How good is your best?
Tonight Notre Dame and Alabama tangle for a national title, and across the country, football fans will be trying to measure the gap between their favorite team and the national champion.
Obviously, consistency is a critical element of the equation. Look at Oregon. Nobody was better than the Ducks for 12 games this year, but the their offense didn’t show up against Stanford. I imagine the Ducks will be kicking themselves tonight (under water, of course).
There’s another way to measure the distance to No. 1, though. And that’s what strikes me about Nebraska’s 2012 season.
Yes, NU led Georgia 31-23 in the third quarter. Yes, Big Red led Ohio State for most of the first half. But show me a signature performance. Minnesota? Arkansas State? Michigan with Russell Bellomy at quarterback?
The Huskers’ ability to rally from deficits was remarkable — we’ve never seen anything like it. But never was NU able to put a performance on the board and say, “See, this is who we are! This is what we’re capable of!”
In ‘09, the Huskers annihilated Arizona. Took Texas to the final second. Beat Oklahoma.
The ‘10 Huskers handily beat Oklahoma State and Missouri in consecutive weeks. Embarrassed Washington.
The ‘11 Huskers throttled Michigan State, a team that finished in the Top 10.
Fans should want a consistent Nebraska team in 2013. But also a team that shows a higher ceiling, a team that plays well for four quarters against a good opponent. That’s a big step toward joining Alabama and Notre Dame.
>> For the record, since that Mizzou game in 2010, Nebraska is 3-7 against ranked teams. One of those wins came at Penn State in the wake of scandal. The other came when Brady Hoke presented Bellomy rather than Devin Gardner.
>> In the grand scheme, it matters little. But it will be interesting to see if Nebraska stays in the Top 25 when the final polls are released Tuesday. NU entered the bowl season 23rd in the AP poll and 21st in the coaches.
>> Random ranking: The 5 best national championship games of the past 30 years. (The BCS era didn’t start until 1998, so we’ll only count games in which a title was at stake for both teams).
1. Texas-USC, 2005 season.
2. Miami-Nebraska, 1983.
3. Ohio State-Miami, 2002.
4. Penn State-Miami, 1986.
5. Florida State-Nebraska, 1993.
>> The last time Notre Dame was this close to a national title was 1993. Of course, that’s the year Nebraska nearly met the Irish in the Orange Bowl. But the week after Notre Dame beat Florida State in one of the greatest regular-season showdowns ever, it lost at home to Boston College. That paved the way for Charlie Ward and Florida State, who met NU for the national championship.
Here’s my question: Had Notre Dame remained undefeated, would the Huskers have won that national title? I think so. But maybe they needed a little heartbreak in order to win it in ’94.
>> Something I’ll never understand: Most of the SEC will be rooting FOR Alabama. In what world do you root for your hated rival to win national championships? Can you imagine Duke basketball rooting FOR North Carolina? Or Michigan football rooting FOR Ohio State?
>> Unbelievable stat from Chris Fowler, which reflects the Irish D’s ability to prevent the big play: “Notre Dame opponents have run 628 straight plays OUTSIDE red zone w/out scoring. Bama has 22 such TDs”
>> One more from Fowler: Everett Golson’s 28% completion rate in red zone is worst among 105 FBS quarterbacks with 20-plus attempts. I think Golson is critical tonight. He must make some big throws, especially on third down.
>> The Wall Street Journal calculated the value of college football programs. And Iowa’s sticker price (11th in the country) is higher than Nebraska’s (13th).
>> Chip Kelly is coming back to Oregon, which means the Ducks will once again be in national title consideration in 2013. It also means the extension of a burgeoning West Coast rivalry between Oregon and Stanford. In fact, outside of SEC country, that might be the game of the year.
>> Johnny Football wasn’t quite Vince Young at the ’06 Rose Bowl, but his Cotton Bowl exhibition was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Manziel’s combination of speed, quickness and passing accuracy is off the charts. He turns sacks into first downs. He turns 3-yard gains into 30-yard gains. I have no doubt the NFL will someday find a home for him at quarterback. Question is, how long will he stay at A&M?
>> The Catholic 7, a group of basketball schools breaking away from the Big East, is working on an impressive TV deal worth as much as $5 million per year for each school. Creighton wouldn’t get a full share — at least not initially — but if the numbers are real, there’s no way the Jays can say no, right?
>> What a difference an effective big man makes. In Omaha Saturday, Gregory Echenique had 16 points, nine boards and four blocks; Creighton won a close one over Indiana State. In Lincoln Sunday, Andre Almeida didn’t play (ankle); Nebraska lost a close one to Wisconsin. How are the Huskers gonna win if they can’t score 50 points?
>> RG3 put the ball in Alfred Morris’ chest, pulled it out and took off. For a moment, it looked like he might outrun the Seahawks defense and create a big play, just as he’d done all year. Instead, he didn’t even try to turn upfield. He hobbled out of bounds after 9 yards.
And that’s the point — 13:11 left in the game with the Redskins clinging to a 14-13 lead — that Mike Shanahan should’ve said, “No more.”
It hasn’t been easy cheering for the Washington Redskins the past 20 years. But I don’t recall a moment more difficult than watching RG3 bending to pick up a loose ball with 6:30 left. His knee buckled. He collapsed in the dirt, face down.
And suddenly, losing a playoff game didn’t mean anything. Suddenly, it looked like we might never see this transcendent talent perform at full speed again. I’m not old enough to remember Joe Theismann’s broken leg 1985 years ago. But for Redskins fans, it must’ve felt like Sunday night.
Perhaps RG3 will be back in 2013. Perhaps the Redskins will be a contender again. But Sunday’s events revealed a colossal lack of leadership by Mike Shanahan. They exposed a professional sporting culture that values macho tradition (You don’t pull a star out of the game!) over common sense (Kirk Cousins not only gave Washington a better chance to beat the Seahawks, but he eliminated the chance of a gruesome injury to the franchise player).
Griffin demanded that he was fine. He wanted to keep playing. But it shouldn’t be his decision to make.
>> Finally, let’s end with a little humor. Ian Poulter basically challenged Johnny Miller to a fight. Those crazy Euros…