It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We hit Peyton/the Chiefs, Bobby Bowden/Lou Holtz, Taylor Martinez/Joe Ganz, UNO/UNLV, Warriors/Thunder, Mike Trout/Miguel Cabrera, Omaha North/Grand Island and, of course, Twitter vs. me.
But first, we find out just how valuable that Hail Mary was. If Jordan Westerkamp catches the ball at the 1-yard line two weeks ago, Nebraska loses to Northwestern. And my guess is the Huskers would’ve lost at Michigan, too. And then Michigan State comes to town and, well, you get the picture.
Instead, somehow NU is 7-2 and one big win from the Legends driver’s seat. Might not sound like much to an outsider, but considering where Nebraska stood at 6 p.m. on Nov. 2, it’s a minor-miracle. Question is, can the Huskers parlay the past two wins into something more meaningful?
Last year, the Huskers basically tarnished their six-game winning streak by losing 70-31 to Wisconsin. Some analysts think it’ll happen again – Stewart Mandel is picking Michigan State by a big, big margin. But I don’t see this one getting out of hand, barring a rash of turnovers. I think NU’s defense holds up and it turns into a four-quarter game.
And if Nebraska wins it? Well, it’ll be one of the most dramatic, improbable three-week turnarounds in Husker history. And Bo Pelini won’t have to hear about the hot seat — at least for another week.
>> I’ll have more on Taylor Martinez the next few weeks. But last year after the Michigan State game, I presented a Twitter poll asking Husker fans to rank the best quarterbacks since Eric Crouch.
This was their order (with vote tallies in parentheses):
Martinez (56 first-place votes, 41 second, 20 third, 7 fourth) = 394 points
Ganz (42, 42, 30, 10) = 364 points
Taylor (24, 33, 54, 13) = 316 points
Lord (2, 8, 20, 94) = 166 points
Martinez benefited from the timing of the poll — he’d just led a huge fourth-quarter comeback on the road. A year later, I wonder if/how the poll results would be different.
Ten years from now, I’ll be especially curious to see whether Husker fans prefer Martinez to Ganz. Taylor’s numbers are off the charts, but he’ll be penalized for starting 3 1/2 years and failing to win a conference title.
>> I usually like my Twitter arguments short and sweet. Best not to stage a Lincoln/Douglas debate in 140 characters. But Thursday demanded an exception. In the afternoon, I went back and forth with SI’s Andy Staples, who wrote this assessment of Bo Pelini.
It is Staples’ opinion that Nebraska, no matter who the coach is, won’t consistently be better than it is now because its location makes it next to impossible to recruit against national powers. I respect his point, but disagree on a few key issues.
Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that people didn’t think Oregon, Stanford, Wisconsin and Baylor could recruit elite talent, either. (And for the record, NU’s classes are consistently better than Wisconsin’s and Baylor’s).
Twelve hours later, a smart, critical reader named Ethan Bartels engaged again on the topic of Bo Pelini’s recruiting in the 500-mile radius, which I examined in February. You can find that extensive conversation here (at 3 a.m.).
I need a Twitter break.
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>> The AP’s Jim Litke looks back on one of college football’s greatest games, Notre Dame-Florida State 1993. It’s probably the most memorable non-Nebraska game of my childhood. Notre Dame led 31-17 with 4 minutes to play but needed a break-up in the end zone to win.
The Seminoles were the better team that year and would’ve beaten Notre Dame, I believe, anywhere but South Bend. It was a bad break for NU when the Irish lost the following week to Boston College — a stunner. The Huskers would’ve stood a better chance in the Orange Bowl against Notre Dame.
>> An excellent profile of Minnesota star defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman, who was a foster child before becoming a top NFL prospect.
>> Twelve teams in the NFL, aside from Kansas City and Denver, have winning records (five in the AFC, seven in the NFC). The Broncos’ and Chiefs’ combined record against those teams: 0-1.
Can you believe that? The only game against a winning team was Denver playing at Indy. Kansas City’s best win on paper is at Philadelphia. Denver’s best win is at Dallas.
It doesn’t mean the Chiefs and Broncos are paper tigers. But as they prepare for their Sunday night clash, I do wonder what their records would look like if they had the Colts’ schedule, for instance.
>> By the way, I find it foolish for the NFL to schedule both games between the Broncos and Chiefs (or any two divisional rivals) in a three-week span.
