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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
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September 9, 2010
I hope you’ll be with me next week for comments on Muslim murderers, the “non-partisan” Second Congressional District race (I’ll explain next week why it seems “non-partisan”), the increasingly diminished prospects for big bucks profits from electricity produced by Nebraska windmills—heavier subjects like that.
But for today, Husker football—what else?—including, as I see it, formidable problems for our first season in the Big 10 and for our last season in the Big 12. Let’s start with our freshman season in the Big 10 in 2011:
I think University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman did a superb job, with the considerable help of UNL Athletic Director Tom Osborne, in successful negotiations for acceptance into the Big 10—with, of course, the quick and gracious cooperation of Big 10 officials in the hectic week following the Big 12’s giving Nebraska just one week to decide whether to stay or leave the conference.
The quick cooperation of Big 10 officials made Nebraska a signed-up Big 10 member-to-be weeks if not months earlier than Big 10 officials had been planning to decide which school or schools to invite to expand the conference.
As I see it, that quick and positive Big 10 response when NU faced the Big 12’s decide-in-a-week ultimatum has to be kept in mind as UNL officials and Husker fans consider the tough-as-it-can-get schedule for the Huskers’ freshman year in the Big 10.
Tom Osborne has described the 2011 Husker schedule against Big 10 opponents as “the toughest slate they could have given us.” Consider:
The three toughest cross-divisional opponents which the Huskers could have drawn are Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. The Huskers play all three of them in 2011, opening the season at Wisconsin, then hosting Ohio State in Lincoln the next week and traveling November 12 to Penn State. Combined 2009 season records of those three crossover Husker opponents: 32 wins, 7 losses.
For the first annual Friday-after-Thanksgiving Day match up with the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Huskers will have played road games the previous two weeks—at Penn State (11-2 last year) and Michigan (5-7).
The Hawkeyes, a formidable football force in recent years, will come to Lincoln November 26 having faced Michigan State (6-7 last year) at home and Purdue (5-7) on the road—and thirsting for revenge. In the last three Husker/Hawkeye encounters in 1980-1982, the results were 57-0 for the Huskers, 20-7 for the Hawkeyes and 42-7 for the Huskers.
It seems clear that with Michigan in the Western Division and Ohio State in the Eastern Division, Big 10 officials had to come up with a formula which would allow Ohio State and Michigan to play every year in their regular-season-ender, a Big 10 tradition dating back to 1943.
What conference officials came up with is a policy in which every team will have an every-year “crossover” opponent from the other division. In the case of Michigan and Ohio State, the every-year “crossover” will, of course, be the traditional late November game between those two traditional rivals.
The policy designed to preserve the Michigan/Ohio State tradition necessitated creating every-year-crossover opponents for all other Big 10 teams. This led to Nebraska being matched with Penn State every year—hardly a continuation of a traditional rivalry. Nebraska/Penn State competition has resulted in a 10-9 edge for Penn State in a hardly traditional rivalry spread over 90 years.
Neighboring Iowa, on the other hand, winds up with an every-year crossover rival in Purdue, hardly as formidable an every-year-rival as Penn State. (Penn State was 11-2 last year, Purdue was 5-7.)
The World-Herald headline over the story of the 2011 schedules cleverly suggested what could be interpreted as the Big 10’s message to the Nebraska Cornhuskers: “Welcome. And buckle up.”
* * *
Let’s turn next to the question of how we should say goodbye not only to the Big 12 and the Big 8, the focus of a recent World-Herald special section, but also to the Big 7 (yes, there was a Big 7 conference) and, importantly, to the Big 6, formed 82 years ago and the foundation upon which the subsequent Big 7, Big 8 and Big 12 conferences were built.
In a special section titled “CLOSING THE BOOK,” The World-Herald took a look at the final 50 (the Big 8 and the Big 12 years) of those 82 years, concentrating almost entirely on the Huskers’ rivals, highlighting victories which the rivals enjoyed, even though such victories were an exception to Cornhusker dominance of the rivalry.
The result was few or no details of such Cornhusker highlights as the 35-31 victory over Oklahoma in the 1971 “Game of the Century” or mention of that 1971 Husker team as being considered by some as the best in the history of college football.
Little attention, too, to Jeff Kinney of McCook—his name was mentioned once without explanation—who carried the ball time after time in the decisive fourth-quarter drive which won the 1971 classic.
Also brushed over if mentioned at all were such Cornhusker stars as quarterback Turner Gill, wide receiver Irving Fryar (a No. 1 pro draft pick), and Jerry Tagge, whose lunge across the goal line against LSU in the 1970 Orange Bowl brought Nebraska its first national championship.
Also unmentioned: Bob Devaney’s Huskers’ 25-13 victory over Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1962 in his second game as Husker coach. It was a victory which became a symbol of a turnaround in Husker football fortunes, opening an era which saw the Huskers winning five national championships under Devaney and Osborne in the next 45 years.
