It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. There’s a massive plate this morning, including my beef with Husker hoops fans, Twitter poll results, my NFL playoff picks, James Franklin, Bobby Petrino, pre-preseason Top 25s, the worst basketball travel you’ve ever seen, Creighton’s road without Grant Gibbs and much more. But first, No. 8 is coming back.
Bo Pelini and I had a conversation in November about his defense. This was right after Minnesota, after a press conference in which I asked him a number of questions, trying to figure out what separated this defense from his best defenses.
He said he liked his talent — a lot. But he also stressed that he needed more leadership. More communication. More guys who were willing to lead not just by example, but with words, even if it meant inviting the occasional conflict with teammates. I remember Ron Brown pushing Rex Burkhead to do the same thing.
The theory, as I understand it, is that players have become too nice. And that Nebraska needs a Tom Brady or Ray Lewis who’s willing to get after people.
On Thursday afternoon, Ameer Abdullah announced he was returning for his senior year. Pelini badly needed Abdullah’s talent. More than that, he needs Abdullah’s leadership.
Ameer has the intellect and the commitment level to be a phenomenal leader. He’s Nebraska’s best returning player. He’s the hardest worker on the team. And he’s a senior. That creates a platform from which he has tremendous credibility. That empowers him — in the eyes of his teammates — to be as important as any coach, aside from Bo.
He needs to embrace it. Channel his inner Tebow. Wield as much power as possible. Abdullah needs to do what Burkhead and Ndamukong Suh and Taylor Martinez resisted: use his voice, especially when he sees something he doesn’t like.
Coaches, I think, are craving that type of a personality in the locker room. Coaches, I think, believe it’s something the program has lacked the past six years. Now, with a young team that needs to grow up quickly this offseason, player leadership has never been more important.
Abdullah will be the face of the 2014 Huskers — that’s the easy part. What he does with that role is up to him.
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>> I presented a Twitter poll last night asking followers to rank the most important/valuable recruits of the Pelini era:
A — Taylor Martinez
B — Rex Burkhead
C — Ameer Abdullah
D — Alfonzo Dennard
E — Lavonte David
Dennard, the first on that list to choose NU back in January 2008, didn’t receive a first-place vote. So let’s focus on the others.
With 102 submissions, the votes broke down like this:
David — 46 first-place votes, 238 points (four for second place, three for third, etc.)
Burkhead — 25 first-place votes, 185 points
Abdullah — 6 first-place votes, 179 points
Martinez — 15 first-place votes, 140 points
It’s fascinating the impact David had in just two seasons (2010-11).
>> Nebraska’s first Big Ten game at Pinnacle Bank Arena was a biggie. At 0-2 in the league with two likely losses coming next (at Purdue, Ohio State), the Huskers desperately needed to win Thursday to preserve any chance of being relevant in the Big Ten.
Honestly, it was about as critical as a game can be on Jan. 9. And it was decided by the slimmest of margins — a block/charge call on the Michigan end, followed by two missed shots at the Nebraska end.
Look, the Huskers were never going to be an NCAA tournament team in 2014. Probably not NIT, either. But sustaining momentum in Tim Miles’ second year — giving fans a reason to come to PBA and get behind the program — is pretty important. That’ll be harder if the Huskers are in the cellar.
Nebraska needs another big man or two. And it needs to be better defensively. It needs Tai Webster to start playing like he did in New Zealand (Webster’s offensive passiveness is really hurting this team. Deverell Biggs scored 14 points in 20 minutes last night and is the better option at point guard right now).
But for today, I’m pointing the finger somewhere else. I’m pointing it at the fans.
Last night’s attendance — 15,012 — is a great number for an 8-6 team. But the problem is what those 15,012 do once they’re in the arena. In a critical game for the team, in a one-possession game in the second half, the lower bowl (students excluded) consistently sat on their hands and barely made a peep as Michigan ran its offense. Meanwhile, the Wolverines shot 67 percent in the second half.
I understand it’s not in Husker fans’ DNA to be hooligans. I understand it’s not easy to stand and yell every time Michigan has the ball. But good grief, do you wanna win or not?
Husker hoops fans have been away from good basketball too long. They don’t understand the impact they can have. Watch a game at Iowa State and compare the atmosphere. Good basketball fans don’t wait for their team to provide a spark. They create the spark.
Early in the game, during one of many quiet moments in the first half, a man stood in the middle of Section 122. Maybe he’d been told to sit down, I don’t know. But for 30 seconds, he loudly explained that this wasn’t the “Bob” anymore. He wasn’t going to sit down just because everyone else was. It drew a few laughs. But nobody joined him. Moments later, he gave up and sat down.
If Nebraska fans truly care about having a contender — and I’m not sure they do — they’ll recognize that their job doesn’t end when they buy a ticket.
>> I occasionally write about Ken Pomeroy’s advanced stats site for college basketball, KenPom.com. Today he has Creighton ranked No. 7 in the country — one spot ahead of Michigan State.
