Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Evaluating solely on margin of victory is shallow

As the No. 11 ranked Nebraska football team prepares to host Washington Saturday, Husker head coach Bo Pelini made a statement in his weekly press conference that truly resonated:

"There's consternation around here if you don't win 50-0 every week, that's just part of the deal. If I start worrying about what the public thinks I'll end up in a rubber room."

While that statement might apply to only a segment of Husker fans, it certainly has a heavy grain of truth. Take for example, the Huskers first two wins, 40-7 over Tennessee-Chattanooga and 42-29 over Fresno State. The common denominator in both games was a feast or famine offense that made some big plays but also had some plays go backward. With the UTC win, some Husker fans saw anything less than a 55-0 win as a disappointment. The truth of the matter is, if starting quarterback Taylor Martinez plays the entire game Nebraka probably wins 55-0 but why have starters risk injury in a blowout just to pad the score?

Consternation about the Fresno State win is much more understandable but not because of the 13-point margin of victory against a team where the Huskers were favored by 28 points. The disturbing part was how the supposedly vaunted defense got pushed around. Had Nebraska won say 31-17, had a similar offensive process but a much more stout defense there would probaly not be the level of consternation.

Honestly, margin of victory is an extremely shallow way of evaluating a game. Just as examples: In 2004, Nebraska opened with a 56-17 win over Western Illinois. In 2006, the Huskers opened with a 49-10 win over Louisiana Tech and in 2007 Nebraska opened with a 52-9 win over Nevada. All three games had a similar margin of victory but in the LA Tech and Nevada wins, Nebraska played near flawless whereas in the 2004 win, the Huskers had six turnovers and that was a problem that never got fixed.

There are literally two types of Husker fans. There is the kind that demands greatness and expects to see them at the same level as the mid 1990s when the team won three National Championships in four years. They except nothing else and will not wait for it to happen. They figure Nebraska has the resources and fan base to be near the level of the 90s and it needs to happen now. They also expect the Huskers to dominate at nearly every position and if one area of the football team is lax, they are adamantly angry about this and demand coaching fires, change in personal, and claim it a failure. They defend their perfectionist ideas by saying that they will not lower expectations of the program and they expect things that are holding us back to get corrected now. In essence, they also view teams like Alabama and Oklahoma and their success, and feel like Nebraska is a failure for not holding onto to that success it once had.

Then there Husker fans who are apathetic and have low expectations. They still want similar success as the 1990s but view the landscape of college football differently in the past decade. They see the diminshing success over the years of he likes of Notre Dame, USC and Florida State and realize that the Huskers can't hold a certain level of success indefinitely. If things dont go well, they are willing to work with urrent coaches and players to improve. They are willing to accept things as they are as long as the program is moving in that direction. They are willing to wait for success and many times are concerned with the type of program that is run along with winning.

They have more of a realist mentality. They view the other the aforementioned Husker fan as too emotional, unable to realize parity in this landscape, and unable to chill out. They want similar success, but feel that patience is key to that success. They also realize development of players take time and are willing to watch a player mature over time before giving up on him, whereas the other camp expects great things from certain recruits immediately, as they have seen other recruits impact teams that fast.

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