Posted on: July 1, 2011 1:49 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
There's no doubting that these are exciting times for Nebraska football. Today's the day they officially join the Big Ten, the day they officially (as our own Dennis Dodd writes) start new rivalries with the likes of Ohio State, Penn State and -- most substantially -- their Great Plains brethren at Iowa. Today's the day they start drawing checks from the Big Ten Network money machine. It's the day that will, in short, define the future of their football program.
But amidst all that excitement, it's also a day which ought to be an occasion to remember the Huskers' past. Because in making the move to the Big Ten, Nebraska is cutting ties with years, decades, even centuries of their gridiron tradition.
Start with the rivalries. Nebraska vs. Kansas was only the longest uninterrupted series in the nation, having been played every year since 1906. The Huskers' and Jayhawks' started their annual grudge match so long ago, Oklahoma didn't even exist--and we're not talking about the Sooners, we're talking about the state.
But even that's not the oldest Nebraska rivalry that will end this season. The Huskers and the Missouri Tigers first met all the way back in 1892 and went on to play each other 102 more times, making it the third-oldest football rivalry west of the Mississippi River.
Because of Nebraska's dominance over both foes -- the Huskers defeated Kansas 36 straight times between 1969 and 2004, and Mizzou 24 straight times from 1979 through 2002 -- neither rivalry ever quite ascended to "classic" status, despite each's longetivity. But that doesn't mean each didn't give us classic moments, like this one you knew was coming:
And even if those series didn't carry as much weight on the gridiron as some others, the same can't be said for the Huskers' showdowns with Oklahoma. The move from the old Big 8 into the Big 12 had already (shortsightedly) brought a halt to the teams' annual meeting after 70-plus years of uninterrupted battles, but the rivalry that gave us the "Game of the Century" still survived as part of the Big 12 scheduling rotation and in the occasional Big 12 championship game. Now? The two schools might meet again in 2020 and 2021, if we're lucky.
Go beyond just rivalries and scheduling, though, and the conference switch also represents a complete cultural realignment for Husker football. Since the very beginning, Nebraska football has associated itself first-and-foremost with other heartland schools; their first conference affiliation came in the Missouri Valley Conference with Iowa-based schools like Drake and Grinnell. When they moved to the Big 8, they did so alongside not just the Jayhawks, Tigers and Sooners but schools like Kansas State and Iowa State as well.
From their location to their "Cornhuskers" nickname to the undying, overwhelming support of the Big Red faithful to their regional and national dominance, Nebraska wasn't just an important part of Great Plains college football; in many ways, the Huskers were Great Plains football.
That's not going away entirely, of course. And the annual matchup with Iowa promises to be a particularly important game from a regional standpoint. But with a schedule dominated by trips to Midwestern-to-the-bone locations like Minneapolis and Chicago, in a conference long identified first-and-foremost with the Rust Belt pillars at Michigan and Ohio State, there's no way Nebraska's identification as the heartland football program won't erode. Those days are done.
That's not to say Nebraska should have turned the Big Ten down, of course. Money talks. Academics talks. The Big 12's Texas obsession most definitely talks. From the Nebraska perspective, there's no way to spin the jump to a more stable, more lucrative conference as anything other than progress.
But progress almost always comes with a price, whether it's Colorado ditching its decades of old Big 8 rivalries to head west, Boise State's leap to the Mountain West finally finishing off the WAC as a meaningful football conference for good, TCU and Utah going their separate ways just when things between them were getting good, or all that Nebraska is giving up in their move to the Big Ten.
Today deserves to be a celebration for the Huskers' future, and for the future of all the teams and conferences who have been officially realigned today. But this is college football, the sport where tradition and history and all those things that are not money matter more than any other. There should be time enough, even today, to mourn the things the great realignment of 2010 has lost us.
Posted on: November 7, 2010 2:32 am
Edited on: November 7, 2010 2:58 am
Posted by Adam Jacobi
1. Michigan doesn't do "boring." The game of the week, beyond any doubt, was Michigan's 67-65 squeaker over Illinois. The game featured 132 points scored, 1237 yards from scrimmage, 58 first downs, and 60:00 total time of possession. Okay, so the last one is normal.
Down the stretch, Michigan was led by Tate Forcier under center, as Denard Robinson was knocked out of a game once again. Forcier effectively reprised his role of "4th quarter dynamo" from 2009, proving yet again the rare value of an experienced backup quarterback. Forcier is clearly not Denard, but the fact remains that Forcier is good enough that he should be spelling Robinson periodically throughout Michigan's game regardless of Robinson's health. Michigan has two starting-quality quarterbacks, and as Robinson's accumulation of minor injuries demonstrates, they clearly need to use them! It's just up to Rich Rodriguez to use both on his own terms, rather than waiting for Robinson to get knocked out of the game first.
Thus, the only game that Michigan has participated in that didn't result in at least 50 total points was its season-opening 30-10 win over Connecticut; since then, whenever Michigan takes the gridiron, the points fly; on average, a Michigan game features almost 73 points per game. In fact, after today's circus act, Michigan leads the Big Ten in both points per game and points allowed per game. Is it "good football"? Lord, no. Is it exciting? Of course. If that's the role Michigan is destined to play under Rich Rodriguez, it's certainly a step down for the Wolverines, but it's not necessarily worse for the conference as a whole.
2. The road is awful hard. It don't take no guff. No. 9 Wisconsin went on the road to Purdue and trailed until the second half. No. 16 Iowa went to Indiana and needed a horrific dropped touchdown on 4th down (more on this later) to escape with an 18-13 win. Northwestern blew a 21-0 lead at Happy Valley, Minnesota got smacked by Michigan State, and Illinois couldn't win in Ann Arbor even after scoring 65 points.
