National signing day is done and dusted, fax machines are back to collecting dust until next first Wednesday of February. We’ve already discussed the biggest recruits for every Big Ten team, but just because they were the biggest doesn’t make them the most important.
Sometimes it’s the 2-star guy who is a developmental project that can turn the class in to a winner. Other times it’s the 5-star stud that everyone was raving about, and there are players in between who become the most important member of a class. Heck, sometimes it just means there’s a massive need at a specific position.
With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at the most important recruit for every Big Ten west team.
Where Does Nebraska Go From Here?
The year was 1999. That’s the lasts time the Nebraska Cornhuskers won a conference championship. It’s a dry spell that spans eleven years in the Big Twelve, and the first five in its Big Ten existence. For a program with the proud history of Big Red, that’s an eternity in purgatory.
With each year, the optimism builds, then fades fast after losses mount. And so it is in 2017 again. The tide of optimism this time was squarely mounted on the shoulders of Tulane transfer quarterback Tanner Lee, but after a loss in which he tossed not one, but two pick sixes to MAC foe Northern Illinois, the expectations for this season have yet again been pulled back to modest terms.
Yes, I know it’s still early on in the season and it’s possible that Nebraska pulls up its britches and soldiers on with a shot at some things still on the table. But hasn’t that been the case for years now?
But how did Nebraska get here? And even more importantly, will it ever enjoy being at the top ever again?
Those are not easy questions to answer, but to try and do so, you have to understand the dynamics and changes that have happened with today’s game of college football, and the Nebraska program in general.
Up first for debate is the geographical footprint the ‘Huskers sit in. The state isn’t exactly churning out an embarrassment of riches with football talent. Simply putting a fence around the state and keeping home grown kids present, isn’t enough. Instead, the ‘Huskers have to mine for talent in other areas of the country.
And while that was easier to do with everything rockin’ with a stud head coach, once that momentum is lost, it’s awfully hard to get back. It’s not like a team in Florida, Texas, California or Ohio where a pipeline of talent is continually churning out stud football players.
A Problem Passing the Baton
There was also a transition problem with the loss of Tom Osborne, a Hall of Fame coach that started the whole loss of inertia. If you don’t get the right hire in place for the guy after the guy, things can spiral down fairly quickly. That’s not to take anything away from Frank Solich, it just didn’t work.
Once things started to slide a little, it was hard to pull back. Next thing you know, coaching changes are bantered about and the negative recruiting and perceptions become real.
There’s also a culture issue to address. Nebraska used to have a well-stamped identity. It was one of tough, aggressive defenses (Blackshirts anyone?), physical line play, and the ground game to go along with it. Often times, there was a dual-threat option type QB running the show with Heisman caliber skills and leadership attributes.
That all changed when Bill Callahan tried to bring a pro-style offense to Lincoln. It felt like as much of a fit as a polar bear in spandex, and it only further buried the proud identity of the program. Things tumbled down the abyss even further, and here we stand after a hot-headed coach gone wild with Bo Pelini, and now the Mike Riley experiment that seems to be a slow burn at best.
We’ve also seen the proliferation of spread offenses, hybrid defenses heavily peppered with defensive backs, and an up-tempo break-neck speed that flies in the face of everything that Nebraska used to stand for.
The Hard Question
So what if this is just what Nebraska is anymore? What if it’s never able to get back to what it was with the recruiting challenges, cultural issues and change in dynamics with today’s game.
I don’t believe that question’s uncalled for any less than it is in South Bend or Knoxville. The game has changed, the recruiting has changed — and frankly — the Cornhusker program has changed. And before you throw Twitter shade my way, fifteen years of mediocrity would agree. This is not a down-turn any longer, it is a trend and new status quo. Nebraska fans don’t want to hear that, but it’s reality.
That brings us to the million-dollar question. Can this program be restored to its former glory? The short answer is yes, but it’ll take more drastic measures at this point than just hiring a decent coach and letting the machine run. After all, the machine needs some fine tuning.
