Cue the chaos11/6/2013
Somebody up there likes Bo Pelini.
Which is strange, considering how folks down at Memorial Stadium seem to be fairly torn — and that might be putting it kindly — about the football coach of their beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers.
With four seconds left in last Saturday’s Nebraska-Northwestern game at Lincoln, Pelini obits were being written (and tweeted and Facebooked) in press boxes all over the country. The Huskers were four-point favorites against a 4-4 Wildcat squad that had dropped four straight and was down to its fourth-team tailback.
But Nebraska had its own blights, and turned to backup quarterback Ron Kellogg III — son of former Kansas basketball great Ron Kellogg Jr., a former walk-on — with the visitors having somehow snatched a 24-21 lead before the Big Red faithful. The Huskers were a heartbeat away from dropping to 5-3 and their suffering a second stunning home loss in six weeks and a second defeat to Northwestern at One Stadium Drive in three years.
Nebraska was down to one play, at the Wildcats’ 49-yard-line, and you could hear the knives sharpening across five states. Jim Tressel? Bronco Mendenhall? Twitter was already casting about names for Pelini’s replacement. The obits were proofed and ready to send. A double-digit loss at Minnesota, followed by this? The wheels were coming off the train!
And then Kellogg let it go.
You’ve no doubt seen what happened next: A scrum at about the 1-yard line, the ball somehow tipped behind the pile, into the end zone and… into the waiting arms of a leaping young man in red by the name of Jordan Westerkamp.
Final: 27-24. Cue the chaos.
“Thank God for Jordan Westerkamp,” Kellogg told reporters later.
After that miracle, our man Bo ought to be thanking a few other deities, too. So the Huskers are 6-2, and the ever-popular (cough) Pelini (cough) is safe.
Well, for one more week, at least. The Huskers test their luck at Michigan on Saturday.
THE BIG EIGHT
Ranking the best eight teams in the Big 12 and Big Ten, one through eight…
TEAM (RECORD) / UP NEXT
1. Ohio State (9-0) / Idle, at Illinois, Nov. 16
2. Baylor (7-0) / vs. Oklahoma, Thursday
3. Wisconsin (6-2) / vs. BYU
4. Michigan State (8-1) / Idle, at Nebraska, Nov. 16
5. Oklahoma (7-1) / at Baylor, Thursday
6. Oklahoma State (7-1) / vs. Kansas
7. Texas (6-2) / at West Virginia
8. Texas Tech (7-2) / vs. Kansas State
ONE MAN’S RUNNING HEISMAN BALLOT:
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State: His numbers may be leveling off as the competition improves — the freshman threw two first-half picks in a win over Miami (Fla.) — but the Seminoles aren’t.
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: An off week to rest up, recharge and get ready for the Ducks’ next Pac-12 heavyweight tussle, this time at Stanford. And he was merely mortal (21-37 passing, 1 pick) in a loss to the Cardinal a year ago.
3. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor: It’s not just when you win, but who ya beat: A victory over Oklahoma two years ago shot Robert Griffin III’s Heisman candidacy through the roof. A big game against the Sooners in Waco just might do the same for Petty, who has an awful lot of catching up to do.
SET YOUR TIVO:
The games you won’t want to miss…
1.Oklahoma at Baylor, FOX Sports 1, 6:30 p.m., Thursday: Fattening up on the Big 12’s weaker sisters is over. The “proving” part of the Bears’ schedule starts right here, right now, on the national stage.
2. LSU at Alabama, CBS, 7 p.m. Saturday: Funny how things change — two years ago, this matchup was a 9-6 yawner for the ages. Now the Tide is averaging 41.3 points per game; the Bayou Bengals, 40.2.
3. Oregon at Stanford, ESPN, 8 p.m. Thursday: In 2012, the Cardinal famously solved the Ducks’ zone read and ruined Oregon’s national-title aspirations as a result. So it’s the smart kids’ fault that we all had to watch the Tide curb-stomp Notre Dame on national television. If the Ducks survive this one, we might actually get an Oregon-’Bama tussle for all the marbles.
THE HOT SEAT: KEVIN WILSON, INDIANA AND PAT FITZGERALD, NORTHWESTERN (TIE)
Yeah, yeah, it’s a tie. And yeah, yeah, it’s at the two least-storied football programs in the Big Ten, with the two least-excitable football fan bases on the circuit. And the two most difficult places to win, hands-down — at least until Maryland and Rutgers join the party. But this was an autumn in which two of the league’s traditional welterweights were expected to pack something of a punch. With a slew of returning skill people, Northwestern and Indiana had both been tapped in the summer to light up scoreboards and reach the postseason; instead, they came out of the first weekend of November with a combined league record of 1-8 and an aggregate overall mark of 7-10.
Since crushing Penn State 44-24 on Oct. 5, Wilson’s Hoosiers are 0-3 in the loop and 3-5 overall with only two realistically winnable contests (home games vs. Illinois and Purdue) left on the docket sandwiched around hide-the-women-and-children trips to Wisconsin and Ohio State. With only three wins in his first 20 Big Ten contests, Wilson needed to show progress in Year 3, and 5-7 may not be deemed as progress enough. After five straight defeats to open league play, if Fitzgerald were anyone but Fitzgerald and at anywhere but Northwestern, the locals would be outside the gates with pitchforks in hand. While key injuries have led to musical chairs in the Wildcat backfield, Northwestern kept telling the “experts” it had lifted the recruiting and depth enough to weather those types of storms. Either the “experts” were wrong, or they were lied to, as the Wildcats (4-5) keep finding new and creative ways to choke games away late — a trend that Pelini, no doubt, is eternally grateful for. CV
Sean Keeler is a columnist/blogger with FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports. In 2011, the Iowa native was named one of the Top 10 sports columnists in the nation by the Associated Press Sports Editors. You can read him at www.FoxSportsKansasCity.com and at www.FoxSportsMidwest.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@seankeeler) and through his Tumblr blog: seankeeler.tumblr.com.