Published Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 10:09 pm / Updated at 10:38 pm
COLUMN
Shatel: End-of-year top story? Try the end of an era

Looking in the rear-view mirror before gazing into the sun. Or, if you thought last year was fun, wait until you see what's ahead.

THE TOP 10 SPORTS STORIES OF 2012:

1. Tom Osborne leaves NU.

We knew this day was coming, but most thought it would be in 2013. Osborne stunned our world when he announced on Sept. 26 he was stepping down as athletic director on Jan. 1, thus ending a storybook career of service for the University of Nebraska. Osborne is the No. 1 figure all-time in Nebraska sports history. This was unquestionably the story of the year.

2. Shawn Eichorst named NU athletic director.

Does anyone remember what Eichorst looks like? The Miami A.D. and Wisconsin native was introduced and then he was gone, to hide in the shadows until he takes over on Jan. 2. Nobody knew what or whom Chancellor Harvey Perlman had in mind, but it was speculated when Osborne made his announcement in late September that Perlman had somebody in mind. As it turned out, he'd already had Eichorst on campus. The process, and leaving out Paul Meyers, didn't sit well with some. But Eichorst said all the right things, and the Barry Alvarez connection gave this hire some buzz.

3. June 25, 2012.

Or, the day the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials met the College World Series. I don't know if it was a historic day for Omaha, but it was pretty darned cool to have two nationally televised sporting events happening at the same time on the other side of a parking lot. The only thing missing was Michael Phelps coming out of the bullpen.

4. Creighton takes on North Carolina.

When the NCAA bracket was announced, many Jays fans weren't happy about this possible third-round matchup. But this is the kind of game Creighton has been begging to play. The Jays got their shot after surviving Alabama in the first round. Before a Greensboro Coliseum crowd painted powder blue, the No. 2 seed Tar Heels got a 14-point win, but the day was anything but routine. It started with the driver of the Jays' team bus having a heart episode on the way to the game. Then things got really bizarre when Creighton got “physical” with the Tar Heels. This one will be remembered more for the Carolina fans' reaction afterward than anything that happened in the game.

5. Nebraska football wins 10 games.

The Huskers won six in a row. They had two thrilling comebacks on the road. They beat Michigan at home. They won their first Legends Division title. They lost by 39 points to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Pick what you want to remember from this season. Had NU won the Big Ten championship, this might have been a solid No. 2 on the list. But for many, the last game overshadows the rest.

6. A small but sparkling new arena opened up on 72nd Street in Ralston.

UNO announced plans to build its own hockey and hoops home near campus at Aksarben Village. And Rosenblatt Stadium came tumbling down. Just another year of change in a town that keeps evolving.

7. Doc Sadler fired.

Doc Sadler sobbed at his own firing press conference, the third Husker Hoops coach to leave in the past 12 years. An underdog from South Dakota named Tim Miles was hired and immediately turned heads by bringing a group of prep stars from Chicago onto campus for a visit, thus bringing the program more local buzz than it's had in years.

8. The year of the hoop star.

Doug McDermott became Creighton's most decorated player, being named first-team All-American by the Associated Press, the U.S. Basketball Writers, the National Basketball Coaches Association and ESPN.com. Meanwhile, down the street, Omaha Central star Akoy Agau had the locals following high school hoops recruiting as he announced he was going to play for Rick Pitino at Louisville.

9. Burroughs' gold.

Jordan Burroughs wins a wrestling gold medal at the London Olympics. NU almost got a second gold, but Jordan Larson's USA volleyball team lost the gold medal game to Brazil.

10. Creighton sports.

Josh Jones' classy press conference. CU baseball's late run to the NCAA regionals. CU volleyball's best season. Another College Cup for Jays soccer. There's a lot going on at the Hilltop these days. Oh, yeah, and that realignment thing. But you'll have to wait until next year to see how that turns out.

THE TOP 10 STORIES OF 2013:

1. Creighton realignment.

Husker fans will argue this one. But if it happens, and signs are pointing that way, then this would be the biggest sports story in Creighton history. And joining a league of former Big East teams would energize the sports scene in Omaha and transform the school's image in this area. CU has been part of the Missouri Valley since 1928 (with the exception of 1948-49 and 1975-76). The only Nebraska story to trump this would be the Huskers winning the Big Ten.