Mining for Solutions
Nebraska has to go out and get a rock star coach if it doesn’t all work out with Mike Riley. Look, Riley is one of the good guys in the business, and you’d be a steely tin of sardines not to root for the guy. Who knows, maybe he becomes that type of coach when all the stars align with some improving recruiting classes.
But if not, the ‘Huskers will need to follow the Michigan blueprint. And yes, I know Jim Harbaugh has yet to actually win anything, but you and I both know that program got instant credibility with his hire. The recruiting is taking off, and the product on the field really is better. And it’ll continue to be better than where it was when the Maize and Blue went through a similar — albeit shorter — mid-life crisis (insert a Rich Rodriguez shout-out here).
Maybe it’s even time to go back to the triple-option. Why not? Get back that culture and way of doing things that is dripping with Nebraska lore. Something that gives the program a competitive advantage over the norm for today. Something that gives opposing defenses a different look. If it works for Navy, can’t it also work in Lincoln as it once did before?
Not that unusual. Most Nebraska fans would prefer the triple option to come back to Lincoln ASAP.— Velvet Milkman (@mjwild00) December 9, 2016
I ask what’s the alternative? Keep hiring an unproven coach with a main-stream offense and just see how it goes for four or five years, then rinse and repeat? That’s clearly not working so it’s time to shake the foundations a bit, open up the pocketbook and go get a guy that can coach his tail off (young or seasoned) who can instantly bring in the goods again, and who can provide an X’s and O’s advantage.
I do recognize there’s not many of those out there, but if and when the time does come, the brass has to pull the trigger and get creative.
We are all waiting, and have been for quite some time.
2017 talking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards Special
The Big Ten may have its awards, but what is the point of watching endless hours of Big Ten basketball without putting our two cents in, right?
Welcome to the 2017 taking10 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Awards special. Our hope is to educate you on the names that dominated our conversations and the hardwood across the Big Ten this season.
So, sit back and enjoy our special for your viewing pleasure.
Big Ten Basketball Weekly Roundup: Jan. 9
Who said the Big Ten conference wouldn’t be entertaining in the 2016-17 season? Sure, the top of the league may not be nationally elite, but the first few weeks of the conference have been one heck of a ride.
With that in mind, we here at talking10 give you a new weekly basketball feature. It is our way to make sense of the chaos and take stock of the league from the past week. Along with our newly minted weekly power poll, look for us to have a heavy dose of basketball coverage every Monday morning for you throughout the rest of conference play.
So, let us not waste any more precious words and let us get right in to the fun of breaking down the week that was in Big Ten basketball.
Team of the Week: Purdue Boilermakers
When you are in a conference that is a complete log-jam, just simply winning out for the week can work. Such is the case this week as we pretty much had to go with the Boilermakers on this one.
Caleb Swanigan nailed a free throw to give his team a one-point win on the road to Ohio State, then followed it up with an incredible one-man effort in an 11-point win over No. 13 Wisconsin just yesterday. That win alone should’ve been enough, but coupled with what took place around the league in total, this was an easy call.
Add in an 11-point win over arguably the second-best team in the conference in Wisconsin? Well, the call gets real easy at that point. It wasn’t just the final margin of victory, it is how it happened that was so impressive.
Wisconsin just couldn’t get much going offensively thanks to the effort Purdue put in on the defensive side of the ball. Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter were a combined 6 of 16 from the field and a lot of that had to do with the defense played on the perimeter against them.
No one is going to run away with this league if early results hold firm, but should there be a run-away winner, look no further than the team that won a game on the road and took down the best team they’ll see all season at Mackey Arena.
Player of the Week: Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Sensing a theme here? Well, when you happen upon a pair of double-doubles and sink a pressure free throw to win the game? You bet this was the easy and the right choice this week.
Swanigan put up 16 points and 11 rebounds in the win at Ohio State, while putting up an even more impressive 18 points and 13 boards against Wisconsin. He also happened to shoot 50.0 percent (11-of-22) from the field, 60.0 percent (3-of-5) from three-point range and 81.8 percent (9-of-11) from the free throw line for the week.
