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Stop, drop and polled: Why Nebraska fell (and K-State didn't)

Off week? Let's go long-form. @fauxpelini, this is for you, kid.

Tom Pennington

Billy Hoyle was confused.

A moment before he entered his apartment, he was on top of the world -- having won a pickup basketball game. Now, Gloria was gone, and all he could hear in his mind was her words:

"Sometimes, when you win, you really lose," Gloria had magically foreshadowed to him on the bus, before later leaving the hero with his painters cap, bad shorts and awesome outdoor basketball (that appeared everywhere but didn't show any visible signs of constant use all the way through the movie, and you were all like, "man, I wish I had that ball," as you stared at your own outdoor ball that used to have really good grip but then it didn't anymore and now just sadly sits in the garage bucket.)

People in this part of the country would love to believe that voters deliberately hit Nebraska's pride with their voting car in some sort of karmic reaction to Lawrence Phillips.

Let's all be be sad at that thought -- the kind of sad a woman has when she meets a man dressed in an open-chested Hawaiian shirt, too-short '80s white-trimmed swim shorts and sunglasses, and looks strangely like Carl Pelini.

And, if that's not depressing enough, also let it sink in that while Billy Hoyle was a guy from "some college in Louisiana," he may as well be a Nebraska Cornhuskers football fan trying to reconcile why his or her or its team (hey, Nebraska "its" are real, man ... ask an I-80 trucker) set an ignominious record of sorts last weekend by winning a football game and still convincing Associated Press voters they should be dropped seven spots from No. 19 to right outside this week's AP Top 25.

"Sometimes when you win, you really lose."

People in this part of the country -- and Russia, probably -- would love to believe that voters deliberately hit Nebraska's pride with their voting car in some sort of karmic reaction to Lawrence Phillips. The poll drop drew some snickers, but out of respect to @fauxpelini, let's take a serious look at what really drew voters' ire -- while a different sub-par performance from Kansas State, for example, barely raised voters' pulse.

I think it boils down to the Cornhuskers falling victim to, ironically, a highlight.


Ameer Abdullah is a bowling ball beast of a tailback. McNeese State found this out in spectacular fashion when the listed 5-9, 195-lb. back did his best Tecmo Super Bowl, excellent condition Christian Okoye and destroyed literally half of McNeese's defense* during his 58-yard TD run.

*Seriously, if you never ran Steve DeBerg backward to the 1-yard line just so Excellent Okoye could repel defenders like Charlie Weis repels good football, for 99-yard scores, your childhood was incomplete. And, if Abdullah's run ever becomes a chapter in a book somewhere, the opening sentence should be: "Five men cried that day." Those McNeese defenders left it all out on the field on that play, including their innocence.

Rightfully so, the highlight played nationally more than Billy Ray Cyrus' Achy Breaky Heart in a Kearney bar, which is no small feat, I tell you what. The run was so good that everybody picked it up. It played, and it played.

It celebrated an amazing last-second run. It kept pointing out the final score because that's what highlights do. It also, unfortunately, kept reinforcing the fact that this wasn't against Notre Dame, or Michigan State, or Penn State, or even Iowa State. It was McNeese State, and that left voters treating the highlight as if they had bitten into a pranked breakfast pastry filled with room-temperature mayonnaise.

For some, I'm sure that was enough to make the Big Red become the Big Shred on ballots. Others, in the interest of masochism, dug into stats and drive charts and things. What they painfully found was that McNeese was on par with Nebraska, grinding out enough yards, holding onto the ball and, not surprisingly, keeping the game in check.

Meanwhile, in Ames, the Kansas State Wildcats were having quite the day themselves, and the squeaked-out win against the Iowa St. Cyclones. became a focal point for irate Nebraska fans after the AP Poll was released.

The difference is easy to spot: Timing.

Game-flow was critical in swaying or not swaying voters, I'm convinced.  On Fox Sports 1, KSU dominated the first 13 minutes and then neatly tucked in a terrible second quarter before regaining normalcy and dominating the second half. The giant neon sign, of course, was the final score. However, when you realize that the Cyclones picked up half of their total offense in a pair of second-quarter drives, and also got a punt return TD, K-State's stark difference in play gave voters time to assess and determine the difference between a bad quarter and an entire shaky game.

Put it this way: ISU averaged less than 3.3 yards per play in the second half, getting shut out while earning just 135 yards on 41 plays.

Had the game played out exactly opposite, and ISU put up 28 on KSU in the fourth quarter and barely lost, I think those highlights would have burned into voters' minds like Nebraska did. As it were, voters gave K-State benefit of the doubt, this time at least.

And ...

Yes, of course, the Cyclones might be bad, but they are Power 5 team bad. Right or wrong, that usually matters for voters - especially those who barely look up from self-aggrandizing Twitter feeds as scores flash by on the TV crawl.

Regardless, the public service announcement learned here is this: When playing lower-level schools, or anytime for that matter probably, Nebraska should not be on television. It would save the embarrassment of game-saving highlights against much lower competition, and it could have saved Nebraska's early-season ranking.

Disagree? We've seen the disastrous result:

"Sometimes when you win, you really lose."

Gloria, you Jeopardy-loving, foods-that-start-with-the-letter-Q-knowin' fool, we hear you, babe.