They're so close, but not anywhere close enough.
But then again, according to what we've seen during the Bowl Games, nobody from the Big 12 is close enough. Texas played a disappointing Iowa team way too close. Somehow Bob Stoops let the Rocky Balboa's of the college football world fool him twice in a row with Callahan-esque trick plays. Hey, at least Texas Tech was able to get Minnesota to finally fire Glenn Mason.
Fine, so the Big East won this weird Conference Championship trophy for going 4-0 in bowl games. Where does any of this leave our boy Billy C?
The opening drive told the tale of the entire Corn season. Marlon Lucky got the not-so-surprising-start-at-I-Back-when-you-consider-Brandon-Taylor-had-a-broken-hand and looked like the phenom he was promised to be, or at least reminded a few old hearts of another Husker who used to wear #20. Like they did in almost every game this season (except for of course the USC game), the Corn marched down the field in impressive fashion and scored on the opening drive.
Seriously, this is one of the oddest things about the Callahan era. I don't remember Osborne doing this with his teams this often, even against good teams. Although there is this first play from scrimmage from a 1989 game to remind us that he had plenty of first drive magic (forgive me for not embedding it in the page, youtube won't let us, you'll just have to go to the link and come back, but this clip is fun to see):
So the Cotton Bowl started off not unlike the other games of the 2006 season. Great opening drive, Nebraska looks like it could literally kick the living shit out of the opponent....
And then for whatever reason, Billy C slams on the brakes.
I haven't understood any of this all season. Usually it was the road games where they'd pull this shit, and you could literally see Callahan and Cosgrove on the sidelines nervous just to escape town with a win. You could almost hear Callahan preaching to everyone, "Remember, our one and only goal this entire year is to win the Big 12 North. Let's do that without screwing anything up and I'll send the entire coaching staff to Jerico's in mid-December for some real Nebraska grub."
And for the most part, save the Oklahoma State debacle, it worked. They got to Kansas City and make over 70,000 take the trip with them. So even after Okie State, and the letdown in KC, what could have possibly led the Corn to finish an unranked 9-5 when it looked like on the very first hours of 2007 that they could finish 10-4 and ranked as high as 16th? Oh let's count the merry ways...
- Auburn was (and is) an extremely great football team. Remember, this was a season where the Auburn Tigers felt they had a legitimate shot at playing for a National Championship. They finished 11-2, all while playing in the best conference in college football, and could finish in the final polls ranked as high as 5th or 6th. Remember, Florida's only loss was to this Auburn football team. I still say that USC was the best team the Corn played this year, but Auburn is a close second. Just think what could have happened if Tommy Tuberville would have given a shit.
- Billy C. This Cotton Bowl loss is all on his tab. Here's what we'd all like to know: In a season of weird trick plays in virtually every game, why on earth did he call for a fake punt inside his own 30-yard line early in the game and why on earth didn't he at least try for that potential tying field goal when the Corn were on the Tigers' 30 late, as in less than 2 minutes left in the game late. I guess the moves gave Callahan the chance to use the word "discombobulated" to the press. That's going to give him major media points.
- Callahan really fucked up. I just wanted to say that again after spending the last three months going back and forth on this bastard.
- Is there anyone who loves this fake punt thing more than Callahan? How many you count from memory from this season? Without looking, I remember USC, K-State and this stupid Cotton Bowl.
- The 10:30am CST start. Ordinarily, I'd really be hammering this point home, but Penn State and Tennessee started at 10am, but at least Joe Pa got to sit upstairs and watch the game. Mackenzie wasn't even awake in time to watch the first half of the Cotton Bowl after a wild New Year's Eve. How on earth could we expect Billy C and the crew to do the same? Trouble is, they were more alive and awake at that time on New Year's Day than anyone else (see: Opening Drive).
- As David Letterman used to say, "Uma......Oprah.....Oprah....Uma." How about the whole, "Lucky....Jackson......Jackson.....Lucky" thing that was going on? If Jackson's hand was really still broken -- and there are reports that suggest that it wasn't fully healed -- why not stick with Lucky, who seemed to have been reading Norman Vincent Peale during the last 2 weeks and was busting through with new levels of enthusiasm. I know Jackson's been a meal ticket for many games, but this was the Marlon Lucky coming out party. Jackson did have that nifty 20 yard touchdown run, and then it was as Pat Summerall would say, Lucky, who's better than that. I mean, "Uma....Oprah"? I like the fresh legs idea, but I also think the whole '90's adage of "If it aint broke, break it" went out of style with, oh I don't know, Enron maybe???
- Tom Shatel is ripping off this blog and it's starting to piss me off. This has nothing to do with the outcome of the Cotton Bowl, but I get some sort of swarmy satisfaction in knowing Shatel is coming here for things to put in his final Husker Football column.
- Matt Herian got more timid and shy about playing football as the year went on, and it was nowhere near as obvious in the Cotton Bowl. Look, I admire this kid's gusto more than anyone. When his peers like Ross Pilkington quit early on in the Billy C era, Herian busted his ass off just to get back on the field. I just wish that the team's psychologist would have worked with Herian more on playing through the fear after that devastating injury, because an inspired Herian might have been the difference between a 9-5 team and an 11-3 team.
- Let's just call it like it is one more time: Callahan mailed this season in after that bizarre trophy presentation following the Colorado game. Even Pat Summerall made mention about what a splash Billy C had made in Dallas and surrounding areas high schools. Bottom line: Billy C looked at this as one more recruiting trip, and from the sounds of things, the week leading up to the game was spent in blue collar athlete's living rooms and admiring the ornaments on their Christmas Trees. Translation: "Oh sure, we might have lost a bowl game to a much better team, but I got an entire free week in Dallas to talk to some recruits. What was my bonus for winning this game again?"
I just can't get past the fact that this Nebraska team had a great Auburn team on the ropes and could have actually ended this season with 10 wins. I think that would have been a lot to build upon. But our man didn't really give a shit in the end. And these are the cards we're dealt.
When the Eagles were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, Don Henley went up on stage and thanked their longtime manager Irving Azoff. Azoff had and still has a reputation for being somewhat of a prick who only looks out for things that are in the best interests of his very own clients. So Henley went on stage to thank Irving, saying, "He might be Satan, but at least he's OUR Satan." Billy C might not be that bad (look at how friendly he is to those female sideline reporters for Chrissakes). But if he truly winds up being Satan, he's OUR Satan, and we have no choice but to be all in with this yahoo. As Henley once wrote, we can check out anytime we'd like, but we can never leave.