In a coast-to-coast Big Ten, is 'flyover country' an edge?
Some thoughts on travel in the new Big Ten, the new Nebraska football roster, Eleanor Dale and more.
It was a thought-provoking week in Husker athletics, a bit of a surprise for the end of January, which, from a sports perspective, can feel as dry as the air right now. I’ve got a handful of items I want to hit on to round out the week, and we’re going to try to move quickly.
Call it Fastbreak Friday, if you want. I thought about doing that but couldn’t decide if it was bad or good and now Coach is telling me to push the ball up the court, so away we go.
In the middle of it all
Thanks to a great round of questions from Counter Read subscribers, Erin’s latest sit-down with AD Trev Alberts produced a handful of interesting items. Items like this quote,: “…[W]hen some of the advantages that we had and we built on were kind of taken away from us through a variety of means that were in no way nefarious, it just feels like we can refocus ourselves, recommit ourselves and now find ourselves dead center in the geographic footprint of a national conference. That's more important than people think.”
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What are the advantages of Nebraska’s location in a conference that spans from Los Angeles to New Jersey? Specifically, is there a competitive advantage to be gained by the Huskers never having to fully travel cross country?
This has been a tricky question to answer, though plenty have tried. One study found professional basketball, hockey and football teams traveling westward and crossing time zones were at a disadvantage. You can find other studies that say the opposite—the eastward teams had it worse. This more informal analysis of the NFL found that Pacific time zone teams fared worse against the spread the farther they got from home when it was conducted in 2013, but three years later the numbers had basically flattened out.
Most of this analysis deals with pro teams, but last October a team of researchers from Northwestern and West Virginia analyzed more than 6,000 college football games from 2013–22. The study is new enough that it has yet to be peer reviewed, but its conclusion was “there is no clear indication that jet lag and game time affect team performance when appropriate analyses are performed…”.
It's an interesting topic, but the methods (and thus the data) are all over the place on what a time-zone change actually does to performance. So, if you were counting on UCLA being sleepy when it visits Lincoln this November, I probably wouldn’t.
That said, I doubt that’s what Alberts was referencing in his quote. Lincoln’s location absolutely should make for a nicer student-athlete experience when it comes to travel compared to some others in the new Big Ten, and that has its own value when it comes to recruiting.
The kind of spontaneous publicity that makes people
Nebraska released its football roster for the spring, and things looked mostly as expected. Offensive lineman Ethan Piper wasn’t listed, which isn’t a total surprise as he suffered a season-ending injury in October. Piper has a season of eligibility left, but has remained undecided if he’ll use it. Safe to say if he eventually decides he wants to play in 2024, he’ll have a spot.
Elsewhere, redshirt freshmen Brice Turner and Jeremiah Charles are listed as DBs. Both started out as wide receivers last year before switching to defense mid-season. Ru’Quan Buckley is listed as an offensive lineman after he also made a mid-season switch, coming from the defensive line.
Defensive back Ashton Hausmann, fullback Braden Klover, running back Treven Luben, lineman Keegan Menning and linebacker Grant Tagge, all walk-ons who participated in senior day, are not on the new roster. Tagge was a special teams fixture the past three seasons, appearing in 36 games.
In terms of name recognition, the apparent departure of linebacker Kaine Williams might be as big as anything outside of Piper. An Alabama transfer who arrived ahead of the 2022 season, Williams appeared in four games over two seasons, all of which were in 2023.
Bigger picture, the 2024 roster includes 149 players right now. Forty-four of those names are transfers, scholarship signees or walk-ons who are joining the team this season. Not all of the 2024 signees or walk-ons are enrolled early.
From red to blue
After one of the best Husker soccer seasons in history, senior forward Eleanor Dale has signed to play professionally for Everton in the World Super League.
The WSL is the top level of English professional soccer, and the league has grown from eight teams in 2011 to 12 today. Everton earned promotion to the top-tier league ahead of the 2017–18 season and has avoided relegation to this point. The Blues currently sit ninth in the league at the midway point of the season. The WSL may be even more top-heavy than the men’s Premier League, with three well-resourced clubs—Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea—claiming 12 of the 13 titles since its founding.
Dale led the country in goals (28) last season as Nebraska advanced to the Elite 8 for the first time since 1999. A native of Billingham, just outside Middlesbrough on the northeast coast, Dale will begin her pro career on the west coast, about 2-and-a-half hours away in Liverpool.
I find this all quite cool. At my former place of my employment, I remember editing a story from one of our writers on Dale when she was just a freshman. Her dream then, and presumably now, was to represent England internationally, but playing professionally in her home country wasn’t far behind.
A little bit faster now
Nebraska rallied from a double-digit halftime deficit to knock off No. 6 Wisconsin 80-72 at Pinnacle Bank Arena Thursday. It’s a massive win for the Huskers’ Tournament hopes, one, to be honest, I haven’t quite processed yet. A couple of numbers to note from the BTN broadcast. Wisconsin was 120-0 since 2000 when leading by 15+ at halftime. Also, this is Nebraska’s first season with two wins over top-10 teams since 1957–58. The Huskers previously beat No. 1 Purdue.
Tickets for the spring game ($15) go on sale next week with sales opening to season ticket holders on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 10 a.m, the general public 24 hours later. But, if you’re current or former military you have access to up to four free tickets starting today at 10 a.m. More info here.
Nebraska softball will begin the season ranked 18th in the coaches poll. It’s the Huskers’ first preseason appearance in the poll since 2015.
In case you missed it earlier this week, some thoughts on fourth-down decision-making in football and “analytics” remaining a windmill some must tilt at.