It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. There’s so much ground to cover, from Michigan State’s rise to the SEC’s decline, from Creighton and Husker hoops to Texas’ coaching search, from NFL playoff picks to online dating sites. But first, Oklahoma vs. Nebraska.
Forget rankings. Forget win totals. Forget margin of defeat. Forget all the measurements we use to judge whether Bo Pelini is doing a good job.
I just want to see Nebraska play like THAT again. Just for one night.
I’m talking about the Sugar Bowl. I’m talking about NU’s old rival. The Sooners entered the lion’s den last night, spotted The Great Alabama seven points, then rolled their schooner right over Nick Saban’s elephant-sized ego.
45-31. Dang, was it beautiful.
Not just because it stuck a needle in the SEC balloon. Not just because ‘Bama, as good as it is, needed a little humble pie. It was beautiful because that game had all the intensity and speed and playmaking of a first-class sporting event. You could tell that Oklahoma had prepared for a month knowing it had to play its best game of its season. And it executed.
Freshman quarterback Trevor Knight and coordinator Josh Heupel were in such great rhythm that Kirby Smart looked like a man who couldn’t find his keys. OU’s defensive line looked like the Selmon Brothers. Stoops pushed the right button time and time again.
There’s nothing in sports quite like a great upset and this reminded me of the Boise State Fiesta Bowl win seven years ago, just before the SEC’s national championship streak began. Only this time I was rooting for Big Game Bob.
How much fun is it to see a team play that well when it matters most? How much freaking fun would it be to see Nebraska do the same?
As you know, I harp a lot on Nebraska standards. I express concern about the lowering of the bar. I watch Husker fans celebrate a Gator Bowl win over 8-5 Georgia as if it’s a “statement victory” and I scratch my head (Reminder: Nobody outside this state cares about the nine-win streak).
Let’s use a cookie analogy (I love cookies, especially around midnight). This is a fan base that hasn’t tasted an Oreo (a Top-5 win) in 12-plus years. And while I know it’s not always productive to sit around and shed Oreo tears, it’s even more troubling to watch folks bite into a Vanilla Wafer knockoff and say, “This is sooooooo good.”
No, it’s not. It’s really not. Oreos are good. What Oklahoma did last night is good. Nebraska can do it, too. Don’t forget it. Don’t stop demanding it. Don’t lower the bar.
Thursday on Twitter — before OU’s stunning upset — I asked followers this question: When was the last time you watched the Huskers play a game and felt they were one of the nation’s Top 10 teams?
The answers, as I expected, were all over the map. But it basically broke down like this:
2009 Texas/Arizona: 31
2010 Oklahoma State/Missouri: 25
2010 Washington/Kansas State: 20
Sometime in 2001 or earlier: 10
2011 Michigan State: 9
2013 UCLA (first half): 9
2010 Oklahoma (first half): 8
2014 Georgia: 3
(There were a handful of other votes)
Why did I pose the question? Because those days that Nebraska looks like a Top-10 team is where fans should set the bar. Forget nine wins. Use your eyes. Remember what those Saturdays looked like.
I don’t resent fans who celebrate Hail Marys. I don’t mock fans who hope. I don’t ridicule fans who support Bo Pelini. I shake my head, though, at people who make excuses for mediocrity, people who dismiss blowout losses because “the team played hard”, people who shrug off months outside the Top 25, people who confuse nice bowl wins with turning points.
A few weeks back, a friend and I were discussing the program and what it would be like to see Nebraska play great football again. It’s been 12 years since NU spent any considerable time in the national spotlight. Think how social media has changed — 2001 was before Facebook and Twitter. Think how ESPN has changed — Kirk Herbstreit looked, well never mind, he looks exactly as he looks now.
How crazy would the message boards be if Nebraska was in the national title hunt in late-November? How abuzz would the coffee shops be if Tom Rinaldi’s camera crew was walking down O Street with the starting quarterback? How ridiculous would Memorial Stadium be at kickoff knowing everybody in college football is watching? How cool would it be seeing the first five minutes of SportsCenter dedicated to a Nebraska win? It’ll happen again, someday. It will. And this state will be on fire for football like it’s 1971.
In the meantime, don’t fill your stomach with cheap cookies.
* * *
>> The SEC is 5-2 in bowl games and yet this month has the potential to change the decade’s defining narrative — SEC supremacy.
Alabama lost to OU. Texas A&M barely beat Duke. And the Big Ten/SEC triple-showdown on New Year’s Day was basically a wash. (Sorry Ole Miss and Mississippi State, your wins don’t matter much.)
Look, the factors that produced the SEC’s unprecedented run (money, commitment, exposure, population shift, etc.) still exist. It will be college football’s best league most seasons.
What may change, however, is the perception of SEC dominance. Perhaps analysts will finally start to realize that the SEC isn’t the NFC South. That the fifth-best SEC team probably doesn’t belong in the Top 10.
Yes, the SEC is college football’s best conference. But it’s also overrated. The league’s reputation is primarily built on its run of seven straight national titles. And the SEC needed so much good fortune to make that happen.
This spring, Texas A&M, Alabama, LSU, South Carolina and Georgia must all replace elite quarterbacks. I expect the SEC to take another step back in 2014.
>> While we’re breaking down college football conferences, how ‘bout the Big 12? No, not the current Big 12. The old one.
All will finish 8-5 or better.
>> Just in case you wondered if Alabama fans were still the craziest people on Earth, check out this video at the 30-second mark.
