Someone send Jim Delany a congratulatory fruit basket. Perhaps a toy row boat.
Despite Rutgers’ best efforts to sabotage his conference, the recently retired Big Ten king completed his 31-year commissioner term with a landmark football season. The Big Ten, for the first time since 1956, placed five teams in the final AP top 15.
Ohio State 3rd
Penn State 9th
Michigan joined the party at 18th.
I don’t point this out to prompt SEC-style conference cheering from Husker fans. When you finish 5-7, there are no silver linings. But the AP poll interests me because of what it means for Scott Frost in 2020.
Those five teams that finished in the top 15? Nebraska faces them to finish next season.
Oct. 31: at Ohio State
Nov. 7: Penn State
Nov. 14: at Iowa
Nov. 21: at Wisconsin
Nov. 27: Minnesota
You’ve probably heard about this 2020 gauntlet. Maybe even studied it yourself. But I’m 99.9% sure we can call this five-game stretch something else.
Based on my research, no team in college football history (!!!) played five consecutive regular-season games against teams that finished the previous season in the top 15. Not even in the vaunted SEC.
It almost feels like a dirty trick. Nebraska, for the first time in 60 years, had three straight losing seasons. So let’s give Big Red a full head of steam — maybe even a 7-0 start — before erecting a brick wall in the road. Happy Halloween, Scott.
Chances are those five teams won’t be as good collectively as they were in 2019. But the Huskers better pace themselves. The relentless final five will expose any and all weaknesses.
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We can debate the greatest college football team of all time. We can argue over college football’s best 150 players.
But from now on, there is no argument over greatest quarterback season of all time. Joe Burrow locked it up.
Burrow’s 2019 included 378 passing yards per game, a 76% completion percentage, 65 total touchdowns, including 60 passing. He threw for 16 touchdowns and no interceptions alone post-regular season — against Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson.
Burrow’s numbers, including an NCAA record 201.97 passer rating, look like he should’ve chosen a harder setting on his video game. Sure, he benefited from a super supporting cast. But so did Joe Montana and Tommie Frazier. A quarterback’s job is to maximize his circumstances, and Burrow did it better than any college QB ever.
On Monday's episode, Adam Carriker gives his gut reaction to LSU winning the national championship over Clemson.
Before Burrow moves on to the NFL, where he’ll likely join Zac Taylor’s Bengals in Cincinnati, it’s worth noting where Burrow was a year ago: 65th nationally in passer efficiency.
The greatest quarterback season in college football history essentially came out of nowhere. And it should give hope to any program, any athlete, any person who sees a flicker of greatness inside. If Burrow can do what he did, maybe I can be special, too.
(OK, maybe not me, but definitely you.)
* * *
Comparing athletes from different generations is silly and impossible. Yet ESPN’s college football 150, a list of the sport’s greatest all-time players compiled by a panel of 150 experts, features a conspicuous absence of 21st century stars.
Go through the list yourself. Isn’t it odd that Adrian Peterson (45th), Ricky Williams (57th) and Reggie Bush (61st) are so far behind great backs of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s? The top 18 backs on the list played before 1990.
I suppose nostalgia is inevitable. More notable locally — aside from the great Gale Sayers at No. 10 — is the panel’s rankings of former Huskers.
Johnny Rodgers was 39th, just ahead of Marcus Allen, Charles Woodson and Lawrence Taylor. Dave Rimington was 48th, Ndamukong Suh 63rd, Mike Rozier 68th, Tommie Frazier 97th and Rich Glover 112th.
I’m not much for Mount Rushmore discussions, but you can tell a pretty complete story of Husker football with four of those faces:
Too bad one of them didn’t walk on.
* * *
Finally, a shoutout to the Houston Trash-tros. Banging a garbage can to inform your batters of off-speed pitches won’t win any awards for criminal genius. But hey, whatever delivers a World Series, go for it.
They can fire your GM and manager, they can’t take away the memories.
Seriously, though, this is a sport that banned its hit king for gambling, a sport that tarred and feathered its steroid users, a sport that enforces ridiculous unwritten rules like bat-flipping and bunting. The fact that Houston got away with this, ahem, garbage for so long is a stain that doesn’t wash off with a few terminations.
It’s worse than Spygate and Deflategate in New England. And if MLB wanted to send a message, it should’ve punished not just Astros leadership, but Astros players.