Hail Varsity Mailbag
Photo Credit: Quentin Lueninghoener

Mailbag: The Blackshirt Standard, a Successful Season, and More

February 10, 2021

It’s Wednesday, so let’s get to the mailbag.

The Blackshirt standard. Heard a lot from the seniors about setting the standard/expectations. In order to do so, someone needs to know what it takes to get to that level, and stay at that level. Does the program have that person? Does that fall solely on Coach Ruud? (@BCoffendaffer) 

Erin Sorensen: Let me begin by saying I think the “Blackshirt standard” can and should evolve in time. Expecting it to mirror what it was (or wasn’t) in history is probably hindering it. We’ve seen coaches in history evolve the tradition (even Scott Frost has gone away from how it was originally handled when he was on the team). For that reason, I do think the program has that person. It’s your defensive leaders. I think of a player like Ben Stille. He certainly can uphold the standard and expectation, but I also think he can evolve it. Plenty of players on this team seem to fit the Blackshirt standard, from a guy like Casey Rogers to a guy like Cam Taylor-Britt. They might all approach it a little differently, and I think that’s OK if they do. Barrett Ruud definitely understands it from personal experience and can use that knowledge to share with the team, but how he approaches it is also allowed to evolve. That doesn’t weaken “the Blackshirt standard” or make it any worse or better. It just allows the tradition to adapt to new systems, coaches and players in time. 

Mike Babcock: The Blackshirt “tradition” is from a different time. It was established by some nationally ranked defenses, after initially simply being a way to distinguish the first-team defense from the second. Players received black pullovers at the beginning of practice and turned them in afterward, to possibly get a black pullover again the next day. Anyway, the tradition needn’t change. It’s a tradition of greatness, exclusive of whether players who work their way to the top of the depth chart are awarded black practice jerseys now; that was the beginning, remember. The current coaches, including Barrett Ruud, decide who “deserves’ the coveted jerseys, based on their standards, in the context of a long-held tradition. One can aspire to a tradition, be driven by it. No need to change it. And no need to suspend it. It’s about qualities in players, a standard, not necessarily about numbers. I remember when Zack Bowman turned in his Blackshirt after what he considered a poor performance. Some fans freaked out. How could he do such a thing? But it reflected a quality, his belief that he hadn’t lived up to what he considered the tradition. The next week or two, all the Blackshirts were pulled after a very poor performance. They hadn’t met a standard. 

If the Huskers go 6-6 in 2021, will that be considered a success? (@PJGBRHusker) 

MB: I’d consider it success because of improvement, step by step. Not sure the most vocal of the fan base would consider it success at this point. It seems as if folks want something earth-shaking to happen. That seems unreasonable, which brings us back to 6-6 equals success, a step not a destination. 

Greg Smith: This is tricky. It would be considered improvement but not a success to me. I think the team has to have seven wins to have the season be considered a success. I don’t make a habit of disagreeing with Mike but I don’t think people want something earth-shattering. I’ve been surprised at how realistic as a lot of fans are with the possibilities of the 2021 season.  

ES: Which six are the Huskers winning? If Nebraska defeats a team like Oklahoma to get those six? Seems more like a success, I’d suppose. 

Brandon Vogel: Six wins would be an unquestioned success for me given that this is a team that a) has yet to win more than five under this staff, b) is losing its top running back and receiver plus two starters on the offensive line and c) is scheduled to face six teams ranked in the top 32 of the just-released SP+ ratings (the Huskers are No. 31). In fact, if you gave me the opportunity to lock in a 6-6 record right now and give up the chance that the season is any better than that, I’d take it. This program needs progress, even if in the win-loss column that progress looks relatively small. 

How long until Bill Busch is a full-time assistant? (@Corn_Huskers) 

MB: Glad to see Bill back. He could certainly be a candidate if an opportunity/need arose. 

GS: Whether it’s in Lincoln or elsewhere, he’ll be a full-time assistant in 2022. 

Any names for the backup center position with the departure of Will Farniok? (@Unclerico9806) 

Derek Peterson: Things can—and I’m sure they will change—as Nebraska moves through spring ball, but I think Trent Hixson is potentially a name to watch there. He took limited reps at center last season, if I’m not mistaken. I would think Hixson gets a look for the right guard spot, as will several other guys, and so maybe whichever guard falls out of that competition earlier will slide over and start working there.

