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Big Red Fans, Welcome to Mediocrity

“Unacceptable.”

“Extremely disappointing.”

“Low point.”

Call it what you will, but Nebraska’s 21-17 loss today to Northern Illinois should leave no doubt that Big Red Football is not so big anymore. At least when you consider our place in the Division I football hierarchy.

NIU has actually done very well against Big Ten teams recently, but that’s no excuse for what we saw out of the Huskers this morning and early afternoon.

True, the defense had a much better day at the office — right until the deciding drive of the game late in the fourth quarter. But the offense should have pushed Northern Illinois up and down the field. Instead, we see a pair of pick-sixes and another underwhelming performance offensively.

Against an Ohio State or a Michigan, seeing this level of play would almost be understandable — given the turnover in coaches, a new defensive scheme and a new quarterback between seasons. But against Northern Illinois? After poor performances against Arkansas State and Oregon?

What we saw today may have been the low point of the Mike Riley Era. Unfortunately, it was also the continuation of the decline, the regression from a championship caliber team to a program now struggling to be considered a middle-level squad in a Power 5 conference.

Face it, Husker fans. Nebraska football has been sliding toward mediocrity since the end of the Solich days. It took a huge step backwards under Bill Callahan. It stepped back — briefly — towards above-average play under Bo Pelini before the us-against-the-world atmosphere surrounding the team famously imploded.

And now we have…this mess. We have full-blown mediocrity.

Is this what we can expect during what’s left of the Mike Riley Era?

When Riley was hired, I was one of the optimistic ones. I thought his tenure at Oregon State was fairly good, based on where he was recruiting. After the last full season of play by the Huskers, however, especially after how the 2016 season ended, my optimism faded. And the start of the ’17 season hasn’t helped.

Whether you booed or not during the Northern Illinois game (and I have no hesitation in saying I booed), feel free to be embarrassed. We will always be fans of the Big Red. But this phase of Husker football may not be ending anytime soon, even if leadership changes.

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Lawrence Phillips: Dead at 40

  
Shortly after noon today, I saw a headline that went something like this: “Phillips was explosive on the field, troubled off it.”

It would have been entirely appropriate to consider Lawrence Phillips explosive wherever he went.

If you wanted a case study for a “talented but troubled” sports figure, Phillips was your man. When Phillips took to a football field wearing Nebraska’s scarlet and cream, you knew he would deliver. Need six yards to move the chains? He’d weave through the line. Third down, 18 inches, tight game? He’d bowl you over. Screen pass as a change of pace? Not his forte, but he’d get the job done.

Off the field, he was a mess. And that was before college. But man, could he run. Power, grace, fluidity, and anger all in one sculpted, 220-pound package.

But nothing could uproot that anger. Not the national championship at Nebraska. Not an NFL career. And not even prison.

A lot of us wondered if death in prison would be where the Lawrence Phillips story would end, especially as the physical violence incidents continued and escalated. That’s what I thought. But it’s hard to imagine the immediate subplots leading to today. Phillips faced death row — death row — for allegedly killing another inmate. 

From the cheers of 77,000 people to death row. And then to possibly suicide.

I’m having a very hard time wrapping my mind around what I saw at Memorial Stadium 20 years ago and what I’ve been reading today. It’s mind-boggling that one character trait that can make you great in one arena — in Phillips’ case, his deep-seated anger — could eventually kill you.

  

Cincinnati’s Meathead Meltdown

  About the only thing I can think after Saturday’s legendary meltdown by the Cincinnati Bengals is it was bound to happen to some team at some point.

There is so much blame to spread around, and regardless of where you apply your industrial-strength spatula you may not get it all. However, the Bengals not only failed on the field in their 18-16 loss to the hated rival Pittsburgh Steelers. They set themselves up for failure well beforehand.

You can’t miss the blatant self-control problems displayed in the final minute by Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones. The potentially crippling shoulder-to-head hit by Burfict followed by Jones losing any semblance of cool immediately afterward were the final straws in the Bengals clawing defeat from the clutches of victory.

But there’s more. Coach Marvin Lewis lectured his players, notably Burfict, about maintaining composure as the game teetered in and out of control in the second half. Yet he put Burfict — and Jones, a noted hothead — back on the field at the game’s most critical point.

