Before we get to Husker football predictions and Creighton’s conference future, have you checked out the college basketball polls lately?
The past 20 years, Jim Delany, one of the greatest power brokers in the history of college athletics, has invited four schools to his prestigious conference: Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers.
Three of those schools have almost zero tradition in men’s basketball. No surprise, right? Basketball doesn’t draw high enough TV ratings to inspire realignment. It’s all about football.
Here’s the irony: The Big Ten’s football reputation has never been lower. Meanwhile, we’re watching a banner season for Big Ten basketball. It’s incredible. Four Top 10 teams — No. 1 Indiana, No. 3 Michigan, No. 7 Ohio State and No. 10 Illinois.
Two more — Minnesota and Michigan State — in the Top 20. Two more — Wisconsin and Iowa — that would be NCAA tourney teams in most other conferences. (Imagine the quality of the league without Penn State and Nebraska!)
Face it: The Big Ten is to basketball what the SEC is to football.
>> On Aug. 31, I listed 10 (mildly) bold Husker predictions for the 2012 season. Today we look back and grade those predictions.
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.
Grade: A-. Abdullah benefited from Rex Burkhead’s injuries and became the feature back most of the season, producing 1,089 rushing yards and 178 receiving. A case could also be made for Kenny Bell, but Abdullah better fits the “breakout” definition.
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.
Grade: A. Martin has always had incredible potential, but Bo Pelini didn’t find a role for him until 2012. Martin recorded 8 1/2 sacks and earned first-team all-Big Ten honors from the media.
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.
Grade: A+. Martinez did break Crouch’s record at Michigan State. He has since eclipsed 9,000 yards.
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.
Grade: A-. Martinez is completing 62.2 percent. His rushing average is 5.6 per carry, up from 4.6 in 2011. And his turnovers did jump significantly. Martinez threw 10 interceptions and lost eight fumbles.
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.
Grade: A. Nebraska’s defense is 22nd in total defense, even though it is 96th in the country against the run. More important than total yards, however, the Huskers are 56th in scoring defense.
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.
Grade: C-. Burkhead stands at only 535 yards, but obviously it would’ve been higher had he stayed healthy. He’ll likely finish fifth on NU’s all-time rushing chart. His Senior Day ovation was pretty special, but not 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.
Grade: B+. Long, Stafford and Maher made first-team in the media poll, as did Martin. Long and Martinez were first-team in the coaches survey. Burkhead made neither poll. Stafford was not 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.)
Grade: C-. At least I got Danny O’Brien right! Nebraska was 4-1 going to Ohio State, losing at UCLA (which definitely was a serious threat).
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.
Grade: D. The Huskers lost at Ohio State, but beat the Michigan schools and never relinquished the division lead in November.
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.
Grade: B (for now). Nebraska is headed to the Cap One, not the Outback. And it definitely won’t see Auburn, which finished 3-9… Ouch. But right now, NU is 10-3. And there’s still a divide between Bo’s defenders and critics about the trajectory of the program.
>> Tuesday on Twitter, I asked followers whether Creighton — if it received an invitation — should join the Catholic basketball schools of the Big East/Atlantic 10. Or stay in the Missouri Valley.
It’s a hypothetical gaining steam because the Big East basketball schools met Sunday to discuss their concerns about the future of the conference.
They don’t like the idea of being in a league with schools like Tulane, SMU, Central Florida and Houston. I don’t blame them. One option is essentially merging with the A-10 and building a 21-team basketball league. I don’t see the appeal there.
There is no reason, at this point, to believe Creighton will get a phone call. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility, especially considering the Jays’ basketball momentum.
Jumping to a league with Georgetown, St. John’s, DePaul, Marquette, etc., would undoubtedly boost Creighton’s national brand, both athletically and academically. But it would also make life a lot less convenient for fans and athletes, while likely bumping CU from the conference pedestal it currently occupies in basketball.
The votes on Twitter were split. underscoring how difficult the decision would be. My opinion? The Jays should try to partner with Butler, Xavier, Dayton and Saint Louis (all A-10 members), maybe even Gonzaga, and make a sales pitch to the Big East non-football schools.
I believe Creighton has the resources to compete at that level, not just in men’s basketball but most of its sports. The Valley is a treasured piece of Creighton’s tradition, but the Jays have outgrown it.
>> Who’s making the most money on the college football playoff starting in 2014? Hint: It isn’t the MAC. The gap between have and have-nots is going to grow.
>> Bowl directors are making ridiculous chunks of change. The Outback Bowl CEO makes $750,000. What’s wrong with this picture? Bowls are nonprofit organizations heavily subsidized by participating teams and conferences.
>> The Washington Post examines Maryland’s move to the Big Ten. The story is long, but includes excellent detail. Here’s a graph that may interest (or irk) Nebraska:
“Perhaps, if the Big Ten really wanted Maryland, the two sides could figure out a way the Terrapins could receive a larger share of the Big Ten’s pie earlier. The potential solution was to get creative, according to two people with direct knowledge of the deal. By front-loading the deal — moving some money from years well into the future to the Terrapins’ first six years in the conference — Maryland was able to secure the cash it will need to address some of its immediate financial problems.”
>> This is Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel describing Bobby Petrino’s hire at Western Kentucky. “If all of this makes you want to vomit, then you’re living under the fantasy notion that winning with integrity is still a priority in college sports.”
Clay Travis, meanwhile, calls it a home run for the Hilltoppers. My guess is, Petrino will be in the Sun Belt for two seasons. Then he’ll be back in the SEC.
>> A handwritten note from Bret Bielema to Arkansas AD Jeff Long following the Bobby Petrino fiasco laid the groundwork for Bielema’s hire in Fayetteville. Good stuff.
>> Tommy Tuberville went out to eat with recruits over the weekend. Then he disappeared. One recruit thought he went to the bathroom. He never came back. Next day, he left for Cincinnati.
>> “The Royals won the prospect lotto, but instead of opting for the annual annuity that could have kept them in contention as regularly as the Rays, they chose to receive the lump sum and splurge. Even when they aimed high, they set their sights low.”
That’s a pretty good summary of my feelings on the Royals-Rays trade, a move that has fascinated me the past two days. If the Royals were making this deal a year from now — after, say, an 85-win season — I’d understand it. But Shields probably isn’t enough to get them into the playoffs in 2013. So what’s the point of giving up Myers now? (Is Dayton Moore worried the minor league player of the year will be exposed by big-league pitching?).
Moore should’ve purchased a free agent pitcher for 2013 — even if it’s just a No. 4 starter — and reassessed the situation at the trade deadline. If you’re above .500, maybe you make a move. If not, make your bold move 12 months from now. He gave up a chance to be great in 2015-17 for a chance to be good in 2014.
>> Your Ryder Cup captain for 2014 is Tom Watson. Wow. Apparently the PGA of America is tired of losing this thing. I love it. The influence of a Ryder Cup captain is generally overrated, but nobody will make the Americans feel more comfortable on Scottish soil than Watson, a six-time British Open champ.
>> LeBron tells Charles Barkley to “shut up.”
>> Leading up to the 75th anniversary of the men’s basketball NCAA tournament, the NCAA unveiled its top teams, players and moments. Creighton assistant Steve Merfeld made the “top moments” list. So did Norfolk State’s upset of Missouri at the CenturyLink. The ’90-91 Huskers were snubbed from “top teams.”