Nebraska Football

Love or Hate: A Special Big Ten Media Days Edition

July 19, 2019
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This has been a long two days. But it’s still Friday. So let’s get to it.

Words Never Heard Before

Something strange happened at Big Ten Media Days this year. Teams were incredibly honest with where they’re all at as teams this close to the season. If the talk is any indication, this may be the most competitive season of football ever. Everyone is in a really good spot. Every coach likes their team.

Everyone worked their tails off in the weight room and added muscle. And all that muscle has everyone feeling bigger, but it hasn’t cost anyone their quickness! Surprisingly, everyone is faster, too. When Husker head coach Scott Frost was introduced at Nebraska, he said he’s hoping the Big Ten will adapt to him, not the other way around, and it looks like that happened! Everyone’s fast now. 

The Big Ten is expected to once again have some of the country’s best teams, and it’s going to be a grind week in and week out, but make no mistake, every team is only focused on taking things one game at a time. Last season is in the rearview mirror — “the rearview mirror is small and the windshield is big for a reason,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said as this was being typed — and all that matters is the next game on the schedule. 

You ask Ohio State’s Jonathon Cooper about Nebraska, and he gives you an answer about every team in the Big Ten. You ask Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim if he’s got a game on his calendar circled and he tells you they’re all circled. Woof. That’s a unique mindset to have and every team in the league seems to have it. 

Can’t wait for what should be an excellent season.

(I don’t know how to make these things less robotic, but we should probably try and figure out how to make these things less robotic. When tables get less crowded and players can talk with media members one-on-one or two- or three-on-one, the insight is great. But when all the cameras heat up, it’s hard to really find meat on the bone. 

If a coach or a player doesn’t want to answer something potentially controversial, just don’t give an answer. Traveling to a new city to not answer questions you’re asked is a waste of time for everyone involved. This whole event isn’t a waste, that’s not the point, and yes we absolutely need to be better on our side of it to not come with the same cookie-cutter topics each year, but this whole thing, in a lot of ways, just feels like posturing. I wonder if there’s a way to make conversations a little more organic.)

Breaking the Mold

Like the ones we had with Mo Barry.

“I’m not going to say I hate them or anything but that’s a team I really want to beat and can’t wait to give it to them,” the senior linebacker said early on in his hour-long Q&A session.

The senior linebacker was great at the mic on Thursday. Someone asked him about becoming a leader and he said “I was never scared to tell people to follow the rules.” He’s also never been scared to really just tell it like it is. Barry was real on Thursday. He was honest. He talked about things we haven’t heard him or the defense talk about yet.

Here’s Barry on a perceived lack of depth at inside linebacker: “When I hear that, I just roll my eyes. We’ve got players. The freshmen are capable. And we did that last year, so I don’t think that’s a new thing. The two players in that inside linebacker (spot) should be ready to play no matter what, and they will be. I’m certain because we watch extra film, we do footwork, we listen to Coach Barrett Ruud. That’s what matters. I think and I know that the players we have in that room are ready to play.”

Here’s Barry on managing hype and expectations: “I just don’t get it when people ask me about the hype. We went 4-8 last year. If anyone on the team thinks we’re rock stars right now when we haven’t proved nothing, I don’t know what’s wrong with them. No one on the team thinks like that. We’re hungry and we’re going above and beyond to better ourselves.”

While Frost isn’t immune to coach speak, he’s generally pretty good about answering things. The effusive praise of center Cameron Jurgens is enough now to think Frost just genuinely loves the kid. When he talks about strength and conditioning, he usually doesn’t sugar coat things. On Thursday he talked about the old Performance Index testing, saying it used to be big enough to make its way into newspapers but, as of a year ago, strength coach Zach Duval didn’t even want to publicize the numbers because of how far the team had fallen.

"I think the West hasn't been as good as it should be because I don't think Nebraska has been as good as it should be,” Frost said. 

Some refreshing stuff from the Husker contingent. It was good to see.

Targeting Adjustments

Per Bill Carollo, the coordinator of football officiating for the Big Ten, the targeting call got some tweaks this offseason to reduce some of the grey area surrounding what Carollo accurately referred to as the biggest call in the game. 

