All posts by Kubrickian Glee

Look Hawkeyes, You Ain’t Nebraska’s F#*king Rival

Back when Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, did any of you get a weird sense of deja vu over the welcome we got from our neighbors just over the Missouri River?

I did. I felt like I was watching the Star Wars cantina scene, where Luke and Obi-Wan walk in and see all these weird alien faces staring back at them. And while Obi-Wan goes to take care of some business, Luke sidles up to the bar and tries to make himself comfortable. In doing so, he bumps elbows with a creature named Ponda Baba. For those of you not steeped in the geekdom of Star Wars minutia, Ponda Baba is the alien with a damn hairy camel toe for a mouth who gets his arm hacked off by Obi-Wan’s Lightsaber.

imgresPanda Baba, enjoying his final moments of having two arms.

When Ponda initially protests Luke’s intrusion upon his space, a friend of his by the name of Dr. Cornelius Evanzan informs Luke that Ponda does not like him. Luke shrugs it off. Then Evanzan says that, in fact, he himself does not like Luke, either, and that Luke had better watch himself.

Does this all seem eerily familiar now?

You bet, because that was exactly the way Iowa approached its newfound conference relationship with Nebraska back in 2011. Nebraska was just trying to get the lay of the land in the Big Ten (and maybe order a drink) when Iowa came over and said, “Hey, we’re you’re rivals.”

Nebraska did a double-take and checked its surroundings, then looked back at Iowa and said, “Were you talking to me?”

And Iowa shot back, “I don’t like you. You just watch yourself. We’re wanted men. I have the death sentence on twelve systems.”

To which Nebraska then beat the Hawkeyes three times out of the next four seasons. A metaphorical equivalence of chopping off Ponda Baba’s arm.

Living in Omaha since Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten has given me a new perspective on a place that I never much pondered having grown up in Grand Island, gone to college in Lincoln and lived ten years in L.A. The metropolitan area of Omaha spills over into Iowa which produces encounters with actual Iowa fans — an event I’m not entirely sure ever happened to me prior to my move here.

As it turns out, Iowa fans are under the impression that their football team is somehow simpatico with Nebraska’s. What evidence do they put forth? Well, the fact that since 2000, Iowa and Nebraska have had a similar winning percentage. Both being in the 60% range. Actually Nebraska’s is 67% (the 17th best percentage since 2000). And Iowa’s is 60% (the 36th best winning percentage over the same time period).

Why is this significant to Iowa fans when comparing their program to Nebraska’s? Why discard the entire 20th and 19th Centuries? Because, if you include the entirety of college football history, Nebraska has the 7th best win percentage of all time. Iowa has the 60th. Nebraska also has five National Titles. But if you look at just the 21st Century, Nebraska is just 7% better than Iowa and has zero National Titles. Just like them.

So recently, a Hawkeye friend of mine was pondering out loud — Why does Iowa have so many rivals? He then went on to list them: Wisconsin, Iowa State, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska.

To which I said, “Hold up. Nebraska isn’t Iowa’s rival.”

He looked at me as though that were the dumbest thing he’d ever heard.

He said, “Yes, we are. We’re border rivals dude. You realize that patch of land on the other side of the river is a state called “Iowa” and in it, there is a football team that has nearly the same winning percentage as yours over the last 14 years and who has won a conference championship, twice, while you have not and has played in the Orange Bowl twice, while you have not and has finished in the Top 10 four times, while you have not.”

All right. Well, be that as it may — Nebraska has had its own little spate of things Iowa has not had over the last 14 seasons. Namely a Rose Bowl appearance. How did that happen when, as Hawkeye Hank pointed out, Iowa has won the Big Ten twice? Because, as he so painstakingly avoided mentioning, Iowa split its two Big Ten Championships. Once with Ohio State and once with Michigan — both of whom were sexier choices than Iowa for the Big Ten representative in Pasadena.

The last time Iowa won an outright conference title was in 1985. One of just three in the Hawkeyes’ illustrious history. When was Nebraska’s last outright conference title? 1999. The last of 37 such crowns.

What else has Nebraska done in the last 14 years that Iowa hasn’t? Played in a National Title game. When has Iowa done that? Never.

But don’t tell that to Iowa fans who will club you to death with their 1958 Football Writers Association of America National Title Award. A team that won 8 games for the season, tied Air Force and lost to Ohio State by ten points. And never mind that 10-0 LSU was given the AP and UPI National Titles. To Hawkeye fans, that 1958 “national title” is just as legit as any of Nebraska’s. The Huskers went a combined 62-0-1 to collect their five trophies, while Iowa bumbled through an 8-1-1 season to get theirs.

Yeah, sure, that’s the same thing.

Continuing my conversation with Hawkeye Hank, I pointed out that the pinnacle of Iowa football (the Kirk Ferentz era) is equivalent to Nebraska’s worst stretch since the 1950s. Their “highs” were essentially our “lows.”

My friend, naturally, misconstrued this statement to mean that I said Nebraska’s lows were just like Iowa’s 2015 season — which is essentially their dream season. His contempt was anything but vague when he responded, “Oh, Nebraska’s lows are 10-0 are they?”

At the time of the statement, Iowa hadn’t yet beaten Purdue. But this remark got me thinking. Nebraska’s lows aren’t 10-0. But that record is actually closer to Nebraska’s “norms” than Iowa’s “highs.”

With a win over Minnesota, Iowa became 10-0 for the first time in the history of their program. Nebraska, coincidentally, also had a first in 2015. The Huskers never had 6 losses before the month of November ever in the history of the program. Initially I thought both bits of trivia couldn’t be true. Nebraska sucked in the 1940s and 1950s. Surely, at some point back then NU suffered six losses before November. And Iowa never going 10-0 before? I know they suck, but who hasn’t done that?

But nope. The research bears it out. 2015 is the first and only year for each stat for both teams.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to see how common these firsts were for each of the other programs. And here is what I found.

Nebraska has started 12 different seasons at 10-0. Iowa has had 8 seasons in which they’ve lost 6 or more games before November. (Sometimes 7 and 8.)

In fact, Iowa has only ever had 7 seasons with 10 or more wins in total. Nebraska has had 7 10-win seasons since 1999. The Huskers have had 28 10-win seasons in total. More than a quarter century if strung together. Iowa’s record of 10-win campaigns can’t even fill a single decade.

When I presented this information to Hawkeye Hank, he gave me a cold, dead stare and said, “Wow, man. That’s really condescending.”

imgres-2Iowa Hawkeyes fan by day. Stryper groupie by night. No costume change required.

Condescending? No, you know what’s condescending? Pointing this nugget out: Nebraska’s first 10-0 start to a season was in 1902 and NU was just the sixth school in the history of the sport to accomplish such a feat — following Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Penn and Michigan.

