Tag Archives: Mike Riley

Nebraska Finally Comes Back To Earth

So where we at now, Nebraska? You shot into the rankings, even checking into the top 10 for a little bit there. Man, the Cornhuskers had us all fooled. Well, I guess not all of us but certainly a lot of people. They beat Oregon before we realized the Ducks were bad and Northwestern before the Wildcats got hot. Everything was coming up roses for Nebraska because the timing was right.

Then reality hit.

Once the Cornhuskers finally ran into a good team, things fell apart. Sure, the game against Wisconsin went to overtime but man that Ohio State game? Things were out of hand even before Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong got hurt. The Buckeyes even took their foot off the gas and still dropped 60.

Basically, once Nebraska actually played a good team, it crumbled. You know, it’s ok. That happens to a lot of teams. Once they come up against some resistance they just fall apart. Ask Iowa. The Hawkeyes know how that goes. They’re in such bad shape that I didn’t even want to pick on them this week.

Quite frankly, the fact that Nebraska got this far is kind of impressive. When your leading rusher only has 600 yards and your second-leading rusher is your quarterback who only trails by 200 yards, that not usually a recipe for success.

Defense is usually the calling card of the Cornhuskers and head coach Mike Riley made a point to improve on defense, but they’re still letting in a lot of points. Even if you wipe off the massacre by Ohio State, they were letting in a lot of points. They couldn’t even hold anemic teams like Illinois and Purdue to less than double-digits. For comparison’s sake, Michigan held Illinois to a garbage-time eight points and Purdue to negative ten. Ok, the Wolverines didn’t play Purdue but judging by what they did to Rutgers, that’s not an inconceivable result.

Now, Nebraska’s on a skid and Minnesota is on a run, having won its last four games. Nebraska’s quarterback is coming back from an injury while Minnesota running back Rodney Smith is starting to heat up. Smith has gone over 100 yards in the last four games, including 144 against Maryland and 154 against Purdue. The Cornhuskers gave up over 200 yards rushing to both Wisconsin and Ohio State. You do the math.

Sure Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner isn’t great in third and long situations but if your running back can keep you out of them, suddenly that doesn’t matter, does it?

Let’s be honest, Nebraska was playing way above its level for the whole season because they were playing off of emotion. They were still trying to honor their fallen punter Sam Folz. Eventually, that emotion was going to fade and what you’re left with is a team that isn’t as good as everyone wanted to think that it was.

If this was any other team but Nebraska, we wouldn’t be talking about how far the Huskers fell in the polls because they wouldn’t have even been in the polls. Nebraska got the artificial boost in the AP Poll simply because everyone still remembers the days that the Huskers were good. Pretty soon those days are going to fade and those boosts are going to fade. Then everyone is going to realize that Nebraska is exactly what it turned out to be: a team that has higher expectations than talent.

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Nebraska Cornhuskers Don’t Belong In The Top Ten

I know I’m supposed to be the Big Ten guy and cheer for all the conference’s achievements and accomplishments, but come on. Nebraska might have a good team, maybe even a very good team, but again: come on. The Nebraska Cornhuskers are not worthy of a top 10 spot in the AP Poll.

Let’s take a moment to look at all the quality wins that propelled Nebraska up the rankings.

 

Well, that was fun.

“Now wait just a minute,” you might be saying (and hopefully you’re not at work because you’ll look dumb talking to your computer), “Nebraska beat Oregon!”

Newsflash: this is not the type of Oregon team that you usually imagine. You’re thinking of the Mike Bellotti or Chip Kelly teams that were routinely dominating the Pac-12. This team is not even remotely reminiscent of those teams. Those teams could at least fool you into believing that they had a defense not completely comprised of children’s imaginary friends. And if they couldn’t they could at least outscore their opponents. The 2016 Oregon team can’t do either of those things. They lost to the state of Washington by a combined 121-54 and have already lost four games this season.

That is a bad team so we cannot count this as a quality win. If anything, Nebraska should be ashamed of not winning by more.

Want another example? Don’t cheat and pick which is the better team. The wins aren’t in order, but the two teams they’ve both played are together.

 

Team One Team Two
Defeated Northwestern, 24-13 Defeated Northwestern, 22-21
Defeated Illinois, 31-16 Defeated Illinois, 34-10
Defeated Wyoming, 52-17 Defeated NCCU, 70-21
Defeated Fresno State, 43-10 Defeated Central Michigan, 49-20

 

Thoughts? Both of them have two Big Ten wins, each with a slightly more impressive win against one team than the other, and then a pair of blowouts. Wyoming is 4-2 with its only notable win being over Air Force since Fresno State is 1-5. North Carolina Central University is 4-2 in the MEAC and Central Michigan is also 4-2 but with an impressive “win” over Oklahoma State.

