Published Friday, September 27, 2013 AT 12:51 PM / Updated at 2:38 PM
Mad Chatter, Sept. 27
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We cover Nick Saban’s shrewd scheduling (and what it means to Nebraska), Barrett Ruud’s take on the two-gap defense, memories of broken Playstation controllers, Andrew Wiggins over Doug McDermott, Tiger over Phil, Mariano Rivera, Tim Miles and when football overtook baseball as America’s pastime. But first, a Saturday of rest for the Huskers.

How’s this for a September laundry list: 602 yards allowed to Wyoming; 38 unanswered points to UCLA — after building a 21-3 lead!; a Taylor Martinez injury that won’t heal quickly; a brutal defensive effort against South Dakota State; Bo Pelini exchanging fire with Tommie Frazier; and, oh yeah, an audio tape leaked to Deadspin that humiliated Pelini and the program and made it unlikely (at least according to Vegas odds) he’ll be back in 2014.

As Nick Bahe pointed out earlier this week, could Nebraska football possibly have experienced a worse opening month of the season?

On the bright side, a year ago, the Huskers would’ve faced Wisconsin and Ohio State these next two weeks. And a 3-3 record would’ve been a strong possibility. Instead, they get a bye. And considering the brutal schedules Northwestern and Michigan face, I think Nebraska still has as good a chance as anyone to win the Legends Division.

Of course, if Illinois rushes for 8 yards a carry, I’m changing my mind.

>> Credit another good radio man, Doug Duda in Kearney, for the best joke I heard this week: Are we sure Nebraska’s defense LET Jack Hoffman score that touchdown?

>> In case you missed it earlier this week, Ruud broke down Bo Pelini’s dilemma when it comes to the defense.

>> Alabama dumped its home-and-home series with Michigan State for 2016-17. Obviously, Nick Saban is scared of those great Michigan State quarterbacks.

Actually, it’s a sign the SEC is headed for nine league games (which is a good thing). It’s bad, though, because we continue to see fewer non-conference clashes in college football. I don’t anticipate that changing in the playoff era unless the selection committee begins rewarding “good losses” — for example, Texas A&M falling in the polls for a seven-point loss to Alabama is absurd.

Anyway, what intrigues me most about ‘Bama’s decision is a quote from Saban in which he basically says home-and-homes are a thing of the past at Alabama:

“What are we going to do with all of these neutral-site games that we have gotten into playing one every year, which continues to be an option for us in the future,” Saban said.

“We play West Virginia next year in Atlanta and Wisconsin the next year in Dallas. And those games our kids really enjoy. And from a business standpoint and a financial standpoint, they’re much more beneficial than playing home and home with someone because we get paid every year, not just the year we play at home. So it’s twice as good from a business standpoint.”

Over the past year, I’ve written that Nebraska needs to relax its standard of seven home games and occasionally play a nationally televised, neutral-site contest against a marquee opponent. That opinion was panned by some who said I didn’t understand budgets. Nebraska makes somewhere in the $4 million range per home game — the Lincoln economy generates a few more million. That money finances gymnastics, wrestling, golf, etc.

Well, Alabama and Michigan each made $4.7 million last year for meeting in the Metroplex — that’s almost exactly what Michigan makes for a home game. TCU received $3 million for playing LSU in the Cowboys Classic. ‘Bama and Virginia Tech made $2.65 million playing in Atlanta the same night. That doesn’t count the value in recruiting, merchandise sales, long-term branding, etc.

Saban hasn’t played a non-conference road game since Penn State in 2011. Who knows when he’ll play another?

Nebraska, meanwhile, has road games currently scheduled against Fresno State (’14), Miami (’15), Tennessee (’17), Colorado (’19 and ‘23), Oklahoma (’21) and Cincinnati (’25). Some of those are fine. But I don’t need to see Nebraska-Colorado four times in seven years. I don’t need to see NU at Fresno and at Cincinnati. Where’s the value there?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to join the neutral-site trend? You don’t think JerryWorld would LOVE having Nebraska in a prime-time game on ABC? Or Arrowhead Stadium or the Superdome or Soldier Field?

Nebraska is sliding off the national radar with every four-loss season. It needs all the help it can get building its brand. If Michigan can bite the bullet and (occasionally) give up a seventh home game at the largest stadium in the country, why can’t Nebraska?

>> No more “EA Sports” college football? Wow. A sad day for gamers. I haven’t played College Football in years, but I grew up on it in the days of Sega and Playstation. Some of my best high school memories are playing buddies — I can’t tell you how many times I threw my controller after Andy or Matt recovered another onside kick.