2. Creighton's run to the Sweet 16.

Nebraska coach Tim Miles calls CU a “team of a lifetime.” It's certainly the best Jays team in recent memory, and one well-equipped to make the historic step to the second weekend of the NCAA tourney. Put the first weekend of games in nearby Kansas City and the table is set. Now, can the Jays make it happen? Either way, with Doug McDermott leading the charge, it's a major story.

3. Bo Pelini.

Will he get the Huskers back to the Big Ten championship game? Will he win 11 games? How will he and new boss Shawn Eichorst get along? Will Pelini win big and sign an extension — or bolt? I put this at No. 3 because next season looks like smooth sailing for a veteran NU offense with a friendly schedule. But as we've seen, things rarely go smoothly for Pelini. And the dynamic of Eichorst's first year will be a popular conversation topic around the state whenever things go bad. I don't expect very much to go bad, but I don't expect a national title or even a Big Ten title. Ohio State will be a formidable roadblock to Pasadena. A year from now, I expect NU will have won a lot of games and Pelini's future at NU will be Topic A in the state.

4. Eichorst's first year at NU.

The last two athletic directors hired at NU fired a football coach in their first year. I don't expect Eichorst to do that. I don't expect the new boss to have to change much. But will he feel compelled to make some noise? Will ticket prices and their donor tags go up? Will there be movement in north stadium, particularly among the old-guard athletic officials who have been around for decades? Eichorst will be under the spotlight, if the spotlight can find him.

5. The skyline of Lincoln.

Pinnacle Bank Arena opens next fall, and this will be a game-changer for the Capital City. Husker men's hoops won't necessarily be ready for prime time yet, but they should play to a packed house most every night. How does it compare to the CenturyLink Center? Will there be suds? Oh, yeah. And don't forget the little addition down the street, the East Stadium high-rise at Memorial Stadium. That will change how Nebraska football looks and sounds. The people who sit at the top might be able to see all the way to Holdrege. One thing to watch: Will adding more seats, and suites, mean NU won't have to raise ticket prices or donations? Good luck with that.

6. Taylor Martinez.

He's got the skill people around him and the schedule set up to make a run at the Heisman. He'll start out chasing Johnny Manziel and Braxton Miller, but it will be interesting to see where that chase takes him. Nothing Martinez does is ever boring. The old salt will have a young gun chasing him in Tommy Armstrong. Oh, from the first time Martinez turns the ball over. There will be quarterback controversy in the air. Don't expect it to bother No. 3. He should have a big, big year.

7. U.S. Senior Open.

I thought about putting this higher, and by the end of 2013, it might need to rank higher. I don't think we know how big of a deal this is going to be, having Tom Watson and Fred Couples and Vijay Singh and Co. hanging out for a week at Omaha Country Club. The crowds figure to be off the charts. The golf will be outstanding. With apologies to those who remember the 1941 U.S. Amateur at Field Club, this will be the No. 1 golf event in Nebraska history.

8. Does Doug McDermott go pro?

From the moment the Jays walk off the court for the last time, until Doug holds the press conference announcing his future, this will be the hottest, most overanalyzed topic in town next spring. Other than Tommy Armstrong, that is.

9. The National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

Our heads are spinning from college realignment, and this is UNO hockey's third conference, so it won't necessarily make a huge splash. The Mavs should be very competitive in the league, and fit in with North Dakota and Denver at the top. Can Dean Blais win a conference title at UNO? And will it be the first NCHC title? Now that would make a splash.

10. Omaha Central.

Coach Eric Behrens' dynasty on Dodge Street has never been better or more visible than this season, with a team of Division I talent just back from a national tournament and ready to ravage local gyms again this winter. Are the Eagles just too good? Or will Omaha South — or perhaps another group of unsuspecting underdogs — knock them off their perch?

There are no doubt worthy stories missing here, stories we aren't even expecting to happen. Can't wait to find out.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

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