Now It Gets Real…Last In the Nation In Past Defense? Painful Penalties? Horrible Game Management? Are You Kidding Me?

How the mighty have fallen. Nebraska no longer makes headlines for its gridiron glory. After yesterday’s debacle at Illinois, the program has reached a new low.

Today the program is “making news” as part of USA TODAY’s Misery Index: Week 5.

Poor, poor Nebraska. We aren’t even sure what to say anymore. Well, we can say this. Mike Riley’s honeymoon lasted all of a month.

…It’s inexcusable. And now Riley has dug a hole with the Nebraska fan base before his tenure has even gotten off the ground. You can’t lose games that winnable to opponents that mediocre in a fashion that crushing. Not at Nebraska. Not ever.

Rule number one for all players, coaches and fans of the Nebraska Cornhuskers: Thou Shall Not Embarrass The Program.

All the Huskers had to do was run the ball around either end, all day long. The Illini had no answer for that play. Yet, the game plan was never adjusted for the conditions on the field (windy and wet). That’s on the coaches.

One of the things I said before this season started is, “Nebraska will not be blown out under Mike Riley.” And what an improvement not being blown out is!

Of course, I had no way of knowing we would begin the Mike Riley-era by letting three inferior teams beat us in the last seconds of the game. Mental toughness is something I’m weighing in Riley’s favor, and we saw this on display early on against a tough BYU team and again in Miami. But the past two weeks have been pathetic. Nebraska goes up 22-0 in the first half against Southern Miss at home, only to lose the second half 14-28 and almost lose the game. This week the team goes up 10-0 at the half, and I say to myself I hope that’s enough of a lead to see the team through to victory.

It was not enough of a lead.

Illinois football isn’t even popular enough to fill the stadium with fans. Yet, the team is 4-1 under its new coach. Meanwhile, the Huskers are 2-3 for the first time since 1959’a year that interestingly pre-dates the nation’s longest sellout record, which didn’t commence until 1962. The ’59 Nebraska team went 4-6 that season, with a 7-6 win over Oregon State.

Okay, let’s compose ourselves and look at what’s coming. It ain’t pretty. Wisconsin will be the first big test this Saturday. This Nebraska team did mount an amazing comeback against Miami. Are they capable of doing it again, and showing up on Saturday in Lincoln as a team reimagined and reinvigorated? Anything is possible.

Go Big Red.

An Ugly Win It Was

Nebraska was up 22-0 at the half last Saturday against an outmanned Souther Miss team; yet, the Huskers managed to lose the second half of the game 14-28.

Luckily, the early 22-point lead was enough to overcome the lackluster performance in the second half, and the Huskers won the game by eight points on Homecoming Saturday.

This might be a good time to remind that Southern Miss did beat Nebraska. Once. The year was 2004’Bill Callahan’s first season in Lincoln. I mention this merely to remind ourselves of the recent past and just how bad it was.

I was glad to see Adam Carriker try to calm fans’ nerves on his Facebook page.

Several people left Memorial Stadium yesterday acting like we had just lost. The sky is not falling. We knew we most likely are a ways away from the national title. Everything that matters most, starts this week when we open Big 10 conference play against Illinois. The Huskers definitely need to improve in some areas, but they have some definite strengths as well. Like I’ve said before, the division is wide open with no clear front runner. I believe we’ll have the advantage at QB in most of our remaining games & our run defense is strong. QB is the most important position on the field & everybody in our division wants to run the ball first. I think 8-4 is a very likely record heading into the bowl game. Whether that happens & whether that gets us into the Big 10 title game, I don’t know. But we’re not Chicken Little & the sky is not falling.

If 8-4 is the outcome, that means we are about to go 6-2 in conference play. I like Carriker’s positive outlook a lot, but I don’t know if this team will win that many games. I think 8-4 is possible, but Nebraska will need to be a much improved team from here on out to beat Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern and the rest.

