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Extreme makeover

Will Bill Callahan's West Coast offense fly in Huskerland? 

Posted: Wednesday August 11, 2004 11:59AM; Updated: Wednesday August 11, 2004 12:51PM
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There are certain things I can watch joyfully again and again: old The Wonder Years reruns, Will Ferrell's ribbon-twirling floor exercise in Old School, clips of that kid fainting at the mic during this summer's National Spelling Bee. As a lifelong Nebraska Cornhuskers fan (born in Tom Osborne's hometown of Hastings, Neb.), I'll also never tire of what to the rest of the world must be a tedious, mind-numbing experience: watching the Huskers stubbornly run the option offense, their bread-and-butter since 1977.

In Nebraska, the triple option has been as much a part of life as Omaha Steaks, and that's why there's an emptiness that looms as the 2004 college football season, now just two weeks away, approaches. (In SI's College Football preview issue -- on newsstands now -- the Huskers are ranked, very generously, No. 21.) Forget L.A. and its Lakers: Lincoln is where you'll find the most extreme makeover in sports. New Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan has brought his West Coast offense to Huskerland, where he quickly torched three decades of tradition and a system that produced three national champions in the past 10 years.

After seeing the Big Red lose 12 of their past 29 games, the Husker faithful want to embrace a winner. In April, the 61,417 fans who packed into Memorial Stadium for the annual spring game actually cheered when quarterback Joe Dailey's first pass attempt -- one of a BYU-like 49 attempts that afternoon -- bounced incomplete on the stadium grass. But the patience of these mercurial Nebraska fans (they ran Callahan's predecessor, Frank Solich, out of town despite a 9-3 regular season in '03) will be tested this season.

Thrusting the West Coast offense upon these Huskers so rashly is, I fear, like giving Carrot Top a Woody Allen script and telling him shooting starts in a week. Because each Nebraska offensive player was recruited to play in a run-oriented scheme, there are bound to be a number of ugly moments. Dailey, the Huskers' 6-foot quarterback, is too short to be running a prototypical West Coast offense. Yes, the Nebraska offensive line is, as always, built like the Berlin Wall, but the beefy linemen will have to transition their focus from run-blocking to pass protection -- no small feat.

Luckily for the Huskers, they open with a pansy in Western Illinois, but then face two '03 bowl teams in Southern Miss and Pitt the following two weeks. The unfathomable -- a 1-2 start -- is a possibility in Lincoln this year. It'll be interesting to see how long Huskers fans stand by Callahan and his radical ways. My guess? Not long. ...

Four thoughts from the baseball world:

1) New Mets starter Kris Benson recently revealed to the Blog why he believes he turned a corner in his maddeningly underachieving career. Since his eureka! moment on June 28, Benson says he's felt like he's a completely new pitcher --  the numbers back him up. In eight starts since then -- when he tweaked his delivery by standing more upright when he releases the ball so that it's harder for hitters to pick up -- Benson has a 3.03 ERA and has pitched seven innings and given up two runs or fewer in six of those starts. "The difference is night and day," Benson said. Benson would like to re-sign with the Mets before this offseason, when he could become a free agent.

2) Spin Williams, the avuncular pitching coach of the Pirates, has done a terrific job this year in Pittsburgh -- and not just with Benson. Williams also overhauled the mechanics of right-handed closer Jose Mesa, who has revitalized his career, converting 32-of-35 save opportunities with the Pirates. Williams also simplified the high-maintenance delivery of young starter Oliver Perez, who was acquired in the Brian Giles trade and is proving to be a budding star. This spring Williams predicted great things from Perez, who now ranks in the top five among NL starters in strikeouts, WHIP and batting average allowed. The 22-year-old lefty is the NL's answer to Johan Santana -- Perez has a 3.12 ERA, and has K'd 10 batters in five of his past eight starts.

3) The Cardinals are the real deal. St. Louis is perceived as a one-dimensional team too dependent on its bats to make a serious run at the World Series. But one thing about this big-hitting Cardinals team that gets overlooked is they might have the best defense in the majors with four gold glovers in Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Edgar Renteria and Mike Matheny.

4) Esteban Loaiza, who was booed mercilessly during his last start at Yankee Stadium -- his second straight dud as a Yankee -- quickly has shown he's probably not the answer to New York's starting-pitching woes. Loaiza has allowed nine runs in his first 12 innings with New York, and hasn't shown confidence in the cut fastball that was crucial to his 21-win season last year. ...

To contribute to the Blog's ongoing discussion of "egregious examples of bad guys shooting badly against good guys who were perfect marksmen" -- the new Tom Cruise movie, Collateral, provides an example, though I guess technically Cruise plays a bad guy ... but still, he's Tom Cruise. There's a ridiculous scene where Cruise enters a Korean nightclub and suddenly turns into Neo from The Matrix, as he proceeds to tumble around while gunning down about a dozen bad-ass bodyguards and policemen. At the end of the bloodbath, Cruise, of course, emerges without a scratch, his suit still impeccably pressed. ...

Yesterday's Blog also bashed ESPN's latest gimmick, Old School SportsCenter. It was good having Craig Kilborn back doing what he does best, and away from his typical late-night duties of winking at supermodels and running his hand through his hair.

But what's the deal with that World Series of Poker countdown on ESPN's ticker, as if each new show is the last episode of Dallas? While we're talking cable TV: With HBO's Six Feet Under plodding through a disappointingly subpar season, thank heavens for Entourage, the best new show of the year. Johnny Drama is the funniest HBO character since Krazee-Eyez Killa. ...

And finally, to borrow from The Daily Show, here's your Moment of Zen, which comes from the Unity: Journalists of Color Convention, which the Blog attended last week in Washington, D.C. The convention's impressive list of speakers included John Kerry, Colin Powell, one of The Bachelor dudes and President Bush. On Friday, when asked by a panelist (and member of the Native American Journalists Association) what "tribal sovereignty means in the 21st century," a flustered Bush stammered:

"Tribal sovereignty means that -- it's sovereign. You're a ... you're a ... you've been given sovereignty, and you're viewed as a sovereign entity. And, therefore, the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities. ..."

On that note, see you next time. ...