Driving for 6: A New Year’s resolution for NU fans; why bowls matter; and UCF’s tackling
The sun’s out. No precipitation (in Lincoln).
Let’s do this thing.
1. Maybe I’ve been hearing a lot of “bowl games don’t matter” chatter in our neck of the woods because, well, Nebraska missed the cut for a second straight season.
Never thought I’d see that in my lifetime.
Tell Pat Fitzgerald bowls don’t matter.
His Wildcats somehow scored 28 unanswered points Monday night to overcome Utah 31-20 in the Holiday Bowl.
Northwestern finished the season 9-5 after a 1-3 start and gave the program its first three-game bowl winning streak. The Wildcats captured the Big Ten West by three games and acquitted itself nicely in Indianapolis.
“I feel we laid the groundwork for national titles in the future,” senior quarterback Clayton Thorson told FS1’s Jenny Taft on the field in San Diego.
“A win like this, it motivates everybody,” said receiver Riley Lees, according to the Chicago Tribune. “It makes us want more. We won the West and that’s the bar now. We have to keep going.”
Does that sound like a bunch of players ho-humming it after a bowl win?
You don’t think beating Utah mattered to the Wildcat fan base?
You don’t think beating Utah in the Holiday Bowl would matter to the Husker fan base? Seriously?
Which brings me to a New Year’s resolution that might be a good idea for some Nebraska fans. When it comes time to predict the Huskers’ record for 2019, it would be wise to give the proper respect to West Division opponents such as Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue — as opposed to chalking up wins, as many fans (and yours truly) still tend to do, largely because we operate under a false illusion.
We’re predisposed to think about Nebraska in the context of a different era, but here’s the news: It’s not the 1990s anymore. It’s not even the early 2000s. Many Nebraska fans still disrespect Iowa even though the Hawkeyes have beaten the Huskers four straight times. Purdue won this season in Lincoln, yet some Husker fans will casually count the trip to West Lafayette in November as a “W.”
Many Nebraska fans will do the same as they ponder the Huskers’ trip to Minnesota in October even though the Gophers just hammered two teams — Purdue (41-10) and Wisconsin (37-15) — that defeated the Huskers in 2018.
This is my read: There’s a level of disrespect among many Nebraska fans and media for certain Big Ten West teams that is in some ways understandable but in other ways makes zero sense based on recent results.
I didn’t mention Wisconsin above because it should be a given at this point that Nebraska fans and media respect the Badgers — who are merely 7-1 against the Huskers since NU joined the Big Ten in 2011.
While watching Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern win bowl games this season (I missed Minnesota’s bowl win), a thought occurred: In each case, the Big Ten team wasn’t necessarily more talented than the opponent. In fact, there’s no question in my mind that 18th-ranked Mississippi State was more talented than Iowa. But the Big Ten teams prevailed based largely on two factors: strong cultures and excellent coaching.
Nebraska has excellent coaching, but building the culture is a work in progress.
As long as Fitzgerald, Kirk Ferentz and Paul Chryst are around, those programs will be formidable opponents for Nebraska.
You probably can say the same of Jeff Brohm at Purdue and perhaps even P.J. Fleck at Minnesota.
I hope Nebraska fans give those teams the proper respect, because fan attitude can trickle down to players.
Nebraska, as it stands, would do very well in 2019 to win at both Minnesota and Purdue.
Yes, times have changed in our neck of the woods. There’s no shame in that. There’s absolutely no shame in giving foes proper respect.
2. Although this may be scattershot in nature, I can’t help but wonder if former Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor — who could become an NFL head coach in coming — has a certain Husker assistant in mind as a potential staff member.
When Greg Austin was named Nebraska’s offensive line coach last year, Taylor sent me an unsolicited text saying Austin “is one of the toughest players I’ve ever played with.”
It’s possible Taylor would steer clear of Austin out of respect for his alma mater.
After all, Taylor fully understands the difficult nature of Scott Frost’s reclamation project at Nebraska.
On the other hand, Taylor also understands Austin’s coaching prowess.
It’s just something to watch.
3. Here are your 2018-19 Power Five conference bowl records entering the Clemson-Alabama clash set for Monday night in Santa Clara, California:
Big 12: 4-3 (.571)
Big Ten: 5-4 (.556)
SEC: 6-5 (.545)
ACC: 5-5 (.500)
Pac-12: 3-4 (.429)
The Big Ten was 7-1 in bowl games last season. Combining last season and this season, Big Ten West teams were 8-1.
Could the West Division be gaining ground on the Big Ten beasts of the East? Well, perhaps you noticed Urban Meyer just retired. Meanwhile, Jim Harbaugh is getting hammered by Detroit media in the wake of Michigan’s back-to-back blowout losses to end the season.
Then there’s this: Michigan State failed to score a touchdown in three of its last four games. What in the name of George Perles is going on with Sparty’s offense?
Wisconsin’s disappointing season can’t be ignored in the discussion, nor can Nebraska’s 4-8 finish.
The East has closed the gap some. That’s as far as I’d go.
4. Sure, Central Florida was without ace quarterback McKenzie Milton in Tuesday’s Fiesta Bowl loss to LSU.
But keep in mind, LSU prevailed 40-32 despite being without All-American cornerback Greedy Williams and defensive tackle Ed Alexander, who each declared for the NFL Draft and skipped the bowl game. In addition, the three-loss Tigers were without injured cornerback Kristian Fulton and defensive end Breiden Fehoko, suspended cornerback Kelvin Joseph and played the first half without linebacker Jacob Phillips (targeting in LSU’s previous game).
All-American safety Grant Delpit and cornerback Terrence Alexander were each ejected in the first half — Delpit for targeting and Alexander for throwing a punch.
So, it was a good win by LSU, which outgained UCF 555-to-250 and had 32 first downs to the Knights’ 17.
UCF certainly doesn’t tackle or play the sort of defense you’d expect from a national championship outfit.
See what I did there?
5. By the way, Iowa defeated Mississippi State 27-22 despite rushing for minus-15 rushing yards on 20 attempts and being out-yarded 342-199 overall.
It should be noted Mississippi State entered the game with the nation’s No. 1 defense. If you were a Nebraska fan watching the game, you understood the Huskers have a long ways to go before they reach the Bulldogs’ level of athleticism on defense. MSU finished 8-5 despite a big-time “D.”
Against Iowa, Mississippi State had eight penalties for 90 yards, while the Hawkeyes had … zero penalties.
6. You really think I’m going to pass up a Kojak reference (note the car) …