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WOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

This has nothing to do with Michigan, but … WOOOOOOO!!!!!!

Seriously, that was one of the most exciting, dramatic, heart-wrenching, and ultimately elating games I’ve ever seen, regardless of sport. Landon Donovan, with one fell swoop, saved interest in the World Cup in the U.S. and FIFA from huge embarrassment about another game marred by horrific officiating.

Now, time to figure out how to appropriately celebrate in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon, and also how to apologize to my upstairs neighbors. USA! USA! USA!

What appeared to be a formality was just that, a formality, as the Nebraska Board of Regents voted this afternoon to join the Big Ten Conference. The Omaha World-Herald has the story:

The University of Nebraska football program is about to enter a new era following a vote by the NU Board of Regents Friday afternoon to align with the prestigious Big Ten Conference. Athletic competition is expected to begin in 2011.

Acting on the advice of coaching legend and current NU Athletic Director Tom Osborne and Chancellor Harvey Perlman, the regents voted 8-0 to apply for membership in the Big Ten.

It appears to be a formality that the Big Ten will accept Nebraska’s membership quickly, leaving only one more Big 12 season.

Welcome to the Big Ten, Nebraska. I’m looking forward to seeing how this whole expansion plays out, but even if the Big Ten stop at 12 teams, I’m very pleased that they have added a prestigious program to the fold.

UPDATE: Wow, that didn’t take long at all. The Big Ten has unanimously approved admitting Nebraska, according to ESPN:

Nebraska made it official Friday and applied for membership in the Big Ten Conference, a potentially crippling blow to the Big 12 and the biggest move yet in an offseason overhaul that will leave college sports looking much different by this time next year.

Hours later, the Big Ten Council of presidents and chancellors unanimously approved Nebraska’s application.

Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNBigTen) has added some details on his Twitter feed:

As I’m sure you have all read by now, an official announcement should come tomorrow that Nebraska will be joining the Big Ten, making them the second Big 12 domino to fall (after Colorado, who announced today they will move to the Pac-10) in this summer’s expansion madness. In January, I posted an extensive look into how Pitt would fit into the Big Ten after (bogus) rumors had them joining the conference — today, with a much better reason, I’ll do the same look into Nebraska, looking not only at football but also basketball, their overall athletic department, the strength of their academics, and potential conference alignment. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the Cornhuskers:

Tommie Frazier led Nebraska to back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995.

Football: Obviously, Nebraska’s biggest draw as a new member of the Big Ten is their football team, which is one of the most storied programs in college football and has a recent history of fielding strong teams.

Nebraska lays claim to 46 conference titles and five national championships (one of which Michigan fans are intimately familiar with — the split national title in 1997), and their back-to-back national titles in 1994-95 still remain the only consecutive consensus national titles since Oklahoma in 1956-57. Three Cornhuskers — Johnny Rogers, Mike Rozier, and Eric Crouch — have won the Heisman Trophy, and 52 consensus All-Americans have suited up for the Big Red. Their current AD and former coach, Tom Osborne, never won less than nine games during his 25 years at the helm, compiling a record of 255-49-3 from 1983-1997 in what was certainly the golden age of Nebraska football.

While the last decade-plus hasn’t been as kind to the Cornhuskers (especially the Bill Callahan era, from 2004-2007, in which they went 27-22 while changing from their signature option attack to a pro-style offense), they are still a very solid program, finishing 10-4 last season and earning the #14 ranking in the final AP poll in Bo Pelini’s second season as head coach.

As for facilities, Nebraska plays their home games in Memorial Stadium (known as the “Sea of Red” on game days), which has stood since 1923 and holds a capacity of 81,067. Although the stadium itself is old, Nebraska has renovated Memorial Stadium several times since it was first built, with the most recent renovation coming in 2006, when over 7,000 seats, new sky boxes, new video boards, and a new training facility (named after Osborne and his wife, Nancy) were installed.

Eric Piatkowski is Nebraska's second all-time leading scorer. Um, yeah.