It’s a 16-game season and the league should spread out divisional games over the course of those four months. One key injury, like Peyton Manning’s ankle sprain, shouldn’t decide both games.
>> Confession: I fell asleep last night in the first quarter of Warriors/Thunder.
The game of the NBA season I wanted to see more than any other — and I fell asleep. I was a little under the weather. Not totally surprising. Good news is I woke up at 1:20 a.m. And then I watched the game on DVR.
If there is anybody still living under a rock saying the NBA isn’t like it used to be, I submit that game. Let’s all hope we get to see seven of them in May.
>> The No. 1 recruit in America, defensive end Da’Shawn Hand, picked Alabama over Michigan. Pat Forde says it’s another gut-punch for Brady Hoke, who’s headed for a make-or-break 2014 season.
>> Connie Yori’s program is running full steam these days, but keep an eye on Illinois the next five years.
The Illini signed two native Cornhuskers Wednesday — Shelby-Rising City’s Chatrice White and Minden’s Brooke Kissinger. White, who comes from my neck of the woods, is the headliner. She’s No. 27 in the ESPN recruiting rankings.
“We didn’t see a five that was better than (White) in her class,” coach Matt Bollant told Illinois reporters. “She’s got great hands, can run the floor, physical, tough and plays really hard. She also loves to practice, loves to get better.”
>> Millard West-Omaha Westside will be a heckuva game tonight. But my attention will be on Grand Island-Omaha North.
(I’ll resist the urge to say how ridiculous it is for a higher-seeded team like North to hit the road for a state semifinal, just because the NSAA wants to divvy up the playoff home games). Instead, let’s draw attention to the Islanders and how much fun it is to have them back in a state semi, a place they haven’t been since 1990!
If you’re under 25 and from Omaha, you might not believe it, but there was a time when out-state Class A teams weren’t just competitive, they won state championships.
Hastings won Class A in ’93. Norfolk won in ’94. Columbus, my alma mater, made the state semis five times in a nine-year span (1992-2000). Kearney won it all in 2006.
But nowadays, schools like Norfolk and North Platte are so much smaller than Millard West and Omaha Central, it’s hard to compete. Twenty years from now, it’s very possible Kearney and Grand Island will be the only non-Lincoln/Omaha schools in Class A.
For people like me, that’ll be a sad day.
>> Speaking of big games tonight, UNO fans will be focused on CenturyLink as the Mavs host Michigan on the ice. But as a basketball guy, I’ll be hitting “refresh” furiously to see if the Mavs can knock off UNLV in Vegas.
The Runnin’ Rebels are a 14-point favorite at the Thomas & Mack Center. But they lost by 20 to UC Santa Barbara. If UNO plays as well as it did Sunday at Iowa and Wednesday against UMKC, it has a shot at the upset.
C.J. Carter and Co. face Minnesota next month, so it’s not the Mavs’ last chance to make a national splash. But it might be their best.
>> Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera?
If you believe in old-school baseball statistics and if you buy into the theory that the MVP needs to carry his team to the playoffs, then Cabrera is your man (he won, by the way).
But if you believe in advanced stats, then you can’t ignore Trout’s 9.2 WAR (compared to Cabrera’s 7.2). The MVP debate is a proxy battle in a larger cold war, says Craig Calcaterra.
>> Email from Clete:
“I really enjoy your Mad Chatter blog and generally agree with many of your theories and opinions. However, referring to “racing to the block and taking a dive” as a chicken’s way to play defense is spurious.
“In fact, taking a charge is one of the most painful sports plays in all of sports. It is much more “chicken” to give a half hearted wave attempt at blocking a dunk or lay up. I’ve played a lot of basketball over the years and been a part of a lot of basketball teams — inevitably the toughest guy and best defender leads the team in charges taken.
“There is nothing fun or weasely about setting up on the block and waiting for an out of control offensive player to put his knee through your chest or worse, your groin.”
Great point, Clete. The physical act of taking a charge isn’t chicken. But think about it. More often than not, it’s a defender seeking contact and hoping for a call. That’s not basketball. That’s natural — especially when it means sliding under an offensive player as he jumps toward the rim.
Back in seventh grade in the driveway, did we take charges or did we challenge shots? We challenged (OK, I was pretty short, so my blocks were pretty rare)! I’d like to see charge-taking resort to a secondary tactic only used when the defender is all by himself against an offensive player who is clearly out of control.
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.