What’s your pick?

Team One is Nebraska who is currently No. 10 in the rankings. Team Two, with an equally, arguably a more impressive resume, just became ranked for the first time ever. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Western Michigan University. Special shout out to Cole Hankins and the #MakeTheMACGreatAgain movement.

So, how’d the Cornhuskers find themselves in the top ten and the Broncos just crack the rankings at 24?

Well, part of it is timing.

Nebraska beat Oregon before we realized that the Ducks had a defense as solid as a ghost. The Cornhuskers then did their best butter impression and went on a roll (my dad is so proud right now). They notched wins over two more Power-5 programs and more importantly, the teams ahead of them kept losing. Teams like Florida, Michigan State, Florida State, and LSU were kind enough to drop a game here and there to pave the way for the rise of Nebraska. The fact that the Huskers managed to get all the way up to 10 is a sign of just how average the majority of teams in America are right now. You’ve got the top five to seven teams that are actually good and then everyone else is just kind of meh.

The other part of it is that it’s a “name”. People know who Nebraska is and to what conference the team pledges allegiance to. You see Nebraska on national television and a good chunk of former players in the pros. That sheer name recognition gives any Power-5 team a leg up on the smaller guys like Western Michigan.

I’ve got news for the voters, though: Nebraska is not a top 10 team. Come the end of the season, Nebraska might be in contention for the West division but not for the College Football Playoff. A fortuitous schedule will allow Mike Riley to pilot Big Red to at best nine wins. This isn’t 1995 and Nebraska isn’t a national power. Nebraska is barely a power in its own conference now and won’t be once it gets into the real meat of the schedule.

A good team? Maybe. But not a team that should be creeping in on the elite of college football.

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Big Ten Triple Play

Sorry for the baseball reference on a football site but I wanted to do something different. I really wanted to opine on three teams who, in my view, had the biggest storylines this past week.

Here are my thoughts on Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan:

Nebraska

Husker fans, give some credit where it’s due. Despite a disappointing 2015 season filled with bad luck, head coach Mike Riley is doing something Bo Pelini was never able to do, and that’s win marquee matchups. That trend started last season when Nebraska knocked off College Football Playoff finalist Michigan State and defeated UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl.  Ithas continued into this season as the Cornhuskers beat Oregon, 35-32, last Saturday in Lincoln.

A rejuvenated Tommy Armstrong, who has been given more offensive freedom, particularly running the ball, scored the game-winner on a 34-yard quarterback keeper while the defense, which was one of the areas seen as a weakness, sealed the victory. The question now is: With a signature victory, is Nebraska a legitimate contender in the Big Ten West?

Well, I predicted Nebraska to finish second, tied with Wisconsin, in the West, Iowa running away with the division. It’s not like I had them being a non-contender,  but I also didn’t have them playing so well and cohesively this early on. It’s hard to say what exactly made the difference but it’s clear this can be a potent, high-scoring team with a reliable defense, despite being gutted by key departures this past off-season.

I actually believe this upcoming game against Northwestern will be a good gauge of where the team is. Even though the Wildcats are playing poorly, this is a team that has had the Huskers’ number ever since they joined the Big Ten. If they are true contenders, these next four weeks should be relatively easy victories until the biggest test of the season against Wisconsin.

Iowa

Let’s face it, Kirk Ferentz is a good head coach and the numbers don’t lie. In many ways, it’s pretty darn impressive given the fact he has to compete against the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State on the recruiting trail and on the field. But a great coach? Now, that’s a different story.

To me, Ferentz gets a huge reward for being a tease, who just flirts with greatness and never cashes in. The extension is clearly based on a season where the stars aligned almost perfectly. Even then, the Hawkeyes left much to be desired as they were blown out in the Rose Bowl. I don’t know about you but it seems like Iowa is content with being slightly above average. Even when Ferentz comes crashing down to earth and wins the typical seven games, he still gets rewarded with a nice chunk of change.

Speaking of crashing, how about the loss to North Dakota State? Yes, the Bison were the better team Saturday and I know they have several FCS championships but it’s still nonetheless an embarrassing loss that shouldn’t have happened. Sure, Iowa can still win the West but no one will take it as serious as before, which wasn’t real serious to begin with given the fact they didn’t beat anyone last year.

I think the loss to North Dakota State shows what Kirk Ferentz’s coaching tenure is in a nutshell: consistently inconsistent. He will have a big season and get a contract extension but then fall back into obscurity. His success comes in spurts and is never sustained. Some Iowa supporters are still behind him but I feel bad for others who, like me, aren’t interested in mediocrity. Until Iowa can win a game of importance , this contract is just not acceptable.