What do you see as the best-case scenario for how the Men’s Basketball team will finish this season? Not just talking about wins/losses. (@iheartwinona) 

MB: Cutting turnovers, working the ball, passing it, instead of one player doing what he does on offense, fundamental things improving, which will impact the opportunity to win a game or two. That’s the best-case scenario as I see it, basic things.  

First team other than Nebraska you will take to a national championship when NCAA football video game is back? (@PBlak69) 

ES: I first read this as another sport in a similar game, and I was going to take volleyball. Re-reading the question, that’s not what you asked. Give me Appalachian State . . . just kidding. I’ll leave that to Brandon, who rightfully deserves to take that team to a national title as their No. 1 fan. Give me Michigan. Move over, Jim Harbaugh. 

BV: Almost had to fight Erin. Instead, we will settle it on the virtual field, her Wolverines against my Mountaineers. This has never gone poorly for Michigan before. 

GS: I’ve already spent too much time thinking about this. I have my choices down to a pair of schools on opposite coasts already. I’ll either go with USC or Florida State. I am leaning FSU because the uniforms are cooler but it’s not as fun to play in the ACC.

DP: Coastal Carolina. 

Attendance across the board is declining across college athletics. What would you do to attract the next generation of fans to attend college games? (@dmhusker1) 

ES: More seat room. It’s not a sexy answer, but so many people don’t want to come to games because they’re uncomfortable. If you’re tall, your legs have nowhere to go. If you are literally any size larger than a 10-year-old child, you’re squashed into seats next to a bunch of people. I know that would cut down on the number of people who can fit in a stadium or arena, but I don’t care. Give people more space to be comfortable.  

MB: Agree with Erin, make Memorial Stadium and Pinnacle Bank Arena more fanfriendly, which means fewer fans for capacity but more comfortable surroundings. Both facilities emphasize numbers over comfort. Success would help as well. Footnote: third level at Pinnacle Bank Arena is dizzying. I’ve been up there a couple of times, had season tickets—used only twice. Also, the money used to add the dizzying seats on the east side of Memorial Stadium should’ve been used to make the seats wider elsewhere in the stadium. As Bob Devaney always said, keep demand greater than availability. 

GS: Erins answer is perfect. If I were going to games as a fan regularly it would turn me off with how cramped things are. I completely understand the appeal of box seats just to avoid that.  

What car from the 60s, 70s, or 80s would you want to see back on the road with current updates except the body/look would be the same as the vehicle and year you choose. (@Corn_Huskers) 

MB: Corvette or Ford Galaxie (that’s a long story). 

BV: Can I cheat and say the Ford Bronco again? I think I can because even though it’s back on the road now, it’s not really with the same look. Give me all of the nice, modern updates but I want the vehicle to look exactly like an early-1980s Bronco. 

DP: My dream car is the 1967 Shelby GT500. Give me Eleanor with an updated interior and some touchscreens on the dash and I will have a vehicle I will drive until the day I die.

Will men’s basketball win a conference game this season? (@hotovy) 

MB: Yes, still think the Huskers will winmaybe only one, but don’t ask me which one. 

Since I wanted to have this discussion on my podcast and scheduling proved too difficult, I’ll ask it here: who is on your Mount Rushmore of professional athletes?

ES: This question is difficult. There are so many I want to include and deserve to be included, so Im going to pick two women and two men just to give myself some direction: Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Simone Biles. Others receiving votes (from me): Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Usain Bolt and every gymnast who has ever been part of the UCLA women’s team. 

GS: Serena Williams, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Simone Biles for me. It is really hard to narrow it down to four. Jackie Joyner-Kersee Lebron James, Jerry Rice, Jackie Robinson and Muhammed Ali being left off feels weird but they are in my others receiving votes category.  

BV: I see what you’re trying to do there, Greg, not even putting Jordan in contention. Seems fun now, but when every single person who shows up to your Mount Sportsmore asks you, “Where’s Jordan?”, it will quickly become a curse. You’ll wish you just did the thing that everyone knows you have to do. Anyway . . . Jordan, Jackie Robinson, Serena and, I’m not a huge hockey guy, but you probably have to go Gretzky. I don’t like not having football on there, but my pick there would’ve been Barry Sanders. 

DP: Serena Williams, LeBron James, Lionel Messi, and Michael Jordan. Yell at me.

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