He had to. Or at least he felt he did. Despite their emotional control problems, Burfict and Jones are among football’s best defenders. And talent rules more decisions now than any other factor in sports. At least in most cases.

But Lewis and the Cincinnati coaching staff, try as they did, could not get those two players to play under control when it was most desperately needed.

So there is that failure. 

And there’s more. Burfict and Jones, who have both had more than their share of Meathead Moments in their NFL careers leading up to Saturday night, were pursued by the Bengals because of their talent and potential. It was a calculated risk, weighing potential against potential — the potential for brilliance (witness Burfict’s interception that seemingly sealed a win with under two minutes left) against the potential for catastrophe (which is what most of us will remember from the game). Other players were available that could have made plays and kept their cool. The Bengals decided against those options.

Somebody was bound to lose a playoff game in this fashion, this ugly, unhinged manner that we saw unfold like a train wreck Saturday.  It didn’t have to happen, but the Bengals primed themselves to be that team well before this weekend.

Royals Keep Steamrolling to a Title (First Takes and Second Helpings: Oct. 29, 2015)

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Various and sundry thoughts while mulling the end of a vacation week…

  1. The Kansas City Royals are primed to win the World Series. That’s something I didn’t expect at the start of the regular season, and it’s certainly something I didn’t expect after the Royals dug themselves a massive hole in the American League Division Series Game 4 against Houston. One thing that has highlighted this season is an ability to get big at-bats at big times, and that trend has been in full evidence against the New York Mets in the first two World Series games. The Mets rotation is designed to miss bats. The Royals hitters are now designed not to miss pitches, especially those in the strike zone. Mets pitchers are losing this battle in a big way. The other thing in the Royals’ favor has been underrated starting pitching. Edinson Volquez was every bit the equal of Matt Harvey in Game 1, and Johnny Cueto (and I can’t believe I’m typing this) simply outpitched Jacob deGrom in Game 2.It just has to be the nails.

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    After the All-Star break, while Ginny and Bella were getting their nails painted, my foster son asked whether I’d get my nails done. I said I’d get mine painted blue if the Royals got back to the World Series. Lo and behold, they did. And I had to remind the ladies of the home about this. Typically, I’m the one having to field the reminder on just about everything. Anyways, Bella was pretty giddy about getting to paint Daddy’s nails. As far as the on-field results, so far, so good. Just waiting to see what happens when I chip a nail.

  2. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything. Therefore, this will be the only mention of Joe Buck’s broadcasting, um, style, excellence, high-priced waste of air space in this blog post. I gladly utilized the six to eight seconds of delay between KVOE’s feed of the ESPN Radio coverage and the Fox TV picture for Game 2. It hurts the brain somewhat with that approach, but it sure eases the mind when you know you have an unbiased broadcast at the national level.joe

    I just love how, according to Mr. Buck, Harvey was the perfect pitcher for the Mets to start the World Series…and then how deGrom was the perfect guy to get a win for the Mets in Game 2 after they lost in crushing fashion in Game 1. Well, obviously they weren’t because the Mets are down 2-0 for the aforementioned reasons. There weren’t any perfect Royals starters to be part of the World Series, the way it appears. Funny how that works out. And it’s funny how the backhanded compliments — “and those Royals, nobody knows how they do it” — just enhance the fact that they, not the other team are doing it in emphatic fashion.

  3. Man, does Emporia State football have a big one coming up. And not against Northwest Missouri on Nov. 7. Archrival Washburn comes calling — on Halloween Day, mind you.10895870235_452fc42ba9_b

    If you wanted an example of inconsistency, the Ichabods would be about as good an example as you could get this season. Defeat Pittsburg State, ranked in the top 15 at the time, lose to bottom-dweller Lindenwood. Defeat Missouri Western, a longtime powerhouse in the conference before quarterback injuries hamstrung the offense over the past four weeks, lose to Central Oklahoma, a team finding its way after being the pleasant surprise in the MIAA last year. A ton is at stake for the Hornets, who at 7-1 can still get into the playoffs with two losses — and just about everybody expects ESU to lose at Northwest Missouri. Losing to Washburn and to NWMSU, though, and it’s just about curtains for any postseason hopes.