Iowa’s accomplishment came only after these school’s managed to pull the same trick:

Air Force
Alabama
Arizona State
Arkansas
Arkansas State
Auburn
Ball State
Boise State
Boston College
BYU
Colorado
Clemson
Florida State
Georgia
Georgia Tech
Harvard
Hawaii
Kansas
Kansas State
LSU
Marshall
Maryland
Memphis
Miami (FL)
Miami (OH)
Michigan
Michigan State
Minnesota
Missouri
Nebraska
New Mexico State
Northern Illinois
Notre Dame
Ohio State
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
Ole Miss
Penn
Penn State
Pittsburgh
Princeton
San Diego State
San Jose State
Stanford
Syracuse
TCU
Tennessee
Texas
Texas A&M
Texas Tech
Toledo
Tulane
Tulsa
UCLA
USC
Utah
Virginia Tech
Washington
West Virginia
Wyoming
Yale

That’s 61 other teams who have enjoyed the equivalent of Iowa’s “dream season” before the Hawkeyes ever fully realized it.

And that, my friend, is condescension.

To that, Hawkeye Hank got a little contemplative. He said, “You know, it’s hard being a fan of a team that stays in contention every single week. Seriously, the stress winning brings to every game can’t be good for the heart. It’s way less stressful if you already expect 3 to 4 losses. If you’re expecting to win them all, or at least, feel you’re good enough to win every game, it’s just devastating when that loss finally happens.”

To which I smiled and nodded. I said, “You see, that’s why Iowa and Nebraska are not rivals. You have a wait-until-the-other-shoe-drops mentality. I simply can’t relate to that. I went to college at Nebraska from 1993 to 1999. Watching my team practically never lose felt like a perpetual blow job, really.”

And that’s it. Nebraska and Iowa football are fundamentally different. The history, the expectations, the head-to-head record. Is it possible that Iowa and Nebraska eventually do become rivals? I suppose. Iowa will need to have more seasons like this one. And they’ll need to have Nebraska climb back up to the elite, too. Rivals are born out of mutual respect. What we have here is a middling program with stars in its eyes amidst the best season in its history. And a one-time Titan looking to get back to its dominating ways.

When the series history becomes a clash of titans, that’s when we can roll out the rivalry talk.

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Diminishing Returns: The state of Nebraska’s National Prestige.

You may have noticed something curious with the latest AP poll in regard to Nebraska.

Since dropping a heartbreaker to BYU two weeks ago and looking quite polished against South Alabama (in a week in which many schools up and down the AP Top 25 struggled mightily against lesser competition) Nebraska has failed to collect a single vote from any AP voter. In the meantime, the Comeback Cougars have climbed steadily up the AP ladder with dramatic wins over both Nebraska and Boise State.

BYU currently sits at #19. And, as well they should. Both victories were hard-fought and gutsy.

But when you add up the number of teams ranked below BYU along with those unranked schools receiving votes, you find a whopping 26 football teams.

Zoinks!

Like, where's NebraskaGranted, it’s merely Week 2. There are plenty of undefeated teams out there for voters to consider before factoring in the 1-loss teams. But when a team has another team dead to rights for the win and only gives up the victory on a last second miracle, shouldn’t that losing team at least get a look from the voters as being in the same general ball park as the winner?

Instead of wedging 26 friggin’ teams between them? Maybe it’s just me… Call me crazy.

It’s a disheartening lack of respect in general for a program that, from 1969 to 2002 was ranked in 397 out of 400 consecutive AP polls. (And never, over that time, did the Huskers fail to at least receive votes.)

It was such an amazing run of national relevance and esteem for Nebraska that, when the Huskers’ remarkable high-level consistency came crashing down with the 7-7 season of 2002, the Los Angeles Times sports page ran an article with the following gist: There was no surprise that Nebraska suffered a slump that year. The surprise was — why did it take so long?

The article went on to detail the amazing level of performance sustained by Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne and then, briefly, by Frank Solich. It was a nice bit of Chicken-Soup-For-the-Soul for a Nebraska kid living in LA and suffering through what I’d hoped would only be a temporary downturn for the Huskers.

[Editor’s note: The article in question is seemingly impossible to find but this one from October of 2002 will give you a nice flashback to just how dire things were for the Big Red.]

Twelve seasons later, we’re all still waiting for a full recovery. While only two subsequent seasons have been worse than 2002, Nebraska has failed to reach the 11-win mark even once since then. By comparison, Nebraska racked up twelve such 11-win seasons in the 31-year span from 1970 to 2001. And those were mostly done in years in which Nebraska played just 12 games in total. Not up to 14 like they do now.

Nebraska’s string of success during the Devaney/Osborne/Solich years was a remarkable feat contributed to by an array of ingredients — great coaching; high-level recruiting; low coaching staff turnover; a pioneering strength and conditioning program; and a passion-fueled walk-on program like no school has seen before or since.

But one has to wonder how much of “getting the benefit of the doubt” by the national sports media also contributed to Nebraska’s success.

Looking back over Nebraska’s rankings compared to teams with similar records reveals just how far Nebraska has dropped in national prestige over the last 13 years.

Entering the 1970s with back-to-back National Titles, Nebraska saw teams with equal-or-worse records ranked ahead of them eight times in the final AP polls. On the flip side, the Huskers themselves were ranked higher than 51 other teams with the same or better records over the course of that decade.

In the 1980s, that trend continued with Nebraska finishing the seasons of 1980 through 1987 behind only seven teams with identical or worse records, while finishing ahead of 28 with identical or better records.

Then the late-1980s/early-1990s hit the Tom Osborne era. This was that brief tumultuous period in Osborne’s career when the Huskers suffered a string of seven consecutive bowl losses and were regularly torched by the speed demons at Florida State and Miami and saw Colorado leap ahead as the Big 8’s heavy just as Oklahoma had started to slip.

The national perception of Nebraska football from around 1988 through 1992 was that it had become a paper tiger under Osborne. That his teams would always be good for nine to ten wins thanks to a conference slate that wasn’t exactly a murderer’s row of competition.

From 1988 to 1992, Nebraska saw its final AP ranking higher than teams with equal or better records ten times. Not too shabby, right? Fairly respectable, sure. Until you realize that 27 teams over that same five-season span with the same or worse records finished ranked above Nebraska.

The Huskers were no longer getting the benefit of the doubt.

To encapsulate all this data, the eighteen seasons from 1970 through 1987 saw the national media rank the Huskers ahead of all teams with equal or as good of resumes 84% of the time. During Osborne’s “dark period,” that percentage dropped to just 27%.

Let me tell you, an 84% benefit of the doubt ratio is as good as what the SEC Conference enjoys in the same category even today. And, as we all know, that ratio is pretty ridiculous.

The success of the Huskers from 1993 to 2001 catapulted Nebraska’s prestige ratio back up for a good decade run. But, since then, it’s gotten pretty grim.

If you thought 27% was bad…

So far this decade, Nebraska has finished in the AP poll higher than a team with an equal or better record just once. Meanwhile, 17 teams with equal or worse records have landed higher on the final tally than Nebraska. That’s about a 5% benefit of the doubt ratio.

