The 90s are Dead, but Their Spirit can Survive

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As you might have heard, it’s not the 90s anymore.

For one, the greatest grunge acts are dead – literally, in the case of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains are still hanging around, but that way that old bands do where they don’t make interesting new music and coast off their old hits.

For another thing, Nebraska football isn’t a powerhouse. After three national championships and seven conference titles, (including a truly unstoppable team in 1994), they have become like those bands that coast.

Nebraska fired Bo Pelini this week, a coach who won more than two-thirds of his games every year for seven seasons. That kind of success is such that many schools strive for, but it also came with zero conference titles and zero wins of a notable nature. Seven straight 9/10-win seasons is the putting out the late-career album – your fans hold on for more, but can’t ignore the fact you’re coasting. Meanwhile, everyone else kind of shrugs and moves on.

Many have said that Nebraska fans are asking too much, and they might be right. Pelini might be there still if that second comes off the clock against Texas in the Big 12 championship game, or if they even adequately prepare for Wisconsin both this year and in 2012. But the second stayed, and the Badgers run them off the field.

The 90s are gone forever, and so too, most likely, are the years of powerhouse Nebraska. There’s no shame in that. There’s also no shame in expecting more than they got. Wisconsin is playing for its fourth Big Ten title in five years this weekend, and neighbor Missouri is in their fourth conference championship game in eight years. That kind of success is attainable – but only if Nebraska is ready to reinvent themselves.
Fortunately, there’s a grunge legend out there proving that while the 90s are dead, it’s possible for their spirit to live on. That is, of course, Dave Grohl, the greatest rock musician of our generation.

A quick recap of Grohl’s story – he was the drummer for Nirvana. When Cobain died, Grohl took a bunch of music he wrote – music Cobain wasn’t interested in – and mixed an album where he played every instrument. He called his one-man act Foo Fighters. After he got an album deal with that self-titled album, he put a band together and, nearly two decades later, they remain one of the most popular rock bands out there. They’re still headlining arenas and they’re still putting out chart-topping new hits. Dave Grohl remains culturally relevant (HBO special!), even as the 90s, the hayday of grunge, has long gone.

So the question is:

WHAT CAN NEBRASKA LEARN FROM DAVE GROHL?

1) Keep expectations high
The Foo Fighters aren’t a band that coasts. Many bands with the success of the Foo Fighters would rest on their laurels, record easy music, and soak up royalites. While recording their 7th album, Wasting Light, Grohl would have none of that. They recorded their eight studio album in his garage and mixed the album only by hand. Grohl keeps his expectations high, and they were rewarded with two #1 singles on an album for the first time (“Rope” and “Walk”).

Nebraska has proven to have high expectations. You don’t make the move to fire Pelini after his consistent success unless you think you can do better. He was only a couple breaks away from conference titles; who knows if the the pendulum was about to swing his way. Having expectations, however, is half the battle. Actions go further than words, and Nebraska’s actions back up the fact they they want to be a serious contender. Without those actions, you end up like Iowa.

2) Reinvent yourself in a familiar way
Grohl knew it would be stupid to carry on the full grunge sound of Nirvana, but he wasn’t going to make ska or light rock music. He carried the post-grunge sound to the modern world, lifting alternate music out of the 90s. He also wasn’t afraid to show the heavy influence Nirvana had on his music early on.

Nebraska’s identity in the 90s was based on the triple-option and the blackshirts. Those triple-option days are gone, but there’s no reason the option should be forgotten. With the right connections, Nebraska would be a fine place to run a spread option of sorts. You can either run it with smaller, fast linemen, similar to Oregon, or more of a burly, brutal spread, similar to Auburn and Kansas State. The next hire needs to be one with a creative offensive mind that makes Nebraska football fun. As for the defense, it needs a full makeover. The Big Ten doesn’t lack for defensive talent though, so there’s no reason to think that’s not fixable. The right coordinator will do wonders.

3) Manage your brand
Dave Grohl would have been considered a great musician if he just did the work he did with Nirvana and Foo Fighters. He’s much bigger than that though – he’s worked with Puff Daddy, Tom Petty, Nine Inch Nails, Zac Brown Band, and Ghost. He’s his own brand outside of Foo Fighters and Nirvana. Foo Fighters also promote their brand through unique tours – their latest album, Sonic Highways, was put together as they traveled across the country. They played surprise concerts, worked with local music legends, and recorded a different song on their new album in each city they visited.

