Friday, August 29, 2008

Bank on It

OK, so maybe banking on anything I write isn't the best idea. I've been proven wrong before, and I have no doubt that it will happen again. However, like most Husker fans, I can't help but think that somehow, we've found our guy, and that we will manage to exceed expectations and win one or two games that we shouldn't this year. It's probably not smart to do that, considering the efforts Bo has made to temper the enthusiasm surrounding this year's NU squad. The thing is, I've never been accused of being smart. Which is why I predict the following outcome for this year's team (with apologies for lack of detail, as I have to leave work at 12:00 today, so I have to keep it brief):

2 0 0 8 S C H E D U L E

08/30 Western Mich. (WIN)
09/06 San Jose St. (WIN
09/13 New Mexico St (WIN)
09/27 Virginia Tech (WIN)
10/04 Missouri (LOSS)
10/11 @ Texas Tech (LOSS)
10/18 @ Iowa State (WIN)
10/25 Baylor (WIN)
11/01 @ Oklahoma (LOSS)
11/08 Kansas (LOSS)
11/15 @ Kansas St. (WIN)
11/28 Colorado (WIN)

That's right, I'm predicting 8 wins in the regular season. Ballsy.....stupid, but ballsy, to quote Tom Arnold in True Lies....but I really think that Va Tech has suffered too many off-season injuries and suspensions to win in Lincoln, and I think that K-State is beatable at home (they have a penchant for late-season collapses), and the Buffs are still a year away (of course, we're not awesome either, I'm just saying they're beatable in Lincoln). I think that if the season played out this way (a big if, given my ability to predict entire seasons before they happen), we'd most likely be sent to the Insight Bowl to play against the Big 10's #6 team, which if I were a betting man is going to be either the Iowa Hawkeyes (which would be f***ing sweet) or Michigan State. If this does indeed happen, and we play a Big 10 team in our bowl game, I forecast a win based off of how terrible the Big 10 is and the fact that by then our defense will have gelled.

And you know what that gives us folks? 9 wins. We used to take that number for granted, thinking it was the birthright of all Nebraska fans. Funny how right now 9 wins and some stability would be pretty damn sweet, huh? Everybody have a fantastic Labor Day weekend, and let's start the Pelini era the right way...


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The North Rises Again

I always thought that the Big 12 North would return to relevance, unfortunately none of the teams that contributed to that wore Scarlet and Cream. Missouri, a long-middling program under Gary Pinkel, exploded onto the national stage thanks to Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin. Then Kansas went out and won the Orange Bowl, leap-frogging a MU squad they lost to and into the BCS. Colorado showed signs of improvement, even shocking Oklahoma, and Iowa State actually played decent football the last month of the season. Now the North has to prove that last season wasn't a fluke, and they are in good position to do so, as both Missouri and Kansas return a large percentage of their starters and CU brings in the top-rated running back recruit in the country to help out Cody Hawkins. Here's how I see the division (and the conference title game) shaking out.

1) Missouri

The offense, with the exception of TE Martin Rucker and RB Tony Temple, returns essentially intact. Chase Daniel is a returning Heisman finalist and a front-runner this year. And why wouldn't he be? He has a bevy of weapons at his disposal, the chief one being Maclin, an all-purpose guy who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Also coming back is TE Chase Coffman and receivers Danario Alexander and Tommy Saunders, all reliable targets who work well within the offense. The big question is how they replace Temple, who fit into the MU's spread attack perfectly. They will most likely work several backs in and out, starting with senior Jimmy Jackson and sophomore Derrick Washington. I don't see much stopping this unit, unless there are adverse affects from eating boogers, in which case all bets are off, given Daniels' appetite for snot.

The Mizzou defense suffered a few injuries this spring, something that could hurt them given their lack of depth at linebacker after starter Van Alexander tore his ACL in spring ball. William Moore and Justing Garrett are one of the better safety combinations in the conference, and Ziggy Hood is a pretty good player up front. If the defense holds up and stays healthy, the Tigers could challenge for a national title....that is, if they can get by OU.

Player to Watch: Maclin, a Reggie Bush-type player who is fun to watch as long as it's not against your team. A sure-fire first rounder in the draft if he stays healthy.


Will they be as successful as last year? No, I really don't think so. Their schedule gets significantly tougher, with Oklahoma, Texas Tech and UT replacing Okie State, Baylor, and Texas A&M (and South Florida on the non-conference slate). With Reesing still leading the offense, they should do well, but they still have to find a back to partner with Jake Sharp in the backfield, something that very well could fall to JUCO transfer Jocques Crawford. The defense returns 9 starters last year's strong squad, led by LB Joe Mortensen. They do have a new coordinator in Clint Bowen, and if this unit slips, the blame will fall on him. Replacing stud (except against Maurice Purify) CB Aqib Talib is a priority, but the Jayhawks think they have their guy for that in Kendrick Harper.

Player to Watch: Reesing. There's a lot of pressure to prove that last year wasn't a fluke, and this team's success depends on the right arm of their diminutive QB. If he goes down, it could be a long season in Lawrence.

3) Nebraska

I'll explain my rationale for this choice on Friday in my season prediction. Yes, I know that we aren't expected to finish this high. But I have faith.