One thing that encouraged me greatly against Souther Miss was the play of the fullback. Andy Janovich’s five runs for 68 yards, plus one catch out of the backfield, made a big difference in the game.

Cornhuskers Are 1-2 for the First Time Since 1981. Be Not Concerned.

I saw something on Twitter this morning about how Tommy Armstrong doesn’t look at social media after a game. Smart man.

Husker fans are eternal optimists. Best fans in college football. Gracious hosts to visiting teams. That is the public face of Husker Nation. But there is also a darker, impatient and unhappy face to the program, and that ugly face lives and breathes online, where anonymity and remoteness play a large role in the outspoken, unchallenged nature of the content.

I also think our desire as fans to share joys and frustrations during an emotional game full of momentum swings leads to a fracturing of attention and impulsive split-screen posts that may be relevant to only a few followers. It’s material best suited to one’s living room, or if you must, group chat, not Twitter or Facebook.

Personally, I didn’t imagine this team would go 12-0 in 2015. What I hoped for is that we’d get our sense of self back, and we have. It’s been a long time since we’ve had genuine swagger as a football team. I’m encouraged right now with what I see. Sure, I see the deficits too, like no pass rush to speak of. Nevertheless, the good far outweighs the bad.

We have a team ready for battle. That was in too long in doubt, and now there’s no doubt. I thank the players for embracing change, swiftly. I thank the coaches for knowing what playing on the big stage in Lincoln is all about.

Mike Riley and his coaches are leading Nebraska back to glory right now. That’s what I see and what I believe. There’s reason to doubt it, but I’m done doubting. For me the clouds have lifted. We have our team back, after 11 painful years.

By the way, HailVarsity is doing a great job.

These Huskers Are Tough

Composure. It’s something the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team has sorely lacked for 11 years.

Morgan Jr

Today, the team is just 1-2 after a rough start to the season, but Husker Nation has every reason to breathe easy. We are on the right track again. What’s been missing from the program is back: resilience, grit, heart, tenacity and leadership (on and off the field, from players and coaches). We have character again.

It’s funny how removing the “tough guy” from the head coach’s office and replacing him with a calm, cool and collected CEO of Football changes the dynamic for the better. The team on the field is now clearly tougher, particularly in the mental aspects of the game. Despite falling behind against BYU and Miami, the Huskers had their minds, hearts and bodies in both games the whole time.

The meltdowns of the Pelinihan era are over. We have our Cornhuskers back and I am grateful.

Go Big Red.

Huskers v. Hurricanes: The Kind of Week Three Match Up We Need

Nebraska hasn’t played a regular season game in the state of Florida since 1951. This changes in a BIG WAY this coming Saturday, when the Huskers travel (back in time) to Miami to face the ‘Canes on the their home field.

According to Winsipedia, this rivalry is eleven games in, with Nebraska owning six wins to Miami’s five (last Sept. 20th NU won 41-31 in Lincoln).

Historically, Miami is a speedy team that airs the ball out. Historically, Nebraska blows you off the line and runs up the gut. But this is 2015. Al Golden, the former Penn State tight end, will line up against former Alabama defensive back, Mike Riley. I’m hoping for a highly competitive game and a Huskers’ road victory.

The ‘Canes are 2-0 presently with wins over Bethune-Cookman and Florida Atlantic. I’m sure the players in Miami are looking forward to a higher degree of competition, and they’re going to find it on Saturday. So far, Nebraska’s offense has proven potent with a balanced air and ground game. We have lots of receivers with great hands and a deep bench of I-backs ready to bust through a hole.

Will the Blackshirts keep us in this big game? Will Armstrong’s leadership and confidence come shining through in a time of need? Will the coaches make the most of the situation? Will we once again find gridiron glory in the glaring spotlight of South Florida?

I’m excited to find out. How about you?

Heidi Merrill Is Cornhusker Strong

Heidi Merrill is Cornhusker Strong. The Nebraska native and current New York City resident is working to make a name for herself in Country Music. Her efforts may be helped conisderably by sewing up the home audience with a peppy song about The Heartland.