Michigan

In the days leading up to last Saturday, the Colorado Buffaloes thought it would be cool to release a fake depth chart to poke fun at Jim Harbaugh for not revealing his own. And guess what? It looked like those antics might have played a part in Michigan coming out flat, as Colorado scored three minutes into the contest and went up 21-7 at the end of the first.

Michigan’s special teams came through with a blocked punt for a touchdown and the offense scored several touchdowns for the halftime lead. In the third, Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau, who had 246 yards and three touchdowns, sustained a foot injury that ended his day and Michigan was able to take control of the game. Jabrill Peppers’ 56-yard punt return score early in the fourth quarter effectively put the game out of reach, 45-28. Despite the win, the question on everyone’s mind was if this is a sign of things to come or just a fluke.

Well, I’m here to tell you, Michigan will not only return to its winning ways over Penn State but do it in convincing fashion. First, while the offense hasn’t been incredibly impressive, it’s  been solid and should be in for a feast this weekend. Penn State’s defense has been atrocious, yielding 341 rushing yards to Pittsburgh and 286 passing yards to Temple. Second, unless the Nittany Lions can make big plays and move the chains early, they will face third down, where they are 9-of-33 and Michigan has allowed just 4-of-38. Not a good combination.

Last, they say it’s a team game but we haven’t seen someone like Peppers in a long time and he is a game-changer. It’s like he’s Percy Harvin, Devin Hester and Charles Woodson rolled into one, all formidable players. Unless Penn State can render him obsolete, the Wolverines will roll easily, 42-20.

 

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

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Mike Riley is Running Tommy Armstrong Jr. and That’s a Great Thing for the Huskers

Mike Riley just may finally get it when it comes to Tommy Armstrong Jr. as the quarterback for his Huskers. You see, Tennessee and Josh Dobbs receive most of my determined criticism, but the team, coach, and player that are a close second to the Vols are the Huskers and Riley’s handling of Armstrong.

For what seems like an eternity, I’ve witnessed Riley and his predecessor, Bo Pelini, attempt to turn Armstrong into a prototypical quarterback. And for what seems like an eternity, I’ve screamed at my television set and radio whenever Armstrong failed to execute on what Riley and Pelini had asked him to do. You see, Armstrong’s nickname is “Tommy Arm-So-Strong” but it’s more of a sarcastic joke than anything.

Prior to this season, Armstrong was heaving up lame duck passes that were being picked off with enough regularity that his touchdown-to-interception ratio was close to 1:1. Yet time and time again last season, Riley attempted to turn Armstrong into one of his back-in-the-day Pac-12 quarterbacks.

Square peg, meet round hole.

The truth of the matter is that Armstrong is a below average quarterback but an above average football player. When asked to throw the deep ball, a common characterisation has been to call it an “arm punt.” On the flip-side of that snide description of his passing skills has been his ability to run the ball. He has always struck me as a running back who was trying to play quarterback.

All of that changed in the Huskers’ opening weekend game against Fresno State when Armstrong was only asked to throw the ball a total of 10 times. Now, it is true that he only completed 50% of those passes, but he threw a touchdown and didn’t throw an interception.

You may be thinking to yourself – gee, didn’t Nebraska lose 7 games in 2015 and doesn’t playing from behind almost require a team to throw the ball more than run it?

Yes, if that is what you’re thinking, you would be correct. Even in the Huskers’ 6 wins last season, Armstrong averaged 27 pass attempts per game. But now, in 2016, Riley gets it.

To go along with his passing touchdown, Armstrong ran in for another two scores as he rushed 11 times for 42 yards. I’ll tell you something – I like it. I like it a lot. And if you’re a Husker fan you should love it.

And what all Husker fans should really love is that they witnessed their team run the ball 50 times versus 13 passes. This is what Husker football used to look like and it’s really the blueprint on how to win in Lincoln.

Nebraska has what I would consider too be a favorable Big Ten schedule since they miss out on having to play both Michigan and Michigan State. Going into the weekend, I thought the team could win 8 games. Now, if this game plan seen in the first game is any indication, perhaps Riley and his Huskers can win another game or two and challenge for the divisional title.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

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Pac-12 Links: Tough Quarterback Decisions

Moving into the month of July, the curiosity factor with fans about their particular team gets a bit ramped up. Fans start looking forward to the start of camp.  Fall camp hasn’t started at all, but in the Pac-12 Conference there are a bunch of teams that still have lingering questions about their personnel. Let’s take a look at a few of those teams.

Arizona

Down in Tucson head coach Rich Rodriguez has to figure out how to keep his mobile quarterback, Anu Solomon, injury free. Much of last season for Solomon was spent on the sideline which left Arizona with an inexperienced threat under center.

Does Rodriguez adjust the playbook and not call plays that will put Solomon in harm’s way? It might be something that he’ll want to consider to keep his quarterback healthy. A healthy Anu Solomon gives the Wildcats a better chance at winning. Another 7-6 year is not going to cut it at Arizona. They want a winner yesterday.