4) Colorado

I knew that when the Buffs hired Dan Hawkins that it spelled trouble for the rest of the conference, particularly the Big Red. Kids like his type of football, and their recruiting success as of late has reflected that, landing RB Darrell Scott over every other program in the country was one of the biggest surprises of the recruiting season. He won't start right away, as that job will go to Demetrius Sumler. Cody Hawkins will continue to progress in the offense, though he doesn't have any real game breakers at receiver, something that will definitely hurt his development. Also, depth on the 0-line is a legitimate concern. The offense definitely has some holes to fill, but the defense is in the same boat. Stud LB Jordan Dizon is gone, as is CB Terrence Wheatley. The tackles and safeties are good, but the lack of an outside pass rush is going to really hurt this team, a problem exacerbated by the slew of good quarterbacks in the Big 12 this season. A tough non-conference slate, with both West Virginia and Florida State, will keep CU from getting the hot start they need going into conference play. The Buffs are still a year away from making a move in the Big 12 in my opinion.

Player to watch: Darrell Scott, RB. Could be the starter by mid-season, but he needs his line to develop along with him if he's going to be as productive as the Buffs need him to be. Still, a special talent, which blows, because we gotta deal with this kid for at least the next 3 years.

5)Kansas State

Josh Freeman returns, but stud WR Jordy Nelson and RB James Johnson are gone. Everyone knows that Prince brought in 20 JUCOs to bolster his team for a run while Freeman is still there, so it's tough to call how it'll play out when a solid chunk of the team is thrown into the Big 12. The switch to a 3-4 last year didn't pay off for the defense, which was a mess by the end of the season (remember that 73 point outburst by NU?). Switching back to a 4-3, along with putting Ian Campbell back at D-end from linebacker, should go a long ways in making improvements. Also, getting CB Joshua Moore back at corner after academic issues last year should be a big help with the pass defense. Really, the success of this team this year depends on how good all those transfers really are.

Player to Watch: Freeman. It's weird to think about what it would be like if he had stayed a Husker, but having him in Purple makes it that much easier to hate the Wildcats.

6) Iowa State

The Chizik era didn't start like many Cyclones had hoped, but hey, at least he did better than Tim Brewster, am I right? All Gopher bashing aside, this team made strides at the end of last season, though it's tough to guage how that will affect this year's team, now that Bret Meyer and Todd Blythe, who both seemed to be 28 last year, are gone. The QB job will be manned by Austen Arnaud and former Husker recruit Phillip Bates, who was a wide receiver. They have a strong running back trio in Alexander Robinson, Jason Scales, and J.J. Bass, but the real question is whether they can find some people to catch the ball, as there is a lack of proven receivers. On defense, they have to replace both outside backers, but their D-line looks decent. Still, the Cyclones have a long way to go.

Player to watch: Arnaud/ Bates. Who wins the QB battle? It seemed like Bret Meyer played in Ames for a decade, but it's a new era for the 'Clones, and one of these two is going to have to step up and lead a very green offensive unit if ISU is going to top last year's win total.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Big 12 Looks to challenge SEC

Last year, despite NU looking like Ed Norton in the prison shower scene from American History X, the Big 12 managed to pull itself from the doldrums and raise it's national image significantly. For the past few years, with the exception of a couple of 11 win seasons by Kansas State and the Husker's 10-win season in 2003, the North division had been pulling down the conference, the starting point being Miami's beatdown of NU in the Rose Bowl to cap of the 2001 season. The South (OK, basically Texas and Oklahoma) made it seem that the scales had permanently shifted away from what had once been dominant KSU and NU squads. However, with the unexpected rise of Kansas and Mizzou (I know, I still have to look at articles from last year to remind myself that it actually happened), the North finally began to establish some parity in the conference and let the nation know that the SEC wasn't the only powerhouse on the block anymore. Today I'm going to look at the South division and predict what the standings will show at the end of the year, along with naming one player to watch for each team. Tomorrow I'll finish up with the North.

1) Oklahoma

A real shocker here. The Sooners, loaded with a bevy of talent at tailback and a proven QB, will do their usual stomping of the Big 12, as they simply reload when they lose key players. DeMarco Murray will deliver on the promise he showed as a freshmen (which sounds dumb to say, considering he scored 15 touchdowns last year), and Sam Bradford has another year in the system. Granted, word is OU will try to implement more no-huddle offense this year, but I don't think that'll affect Bradford's accuracy and decision-making at all. If anything, that'll only give him more plays, which translates to more potential stats. What gives many pause about OU's national title hopes is the defense, where it will be hard to replace playmakers like Reggie Smith and Curtis Lofton (both in the NFL this season). Ryan Reynolds will be a stud at linebacker, but the defensive line looks to be the real strength of the unit. Of course, with Bob Stoops in charge, I'm sure they'll do just fine.

Player to watch: DeMarco Murray. When Stoops said that he has a chance to be BETTER than Adrian Petersen, defensive coordinators league-wide pooped their pants. Better? How the hell is that possible? Also look for frosh Jermie Calhoun, an especially talented recruit who has been getting a lot of buzz through fall camp.

2) Texas Tech

This is THE year for Tech football, at least if you believe everything you read. They have the best system QB in the history of Tech system QBs, and a jaw-dropping collection of receivers led by Biletnikoff winner Michael Crabtree, who is simply put, a f***ing freak. You know what, he's so good, I'm just going to retype that sentence without censorship. He's a fucking freak. But it's never been a shortage of offense that has held back the perennial 7/8/9-win Raiders. The Tech defense, long the blame of Tech's shortcomings during Mike Leach's tenure, returns 8 starters, and the buzz is that this is the year they make a run at the South division title. It's not that I think they can't handle OU, they proved that the Sooners are vulnerable last year (as did CU, obviously). The question is, can TT get up for the games that it's SUPPOSED to win? I could see someone catching them sleeping in conference play, and that's what will prevent them from getting over the hump.

