NU knows 'name' foes early can lead to a playoff payoff

TOM SHATEL

BYU this week. Miami (Florida) in three weeks.

It's admirable. And maybe a little nuts.

Former coach Bo Pelini was willing to take on anyone. At Nebraska, that's what you want.

But putting BYU on there the same month as a trip to Miami? Unconventional, yes. Well, these were the same men who led us to Fresno State on a steamy Saturday night last year.

It's the world we live in. The playoff selection committee spoke last year, and spoke loudly, in leaving out Baylor and its weak nonconference schedule. Clearly, playoff hopefuls must have at least some vegetables in their September diet.

Most top 20 football types/ playoff contenders have at least one Power Five opponent on their schedule. It's good for the fans, good for the playoff folks.

But two? It seems a bit much, alongside a Power Five league schedule.

Know what? It's also Nebraska tradition.

Tom Osborne, who was athletic director when this schedule was put together, was always criticized for playing soft schedules. But it's a bad rap. Look it up.

In the Bob Devaney and Osborne eras, Nebraska played two or three schools from major conferences. In some cases, four.

Some examples:

1981: Iowa, Florida State, Penn State, Auburn. (OK, Hayden Fry and Bobby Bowden were just starting their dynasties, but come on!)

1982: At Penn State and at Auburn in consecutive weeks.

1987: UCLA, Arizona State, South Carolina.

1994: West Virginia, Texas Tech, UCLA.

2002: Arizona State, Penn State.

Back in the '60s and '80s, most nonconference schedules were made up of other Power 6 schools — the SEC, Big Ten, Big Eight, Pac-8/10, SWC and ACC. Nobody thought of playing an FCS school.

It wasn't until the '90s that major schools started scheduling down, into the mid-major leagues (TCU, an old NU favorite, would drop into that category). They'd offer a nice payday and keep the lion's share of the gate.

Anyway, NU joined the parade in the 21st century, and by 2008, the Huskers were down to one "brand name" nonconference game per year.

This year is a throwback. And no way to welcome a new head coach. BYU is a salty program. It won't come here in fear. It will come expecting to win. And it might.

Mike Riley's reaction? Bring it on.

"I'm really anxious for both of these games, for our team," Riley said. "It's going to be tough, but in the playoff deal, everybody is going to have to play these games.

"I love playing LSU and TCU, Penn State. We didn't always do very well but it was always good for our team. The thing about BYU and Miami, those games are going to be good for our team."

Riley said he wouldn't be opposed to playing two of these a year, even when there's only three nonconference games beginning in 2016 when the Big Ten goes to nine league games.

Again, it's admirable, but it's hard to see it happening again. From 2016 to 2027, the Huskers are booked with home-and-home series with Oregon, Colorado (two times), Oklahoma, Cincinnati and Tennessee.

This is not a bad year to load up on September veggies. Sure, Riley would like to build first-season momentum. But NU is not a playoff contender. If/when the Huskers get back to that level, one of these will be plenty.

So, enjoy the throwback. Unless, of course ...

BYU is not releasing the names of its suspended players until after Saturday's game (when it will be obvious). Riley said he will announce his list later this week.

As a journalist, I want to know. But in the game of football, what BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is doing is smart. Riley should probably do the same, though you have to wonder that if NU's list comes out on Thursday or Friday, will it really give BYU an edge?

It's game week, and Jack Gangwish is a joy to watch. The senior from Wood River, Nebraska, walked around the press conference area on Monday wearing jeans, boots and a big smile on his face. Every Nebraska kid personified.

When Riley was asked what areas of the team he felt good about, he started with the kicking game. Good thing or bad thing?

Gotta believe Alex Gordon was on his way down I-29 on Monday to rejoin the Royals. What a memorable week for Storm Chasers fans. The local club has been on a roll the last few years, and several of the Royals' nucleus of talent came through here, but having Gordon in his prime here for a week topped it all.

Creighton soccer is rolling and the opening crowds have been great. But what would the sport do if it played in the spring?

CU coach Elmar Bolowich told me last week there's a proposal out there to divide the NCAA men's soccer season into two parts: a handful of games in the fall, then the rest and NCAA postseason in the spring. Coach Elmar's in favor, big time. He thinks attendance and interest would explode. I can't argue, but I wonder about the carryover from fall games to spring; how does an NCAA selection committee judge that? Also, how would that affect college baseball attendance, especially on CU's campus?

Miami lost projected starting running back Gus Edwards for the season with an injury. Big break for Riley? Going down there, any edge is a good edge.

One more prediction: Iowa State beats Iowa and Paul Rhoads comes back for another season.

Chat alert: My weekly lunch chat on Omaha.com will now be at 11 a.m. each Thursday. Please join me.

Invite II: KFAB radio legend Gary Sadlemyer is my guest Sept. 8 as we begin another season of the Shatel Lunch Series at the Omaha Press Club. The stories will start flowing at noon.

I've been known to eat breakfast, too. Hope to see you at The World-Herald's Big Red Today Breakfast. The series begins this Thursday at 7 a.m. at Anthony's Steakhouse, and host Mike'l Severe will welcome Husker legend Jeff Kinney.

Former KETV sports director Jon Schuetz is a terrific choice as public address announcer at Memorial Stadium. He's got the pipes, he's knowledgeable and, for the TV games, he knows how to go to commercial.

Here's a settlement: Tom Brady takes a one-game suspension for not cooperating with the NFL. No admission of guilt for Brady and the NFL gets a suspension. Get this ridiculous thing over with.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com

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