Published Friday, December 13, 2013 AT 12:41 PM / Updated at 2:05 PM
Mad Chatter: Is Nebraska slipping off the national stage? Lavonte and playoff talk
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

It’s Friday! That means in Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We hit Lavonte David and Danny Woodhead, RG3 and Phil Rivers, European soccer and American golf, the trouble with Jacksonville and college football playoff talk. But first, should Nebraska be worried about its national image?

First national columnists, most notably Pat Forde, blitz NU for retaining Bo Pelini.

Then the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl chooses 7-5 Michigan over 8-4 Nebraska (even though NU won at the Big House and has a massive following in Phoenix). I’m still stunned by that decision.

Now local travel agents are saying Nebraskans’ interest in the bowl game is at record-low levels.

This comes on the heels of a season in which NU generated few headlines nationally (a weak schedule didn’t help).

Sports Media Watch released a full list of college football ratings (no Big Ten Network games included) for the 2013 season.

Nebraska-Michigan was the Huskers’ biggest rating, 4.8 million viewers. UCLA drew 4.2 million, Iowa 4 million and Minnesota 3.1 million. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at, but they’re noticeably down from past years.

Look at Nebraska’s 2012 numbers:

Ohio State — 5.2 million
Big Ten championship — 5.1 million
UCLA — 4.3 million
Wisconsin — 4.3 million
Iowa — 4.1 million

I found a few numbers for 2011, too:

Wisconsin — 5.8 million
Ohio State — 5.6 million
Penn State — 5.4 million
Iowa — 4.3 million

(It’s worth noting that Good Bull Hunting found that NU was 12th in average TV rating, but it’s not apples to apples, because Big Ten Network games weren’t available).

None of this stuff is irreversible. The Huskers still have the most loyal fan base in the country. And college football fans still recognize the “N” on the helmet. But these trends are worth watching over the next year or so.

Does Nebraska’s national image rebound or will commentators get increasingly bored with the four-loss seasons? How many people around the country will tune in to the inferior Big Ten West? Will season-ticket demand at Memorial Stadium dip this offseason?

I think we can all agree on this: It wouldn’t be a good year to get blown out in a bowl game.

>> In looking for the best bowl scenario, forget the prestige of New Year’s Day. Fans should think first of opponent and time slot.

The latter is a big reason Nebraska got a raw deal from the Buffalo Bowl Wings Bowl. The BWW game is played Saturday night, Dec. 28, on ESPN. Last year, Michigan State-TCU (not exactly marquee programs) attracted 4.4 million viewers on a Friday night. Three days later, the Gator Bowl on ESPN2 between Northwestern and Mississippi State drew 2.2 million.

(For the record, NU-Georgia was the fifth highest-rated bowl of 2012-13, with 11 million viewers.)

In 2011, Oklahoma-Iowa drew 4.9 million in Phoenix. Florida-Ohio State drew 2.9 million in the Gator.

My guess is this year’s Gator Bowl, which goes head-to-head with the Capital One and Outback Bowls, will be in the 3-million range, where an NU-Kansas State game would’ve registered 5-million-plus.

>> Nebraska’s recruiting spurt the past two weeks (amid a pretty tumultuous time in the fan base) underscores the importance of selling prospects on a vision.

Yes, NU got waxed by Iowa, 38-17. But good recruiters can put a positive spin on any situation. It’s good to see a surge in the trenches. If Husker coaches can develop guys like Clinkscales and Keels, adding them to an already deep reserve of young linemen, we could be seeing a rebirth on the defensive front.

In the Big Ten, that position group is as important as any.

>> This Grantland feature on Lavonte David’s brilliance is fantastic. It’s kind of fun to outsmart the experts sometimes.

Two years ago at this time, a lot of us who follow Husker football were talking about David’s gifts on a weekly basis. His performance at Michigan — while his team was falling apart — was one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen from a Husker in a long time.

Come draft time, I was stunned David fell into the middle of the second round. And I swore he’d be great in the NFL. I wasn’t alone. But David may have been that rare player who scouts needed to see MORE of to truly appreciate.

One thing is sure: Ndamukong Suh has competition for the title of best ex-Husker in the NFL.