Player to watch: Michael Crabtree. Playstation stats, only it's actually happening.

3) Texas

We all know about Colt McCoy's struggles last year (shocking, since he's such a gunslinger), but what really gives me pause about UT is their defense. The burnt orange was burnt last year to the tune of nearly 24 points per game, and the bad news is that they only return 4 starters on that side of the ball. Also, they have to replace stud Jamaal Charles, no easy task. UT had a good run there for a while, but I think this year they'll really struggle and settle in the 8-win range.

Player to watch: McCoy. How he rebounds from a sophomore slump will determine how far the Longhorns go this year.

4) Oklahoma State

Zac Robinson returns to quarterback what was the #7 offense in the country, but unfortunately for him, there are some holes to fill if that kind of success is going to continue. RB Dantrell Savage and WR Adarius Bowman are both gone, as is O-coordinator Larry Fedora. The Cowboys have to hope that sophomore WR Dez Bryant can build on his big bowl game (117 yards, 2 TDs) and replace Bowman. Robinson gives them a chance to compete in every game, as he was one of two (Tim Tebow being the other) QBs to run for over 800 yards and pass for over 2,800. While OSU may talk up it's defense, it's going to be hard to just replace half of it with JUCO players, which is apparently a big part of the plan. Three starters must be replaced on the line, two more in the linebacking corps. If this D is going to gel and keep them competitive, it'll be on the secondary, which returns intact. And don't forget, Mike Gundy is a man. And he's 41. So if they suck, make sure to go after him.

Player to watch: It may seem lame to keep stating the obvious players (and believe me, I tried to find more compelling choices), but anytime a QB puts up the numbers Robinson did, you have to take notice. The question is, can he do it with a new group of skill players?

5) Baylor

Poor Bears. The team parity seems to have forgotten, Baylor once again faces a daunting league schedule with little hope for a bowl berth (OK, no hope). There is reason for some optimism though. 17 starters return, 9 of them from an offense that gained over 350 yards a game. That might not be a good indicator of things to come, however, as new coach Art Briles brings a new system to Waco. They have to find a new tailback now that Brandon Whitaker graduated and took his.......40 rushing yards per game? with have to wonder if having someone else carry the rock will make a difference or not. The defense might be improved. I know, that's a really strong endorsement. They return their two top tacklers from last year in safety Jordan Lake and LB Joe Pawelek, though it might not matter, because they have a new d-coordinator who is switching them from a 4-2-5 to a standard 4-3.........anyways, I'm not sure why I'm working so hard on the Baylor entry......they've got some speed, but that can't do it all for them.

Player to watch: Whichever QB emerges from a 3 man battle to lead the Bad News Bears. Kirby Freeman, a former Miami player, should come out on top.

6) Texas A&M

Sure, Stephen McGee and Fat, Javorskie Lane return, but that might not matter as the Aggies transition to a pro-style offense under Mike Sherman. And to make it worse, those two make up 1/5th of their returning starters.....that's right, only 10 of them return to College Station, making the rebuilding all that more of a daunting task. Their best returning receiver, Pierre Brown, caught only 19 balls last year.......Looking at their schedule, not one game can be inked in as a win right now. The state of this team makes last year's manhandling of NU (which I saw in person) all the harder to stomach. But at least under Sherman the Aggies won't go for two when they're up 3 touchdowns......of course, they might not ever be up by 3 touchdowns this season, so that may be a moot point.

Player to watch: Lane, if only because I'm wondering if he'll fit in his jersey this season.

Back tomorrow for the North preview.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Two Words: Game Week

It seems like just yesterday we were slogging through spring ball, perusing over roughly 7,000 articles about Cody Glenn's position switch, and counting the days until fall camp. Well, fall camp is over now. No more beating up on each other, no more scrimmages. It's time to put another team in the crosshairs and to quote Tom Green in Road Trip, "Unleash the Fury". After 4 years of relative mediocrity, a state and it's team stand on the precipice of perhaps the most important season in school history. Will it be the best season? No, not even close. But what we search for isn't only additional victories, but the hope that somehow, someway, a return to prominence is realistic. We long not only for wins, but for relevance, to regain our alpha-dog status after being kicked to the bottom of the pile.

I have friends who are Gopher fans who give me crap, despite the fact that their team only won a single game last year. Things like this are unacceptable, and it's our also-ran standing that hurts more than anything. Which is why we find ourself hoping just to reach the old 9-win threshold this year. Will it happen? Tough to say, some things will definitely have to bounce our way. But either way, this year's attempt at a Big Red revival promises to be an exciting journey no matter what the outcome. We have the legend in the AD's office, the coach we hoped for, and a team hell-bent on redeeming themselves.

Today I'm going to look at 5 players to watch this season for the Huskers. When I say watch, I mean that these players are either essential to a successful season or are players who are looking at a breakout year.

1) Marlon Lucky, RB

What hasn't been written about Marlon? He was the signature recruit of Callahan's tenure here, a 5-star tailback from Hollywood who many thought would be our Reggie Bush, expectations that were stupid, unrealistic, and unfair for the reserved Lucky. For so long, we waited for him to break out and deliver on the promise, and even through portions of last year, we wondered if he would finally just lower his shoulder and start hitting the holes with authority. And even after the opener against Nevada when he ran wild, I still had my doubts. Sure, he was racking up catches at an astounding rate (thanks partially to Sam Keller's insistence on waiting for every receiver to be covered before checking down), but when would he become a complete tailback?

