In the past 20 years, Nebraska has scheduled which non-conference opponent more than any other?
Answer: Southern Mississippi. Five times. Six, if you count this Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
(The Huskers have also played Washington five times during that span, but the 2010 Holiday Bowl, of course, wasn’t scheduled.)
I’m certain that as Walter Camp was drawing up rules for his new sport back in the 1870s, as he envisioned the great rivalries it would produce across the country, Nebraska-Southern Mississippi was right at the top of his list.
OK, maybe not. But Southern Miss did, in fact, give the wonderful 1999 Huskers a serious scare. In 2003, I experienced the strangest road trip of my life, as old buddy Dave Diehl documented for the Daily Nebraskan. And then came the 2004 affair, the unofficial end of the Bill Callahan honeymoon, which I followed on a crummy Internet connection from a Paris hotel.
Nebraska outgained Southern Miss 476-239. Didn’t matter. In the final minute, trailing 21-17, Joe Dailey famously ran out of bounds after a 10-yard gain ... on fourth-and-15. It was that kinda day.
"You know what?" Dailey said. "I blew it today. I can't lie. I can't dress it up. It was all on me. I turned the ball over four times. I'm the quarterback. I'm supposed to take care of the ball. It's my fault, and it's all on me."
World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel described the day like this:
Diary of a NU Era. Game Two: Reality bites.
Southern Mississippi 21, Nebraska 17. This is reality for Nebraska football, circa 2004. Stuff happens.
This is the stuff that happens when you change head coaches, when you say the man who went 9-3 can take the ship only so far and you want to go further. If you believe in that decision, this is what’s known as a short-term loss toward the bigger gains of the future. One step backward before two steps forward.
This is the stuff that happens when you change systems and you have a sophomore quarterback making his second start.
This is the stuff that happens when that new offense and quarterback face a real defense for the first time, a defense with speed and ability and disguises.
This is the stuff that happens when you turn the ball over five times to a so-called “mid-major’’ program. Teams like Southern Miss and Troy State are good enough to steal one if you leave the front door open.
The reality is that Nebraska football must be all about patience right now. That reality was written on the somber faces of a Husker Nation as it shuffled out of Memorial Stadium.
I dredge up these old memories not to scare Husker fans about the potential of another Callahan era, but to remind them of how awful and awkward these first seasons typically are.
Callahan went 5-6. Bo Pelini did a phenomenal job in 2008 and he still started 3-3. That’s no excuse for Mike Riley’s leaky offensive line play or for ugly defense. Bad football is bad football, whether it’s year one or year five.
But Nebraska is likely a worse football team now than it was 10 months ago. And it'll likely stay that way until 2016, at the earliest.
That’s hard to stomach, but it is reality.
* * *
>> Three phenomenal obituaries of Yogi Berra, the greatest winner baseball has ever known. Here’s Will Leitch. Mike Vaccaro. And Tom Verducci. Seriously, you could spend two hours reading Berra tributes today and you'd be a happier person for it.
>> The Royals finally demoted Greg Holland from the closer role. Holland’s collapse in 2015 has weakened their vaunted bullpen — bye bye, HDH — but with his fastball lingering in the low-90s, he had to go.
>> Which MLB team gets hot in the final two weeks and steals a division or a wild card spot or maybe just a seed? Do the Yankees (-2.5) catch Toronto? Or do the Blue Jays (-1.5) catch Kansas City for home field?
Do the Astros (-2) catch the Rangers for the AL West? Or do the Twins (-2) catch the Astros for a wild card?
Maybe the Cubbies (-2) clip the Pirates and earn the right to host the wild card at Wrigley. Wouldn’t that be something.
>> A rare conversation between Bill James and Billy Beane, two icons in the baseball statistical revolution.
Here's a quote from Beane: "The great thing about what’s gone on is there is a transparency to the game. It’s now a meritocracy. The best and the brightest now are part of baseball teams. It’s no longer an insider’s game where, ‘I played, therefore I inherit the position.’ To me, that’s what this last decade has busted open. The people that we’re hiring and other baseball teams are hiring, we’re competing with the Apples and the Googles of the world. I just had an intern presentation a few weeks ago from the interns we have and what they were working on. It’ll make your mind spin."
>> The eight-year anniversary of Mike Gundy’s famous rant! So that makes him how old? Duh. 48!
>> The football culture war within the SEC West. Good stuff from Michael Weinreb.
>> The day Hayden Fry almost fired Kirk Ferentz and Dan McCarney.
>> Cool story from Andy Staples on blood-flow restriction training, the cutting-edge/old-school technique that is accelerating rehab for injured athletes.
>> Chip Kelly doesn’t care about the Eagles, David Jones says. That’s why he doesn’t belong in Philly. Good column, which could apply to coaches all over the place these days. Jones writes:
“This place and its history might as well be Orlando to Kelly. He could not give a damn what the listeners or the readers or the hosts or the writers say or write about him. He'll do it his way, on his own. If it doesn't work out, he'll pick up someplace else. NH to OR to PA to where next? TX? Just another sticker.”
>> College athletic directors have focused their latest concerns on fantasy leagues, specifically DraftKings and FanDuel. Should athletes be allowed to participate?
The hypocrisy is thick, though, as usual. Because the networks that broadcast games (ESPN, Fox, Pac-12 Network, etc.) welcome advertisement dollars from DraftKings and FanDuel. And guess who eventually receives that money? The schools and their administrators.
It's quite the quandary because Congress has already exempted it from gambling laws.
Only one team in the country has given up more 30-plus pass plays than Nebraska (11). That’s SMU (13). The Huskers are third-to-last nationally in long scrimmage plays allowed (13).
You probably knew all that. But do you know who hasn’t given up a single play of 30-plus all season? Oregon State got drilled at Michigan two weeks ago, but the Beavers are only giving up 279 yards per game.
>> Finally, let's bring this thing full circle. On Sept. 26, 2003, I got home from my horrendous adventure to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The next morning, I left for another road trip, to Milwaukee's Miller Park. What for? Springsteen. It was my third concert; I've been to about 15 since.
Today is the Boss' 66th birthday. Blow out your candles, Bruce, then get back out on tour.