Over Bo Pelini’s entire run in Lincoln, his teams have finished better than five teams with equal or better records while landing lower than 25 teams with equal or worse resumes. A 17% ratio, that bump up from 5% is entirely attributable to Ndamukong Suh.

Now, one might argue, “So what?” You win, people give you the benefit of the doubt. You lose, people don’t. So winning takes care of the problem, right?

The short answer is, yes. But there’s more to it than just that. Let’s take a look at the SEC’s string of seven consecutive BCS Titles.

Before Florida State and Ohio State came along to put a cork in it, SEC Conference honks were wondering out loud — and in all seriousness — whether or not a non-SEC team would ever win a National Title ever again. Outside of a return by Pete Carroll to USC, these blowhards could not imagine a scenario in which the SEC’s BCS Championship streak ended.

As they saw it, every year the SEC Champion was a defacto place-holder for at least one spot in the BCS Championship Game. And, whomever landed in the other spot simply could never be good enough to defeat the SEC Champion (unless that team is another SEC team, ala the 2011 season). Therefore, the string of BCS Champions from the SEC would continue again and again in the same way, forever. Ad infinitum.

Jameis Winston and Florida State became the St. George who slew that dragon. But even then, the SEC supremacists rationalized that it took a program which essentially exits in the heart of SEC territory and amid the fertile SEC recruiting ground to do it. In other words, only a defacto SEC team like Florida State was capable of stealing a title from the SEC trophy corral.

But how did the SEC’s streak happen?

From 2006 to 2012, four different SEC schools produced seven consecutive National Titles. To do that, those schools had to win all seven of the final match-ups, which they did. And the rest of the world should salute that feat.

But the question is, should every single one of those BCS championship games even have had an SEC team playing in them?

In some cases, the answer is yes. In 2010, 2011* and 2012, no non-SEC school had equal or better records than the SEC schools who made the cut. The one caveat for 2011, is that there were two SEC schools in the BCS Championship. 13-0 LSU was the only undefeated team in the country and the only obvious participant that year. But the other SEC team, 11-1 Alabama, had an equal record to three other teams from outside the SEC — Oklahoma State, Stanford and Boise State.

Was Alabama the best team of 2011? Probably. The Crimson Tide soundly defeated LSU in a rematch. The question is, was it fair to block from the BCS Title game three other teams with identical records to Alabama based solely on assumptions? After all, Alabama already had their shot at LSU during the regular season and they lost. Rematches between two evenly matched opponents rarely go well for the team that won the first round. The BCS committee essentially handed Alabama a trophy, despite the Tide’s lack of even a divisional conference crown.

But there’s no guarantee that one of the other 11-1 teams couldn’t have also defeated LSU. Alabama got the benefit of the doubt, much to the distaste of most every fan outside the SEC. And so did most of the other SEC representatives in BCS Title of the last eight years.

Consider the pool from which those teams were selected.

Adding in the 2013 season — when Auburn played in the BCS title game, but lost — a total of 35 football teams had resumes worthy of consideration for a championship berth going back to 2006. Only nine SEC schools were in the mix. But, when it came time for selection, all nine SEC schools were taken along with only seven non-SEC schools, leaving 19 non-SEC football teams on the outside looking in.

That’s nine SEC teams in eight BCS Title games compared to just two for the Big 10, two for the Big 12, one for the Pac 12, one for the ACC and one independent.

Enter the College Football Playoff and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

The new playoff system had SEC honks salivating. How many all-SEC championship games would they get to see in the coming years? Could the SEC land three teams in the four-team playoff, instead of what would surely be their usual two? What about all four spots? Could that also be on the menu?

If you think I’m exaggerating, go into the archives of any national college football message board from about two years ago and you will see these scenarios suggested and debated. And without any reticence.

But the launching of the 4-team playoff produced, without question, a national champion that would not have existed were it not for the change in the system. Had the BCS Series method still been in play in 2014, we would have seen a match between 12-1 Alabama and 13-0 Florida State. Based on the results shown in the actual 4-team Playoff, the most likely outcome is that Alabama would have beaten the Seminoles — and re-tracked the SEC National Title-winning locomotive by defeating the very team that derailed it the year before.

Meanwhile, Ohio State, which tore through its three post-season matches like the Mongol Horde ransacking Anatolia, would’ve shown up in some unmemorable BCS Bowl consolation game. Probably against Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Which, if I’m not mistaken, would’ve been something like a 42-20 win for the Buckeyes. Good enough for maybe a third place finish in the final polls.

The Playoffs clearly now make it harder for teams to win Championships with the aid of mere assumptions. That aspect will still come in to play when figuring out who should fill the four playoff spots each year. Without Ohio State’s 59-0 demolition of Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship game, the eventual 2014 National Champions would’ve been left out of the tournament in favor of either Baylor or TCU.

Seeing ten SEC schools land in the AP Top 25 for the second poll of the 2015 season clearly illustrates that the Southeastern Conference remains the darlings of the media. Gray area still exits. And that’s why Mike Riley needs to repair Nebraska’s national reputation as soon as possible. A 12-1 season might not be good enough to land Nebraska a playoff spot in this day in age. We’ve seen two dozen teams over the last decade who can attest to what that feels like.

But, beyond worrying about the pinnacle (which Nebraska is in no current contention for), rankings matter. Having a number next to your school’s name determines how much national press the football team gets. How much exposure to potential recruits your program receives. ESPN’s pumping up of SEC schools (never mind the conflict of interest with its TV contract) inflates the value of those teams, who are then ranked higher by the national media, who then receive more attention, who then reel in better recruits, who then win more games, who then get more and more benefit of the doubt.

It must be nice, huh?

Well, once upon a time, that was Nebraska’s luxury, too.

Quick trivia question: Name the only two college football teams to win National Titles in the AP era with two losses on their records.

If you said 1960 Minnesota and 2007 LSU, give yourself a cigar.

But did you know there was almost a third such team?

Indeed. On January 1, 1982, #1 and undefeated Clemson arrived at the Orange Bowl to take on the Big 8 Champion — 9-2 Nebraska, who held a #4 AP ranking. Between them sat #2 Georgia and #3 Alabama. Soon after the Huskers and Tigers kicked off, Bama and the Bulldogs took turns losing in the Cotton and Sugar Bowls, setting the stage for an outright National Title match in Miami.

Clemson jumped out to a 22-7 lead by the end of the third quarter, thanks to a pair of costly Husker fumbles. But, on the legs of Husker legend, Roger Craig, Nebraska mounted a comeback, picking up a 26-yard touchdown run midway through the final period. A two-point conversion put the Huskers within seven with almost eight minutes left on the clock.

Nebraska got two more shots after stuffing Clemson’s subsequent drives, only to see its comeback fall short with a final desperation heave toward the end zone in the waning seconds.

Orange_030_largeBut, had Nebraska completed the comeback, the Huskers would have collected their third National Title with a 10-2 record. A claim Nebraska would’ve had while sitting above a whopping nine teams with equal or better records. Including a would-be 11-1 Clemson.

