Dec. 20, 2001

The Desert Husker • Bill Marks

Coming Up Roses

I know. I know. It's been a while. The Desert Husker has been in temporary hibernation since the debacle in Boulder.

Let me assure you, the lack of prose wasn't the result of post-loss depression. Between business trips, flu season, and some fruitless attempts at Christmas shopping, time has been tough to find. This is a shame, because subject matter has been abundant.

Since I last penned a column, Nebraska lost its opportunity for a national title; Eric Crouch's Heisman hopes were dashed; Florida, Texas and Tennessee all gave away opportunities to play in the Rose Bowl; despite not playing another game, Crouch won the Heisman; Nebraska was selected by the Bowl Championship Series to play in Pasadena; and chaos reigned. I also saw the Harry Potter movie.

Here are some additional thoughts on the end of a very strange college football season:

The Colorado Game
Nearly a month has passed, and I still haven't figured out how the Blackshirts played an entire game without realizing they had accidentally left the linebackers in Lincoln. ( They were probably detained by the stricter security measures at the airport.) Somehow, a good but not great Colorado team ran over, around and through what, up to that point, had been a strong Husker defense.

Falling into desperation mode, Eric Crouch and the offense made a game attempt to mount a comeback. But the defense couldn't make key stops, and the end result was an embarrassing loss.

What happened? How did a Buffs team that was less than overwhelming throughout most of the season suddenly look unbeatable? Why were Craig Bohl and the rest of the defensive coaching staff unable to make adjustments to stop a simple draw play? Why didn't the offense show up until the game had already gotten out of hand? You got me.

Here are a few insights I had after the loss:

• The Husker linebackers seemed to follow the flow of the offensive linemen rather than the ball carriers. The only explanation I can think of for this is that Gary Barnett employed some sort of Jedi mind trick.
• Speaking of Barnett, he's a pompous crybaby jerk. But more on that later.
• I thought Solich had a pretty quick hook after Dahrran Diedrick's first fumble. True, he later fumbled again on the one yard line, but yanking a player for such a mistake can sometimes wreck his confidence and perpetuate additional mistakes. NU will need Diedrick's tough running in the Rose Bowl.
• It broke my heart to see the crying kid in the stands, and angered me that the idiots at ABC kept showing him.
• I really hope NU pounds CU in Lincoln next year.

I remember thinking after watching the horrible acts of terrorism on September 11, that if any good could come from that day, maybe it would help put a greater perspective on what is truly important and vital in our lives. This has turned out to be a poor assumption.

Since the final Bowl Championship Series pairings came out we've seen coaches and media folks throw around descriptors like "tragic," "heartbreaking," and "miserable" when referring to a system to choose who plays in a football game. Hell, Oregon coach Mike Belotti likened the BCS to a cancer. Yikes!

Hey Belotti, people die from cancer. Families are ripped apart. Young lives are extinguished. Those lucky enough to survive must endure months and sometimes years of agonizing treatments. I've never heard a cancer survivor compare their struggle to live to learning their football team is playing in the Fiesta Bowl.

At least Belotti and the Ducks have a semi-valid argument. After learning of the Rose Bowl pairing, Barnett looked like he might start sobbing at any moment. I've got an idea Gary, show a little class. Instead of throwing a tantrum, try congratulating Nebraska and being thankful you're going to a good bowl. The only thing your moaning will ensure is a hostile environment when you bring your squad to Lincoln in 2002.

I'll admit, college football should have a playoff - a maximum of eight teams to preserve the importance of the regular season. And I'll agree, ideally the participants in a championship game would be decided on a football field rather than by idiot voters and MIT computer geeks. But over the last few weeks I've heard a lot of moronic arguments against the BCS and against Nebraska playing in Pasadena. Here are my responses to a few of those arguments:

Colorado should play in the Rose Bowl because they were the best team at the end of the season.
Maybe, but who were the best teams throughout the whole season?

Why is it that Colorado coaches and fans think that because the Fresno State loss was a close game and it came early in the season, that it shouldn't count as a loss? Fact: Colorado lost twice. Fact: Colorado got trounced by Texas in October (by a margin greater than Nebraska's loss to CU). Fact: one of the reasons the computer polls are used in the BCS is because, unlike human voters, they don't have short memories and don't inexplicably weigh late losses more than early losses.

If Colorado had not lost to Texas in October, or to Fresno State in August, the Buffaloes would be playing Miami on January 3. They controlled their own destiny but couldn't get it done.

You know the system is messed up when a meaningless win by TCU over Southern Mississippi is the reason Nebraska is playing in the Rose Bowl.
I've been surprised to see this stupid argument coming from intelligent college football people (most notably ESPN's Chris Fowler). While it may be true that the TCU win over Southern Miss affected the strength of schedule component enough to keep Nebraska ahead of Colorado in the BCS standings, it's extremely myopic to say that was the deciding factor. The TCU game was one of hundreds of games played throughout the season that figured into the final BCS tallies. In fact, the strength of schedule component is one of the things about the BCS that makes the most sense.

Nebraska didn't win their conference, or even the Big 12 North.
Here's a newsflash - Texas, Colorado and Nebraska all had the same regular season conference record. Colorado and Nebraska actually tied for the lead in the Big 12 North with matching 7-1 records. If this had happened in a conference like the Pac 10 or the Big 10, where they don't play a conference championship game, the Huskers would have been considered co-champions.

Oregon is much more deserving than Nebraska.
Of all the whining I've heard, the Oregon backers probably have the most legitimate beef. The Ducks did win a conference with several good (but not great) teams. They also only had one loss, a close one to Stanford -- another quality team. And they were voted number two in both the coaches and AP poll. Oregon was as deserving as any team to get the date against Miami.

However, I would argue that Nebraska is equally deserving. The Huskers tied for the best record in the nation's best conference. Nebraska played a tougher schedule and only had one loss - to a top-five team on the road.

I may be in the minority here, but I don't necessarily buy that the computer polls are any more insipid than the polls that rely on human voting. Human pollsters are filled with biases and misinformation. Most of the voting writers only follow one team throughout the year and see very little of the rest. And we know the coaches are going to look out for their best interests, or at least the best interests of their conference.

The BCS is far from a perfect system, but in many cases it does help minimize some of the human biases, while looking at the season from a more holistic perspective.

The Rose Bowl
That brings us to the Rose Bowl. Should be a great game - a far closer one than most "experts" are predicting.

I'm predicting a Cornhuskers victory (don't get too excited, I also told friends we'd destroy Colorado). Nebraska should be able to move the ball fairly effectively. Miami has a quick defense, but they aren't a physical D. Nebraska should be able to run up the gut and wear them down.

Which Nebraska defense will show up? Like Colorado, Miami has a very balanced offensive attack. I'm not dazzled with Heisman contender Ken Dorsey, but the Hurricane running backs - Clinton Portis, Najeah Davenport, Frank Gore - are studs and could rack up some yards behind the great Miami O-line. If the Huskers can't stifle the Cane ground game, it could be a long evening.

The key factor will be the crowd. Expect the Rose Bowl to be about 75 percent red on January 3. Miami fans pretty much suck, and don't go to great lengths to support their team (they rarely sell out home games). The energy the Huskers will receive from the crowd will ultimately be the difference when the fourth quarter rolls around.

I've got my tickets and will be making the drive from Phoenix. Hope to see you there.

Bill Marks, a.k.a. the Desert Husker, is a professional business writer and consultant living in Chandler, Ariz. He is a longtime Husker fan and can be contacted at billAZhusker@aol.com.

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