Welcome back to Know Your Opponent! Each week during the season we shed some light on the Buckeyes’ opponent, examining their record, traditions, mascot, famous alumni and anything else we think is worth making fun of. This week: The Cornhuskers of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln!
Let’s kick this off with this excellent hype video:
FBS Stats: #10 in CFP (stats from Sports Illustrated)
- Points per Game: 74th
- Yards per Game: 72nd
- Points Allowed per Game: 25th
- Yards Allowed per Game: 51st
A good Huskers defense is in store for the Buckeyes this week, and a matchup of No. 6 and No. 10 is going to draw national attention, not that this isn’t any different from any other week for the Scarlet and Gray. This is another of the Buckeyes’ “true tests” this season, not counting Oklahoma or Wisconsin, or Penn State, or Northwestern. Or Indiana. At least this one is at home. This team has more tests this season than an eighth-grade class falling behind in Race To The Top metrics.
Mascot: Herbie Husker and Lil’ Red
Nebraska is our third opponent this season with two mascots, after Bowling Green with their pair of falcons and Oklahoma with their two horses. Herbie is the oldest, in both depicted age and actual existence, created in 1974. He originally wore overalls, had long, blond hair, and rocked a corncob in his pocket. His look was updated to the current combo of jeans, work shirt, and short hair in 2003, in an effort to more accurately reflect how modern agricultural workers dress in Nebraska. Personally, I like the old Herbie best. I think the potbelly and 1970s white trash hair better represent the state of Nebraska’s peckerwood disposition and their tradition of proud rural hickdom. The new look is too “urban cowboy” for my tastes. New Herbie can walk into a diner and not immediately cause the other patrons to leave. He’s respectable. I want a Herbie that obviously has pig shit on his boots. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Lil’ Red is the newer of the two, as well as the younger mascot, depicted as a child. He was created in 1993 in a contest ran by the volleyball team, who wanted a mascot of their own. Since his creation though, he’s been representing the school’s teams in general alongside his pal Herbie. While Herbie is a traditional big-headed mascot, Red’s costume is more state-of-the-art. He’s an inflated costume powered by a belt with an air circulation system that brings in enough air per minute to keep roughly 1,000 people alive inside a sealed chamber, for reference. As a result, Red is extremely lightweight and can do all the typical mascot antics, all while appearing like a giant, nightmare baby version of Blaster from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
2016 Record: 7-1, First in B1G West
The Huskers have only lost once this season, last week to No. 8 Wisconsin. They have wins over Fresno, Wyoming, Oregon, Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue. They took Wisconsin to overtime, but the Badgers struck first and the Huskers were not able to answer. Check this out for the arcane rules for determining B1G division champions, but by my back-of-the-napkin math, a Huskers loss to the Buckeyes will give them the same conference record as Northwestern, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, which is crazy. The only two teams in the division not contending are Illinois and Purdue. Granted, all these teams still have to play each other and B1G East teams, but it goes to show how open the West division is.
Coach: Mike Riley
A native of Oregon, Riley played reserve DB at Alabama under the legendary Bear Bryant, graduating in 1974. He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Cal in 1975. The next season he coached at Whitworth, then moved to Linfield University to be the defensive coordinator and DB coach from 1977-1982. From 1983-1985 he was the DB coach of the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, before becoming the DC at Northern Colorado. In 1987 he returned to the Blue Bombers for his first stint as head coach. In 1991, he became the HC of the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football, before moving to USC in 1993 to serve as the assistant HC, offensive coordinator, and QB coach. He then moved to Oregon State as the HC for two seasons, where he had mild success and is credited with helping turn that program around. In 1999, he was tagged as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers, coaching them for three years to a combined record of 14-34, including the franchise’s worst season ever in 2000, where they finished with a 1-15 record. He was fired in 2001 and became the assistant HC and DB coach for the New Orleans Saints for the 2002 season, before turning down an offer to coach Alabama to return to Oregon State in 2003. This time, he stayed at Oregon State for 12 seasons, becoming the winningest coach in the school’s history and producing three NFL QBs: former Saints backup Sean Canfield, current Dolphins backup Matt Moore, and former Cleveland Brown and current Panthers backup Derek Anderson. Fun fact: current Wisconsin HC Paul Chryst was Riley’s OC at Oregon State for a few years.