No details of Tom Osborne’s remarkable record of three national championships in four years or Osborne teams winning seven consecutive games over Oklahoma in the last seven years of Osborne’s coaching era.
No mention of Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch or the remarkable come-from-behind 1997 victory against Missouri which kept alive the unbeaten season which led to Osborne’s third national championship.
The Big 6 era, not mentioned in the “CLOSING THE BOOK” special section, included five conference championships under Coach Dana X. Bible, two All-American fullbacks, George Henry Sauer of Lincoln and Harrison Samuel “Sam” Francis of Oberlin, Kansas and Lloyd Cardwell of Seward and Bobby Reynolds of Grand Island, two of the greatest running backs in Cornhusker history.
Also part of the Big 6 era was Col. Lawrence McCeney “Biff” Jones, who led the Huskers to two Big 6 titles and in 1940 to their first bowl game, the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena, California where they lost to Stanford, 13-21 before a crowd of some 92,000.
One of the unmentioned Husker highlights of the Big 7 was Coach Bill Jenning’s Huskers’ 1959 homecoming victory over Oklahoma, 25-21, ending Sooner Coach Bud Wilkinson’s remarkable record of 47 consecutive conference victories.
Also puzzling to me in the “CLOSING THE BOOK” special section was the major attention given to Oklahoma’s Brian Bosworth, a two-time All-American linebacker but also an egocentric loudmouth. A color picture of Bosworth occupied more than half of the first page leading off the tribute to the 11 Big 12 rivals whom the Huskers are leaving behind.
The page included a summary of the legendary Husker-Sooner rivalry during the period of Sooner domination, then a summary of Bosworth’s two-time All-American, Academic All-American, two-time Butkus award winner career, noting that he was finally kicked off the team for using steroids.
The tribute to Bosworth ended with these words, “Nebraska never beat him.”
Some additional views on “The Bos” as reported by Wikipedia, a collaborative internet encyclopedia:
“He was regarded as a great tackler, though sometimes criticized for tackling too high.”
And this report on Bosworth’s brief professional career with the Seattle Seahawks: He was forced to retire after one season and only two games in 1980, after having suffered a shoulder injury.
Fifteen years later, Bosworth was named the sixth worst flop among the “biggest flops of the last 25 years” chosen by ESPN and No. 3 on the NFL network’s “Top 10 Draft Busts.”
It would be a sad commentary on the quality and character of all the players whom the Huskers faced in half a century of Big 8 and Big 12 play if Brian Bosworth were to be regarded as an outstanding example of those opposing players.
* * *
Turning last to the latest Husker news, last Saturday’s 49-10 victory over Western Kentucky, which thus suffered its 21st straight defeat:
The front-page headline read: “HUSKERS DOMINATE IN OPENER.”
Exercising every reader’s prerogative to second-guess journalists (I know something about this, having been second-guessed a good many times during a journalism career that started in 1945), I would have written a headline something like this: “Martinez Sparkles, But Defense Raises Questions.”
Let me hasten to say I sympathize with the rookie linebackers who were doing their best on very short notice after three experienced linebackers were sidelined with injuries. But sympathy is no substitute for experience, and I think head coach Bo Pelini’s appraisal, reported on an inside page, was more on the mark. Pelini said of the defense:
“I thought it was an absolute embarrassment. I thought it was coached poorly; that starts with me. I don’t like anything we did defensively.”
You know there’s a problem when one of the defensive highlights involves a Husker catching up with a Western Kentucky runner, stripping him of the ball just short of the goal line after a uncontested 47-yard run right down the middle of the Husker defense.
Defensive Coach Carl Pelini says the defense’s problems are “fixable stuff.” The Huskers and their fans should hope so.
* * *
Some corrections and some thoughts on longtime records of attending Husker games.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez is not one of “three true freshmen” who played for the Huskers Saturday. He is a red shirt freshman.
In the “CLOSING THE BOOK” spotlight on the performance of Husker opponents in the history of the Big 8 and Big 12, there was reference to Gale Sayer’s 99-yard touchdown run in Memorial Stadium in 1963. (The Huskers won, 23-9.) The Omaha Central graduate became an All-American running back at Kansas and an All Pro star for the Chicago Bears.
Sayers was a freshman and not, as reported, on the 1971 Kansas team which beat Nebraska. Nebraska beat Kansas all three years that the “Kansas Comet” from Omaha played for the Jayhawks.
An Omaha television station said a reporter had talked with a fan who has been attending Husker games for 60 years. Another fan who, on camera, said she has been attending games since 1948, or for 62 years.
Marian and I commend such longtime fans and hope that we can inspire them to extend their records by pointing out that Marian has been attending Husker games for 79 years, while I’m working on my 77th year. (I saw my first Husker game on Thanksgiving Day, 1933. Nebraska 22, Oregon State 0.)
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