Weeks like this could also make it a very easy choice for Player of the Year, with Swanigan third in the conference in scoring, averaging 18.3 points per game and topping the league in rebounding (12.9 per game).
Most Surprising Win: Penn State over Michigan State
The whole neutral court (well, at least in name in this case) thing should be old hat for the Spartans by now. It turned out to be exactly the same as before for the Spartans, as they were dropped at the famed Palestra in Philadelphia by a game Penn State program.
It was a raucous environment, one in which the Nittany Lions actually felt like they had a home-court advantage for a change. But, what made this result so surprising is that it came with Miles Bridges rounding back in to form.
Even his return to the lineup could do nothing to stop the bleeding that took place in Philly.
This is also the type of win that can change some minds and hearts in Philly recruiting circles. Pat Chambers has made significant inroads in the city, but this win is going to make everyone in the Philly basketball world stand up and notice Penn State basketball just a bit more.
PSU’s win was also a first, a first for Pat Chambers. He had previously never beaten Tom Izzo in a coaching matchup, and getting over that hurdle is a major one in a make-or-break season in Happy Valley.
Of course, doing something to build off the win is imperative, but that isn’t our worry here.
Most Disappointing Loss: Nebraska to Northwestern
If ever a game from this past week showcased the parity that could be on display in the Big Ten this season, the contest in Lincoln between Northwestern and Nebraska was exactly that.
So, why is it disappointing to see this loss? Well, if you’re Nebraska it is doubly disappointing. First off, you were one of the two undefeated team left in the conference coming in to Sunday and had a chance to cement yourselves in the conference title discussion early on.
That’s now gone.
Additionally, this was a home game. Winning at home is imperative in the Big Ten and not holding serve against a team that has been up and down so far in league play.
Home field advantage? That’s now gone too.
But, the most disappointing aspect of this loss is how it happened on the court — mainly a second half outburst from Northwestern that became a 14-0 run to whip out what was a double-digit Nebraska lead.
You simply can’t do that at home or anywhere and expect to be taken seriously. The road only gets tougher for the Huskers from here too. So, we’ll see if they can rebound from this defeat and continue to threaten at the top of the conference.
For a team many believed weren’t very good out of conference, they have been easily the biggest surprise in league play (sorry, not sorry Minnesota).
Foster Farms Bowl Preview: Nebraska vs. UCLA
When: Sat. December 26, 9:15 PM ET
Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
All-Time Series: Tied 6-6
Last Meeting: UCLA 41-21, in 2013
Line: UCLA -6.5
1 Burning Question: Will either team be motivated to be in this bowl game, and will it actually matter?
Both the Bruins and the Cornhuskers had sights set on a much better bowl game heading into the season, but at some point the path hooked to a different destination. UCLA legitimately had enough talent to win the PAC-12 this season and yet finished with a mediocre 8-4 record. That’s a far cry from the playoff which was on the table back in early October for this squad. Meanwhile, Nebraska is only in this bowl game at 5-7 thanks to the strong academics of that school and athletic department. So whether either team is motivated to show up big and win is a tough call, although it may not matter considering the seeming disparity in overall team talent favoring the team from LA.
2 Reasons to Actually Watch:
– It’s the nightcap of a great day of bowl games, including the first two B1G bowl games: The second Saturday of bowl season brings six games to watch, including the appearance of Indiana and Nebraska to represent the Big Ten. If all goes well earlier in the day in New York for the Hoosiers, the Cornhuskers could really put the conference off to a great start with a 2-0 day. Plus, worst-case scenario, Nebraska is blown out by halftime like Maryland was in this bowl game last year, in which case you hit the sack early to get ready to enjoy the holiday traditions of family time and pro football the next day.
– To see a great duel between gunslinger quarterbacks: Freshman QB Josh Rosen put together a great first season in Westwood, racking up 3351 passing yards to go with 20 touchdowns. Rosen did not prove to be a huge rushing threat, but he did make some limited plays with his feet in PAC-12 play. Meanwhile, Tommy Armstrong gashed defenses in his junior season much like he has for the past two: with potent running threat complemented by a solid passing game (2856 passing yards, 21 touchdowns). Rosen could be a Heisman candidate of the future, but it will be fun to see both these guys take advantage of potential weaknesses in the opposing defenses.
