Thursday, July 28, 2011

Nebraska: Class of Big Ten?

If Nebraska thought it could sneak into the Big Ten Conference and blend in with the other teams, that won’t happen. Many of the so called experts are predicting the Huskers will win the league in their first season in it.

So Nebraska is the new kid in the conference and already the target falls squarely on the Huskers. Don’t trip over the welcome mat boys.

The Huskers are known for their defense and again this season it will carry the team. Two second-team All Americans return in defensive tackle Jared Crick and linebacker Lavonnte David. The defense will need to lockdown opponent’s offenses and steal some points because the Husker offense will probably struggle.

On offense, Nebraska usually favors the run. But it might open things up more this season. Regardless, quarterback Taylor Martinez hasn’t exactly struck fear in opponents and is a better runner than passer. That needs to chance if the Huskers want more balance.

The schedule makers did Nebraska no favors in 2011 as the Huskers must travel to Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan. They do play one favorite at home however—Michigan State.

It should become a memorable initial Big Ten season for the Huskers. Nebraska hopes it will land on the good side of memorable as opposed to the lost expectations side.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Potential Texas-Size Problem

There are rumblings at the Big 12 Conference meetings in Dallas this week. And surprise, surprise, the Texas Longhorns are the target.

So much for all these warm fuzzy feelings the remaining ten conference schools developed when Nebraska and Colorado left the league.

Texas is set to debut its own network next month. No other college team has sole possession of a network. Notre Dame plays most of its games on NBC, but it isn’t the Irish 24 hours per day on that network. So the Longhorns are definitely staking a new adventure here.

The main rub at this week’s meetings and in the past is the talk about Texas possibly airing Texas high school football games. There are people in the conference saying that this practice would give the Longhorns a tremendous recruiting edge.

That premise might be true, but there is a larger issue here. Texas should not be allowed to air high school games. Texas or any other team in the country should keep its nose out of televising high school sports. If Texas wants to feature its chemistry department on its network, fine. If Texas wants to feature team mascot Bevo eating grass, fine. But what is high school should stay high school and what is college should stay college.

It might be wise for the NCAA to stop this talk and declare that Texas or any other school thinking about aligning with high school sports in this way should forget it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Let Mike Leach Coach Again

Mike Leach is a colorful, straightforward guy and college football needs colorful and straightforward characters. But Leach cannot land a job.

Texas Tech fired Leach in 2009 after he was accused of ordering Adam James (son of ESPN commentator Craig James) in an equipment closet. There were lawsuits and Leach is still trying to receive back pay from Texas Tech.

There are two or three sides to every story, but Leach’s view seems believable. He said that he didn’t order Adam James in the closet. We will probably never learn the full story, but obviously Leach and James was not a good match. Then you add a high-profile TV commentator (Craig James) to the equation and there was controversy and widespread media coverage and speculation.

I believe Leach deserves another chance. And he wants one too.

He forced people to talk about Texas Tech football. With his deep and colorful comments, high-powered offense and winning ways (84-43 over 10 seasons), Leach made the Red Raiders an item. He also apparently ran a clean program and graduated players.

Apparently, Maryland reached out to Leach about its opening after the 2010 season before hiring UConn’s Randy Edsall. Let’s hope there are more reach outs in Leach’s future.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Alabama Could Make Noise Again in 2011

Most college football teams would love a 10-3 overall record. But most college football teams aren’t like the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The Tide “slipped” to a 10-3 mark last season after winning the national championship in 2009. Coach Nick Sabin’s team had to watch bitter rival Auburn take the 2010 crown.

But Alabama could contend for another championship this season.

And if the Tide contends it will ride the defense. Alabama returns nine starters including linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Other top players include another linebacker Courtney Upshaw and safety Mark Barron.

The most unsettled position on the team is the quarterback. Former starter Greg McElroy is gone and A. J. McCarron and Philip Sims will battle for the top spot. The winner will find comfort handing the ball off to running back Trent Richardson. Richardson rushed for 1,451 yards in a reserved role last season.

Sabin will again be a motivating force. The guy can coach. The people at Alabama think so too. Sabin’s bust now graces the outside grounds of Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Football is like a religion in Alabama. A banner season might ease some of the pain suffered from the damaging tornado last April in Tuscaloosa where the university is located.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Anthony Hubbard Situation Appears Strange

Word out of Iowa City, Iowa yesterday that former junior college player Anthony Hubbard has left the Iowa basketball team to pursue opportunities closer to home on the surface is not really strange. Players transfer frequently and often want to play closer to family and friends.

But Hubbard is a special case. Iowa gave the 26-year-old a scholarship earlier in the year after much scrutiny and controversy. Hubbard spent nearly four years in prison for armed robbery.

He was playing in a summer league near Iowa City and apparently doing well. He apparently enjoyed the Iowa program. Then poof: he’s gone without ever playing a game for the Hawkeyes.

Did Hubbard really suffer from homesickness and want to return to the East (he grew up in Virginia and played junior college basketball in Maryland) or was there another reason? Why did Iowa release him from his scholarship and allow him to transfer to any other school in the country? Often, programs won’t allow players to transfer to a different conference school and/or an opponent on the team’s schedule.

One sports talk show guy speculated that Hubbard broke a rule. The University of Iowa has been obviously tight lipped about the situation and comments reported are of the usual public relations variety.