During spring practice, Coach Rodriguez said he wanted back-up quarterback Brandon Dawkins to push Anu Solomon. However, Dawkins could push his way to the starting position. Dawkins is a big-armed, quick quarterback and showed some signs of brilliance against Arizona State in the season finale. He also could have a higher ceiling than Anu Solomon.

It’s going to be interesting in Tucson come fall camp. Don’t sleep on Brandon Dawkins.

Arizona State

This is a critical year for the Sun Devils and head coach Todd Graham. They are coming off a disappointing season in which they were picked to finish fairly high in the rankings and by a certain ESPN commentator to go to the playoff. We all know how that turned out. What do we know?

We know that questions about the quarterback situation are still not resolved. Coach Graham has not named a starter and likely will not until they are well into fall camp. Manny Wilkins and Bryce Perkins still seem the likely front runners to land the starting role, but it’s anybody’s guess. Sun Devil fans are simply hoping for a quick decision once camp gets rolling.

There had been talk of using the two-quarterback system, but that is something that should be steered away from. If you have two quarterbacks playing, you have no quarterback. Roles should be defined with the players, so here’s to hoping that Graham and new OC Chip Lindsey decide on somebody quickly.

Oregon State

What can you say about the program at Oregon State? Not much. Head coach Gary Andersen struggled to a 2-10 record in his first year. When Mike Riley left for Nebraska, he didn’t leave much in the cupboard for Andersen. What does Coach Andersen have to look forward to going into fall camp?

Coach Andersen is going to need at least another year to turn this rebuild around in Corvallis. He still has an extremely young team, but he does have something that he didn’t have in his first year. He has an experienced quarterback. Beaver fans are letting out a collective sigh of relief with that fact.

Darell Garretson is now the guy for the Beavers. He’s not a huge runner, but he is by far the most experienced quarterback on the roster. With that said, Garretson needs to stay healthy for Oregon State to have any chance at improving its win-loss record from 2015.

Garretson will have to get in sync with his two threats on the outside in Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamin to create any kind of offensive efficiency for the Beavers. Bolden is the speed guy being only 5’9, 185lbs, but has good speed to give defenses some fits. Villamin is the size on the outside at 6’5”, 230lbs. Garretson will also have a huge tight end as well in Caleb Smith who is 6’6”, 265lbs. He certainly will be Garretson’s security blanket when things break down on offense.

All in all, it’s going to be another thin year in Corvallis, so Beaver fans, like myself, will have to temper their expectations for 2016.

Stanford

In this political season, Stanford would be considered the presumptive nominee to win the Pac-12 Conference in 2016. Why?

Head coach David Shaw and running back Christian McCaffrey are the solid pillars on the Cardinal team for this upcoming season. With all the good feeling that Coach Shaw has built up over the course of his reign over the Stanford program he does have some concerns for 2016.

As with many other Pac-12 schools he has to find a new field general at the quarterback position. With Kevin Hogan taking his talents to the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL the need to find another quarterback is glaring. Who is the heir apparent?

Most people have thought it will be Keller Chryst, with Ryan Burns being the back-up. That is basically the same thought now, but Burns showed that he has gained more confidence in his abilities. The spring game was a bit of an eye-opener for coaches in what they saw out of both of these quarterbacks.

Coach Shaw said both players did some very good things and did some not so good things, but one thing was apparent. Ryan Burns is going to push Keller Chryst for the starting position.

I believe that this race will eventually go to Chryst, but it will come down to the final week of practice. All eyes will be on this position battle and it will certainly be interesting to watch who wins out.

Image: google

Are Nebraska’s Expectations Too High?

To some degree or another, all fans of college football have expectations. Depending on how optimistic or negative you are, your expectations will obviously differ. Some have very lofty, unrealistic expectations while others have more widespread and realistically attainable ones. Then, there are those who have zero faith in their team whatsoever and expect nothing but losing and heartache.

For Nebraska fans, expectations are incredibly high every year and with such a rich, storied history it’s not hard to see why there’s a championship or bust mentality. For over three decades (1969-2001), Nebraska was a powerhouse on the college football landscape, finishing in the Associated Press Top 25 every year including being in the top 10 in 24 of 33 seasons and winning three national championships in the 90’s.

At the same time, their last title was in 1997 during a different era with different players and coaching personnel. The game has evolved since then. For years, the Cornhuskers were ahead of the competition, especially in recruiting, but the reality is they just aren’t near the top anymore. There is more parity in recruiting than ever before with the rise of the SEC and advancements in technology.

With this in mind, the question is do the Nebraska faithful have too lofty of expectations?