Yep, getting the benefit of the doubt in college football is no easy task. Especially in today’s SEC-loving world. But, if Riley and crew can build some sustained success over the last half of this decade, well — it’s clearly a benefit worth pursuing.

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Get pumped up Husker Nation — We’re playing Alabama Tonight!

For those of you who like omens when it comes to predicting the outcomes of future football games — how’s this for Nebraska’s impending epic showdown with Alabama on Saturday:

The last time the Crimson Tide came to Lincoln, it was a crisp September day, the second game of the season, Nebraska was 0-1 and unranked in the polls — and it was a year in which a Star Wars movie premiered in theaters.

September 17, 1977.

BAMAbernsRick Berns racked up 128 yards on 23 carries the last time Alabama rolled into Lincoln.

Low and behold, what’s in store for this year’s match up with Bama?

Crisp September day — check! Second game of the season — check! Nebraska is 0-1 and unranked in the polls — check! And Star Wars, Episode Abrams hits theaters this December — check!

What happened when the same ingredients were thrown into the mix back in 1977?

The hapless Huskers took down the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide 31-24 in what was then described as the “most colorful and emotional effort of the Tom Osborne era.” It would be the only time Bear Bryant would be beaten that season.

So, fasten your seat belts and get ready for a little case of history repeating itself. Bama is going DOWN!

Okay, okay… Enough shenanigans. The boys from Tuscaloosa aren’t heading to Lincoln this year or any year currently scheduled. Instead we’re getting a group of guys from Mobile, most of whom would never make the three deep on their in-state blue-blood to the North’s loaded roster.

But is that any reason not to get fired up all the same?

After the heart-attack inducing final second of the BYU game, maybe the tailgaters in downtown Lincoln could use a bit of a relaxer. A situation in which something resembling a football game takes place, but the outcome of the contest is never in doubt.

Enter, the (South) Alabama Jaguars.

Vegas puts Nebraska as a 27-point favorite. I’m thinking, take the Huskers and the points. Riley and company will look to make a statement Saturday night— the rust is gone. The inconsistencies that allowed BYU to own the second quarter (while Nebraska owned pretty much everything else) have been worked out of the system. And you will see a precision machine ready to combine the remainder of the unharvested schedule.

For casual observers of the game, this sort of match-up tends to be boring. My wife asks, “Who wants to watch a fifty-point blowout, anyway?”

The answer, always, is, “Me.”

Several years ago when the Huskers were still in the Big 12, I was watching Nebraska vs. Colorado at the In-Laws’ house. My wife’s stepbrother, Mike, was there. A rabid Husker fan who, for the fun of it, resides in Boulder just on the principal of keeping your enemies closer.

Nebraska, beating the Buffs by three scores late in the game, drove deep into CU territory when they get stopped on a third and short. My wife’s stepbrother leapt into the air and shouted, “God damn it!”

The Huskers kicked a field goal to pad their lead, but Mike was still fuming. He wouldn’t let go of the idea that Nebraska blew a chance to tack on another touchdown.

My wife looked at me, rolling her eyes. I knew what she was thinking — Nebraska’s got the game won. What’s the big deal?

Well, the big deal was something that Mike and I both knew. Nebraska wasn’t merely playing Colorado (who, by this time had been driven by Dan Hawkins to the conference cellar). Nebraska was competing against the hypothetical performances of other upper-tier football teams were they to also play the Buffs. So beating Colorado by three touchdowns isn’t sufficient if you can imagine Ohio State, Alabama, or Oregon beating them by five or six.

This was a concept well established by the time I started following the Huskers in the 1980s. Hammering Utah State 63-13 the second game into the 1988 season wasn’t a mere act of inhospitality. It was a necessity. Because you just knew that if Oklahoma or Florida State were wailing on the Aggies that day, they’d be doing it by at least as much. Utah State was not so much an opponent, but a gauge. A way to judge whether or not the Huskers looked capable of toppling a big dog.

Bill Bryson, the well known travel-writer/humorist once described attending a Husker game as Nebraska leading their outmatched opponent by six touchdowns, while the obnoxious throng in the stands brayed for more.

Bryson obviously doesn’t get it. He comes from a world in which 17-point wins over the likes of Illinois State are no cause for concern. That world is called Iowa.

But, for fans west of the Missouri River, we know better.

When (South) Alabama falls five or six touchdowns behind the Huskers on Saturday, that’s when the collective nerves at Memorial Stadium will first be soothed. Because Alabama will actually be down on the turf, too. Facing off against the Jaguars, superimposed over the Scarlet and Cream.

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Nebraska Will Most Likely Win the 2015 National Championship

cfpchampWarning: This editorial may include sunshine pumping.

After carefully evaluating the upcoming college football season, the most likely outcome I see for Mike Riley’s maiden voyage out on the high Husker seas — is a National Friggin’ Title.

Burdensome expectations for the newly minted captain of Memorial Stadium, you say? A reckless forecast sure to undermine the confidence of a Corvallis crew all too used to Pac-12 participation trophies?

Yeah, well. Whatever.

If you want to rhetorically hold Riley and company’s hands through the tunnel walk on Saturday, start your own damn blog.

Big Red Fury expects Mike Riley to take the helm like the second-coming of Bob Devaney who saw a 200% increase in wins his first year at Nebraska over the previous season.

Granted, for Mike Riley to do the same, he will need to win 27 games in 2015 — a mathematical impossibility, unfortunately. But he can go another route to match the phenomenal improvement Devaney brought with him in 1962. The BobFather produced four fewer losses in his first season than Bill Jennings produced in his last.

As luck would have it, Bo Pelini left Mike with the exact number of losses he would need to match Bob’s improvement. Only this time, should Coach Riley strike the same lightning, it will mean a 15-0 record.

And a National Damn Title.

But, but, but — I can hear the carping now. Bob Devaney didn’t win a National Title in his first year at Nebraska. Bo Pelini didn’t put the ball on a tee with a 3-6-1 out-going record. And the atmosphere is just plain different now. College football of 2015 is a lifetime removed from college football of 1962.

Ix-nay on the ucking-fay excuses-ay. That’s right, I’m bringing Pig Latin to this here itchbe.

So maybe you wonder when was the last time a Division 1 college football team actually went 15-0? After all, the Buckeyes didn’t even do it when they picked up their 14-1 Championship last year.

The answer is Penn University in 1897.

Oh, some teams have come agonizingly close with 14 wins and no losses. Florida State in 2013. Auburn in 2010. Alabama and Boise State in 2009. Ohio State in 2002.

But come four and a half months from now — unless my crystal ball is in need of some Windex — Nebraska will stand shoulder to shoulder with the mighty 1897 Penn Quakers as the only 15-0 Division 1 football teams in the entire history of the sport.

Tall order? Sure. If you say so.

But what if Mike and his Corvallis mechanics stumble up somewhere while pimping out this Big Red Lamborghini they’ve been bestowed?

Like — and I know this is going to sound ridiculous — what if Michigan State comes to town and pulls out an inspired performance, while SIMULTANEOUSLY Nebraska plays a little bit flat?

