It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We hit Saban v. Stoops, Derrick Rose and Kirk Ferentz, Bret Bielema and Alex Gordon, Michael Jordan and Tommie Frazier. But first, a last gasp for a Big Ten title.
Darin Erstad’s team kicks off a series at conference leader Minnesota (11-4) this afternoon. And if Nebraska (12-6) has any hope of winning a regular-season crown, it needs two of three.
Husker fans have to feel good about Kyle Kubat’s chances on Saturday. Question is, can they win a big game without him? Since April 20, the Huskers are 0-6 in games Kubat doesn’t pitch.
>> If you asked me how Nick Saban might respond to Bob Stoops’ SEC comments, this is EXACTLY what I would’ve guessed. Arrogant, yet petty. It takes years of experience to pull off that combo.
“I didn’t even know he said it, so you’re going to have to tell me what he said,” Saban said. “I’ve got more important things to do than sit around and read what Bob Stoops has to say about anything. But I like Bob Stoops, and I respect him as a coach, but I’m really trying to manage our business.”
Saban was told that Stoops implied that the Big 12 Conference was stronger because its weakest teams are better than the teams at the bottom of the SEC. Teams from the SEC have won seven consecutive BCS championships.
“Well, we don’t play everybody in the Big 12 or whatever it is, so I really don’t know much about their league,” Saban said. “We have a lot of respect for what they do at Oklahoma, and I really don’t think that people that don’t play in our league really don’t understand the quality of our league from top to bottom.
“I think there’s probably a lot of animosity out there because of the success that we have in our league, but I think that kind of goes with the territory. I understand that. But we certainly respect the great program that they have at Oklahoma and the other good programs that they have in the Big 12.”
>> First of all, I’d bet Saban’s entire salary that this interview wasn’t the first he’d heard of Stoops’ comments. Beyond that, it’s fascinating to witness a public spat between two of the game’s biggest coaches. It’s also interesting how much ground currently exists between the two.
The Tide is coming off three championships in four years; the Sooners haven’t finished in the top 5 since 2008 and just got hammered by Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. I have no doubt Saban will keep Alabama rolling. But if the Big 12 wants to stay in shouting distance of the SEC, then Stoops better find his mojo again.
>> Stoops’ logic is flawed, as I mentioned Tuesday, but I’ll say this on his behalf: This SEC doesn’t always look good in non-conference play. Florida nearly lost to Louisiana-Lafayette (and got crushed by Louisville). Kentucky lost to Western Kentucky. Arkansas lost to Louisiana-Monroe. Auburn nearly did, too. Missouri lost at home to Syracuse. If the SEC was as deep as its coaches say, those results wouldn’t happen.
>> Pat Forde writes the truth: The SEC needs to move to nine conference games. It has no excuse not to anymore. How do you rationalize just eight league games in a 14-team league? You don’t. But to Stoops’ point, it’s a contributing factor to the SEC’s dominance.
>> I’m no fan of Saban’s ego. But I like his non-conference scheduling proposal.
>> Bret Bielema has no patience for Twitter critics. On one hand, I wonder how he’s gonna survive in Arkansas with thin skin. On the other hand, it’s nice to see a high-profile sports figure call out the Twidiots.
>> Can Kirk Ferentz get to a bowl game this fall? Hard to believe we’re asking that question (again). But the Hawkeyes, who did nothing with easy Big Ten schedules the past two years, suddenly have it rough. They get Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders Division.
>> When you sign a blue-chip quarterback, you have (at most) 18 months to name him your starter. Otherwise, he’s probably leaving. Wes Lunt is the latest, bolting Oklahoma State after one year after starting part of the 2012 season.
>> How good are the NBA Playoffs right now? Good enough that I didn’t know what to do with myself at midnight without them. Sportswriters are notoriously late to bed, late to rise. And our baby girl is a night owl — Steph Curry is her favorite player. So I’ve been staying up every night with Charles, Shaq and Kenny.
