In the end, only two outcomes exist.
Coaches can tell players to focus on fundamentals. They can preach process and execution. They can talk about an internal standard that’s more sophisticated than scoreboards. But at the end of the day, football is very simple.
You win. Or you lose.
There are many flaws to Bo Pelini’s sixth Nebraska team. But how can you not admire a group that chooses self-preservation over self-pity?
You see what’s happening at Florida, at TCU, at Northwestern, even at Michigan. All were preseason Top 25 teams. All have crumbled in the face of adversity. It happens every year in college football. Some talented teams simply quit, others lose their confidence and can’t find it again.
Since the Minnesota game, Nebraska has had every opportunity to pout. To give up. To make excuses. The injuries on offense are borderline comical — who the heck is Brandon Reilly? The defense, just two weeks ago, was getting pushed five yards off the ball on every snap. Yet somehow NU has won two straight.
The Huskers are known to be as fragile as a Christmas ornament during a game. They get blown out far too often. But give ‘em credit: one loss almost never beats ‘em twice. Disappointments don’t linger. It’s a Bo Pelini trademark. *
* Strangely, this resilience is the exact quality that makes Nebraska (and Pelini) so hard to analyze. Just when you think they’re burnt, they pop out of the toaster. They stick together. They get their nine wins. It makes the disappointing seasons more acceptable. Question is, does it stand in the way of real progress?
Would a 7-5 season in 2011, for instance, have prompted Pelini to step back, assess the program with a clearer mind and make bolder changes that benefited NU long-term? Sometimes when you think you’re “so close,” you’re reluctant to change the plan.
I hesitate to make too much of a win over mediocre Michigan — it reminded me of beating Michigan State last year. But the way NU did it — with a freshman quarterback and a patchwork offensive line — was inspiring.
Say what you want about the Big Ten and an easy schedule. Say what you want about how different Nebraska looks than ‘Bama and Florida State and Baylor. The program isn’t where it could be — or should be — in Pelini’s sixth year. But coming to grips with that, a team has two options: lament reality or make the best of it.
You should’ve seen the faces going up the same tunnel Saturday night. The boys in blue looked lost in their own home. The Huskers, meanwhile, looked like a team that knew what it was. More important, they knew what they weren’t.
>> The Big Ten presented several reasons, namely “competitive balance.” But don’t kid yourself. One of the biggest motives for splitting the Big Ten into Legends and Leaders for the 2011 season was the potential of matching Ohio State and Michigan in the conference title game.
It’s great once. But imagine it twice! In back-to-back weeks! What might the TV ratings be? What might downtown Indianapolis look like?
We know now it’ll never happen. The league determined that three years of Legends and Leaders was enough. And Ohio State and Michigan didn’t hold up their end of the dream.
The Buckeyes can blame Jim Tressel and tattoos for ruining their 2011-12 Big Ten hopes. And Michigan seems to be sliding after 11 wins in ’11.
Ohio State is the best program in this league, bar none. But don’t let anybody tell you Michigan is No. 2. The past 20 years, Wisconsin has more wins (182-178) and more conference titles (6-5). Over the past 10 years, the win margin is more lopsided (101-86).
If those trends hold, the West Division will hold its own in the new Big Ten.
>> I wrote it Friday. Nebraska had a good chance at Michigan because the Wolverines can’t run the ball. Boy, did that prove to be true.
It’s appalling to watch Al Borges’ offense try. A 3-yard run looked like pulling teeth. (Detroit columnist Bob Wojnowski takes the Michigan coaching staff to task in this piece.)
You learn a lot of thing watching football year after year. But one lesson never gets old — If you can’t run and stop the run, you don’t have a chance.
>> I hate to admit it, but a football fan on his couch has a few viewing advantages over a sports writer in the press box. Yes, we have TVs, but they’re small and muted. As a result, we occasionally miss an important sideline exchange or replay.
But Saturday was a great example of the value of being in the stadium. We saw all 22 players, rather than the 10-15 within camera view near the line of scrimmage. That meant seeing the consistent suffocating coverage of NU’s secondary.