In this wild wild world out here, I keep plowing along
Long gone, but
Cornhusker Strong

Note the emphasis on her exodus from the state. People do move away, but the bonds remain. Roots run deep in Nebraska.

The CEO of Nebraska Football Is Ready to Unleash A New Big Red

Coach Riley has friends in the media. What a difference a year makes.

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The Winnipeg Free Press called Riley “coaching royalty,” in a recent feature. Also, Portland Tribune columnist Kerry Eggers was invited to travel to Lincoln and sit in on a football staff meeting on Monday, Aug. 10, during the Cornhuskers’ training camp.

Riley, his nine full-time assistant coaches, football operations director Dan Van De Riet, director of player personnel Ryan Gunderson, and director of football/recruiting operations Andy Vaughn take seats at the long table. Riley, like a corporate CEO, sits at one end, Van De Riet at the other. Perhaps 20 graduate assistants/managers and support staffers sit behind them around the room.

A CEO who is a calm, cool and collected leader of men. For the past decade, Nebraska teams lacked all composure when it was needed most. Now, we have a CEO of football, and I fully expect it to show on the field this Saturday and every Saturday for years to come.

Defensive backs coach Brian Stewart, who has worked in college and the NFL, said, “Riley is a level five management type from the book Good to Great. ‘He has a certain command presence when he talks,’ Stewart said. ‘You know he’s in charge ‘ but you also know he cares about you personally.’

Nebraska’s starting QB, Tommy Armstrong, is one important player on board with the new program. According to the Chicago Tribune, Armstrong said:

He treats us like we’re grown men. That’s what we respect about him the most. It’s on the players. We have to decide if we’re going to be good or great or average. He’s there to lead us, but we have to do it on our own.

A coach who teaches you to take personal responsibility for your actions. Are you kidding me…what year is this?

Go Big Red.

Illegal gambling in college football still a huge problem

College football is no stranger to investigations into illegal betting. While few of the cases threaten the veracity of most football matches, game fixing can be very problematic especially to a fledgling football player’s career.

College footballers are very vulnerable to illegal betting as many fixers are experts on identifying pressure points. A little bit of a nudge using money, a favor, or a threat can undeniably manipulate a student’s performance.

2 JAN 1996:  QUARTERBACK TOMMIE FRAZIER #15 OF THE NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS BREAKS THROUGH THE FLORIDA GATORS DEFENSE DURING THE FIESTA BOWL AT SUN DEVIL STADIUM IN TEMPE, ARIZONA.   Mandatory Credit: Mike Powell/ALLSPORT
2 JAN 1996: QUARTERBACK TOMMIE FRAZIER #15 OF THE NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS BREAKS THROUGH THE FLORIDA GATORS DEFENSE DURING THE FIESTA BOWL AT SUN DEVIL STADIUM IN TEMPE, ARIZONA. Credit: Mike Powell/ALLSPORT

Justin Wolfers, a professor of business from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, studied over 44,000 NCAA division games and point spreads from 1989 to 2005. In his study’s conclusion, he asserted that about 500 games have been involved in gambling-related fraud and at least 6% of favored teams were willing to have their performance manipulated.

“It’s very difficult to say how common it is because you don’t know how many people are doing it and not getting caught,” said the director of the University of Nevada’s Center for Gaming Research.

An NCAA survey in 2008 revealed that 30% in about 20,000 college athletes have admitted to betting at least once on college sports, which is a direct violation of NCAA rules. College athletes cannot in any way bet via land-based and online sports books. Betfair, one of the biggest book keepers in the UK, reminds their patrons of its Terms and Conditions page that ‘Participation in the games (must be) personal and not professional.’ Thus, betting should not be intertwined with one’s career.

