too good for tragedy. Last year’s team might have sneaked out of Spartan Stadium with a seven-point win. This year’s version can’t help itself.
The offense just goes into automatic pilot, no matter who’s steering. Frazier sits and senior Brook Berringer comes in to throw for 106 yards and direct four touchdown drives. Phillips rests, Damon Benning stays home with an injury and third-team I-back Childs goes for 83 yards — just ahead of James Sims (80) and Ahman Green (74). And that may be last year’s offensive line, sneaking back for more eligibility. We can’t tell yet.
The defense gave up 290 yards passing and, well, dominated when it counted. MSU was only 5 of 16 on third-down conversions. Banks hit some patterns early but then succumbed to NU coverages and blitzes that were adjusted from the press box. There was even a 47-yard field goal from freshman Kris Brown, who has probably never heard of Herbie. Saturday’s MOP — most oblivious player — was Phillips, who at one point on Friday wasn’t sure if the NCAA would allow him one carry, much less 22. The matter involving Phillips’ relationship with his group home “parents” is not yet resolved. But potential disasters don’t seem to register with this team.
“We always get it together,” Phillips said.
Let us remember that the Huskers are 2-0 against Oklahoma State and Michigan State, which are not to be confused with Florida State or Colorado. But there was Osborne, late Saturday, offering that this team has a “chemistry and attitude” that he not only likes but would take into “any environment.”
With or without Herbie.
“Our attitude and confidence level is tremendous,” Graham said. “It’s experience. After going through what we did last year, nothing fazes us. Like, when Tommie went out today, we were concerned about him, but it was like, “Well, where’s Brook?’ ”
Not, “where’s Herbie?”
They return for five straight home games, which should set them up at 7-0 for the Oct. 28 game at Colorado. By then, someone may notice. By then, the Herbie thing could be settled. If not, so be it. The Huskers are dealing with it.