It’s conceivable then, yeah sure, Sparty might actually sneak out a win while in Lincoln. Crazier things have happened, right?

So then Nebraska gets back on track, blows out Rutgers and Iowa and heads off to Indianapolis 11-1 to face, probably a 12-0 Ohio State.

No worries. We’re in like Flynn.

Nebraska then manhandles the Buckeyes. While Coach Riley goes to waggle Urban Frank Meyer III’s humiliated little grip at midfield, Mark Banker takes Meyer from behind, chucks him to the ground and puts his boot on his trachea.

Just to let him know the new pecking order.

Nebraska then goes on to the playoffs, tosses off some SEC champ like a gamy bit of ground squirrel, then pounds the hapless PAC-12 champ like a Sharknado slamming into the Santa Monica pier. VOILA! 14-1 National Champs, just like those tallywackers from Columbus last year.

Okay. So let’s say Nebraska bowls through its regular season 12-0 (or, at worst 11-1) and then loses (I’m just asking you to humor me here) to Ohio State and is then LEFT OUT of the playoff. Would that then derail Nebraska’s 2015 National Title run?

Absolutely not. And that’s one of the things I love about college football. Titles are subjective. It’s the only sport that has a long history of letting multiple champs stand together on the same gold medal podium in the same year.

Quick — who won the 1970 National Title? Depends on who you ask. A Nebraska fan will say, “Nebraska, of course.” And out the corner of their mouths, they’ll add, “And Texas, I guess.” If you ask a Texas fan the same question, they’ll say, “Texas! And some other team. Nebraska, maybe? Did we even play them that year?”

And the truth is they’re BOTH right. But ask an Ohio State fan, who won the 1970 National Title, they’ll say, “Buckeyes.”

What? The same Ohio State team that went 9-1 and lost 27-17 to Stanford in the Rose Bowl? National Champs over 11-0-1 Nebraska? And 10-1 Texas?

Indeed. Turns out a little organization called the National Football Foundation got all hair-triggered and awarded Ohio State college football’s 1970 crown in the afterglow of the Buckeye’s 20-9 win over 4th ranked Michigan, without bothering to see how things played out in Pasadena.

Nebraska 1970 National Co-Champs Ohio State, Nebraska, and Texas were all somebody’s National Champion in 1970.

What’s remarkable is that this Championship sits just fine with historically attuned Buckeye fans who unabashedly count that year as a notch in their title belt. Likewise, Texas fans are equally cool with their 1970 Title despite that the Longhorns also lost their bowl game (handily by 13 points to Notre Dame). The Coaches Poll was also prone to premature National Title ejaculation back then.

In fact, college football is so over-run with multiple national champions, there are actually 356 claimed titles despite there having only been 146 total seasons. Other sports aren’t quite so communistic. There have been 110 World Series and 110 Major League champions. There have been 94 NFL seasons. 94 NFL Champions. 76 NCAA Division I Mens Basketball seasons. 76 NCAA Division I Mens Basketball Champions. 64 NBA seasons. 64 NBA Champions.

You see where this is headed?

So “open-to-interpretation” are college football title claims, some programs have declared themselves champions of particular seasons decades after the fact. Alabama, Notre Dame, and USC are especially adept at retroactive trophy collecting. And some of their hardware requires assertions so outlandish, they’d make Baron Munchausen stand up and scream — LIAR!

So, back to our 2015 scenario. Nebraska beats everybody on the regular season slate. But then they go to Indianapolis and get beat by the Urbhio State Buckmeyers and the playoff selection committee does not ring up Mike Riley’s phone.

Shit out of luck?

No sir!

We simply need to refer to anything after the regular season as an “exhibition game.” As long as Nebraska survives the regular season with no more than 1 loss, what happens in the exhibition portion of the year is irrelevant. Per college football history.

Outside of the 5 seasons in which Nebraska was declared National Champions, my favorite year of college football was 1960. For no other reason than the leeway its sheer lunacy provides in allowing titles to be doled out to just anybody.

As some of you may already know, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were at one time college football juggernaut. This reputation stems largely from Minnesota’s four AP National Titles — including the very first Associated Press Title handed out in 1936.

AP titles are the longest running order of fully recognized “legit” championships and it is a pretty big deal to be awarded one. Even when you include the results of the 1960 football season.

As it turns out, the Associated Press changed their voting system in 1960 as a response to the embarrassment of the previous season in which 200 AP voters split their first place votes among SEVEN different schools. Syracuse was the overall winner in 1959, but Mississippi, LSU, Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin and Alabama all had enough merit to garner at least one media cheerleader in their corner for the final assessment of the season.

By the way, look how showered the SEC was with media love even back in 1959.

Now, to avoid such future logjams of varying opinions, the Associated Press trimmed their voting block down to the ballots of just 48 sports writers for 1960. And it was the first year in which they implemented the weighted vote of 20 points for first place, 19 points for second place, 18 points for third and so on. But still, the final vote would happen at the end of the regular season.

The result was, balls out, the most ridiculous AP champion of all time. The 8-2 Minnesota Gophers.

Minnesota’s AP trophy came after beating just one team with a better than 5-4 record — Iowa, who ended the year 8-1 and ranked #3 but did not compete in any a bowl game because of a Big 10 rule in which conference teams could only play in the Rose Bowl. And, as head-to-head winners, that trip belonged to Minnesota.

After beating Iowa, Minnesota subsequently lost to 4-4-1 Purdue by 9 points. They then beat a sub .500 Wisconsin, standing at 8-1, they picked up their AP National Title trophy and then headed to Pasadena where they were nearly skunked by PAC-8 Champion, Washington, to the tune of 17-7.

When all “exhibition” games were finished for 1960, these following teams all had better records than the Gophers: 11-0 Missouri (finished #5), 11-0 New Mexico State (finished #17), 10-0-1 Mississippi (finished #2), 10-1 Washington (finished #6), 8-1 Iowa (finished #3), 8-1 Rutgers (finished unranked) 9-2 Florida (finished #18), 9-2 Navy (finished #4) and 9-2 Utah State (finished the year unranked).

If the votes were cast after the Bowl games, it would be hard to see ranking Minnesota better than 4th or 5th for that year. The title would have probably gone to either Washington, Missouri or Mississippi.

And yet, the record book still says “Minnesota: 1960 College Football National Champions.”

This is the kind of racket Nebraska can get in on in 2015.

All we need is for Mike Riley to kick off his baptismal Husker season with an 11-1 or 12-0 run. And then have an organization declare a 2015 champion before the conference championship games.

That’s where Big Red Fury comes in.

I propose a new college football award organization. The Big Red Fury Collegiate Gridiron Association or: BRFCGA. This organization will be a panel of any such people willing to vote in a college football champion at the conclusion of the regular season — and unwilling to consider any team for the top spot not named Nebraska.

The panel will consist of the three members of Big Red Fury plus Jason Peter, Tommy Lee and Larry the Cable Guy.

Peter Lee Cable GuyThe greatest power trio Nebraska has ever known.