Basketball: I’ll put it this way: Nebraska is definitely a football school. As you can see by the lack of any sort of worthwhile information on the Nebraska men’s basketball Wikipedia page, there aren’t a lot of noteworthy accomplishments to speak of when it comes to the program.

The Cornhuskers have made six NCAA tournament appearances in their history, with four of those coming in consecutive years, from 1991-1994, when they were led by noted gunner (and career NBA backup) Eric Piatkowski, and they last made the Big Dance in 1998. The hold the dubious distinction of being one of just three BCS schools to have never won a game in the NCAA tournament, along with Northwestern and South Florida. They have, however, become a staple of the NIT, making that tournament 16 times, including four times in the last seven seasons, and winning the NIT title in 1996. NU hasn’t won a regular-season conference title since sharing the Big Eight crown with Kansas and Kansas State in 1950, and haven’t won an outright conference title since 1916.

The Huskers hired UTEP coach Doc Sadler before the 2006-07 season, and managed to break .500 in his first three seasons — which included two NIT appearances — before finishing at the bottom of the Big 12 last season with a 2-14 conference record (15-18 overall). So yeah, don’t expect this team to be much more than cannon-fodder for a strong Big Ten basketball conference.

The women’s basketball team, despite not becoming a varsity sport until 1975 (the men’s program has been around since 1896), has achieved far greater success than their male counterparts. Cue Wikipedia:

Women’s basketball started as a club sport in 1970 and five years later it became a varsity sport when scholarships were offered. George Nicodemus was the first head coach and had a 22-9 record in his first season, taking the Huskers to the AIAW where they lost in the second round of the tournament. Five different head coaches would be hired after Nicodemus left the program in 1971 until 1986 when Angela Beck took a stable head coach position. Beck led the Huskers to their first NCAA bid after winning the Big 8 championship in 1988. She led the Huskers back to the NCAA in 93 and 96. She left the program in 1996 to pursue other opportunities and was replaced by Paul Sanderford. Sanderford led the Huskers to a NCAA sub-regional in 1998 and 1999 and received a third consecutive NCAA bid in 2000. Connie Yori became the head coach in 2002 and has led the Huskers to WNIT in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009 and NCAA in 2007, 2008, and 2010.

Hooray for having at least one viable basketball program, I guess.

Nebraska plays their home games in the Bob Devaney Sports Center, which holds a capacity of 13,595 and also contains their swimming and diving, indoor track, and gymnastics facilities. Last year, the men’s basketball team finished 45th in the NCAA with an average attendance of 9,964. Again, this is a football school.

Olympic/Other Sports: Nebraska does have a strong overall athletic department. Last year they finished 31st in the Director’s Cup standings, which would have been good for seventh in the Big Ten. They boast a couple very strong programs in their women’s volleyball team, which has won three national titles (most recent: 2006) and made the NCAA final four 11 times, and their men’s gymnastics team, which has captured eight national team titles and 41 NCAA event titles. Nebraska’s baseball team has also been strong in the last decade, as they have made three College World Series appearances and reached the NCAA Tournament nine times in the last eleven seasons. They also have a very strong women’s bowling team, which shocked me because I didn’t know bowling was an official varsity sport — the Huskers took home the NCAA crown in three of the first six NCAA bowling tournaments (starting in 2003) and they have never been ranked lower than 17th in the country.

Academics: The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (the full name for the school, although it is often abbreviated as simply “NU”) fits every requirement the Big Ten reportedly had for admission to the conference — they’re a public research institution and a member of the AAU. They are a first-tier institution according to the U.S. News & World Report, which has them ranked as the 96th-best school in the country. Although this puts them last among Big Ten schools, this is certainly not the equivalent of taking on a Texas Tech or another school outside the first tier.