Then we played Texas. His total from that game wasn't astounding if you simply looked at the stats. 24 carries, 111 yards. But for any Husker fan who watched that game, you saw something else: a lowering of the shoulder, a determination and maybe anger that we hadn't seen to that extent. He was breaking tackles, punishing defenders, no longer looking to bounce outside when he knew that 4 or 5 yards would do. This year, Marlon enters the season as the Big 12's leading returning rusher. Yes, he has two good players behind him in Helu and Q that will take some touches away, but I doubt that will affect his stats all that much, as Pelini will look to establish a strong running game and control the clock to keep all those spread offenses off the field. I can see Marlon getting 1,100 rushing yards with 13 or 14 scores, and another 30 or so catches (which would give him a good chance at getting the school record, depending on how things shake out).

2) Nate Swift, WR

I've always followed Swift's progress with more interest than most, mainly because of my affinity for slow white receivers and also because of the Minnesota connection. After he posted 45 catches for 641 yards and 7 touchdowns his redshirt freshmen year, I thought we had a guy who had the chance to be something truly special, a potential 1st team All Conference-caliber guy. But when he followed up that campaign with a 22-catch season in his sophomore year, I began to wonder if his frosh season was merely an aberration or if he simply had received more attention from defenders. I don't even want to count last year's totals, mainly because it's hard to tell how it might have shaken out with someone else than Sam Keller throwing the balls for the bulk of the season. Swift has sometimes had issues with drops, something the Huskers can ill-afford from someone who is a starter this year and is going to have to lead a young position group. That said, I think this is the year that Swift finally delivers on the promise he showed those years ago as a 19-year old. I don't want to predict stats, because now that NU is looking to re-establish the run, it'd be foolish to forecast a statistical breakthrough for the Hutchinson, Minnesota product. But I think you'll see him make a lot of clutch 3rd-down receptions and make a run at Johnny the Jet's school record for receptions. Plus, it doesn't hurt to have a year of working with Joey Ganz under his belt either. I'm predicting 2nd-team Big 12 honors for Swifty, which might seem unrealistic, but at this point, it's all about blindly optimistic predictions.

3) Ricky Thenarse, S

Is Ricky T really a junior already? Seems like not that long ago we were all breathlessly predicting great things from the kid who had playmaker written all over him. Two consecutive Special Teams POY awards later, and we finally are going to see him trotting out with the starting defense this week. Does he stray looking for the play sometimes? Yes, much to the chagrin of the coaches. Of course, last year it wouldn't have mattered who strayed where, I would have thrown Ricky out there just for the hell of it, because at least he would hit people, something last year's defense failed to do. But with Pelini in charge now, I'm looking for Ricky to establish himself as the playmaker we have long envisioned him being. There might be a few mental gaffes now and then, but I think that if he can stay disciplined he can get 6 or 7 interceptions. Along with Thenarse, fellow safety Larry Asante will have to rebound from a disappointing campaign last year if the NU defense is going to return to form. (Yes, I know Asante had a lot of tackles last year. But he missed quite a few too.

4) Cody Glenn, LB

When Glenn arrived on campus as a freshmen, people immediately assumed that he would be the Thunder to Marlon's lightning for the duration of their time on campus. Which shows just how dumb we are to look 4 years into the future and predict stardom for kids before they even have played a snap. Over the past couple of years, we've watched his playing time fluctuate like the weather in Minnesota. I was at the ISU game in 2006 where he bowled over Cyclones to the tune of 148 yards on just 19 carries, and his bull-dozing style endeared him to NU fans who still have a penchant for a dominating ground game. But after he injured his foot on his "Let's go motherf***ers!" run against Texas A&M, he was never quite the same. The coaching staff seemed to give up on him after that as well. So when news filtered out of spring practice that he had not only switched positions but to the other side of the ball entirely, he became the talk of camp. I was skeptical, I really didn't think he'd be able to make the switch in so little time and be a big contributor. Which shows how big of a dumbass I am, as he went on to become a starter. But now camp is over, and the real experiment begins. Glenn, along with Phillip Dillard (another player we hope to see deliver on his initial potential) are the two seniors on the most important position group of the defense. They are the elder statesmen who have to make the supposed weakest link (and maybe the most important one in Pelini's defense) strong enough to combat the lethal offenses in the Big 12. How fast Glenn comes along will go a long way in determining how successful the defense is.

5) Joe Ganz, QB

There's a reason I put Joe at the bottom of this list. It's not because I think the previous 4 guys are more integral to the success of this year's Huskers. Everyone knows that quarterback is the most important position on the team. Rather, I was just sick of so many articles leading off with him, so I decided to flip the script a bit and write about him last. At this point, most Husker fans know by heart that Ganz passed for 1,399 yards and 15 touchdowns in just 3 starts last year. But what can he do with a stronger running game and a defense that hopefully doesn't force him into throwing 40 or 50 times a game? And who is he going to look to in the redzone now that Mo Purify is gone? Make no mistake, Ganz is the heart and soul of this team, the unquestioned leader and heavy is the burden on his shoulders to make his one season in the spotlight count. He can take solace in the fact that he has a line and backs who should significantly lighten that load. While it's hard to imagine Ganz being on par statistically with the likes of Chase Daniel or Todd Reesing this year, the potential is there for him to do the only thing we really want to see: Win. And if that were to happen, Ganz will find himself in the company of other tough-as-nails QBs who endeared themselves to the Husker faithful, guys like Zac Taylor and Brook Berringer.

Tomorrow: Big 12 predictions

Friday, August 22, 2008

One More Week......