As entertaining as the games have been, they haven’t actually been that important. Things start to get serious tonight. Both the Bulls and Warriors have a chance to go up 2-1, yet their positions couldn’t seem more different. I give Golden State a 50-50 shot to win the series. I give Chicago a 50-50 shot to win another game.
>> Three very different takes on Derrick Rose. Gregg Doyel wonders how Rose can look his teammates in the eyes. Grant Hill, whose bad ankles ruined his career, says Rose is doing the right thing sitting out. Michael Rosenberg of SI says Rose deserves the benefit of the doubt.
>> Michael Jordan dueled Charlie Sheen and Martin Sheen on the basketball court. Seriously. It happened in 1986 — before MJ became the most famous athlete in the world — and here’s the best part: Jordan lost!
>> Unless you’re from a (very) small state, your highest-paid public employee is likely a college head coach. Quite a graphic from Deadspin.
>> Different spot in the batting order. Same swing. Alex Gordon, who moved from leadoff to third, hit his third bomb in three games last night in Baltimore. An even better sign for KC was Eric Hosmer’s first homer of the year. The Royals come home tonight to face the Yankees, their first big home series of the season.
>> After a car crash nearly killed him, Chad Jones is quitting the NFL to pursue a baseball career. The former LSU Tiger, who pitched in the College World Series in 2009, played for Bo Pelini in Baton Rouge. I wrote a column about Jones a few years ago; Bo was kind enough to call me back on a tight deadline.
>> Great insight from Peter King into the St. Louis Rams’ war room on draft day. I love stories like this.
>> Tiger v. Rory on Sunday at Sawgrass? I’d watch that. Golf is due for a superstar duel. For now, Joe Posnanski wonders if the island green 17th is truly a great hole — or just a gimmick. My take: For that specific tournament, designed to test the world’s best players, it’s a great hole.
>> You’ve read just about everything on Tommie Frazier, right? But chances are, this oldie will feel new. It’s Tom Shatel’s post-game column after Frazier’s first start in 1992.
His young face was pasted with beads of sweat, yet Tommie Frazier looked cool. Confident. As he stood amid the hot, bright television lights fielding a pepper-game of questions late Saturday, you couldn’t help but notice that The Kid has the look.
The look of a gunslinger. The look of a winner. More importantly, the look of Nebraska’s next great quarterback.
Even those Nebraskans present Saturday at Faurot Field who couldn’t look inside Frazier’s helmet, much less his head, had to sense it. The Kid is something special. On a day when Nebraska’s secondary hardly looked ready for the Colorado challenge, Frazier appeared more than up to the task as he led the eighth-ranked Huskers to a 34-24 victory over Missouri that was somehow bigger than expected.
It was the day The Kid became The Man.
He trotted out as somewhat of a surprise starter for senior Mike Grant, whose back had stiffened him out of the lineup. But then The Kid immediately blended in. And whether he was diving in from 5 yards like an Olympic high-jumper to ice the victory or discussing his first start afterward with a face void of emotion, he looked like he belonged.
“I think I played well,” Frazier said. “I made a couple of mistakes on audibles, but other than that, it was an “A.’”
So spoke Professor Frazier. Nobody dared argue.
“At this age,” Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride said, “Tommie Frazier is in the Turner Gill category. He showed a lot of poise. He showed the look of a winner.”
In fact, it looked like Deja MU. Eleven years ago, Gill survived a blitzkrieg on this very field in a 6-0 victory that served as the springboard to Gill’s three-year legacy as one of the best quarterbacks in NU history.
Missouri may be a shadow of its 1981 self. But Saturday, the Tigers’ passing game was good enough to upset the Huskers if a hero hadn’t stepped up. Eleven years later, another one has.
“I think it does parallel that,” said Gill, now Frazier’s mentor as quarterbacks coach. “A young guy had to come in here and win a tough game. This will give him confidence in himself and confidence from the team.
“He has that something you can’t describe. He has an air about him. He knows how to lead. Some people have it, and some don’t.”
Air Frazier was enough to persuade the conservative Osborne to do the equivalent of putting on a wig and doing the twist in the end zone: Hand the keys to his complex offense over to a “true” freshman. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound high school All-American from Bradenton, Fla., was NU’s first nonredshirt freshman to start a football game in the “modern era.” This encompasses the Jerry Tagge era and the Turner Gill era.