Alignment: Map me, Google (I had some difficulty embedding from Google maps, so the image below can’t be modified, but the link below it will take you to the full map):

View Big Ten + Nebraska in a larger map

Adding Nebraska alone as the 12th Big Ten team created some issues when it comes to alignment. The addition of the Huskers means it makes the most geographic sense to divide the conference into East and West, but the result, when done purely on a geographic basis, isn’t as balanced as one would hope:

[table id=110 /]

That leaves three of the conference’s most prestigious football schools (as well as Michigan State and Purdue, which while being thoroughly mediocre programs still manage to be half-decent most of the time) battling it out in the East, while Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin get a far easier path to the Big Ten Championship Game (boy, is that fun to type). This alignment does, however, maintain many of the Big Ten’s traditional rivalries, so I’m not sure if there’s a better suggestion out there. I’m certainly all ears, though, and this entire discussion could become moot if the conference expands to 14 or 16 teams.

My Take: Although Nebraska doesn’t add a lot to the Big Ten Network footprint, and their basketball program isn’t up to par with the rest of the conference (save Northwestern, I guess), I still really like this addition. Lost in the discussion of mega-conferences and television revenue is the entire point of the Big Ten expanding in the first place: now we have 12 teams, giving the Big Ten that coveted conference title game in football, which will add revenue and bring more attention to the conference after the regular season is over. Bringing in a football program as prestigious as Nebraska’s is a great move for the conference, and I’m excited to see what new rivalries form with their addition. We’ll have to wait and see if Jim Delaney has any more moves up his sleeve, or if the Big Ten is happy to stand pat at 12 teams, but right now I’m just excited for the prospect of a football title game and a new, good program on the football schedule.

Former Wolverine defenseman Jack Johnson with the puck in the USA's 3-1 victory over Switzerland.

We are now in Day 7 of the Winter Olympics, and there are a few current and former Wolverines getting ready to compete in the next couple days. Here’s what to watch for if you’re a Michigan fan looking to root on our athletes competing in Vancouver:

  • The United States hockey team, featuring former Wolverine standout Jack Johnson, opened up their Olympic run with a 3-1 victory over Switzerland on Tuesday, with Johnson finishing with a +1 on the game. The Americans are tied atop Group A with Canada (both 1-0), and they take on 0-1 Norway at 3 pm today. You can catch the game live on the USA Network (channel 51 here in Ann Arbor, if you’re stuck with Comcast like I am).
  • Two pairs of Michigan students — Meryl Davis & Charlie White and Evan Bates & Emily Samuelson — will begin competition in ice dancing tomorrow afternoon. You can catch them tomorrow afternoon on the Universal Network (3-4 pm) and during NBC’s taped evening coverage (8-11:30 pm) in the compulsory dance. Coverage will continue live on Sunday evening (NBC, 7-11 pm) with the original dance, and will wrap up live in primetime on Monday (8 pm – 12 am) with the free dance on NBC.

It’s great to see Michigan so well-represented in the Olympics, so make sure to cheer on your school and your country this weekend. I’ll keep up with the Olympic updates as we move through the weekend.

Could Texas be joining the Big Ten in the near future?

Well, this is interesting: Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal-World is reporting that a source with ties to the Big Ten has told him that the conference is in “preliminary exchanges” with the University of Texas about becoming the 12th Big Ten team. Yes, that University of Texas. While this rumor, by virtue of not being started on Twitter, seems to have more credence than the “Pitt to Big Ten” rumors from a couple weeks back, it’s still very early in the expansion process for the Big Ten, and I would not expect to hear anything concrete on this for a while. Still, it’s fun to speculate: Brian has already posted a wild 14-team, three-tier conference alignment proposal (with the addition of Pitt, Missouri, and Texas to the Big Ten, presumably) that uses soccer-style relegation. It is, admittedly, completely insane, but it’s tough to deny how fun that setup would be.