You know, I've tried to temper my enthusiasm and excitement for this season. To be honest, it's been difficult, what with Bo returning and all. But after last year's implosion, I try to keep the pre-season optimism down, especially because last year was when we were supposed to make the great leap forward. Now that we are in the single digits in the "days till game" category, I find my mind already drifting to that crisp autumn air and a 10:00 AM Bud Light. I just bought a Husker hat for the season yesterday, and will probably have to add a new shirt as well at some point, though I'm trying to pace myself in that category, considering I already have more than enough NU shirts.

Just a couple links/thoughts for today, because it's Friday and I'm feeling particularly lethargic. Next week I plan on doing my full season prediction, as well as the national prediction.

- Wanted to link to this article about the Huskers on EA's NCAA 2009 game. I found this particularly interesting, because I'm beginning to wonder if the programmers at EA are Husker fans. This is the third or fourth edition in the row that I've heard of this phenomenon of Nebraska kicking ass whenever you simulate. Last year, just for shits and gigs, I simmed a whole season, and sure enough, we were Big 12 champs and nearly won the whole thing. According to this article, the author had similar results with this year's edition. Hopefully life imitates games in this case.

- Anyone else find it odd that K-State and ISU agreed to play in Arrowhead in 2009 and 2010? I mean, it's one thing to throw Kansas and Mizzou in there, that rivalry has historical implications going back to the Civil War. And holding the Big 12 title game there is a no-brainer due to it's central location that isn't too far from any Big 12 school. But is anyone really going to drive all the way to Kansas City to watch a JUCO-laden pussycat squad take on a perennially rebuilding Cyclone team? I may be wrong, maybe Chizik is going to turn it around and Kansas State will recruit some good kids this year. But I still don't see this as anything more than 2 teams playing in front of a stadium filled to 2/3rds capacity.

-To no surprise but to my disappointment, the NCAA announced that horse-collar tackles, made famous by OU alum Roy Williams, are now banned. Look, I know it's not the right way to tackle. Hell, every football player knows it's not the right way to tackle. Sometimes though, there is just no other way to bring down the ballcarrier. Let's say that it's a footrace down the sidelines to the endzone, and the defender takes the wrong angle by one step. He's now faced with a choice: dive from behind at their legs and hope they can somehow grab on to the offensive player's churning feet, or he can make sure that the guy doesn't go any farther and grab him by the neckline of the shoulder pads. Having had to do this, let me tell you: I've saved a couple of long runs by doing the horse-collar tackle. Am I advocating that it be used for every tackle? No, of course not, it's not fundamental and it risks injury. But football isn't for the meek, and sometimes, when you have to make the play, you do it any way you can.

-Came across this article via Blue-Gray Sky, a Notre Dame blog (don't worry, I only found it because I wanted to find a way to trash Jimmy Clausen). But instead I found an interview with DE Pat Kuntz (pronounced Koo-NTZ), which was pretty damn funny thanks to stuff like this:

II: Your last name, obviously, what's the worst mispronunciation you've had?

PK: "(Laughs uncontrollably) Let's just say people call the house, the telemarketers, and they pronounce it, I don't know if I should say it but people can probably think about it. They are always like 'Mr. Blank.' I'm like 'Nope, none of that here.' And I hang up the phone."

So it turns out I don't dislike every guy on ND's roster. Just 104 of them or so. Speaking of the Irish, do they really think it's smart to honor their legendary coaches (one per home game) coming off a 3-9 season? Is Jimmy Clausen flat on his back really what these guys and their families want to see on the night their national titles are celebrated? Also, I thought it was cute that one of the tickets featured the graphic "200th consecutive sellout" on it. I would say good effort, but they'll never catch us (nor will anyone else, for that matter).

Just a reminder, Double Extra Point is starting up their pick 'em again this year, as is Corn Nation, so pick one (or both, if you really like pick 'ems) and get into the spirit of competition with some fellow Huskers.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hero of the Underground

I had always wondered what happened to Jason Peter. The apex of his career, when the Huskers eviscerated Peyton Manning and the Volunteers to clinch a share of the national championship, took place when I was 14 years old, and back then (Jesus, was that really 10 years ago?), you cheer for your favorite team, but it isn't a year-long obsession. When you're that age, you follow other sports, you go season-to-season. Still, throughout the 2000's, I followed the graduates of that team like Grant Wistrom, and wondered where his beastly D-line counterpart was.

Consider that question emphatically answered. For those of you who haven't read Peter's memoir "Hero of the Underground", you are missing out on a harrowing tale of despair and hope repeatedly renewed.

Football, drugs, suicide attempts. Little is left to the imagination by Peter, who goes into great detail describing his rise from a small New Jersey high school into a first-round draft pick, and later, his fall from grace. This book is an eye-opener on many levels, not only into underworld of heavy narcotics, but also the machines that are college and pro football. Peter speaks lovingly of his time at Nebraska, which is to some extent expected. All of us, for better or worse, look back at our collegiate years as our halcyon days, when the uncertainty of the future mixed with the invulnerability and invincibility of youth, and this part of the book, there are some genuinely heart-warming stories. The Nebraska portion of the book really makes you think about the pedestal we as fans put kids on. It's not just the Huskers I'm talking about, I'm sure it's the same thing if you go to Tuscaloosa or Norman. I've never thought what happens to guys after the machine churns them out. And obviously Peter's tale isn't the norm, but one still has to think about the psychological effects going from the highest levels of college football to the real world.

