Andy Staples, one of the best in the sportswriting business, presented his post-spring Top 25 on Tuesday. No surprise that Ohio State was No. 4. What did surprise me is ranking three Legends Division teams from 14-22. And none of them was Nebraska.
Michigan certainly deserves a spot. Northwestern probably does, too. But Michigan State? Unless Mark Dantonio has solved his quarterback problems, I can’t imagine the Spartans in the top 15.
For the record, Nebraska doesn’t even crack Staples’ five “teams he might regret not including.” I’m not about to argue on behalf of the Huskers, who fell apart in Indy. But if Staples is right and the Huskers are the fourth-best team in the division, then Bo Pelini will be in big trouble come December.
How does NU avoid that fate? Obviously the Blackshirts must improve. In 2009, the defense gave up 0.74 points per possession. In 2010, it was 1.30.
In 2011, it was 1.83. Last year, it was 1.82.
The other factor is Taylor Martinez. Coaches voted him the Big Ten’s best quarterback last fall. If he’s even the best QB in the division, there’s no way Nebraska is No. 4.
>> The Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchups were revealed this afternoon. When you match the two best leagues in college basketball, you get some great games:
Michigan at Duke
North Carolina at Michigan State
Indiana at Syracuse
Maryland at Ohio State
Notre Dame at Iowa
Nebraska drew Miami in Lincoln. That’s certainly more interesting than going to Wake Forest, as NU did last year. The Hurricanes lose most of their rotation, including Shane Larkin. But it’s a nice little reunion between Jim Larranaga and the man who hired him, Shawn Eichorst.
>> These conferences challenges always get me thinking about football equivalents. Obviously, no conference could compete with the SEC. But what about a six-game SEC v. Everyone Else Challenge? Chew on these match-ups:
I’m sad to say, I think the SEC would win.
>> Check out USA Today’s fascinating database on athletic department revenues and expenses. Nebraska is 26th in revenue and 27th in expenses, lower than I expected. Iowa, by contrast, is 15th and seventh. The Big Ten bloggers take a closer look at the numbers.
>> Man, I feel sorry for Kevin Durant. First his organization trades away James Harden. Then he loses out on a scoring title and an MVP award, despite joining the exclusive 50-40-90 club.
Then Russell Westbrook goes down in round one, leaving Durant with a Motley Crue of helpers. Kendrick Perkins, whose big contract ensured OKC couldn’t offer Harden a max deal, has been terrible. Kevin Martin apparently flips a coin in the locker room before games — “heads” he plays like an All-Star, “tails” he plays like a D-leaguer.
Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka aren’t capable of being the second option. Durant’s best teammate Tuesday night, Derek Fisher, was on the scrap heap a few months ago.
Durant went 36 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists, shooting 50 percent from the floor. And the Thunder still lost at home. I’ll be stunned if they steal a game in Memphis.
>> In the market for a big-contract free agent? You’re better off saying no. SI breaks down Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton and the rash of big-money busts.
>> What did Clay Buchholz have on his arm in Toronto? Sunscreen!
>> Omaha is losing one of its best sports media talents. Michael Grey, host of AM 590’s afternoon show, completes his final four hours this afternoon. He’s taking a great job in a bigger market.
It’s no surprise to see Grey get a promotion. His well-reasoned opinions and sharp wit made him an easy listen. Grey came here from Michigan, but could talk Nebraska and Creighton athletics as well as those of us who’d spent our whole lives here. 590 has its work cut out to replace him.
>> Finally, Tommie Frazier tributes are all over the Web today. This one from Sports On Earth is one of my favorites:
College football is better now. Teams win in lots of different ways. Coaches invent plays and formations and whole new schemes, and a lot of them work. But sometimes you want steak with no sides, and sometimes you want to drive fast down an empty highway, and sometimes you want to see a gifted quarterback run the option like God and Bear Bryant (not necessarily in that order) intended. Tommie Frazier was the best who ever did it.