For Nebraska to truly reach its peak, it needs to reestablish itself as the football team of the Plains. The new coach and administration must barge into neighboring states and establish yourself as the team to care about. Make little kids want to care about you. Buy time on TV and radio stations in Kansas City, Denver, Des Moines, Springfield, Sioux Falls, Wichita, and even as far as the Quincy, IL market. You don’t buy the ads to sell tickets – you just buy the ads to promote the idea of Nebraska football. The program goes on a huge marketing kick. It must be about more than the 1.8 million inside of Nebraska. It has to have a good hunk of people in neighboring states caring about it as well. Put the coaching staff on a bus and have travel the plains, promoting the program, Sonic Highways-style. Winning helps, obviously, but you can give it a kick in the pants by making your name known. That cache from the 90s has been lost; time to reestablish it.

I’ll end with what my idea of Nebraska’s dream staff would be. Note: This isn’t likely to happen, I get that, but it’s at least a somewhat realistic dream opportunity.

Head Coach: Scott Frost (currently Oregon OC) – Frost, of course, QB’d the Huskers during the ’97 national championship season. He grew up in Nebraska, was a grad assistant there, and spent three seasons in the Heartland at Kansas State and Northern Iowa before heading out to Oregon. He has six years experience coaching one of the best offenses in the nation, and he does it on a team that gets much better results than their recruiting levels indicate. Frost has been recruiting California well now for several years, and it’s not inconceivable that he can convince a couple skill kids to come to Lincoln a year and fill the rest of the roster with undervalued hogs from around the Plains. Oregon has had two top 10 recruiting classes in the past six years, but also multiple classes in the 20-30 range. It hasn’t slowed them down.

In any case, I’d argue Oregon right now is the best comparison to Nebraska in the 90s. A recognizable, stellar offense that overachieves in comparison to talent level due to the discipline that’s been instilled. Meanwhile, the defense is full of monsters and has actually been the more efficient unit in producing pro players. As Oregon’s defense goes, their season tends to go. So if Frost is an offensive coach with no previous head coaching background, who can Nebraska bring in for the defense who can support Frost through the challenges Nebraska’s fan base will provide?

Defensive Coordinator: Will Muschamp – This is tricky, of course, as we know Auburn will likely pursue Muschamp. If that’s the case, Auburn might be willing to pay Muschamp more than Nebraska would hypothetically pay Frost. It’s worth pursuing though. Muschamp’s defenses have always ranged from very good-to-insanely good, even as his offenses at Florida resembled a sloth swimming in mud. He could provide a support system for Frost. He’d also open back up the Texas pipeline for Nebraska – an area he was very successful at recruiting when he was defensive coordinator for Texas.

It’s a pipe dream, of course, but it’d be fun to see. I don’t know how far Nebraska can make it back. It’s not worth throwing in the towel though. They should aspire to beat Wisconsin and constantly play for at least Big Ten titles. They aren’t wrong to aspire for more.

(thanks for reading this totally dumb analogy guys)

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Week 8 Preview: Will the Interesting Games be Interesting?

Week 8 is highlighted by five games involving ranked teams. This looks good on the surface, but will those games actually prove to be entertaining? Continue reading

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Report Card: Week Seven

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A: The Mississippis – We live in a world where Mississippi State is number one in the nation. Let that sink in. Continue reading

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WEEK 7: PLAYOFF PICTURE AND PREDICTIONS

Hi friends! It’s been a few weeks, but I lacked motivation to write for awhile and this is my blog so I will do as I please.

The playoffs are coming, of course, and now that we’re a half-dozen weeks into the season, let’s break it down by dividing teams into groups based on what they have to do to make the inaugural playoff. Continue reading

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Week Two Preview: If Ann Arbor Pops Up, Swipe Left

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The Big 2 and the Little 8. That’s how the Big Ten for a long stretch of time. From 1968 to 1982, Michigan and/or Ohio State had at least a split of the Big Ten title. Michigan State and Iowa each grabbed one split during that time, but Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes dominated the era. Since that time, young people throughout the Upper Midwest are essentially faced with a choice: which one will you hate more? You can hate both teams for certain, you can cheer for an asteroid to barrel into Ann Arbor in late November for certain – but odds are one or both are going to be good, so you pick the lesser of two evils.

As a Notre Dame fan, the decision was easy. Michigan sucks. And I’ll tell you all the reasons why.

(Quick side note – this is nothing against the state of Michigan, which seems to be a fine state. Traverse City has a really cool Cherry Festival! I like Mackinac Island! Mateen Cleaves and the Flintstones remain among my top 5 favorite college basketball teams ever! I’m really rooting for Detroit to bounce back, Motown is cool. All that. Cool? Cool.)

First, let’s start with the nickname. Wolverines. No, not the comic book one. This one. I admit, they are really cool, ferocious little beasts. They can kill things several times their size. Two problems though:

1) THERE ARE NO WOLVERINES LEFT IN MICHIGAN.

You killed them all in the 1800s. Trapped them, sold their pelts, etc. They ran north and mainly reside in Canada now. Naming yourself after one of your state’s most significant victims is terrible.