In football news, Touch the Banner has posted a three-part geographical breakdown of Michigan recruiting, looking at offers, commitments, and percent of accepted offers by state. Not surprisingly, Michigan puts most of their offers out to players from Florida and Ohio, while pulling the majority of their commitments from Ohio, Michigan, and Florida. It would be really interesting, if the date were available, to extend this research over Rich Rodriguez’s full time at Michigan, as the small sample size (just the Class of 2010) makes it hard to draw any big conclusions from this, but it’s still interesting to look at.

The Big House Blog scored an interview with Jeremy Ross, a kicker from my alma mater (Ann Arbor Pioneer) who will walk on to the team next season. He’s tiny (5’5, 145 pounds) but has some really nice high school numbers (warning: lots of third-person self-referencing ahead):

BHB: If you were a evaluating Jeremy as a kicker what would you say about him?

JR: If I was evaluating Jeremy as a kicker I would say that he is very consistent. His form makes up for his lack of size and he proves it with every kick. He shows his worth with his consistency. If he was asked to go out there and make 10/10 kick he wouldn’t shy away from it.(Unless it was from 37 yards, in my career I’m 22/25 and every one that I missed has been from 37 yards, its really weird and when I go out on the field I don’t even think about it.

BHB: What is the longest field goal you have kicked in a game or at practice?

JR: In a game my longest field goal is 45 yards, in practice I’ve hit from 55 yards, and out of my 22 field goals in high school 8 are from 40+ yards.

Ross will be enrolling in June, and his stated goal is to earn a starting spot and become Michigan’s version of Reggie Ho (the former Notre Dame walk-on-turned-starting-kicker). Best of luck to the kid — it’s always nice to see Ann Arbor talent on the Wolverines.

Moving on to basketball, Dylan takes a closer look at what most Michigan fans are calling a disappointing season for Manny Harris. You wouldn’t guess it from watching the games, but Manny has actually been just about as good in Big Ten play as he was last season (in fact, his offensive rating has improved slightly). The issue, says Dylan, is expectations:

So perhaps nothing is wrong with Manny Harris at all. This is the same Manny that we saw last year during Big Ten play. He will have his great games but he also has his off-days when nothing seems to work. Every player has his bad games, that’s undeniable. The problem is that even if this is the same Manny Harris, Michigan was hoping for an improved Manny.

Expectations were high this year because improvement was expected. Harris and Sims would become more consistent.  Michigan’s role players would slightly refine their games to become less one dimensional. Looking at Manny specifically, I firmly believe that if he could shoot ~35% from three point range he’d be a lock first round draft pick.

Over at Burgeoning Wolverine Star, Chris calls for more Darius Morris — who appears to have assumed the starting point guard position — as he begins looking ahead to 2011:

I assume Morris’ start against Wisconsin is the beginning of the Morris era and we rarely see him start games on the bench for the rest of his time at Michigan. A lot has been made of the fact that he can’t really shoot from the outside, to which I say, bullpuckey. I don’t want Morris shooting threes anyway. I want him to be a point guard, something that he’s increasingly proving he might actually be. I’m exceedingly pessimistic about the 2011 season but that might change as Morris gets more and more playing time and we get to see just how well he can run the offense.

Also, UMHoops chatted with the Minnesota blog From the Barn in preparation for tonight’s game against the Gophers.

Finally, ESPN has an interesting piece on a Michigan name I hadn’t heard in a very long time: MaliVai Washington, the former M tennis star who made the Wimbledon final in 1996. As it turns out, Washington wasn’t exactly a model student-athlete at Michigan, as he talks about showing up to class late, sleeping during class, and leaving early on a regular basis. He did not graduate before turning pro, but now, post-playing career, he is taking academics much more seriously as a finance major at the University of North Florida. He has also become very active in his community:

Washington also devotes himself to the MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation, a nonprofit based in Jacksonville’s rough-and-tumble 32209 zip code. Dropouts, teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse — this neighborhood has it all. It also has, thanks to the efforts of Washington and his colleagues, a 9,000-square-foot youth center, eight tennis courts and a program that combines tennis and education.

Great to see Washington representing the University well, even if he’s moved on to a different school.