Jason and Larry will, no doubt, be in the tank for the Huskers. Heck, we may even get a #1 vote from Larry with three losses. Who knows? Tommy may take some cajoling to avoid throwing his vote away on somebody like San Jose State or Wake Forest. We just need to remind him that Dear Old Nebraska U is his alma mater for the three-week stint he had in Lincoln back in 2005. It’s quite possible that he doesn’t remember that far back, but showing him pictures of himself decked out in drumline gear ought to trigger some kind of cogitation.

As for the three Big Red Fury voters, at least one of us will be on board from the opening kick-off. The rest is up to Mike Riley’s orchestration.

So, sit back. Enjoy Nebraska’s 2015 National Championship run and give a little toast to the 1960 Gophers. Thanks to their precedent, we’ve got this thing in the bag.

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CONTEST: Mike Check – Is It Mike Hill or Mike Riley?

Imagine this very real scenario:

You are strolling a public area in Lincoln or Omaha, say the Haymarket or the Old Market when you notice a slim and fit man with steely eyes and nicely trimmed side hair framing a gloriously reflective chrome dome.

People wave to him, and say, “Hey Mike, how ya doing?”

He replies, “Just fine. Thanks for asking.”

Somebody else shouts, “You ever gonna pick out the rest of your assistant coaches?”

That question only gets a funny stare in return. Then, finally, an answer.  “I think you’ve mistaken me for Mike Riley. I’m Mike Hill.”

Who’s that, you ask?

Before the new “Most Important Man in Nebraska” ever set foot in our great state, his doppelgänger (and first-name-ganger, and birth-year ganger — both men are 61-years-old) Mike Hill was cranking out Oscar-worthy editing jobs for Ron Howard. The two have been working together since the cult classic Night Shift. Classics such as Splash, Cocoon, Parenthood, Backdraft, and The Da Vinci Code  all came together under Hill’s expert sensibility. A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, and Frost/Nixon all garnered Oscar nominations. In 1996, he earned his field’s highest honor when he took home Academy Award for his work on Apollo 13.

For those of you whose eyes are now glazed over from having read an entire paragraph without mention of Husker football, here is a gridiron analogy for you. So accomplished is Mike Hill in his chosen profession that, if he were a college football coach, his team would have played in the BCS Championship in 2002, 2006 and 2009 and would have won a pre-BCS era National Title in 1996.

Not too shabby eh? It’s too bad that Mike Hill is not the current coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Or is he?

You be the judge. We’ve assembled a gallery of photos. Some are of Mike Riley. Others are of Mike Hill. Your job is to pick out which Mike is which.

Please write your answers in the comment box below. All who guess correctly will be entered to win the Grand Prize of…
Sacred Husker Nacho PlateThe Sacred Husker Nacho Plate

This rare, handcrafted gem is a true Big Red Fury heirloom. Our dear mother would kill us if she knew it was up for grabs. The Sacred Husker Nacho Plate is in absolutely pristine condition and would be a marvelous addition to any Husker fan’s collection.

Good luck.

Hill or Riley Round 1 Round 2 Round 3THE FINE PRINT: The winner will be drawn at random among all eligible entries on 12/31/14, unless of course the Holiday Bowl is such a debacle we end up getting blackout drunk and do some very bad things that lead to our incarceration. If that is the case, winner will be drawn upon elease and/or making bail.

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As Christmas Approaches, are Husker Fans Seeing Ghosts of Seasons Past?

If you’ve had a nagging sense of deja vu over the last few weeks, our friend, Tony, has a theory as to why.

Consider the following uncanny similarities between the end of the season in 2003 and the end of 2014:

On November 30th, Nebraska fires a coach that just finished a 9-3 season, dividing Husker fan loyalties. (At least until a secret recording was made public.) The head coach of Arkansas obfuscates the coaching search for personal gain. A coach from the West Coast with a good recruiting acumen and an NFL pedigree is hired and many wonder if he’s good enough for Nebraska. The former coach returns to his home state of Ohio to coach a lesser conference/division school.

Spooky, isn’t it?

But what does it mean? Is Husker Nation trapped inside of some kind of time loop with the only way out being our ability to repeat our actions in an exact synchronized ballet?

If we fail to break the cycle, does that mean Mike Riley is the second coming of — DEAR GOD! BILL CALLAHAN?!?!?!

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We sincerely hope not.

Before we all throw the panic switch, we should also acknowledge the many differences so far displayed between the events of 2003 and 2014.

First and foremost, the number of days Shawn Eichorst spent searching for the new “most important man in Nebraska” was FIVE.

The number of days it took Steve Pederson to pin down Bill Callahan was FORTY ONE.

Eichorst clearly had a contingency for replacing a relatively successful, if frustratingly plateaued, head coach. Pederson, not so much.

NCAA head coaching experience.

While both Riley and Callahan had brief stints as NFL head coaches, only Riley has had extensive time coaching a Division 1 football team before landing at Nebraska. Riley clearly knows what it takes to run a college program and he will not try to force an NFL template over it — as Callahan did. Respect for long-held traditions such as the vaunted walk-on system should stay intact under Riley. Whereas under Callahan, the walk-ons were encouraged to keep on walking, right out of the program.

No square pegs for round holes.

Does anybody remember October 9, 2004? If that date doesn’t jog your memory, maybe it’s because you, as a Husker fan, have repressed that date as a natural defense trigger. There’s nothing wrong if you do. That’s just the PTSD doing its thing.

October 9, 2004 happens to be the day that the Bill Callahan era of Husker football made its conference road trip debut. In Lubbock, Texas.

Ringing a bell now? Yep, this was the 10 – 70  loss to the Red Raiders that started those first few whispers in Lincoln. The same voices that would grow into a cacophony of discontent by mid-season 2007. The voices saying:

“What the fuck have we gotten ourselves into!”

But, while that embarrassing score looks horrific on paper (it’s still the largest margin of loss in the post Osborne era, despite so many other blowout debacles), what some people forget is that this game was far from looking like a blow out mid-way through the third quarter.

Trailing 21-3 at half time, Nebraska opened the third quarter with a 74-yard touchdown pass from Joe Dailey to Mark LeFlore. Down by less than two touchdowns, Nebraska’s defense gave the Huskers a chance to get back into the game by holding Tech scoreless on their next two possessions.

Everything looked in place for a respectable performance (if not a win) against a formidable conference opponent at their house.

So what happened? How did the following 19 minutes produce a 60-point final deficit? Callahan pulled Joe Dailey from the game as punishment for not being able to master his West Coast offense in half a season. Dailey was 14 of 34 in passing for 187 yards with one interception. Not bad for a kid who’d been recruited to run the option. But not good enough for Callahan.

Wise old Bill took out Joe and put in Beau Davis, a freshman who knew even less about running the West Coast offense than Daily. Davis finished the game with four completions. Three of which went to Red Raiders.

With three consecutive picks setting up three easy touchdowns, the Husker defense folded and let Tech (now up 42-10 going into the fourth) pound in four more touchdowns in the final period.