First things first, three targeting calls against one player in a season results in a suspension for the game immediately following the third infraction. I’m all for thinking that the harsher the punishment, the less likely the action becomes. I assume that’s the thinking here. 

The bigger change was the announcement the review now requires every aspect of targeting to be confirmed. The most interesting language in sports reviews is the difference between “the call stands” and “the call is confirmed.” The former is used when officials think but they can’t definitively answer one way or another, while the latter is when you can prove without a shadow of a doubt. With targeting carrying not only a 15-yard penalty but also an ejection, there’s no room for wishy-washy decisions. If an official can’t decide, the player in question should get to stay on the field.

This call needs transparency but above all it needs consistency. If I sound like a broken record player, so be it. It’s a game-changing call if, for instance, someone like Mo Barry is flagged for Nebraska, or Chase Young for Ohio State, or Paddy Fisher for Northwestern. What’s targeting one week should be targeting the next. 

Carollo, thankfully, agrees with me.

“We had too many marginal calls, too many ticky-tack fouls, too many on the margin, just on the edge that, boy, they could have passed on that,” he said. “Well, we're going to get rid of that. Now it's going to be tougher for my officials, especially in replay.  Either it is or it isn't, and I think that's important. So we might have a few less. We're not backing away from it.”

Good.

Jim for the Win

Okay, Jim Harbaugh has legend status now. 

After coming in sideline gear last season, Michigan’s head coach ditched the khakis-plus-polo look for a suit. But he kept the Michigan hat. Point, Harbaugh.

When asked what has caused the Big Ten to be shut out of recent College Football Playoff fields, Harbaugh answered “I don’t have all the answers to that. Maybe something that would be worthy of you researching, studying.”

On Thursday, The Athletic published a podcast with Harbaugh during which he said “controversy follows” former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer everywhere he goes. It made waves, people gasped, pearl-clutching happened, it instantly filled the notebooks of national media for podium fodder when Harbaugh took the stage in Chicago Friday. Instead of walking back his comment or saying he was being misinterpreted, Harbaugh went the road less traveled. 

“I don't think it was anything that was anything new or anything of a bombshell,” he said. “It’s things that many of you all understand and have written about.”

And when asked a follow-up later, he said this, per Eleven Warriors’ Colin Hass-Hill: "I don’t see why people are so afraid to say what they think. Maybe that’s something that's worthy to be examined.”

And then when asked if he felt he’d poked a bear he said this: "I'm not into making animal analogies, so the poking the bear thing doesn’t resonate with me.”

When asked about being the favorite to win the conference and whether he’d prefer to be the hunter rather than the hunted, he said this: “I think that’s where I would pick us.”

That Harbaugh took the podium 15 minutes after Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst makes it even better.

Time for a Facelift

Frost put the onus on the UNL Board of Regents. For the first time publicly, Nebraska’s football facilities weren’t among the best out there. 

“We have 150-some on our roster right now. We don’t have that many seats in our team room. Our position rooms are too small. Our training room is way too small. There’s some things about our facilities that don’t fit the mold of what we’re trying to build right now,” Frost said. 

The current set-up was built during the Bill Callahan era. Read: eons ago in college football years. Frost pointed out that most of Nebraska’s Power Five peers have renovated facilities. Nebraska is behind. There’s just no way of hiding behind that. Look at the locker room. The trend now is metal and lights everywhere. The aesthetic when Nebraska’s locker room was built was wood. Look at Florida’s new locker room and then Nebraska’s. Tradition is one thing, but those look like they’re pictures from two different centuries.

“At some point we’re going to have to do something,” Frost said. “Really what you want to do is give high school kids as many reasons as possible as you can give them to come to Lincoln, Nebraska, and play football. If that means we need to upgrade in some way, shape or form, then I hope we come to the right decision there.”

Athletic Director Bill Moos said he currently does not have an approved renovation project on the table. He said it might be some time before one materializes. 

Since Frost’s arrival, this has been a topic of conversation. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not just because we don’t have anything better to write about. A few months ago when he spoke with Hail Varsity, Moos said Nebraska is going to have the play the game if it wants to win like its peers. 

Frost’s comments on Thursday represented Nebraska stepping up to the sideline and saying “We got next.”

 
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