First, competing for and winning division titles on a yearly basis is something that should be expected from a storied program like Nebraska, but even that is going to take some time. When looking at their current roster and how it stacks up with the rest of the Big Ten, it’s clear they have areas of concern.

Despite having three seasons under his belt, starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong has been sub-par, never completing more than 55 percent of his passes and throwing a conference-worst 15 interceptions in 2015. Also, while the entire corps of receivers and running backs returns, they need to replace three starters on the offensive line. With a schedule that includes stops at Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa, an already suspect offense could be in trouble.

On the other side of the ball, their pass defense was one of the worst in the country, allowing 291 yards per contest and ranking 122nd nationally. This is not an elite defense by any stretch of the imagination and they need a lot of improvement to compete with the conference’s best.

Second, despite how polarizing former head coach Bo Pellini was, he still won at least nine games every year. Was it fantastic or ideal? No, but it wasn’t dreadful. He won more games than Tom Osborne did in his first seven years and Nebraska gave Osborne 20 years. I feel the Cornhuskers did not appreciate their team, no matter how hard they tried. I know the majority of college programs would love to average nine or more wins per season.

Moreover, I agree that the Nebraska faithful need to cut Mike Riley some slack because it was his first year and it was a season of incredibly bad luck, the very definition of Murphy’s Law. Lose to BYU on a Hail Mary? Check. Lose in overtime by three to Miami after overcoming a 23-point deficit? Check. Lose by two after Wisconsin nails the game-winning field goal in the waning seconds? Check.  Lose by one to Illinois after holding a 13-0 lead entering the final quarter? Check. These games could’ve gone either way and the odds of this repeating are pretty slim. And besides, all seven of their losses were by a total of 31 points. Why should the coach get all the blame?

Plus, let’s say Nebraska became a top contender in the Big Ten overnight but still didn’t win a championship or make the Playoff. Would Riley still have a job?

I know, don’t be silly right? But I’m serious. What is satisfactory for the Nebraska faithful? Man, if it truly is championship or bust In Lincoln, I would certainly lower my expectations immediately or I’d go insane. Personally, I have lower, more realistic expectations so that if they are blown away I will be pleasantly surprised and not crushed with agony when they aren’t met.

Honestly, it will be a minimum of a few years for them to be on par with Ohio State and Michigan, and even then winning a title is not guaranteed.

Sometimes you have to come to terms with reality. It’s a hard pill to swallow but the fact is you can’t compare the past to the ever-changing present. Dynasties come and go. As of now, the days of national titles are gone and truthfully may never come back. I know it’s hard to be patient but some programs have never even tasted championship glory and still stand behind their coaches even when they don’t win 10 games a year.

Don’t get me wrong, 2015 will go down as a lackluster season but it was also filled with bad luck and Riley deserves some time to turn things around. Until then, my advice is keep those expectations in check.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Jared Hansen

Not All Sellouts Are Bad

When it comes to college football, people like to talk more about traditions than they do streaks. No sport has traditions quite like college football but there are some streaks that deserve to be talked about. One of those streaks is that the Nebraska Cornhuskers fans have sold out Memorial Stadium every year since 1962. For those of you keeping track at home, if they sell out 2016 that would be 54 straight years. Since no coach can ever please everyone that’s a pretty impressive streak.

However, that streak is currently in jeopardy. As of May 25 there were still over 2,000 tickets still available for the season opener. Now that’s not a ton of tickets to sell in a couple months but that’s still got to be worrisome for the athletic department. If a storied program like Nebraska is having trouble selling their tickets, what does it say about the state of fan contentment with the program?

As an outsider, I loved Bo Pelini but I understand that he wasn’t as popular with some of the fans as he was with the internet. Granted though, most of us probably associated real life Bo Pelini with his Twitter parody Faux Bo Pelini. Even during Pelini’s tenure when he always won at least 9 games there were struggles to sell tickets. He still kept the streak alive though and departed because of his own prickly personality.

What about his successor Mike Riley though?

Riley’s debut didn’t go as well as he, or anyone, would’ve hoped, ending with a losing record of 6-7. No matter what school it is, if that fan base is used to winning they don’t give a new head coach much leeway. The only new coaches possibly ever that were going to have any kind of wiggle room when they debuted were Urban Meyer at Ohio State and Jim Harbaugh at Michigan simply due to their pedigree and previous winning ways. Riley doesn’t have that built-in cushion. The name of Mike Riley isn’t going to put the butts in the seats.

So what happens if the sellout streak ends while Riley is the head coach? Fresno State and Wyoming aren’t going to put up much of a fight, but right after their departure in comes Oregon which will for sure be running a high-powered, high-scoring offense. Then there’s a trip to Northwestern with their stout defense and then a return home for Illinois who is a bit of a wildcard. It’s not completely out of the question that Nebraska goes into their bye week 2-3. A couple weeks later they have to go through Wisconsin, Ohio State and Minnesota. They could be 4-6 after that, possibly 3-7.