Anyway, Riley came to Nebraska for the 2015 season, leading the Cornhuskers to their first losing season since 2007. Despite not being bowl eligible, they were invited to the Foster Farms Bowl anyway because of a lack of bowl-eligible teams across the country. They were able to hand eventual B1G Champion Michigan State their only loss of the regular season, on a desperation pass to an ineligible receiver that the refs missed stepping out of bounds, so that’s cool. Riley has an interesting coaching tree, having coached Jason Garrett and Jim Harbaugh, and been assisted by Mike Sanford, Norv Turner, and the above-mentioned Paul Chryst. Harbaugh played for Riley on the Chargers, where Sanford and Turner coached for him; a lot of coaches came out of the worst Chargers team of all time.
Riley has that rangy, old man badass look going for him, like a poor man’s Clint Eastwood or Scott Glenn. Urban Meyer can likely outlift him, but Riley would win any footraces. So, it appears to be an even matchup this week.
At every home game, after the Huskers score their first touchdown, fans release thousands of school-provided helium balloons into the sky. A global helium shortage in 2012 almost ended the practice that year, but the school found the helium it needed to keep the tradition alive. Seems like a good use of scarce resources to me.
Nebraska has a formal walk-on program, instituted in 1973. The school credits much of its success to the program, allowing Nebraska to maintain a larger roster than most schools. This also allows them to have additional scout teams for preparation, and while many of the walk-ons never play in a game during their time on the team, six have become All-Americans and 29 have played in the NFL. This practice strikes me as problematic – it’s just not like an NCAA member to take advantage of the unpaid labor of college students for the benefit of a select few, highly paid administrators and coaches.
Another tradition is referring to the defense as “Blackshirts,” in reference to the black shirts they wear during practice. Sometimes a skull and crossbones is used on t-shirts and black towels waived by fans. There’s nothing like a pirate motif for a football team in landlocked Nebraska. Sometimes defenders will cross their arms after a sack or great tackle, signifying “throwing the bones.” If this was the NFL, the gesture would have been banned years ago for the benefit of the delicate children at home watching rapists and wife-beaters play football.
The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson graduated from Nebraska with a B.A. in speech in 1949.
Left-of-center-type’s favorite mega-rich investor, the “Oracle of Omaha,” billionaire Warren Buffett is a Nebraska alum, graduating in 1949 with a B.S. in business administration. Buffett is typically very good on the usual liberal agenda items, such as preferring single-payer healthcare reform and advocating the “Buffett Rule,” where rich folks should pay a higher percentage in taxes than their employees. He is also a proponent of the inheritance tax, and has pledged to donate most of his fortune to worthy causes upon his death, to keep his children from turning into soft, pasty fail-sons like the Trump boys. That’s all well and good, but some say that anyone who truly cares about progress should be offended by the mere existence of billionaires while Americans go hungry and broke from rising healthcare costs, etc., regardless of how cool and nice a particular billionaire may happen to be. That’s what I hear, at least.
WWI-WWII era Latvian Prime Minister, President, and dictator Karlis Ulmanis was a Nebraska grad, earning his B.A. in agriculture, with a double-minor in authoritarianism and political liquidation.
Former Nebraska Senator and Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, is a Cornhusker. He’s the first SecDef to have been an enlisted soldier during his service days; all the rest being former commissioned officers or traditional politicians. I got to meet Hagel while in Afghanistan in 2014, when he swung through to talk about recovering Bowe Bergdahl. It was a canned meeting and photo opportunity, it’s not like we discussed policy or anything, but it was still neat. I got a SecDef challenge coin out of it, which is the second highest in the Army coin hierarchy, save for the President.