Further studies revealed that about 1% of the surveyed Division 1 football players in 2012 admitted that they’ve accepted money and/or favors as compensation for performing poorly. About 6% of male athletes have been classified by the NCAA as regular bettors, and the bulk of their gambling money has been obtained through illegal activities. Some athletes also confessed that they knew teammates who accepted bribes but were too afraid to tell the authorities. Data collected by Havoc Scope details that about $60 – $70 billion per year is obtained from illegal betting on college football.

The problem with fixing games is that some players get abused. Because they’ve accepted bribes, these players can be threatened with blackmails at any time even if they don’t want to participate in fixing games anymore. The NCAA, according to experts, must show a stronger hand against illegal betting and game fixers in order to make college games cleaner and safer for the athletes.

Shawn Eichorst: From Farm To The Negotiating Table

Shawn Eichorst impressed the media with his handling of events this week. He also impressed fans. Not all fans, but this fan, for one.

This is no insignificant thing, impressing the media. Eichorst also declared, “I like you guys,” speaking directly to members of media in attendance at Friday’s presser. He added that he listens to all constituents, including the media.

Eichorst_ No beer during Husker hoops; football program 'stable' under Pelini - Omaha.com_ Big Red Today - Husker Football News, Schedules And Videos

Following a bitter mistrust between factions in the Nebraska media and “Pelinihan,” Eichorst’s commons sense and Riley’s nice guy approach are welcome upgrades in Lincoln.

Tom Shatel of The Omaha World Herald is perhaps the top dog on the Huskers football beat. Shatel asked,
“Who knew this was the Chuck Norris of athletic directors?”

Chop, chop, chop!

Shatel also noted Eichorst’s confidence in Riley, and how he has no worry about Riley’s record translating to NU:

I have zero concern about that. It’s not always about the outcome. It’s about people. We have an elite football coach who now has an incredible history behind him, incredible resources, a passionate fan base. I know there is uncertainty in our fan base, but we have a good football coach, and I think folks should be ready and excited to unite and take this program to where it should be. We’re going to have success. I know that and you can hear it in Mike’s voice. He is a football coach …

I heard Eric Crouch describe Nebraska as an “island” on The Big Ten Network the other day. It is an apt description. What we now know about one of the island’s leaders is how he thinks and how he works. Eichorst is an old school values guy, like Tom Osborne. That mindset has been sorely absent from Memorial Stadium for 11 years.

By the way, Eichorst grew up on a farm outside of Madison, WI. He played defensive end at Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he was captain of the team and an all-conference performer. These two facts are key to seeing why’s he’s a great fit at Nebraska. He’s also a lawyer who knows a thing or two about holding his cards. And what a hand he played this week. Hat’s off to the A.D.

Go Big Red.

“A New Era of Nebraska Football” Is Now Underway

Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst introduced the biggest coach he’s ever hired this morning. I like what Eichorst had to say. He said we’re going to win championships the right way, “with class, sportsmanship and integrity.”

He added, “We will win with young men and women who want to earn their degrees and who will represent us the Nebraska way.” It’s a condemnation of what went before and also a strong statement about what it means to be a Husker today.

Coach Riley mentioned that the Nebraska job was the right opportunity at the right time. I can’t help but note that it’s also quite likely Riley’s dream job, and one it took him four decades to land.

While Riley didn’t take the job for money, he did get a $1.2 million raise to $2.7 million per year, according to The Omaha World Herald. An extra $100K a month is one heck of a bonus, especially in a market where it is hard to find a home priced over $1 million.

Riley is a young 61. He drives a Prius…when he drives. He prefers to ride his bike to work. He’s an energetic, but low key guy who happens to be an elite football coach. In Lincoln, he can be both of these things, which is one more indication that this is a genius hire by Eichorst.

Oregonians and Nebraskans share many commonalities. Both reside in agricultural states where “salt of the Earth” residents are the norm. I am sure the Riley family will miss living in the cozy hamlet of Corvallis. But, I also believe Mike and Dee Riley will soon learn to love Lincoln, and that Husker Nation will learn to love them back.