First downs and second guesses:
It’s Big Ten Tournament week. Charles Schwab Field will be painted red. Nebraska has two historic big boppers in the lineup.
And the fourth-seeded Huskers are chasing an NCAA regional bid.
So why are some Husker fans looking at the week with trepidation?
And why have some called this 31-21-1 season unacceptable?
It’s a matter of perspective. And expectations.
So what should the expectation be for Nebraska baseball?
Earlier this spring, I heard ESPN analyst Kyle Peterson answer that question on a local radio show. KP said NU should make a regional two out of three years.
I believe a majority of Husker fans would concur.
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History: NU last made a super regional in the 2005 College World Series season. The Huskers last hosted a NCAA regional in 2008.
Since then, the Huskers have made five regional appearances: 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021 (no season in 2020).
In the last 10 years, NU has followed the two-out-of-three years schedule.
That’s easier said than done in the Big Ten. But the league also gets a bad rap. Since 2015, the Big Ten has sent five teams to regionals three times (2015, 2017, 2019) and four in 2018.
Given the investment in baseball at NU, yeah, the Huskers should be making regionals at a semi-regular clip. Hosting? A lot has to fall into place. It would be easier in the Big 12 or SEC.
But I have a slightly different expectation for Will Bolt’s program.
One: Make the Big Ten tournament every year. You can’t always control your nonconference strength of schedule. But there’s no excuse not to finish in the top eight in the Big Ten.
Two: Field a team that plays aggressive, smart and consistent baseball with a fiery competitive edge — against everyone.
Too low? No. Those should be the baselines for Husker baseball. When Nebraska plays with that edge, it's going to make NCAA regionals.
Nebraska fans thought they had that program two years ago when NU stormed to the Big Ten regular-season title and pushed Arkansas to the wall in the regional.
That 2021 Husker team had good pitching, but played with that take-no-prisoners attitude.
The forecast called for sunny skies. It looked like a preview of things to come.
But last year, without several key players from 2021, the Huskers finished 23-30 and missed the Big Ten tourney because Purdue didn’t play a final game.
This year, Nebraska went back to checking some Big Ten boxes. The Huskers won six of eight league series. They ranked fourth in the league in hitting and third in pitching and defense. Qualified for the tournament with a week to go.
But the lows were really low — like getting swept at Iowa while being outscored 25-7.
And that baffling, frustrating nonconference season.
A pattern developed where NU would play well on the weekend, then turn around and flop midweek. The Huskers lost two of three to Creighton and Omaha and to South Dakota State and North Dakota State late in the year. The attitude took midweek off.
That, they could control. What Bolt couldn’t control were nonconference opponents San Diego and South Alabama having dud seasons. That helped torpedo NU’s RPI (104) and strength of schedule (172).
That’s the difference between Nebraska and Indiana (27 RPI and 67 SOS) and Iowa (32 and 113). The latter two are projected as at-large bids for regionals.
Being relevant nationally still isn't easy in the Big Ten. But the Huskers have made it harder on themselves. A second straight non-NCAA regional year won't go unnoticed.
The up-and-down nature of NU’s team has many fans reluctant to buy-in. Another thing: because of no Big Ten tourneys in Omaha in 2020 and 2021, it’s been four years since Nebraska played in the event. That adds to the dry spell. The Big Ten tournament has never had momentum in Omaha. Same for the host school.
All the Huskers can do is show up on Wednesday and try to get on a roll in front of their fans and do what they have never done: win the Big Ten tournament in Omaha.
That would do wonders for perception. And reality.
Add Missouri to schedule
One series Bolt should strongly consider adding is Missouri. That’s a drivable game, even for midweek.
MU is 30-23 and finished last in the SEC East and still has a RPI of 40.
An SEC opponent would be a good add for the Huskers’ resume.
TV contract mess
Anyone shocked that Kevin Warren left a mess with the Big Ten TV contract?
I’ll say this about pushback on televised November night games. If you want the big money from the networks, you have to play when the TV heads tell you to play.
It’s time for the Big Ten to get over that.
UConn to Big 12?
UConn to the Big 12?
Brett Yormark, the Big 12’s commissioner, reportedly visited Storrs recently to gauge interest.
Say it ain’t so. UConn is a basketball school and belongs in the Big East and in Madison Square Garden.
Didn’t UConn learn its lesson from chasing football money and dreams in the AAC?
The Huskies have all the momentum now in the Big East.
Sometimes in realignment the best moves are the ones you don’t make.
Badminton in Council Bluffs
Badminton, anyone? USA Badminton is bringing its U.S. Open Badminton championship to Council Bluffs’ Mid-America Center on July 11-16.
According to Omaha Sports Commission executive director Lindsay Toussant, Omaha has a deep history in the sport.
One more and I’m outta here
Congrats to John Higgins, the veteran college basketball referee from Omaha, who is hanging up his whistle.
Higgins is the new Coordinator of Officials for the Western Basketball Officiating Consortium. He’ll be in charge of officials for several west-coast leagues, including the Pac-12 and Mountain West.
Higgins' departure will be met with sarcasm and cheers in some corners but the NCAA knows better.
In 35 years, Higgins became one of the game’s top officials and worked 29 NCAA tourneys, nine Final Four’s and two national title games.
Like most refs, he had his critics. But he had even more respect.