>> Sometimes it’s all about fit and opportunity. The New England Patriots gave Danny Woodhead a chance. But it took a move to San Diego to consistently highlight Woodhead’s talent. Every time I watch a Chargers game, the analyst (last night it was Mike Mayock) spends a few minutes gushing about Woodhead.

>> SI compiles a roundtable of NFL beat writers. I see a lot of parallels with big college beats. For those intrigued by the sportswriting profession, it’s an educational read.

>> USA Today’s 64-team college football playoff, released Thursday, is great water-cooler talk. I don’t advocate for it every year, but just once I’d like to see it. Scrap the non-conference schedules.

Play nine league games, then jump into a 64-team tournament. Can you imagine the office pools? Can you imagine eight high-level elimination games on a Sweet 16 Saturday in December?

>> My proposal has always been eight teams, with slots reserved for the six most-accomplished conference champions. That leaves spots for two wild cards. Quarterfinal games would be at home sites and the wild cards wouldn’t be eligible to host.

So this year would’ve looked like this:

No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 8 Central Florida

No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 5 Alabama

No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 7 Ohio State

No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 6 Baylor

Putting a high premium on conference championships is the best way to maximize the postseason while preserving the regular season. If you start letting in teams like Oregon and South Carolina (neither won its division and both lost twice), I think you do tarnish the regular season a bit.

And if you start allowing Alabama, for instance, to grab a No. 2 or 3 seed even though it didn’t win its division, then games like the Iron Bowl lose some of their meaning.

>> Andy Staples examines the NCAA’s problems as it tries to modernize. The current leaders, including Jim Delany, never imagined (and aren’t prepared for) the issues they face.

>> DeAndre Kane, Iowa State’s new star, carries his father’s dream with him in Ames. There are several great basketball games this weekend — Kentucky/Carolina, New Mexico/Kansas, Arizona/Michigan — but I’m most excited for Iowa at Iowa State tonight at Hilton. Combined the two teams are 17-1 (Iowa lost to Villanova in overtime). It’s like 1987 all over again.

>> NCAA basketball officials are calling a tighter a game and scoring has increased as turnovers have dropped. That’s good. But teams are spending way too much time at the foul line, Berry Tramel says.

>> MLB will prohibit home-plate collisions, perhaps even as early as 2014. It’s a good move (though I believe the blame usually falls on the catcher for standing in the way).

The next rule change? Protect middle infielders turning a double play. I don’t care what baseball tradition says. When a base runner veers off line (or blatantly slides through second base) in order to take out a fielder, he should be ejected.

>> Ray Hudson, who’s John Madden, Dick Vitale and Don Cherry all rolled into one, calls the world’s best soccer games from a soundproof room in Fort Lauderdale. Cool story.

>> You know all that money the PGA Tour professes to spend on charity? ESPN’s Outside The Lines says it’s bunk.

>> Philip Rivers’ performance last night in Denver was great. His performance after the game was even better. Rivers was having a blast. Start the video at the 7-minute mark, when he shows off his rattlesnake boots.

>> RG3′s deactivation for the last three games won’t help his standing in the locker room. But as a Redskins fan, I think I would’ve vomited had Griffin hurt his knee again in Week 16 of a 3-13 season.

Washington has serious, serious issues. The owner has no clue how to build a franchise, the coach is despised, the front office doesn’t have a draft pick until 2028 (or something like that) and Griffin took three steps back this year. But you can’t enter another offseason with RG3 on the shelf. You just can’t.

>> Finally, check out this Heisman project, by the Washington Post’s Kent Babb. It includes a look at where each winner stores his trophy, including Johnny Rodgers:

Rodgers and his Heisman travel so often together that he designed a case for the trophy, protecting its most fragile parts and allowing him to carry it on — never with the checked bags — on commercial flights. Other winners noticed, and Rodgers has since presented cases to other members of the Heisman fraternity. When the 1972 Heisman isn’t traveling to South Africa, Canada or points in between, Rodgers keeps it in the case — ready to go at a moment’s notice — at his home in Omaha.

>> Oh, you gotta love the Jet. 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