Jason Peter didn't go to the real world though. He was drafted by the Carolina Panthers with the 14th pick in the draft, and this is where the story radically changes and his drug abuse begins to mount. Those who are hoping for an in-depth look at pro football will be disappointed, because this isn't a football book. This is a memoir of a football player who becomes and addict and then fights his way back. The injuries started to set in for Jason, and that's when the reader is introduced to just how commonplace painkillers really are in football, particularly the NFL. I only played Division 3 football, and I'll tell you that I still deal with the effects of the wear and tear on my body. So to imagine what it must be like for an NFL player, whose body is routinely subjected to car-crash type collisions on a daily basis, is a painful thought. Jason was out of the league in 4 years, left with a lot of money and an addiction to painkillers that eventually leads to abuse of amounts of narcotics that seems almost inhuman.

I'm not going to go into detail, because you should definitely read the book. There are times when you really wonder how he emerged from his personal hell and beat his demons. There are several attempts at rehab, and with every relapse, you lose a little more hope for him, which makes his victory all the more satisfying and inspiring. I'll be honest, there are some parts of the book that seem repetitive and drag a bit, but what do you expect? Drug addicts tend to do the same thing over and over again: drugs. So naturally there is going to be some repetition. But while the writing is simplistic, it makes for an easy, everyman-type read, one that any person could pick up and become easily engrossed in. While it may be a quick read, it's also a good one, a story of one man's redemption after a journey through hell.

Buy the book here through the publisher's official website.

Or do it through Jason's own website,

Monday, August 18, 2008

Two Down, Two to Go

So here we are, halfway through camp. Two weeks have passed, and we've been subjected to roughly 20,000 articles about the running back depth chart and 15,000 references to Castille's penchant for putting the ball on the ground (I've never heard a few fumbles brought up so much in my entire life). At this point, the excitement of camp starting has subsided and now the itch for some real Saturday afternoon action is becoming harder and harder to ignore. Yesterday, I forked over 7 bucks for a SI's annual preaseason preview, which was dumb because I already possess at least five or six other preview magazines. But it doesn't matter what you feed it, the hunger for college football information is one that is insatiable. I'm pretty sure I've read the same information from 10 different authors about the top 25 teams, yet am still searching for more.

I'll be honest, there isn't a whole lot of news to report about the Huskers, at least not any new stuff. More bad news for Husker opponent Virginia Tech though, as projected starting WR Zach Luckett was suspended indefinitely for violating team policy (meaning his 2nd DUI arrest). It's been a tumultuous off-season for the Hokies, as they have lost several players to injury or suspension, and Luckett's suspension further depletes an already razor-thin position for Tech. They lost starter Brandon Dillard to a ruptured Achilles during summer workouts, adding to the stress of having to replace four departed seniors from last season's conference title squad.

You have to wonder who QB Sean Glennon is going to throw to. Six incoming freshmen, along with converted quarterback Ike Whitaker (and maybe even CB Macho Harris) will vie for playing time for a decimated unit. It'll be interesting to see as the game gets closer just what kind of team will come to Lincoln to face the Huskers on September 27th. A slate of patsies would have gone a long way in helping develop the young Hokies, but unfortunately for them it isn't a cakewalk: a solid East Carolina team, followed by Furman, Georgia Tech, the rapidly improving North Carolina Tar Heels and then NU. Good thing they play in a terrible conference, or they could be in for a rough season.

Friday, August 15, 2008

It's Finally Friday

So that whole I'm-going-to-write-every-day thing hasn't worked as well as I had hoped thus far. It's been a hectic week at work, topped off by finding out yesterday that they are downsizing our branch, which means I have three to four weeks to find a different job. Disappointing to say the least, but I'm confident it'll all work out for the best, I was looking for a new challenge anyways. I am even contemplating moving to Omaha, due to the fact that it is still growing there whereas it feels like the Twin Cities is especially struggling. Plus, below zero temperatures aren't a daily winter occurrence in Nebraska like they are here. Anyways, with that little intro out of the way, I want to look at a couple of articles and bounce around a bit today between the Big Red and some other teams in the Big 12. I originally wanted to post my review of "Hero of the Underground" today, but I want to finish re-reading it to do it justice, I don't want to half-ass a book review.

- Interesting article about Ricky Thenarse in the OWH today. Since his arrival on campus in 2006, he's been an oft-discussed Husker, with a penchant for big hits on special teams and a lack of regular playing time on the defense. For a long time, this rubbed many fans (myself included) the wrong way, as we saw an athlete we thought could contribute more than kick coverage. Well one of the things this article points out is that Ricky hasn't always been so keen on knowing all his X's and O's, which might explain why the last coaching staff kept him off the field for the most part the past couple of years.

In college football, and especially when it comes to playing for someone like Pelini, it doesn't matter how hard you can hit someone, it's a question as to whether you can analyze personnel groupings and tendencies and then using them to perform your specific task. It turns out that until this past spring and the current fall camp, Ricky had to a certain extent been content to just go out looking for hits instead of relying on the schemes to shut down the opposing offense (though maybe he just didn't trust Cosgrove's D and decided he might as well light some people up, it's tough to say). Regardless, the fact that he is settling down and diving into film and the playbook is relief to me and the thousands of Husker fans who have been impatiently waiting to see him trot out with the starters.

- Though it's about a week old, I had to link to's in-depth article on conference supremacy, which has become the defining debate in college football. No longer can you just argue about individual teams, now you must factor in teams like Iowa State and Baylor when you discuss the sport with your peers. Most shocking: using their rating system, the Big XII is 5th out of the 6 BCS conferences. That's right, second to last. This has a lot to do with the fact that our conference, with the exception of OU and UT, took a gigantic nosedive starting in 2001, and only really started to recover last year, when Mizzou and Kansas finally made the North somewhat relevant again (something I hope they and the Big Red continue to do this season).