2) Another story says that Michigan received the moniker “Wolverine State” because that’s what Ohioans called Michiganders during the Toledo War. Reminder – there’s no such place as Toledo, Michigan. Because YOU LOST THE WAR. Ohioans – people whose ancestors now do things like this and this and this (NSFW) and this – they beat you in a war. And you still boom with pride with what they called you, despite the fact that you were the losers. Wolverine is forever a moniker associated with losing.

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The winged helmet seems to be a point of pride. Here’s the thing: Michigan didn’t invent it. Ohio State, Indiana, Georgetown, and even Michigan State all wore it before Michigan did. Check the link, there’s citations and stuff. The winged helmet was invented to help passers better identify their receivers downfield. Really helpful stuff.

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Moving on. The Big House. So big and scary with it’s 115,000 people all crammed into one sp- wait, what’s that? The students aren’t here? That’s right! Michigan students won’t even go to football games! Of course, this is a problem throughout college football. Not just Michigan. Surely, the athletic director of one of the great and powerful athletic programs in the country can find a way to get kids to the stadium!

You know what his idea was? Raising ticket prices 23 percent. It’s proved to be incredibly unpopular, and less students are coming to games again. So of course, they thought of new-fangled ideas over the offseason and said “Fireworks! That’ll put butts in seats!” So they approved a fireworks display for two different games… and it was promptly shut down by their Board of Regents. In fact, one regent said, and I swear this a real quote: “The fireworks should be on the field, not above it.” The only fireworks coming out of Michigan Stadium last year were being lit by opposing teams’ defensive lines.

Michigan Rushing

(Side note – Michigan Stadium is an eyesore as well. It’s a giant bowl. There’s nothing distinctive about it. It’s just a mass of concrete that’s made to cram as many bodies together as possible for no apparent reason.)

Michigan also sucks because they just haven’t won that much lately. Quick, when was the last time that Michigan won the Big Ten? 2004. That’s right, Michigan fans haven’t even had the chance to tweet about a Big Ten title. That’s despite the fact that, according to Rivals, they’ve had a top three recruiting class in the conference for all but one year since 2002. The exception was a 4th placed finish. Talent and hype and terrible quarterback play. The Michigan way.

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You know what really ticks off Michigan fans though? The fact that they, in essense, created the beast that is Notre Dame football. Back in a time before the Spanish-American war, Notre Dame students asked Michigan to teach them football, and Michigan students kindly obliged. Eventually, Notre Dame got good and beat Michigan a handful of times. That made Michigan coach Fielding Yost mad, and he refused to play Notre Dame in 1910 and beyond. In addition, he corralled all the other members of what’s now known as the Big Ten together and made them agree to not schedule Notre Dame. Notre Dame would have been a Big Ten member, if not for Fielding Yost.

So Notre Dame was forced to play a national schedule from coast-to-coast. Long story short, it made them a national power – one that kids (especially Catholics) from all across the country were giving their left hands to play for. It made Notre Dame the 11-time national champion that it is today. Michigan can’t get over the fact that the student overtook the mentor and overshadows them to this day.

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In what I’m sure was just a coincidence, Notre Dame announced this week that it will be playing a home-and-home with Ohio State in 2022 and 2023. Again, a coincidence that this comes in the week leading up to the last scheduled Notre Dame-Michigan game in the foreseeable future, I’m sure. Michigan coach Brady Hoke called Notre Dame chicken last year for ending the series. Notre Dame has since replaced the Michigan game with future home-and-homes against Georgia, Texas, and now Michigan’s arch-rival, Ohio State. Michigan is not the end-all be-all. But maybe, just maybe, they were never that great to begin with:

Michigan sucks.

GAMES OF THE WEEK (All times glorious CT)

#14 USC (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) @ #13 Stanford (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) – 2:30pm, ABC

This has been the most compelling series in college football the past seven years. It started with the greatest upset in college football history in 2007, and has only gotten wilder from there. This series even set the stage for what is currently the NFL’s best rivalry, with Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll taking their pure hate for each other to the NFL. The Matt Barkley/Andrew Luck duels were legendary, and Coach O ended USC’s four-game losing streak to Stanford last season. He led the band afterward brandishing a sword. This series is awesome.

It should be no different this year. The Farm is always hopping when the Trojans come to town. USC looked very dangerous against Fresno State, where they ran a school record 105 plays. Stanford obviously can handle up-tempo attacks, and they’ve seen Steve Sarkisian’s offense before. The Cardinal may be catching USC at a bad time though – early in the season, before USC’s lack of depth can be exposed. This one could go either way. It will be fun. USC 24, Stanford 23

#7 Michigan State (1-0) @ #3 Oregon (1-0) – 5:30pm, FOX

Michigan State’s world-renowned defense puts pressure on offense to be perfect. They press with their corners and use a lot of zone, putting themselves in position to get beat – but only if the offense makes the perfect play. Take a look at this great Chris Brown piece for more on their schemes.