At that point, do the fans abandon the program? Will they stop showing up, because why bother? You’re probably not going to win the division let alone the conference. They’d basically be playing to figure out whether they’ll play a bowl game before or after Christmas.

Should it come to that and the fans start to desert the program then I think Mike Riley is going to be out of a job. The nation isn’t too concerned with Nebraska’s streak but you know the people inside the state certainly are. If you’re the coach that ends a tradition like that you’ve essentially signed your own firing warrant. Ask Rich Rodriguez how ending Michigan’s streak of winning seasons went. His career at Michigan was already over no matter how well he did after that.

Riley isn’t necessarily a bad coach. He did pretty well for himself at what is not a traditional powerhouse and doesn’t draw the big name recruits. Not necessarily a bad coach is different than being a good coach. If Reilly wants to keep his job he’d better turn into a good one and keep those fans in the stadium.

E-mail Tim at or follow him on Twitter @TBach84.

Photo Courtesy Flickr

Nebraska Cornhusker Weight Room Records; The Osborne Way and Steroids

Tom Osborne spent 25 years roaming the sidelines of Memorial Stadium while he was the head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. He helped build a legacy that has contributed to an NCAA-record 347 consecutive sellouts. That alone shows the dedication that the Husker fans have towards their beloved program. So when Osborne retired, those fans have yearned for each new coach to recreate the dominance that Osborne had molded in Lincoln.

Simply put, those fans are looking for the “Osborne Way” to be brought back. Some fans believe that there is only one way to win and that is with the Osborne blueprint.

Sure, this is just one tweet, but I can assure you this attitude permeates the Husker fan’s psyche.

So when Mike Riley made the decision to remove the weight room records from the weight room, it did not go over well with fans or former players. You can say that it wasn’t Riley’s decision, but he’s the head coach so everything is his decision. You know, he is the CEO after all.

Former wide receiver, Kenny Bell, was one of those former players who expressed his disappointment with the Riley regime.

On one hand, I completely get it. Bell has every right to feel disappointed and even disrespected. I’ve been in situations like this and to put it bluntly, it sucks to feel like your contributions are easily erased from the program you helped build. However, Bell said something in one of his tweets that spoke louder than even he imagined. He said that the former players were told that their weight room records would no longer be on display because, and I quote, “we didn’t train right.”

Tom Osborne was known for many things, but perhaps his dirty little secret was that part of the “Osborne Way” was the use of steroids. I don’t expect any black shirt wearing Husker fan to accept this truth, but it is just that, truth. It is The Truth.

Let’s start with former Osborne offensive lineman, Bill Lewis. Lewis was one of the best offensive lineman to ever pave the way for those historic Husker rushing attacks. He also acknowledged in a 1988 Los Angeles Times article that some Husker players took steroids.

Lewis claims that he was not one of those players using steroids. Even though he admitted that others used them, he still defended the program and said that the accusations of steroid use were out of jealousy of the Osborne program.

“If you have a program that is successful consistently, it’s almost a matter of jealousy,” Lewis said. “People want to make excuses for why they don’t do as well.”

This 1988 interview with Bill Lewis was not the only time that steroids were linked to the Nebraska program. Back in 2005, Lincoln Journal Star reporter, Josh Swartzlander, wrote about the 13 Husker’s who were on the witness list of a steroid trial.

If you’re saying the mere accusations don’t equate to proof, well, yes, you’d be correct. But come on. There has always been smoke around the Husker program when it comes to steroids.

There was even a Lawrence Journal-World article from 1986 where Osborne sort of acknowledges the use of steroids in his program. But like Bill Lewis, Osborne acknowledged the use of steroids and then quickly stepped back from the admission. I bet those internal tests that Osborne discussed were completely legitimate. Weren’t they?

And just for good measure, let’s add one more source to this notion of steroids having been part of the “Osborne Way.”

The Shanahan Report ran a story title, “Nebraska Football Lives In Osborne Lost Fantasy World.” In this article, the author stated this gem:

But let’s not forget what else kept Nebraska’s program rolling in the 1980s when Osborne couldn’t win the big game yet provided momentum into the 1990s. Nebraska offensive Dean Steinkuhler revealed that ugly secret years when the NFL bust who won the 1983 Outland Trophy admitted he used steroids in college.

Again, there is a lot of smoke behind these accusations of steroids being part of the “Osborne Way.”

