So, I was planning on going to church today, but I woke up still feeling crappy from my weeklong battle with the flu and since God clearly wears burnt orange pajamas to bed at night anyway, I figured it wasn’t really worth it. So instead you all get to read my ramblings about Husker football!
So understandably, a lot of people are upset about the Huskers dropping yet another home game in the regular season that they had no business losing. Diagnosing the problem isn’t difficult: the Huskers had a let down against a dangerous team. We were elated over curb stomping Sparty and looking ahead to our trip to Happy Valley and “jNW” as our friends over at BHGP like to call them, kicked us in the ass. Following the game reaction on twitter, facebook, and elsewhere I saw people questioning whether Pelini has what it takes to get it done at Nebraska. After all, each of the past three seasons, a ranked Husker team has lost in Memorial Stadium to an unranked visitor (2009, 10-31 TTU, 7-9 ISU), (2010, 13-20, Texas), (2011, 25-28 jNW). Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a good thing. Memorial Stadium needs to be the place where unranked visitors go to get slaughtered, not to derail NU’s season. But what I’ve been hearing is essentially “this never used to happen, so Pelini must be the problem” and that’s what I’ll be addressing today.
First off, yes, Tom Osborne lost a few headscratchers in his day. I will concede that he didn’t lose as many as Pelini so quickly, but no one is immune to letdowns. And no, I am not saying that the early similarities between Pelini and Osborne means that Pelini is the next great Husker coach, because Husker fans, I’ve got a message for you:
The good old days of domination are gone and they are NEVER coming back.
That’s not what a lot of us want to hear. It’s certainly not what I want to hear, but if you invest even a little bit of thinking in it, you will find it to be true:
1. The rules of recruiting have changed over the years, and virtually every change has been to Nebraska’s detriment. Scholarship limits have been imposed, recruiting methods have been limited, partial qualifiers have been taken away and a pile of rules and regulations bury schools in compliance issues.
Here’s what this means: it means that it’s harder to recruit players now. The limited scholarships mean that each “bust” is more costly. This has been immensely helpful to schools that are in a hotbed of talent. They used to have to fight hard to keep schools like Nebraska away from their in-state players, but because the NCAA and conferences have handcuffed the Nebraskas of the world, the high population schools can clean up on talent. I’m sure you’ve heard it before: “Texas doesn’t recruit the players it wants, it picks the players it wants.” Because of this, Texas, USC, Florida etc etc, will always have the most talented teams, and because of sheer probability, will find themselves having great success more often than other schools.
2. Parity is increasing across college football. One effect that the aforementioned scholarship limitations had was that because the powerhouses can’t sign on 40 or 50 players anymore, that leaves more talent to help bolster programs that formerly didn’t have a chance. Add in the fact that many new schools are getting into the facilities arms race and upgrading their facilities and coaching staffs, and we get a burgeoning “middle class” of football. It means that while the Texas’s, USC’s, Alabama’s and LSU’s of the world get richer and stronger, the Nebraska’s, Penn State’s, and Iowa’s of the world beat the crap out of each other to divide up what’s left in hopes that one year the stars will align and they’ll get their shot at glory. It’s almost as if DeLoss Dodds personally wrote up the rules that caused this to happen /ohwaitheprobablydid!
3. In a highly related point, back in the good old days, when Nebraska was a power, everything was tilted in our favor. Liberal recruiting guidelines. We were pioneers in facilities and weight training. And one of the most important things of all: parity was not present. The old Big 8 was a very weak conference by today’s standards. Most years it was Nebraska and Oklahoma and that’s it. Occasionally either Colorado or Missouri would field a decent team. Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma State were walkovers every year. This isn’t a diss on Dr Tom, but on average he had maybe 2-3 tough games in a year, and he had to win one (or none!) of them to get to that coveted 9 win benchmark. While I’m at it, I’ll address the letdown thing here as well. Every team has letdowns, but no one really cares about them unless they result in a loss. For a letdown to end in a loss, one thing has to be true: the other team must be good enough to beat you when you’re not at your best. In the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, those games were rare. Partly because Nebraska was quite good, but mostly (particularly in the 70s and 80s) because most of the teams we played were quite bad. We don’t have the luxury of mailing in games anymore.
So there you have it. Welcome to the age of parity, where no team is safe on a given weekend, except for the elite few that have massive advantages that Nebraska does not. I actually think Pelini is doing a very good job here. Recruiting has been good. As long as we follow the rules, Nebraska will never be more than a top 20 team talent wise because of our location. But we’re Nebraska, we’ve always squeezed more out of our players than experts thought possible. We’re lucky to have Bo. If you stop and think, we’re still in excellent shape to have our third straight double digit win season under him. In four years. After what Callahan left him, the man has not won fewer than 9 games as head coach. Like I said, we’ll never win 3 national titles in four years again, the deck is too stacked against us for that. But there will be division and conference championships. There will be Rose Bowls. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have one of those seasons where the stars align.
GBR! Now where’s my cough syrup…