Finally, General John J. Pershing, the commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in WWI, taught Military Tactics at Nebraska and earned his law degree there in 1893. Pershing is still the only American to be promoted to the rank of “General of the Armies” during his lifetime, the highest possible military rank in the U.S., equivalent to a six-star general. The only other soldier ever awarded the rank was George Washington, though this was done retroactively in 1976.
Cornhuskers currently in the NFL (24 total):
Known respectively for their clean playing style and locker room leadership, Incognito and Suh are often held up by NFL executives as role models for younger players and as examples of what behavior the league expects from its players, on and off the field.
Prince Amukamara, CB, Jacksonville
Zaire Anderson, LB, Denver
Rex Burkhead, RB, Cincinnati
Maliek Collins, DT, Dallas
Will Compton, LB, Washington
Jared Crick, DE, Denver
Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay
Quincy Enunwa, WR, New York Jets
Randy Gregory, DE, Dallas
Richie Incognito, G, Buffalo
Andy Janovich, FB, Denver
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Seattle
Sam Koch, P, Baltimore
Alex Lewis, G, Baltimore
Spencer Long, G, Washington
Niles Paul, TE, Washington
Brent Qvale, OL, New York Jets
Mohammed Seisay, CB, Seattle
Jeremiah Sirles, G, Minnesota
Matt Slauson, C, San Diego
Daimion Stafford, S, Tennessee
Ndamukong Suh, DT, Miami
Vincent Valentine, DT, New England
Real stand-up dudes Richie Incognito and Ndamukong Suh are Huskers. Known respectively for their clean playing style and locker room leadership, Incognito and Suh are often held up by NFL executives as role models for younger players and as examples of what behavior the league expects from its players, on and off the field.
Incognito stands out in the league, known for his stance against bullying and racism, being the first white player to openly support Colin Kaepernick in his National Anthem protests against police brutality. In fact, head coach Rex Ryan brought Incognito in specifically because he wanted a well-rounded and emotionally stable presence on the Bills, a team and fan base known across the country for celebrating the differences inherent in this thing we call humanity. Bills fans are renowned for their civic pride, and Incognito perfectly encapsulates that drive to do good by your fellow man.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. is 115/217 for 1,764 yards passing this season with 11 TDs and seven interceptions. A mobile threat, he has another 419 yards on the ground on 94 carries, with seven rushing TDs. He’s also another member of the Amazing QB-name Club™, though a more routine entrant than Chad President or Bart Houston.
The Huskers’ leading rusher is Terrell Newby, who’s got 588 yards on 120 carries. He splits time with Devine Ozigbo, who’s got 353 yards on 87 carries.
Their top receiver is Stanley Morgan Jr. with 329 yards on 23 receptions, followed closely by Alonzo Moore with 324 yards on 13 receptions. They have two other receivers with over 200 yards, and two more with over 100.
Here’s how I stand for the year:
BGSU: Predicted 43-7, Actual 77-10
TULSA: Predicted 45-21, Actual 48-3
OKLAHOMA: Predicted 33-28, Actual 45-24
RUTGERS: Predicted 50-14, Actual 58-0
INDIANA: Predicted 48-14, Actual 38-17
WISCONSIN: Predicted 35-28, Actual 30-23
PENN STATE: Predicted 45-14, Actual 21-24
NORTHWESTERN: Predicted 34-10, Actual 24-20
The Buckeyes appear to be in “win any way we can” mode, as opposed to the “destroy everyone every week like fans want” mode of earlier this season. Perhaps it’s the youth of the team finally showing through. They were definitely outperforming preseason expectations, especially after the win at Oklahoma. In any case, I’ll take a win any way I can get it. This week, I think the Scarlet and Gray get the W, 24-21, in a defensive battle of wills.
That’s it for this week, Buckeyes fans! Stay safe, have a good time, and go Buckeyes!