So when I read that Kenny Bell was told that the former Huskers weren’t trained right, I can only assume that Riley wants to distance himself from the “Osborne Way” and the role that steroids played in building the “Osborne Way.” This isn’t going to go over well with the portion of the Husker fan base that thinks it’s still 1985, but the “Riley Way” is the honest way. Which also means it’s the right way.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

*Featured image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Nebraska Cornhuskers Just Need Football in Their Lives

After Nebraska’s 31-14 road victory over Rutgers on November 15, there was a party at the home of current Husker players Tommy Armstrong, Jordan Westerkamp and Trey Foster. An unnamed woman attended this party and reported an alleged sexual assault. The report indicated that there were a total of 6 people at the house at the time of the alleged assault.

Police Chief Jeff Peschong said while he believed the story that the victim told the police, there was not enough evidence to prove a crime. Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly had this to say in regards to the story and the evidence on hand:

“Filing charges would require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that simply isn’t there,” Kelly said. “There’s not enough there to prove the crime.”

Simply being accused of a crime does not make a person guilty of the alleged crime. However, it is surprising to me that the police investigation did not last more than what seems to have been a few days. While the police department was quick to dismiss a longer investigation, the university is doing their due diligence and pursuing the alleged incident in more detail. A Title IX investigation does require a lower burden of proof than a criminal investigation would require, but this still creates questions in my mind when thinking about a potential criminal investigation.

The University of Nebraska is handling this situation as they should. While in my opinion, the local police department is being quick to dismiss the investigation. This is noteworthy because of the added scrutiny that criminal investigations of athletes have received at Florida St. Yes, Florida St. is not the University of Nebraska, but the all to common appearance is that athletes receive preferential treatment regardless of the campus being placed under the spotlight.

Something to keep in mind is that Nebraska has churned through head football coaches because of their inability to recreate the Tom Osborne glory years. Those glory years were propped up with incredible coaching and loose academic restrictions. The foundation of these glory years was also a coaching philosophy that was lackadaisical at best towards situations such as the alleged rape that was reported after the Rutgers game.

While I am not suggesting that current Husker coach Mike Riley is taking the stance that these players just need football in their lives, I am suggesting the Riley needs to be exceptionally careful in how he deals with this situation. Soon after taking the job in Lincoln, Riley was named as a defendant in a lawsuit claiming that the culture at Oregon St. had led to the rape of a young woman.

Time and time again we see college football players being accused of assault, domestic violence and rape. We’ve seen this at Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Baylor and Boise St. to name just a few campuses that have had to deal with these accusations. There are times when nothing of substance is found due to the absence of proof and times when nothing of substance is found due the the young women involved not pursuing charges out of fear for her well being.

Nebraska yearns for the glory years of Tom Osborne, but this pursuit should not be at the expense of abiding by the law. The Lincoln police department needs to perform a thorough investigation before clearing the players of all potential charges. Tom Osborne was the king of not only Lincoln, but of Nebraska in general. Mike Riley is not considered royalty, especially with a first year record of 5-7.

Riley’s only potential safety net is Tom Osborne acting as his guardian angel, and the facts suggest that Osborne was anything but an angel.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

Photo: Sam Swartz/Flickr.

Missouri’s Michael Scherer has been Wronged by Someone, but he Isn’t Sure by Who

Warning: This column may be considered a micro-aggression. Proceed reading at your own risk.

In The Coddling of the American Mind, authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathen Haidt sum up the mind set of the contemporary college student in perfect fashion:

“In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like.”

College athletes are not the exception to this mindset and they seem to think that playing a sport provides them a safe zone where criticism is off limits and only praise will be accepted.

One of my preferred college football websites is Rock M Nation, and two of my preferred writers at the site are Bill Connelly and Oscar Gambler. Bill seemed to spark a small outrage when he dared to publish an article that was critical of starting Linebacker, Michael Scherer. At least Scherer believed that he was being unfairly singled out by Rock M Nation.

Scherer seemed to feel emotionally violated by Connelly’s criticism and voiced his concern to Connelly via Twitter.

The kicker in all of this is that Bill was not the author of the article that Scherer went on the defensive over. This article was the work of Oscar. The junior linebacker is of the opinion that “guys in a closet” shouldn’t be criticizing football players. However, guys like Scherer have no problem with receiving praise from these same “guys in a closet” and, furthermore, do not tend to comment when positive critiques are offered up by these same writers. This leads me to believe that these kids believe praise is a right and that it is the media and fans responsibility to keep them on a pedestal. And here’s a little message to Scherer; not everyone on the internet is some “guy in a closet.” Sometimes the people writing these articles actually played football, and yes, that is the case with Oscar. As the “The Atlantic” authors stated: “trigger warnings are hurting mental health on campus.” I can only assume that this mentality is supported by coaching staffs around the country. While I am certain that coaching staffs are doing their jobs and pointing out deficiencies that need to be corrected, I also am of the belief that the coaches feel a need to temper their criticism towards their players. To not temper their criticism risks kids transferring out of the program and can lead to bogus accusations of player mistreatment. One coach in particular made demands on the media in regards to how their program would be portrayed to the public. Before Tim Beckman was relieved of his duties at Illinois, he went on a rant against the media. Beckman’s contention was that the media should only be reporting the positive aspects of his program. Beckman was attempting to create a narrative that was not the actual story. The story soon caught up to him, but he was attempting to cover his own butt as well as attempting to insulate the fragile egos of his players. Stroking the egos of these kids does not do them any favors. In an attempt to keep all of these kids in “safe spaces,” the coaches and universities are doing a huge disservice to everyone involved. Take Richie Incognito as an example. Incognito’s locker room issues in the NFL have been well documented. His issues did not start once he began his NFL career. Incognito’s issues with bullying go back at least to his freshman year at Nebraska. In the case of Incognito and Nebraska, this kind of behavior was tolerated. As outlined in the USA Today article, Incognito was bullying walk-on lineman, Jack Limbaugh and, as teammate Jack Kolowski stated:

