Tressel’s Resignation: Implications for Nebraska
Jim Tressel's resignation from Ohio State is a national story. It's a sports story, not just a college football story. It's larger than Ohio State. It affects the college football landscape, and especially the Big Ten Conference. The Big Ten Conference is where this story intersects with Dear Old Nebraska U. This being a Nebraska-centric site, the focus here will be to look at how this affects Nebraska. It's fair to say that many NU fans shared the initial reaction that my colleague Steve did when the news first broke - please Bo, don't go! Once you can get beyond that natural defensive response, Tressel's departure likely signals a brighter Big Ten future for the Huskers.
Frankly, I think many of the concerns about Pelini leaving NU for Ohio State are over blown. But, more on that in just a bit. For right now, let's examine how upheaval at Ohio State makes an impact for Nebraska in the short term (this season) and the long term (5-10 years).
In the Short Term
Don't look now, but it appears that Nebraska's Big Ten home opener just got a whole lot easier. Ohio State's choice to go with an interim head coach makes sense for them. There isn't time for a full blown search. Luke Fickell was good enough for five games so why not make it 12? I don't know much of anything about Luke Fickell. Sure, I've read the resume. Who hasn't by now? But I know this - he's not Jim Tressel. Nebraska will not be facing a Tressel-prepped football team on October 8, and that makes the game significantly more winnable for the Huskers.
There is also a chance that Ohio State will be without quarterback Terrelle Pryor for that game. He is currently slated to return for the NU game, following a five-game suspension. But, the NCAA probe is looking in to Pryor as well, and several folks are spouting that he may enter the NFL's supplemental draft (should the league even have one). Take the scandal element out of it for a second. If you polled 1,000 Husker fans a month ago, before any of this news broke, and asked them if OSU was without their head coach and starting quarterback if they thought NU could beat them in Lincoln, a vast majority would say yes. You know it and Vegas knows it.
In the Long Term
Ohio State's current situation - and future predicament with the NCAA - also potentially shifts the balance of power in the Big Ten in a very serious way. That is well timed for a Husker squad set to join the conference in 2011 and establish a solid foothold among the conference's powerhouse teams.
Ohio State is the big dog in the Big Ten. Some people can argue counter to that point all they want but the six straight conference titles tell me they would be wasting their breath. The smart fans would be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts they won't be the big dogs when the NCAA gets finished with them. The hammer will fall hard on OSU. That creates opportunity for Nebraska, as it does for everyone else in their conference.
I already know some of you want to say I'm encouraging "ducking" somebody or saying I'm not a true competitor. Yes, I know if you want to be the best you have to beat the best. I love Ric Flair too. Keep things real, folks. In ANY industry, when the leader in a sector stumbles and falls (and OSU is about to fall a long way) the competitors in that sector often rally and eat up the market that the leader once occupied. Opportunity abounds for NU and their new Big Ten brethren if there are very harsh NCAA sanctions against Ohio State.
The conference landscape in general looks promising for NU, since it won't just be OSU in a regrouping mode. With serious respect due to Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State, the new Big Ten appears to center on four teams with National Champion pedigrees - Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Nebraska. Right now, it appears that all of those teams except Nebraska will be in some phase of rebuilding within the next five years. Michigan is currently underway on their mission to correct the football and culture damage done by Rich Rodriguez. Ohio State is facing a coaching search at a minimum and damaging NCAA sanctions at the worst. The program may go in to reverse for a while. Penn State is on solid ground at the moment. But, Joe Paterno can't coach forever. The Lions will have to face some kind of transition sooner rather than later. This is good news for a Husker team that appears to have gathered significant program momentum thus far under Bo Pelini.
Just think of it this way - if you are running forward (quickly) while they are standing still or backing up, positions can change in a big hurry. NU is definitely in good position over the five and ten year term.
Of course, my logic about NU not facing a major transition over the next five to ten years assumes that Pelini won't leave. So, rather than make an ass out of you and me, let's just address that right now. Earlier in this post, I said I thought the Pelini-to-Ohio State worry was overblown. Here's why - the Ohio State job won't be worth the money or nostalgia.
Forget the list of potential candidates for a second if you can. (By the way, thanks for being available Urban Meyer. You just made this off-season extra awesome). Just consider the job on its merit. It would take a top 5 job for a coach to leave a top 10 job like Nebraska. Is Ohio State one of the top five jobs in America? Yes...2 months ago. Now, not so much. Things have the potential to get very ugly for the Buckeyes. Tressel may not be the only career casualty when this thing is done. Recruiting sanctions are tough stuff. Bowl bans hurt. This won't be a top tier job when the NCAA is done. And, only a real sucker would jump for a "dream job" when it is clearly going to trend down. Nobody wants to be a fall guy.
The next most common reason given by fearful NU fans is nostalgia. People seem to think that Pelini's Ohio roots and Buckeye playing days will draw him home. I'm not buying that quite yet. People tend to be more practical and competitive than that, especially coaches. Sure, you hear of guys returning to their home state schools quite often. But, when you consider those situations on their merit, it turns out that the new job was just, well, a better job.
The Siren song of home? Please. Any person who uses that phrase needs to learn mythology. The Sirens were predators who lured sailors to their death. If Pelini wants to go embrace his home state, he can do that with a fundraiser and a bocce ball game at Cardinal Mooney. The competitor in him will want to win. His best chance to win is right in front of him at Nebraska. At Nebraska, Pelini has the same resources, the same opportunity, the same competition to face that he would at Ohio State. At NU, he'd be doing it with a program he has nurtured back to prominence. At Ohio State, he'd be fighting up hill. Of course, his significant pay increase this year is very well timed, all things considered. It reduces the monetary argument considerably. Ego, opportunity and money matter a lot more in the practical world than nostalgia.
Tressel's resignation and Ohio State's likely diminished future state of being spells some potentially good things for Nebraska. Yes, that's assuming Pelini remains at NU.