People may never really know what happened in Hubbard’s case (if it wasn’t homesickness), but in this Internet age you can be sure someone or some people are trying to uncover further information.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Watch Out for the Oklahoma Sooners

As we gear up for the 2011 college football season, I will on occasion highlight particular teams.

There is no better team to begin with than the Oklahoma Sooners.

Folks in Norman, Oklahoma could be preparing for a championship season. The roster looks good, the schedule is favorable and there is no Big 12 Conference Championship game to play as a possible trap.

Quarterback Landry Jones leads the explosive Oklahoma offense. He is a two-year starter and has solid leadership qualities. The running game will need to replace 1,200 yard rusher DeMarco Murray, but Oklahoma always seems to find running backs. The passing game will become a major factor in the offense with star receiver Ryan Broyles at the top of the list. All this guy did last year was catch 131 balls to leave him 50 away from the NCAA all-time record of 316.

Linebacker Travis Lewis will lead the defense. The senior has paced the Sooners in tackles for the last three years. Oklahoma will need to replace some players on the defense from last season, but with the pipeline the Sooners always seem to possess, they should be strong enough.

The kicking game should be solid with both kicker (Jimmy Stevens) and punter (Tress Way) returning.

I see two difficult games on Oklahoma’s schedule both on the road. The Sooners must return a game to Florida State (the Sooners destroyed Florida State last season 47-17) on Sept. 17 and then finish the regular season, Dec. 3, against Oklahoma State. The Sooners only lost two games last season and one of them was to the Cowboys.

Oklahoma normally positions itself for a title run. So the combination of that experience, talented players and head coach Bob Stoops could cause a special season.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ohio State's Window Dressing

The Ohio State football program and the entire athletic department have a huge problem. And if they keep making decisions like last week, the toxic environment will not improve anytime soon.

Ohio State decided to forfeit his victories during the 2010 season. Big deal. Who cares?Did the Buckeyes think they would appease the NCAA with this action?

I have written in the past that forfeiting previous seasons’ games make no real sense. The opposing teams and fans don’t care. People will always look at the record as it was before the forfeit. You think some team will take solace from getting destroyed and then starting bragging that it really won the game? Yeah right.

If the Buckeyes really wanted to “man-up” they would have forfeited 2011 home games, limited scholarships and agreed to not appear on television for one year.

But like the little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Ohio State frankly is hoping for mercy from the NCAA. It obviously thinks forfeiting meaningless games will help. I beg to differ.

I sense the NCAA will beg to differ too. And I hope the organization will come down hard on the Buckeyes. Cheating is cheating and the NCAA needs to make a strong statement. If the NCAA doesn’t bite Ohio State hard, why is there an NCAA?

Fairness requires major sanctions and fairness needs action.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Goods News in Iowa

Some days it doesn’t take much to bring happiness. The Des Moines Register’s decision to return Marc Hansen to his sports columnist role would fit that category.

Hansen was the Register’s columnist from 1981-2001. The guy can simply write. He left sports to spend more time with his family and moved to a general columnist spot

Because we don’t have major professional sports in this state, Hansen will focus his coverage on Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Drake.

Hansen won’t have former Iowa football coach Hayden Fry to spar with anymore. The two used to battle over Hansen’s questions and words sometimes. It will be interesting to see if Hansen and present Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz will play nice. Ferentz is much more laid back than his former boss, but he mirrors Fry in wanting to maintain control.

Hansen should receive a warm welcome at Iowa State. He should have good relationships with football coach Paul Rhoads and basketball coach Fred Hoiberg. I find it hard to believe that Hansen would ever get into it with Hoiberg. It seems everybody loves Hoiberg (nicknamed "The Mayor").

I knew Hansen a little bit in my previous life. He’s a good guy. He will do a great job in his returned role. And I look forward to reading his words.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Notre Dame and the New York Yankees

Who is the most loved and at the same time the most hated team in college football?

If you said Notre Dame, you win a four-leaf clover.

Notre Dame is the New York Yankee version of college football. Simply bring up the Irish name and the response is not passive. It’s either love at first sight or disdain with a red face.

In recent years, the Notre Dame haters have taken a break. The reason: the Irish have fielded poor teams. In fact, NBC was probably ashamed to show them on their own network.

The Notre Dame lovers have had to sell some hope. They were grabbing on to anything. I think they learned their lessons from a team just down the road—the Chicago Cubs. But entering the 2011, there is actually a light in the tunnel. They return eight starters on both sides of the ball. They might win games at home again.

It may become time for the haters to get their game face on again. The Irish could cause some serious friction. And frankly if that happens, both sides will be happy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The USA Today College Football Preview

I landed a copy of the USA Today College Football Preview the other day. It’s definitely a keeper and one I can refer to during the season.

This preview magazine is more meat-and-potatoes rather than steak-and-sizzle. There is a color photo on the cover (regional—mine is Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd). The paper stock is heavy so I won’t have newsprint ink on my hands. The preview doesn’t have a top-25 but it does highlight top teams. It also features top players who could have turned to the NFL but chose to return for another college season. The preview also breaks down teams in various conferences. One of my favorite aspects of the USA Today previews is the TV schedule. I’m pleased to inform you that it is included in this issue too. It also has a handy bowl schedule.

So I think I’m ready for the season once I consume the greater parts of this preview. Now that the Fourth of July is history, college football junkies can really prepare for the season. It’s only about eight weeks away, but enough time for you to purchase your own preview magazine.