It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We hit Peyton Manning and Bill Belichick, Terry Pettit and Greg McDermott, Tiger’s swing and Murray’s temper. But first, the Husker defense.
In today’s World-Herald, I wrote about what it’s like to play your first college football game, as so many Husker defensive players did last week. One notable point I omitted came from Trev Alberts, who spoke of the contrast between him in 1989 and a freshman like Nate Gerry in 2013.
In ’89, Alberts came to Lincoln from an Iowa high school without a weight room. The freshmen started NU camp and Alberts had a hard time keeping up. A week later, the varsity showed up and it got even tougher.
His redshirt year, Alberts was on the scout team playing every day against one of the nation’s best offensive lines — Jake Young, Bill Bobbora, Doug Glaser, Jim Wanek. He got thrown on the ground almost every play. They laughed at him.
“I can assure you that I was in no way prepared to ever play in a varsity football game,” Alberts said.
Most of Alberts’ classmates played on the freshmen team in ‘89, then redshirted their second year. They didn’t even get an “N” on their gear. They lockered in the North Stadium apart from the varsity; it was a big deal to move to the south end in year two.
“Every one of us, after about three or four weeks, reached a critical point where we had to decide whether we were actually going to pay the price or whether it wasn’t worth it.”
It was purposefully rigorous. Like boot camp. But by year three, most Huskers were finally getting their first action. By year four, most were ready to start.
Doing it in year one? As you’re getting used to college classes? And being away from Mom and Dad for the first time? And dealing with the pressure of performing — heightened, of course, by social media?
“What these young people are carrying — the responsibility — we didn’t have to go through that,” Alberts said.
What made Nebraska so consistently good back then was its depth. With a few more scholarships and walk-ons, it didn’t need Trev Alberts to jump in right away. And because he stood on the sidelines for most of his first two seasons, because he got his tail whipped on the scout team every day, he developed the hunger — the intangibles — to blossom into an All-American.
Nate Gerry and Josh Banderas could be the most talented true freshmen in the country. But in (almost) cracking the starting lineup so soon, they skipped the long climb that helps make a player great.
>> Nebraska’s winning streak in season openers, nearly broken against Wyoming, is the longest in the country. The Huskers have been 1-0 every year since 1986. Twenty-eight straight wins — that’s the length two undefeated seasons.
Of course, beating Wyoming wasn’t exactly NU’s finest day. Question is, does it mean anything? I went back and looked at the past 28 years. What happened in seasons when Nebraska struggles, especially defensively, in the season opener?
We’ll break it down into four categories.
Making a statement:
86 Florida State
94 West Virginia
03 Oklahoma State
Nothing to see here:
87 Utah State
93 North Texas
95 Oklahoma State
96 Michigan State
00 San Jose State
02 Arizona State
04 Western Illinois
06 Louisiana Tech
09 Florida Atlantic
10 Western Kentucky
12 Southern Miss
Some things to clean up:
89 Northern Illinois (five first-half turnovers; 17-17 at halftime)
90 Baylor (offense looked bad)
01 TCU (offensive struggles)
05 Maine (bad, bad offense)
08 Western Michigan (342 passing yards for WMU)
What was that!:
91 Utah State (Ron Lopez threw for 373 yards and NU gave up 28 points)
98 Louisiana Tech (The game was never in doubt, but Tim Rattay threw for 590!)
Obviously perception is dictated by the quality of opponent. But the three worst defensive performances — by a pretty noticeable margin — were ’91, ’98 and ’08. And those were seasons in which Nebraska’s defense struggled.
In ’91, the Blackshirts gave up 36 at home to Washington, 31 at home to Kansas State. In ’98, the first four-loss season since 1969, the defense was good most of the year, but crumbled in big moments — at Texas A&M, against Texas, at K-State, Arizona. After a few early wins in 2008, Bo’s first season, NU gave up 124 points over a three-week span.
Time will tell for the ’13 defense, which has more room to grow because of its youth. But history suggests a bad first game is no fluke.