All of which is to say, winning on the road in the Big Ten is still really difficult. It's something to keep in mind when prognosticating the Rose Bowl berth endgame. Regardless of how good the four teams at the top of the conference are, odds are that at least one (and probably more) will go down on the road yet this season, and we shouldn't be surprised when it happens.
3. Nothing's really changed at the top. Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa all won, and we're still waiting on a score from Ohio State and Brigham Young East (we assume that's what BYE stands for). The tiebreakers remain exactly the same, then, with the only difference being that there is now one fewer game for the first three teams mentioned to lose. With a finite -- and indeed, extremely limited -- amount of games to play, the passage of one week without a dropoff from the top four is in and of itself important, even if the stipulations and situations themselves don't change. Perhaps this isn't something to "have learned," per se , but for the top of the conference, the maintenance of the status quo is still meaningful.
4. Penn State's offense might actually exist. When Northwestern went up 21-0 on a sensational Drake Dunsmore* touchdown late in the first half, it would have been perfectly logical to assume that the Penn State offensive attack, led by former walk-on Matt McGloin, didn't have much of a shot to make up the deficit. After all, it would have tied the largest deficit a Joe Paterno-coached Penn State team had ever made up in his previous 399 victories, and that's a lot of victories.
But of course, Penn State did exactly that, scoring the final 35 points of the game to win 35-21. McGloin poured in four touchdown passes, but the real heroes were on PSU's oft-maligned offensive line; the front five paved enough holes to let both Evan Royster and Silas Redd top 100 rushing yards on the day, and McGloin's 225 passing yards simply wouldn't have happened if he had faced the pressure that regular starter Rob Bolden has become used to in this, his freshman season. Imagine that: when given time and space to operate, a previous all-conference honoree once again looked like an all-conference player, and a walk-on quarterback was able to execute to the best of his ability.
5. One quiet moment for Damario Belcher. We mentioned this play in passing earlier, but it's worth mentioning in more detail; with less than 30 seconds on the clock and the Hoosiers facing a 4th and 10 at the Iowa 18, Indiana QB Ben Chappell found wideout Damario Belcher open in the middle of the end zone. Belcher, already the team's leading receiver on the game with seven catches for 50 yards, made an athletic move to catch the ball with nobody on him and got both hands on it, leading most in the stadium to assume Indiana had scored the putative winning touchdown.
Alas, as an eagle-eyed referee (and several optimistic Iowa players) noticed, Belcher bobbled the pass and never controlled it before the ball hit the ground and rolled away ineffectually, making the play nothing more than a drive-killing incomplete pass. Indiana challenged, but it was an easy confirmation for replay officials; it clearly was not a catch. Iowa knelt on the ball, and just like that, Indiana lost on a play Belcher makes probably 90-95% of the time.
Again, this isn't strictly something to learn, but it's something important to remember: Belcher's a human being, and he doesn't need anybody to remind him that he screwed the game-winning play up. There's likely nobody in the world -- like, at all -- who feels worse about the loss than he does. So to anybody who finds it necessary to complain that Belcher "sucks" or is "stupid" or "needs to get his damn head in the game" or whatever arbitrary derogatory remark they think applies to Belcher, one piece of advice: save it. Just don't add to the crapfest that guy's season already became, and strike a note for civility instead. Granted, Indiana football fans aren't generally known to be nasty or otherwise unreasonable to begin with or anything, but still: let's all keep our heads screwed on about this game and this 20-year-old kid playing it.
*Did you know: Drake Dunsmore is a second-generation college football player. His father is Pat Dunsmore, a star tight end who was drafted in the fourth round by the Chicago Bears in 1983 and played two seasons with the team. And where did Pat Dunsmore go to school? Yep: Drake University.
Tags: Ben Chappell, Big Ten, Chicago Bears, Damario Belcher, Denard Robinson, Drake, Drake Dunsmore, Drake Dunsmore Catch, Drake Dunsmore Video, Evan Royster, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Joe Paterno, Joe Paterno 400 Wins, Matt McGloin, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Pat Dunsmore, Penn State, Purdue, Rich Rodriguez, Silas Redd, Tate Forcier, What I Learned, Wisconsin
Posted on: September 2, 2010 6:15 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
I-AA football teams rarely make headlines, and when they do, it's often for negative reasons: Troubled Player X transfers to I-AA School X, Troubled Player X gets in more trouble at I-AA School X, and/or I-AA School X nailed for NCAA violations. That's not to say I-AA schools are inherently more prone to trouble or in any way sketchier than their I-A counterparts, mind you, just that I-AA schools have a tougher road to making headlines that lots of college football fans would care about.
So when news came out this week that the Drake Bulldogs would be travelling to Tanzania to play the first American football game on the continent of Africa, obviously, ears perked up, and rightfully so. The Global Kilimanjaro Bowl is the first game in Africa, after all, and they're bringing a Mexican all-star team with them. Both newsworthy items.
What's more, though, Drake and the all-star team are also hosting a football clinic for local youth there, working at an orphanage, and constructing an addition to that orphanage before the game. They're also finishing the trip by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro as teams, which seems both awesome and completely insane.
But let's set aside the mountain climbing and think about the charitable works. Take the Drake football team--or any other non-scholarship I-AA school, for that matter; it's not important that it's specifically Drake. Suppose our old friend I-AA School X goes to Tanzania, but doesn't schedule a football game. Everything else stays the same, there's still the clinic and the orphanage, there's just no Global Kilimanjaro Bowl. Does I-AA School X still make the news? Is the landmark football game necessary to draw attention to their good deeds? Should it be?