[UPDATE: The Pitt to the Big Ten rumors are, predictably, completely false, as reported by the Chicago Tribune from a Big Ten source. I still think Pitt is a very viable candidate to join the Big Ten, but the conference will stick to their 12-18 month review period before moving forward with any expansion plans. Since this article looks into Pitt’s viability as a candidate to be a 12th team, I still think it’s worth reading, but please be aware that nothing official will happen until December, at the earliest.]

Sorry, couldn’t help myself with that title. I know, it’s awful.

Internet scuttlebutt — and I stress that at this point the rumors are no more than that — has Pitt joining the Big Ten as a 12th team, likely in the fall of 2012 (probably the earliest a move from one major conference to another could be feasibly made). Obviously, this is far from a done deal, since there is no official confirmation (or denial) coming from any of the major parties, but I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at what Pitt would bring to the Big Ten, and the ramifications of adding a 12th team.

Heisman winner Tony Dorsett is a part of Pitt's rich football tradition.

Football: Pitt’s recent rise back to national prominence (or, at the very least, relevance) would make them a more-than-acceptable addition to the Big Ten as a football school. The Panthers finished last season with a 10-3 record and were ranked #15 in the final AP poll, and after a rocky start to the Dave Wannstedt era (16-19 in his first three seasons) it appears Pitt has built up enough talent to compete on a national level (19-7 last two seasons).

A move to the Big Ten would allow Pitt to renew their storied series with in-state rival Penn State — the two teams have met 96 times on the football field, but haven’t played each other since the 2000 season. Since joining the Big Ten in 1993, Penn State has been without a natural rival, and while their contests against Michigan and Ohio State have become hotly-contested because of their impact on the conference title, having a natural rival with some history would be good for PSU and the conference as a whole.

Of the realistic candidates for a 12th Big Ten team (that excludes Notre Dame, Texas, and Nebraska, for the record), Pitt probably has the best football tradition: the Panthers have played the sport since 1890, claim nine national titles (1915, 1916, 1918, 1929, 1931, 1934, 1936, 1937, and 1976), and boast a Heisman Trophy winner (Tony Dorsett, 1976), 24 College Football Hall of Fame inductees, and 49 consensus All-Americans, including such names as Hugh Green, Dan Marino, and Larry Fitzgerald.

The biggest knock against Pitt’s football resume would be their stadium: the school tore down the ancient Pitt Stadium after their final season there in 1999, and have shared a stadium with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the seasons since. The Panthers take second-class status behind the Steelers in their own stadium, and have a difficult time selling out Heinz Field — in 2008, Pitt averaged 49,352 fans in a stadium that holds just over 65,000.

Pitt hasn’t been a national power for a generation or so, but their recent success, rivalry with Penn State, and rich tradition make them a welcome addition to the Big Ten as a football school. With back-to-back bowl appearances, at least two more years with electric running back Dion Lewis, and solid recruiting classes from Wannstedt (Rivals rank last four years, in order: 21, 26, 28, 47), I think the Panthers could be a Wisconsin-type presence in the Big Ten — a little up-and-down in terms of success, but a team that usually finishes in the upper half of the conference standings and occasionally threatens to make a BCS bowl.

Read More

Rich Rodriguez isn't concerned about playing all three quarterbacks to start the season.

Rich Rodriguez isn't concerned about playing all three quarterbacks to start the season.

Football:

  • QB rotations are a bad idea, but it’s right for Michigan at the moment — Detroit Free Press — Detroit sports radio mainstay Jamie Samuelsen is surprised to find that he isn’t against playing three quarterbacks to start the season for Michigan. I’m still a little wary, and would like to see Forcier and Robinson get a shot before resorting to Sheridan, but I’m going to trust the coaches on this one until I see it in action.
  • OK, Michigan’s Sheridan-as-starter meme isn’t funny anymore — Dr. Saturday — The Doc points out just how historically awful Nick Sheridan was last season (81.09 quarterback efficiency in 2008; the next-worst in the Big 10 by a qualifying QB was 105.26 by … Steven Threet), and makes it clear that if Michigan is relying on Sheridan as anything but a worst-case backup plan, things won’t improve a whole lot from last season. If this wasn’t the internet, I’d have stamped his article with a giant “co-sign”.
  • Weekly Recruiting Wrap — The Wolverine — Josh Helmholdt takes a look at each of Michigan’s 18 verbal commits for 2010 and lays out his expectations for their senior seasons in high school. Many of M’s commits have a lot to prove in their final season, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on them to see if fans’ consternation about the quality of the class is legit.
  • U-M football officials pleased with suite commitments — Detroit News — There’s a ton of content out about the new suites after the athletic department took the media on a tour this week. Michigan has sold 70% of the suites with a year to spare before they open, which bodes very well for the AD. Those who were not on board with the renovations should really reconsider … the suites look great (can you really complain about the exterior brickwork?), and should bring in a lot of money for the school.
  • Unverified Voracity Deletes Six Jokes — MGoBlog — Just click. You’ll thank me later … namely when Penn State comes to town in October. Like Brian, I will refrain from comment as long as anything I write on this site can later be attributed to my real name.
  • Birk’s Eye View: Six position battles to watch as Michigan breaks football camp — AnnArbor.com — With all the focus on the quarterback, two battles to really look for are the kicker (obviously, as covered on this site before) and the running backs. Even with all the hype around Brandon Minor, he hasn’t been healthy all camp (or his entire career, really) and if Carlos Brown can stay healthy we could see a real battle for carries this fall.
  • U-M OL Cory Zirbel can’t play, so he’ll coach — Detroit Free Press — I’ll make no further comment than what Zirbel himself said: “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘How can you be a part of that coaching staff?’ Those people aren’t true Michigan fans. … People don’t understand how I accept my role, but those people don’t know.
    “It’s an honor. It’s Michigan, always going to be Michigan. Coach Rodriguez is a great guy, presented me an opportunity, and I took it.”
  • Mesko Named Candidate for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team — MGoBlue — Good Works Team now, Supreme Ruler of the Universe tomorrow.

Basketball:

  • Beilein wants back at work after big season — Detroit Free Press — I can’t express how much I like Beilein as Michigan’s coach: he runs a clean program, directs teams that are fun to watch, and lives and breathes basketball. Also, a very interesting quote here: “I didn’t write it down,” [Beilein] said. “But coming back from the Alaska trip (two years ago) was an eye-opener for us. We lost to Boston College and Harvard back-to-back after that. If you would have told me you’ll be .500 and go to the NIT in the second year, I would have said, alright. I thought we had a long way to go but some pieces fell into place.” Yeah, no kidding.
  • Position by Position: Zack Novak — UMHoops — Dylan begins his breakdown of Michigan’s basketball squad by looking at … Zack Novak, because he can play more than half the positions on the court. Dylan likes him at the power forward, but I’m hoping he’ll play more 2 and 3 this season if one of the freshman bigs can develop into a viable option in the post.
  • The Eight Steps … Ben Cronin’s Journey Back — MGoBlue — Hey, a viable big (maybe)! Cronin has been through a lot before really having a chance to contribute at Michigan, thanks to a hip injury that forced the team to shut him down for his freshman season. Cronin seems to have a great attitude and a drive to compete, and if he could contribute as a rotation player this season it would be a huge boost for Michigan’s frontcourt depth.

Other Sports:

  • Volleyball Stuns Huskers — MGoBlog — The Michigan volleyball team notched a historic victory yesterday as they defeated #3 Nebraska in Omaha three sets to none in the top regular season tournament in college volleyball, the Runza/AVCA Challenge. This is the type of victory a program can look back on as a turning point towards national prominence … Michigan may not be a title contender this season (according to formerlyanonymous, who I will defer to as the expert here, since I can’t say I follow volleyball much at all) but this victory is huge nonetheless.