3 Key Players:
Ka’imi Fairburn, UCLA Kicker – This first-team All American has steadily improved over his college career, now becoming a standout by hitting 87% of his field goal attempts as a senior. Although he missed a couple of 40-49 yard attempts in the final two games of the season, Fairburn is a rock of consistency that Jim Mora has been able to rely on in a world where even elite teams cannot seem to find good kickers. UCLA also did not miss a single extra point attempt, which shouldn’t be notable but that’s the world of college kickers in 2015.
Paul Perkins, UCLA RB – Part of what helps a freshman quarterback be effective is a solid running threat, and that’s precisely what Josh Rosen has as a backfield mate in Perkins. Although Perkins rushed for nearly 1600 yards a season ago and only has 1275 this season, he contributed 13 touchdowns (a career high so far). If Nebraska spends too much time back in pass coverage to stop the various weapons Rosen can throw to, then look for Perkins to have a huge game. It’s a rock and a hard place for the Blackshirts defense.
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska QB – As noted above, Armstrong became a much bigger focal point for the offense this season with a struggle to find another consistent top running back to follow Ameer Abdullah. Mike Reilly may not run an offense that typically exploits Armstrong’s innate talents, but these two have learned to work together to make for a highly effective offense. That being said, Armstrong makes this list because when he has melted down like he did in the finale against Iowa, he melts down very badly. That could ruin any chance Nebraska has of an upset if it happens in California Saturday night.
4 Crazy Stats:
– 472.6 (UCLA) and 442.5 (NU), which are the total offense averages for both teams. If you like offense, then a battle of two Top-35 offenses should be a must-watch bowl game. Especially with the lapses to which both of these teams’ defenses can be subject, this should be a fast track for a high number of big impact plays. Keep your fingers crossed for the fireworks that look imminent on paper.
– 113.4, which is the rushing yards allowed average for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have a fairly strong defensive front, although the rushing yards allowed may be a function of how porous the back line of that defense can be at times. The Bruins typically have a balanced offensive attack but if the Blackshirts can take away Paul Perkins and one portion of the offense, then that could open up opportunities for the turnovers that could shift this game into the Cornhuskers’ favor.
– 90.7% (UCLA) and 89.6% (NU), which are the red zone scoring percentages for both teams. When the Bruins and Cornhuskers reach the red zone, both teams have excelled at punching the ball in and/or putting points on the board. As mentioned above, UCLA has a great weapon at kicker, but both teams have over 30 touchdowns as well. Watch for the first team to make a mistake in the opponent red zone as a key factor in predicting which team will win this bowl game.
– Over 32 minutes per game, which is Nebraska’s time of possession average. One way which Nebraska can hang around in this game is to slowly grind down the UCLA defense with long possessions. After all, the way that Nebraska has lost a few games is by having defensive lapses after too many possessions and opportunities by the opposition. Thus, I expect Mike Reilly’s game plan to be more rush-heavy than it looks on paper, trying to establish a time of possession advantage while also trying to build up better running backs for next season.
5 Staff Predictions:
Andy: UCLA 41-24 (88-25 overall; 56-55 ATS)
Dave: UCLA 38-28 (92-21 overall; 61-49 ATS)
Greg: Nebraska 31-28 (86-27 overall; 67-43 ATS)
Matt: UCLA 34-30 (91-22 overall; 65-45 ATS)
Phil: UCLA 37-28 (42-17 overall; 23-33 ATS) *joined in Week 5
6 Pack Suggestion (Because Beer and Bowl Games Are Your Best Friend): The Hoppiest Local IPA you can find in your jurisdiction, which for the Cincinnati area (of which I am an expert), that would be the Moerlein Northern Liberties IPA.
Nothing says distasteful like 5-7 bowl eligibility, and yet here we are. Despite the hop craze in craft beer, most IPAs have simply become disgusting with the bitter taste, so drink up and enjoy the uncomfortable taste of such a beer and such a likely Big Ten mismatch/blowout.