>> When I think of Tommy Armstrong, I think of a redshirt freshman who’s developing nicely and has the potential to be an all-Big Ten quarterback someday. Then I watch his classmates — Jameis Winston and Trevor Knight — and realize how far No. 4 has to go.
>> Some Husker seniors you miss more than others. I don’t think Quincy Enunwa is the most indispensable player on the roster, but aside from Ameer Abdullah and maybe Randy Gregory, he’s my favorite to watch.
How many guys play receiver as physically as he does? A few Twitter followers compared him to Anquan Boldin. I hope Enunwa has the same NFL success.
>> Sometimes you’re at the mercy of the schedule makers. Nebraska’s first five Big Ten basketball games are nothing short of brutal:
at Iowa (loss), at Ohio State, Michigan, at Purdue, Ohio State
The flipside is Creighton, which has a reasonable chance of starting Big East play 6-0:
Marquette (win), at Seton Hall, at DePaul, Xavier, Butler, at Providence
Game seven for Creighton is at Villanova, Jan. 20. That could be for first place.
>> One of college basketball coaches’ favorite web sites is Kenpom.com, home of stat guru Ken Pomeroy. His efficiency rankings often are more accurate than the AP and coaches polls.
This week he rates Creighton 13th. Directly behind the Jays? Four very familiar teams.
14 — Iowa
15 — Duke
16 — Iowa State
17 — Wichita State
>> Oregonian columnist John Canzano reveals some damning background on Texas’ new A.D., Steve Patterson.
>> While we’re talking Texas, I enjoyed this email from Ryan K.:
“In 2003, a new Nebraska Athletic Director named Steve Pederson, fired head coach Frank Solich. Solich had assembled a winning% of .753 and the program was 6 years removed from their last national title. The hiring process was botched, as several “high value” targets quietly or not-so-quietly turned down the bright lights of Lincoln where a coach could get fired for winning 9 games. As we all know, the hiring process dragged out over many weeks and the Bill Callahan era began.
In 2013, a new Texas Athletic Director named Steve Patterson, fired (essentially) head coach Mack Brown. Brown had assembled a winning% of .767 and the program was 8 years removed from their last national title. The hiring process is not going well, as a least one “high value” target has not-so-quietly turned down the bright lights of Austin and the politics that come with the job. As we all know, the head coaching vacancy at Texas has not yet been filled, but their athletic director has released the date of Jan. 15th as the target for filling the position. If there is an ex-NFL head coach named Phil Callahan, then I would put my money on him. (Maybe Mike Shanahan will have to do, I heard he is available now)
“They say history repeats itself but this is getting almost ridiculous!”
Ryan may be right. Art Briles apparently isn’t interested in Texas. And Jim Mora is out of the running, too. Is Charlie Strong the man?
>> Michigan State improved more the second half of the season than any team in college football. Could the Rose Bowl be the beginning for MSU? With Connor Cook improving seemingly by the week, anything is possible for Sparty, especially if Pat Narduzzi sticks around to coordinate the defense.
>> I thought this Tom Oates column about Wisconsin’s bowl struggles was enlightening. And I was struck by Gary Andersen’s no-nonsense quote:
“Football becomes really hard when you get yourself into a position where you can’t throw it on offense and you can’t cover them on defense.”
>> A profile of college football super-agent Jimmy Sexton, who represents many of the big names.
>> Stewart Mandel’s college football mailbag, always a good read.
>> This behind-the-scenes look at U.S. hockey team selection is excellent.
>> Steph Curry went all Steph Curry last night. And the highlights are amazing.
>> Two non-sports reads for a Friday: Joe Posnanski on the Farmers Only dating commercial and a New York Times Magazine feature on a Long Island fisherman lost (and found) at sea.
>> Lavonte David didn’t make the Pro Bowl, but he’s first-team All-Pro. How ‘bout that for a kid who was playing junior-college football five years ago? Ndamukong Suh was also first-team. Pretty good recruiting tool for Bo Pelini, don’t you think?
>> Kansas City is a cursed sports town. But these Chiefs are making believers, Rany Jazayerli writes.
>> As I said on Twitter Thursday night, I’m stunned that the Green Bay Packers can’t sell out a playoff game one week after an epic division-clinching win over the Bears, especially considering the opponent is the defending NFC champs. Yes, the forecast is cold, but still. This is not a good sign for the future of NFL attendance.
>> My picks for Wild Card weekend: Chiefs over Colts, Saints over Eagles, Bengals over Chargers, 49ers over Packers. You should listen to me; I picked Nebraska over Georgia, too!
>> Finally, we have a winner in the NFL playoffs contest. Back in September, I proposed a college bowl-style confidence pool in which readers chose their 12 playoff teams, by order of confidence. So the Broncos and Patriots, for example, usually occupied the top two lines. Wild-card choices like the Chiefs were often on the bottom line.
We had about 50 submissions. What differentiated contestants is where they picked Atlanta and Houston. Too much confidence in the Falcons and Texans (my Super Bowl picks — never listen to me when I offer advice!) doomed many good entries.
Who stands on top? With 64 of a possible 78 points, the winner is Robert Brown!
He correctly picked nine playoff teams, missing the Texans, Giants and Falcons. His entry looked like this:
12 — Denver
11 — New England
10 — San Francisco
9 – Houston
8 – Cincinnati
7 — Green Bay
6 — Seattle
5 — New Orleans
4 — Kansas City
3 — New York Giants
2 — Atlanta
1 — Indianapolis
Super Bowl – Denver over San Francisco
Robert will receive a free book from the World-Herald store, signed by his favorite World-Herald writer (I’m kidding on the last part).
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.