But the reason the game is so fun is also why it’s part of a lawsuit. When I scrambled with No. 7 from Virginia Tech, for instance, it felt like I was Michael Vick. That’s not fair to Vick, who didn’t make a dime off EA Sports sales.

>> Shame on Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern for trying to stifle Kain Colter and the APU movement, Pat Forde writes.

>> Bruce Feldman features Wyoming’s fast-paced offense in his weekly mailbag. (Nebraska’s defense makes an appearance).

>> Pinnacle Bank Arena is rolling out dozens of “firsts” this year. First public event. First concert. First basketball game. But tonight will be one of the more exciting for fans of Tim Miles — the first time seeing Husker basketball players on the new court. Any chance they’ll shoot better and jump higher in the new building?

>> Gary Parrish picks Andrew Wiggins, who’s never played a game, as the Preseason college basketball player of the year (over Doug McDermott). Here’s why.

>> You probably know I’m a Phil Mickelson guy. But the notion that Phil should’ve beaten out Tiger for PGA Tour player of the year is a stretch. Yes, Phil won a major — and came really close to winning another. But Tiger’s consistency is pretty hard to beat. And he did win the biggest non-major of the year, the Players Championship.

Interesting note on Phil, by the way: “Mickelson, with more wins (42) and majors (five) than any player except for Woods dating to the Tom Watson generation, has never been PGA Tour player of the year, No. 1 in the world ranking or won a PGA Tour money title.”

>> The Albert Pujols contract might be the worst in baseball. But I’m pretty sure basketball has a new “worst” in DeMarcus Cousins’ deal. Four years, $62 million?

>> Goosebump moments in sports are hard to come by anymore. There’s so much coverage of sports that nothing seems to happen spontaneously. Yet Mariano Rivera’s exit from Yankee Stadium last night exceeded my expectations.

Jeff Passan and Ian O’Connor detailed the events. Jayson Stark put Rivera’s numbers in perspective. And Joe Posnanski gets to the heart of the matter: Rivera is a throwback to a time when athletes were still considered heroes. Think about it, how many athletes in 2013 are basically too big to criticize? Rivera is revered universally. He may be the last of his kind.

>> If everyone thought as Cleveland does, what NFL trades would be made?

>> ESPN profiles a Montana State assistant coach and meth dealer who vowed to coach again. Walter White, in reverse.

>> The America’s Cup victory isn’t an inspiration, Josh Levin writes. Not when you get past the sappy narrative.

>> Losing is good for you! Seriously! A good column from the New York Times.

>> For a Sunday story, I’m looking for the most up-tempo high school football offenses in Nebraska. If you have a suggestion, drop me a note at dirk.chatelain@owh.com.

>> In the big games of the weekend, gimme Oklahoma and Georgia (in knee-knockers) and Ohio State and Alabama (comfortably).

>> Finally, I asked Twitter followers last night to “guesstimate” the year when football overtook baseball as America’s most popular sport. There are plenty of ways to measure it — attendance, TV ratings, media attention, etc. So there is no right or wrong answer. Here’s a sampling of results:

1991
2000
2001
Late-70s
Sometime around the Pete Rose scandal (1989)
Whitney Houston’s national anthem (1991)
When they canceled Monday Night baseball (1989)
1985 Super Bowl shuffle. It revolutionized sports on TV.
1987

But the most popular response was 1994 or ’95, in the wake of the MLB shutdown. The Cowboys and 49ers were leading the front pages. Fantasy football was catching fire. College football’s boom in the ’80s (thanks to more games on TV) had spilled over to the NFL.

Over those next five years, America’s attention span — influenced by satellite TV and high-speed internet — shortened. Baseball just wasn’t cool anymore (with the exception of the McGwire-Sosa home run race in ’98).

I’m 32. My first sports memories are football games — the Bears’ Super Bowl win, the ’87 Redskins and, of course, Nebraska-Oklahoma clashes. But I think baseball was still No. 1 until the early-90s. (For the record: Gallup polling suggests the answer is before 1972).

The question now, as reader (and soccer coach) Scott Steinbrook noted: “Does MLB risk falling behind soccer in our lifetime? MLS, EPL ratings & crowds rising.”

I’ll say those two line graphs cross in about 20 years — 15 if the U.S. men’s national team becomes a World Cup contender anytime soon. By 2050, we’ll talk baseball the way our grandfathers talk boxing. Remember how many bats Mariano Rivera shattered! Getting old sucks.

>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.

About Dirk Chatelain

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments. You can follow Dirk on Twitter (@dirkchatelain) or email him at dchatelain@owh.com