The Jays have the best offensive efficiency ranking in the country. Even more impressive considering the Jays’ history, they’re 41st in defensive efficiency. That’s a Final Four formula.
The question is how much Grant Gibbs’ absence will impact Creighton. Defensively, the Jays shouldn’t lose much with Avery Dingman. But offensively, Gibbs will be missed. A lot.
>> Speaking of intriguing basketball ratings, I’m not a big fan of the RPI, but all three of Nebraska’s D-1 teams are ranked in the top 71. (Editor’s note: the RPI was updated Friday afternoon, dropping Nebraska out of the top 75). These are the states with the most D-I basketball programs with programs in the top 75.
North Carolina (3)
>> The two most fearsome players in the NFL are Detroit Lions — Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson. (I’m surprised J.J. Watt didn’t finish higher.)
>> Here’s a way-too-early ranking of the way-too-early 2014 college football rankings — they’re all over the place.
1 — Athlon
2 — ESPN.com
4 — CBS Sports
5 — Fan IQ
>> The Baltimore Sun takes a look at Penn State coach James Franklin, whose intensity will spice up the East Coast recruiting trail.
>> Changed man? Eric Crawford says the narrative Louisville is promoting is wrong. Bobby Petrino is still Bobby Petrino. A snippet:
“Yeah, there’s no doubt he’s a great coach,” one person who did not wish to be identified but who is attached to the WKU program told me. “But man, he carries so much other crap with him. The way he treated people in Bowling Green, and around that program, verbally berating coaches in front of players and support staff. We’d be traveling and somebody would screw up or something wasn’t right and he’d be all over people out in the middle of an airport or hotel lobby with people standing around. Very unprofessional.”
>> An enlightening piece by Grantland’s Bryan Curtis on how the baseball writers covered steroids, starting in 1988.
>> Why are Tom Ricketts and the Cubs being so cheap? They’re headed for another woeful year, Jeff Passan writes.
>> Nobody writes columns with as much authority as Adrian Wojnarowski. Nobody. His take on J.R. Smith is vintage Woj.
>> Jay Gruden faces a terrible situation in Washington. Is there any way he can succeed under Dan Snyder?
>> An astute column by Gregg Rosenthal on the generational divide among quarterbacks on NFL divisional playoffs weekend. Four old guys, four young guys.
Some friends engaged in an email discussion this week about those eight QBs and who you’d take if you had one playoff game (on a neutral field). They decided that Brady belonged No. 1, followed by Brees, Wilson and Kaepernick (in an order of your choice). Manning, with a 9-11 playoff record, is somewhere in the middle.
As for this weekend, I’m most looking forward to seeing Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.
Give me the Colts (in an upset), the Broncos, the 49ers and the Seahawks.
>> Wednesday’s Chatter featured a bracket of the 16 BCS champions, dating back to 1998. My picks:
Round of 16: Miami 2001 over LSU 2007, Alabama 2012 over Florida 2006, Alabama 2009 over LSU 2003, Florida State 2013 over Oklahoma 2000, Texas 2005 over Tennessee 1998, Florida 2008 over Auburn 2010, USC 2004 over Ohio State 2002, Alabama 2011 over Florida State 1999
Quarterfinals: Miami 2001 over Alabama 2012; Alabama 2009 over Florida State 2013; Texas 2005 over Florida 2008; Alabama 2011 over USC 2004
Semifinals: Miami 2001 over Alabama 2009; Texas 2005 over Alabama 2011
Finals: Miami 2001 over Texas 2005
>> Interesting email of the week. From Bob Slezak:
“Auburn scored on a 37 yard run with 1:19 to go. I intuitively knew that they scored too quick and were in danger. FSU had two timeouts left when Auburn scored.
“IF Tre Mason takes a knee inside the 1 yard line. FSU has to take a time out. Even with First down stoppage, clock would wind down 25 more seconds if they don’t. Auburn takes a knee inside the 1. FSU has to take their final timeout.
“2nd & Goal. Auburn takes another knee inside the 1, and now the clock run down to about 30 seconds. Its 3rd and Inches. Auburn either scores (most probable given their offense) or gets stopped and kicks a field goal. And proceeds to a 50-50 overtime.
“I would guess their win share after scoring with 1:19 left and FSU with 2 timeouts to be about 65%.
“If they play it the other way, I think more like 85%.”
My take: Yes, Auburn’s chances of victory would’ve increased had Mason stopped at the 1-yard line. It’s a painful reality for Tiger fans. But even as advanced stats become more prominent in strategy, my gut says it’s very unlikely we’ll ever see a player in Mason’s position take a knee at the 1.
It’s one thing when a coach has time to instruct his players, as Mike Holmgren and Bill Belichick did in Super Bowls, when they told their defenses to give up a touchdown rather than letting the Broncos and Giants milk the clock for a field goal. But Mason’s decision would’ve come entirely on his own. Athletes just aren’t programmed to think that way.
>> Finally, one of the funniest sports clips I’ve seen in a long time. At what point does a professional basketball player learn to take seven steps without dribbling!?! And at what point did officials decide it’s NOT a travel?
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.