There’s no doubt that Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi have schemed all offseason to plug up Oregon. Similar physical, fast defenses, like Stanford, have had success in slowing down the Ducks. Stanford has an advantage Michigan State doesn’t have though – they’ve seen the Ducks at game speed for several years now. The two keys to the game will be Michigan State getting early stops in each half and special teams play. If Sparty stops Oregon early on, they’ll have proven that they’ve prepared properly to Oregon’s tempo, speed, and second half adjustments. They’ll also take the bite out of the crazy Zoo crowd. As for special teams – in a close game, it could come down to which team has better field position throughout. Oregon 31, Michigan State 13

#15 Ole Miss (1-0, 0-0 SEC) @ Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-0 SEC) – 3:30pm, ESPN

The perfect halftime appetizer for that USC/Stanford bash. Ole Miss’s defense whipped up on Boise State last week, and the offense finally caught up late and hung 35 on the Broncos. Vanderbilt got crushed 37-7 by a Temple team that was quite terrible last year. Week 2 games can be great at reaffirming things that surprised you during week 1. Can Vanderbilt actually be this terrible from the world “go” in the Derek Mason era? Is James Franklin really that big of a miracle worker? Sometimes beatdowns are fun to watch! Ole Miss 41, Vanderbilt 10

Brigham Young (1-0) @ Texas (1-0) – 6:30pm, Fox Sports 1

Last year, Texas went up to Provo and promptly got run over, in a literal sense. BYU put up 550 yards rushing on the Longhorns, including 269 from Taysom Hill, and they beat Texas 40-21. It was pretty much the end of the Mack Brown-era in Austin, who got a nice lame duck victory over Oklahoma, but that’s about it. New Texas coach Charlie Strong just kicked two linemen off his team this week, continuing a rash of dismissals as he tries to set up the program as he sees fit. The problem? The starting offensive line for Texas now has just four combined starts. Texas will also be without starting QB David Ash, who has been burdened by concussions and is considering walking away from the game.

BYU’s defense isn’t quite as good as last year, but it remains stout. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has built this team around great defensive play, and they could beat up on Texas’s inexperienced front. The battle between BYU’s line and Texas’s front seven will be key – BYU is experienced, but Texas is finally healthy up front. This will be an interesting test for both teams. Texas did look very impressive in their opener, but this is the kind of physical test that they failed last year. BYU 20, Texas 14

Michigan (1-0) @ #16 Notre Dame (1-0) – 6:30pm, NBC

All bias aside, Michigan looked great last week. It’s like getting rid of Al Borges does an offense well. Devin Gardner was 13/14, Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith were a terrifying two-headed running attack, and Devin Funchess was all over the place. Brady Hoke has been recruiting at a high level for years, and if Michigan finally gets its act together, the can make a run at the Big Ten and – maybe even the playoffs?

Of course, Notre Dame looked fantastic last week too. Everett Golson was nearly immaculate on deep throws, with only his wide receivers and tight ends letting him down with drops. Two years ago, he was always money on short and intermediate throws. Adding the deep game to his arsenal makes the Irish offense potentially very dangerous. Notre Dame also rotated three running backs in, and all looked solid. There were some coverage breakdowns defensively, but the front seven swarmed at the ball and looked great against the run.

Michigan sucks. Notre Dame 38, Michigan 27

Other games to watch:
#24 Missouri (1-0) @ Toledo (1-0) – 11:00am, ESPN (Why in the world is Mizzou playing AT Toledo???)
Virginia Tech (1-0) @ #8 Ohio State (1-0) – 7:00pm, ABC
Fresno State (0-1) @ Utah (1-0) – 2:00pm, Pac-12 Network
#20 Kansas State (1-0, 0-0 Big 12) @ Iowa State (0-1, 0-0 Big 12) – 11:00am, Fox Sports 1 (Farmageddon!)
East Carolina (1-0) @ #21 South Carolina (0-1) – 6:00pm, ESPNU

And for the locals:
Ball State (1-0) @ Iowa (1-0) – 2:30pm, ESPN2
McNeese State (0-0) @ #19 Nebraska (1-0) – 11:00am, ESPNU (McNeese State had a great convo with @FauxPelini on Twitter this week.)

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Week 1 Review: Sumlin’s World Emerges Out of Johnny’s Ashes

When Texas A&M football joined the SEC in 2012, it was essentially a reboot for the program. It was similar to when a new actor plays James Bond or The Doctor. Their history, while solid, wasn’t particularly storied, so it was an opportunity to redefine the program. Continue reading

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Warts and All, It’s Still Our Game: Week 1 Preview

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These days, it’s can be strange to be a college football fan. The NCAA is fighting what increasingly seems to be a losing battle against players as the old guard tries to keep control of the athletes’ name, image, and likeness. Continue reading

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