Michigan’s receivers are pretty good. Yet more often than not, Devin Gardner had nowhere to throw. This Husker secondary hasn’t earned the acclaim of past secondaries, specifically 2009-10. But if it keeps covering like it did Saturday, the attention will come. What a performance.
>> I do love the USA Today Misery Index, which leads this week with Notre Dame and Michigan.
>> Is Oregon all style and no substance? That’s too harsh. But skeptics have reason to wonder if the Ducks can ever conquer physical teams like Stanford.
>> It’s mid-November. Time to take a hard look at divisional races around the country:
Big Ten Legends: The winner of Nebraska-Michigan State likely goes to Indy. The Spartans could lose, however, and still win the division if NU loses one of its last two.
Big Ten Leaders: Ohio State. End of story.
SEC West: It likely comes down to Alabama at Auburn on Thanksgiving Friday. But in order to have that chance, the Tigers must beat Georgia this Saturday.
SEC East: Missouri has a one-game lead on South Carolina and Georgia. The Tigers go to Ole Miss and host Texas A&M. If they lose one, the Gamecocks are likely to go to Atlanta (their only remaining SEC game is home against Florida). The wild card is Georgia, which goes to Auburn Saturday.
If Mizzou loses one while South Carolina and Georgia both win out, Mizzou would win the tiebreaker because of its superior divisional record.
Pac-12 North: If Stanford wins at USC this Saturday, consider them division champs. A loss would put the ball back in Oregon’s pond.
Pac-12 South: Arizona State has a one-game lead on USC and UCLA. All three face rigorous schedules.
ASU: Oregon State, at UCLA, Arizona
UCLA: Washington, Arizona State, at USC
USC: Stanford, at Colorado, UCLA
My hunch is it comes down to the UCLA-Arizona State game Nov. 23.
ACC Atlantic: Florida State. End of story.
ACC Coastal: What a mess. Four teams have two league losses — Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia Tech and Duke. The tiebreakers obviously are complicated, but the biggest game left is Miami at Duke this Saturday.
Who’s in the best position from a schedule standpoint? Virginia Tech. The Hokies get Maryland at home, then go to Virginia. A 6-2 finish — with tiebreakers over Miami and Georgia Tech — should be enough.
Big 12: Baylor is the league’s best team, but Texas’ surge has spiced up the race. Both teams are unbeaten and they meet Dec. 7, the last night of the season.
Oklahoma State still controls its destiny, too. The Cowboys’ toughest three games of the year are the last three — Texas on the road, then Baylor and OU in Stillwater.
>> The four best quarterbacks in the NFL are Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers (in your preferred order). But who’s No. 5? ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenberg raised that question on Twitter Sunday night and the answer isn’t easy.
Russell Wilson? Andrew Luck? Matthew Stafford? Whomever you choose at No. 5, it’s a pretty considerable gap after that top four.
>> The Bengals’ Hail Mary is the kind of play that never happens. Can’t remember the last time I’ve seen one this cool. (Wink, wink)
>> Huge weekend sweep for Husker volleyball. Minnesota is one tough place to win a match. But the Huskers won in five sets and now stand alone in second place in the Big Ten, 12-2, one game behind Penn State.
Suddenly it looks possible that Nebraska could be playing for at least a share of the Big Ten championship on Nov. 30, when Penn State comes to the Devaney Center for the season finale. What a scene that would be.
>> At last, basketball! You thought I’d forgotten. As I made clear on Twitter Friday night, I would much rather have been at Pinnacle Bank Arena for the season opener than in my Detroit hotel room, which didn’t even have Big Ten Network.
I finally watched the Husker blowout of Florida Gulf Coast last night on DVR. Obviously it wasn’t the same arena, but it barely resembled the same team.
Can Nebraska jump into the Big Ten’s top 7/8 sooner than expected? I still question the lack of meat in the middle, but that’s a concern for another day.
For now, consider that 42,609 fans watched the Husker women, Husker men and Creighton men on Friday. It was the largest crowd in school history for the NU men and ninth-largest for the CU men. And it happened the first week of November!
If that isn’t enough to get your juices flowing for local hoops, consider that Sunday afternoon the UNO men led Iowa by five with 10 minutes left before falling in Iowa City.
It’s gonna be a fun, fun winter.