If Bill Callahan had not tried to force an option team to learn his uber-complicated West Coast Offense right out of the gate, the 5-6 2004 Huskers probably would have finished with a respectable eight or nine win season. The schedule that year was certainly no beast (Oklahoma was the only ranked team they faced). Callahan could have eased those players into his system while recruiting specifically to foster his chosen style. But, instead, he wailed a square peg through a round hole, causing the first Husker squad in forty years to sit home for the bowl season. The shame of it left a few seniors crying after the final loss — in Lincoln vs. Colorado — with one player wishing that fans would just forget about the 2004 team.

Already, Mike Riley has said things which should allay fears that this kind of bullshit will never happen again. He will customize his strategies around the strength of the team. Always. Hallelujah!

So, for those of you with an itchy sense that history is repeating itself, just relax. This bout of deja vu is but an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. The specter of Bill Callahan is no more real than a ghost of seasons past. Try not to think about it, otherwise…

nightmares

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Courtney Love Leaves Hole in the Nebraska Sideline

Nebraska redshirt freshman linebacker Courtney Love is transferring to Kentucky along with tight end Greg Hart.

We here at Big Red Fury are deeply saddened to see this duo of romantically-named braun leave the program. All the best to Hart. But, oh, what might have been had Courtney stayed…

Courtney Love leaves Nebraska after one, quiet, unassuming season.
Courtney Love leaves Nebraska after one, quiet, unassuming season.

Born in San Francisco in 1964, Love was a mainstay of the Portland music scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s before rocketing to international fame by carpetbagging Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain and goading him into fathering a love child whom they named after a psychiatric patient (Frances Farmer) and a bean.

After the death of her husband, Love tossed her music career aside to take up acting and heroin, starring opposite Woody Harrelson in The People Vs. Larry Flint and then, later, a recurring role as “Ms. Harrison” on Sons of Anarchy.

So it was a big surprise to us when Love accepted a scholarship (at the age of 48) to play linebacker for the Huskers. A three-star prospect, Love played her high school ball at Cardinal Mahoney in Youngstown, Ohio. The very same high school that produced the Pelini pipeline. How and why a middle-aged grunge-era rocker would take up high school football is beyond us but, apparently, it worked out for her as she drew offers from 13 schools including Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Michigan State and, of course, Nebraska.

Recruited by Ross Els and John Papuchis, Love clearly saw the writing on the wall that these two are about to get shit canned by the new regime. So she will be taking her considerable talents (singing, acting and linebacking) to Lexington, Kentucky.

The departure of Love and Hart drives a sad wedge into the all-Romance recruiting class of 2012 that also included Vincent Valentine and Michael and Jonathan Rose.

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A Digression on In-N-Out

Nebraska’s hiring of Mike Riley and his reported love affair with In-N-Out Burgerd has raised an old puzzlement of mine. One that manifested soon after moving to Los Angeles 15 years ago.

In-N-Out. What’s the big fucking deal?

Mike Riley digs into a double-double.
Mike Riley digs into a double-double.

Now, for those of you who regularly read this blog, you probably noticed that we typically write in first person plural. In this case, I’m going singular because Big Red Fury is divided on this issue. Just wanted to be clear.

For folks who’ve never seen In-N-Out’s most popular sandwich (the Double Double — which if you ask me, should mean FOUR patties, not two) here it is.

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Yep. That’s what all the fuss is about. And I say “fuss” because I just don’t get it. The same way I don’t get why “Crash” won Best Picture in 2005. It’s a patently unremarkable movie. Just as the Double Double is an unremarkable burger.

It’s not a bad burger, by any means. I ate probably a dozen of them during the ten years I lived in California. But that’s just 1.2 a year, despite having had an In-N-Out five blocks from my house for four of those years.

As I think about it, the Double Double is really the Bo Pelini of burgers. As satisfying as any 9 or 10 win season, but — gosh darn it — never rising to a level of greatness.

How’s that for irony?

But mention In-N-Out to any native Californian, whether living there now or transplanted somewhere else, and their eyes will immediately roll into the back of their heads, their jaws will dip down to their sternums, drool will spill out and they will utter in one octave lower than their usual tone of speech “Ohh God! Double Double’s soooooooo yummy!”

I guess. If you say so.

Now, initially I figured maybe because California is not in the beef belt people there aren’t use to “grade A” red meat the way we are back in Big Red country and that’s why West Coasters have gone nuts for a decidedly average hamburger. But no. Most of the Nebraska transplants I knew living in the LA basin were also gaga for double doubles. And since moving to Omaha, I’ve listened to no less than three native Nebraskans still living in Nebraska get as gooey for In-N-Out as anybody.

To each their own, obviously.

On one level, I guess I can relate, because I’ve professed my love for Runzas to non-Nebraskans before only to be met with a “what’s the big fucking deal” expression in response. And to me, if you don’t like Runzas, well then you’re just an asshole. Probably a pretentious one, too.

So far as I know, Mike Riley hasn’t given his verdict on Runzas. But I hope he likes them, because I really want to like Mike. And I can appreciate the idea of knowing the head coach’s favorite food. It makes me think of when Ronald Reagan was President and everybody knew that he liked jelly beans. The press of the 1980s was so transfixed by this tidbit that they were sure to ask Reagan’s successor, George HW Bush, what his favorite food was right off the bat. Bush 41 said, “Pork rinds.”

Somehow this was not as charming as jelly beans. And so the press never bothered to find out what Clinton’s, Bush 43’s or Obama’s favorite snacks were (although I’d bet hard money that W’s was not pretzels).

I do wonder what Mike will do now that there is not a single In-N-Out Burger joint in the entire Big 10 footprint. The nearest restaurants are in Dallas and Salt Lake City. Not exactly wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-kill-your-craving distance. But then, there are no In-N-Outs in the state of Oregon, either. So I suppose Mike probably knows how to bed his appetite back down when he needs to. But without the option of getting a fix at least on conference road trips, one has to wonder how long before the new “Most Important Man in the Entire State of Nebraska” goes stark raving crazy.

I guess he’ll have to stock up during his West Coast recruiting trips. Just as long as he doesn’t let slip Lincoln’s lack of double doubles to those In-N-Out crazy California prospects.

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The Magnolia State unleashes an invasive species upon the world of college football.

There they were. One week ago Mississippi State and Ole Miss were the toast of every college football fan outside Tuscaloosa and College Station.countryfied

But now, with this pair of kissing cousin SEC schools sitting atop the national polls — each taking out yet another establishment program in double hoedown throwdowns — college football fandom is now wondering, “How do we get rid of these guys?”

A look at schedules does not bode well for those hoping the Bulldogs and Rebs get tripped up somewhere in the regular season before a showdown between the two of them inevitably ends the undefeated hopes for one.

Ole Miss has Auburn and (maybe) a road trip to LSU to worry about before hosting the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State has Alabama. And that’s it.