“Jack was a walk-on just trying to make the team. There was a bit of that kind of bullying with Jack. He didn’t appreciate it, but in that culture you don’t run and cry to the coaches.”

A far more extreme example of this kind of behavior can be seen in current Nebraska offensive lineman, Alex Lewis. If you aren’t familiar with Lewis’ story, he originally played for the Colorado Buffalos prior to transferring to Nebraska. Nebraska was his dream school and he was considered to be a legacy recruit of sorts. For starters, I have a difficult time believing that this was the first attitude and behavior issue with Lewis. My guess and it is just that, a guess, is that he was coddled and protected by his coaches as he “matured” through his adolescent years. Yes, everyone deserves a second chance, but at some point the expectations placed on the kid must change. In the case of Lewis, he hasn’t assaulted anyone since arriving in Lincoln, but his attitude has been anything but glowing. After Nebraska’s stunning loss to Illinois, Lewis had some choice words for the fans in the stands and also aired his grievances with the fans on his Twitter page. The Husker captain deleted his comments but not before the media captured his comments for all to see.

“I’m done playing for the state of the Nebraska! You want to blame me for the loss, that’s fine! But I have done everything right to prove I belong and yet you say I’m not a husker! So you want to see what Alex Lewis is about? Then sit back and criticize because I’m going to prove to myself and my family that I am better than these fair weather fans that themselves huskers! You have let loose a storm that the huskers havent seen seen since 95 and you will kiss my feet when im done with you!”

If you ever doubted the entitlement mentality of many of these kids, just go back and read the last sentence that Lewis exclaimed’ “…you (the fans) will kiss my feet when i’m done with you!” Coach Riley had this to say about Lewis and his actions:

“I know he feels bad and sorry about his response,” Riley said. “Alex is a good guy, he’s sensitive, he made a mistake on a penalty that was bad and he knows that. We all know that. “And then his response was bad because, first of all, he doesn’t need to do that — you don’t need to gain your identity from social media and react like that. And, second of all, you don’t generalize like that about a group of people. And he knows that. That, basically, was the nature of the conversation.”

I have to disagree with Riley on this issue with Lewis. This was not Lewis’ first instance of lashing out at the fans this year and his actions at Colorado proved just how much of a hot head the kid can be. Yet Riley still views Lewis as a suitable captain? There are some people that believe Lewis should not just be stripped of his captainship but should be removed from the team. Former Husker, Jason Peter, isn’t happy with Lewis or Riley. Peter believes that Riley is bending the rules for an average player. Riley may not be winning like Tom Osborne did, but he’s starting to handle behavior issues in much the same way as the legendary coach. This is but one example of a coach feeling a need to coddle these kids in the name of not offending them. This is completely preposterous. The examples of Incognito and Lewis are not made in an attempt to equate Michael Scherer with their transgressions, however, it is a slippery slope. Scherer seemed genuinely hurt through criticism of his on the field performance. Bill Connelly and Oscar Gamble did not attack Scherer as a person. Let me repeat myself, Bill Connelly and Oscar Gamble did not make it personal with Scherer. Even though Scherer wants to be treated in a coddled way, he is not above lobbing personal attacks at the expense of others. Take for example this conversation he had on Twitter with Patrick Crawford, Assistant Director of Strategic Communications at the University of Missouri.

So it’s not acceptable to criticize a player’s performance, but it is acceptable to make fun of someone being short? If Austin Kim were a University of Missouri student, he’d be the victim of a micro-aggression. But we all know that it is Michael Scherer who is the true victim this season. At least that is what he would like us all to believe. He just loves people and has a person’s individual feelings in mind when making comments about them.

Perhaps college students everywhere should reassess what it means to be emotionally traumatized. When a player has the expectation of being coddled, it can be a fast track to becoming like Incognito and Lewis. This isn’t college athletics’ issue, this is our country’s issue.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.