Husker Monday Takes: The Big Ten/NU Marriage

By at February 14, 2011 | 10:01 AM | Print

Six takes as the ice melt, melt, melts away right along with all the hearts on Valentine's Day.

***Just a hunch here. But now that the snickers have worn off over Bo Pelini hiring a former golf pro to join his offensive staff in some capacity, I suspect Rich Fisher will become a popular story rather quickly in Huskerville. Nebraska fans like an underdog, a comeback story, and that fits Fisher, who, from everyone I've talked to, is a galvanizing, effective communicator. Bo would be wise to turn this guy loose on the press.

Among fans, there's a bit of resistance over some of Bo's presumed hire, but that mood will shift once the introductory press conference convenes. Folks want this to work. Folks want Bo to work. Too much adulation and blithe confidence has been invested in the guy for it to be any other way. The Straight Talk style – such a change from the calculated coachspeak of Callahan – was such a hit on the campaign trail, so to speak, that fans just want the wins and trophies to back up the frankness.

One thing's clear. This staff will all pull in one direction: Bo's. And I'm not sure NU could always say that in the first three years.

***Nebraska football officially made the move on ESPN from the Big 12 to the Big Ten last week. The Mouse's compilation of articles were very complimentary of the Huskers, and athletic director Tom Osborne said Big Ten officials have been in and out of North Stadium prepping NU for the transition.

“So for the last six, eight months, we've had a fairly steady flow of people from the Big Ten who have come out here: compliance, business office practices, academic consulting, Big Ten Network and on and on,” Osborne told ESPN. “So we feel very good about the outreach and the effort that the Big Ten has put in to assimilating us into the conference.”

The NU-Big Ten marriage will have a long, fruitful honeymoon. Nebraska will be eager to please and travel to all of the Big Ten sites. Minneapolis and Chicago better brace themselves for an onslaught of red every other year. The Twin Cities will become, for some, the new Kansas City – the place where folks go in the summer just because. Might take a decade, but the shift will be sure. There will be less and less reason to venture south for leisure if one of the key cultural connective tissues has been severed.

***As explored in this quick take, Nebraska's recruiting class in 2012 will be super-small – 15 players or fewer – unless some attrition occurs over the spring and summer. And even then – NU could award those scholarships to non-senior walk-ons (like Austin Cassidy last year).

Of course, there are needs. Gaps left behind by the previous two classes and recurring needs no matter the year. They are:

Quarterback: By this time next year, Jamal Turner could be a stud wide receiver and Bubba Starling a stud centerfielder riding on a smelly bus, for all we know.

Running back: If Braylon Heard doesn't academically qualify by the summer, he's probably headed for a junior college, and two true freshmen are likely to be NU's No. 2 and No. 3 running backs. Depth is needed.

Defensive end: Nebraska recruited this position hard in the 2010 class, but I've heard some of those recruits aren't exactly zooming up the charts. There's a reason NU pursued a junior college transfer Joe Carter in this class.

Tight end: The Huskers have come close on landing a couple big names, only to see them end up academically ineligible (recruit Chase Harper and transfer Kavario Middleton). This could be a top priority in 2012. Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed are upperclassmen next year; the No. 3 guy is walk-on Jake Long.

You don't see wide receiver up there. That's because NU will always sign one per class, but the Huskers have wasted enough scholarships on the position. Time to start developing the scholarship guys already around. Plenty of them, too.

***Thirty-five wins, a regional bid and no excuses for Mike Anderson and his Nebraska baseball team. And, yes, 35 wins will get NU in a regional. The schedule is tough in spots – three-game series against preseason No. 1 UCLA, No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 7 Texas, No. 13 Texas A&M – but manageable otherwise. Two early-season tournaments in Texas are full of beatable teams, and the Huskers get home dates with other Big 12 middle-of-the-roaders like Kansas State, Missouri and Oklahoma State. And it's against those teams – not necessarily UT and OU – where Nebraska has to make gains this year.

The pitching should be there. Tom Lemke has the makeup of a solid Friday ace. Casey Hauptman is plenty talented as a closer. The middle relief shouldn't be awful. NU has some experience with the arms. So, again, it comes down to offense. And Anderson seemed to suggest at his season-opening presser that a NCAA-mandated reduction in the pop of metal bats will benefit a small ball team like his. It better.

The must-see baseball doesn't start until March 4 – that's when the Bruins roll into town with that awesome pitching staff – but the crucial part of NU's non-conference schedule starts two weeks before that. Nebraska can be – and should be – 9-0 or 8-1 by the time UCLA visits Lincoln.

***Nebraska football fought – and usually lost – against two Big 12 South foes for 15 years: Oklahoma and Texas. If the Nebraska men's basketball team can find a way this week to beat that Red River duo – the Sooners in Norman, the awesome Longhorns in front of a packed house at the Bob Devaney Sports Center – the Huskers will leap with both feet onto the NCAA Tournament bubble.

It can be had. NU plays the kind of defense that can frustrate OU, while the crowd energy for next Saturday's UT game will be off the charts. Do you seriously think Nebraska fans will let Texas go quietly into the night after all that's gone down on the football field in the last 14 months? It'll be the best, angriest crowd Doc Sadler's ever seen at the Bob. And if Bo chooses to officially introduce his coaching staff at halftime, hey – all the better.

Just when Husker hoops fans thought they were out for the winter and spring – Nebraska pulled them back in. For one more week at least.

***Last chance to see one of the best athletes in Nebraska history do his thing at home. Husker wrestler Jordan Burroughs – NU's first undefeated national champ in 2009 – is poised to do it again in 2011 after sitting out most of last year with a devastating knee injury. Burroughs rehabbed all the way back to full strength, moved up a weight class from 157 pounds to 165, and has summarily pounded every challenger in the weight, twice beating the No. 2 wrestler in the weight class.

His “Senior Day” is Sunday vs NU's rival, Iowa State.

Burroughs is breathtakingly good on his feet – the best takedown artist in Husker history – and plenty formidable on the mat. Remarkable speed when he goes into for a shot. So aggressive that frequently risks takedowns, then squirms out of them. He stalks his opponent with confidence and calm, sometimes even taking a period to feel out the foe. But when Burroughs strikes for a takedown, he can rip off six or seven in a minute, the thwap! of his opponent tumbling to mat accompanied by the referee's two fingers shot up in the air.

Even if you don't understand wrestling – even if you don't much like it – head to NU Coliseum Sunday at 2 p.m. The admission is cheap. The trip to watch Burroughs at least once is worth it. In his sport, he's every bit the athlete Ndamukong Suh was in his. And dominance looks about the same.

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