One thing Mandel writes about in the article that is especially gratifying for me personally is the slow downward spiral of the ACC. Remember all the press and hullabaloo about the merger that brought in BC and Miami? Well, it hasn't exactly panned out as well as everyone involved had hoped. FSU isn't looking any better this year, though both they and the Hurricanes inked really good recruiting classes last year (though that doesn't figure to help Bowden, whose successor Jimbo Fisher is already waiting in the wings). Being a Husker fan, it's fun to watch these two programs, who for so long in the 80's and 90's were thorns in our side, struggle like they have the past couple of years......of course, I guess they could probably look at us and say the same things...

While he also points out the Big 12's downfall, the best part of the article is where he rips my least-favorite conference, the Big 10. Having to be subjected to countless regional telecasts of Indiana vs. Northwestern and similar matchups the past couple of years, the backlash against this skidmark assembly of teams has reached a fever pitch after consecutive humiliations of Ohio State in the national championship game. With Michigan putting in a new system and Illinois losing their stud tailback Rashard Mendenhall, it will again be on the shoulders of the Buckeyes to somehow redeem their entire conference.....which, even if OSU goes undefeated, I doubt many voters will allow to happen after watching the past two drubbings put on them by SEC teams.

- They might have kicked our ass the past two years, but at least the Huskers aren't suffering from jock itch, which is apparently a problem this fall at USC. Says receiver Travon Patterson simply, "It burns."

- Is anyone else kind of disappointed that thus far no one has supplanted Nate Swift as the #1 punt returner? Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Swift fan, he's one of the few you can count on to catch the ball every time. That aside though, I'd hate to see him get hurt trying to return punts. Of all the kids that came into the program the past couple of years, you're telling me that nobody can provide a spark on special teams? Nobody can catch a ball and run with it? Seems a bit ridiculous to me. Though I will say the chatter coming out of camp is that Khiry Cooper, the freshmen baseball standout, is making waves in practice and could be the main returner by opening day. My question is, with word leaking out that Marcus Mendoza is doing well at tailback (and considering the logjam we have there), why isn't Mendoza getting some looks at PR? He seems like a natural fit.

Back on Monday, everyone have a safe weekend and enjoy it, there aren't many left in the summer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Back in Action

So after four days, five cases of beer, three concert performances, and approximately 700 games of flippy cup, I return from WeFest with no voice and a battered body. I took some great memories from the experience, though I probably blacked out just as many. But since this is a Husker blog, not one for me to blabber about my personal life on, I'll just pass on a few tidbits:

- I highly recommend anyone from the midwest going to this event. Expensive? Yes. But for 100 to 150 bucks, you can see some of the best acts in country music, which was worth it to me. I saw Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley, and Brad Paisley. That's not even counting to the acts I didn't go to, such as Sugarland, Rascal Flatts, and Taylor Swift, among others. One of next year's headliners? Tim McGraw.

-Some kid at an adjacent campsite made the mistake of wearing an OU hat around. My brother and I (and this was at about 1 AM, so we were in rare form) went over and proceeded to talk about the glory days and how we were going to return to prominence now that we had Bo back in the fold. The funny thing is, about 1 minute into the conversation, he told us he wasn't even an OU fan, he just likes the hat. The sad thing for him is that we kept going for about 20 minutes.

-I was wearing my "Big Red Code" shirt around all day Friday and received several "GOO BIIIG REEEDDD" chants from campsites I was walking near. I chatted up one group from Sioux City for a while about this year's prospects, and came away with that warm feeling you get from being part of such a loyal and knowledgeable fan base. I'm not trying to pump up Husker fans, but it's true what they say: You can't really describe it unless you are one.

-I didn't realize it at the time, but afterwards I realized I had never closed the valve on my sleeping pad, which means I essentially slept face-down on the ground for 4 nights in a row....along with the dehydration and sleep deprivation, it might explain why I felt like I was hit by a car on Sunday morning.

Anyways, on to the Huskers.

-Glad to hear that Major Culbert is thriving at safety. Last year seemingly everyone was desperate for the coaching staff to make a decision and just stick with it, no matter what it was. Now, given the opportunity he's been waiting for, Culbert is turning heads and giving Larry Asante a run for his money at the strong safety position.

- I was wondering how among all the hullabaloo about the Lucky/Helu situation that Quentin Castille had seemingly been neglected. It was to my relief then when I read that he has been just as impressive through camp as anyone, save for maybe Culbert or the surprising Jared Crick. I thought at times last year that Castille was playing well above his necessary playing weight, so it was no surprise that he was getting into Javorskie Lane territory, nearly topping out around 260. When pictures from spring ball started coming out showing him running around at a svelte 235, I nearly started drooling with anticipation of what is going to happen to the first poor safety or corner who runs up with the intention of tackling him in the open field.

Speaking of which, is there a more disappointing development in football the past 10 years than the fact that no people in the secondary wrap up and tackle properly anymore? Who the hell is going around telling these kids to do combat rolls into the ballcarrier's legs? It's completely inexcusable and drives me insane. Usually, they whiff on 5 out of 6 attempts, but you can bet your ass that on that one time they make the play, they get up and act as if they had cured cancer and wanted the whole world to know about it. I hate bad fundamentals, and even more so I hate those who practice them and then show off when they somehow trip up the back or receiver. Do your job, go back to the huddle. OK, rant over.