Now we are about to see the Tommie Frazier era.
“I called in Turner Gill in the middle of his freshman year to ask him if he wanted to play varsity and he said he wasn’t ready,” Osborne said. “But Tommie seemed to have enough confidence that it didn’t faze him.
“I was a little worried about it yesterday because there were a couple of things in meetings he didn’t pick up on, but he played very well today. He had played in a lot of big games in high school. Just like Jamelle Holieway at Oklahoma. They play in playoffs for three years and 15 games a year. If you’ve been under that pressure, it doesn’t matter if it’s high school or college.”
The pressure for The Kid on Saturday was having to cope with his own defense’s inability to stop Missouri. He responded with the most passing yards by Nebraska this season (157), a season-high three touchdowns and the thing that will send him to the head of Dr. Osborne’s class: No lost fumbles or interceptions.
“No turnovers, that’s pretty good for a freshman quarterback,” Osborne said. “He was very stable out there. I’m sure there will be a mistake or two we’ll find but I didn’t see many. He made some good decisions.”
Osborne may have made the best of all Thursday: start Frazier. How hard was it? Not that hard, Osborne said. Grant had injured his back Sept. 19 at Washington, and only recently had it started to stiffen up and give him problems. Where did this come from? Not even the Kansas City Chiefs hide injuries this well.
But Osborne also credited Frazier with rapid improvement the past two weeks, playing his way into the job as Grant missed a handful of practices. Still, there was caution. Osborne didn’t announce his decision for fear of “hype and publicity” that might swallow The Kid. And Gill went out of his way to tell Frazier to “relax” and “don’t overthink.” Frazier also was given fewer audibles to play with.
“I just tried to prepare myself to play as well as I could,” Frazier said. “Not like a freshman, but like any quarterback. It’s basically the same as high school. The only difference is that it’s in front of thousands of fans.”
He makes it sound so simple, doesn’t he?
“We were nervous,” Gill said. “We felt he would make some mistakes, but we thought he would make up for it with his running ability and speed.”
He did make mistakes. But more often that not, something good happened when Frazier put his hands on the ball.
On third and goal at the Missouri 9, he bobbled the snap, bounced back into the pocket like a grasshopper, scrambled to his right, faked the pass and somehow rambled to the 1-yard line. That set up Calvin Jones’ second-quarter touchdown.
Minutes later, he had to call a timeout with 30 seconds left in the first half at the Missouri 29 that had Osborne raging. But when Derek Brown couldn’t get out of bounds at the 9-yard line and the clock wound down, Frazier had the presence to call time out with two ticks left so Byron Bennett could at least sneak in a 26-yard field goal before halftime.
But his biggest and brightest moment came on fourth and goal at the Tigers’ 5 with two minutes left and Nebraska up 27-24. Instead of electing to try a field goal — and expecting his defense to stop Missouri — Osborne went for it. It was a run – pass option, with Frazier going right and having the decision to run or pass. He looked like an Olympic high jumper, taking off at the 3 and landing softly in the end zone.
“He had to do it, ” McBride said, “and he did do it.”
That sums up his first start: Frazier had the ability to make plays, and he made them. That intangible. It left Husker fans with an emotional equilibrium as they left the stadium: The secondary may be in trouble Saturday against Colorado, but right now, nobody’s betting against The Kid.
Make that The Man.
Frazier said if Grant is healthy for the next game, he’ll start — as is Osborne’s policy that you can’t lose your job to an injury. But even Osborne said he would be surprised if Frazier didn’t start against CU. Osborne breaking policy? That’s how good Frazier is.
“If that’s best for the team,” Frazier said, “I’ll take it.”
He is seizing it. It’s 1981 all over again. The beginning of an era. We saw it Saturday. It was real enough to touch and taste, and even Frazier seemed to be taking a swig as the gunslinger was asked what he will remember about this day.
“There’s going to be a lot more starts like this,” Frazier said. “This was just the first.”
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.