Sure, Auburn and Alabama are as good as anybody to pin your hopes on ending this Magnolia State scourge. But Auburn just got hammered by the Bulldogs. They probably won’t fare any better against the Rebs. Alabama, fresh off its loss to Ole Miss, looked like crap against an Arkansas team still in the process of rebuilding.

With just 227 total yards and 14 points against the Razorbacks, Bama fans may be discovering why Lane Kiffin keeps getting fired everywhere he goes.

Could one of the Mississippi schools become the fifth team to bring a national title to the SEC so far this century?

God let’s hope not.

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Big Ten Power Rankings – Week 4

What a difference a couple of weeks can make.  The second Saturday of the 2014 college football season looked so dismal for the Big Ten that I was forced to eschew my normal conference power ranking in favor of this dubious list of impotence rankings.

Take, for example, this clip from a match two weeks ago.

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To the untrained eye, this might look like Illinois’ 42-34 win over Western Kentucky. But, believe it or not, it is a completely unrelated fight between two jack rabbits.

But now, in week four, things look a little different. The Big Ten posted a 12-1 record for the day while the mighty SEC went 7-4. Now, granted, three of the SEC losses were to other SEC teams. But that doesn’t change the fact that the only Big Ten/SEC match-up for the day resulted in a 31-27 Indiana win over defending SEC EAST Champions, Missouri.

So the Big Ten enjoyed a nice round of redemption in week 4. Enough to earn its first POWER ranking on this blog. But, while there was much to like out of the conference on Saturday, in terms of Big Ten hopes for a playoff berth, I turn to the famous words of Winston the Wolf:

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WEEK 4 BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS

#1 Nebraska (4-0)

Now, you might think that defending Big Ten Champs Michigan State would come in at #1 what with its domination of one FCS school and one 1-3 MAC team and one well-fought loss out in Eugene. But, when it comes to picking the cream of the conference so far this year, it’s simple arithmetic.

4+4

At Nebraska, the tandem of 4s and number 8 have the Cornhuskers looking like the most complete team in the Big Ten. Say what you will about the last minute heroics against McNeese State, the Cornhuskers are a) undefeated and b) dominating their opposition like no one else in the Big Ten.

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For now, the Huskers are the top dogs.

#2 Penn State (4-0)

Now, you might think the defending Big Ten champs would come in at #2. After all , the Spartans just slobber-knocked Eastern Michigan by a 59-point margin. But look, the Nittany Lions are also undefeated — unlike the Spartans — and things have looked quite happy in Happy Valley with the news of PSU’s bowl eligibility reinstated.

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Penn State has used a crushing defense (ranked 6th in the country) to roll out to a 4-0 start. But the offense is a little worrisome, mustering just 21 points against Akron and 13 against Rutgers. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg gets a lot of national love. But the dude runs hot and cold.

I get the feeling that once conference play gets into the thick of it, PSU fans are going to see some shit that will turn them white.

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#3 Maryland (3-1)

Now, you might think Michigan State would at least get the third spot in the power rankings. Everyone from here on out has at least one loss, just like the Spartans. But the Terps have rolled in their three wins so far this year and they went to the wire in a three point loss to a West Virginia team that has shown a knack for hanging with the big boys (Alabama and Oklahoma).

#4  Illinois (3-1)

Now, you might think that surely, SURELY Michigan State ought to be ranked higher than fucking Illinois. I mean, look at these jack-ass Illini fans for fuck sake.

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But Illinois owns one more win than MSU and an equal number of losses. Granted Illinois’ 3-1 record is tenuous at best.  For now they should enjoy the view from the top third of the conference because, starting Saturday with a trip to Lincoln, the hot streak is likely about to come crashing down.

#5 Rutgers (3-1)

Now, you might think Sparty ought to at least be Top 5. Right? Not if you ask this guy.

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People understandably hate transitive comparisons in college football. Each match-up is uniquely good or bad based on team strengths and weaknesses. BUT, take a look at the Rutgers/Washington State/Oregon/Michigan State equation.  The Scarlet Knight’s three point win didn’t look so hot in week one against a program that has averaged three wins per season for the last decade. But did you see the Cougars give Oregon everything it could handle last Saturday? Sure WSU is off to another rough start with a 1-3 record, but Rutgers’ opening week win is looking a little better after Saturday, while MSU’s loss is looking slightly worse.

#6 Minnesota (3-1)

Now, you might think this power ranking has officially jumped the shark. Six teams – and no East Lansing brawlers? The same team that devastated Eastern Michigan to the tune of 49-0 in the first half. The same team that, for a brief moment, made Oregon think they wouldn’t hit their 46 points per game average.

But Minnesota just beat a Spartan team by 17 last week. Coincidence? Probably.

Now, you might think that any ranking that doesn’t have Michigan State at least in the top half of the conference is nothing but garbage.  And you’d be right. That’s why, rounding out the top half of Big Red Fury’s Big Ten power rankings is:

#7 Michigan State (2-1)

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Michigan State’s one game season (with two scrimmages) is all about one hell of 2nd quarter out in Eugene. If the Spartans can bottle that offensive magic for conference play, then a repeat trip to Indianapolis by season’s end ought to be a forgone conclusion.

#8 Wisconsin (2-1)

The Badgers have hammered a pair of cupcakes in the wake of their epic meltdown versus LSU (something that Mississippi State managed to avoid, by the way). Wisconsin has a fairly easy road ahead all the way to November 15 when Nebraska comes to Madison.

#9 Iowa (3-1)

Nice rebound against a previously unbeaten Pittsburgh. But still, the first three weeks of the Hawkeye season were atrocious.

The Iowa Hawkeyes have made progress in their eternal quest to win some kind of pig trophy.
The Iowa Hawkeyes have made progress in their eternal quest to win some kind of pig trophy.

#10 Indiana (2-1)

Indiana had the win of the week for the Big 10 on a Saturday that saw a full dozen conference victories. Can the Hoosiers ride their upset of Missouri on into a successful league run?  History doubts it.

#11 Michigan (2-2)

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First, Utah rained down on Michigan with special teams play and forced turnovers en route to a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter. Then the sky rained down on the field with torrential storms and lightning. Then Michigan fans rained down on the parking lot leaving Utah fans free reign to move about the Big House once the two hour delay was over.

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Not a good showing for the Wolverines (the only Big Ten team to lose last week). Still, Michigan can take heart that the defense looked stout against an emerging PAC-10 program. And were it not for turnovers, Michigan’s offense (which out-gained the Utes) likely would have had the Wolverines in the game until the end.

#12 Ohio State (2-1)

That Virginia Tech loss is looking worse and worse by the week.

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#13 Purdue (2-2)

Southern Illinois may be the last victory the Boilermakers see this season. Unless Northwestern still stinks in late November.

#14 Northwestern (1-2)

The Wildcats got their first win of the season by hosting the FCS Western Illinois Leathernecks. They’ve got another one lined up in the middle of conference play on October 25. Along with Purdue, those may be the only remaining wins Nortwestern sees this year. Unless Pat Fitzgerald can pull an epic coaching job out of his rear.  Which he has shown to do from time to time.

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