-Another position battle I've been keeping my eye on is the backup QB spot, which Patrick Witt and Zac Lee are fighting over. I'll admit, I've always preferred Witt after seeing him two spring games ago and throwing some nice balls while getting his ass kicked by the #1 defense (which was the only squad our #1's beat last year). Lee's mobility, on the other hand, is a factor that can't be ignored, so it'll be interesting to see how this plays out throughout the season and who comes out with an early lead to be next year's starter.

For the rest of the week, I'm hoping to do a look around the nation a little bit, as well as review Jason Peter's new book, "Hero of the Underground". So check back in throughout the week (and uh, the rest of the season, of course).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dixon Gone, Cooper Arrives

The big news on the opening day of practice was the announcement that Kevin Dixon, an experienced defensive tackle who was going to supply key depth to the line, was booted from the team. Two arrests, both of which ultimately ended up getting dismissed, seem to be the reason, though only those on the team know if there was more to the story or not. Is there more than meets the eye, or is Pelini simply making a statement that trouble, whether later dismissed or not, would not be tolerated? Either way, it hurts to lose a solid contributor like Dixon on the first day of camp. But what Bo says, goes.

The other development was Khiry Cooper's arrival to the team. Cooper, a wide receiver recruit who has been mulling over playing for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim or whatever they call themselves, reported yesterday and seems content to play football until August 15th, which is the deadline for him to be signed. Good for him that he's coming to camp no matter what. If he signs, he signs, but if not, it'll be to his advantage to be playing and learning the offense in the meantime.

Quote of the Day, Practice 1
Pelini on the common factors between his former championship teams
“Effort and attitude and a willingness to learn and an eagerness to understand not just what to do, but how to do it and why. A lot of getting turnovers is getting the right people at the right places at the right time and getting there with an attitude and a tremendous amount of effort. Getting a lot of people around the ball so you can take advantage of opportunities. We don’t talk about turnovers, we talk about takeaways – to have an attitude to go take the ball from the offense. That’s something that will always continue as long as I’m associated with this football team.”

Attitude. Effort. Takeaways. Think that it sounds a bit better than what we've seen the past few years from KC's units? I can't wait to see these guys other interesting tidbit from the media circus yesterday: Larry Asante's goal for interceptions this year: himself!

Monday, August 4, 2008

"We've been talking about it long enough. Let's get after it now."

And with that, Carl Pelini spoke the mindset of not only a team but an entire state. Though it has seemingly passed in the blink of an eye, the past 7 months have dragged by, a monotonous stream of slow summer news, everyone waiting counting the days until fall camp started. Well, the wait is over. All over the country, fans are shaking off the cobwebs in giddy anticipation of another season of college football. So many questions surround the upcoming season, not only for our Huskers but for teams nationwide.

Will our defensive back seven be ready to return the defense to Blackshirt status (or at least a level above mediocre?) How many touches will Roy Helu and Q take from Lucky? Will the Big 10 continue it's slide down the conference rankings, or are they already so lowly regarded that nobody cares? How will Pelini and Company do in recruiting with a full season of campus visits to work with? Does Chase Daniel have enough goobers in his nose to feed him for the duration of the season? And will Jimmy Clausen finally come out of the closet? So many things to think about, it boggles the mind...but in a good way. The Huskers, 8 years removed since their last CONFERENCE title, are beginning yet another "new era", and while we're all drinking the Kool-Aid, I think this flavor is going to leave a much more satisfying taste than the last one we had, which might as well have been named "Callahan-sucks-berrymuch". Or it could have been "Cool Cosgrove Collapse". And yea, both of those are reaches. But I couldn't think of a flavor that was funny without having to resort to profanity. But just think, with Pelini in charge, at least we can go with "BO-dacious Berryfying Blast" and other things like that. See, it's not just coaching he's a better fit for.

But as excited as we all are, it comes with the realization that only thing going on today and for the next four weeks is practice, which we will breathlessly dissect and analyze, only to begin anew once actual games start. Really, the only thing we can hope for is the rapid development of the younger guys, as well as the good Lord having mercy on our secondary and sparing their knees/patellas/etc; from any harm. That and that no renegade TV sets attack any femurs.

I'm going to make it my personal goal to do daily postings throughout camp (with this week being an exception, as I'll be punishing my liver from Wednesday through Sunday at the country music festival WeFest in Northern Minnesota). I've been somewhat (OK, extremely) lazy this summer when it comes to writing here, and I want to change that. Part of it is that we are woefully understaffed at work (taking away a lot of my writing time), and part of it stemmed from the fact that thanks to Pelini ratcheting up the discipline, there was relatively little in the way of off-the-field incidents, the hallmark of summer college football news. But those days are over now. Nationwide, there is a bevy of topics to discuss, whether it Tim Brewster getting paid 1 million dollars per win in Minnesota or Texas Tech making another futile attempt to overtake the Big 12 South (more on both of those in a later post). I have several topics I plan on writing about, but in the interest of better involving the 4 or 5 people who commonly read this column, I do accept ideas for if you want me to write about/make fun of any topic pertaining to college football, feel free to drop me a line at, I'd love to hear some potential ideas to make fall camp pass faster.

Either way, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, yet another season of God's greatest game is upon us, and nationwide everyone's day is a bit brighter with the knowledge that in a matter of weeks, the beer will flow, the brats will cook, and the slightest of fall breezes will again stir the hearts and hopes of college football fans nationwide. Maybe, just maybe, this is our year.......