>> There isn’t enough deer antler spray in the world to scrub the stink off the Ravens this morning. The NFL never fails to entertain, especially in primetime. And while Broncos-Ravens didn’t go down to the wire — like Packers-Saints a few years ago — it produced one of the best quarterback performances in NFL history. Peyton is still Peyton. And the Broncos, especially when they get Von Miller back, may be the Super Bowl favorite.
>> Fascinating study of NFL rosters, broken down by race, college, salary, etc. A few highlights: Louisiana produces (per capita) more NFL players than any state. By far. Iowa still has more NFL offensive linemen than any school.
>> Only 31 percent of NFL passes are thrown more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Check out the “pass atlas” from Grantland.
>> Oh no! Brian Kelly and Bill Belichick are teaming up. It’s like the Emperor allying with Darth Vader. Really nice work from Dan Wetzel.
>> I grew up on Michigan-Notre Dame (usually determining which team I disliked more by who was higher in the polls). They were great games. But the Wolverines and Irish have a unique history because, even in the beginning, it was all about money, writes Michael Rosenberg.
>> Some days, I just miss Nebraska-Oklahoma. Ya know?
>> I wasn’t around to see Terry Pettit’s dominance at Nebraska. But it’s no stretch to compare his impact on volleyball here to Bob Devaney’s impact on football. Pettit probably means even more because he coached 23 seasons. The Devaney Center floor will be dedicated in Pettit’s honor tonight.
>> Creighton’s basketball schedule (finally) came out Thursday and it’s just the right balance of challenging and manageable. The toughest back-to-back games come the last week of the year (at Xavier and at Georgetown). Aside from that pair, Greg McDermott should be pleased.
>> Jordan Conn, who has written some incredible stories for Grantland, examines the mysterious death of a high school football player in Georgia.
>> How weak is Louisville’s football schedule this year? 26 schools, if facing the Cards’ schedule, would be favored in every game. For me, it would be very interesting to see if a one-loss SEC team (or even Pac-12 team) edges out Louisville for a national title spot. My guess is yes.
>> The NBA is going camera crazy. And it could change the way we understand basketball.
>> Have we seen our last super semifinal in Grand Slam tennis? By that, I mean Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and Federer all together? The latter may never regain his form. And the other three are getting pushed more often, too. Andy Murray’s loss to Stanislas Wawrinka is a big surprise. As long as we get Djokovic-Nadal in the Sunday final, I won’t complain too much.
>> Deadspin looks at the hilarious tennis refrain — “Come on!”
>> Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee continues to criticize Tiger Woods’ swing. I know some don’t like Chamblee, but I admire his guts. Most golf analysts (especially at CBS and ABC/ESPN) wouldn’t dare say an ill word about Tiger.
>> As mentioned Wednesday, we’re gonna try something new in the Chatter this fall. It’s an NFL pool. No entry fee is required. But at the end of the season, I’ll buy the winner a prize. It goes like this:
You’ve seen those bowl confidence pools, where you rank your bowl winners on a scale of like 1-40. Well, we’re gonna do the same thing with NFL playoff qualifiers. I challenge you to rank your predicted NFL playoff teams on a confidence scale, 1-12.
So if you’re 99 percent sure New England will make the playoffs, they should be a “12” on your list. If you can’t decide between the Giants and Cowboys for the last NFC wild card, that should your “1.” The tiebreaker? Your Super Bowl pick.
Deadline is Sunday at noon. Wednesday I picked Atlanta over Houston in the Super Bowl (because it’s lame to pick Broncos and Seahawks like everyone else!) Today I reveal my confidence pool picks. (Copy them at your own risk):
12 — Houston
11 — Denver
10 — New England
9 — San Francisco
8 — Atlanta
7 — Green Bay
6 — Cincinnati
5 — Seattle
4 — Indianapolis
3 — New Orleans
2 — Kansas City
1 — Dallas
Just missed the cut: Chicago, Washington and the New York Giants. As a Redskins fan — despite last year’s playoff run — I’m still jaded by 20 years of disappointments.
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.