Published Monday, December 2, 2013 AT 1:03 PM / Updated at 7:18 PM
Mad Chatter: Is Nebraska headed in the right direction?
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

Examining the status and direction of a football program such as Nebraska’s is no simple task.

Barring a season as good as 1995 or as bad as 2007, different people look at the program and see very different things. That’s the beauty of it; that’s also the frustration of it.

We all have opinions on Bo Pelini’s leadership. We might look at the 2013 season differently. We might look at Friday’s loss to Iowa differently. We might even look at unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and press-conference expletives differently. That’s fine.

As a lifelong Nebraskan, I’m more interested in discussing the big picture of the program. Finding a set of facts we can all agree on.

Sunday I tweeted this: “North Dakota State got a vote in the AP poll. Nebraska did not.”

Based on the responses, you’d have thought I called Tom Osborne a criminal.

It’s an emotional time for Husker fans, I get it. But people need to be careful that Nebraska football doesn’t devolve into a political-style war. Don’t dismiss facts because they come from an unlikeable source.

With that in mind, I’m going to try to make this next point as simple and non-controversial as possible.

After the 2009 Holiday Bowl, perhaps NU’s best performance of the Bo Pelini era, the coach said “Nebraska is back and we’re here to stay.”

Since that moment, this is where the Huskers have started in the AP poll and finished in the AP poll.

2010: Started 8th, finished 20th

2011: Started 10th, finished 23rd

2012: Started 17th, finished 25th

2013: Started 18th, currently tied for 36th (only 35 teams received a vote)

So each of the past three years, the preseason expectation has been lower than the year before. And each of the past four years, NU has finished at least eight spots lower than where it started.

Those are facts. So is this.

After Friday’s loss, a 21-point loss to 7-4 Iowa in Memorial Stadium, a game which included a failed fake punt from the 32-yard line and a personal foul on Pelini for swinging his hat at the head linesman, the coach said this:

“Our record since I’ve been here, speaks for itself. And this program is heading in a good direction.”

* * *

The worst win is better than the best loss.

Unfortunately, that’s the rule in college football. Just look at the polls. Every year, voters essentially rank every one-loss team ahead of every two-loss team, and so on.

I understand it’s hard to put a one-loss SEC team in the national championship game over an undefeated Ohio State or Florida State.

But look at the message we’re sending regarding schedule strength.

Ohio State’s best wins this year are Wisconsin at home (31-24), Iowa at home (34-24), Penn State at home (63-14) and at Michigan (42-41).

Auburn’s best wins this year are Alabama at home (34-28), at Texas A&M (45-41), Georgia at home (43-38) and Ole Miss at home (30-22).

The Tigers’ loss came at LSU, 35-21. I’m pretty sure Ohio State wouldn’t have won in Death Valley, either.

Don’t want to make this an SEC/Big Ten issue? OK, how ‘bout Ohio State vs. Michigan State. They’ll meet Saturday in the Big Ten championship game.

The Spartans beat four of seven common opponents — Iowa, Michigan, Illinois and Northwestern — more convincingly. Had Michigan State scheduled non-conference games like Ohio State did (the Buckeyes’ toughest game was at Cal, while MSU played at Notre Dame), Sparty would be 12-0, too.

I hate that the SEC just assumes its best team is the best in the country. And I’m not arguing that Auburn or Michigan State would beat Ohio State — nobody knows.

But it sends a bad, bad signal when Florida State and Ohio State played such awful schedules but — because they’re unbeaten — they’re 1 and 2.

The worst win is better than the best loss. That’s tradition in college football. It’ll be fascinating to see if/how the selection committee modernizes it.

>> If you haven’t read all about Auburn vs. Alabama — one of the best games I’ve ever seen — there’s plenty of good stuff out there, including Spencer Hall and Pat Forde.

>> Dan Wolken ranks Nebraska No. 3 in his Misery Index.

“A press box conversation at the Iron Bowl on Saturday raised an interesting question. What is Nebraska football right now? Seriously, what is it? It’s just kind of there, floating in space, not really bothering anybody or threatening the order of things. There is nothing definable about it. It’s just an inert Midwestern program, indistinguishable from Iowa with not as good of a football team at the moment. Moving to the Big Ten in 2011 hasn’t made Nebraska football any better or more relevant, and Nebraska football hasn’t made the Big Ten any better or more relevant.”

>> Creighton goes 1-2 in Anaheim? Not exactly what Jay-backers (or Jayskers) had in mind. After an 88-60 blowout of Arizona State, I figured Creighton would win the tournament, not finish fourth.

It’s alarming how little the Jays got from the center position Friday and Sunday. Against San Diego State, Will Artino compiled four points and no rebounds in 13 minutes. Against GW, Artino had two points, one rebound and one block in nine minutes. Zach Hanson and Geoffrey Groselle pitched in four combined minutes — two points and no rebounds.

Creighton can’t beat good teams with just Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge on the frontline.

>> After watching Broncos-Chiefs Sunday, a great, great game, I couldn’t help but wonder how much better Alex Smith would be with Tony Gonzalez at tight end. How did that trade not happen at the deadline?

Regular-season outcomes don’t get any bigger than Denver/KC. Had the Chiefs pulled it out, they likely would’ve had home-field advantage and a first-round bye. Instead, they must win three road playoff games. I’m no Chiefs fan, but the NFL should seed playoff teams on record alone, not division championships. There aren’t enough teams in a division to assure the champ a home playoff game.

We could easily be looking at this wild card weekend in the NFC:

12-4 Carolina at 9-7 Detroit.

12-4 San Francisco at 9-7 Dallas.

>> Finally, Steve Sarkisian to USC? After Lane Kiffin? The Trojans really are desperate to reconstruct the Pete Carroll era, aren’t they?

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