    It’s your archrival. Weird things happen against your archrival, especially in games where you should win — as Emporia State should on Saturday. It’s Halloween Day, the day of weird things. Hopefully the Hornets take all the strangeness out of the game early on, take care of business and move to 8-1 before a national broadcast in Maryville.

  4. Mike Riley isn’t in trouble, but the Huskers are. Let me rephrase that: Mike Riley isn’t in trouble yet. There’s a big difference, but regardless, there’s no way NU should lose to Northwestern at home. It shouldn’t have lost to BYU, Wisconsin or Illinois, either. And there’s no business losing the way they have this season, whether through bad defensive positioning or shoddy play-calling or bad communication or, apparently against Northwestern, just a poor effort. For a team allegedly hungry to prove it can win two straight, it sure sounded full of itself until it was way too late.Oct 24, 2015; Lincoln, NE, USA; The Northwestern Wildcats sign their fight song after a win against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium. Northwestern defeated Nebraska 30-28. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

    What does this mean? Well, on the field it means this team had better cinch up the fundamentals and at least play solid football. Win or lose. That’s now the best we can expect as fans for this season. Which isn’t nearly enough for this program or its fans. We have come to expect more because we have seen it’s possible. And we were told solid football would be the basic common denominator of this program. So far, it hasn’t been.

    Going into Riley Stardate 2.0, it should mean a purge of all the players who are demonstrating any unwillingness to buy into what Riley and his coaching staff are selling. If you’re not on board, find some place where you’re comfortable. It’s as simple as that.

    Off the field, it means this can’t continue or else Riley’s seat will get extremely hot extremely quickly. So will the seat under his coaches, especially defensive coordinator Mark Banker. And so will the seat underneath Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst. The Riley regime didn’t have the talent of other Big Ten teams to start, so struggles were anticipated. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s skill set didn’t fit what Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf had in mind, and at times they have melded the separate approaches into something quite nice. Injuries haven’t helped. But the sheer sloppiness of things…it’s unacceptable. In all phases of football. And that should have been communicated to the coaching staff from somebody — Eichorst, football god Tom Osborne, an outgoing chancellor, anybody — well before now. Even after the mess of the Bo Pelini era, NU football has taken a significant step backward in the first year of the Mike Riley regime. It’s a step backward I didn’t expect. And it’s a step backward that I hope doesn’t mean leads to backing into the mud of mediocrity. If the program isn’t already there.

  5. You can make a buffet out of anything. Ginny made the point abundantly clear this morning when I asked her what’s for supper tonight and she said, “We’re gonna have a leftover buffet.” Now that’s craziness. An all-you-can-eat buffet? Awesome. A pie buffet? Heavenly. But a leftover buffet?Now that you mention it, that pot roast from Tuesday night does sound pretty tasty.

Until the next plate of mental goulash…

Deja Vu in Huskerville

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In case you missed it, the Nebraska-Miami football game Saturday turned out to be quite the battle.

Miami jumped out to a 17-0 lead after a quarter and led 33-10 early in the fourth. NU stormed back to force overtime only to lose.

The nation yawned. Husker Nation cussed.

This was just the latest battle for the Big Red to return to relevance. And it was the latest opportunity to slip by in tantalizing, maddening fashion.

Look: the win over South Alabama was nice and all for getting the Mike Riley era into the win column — and erasing the nasty taste of the BYU game to start the season — but honestly, nobody cares. Those don’t get you back into the national spotlight as a titleĀ  contender, whether it be for the national championship or even for the conference crown. It’s games like BYU and Miami that we as Husker fans care about. And it’s those games that determine whether you’re on the road to respect or spinning your wheels as an also-ran.

And what’s concerning is the problems NU has had the past, oh, 15 years or so haven’t departed with the new coaching staff now on board.

Dumb penalties? Yep. Questionable play-calling, bad positioning? Mmm-hmm. Taking too long to get engaged in the game? More of an issue against Miami than BYU, but remember that second quarter against the Cougars? And did you listen to Nate Gerry, who said issues in practice carried over to the Miami game?

I have to breathe. Stuff like this doesn’t change overnight. But don’t tell me there’s a lot of hope after another kick to the gut like the Miami game. Hope for what? More of the same? Because that’s exactly what we got. And we have the loss to prove it.

Inauspicious Beginnings, Hopeful Future in Lincoln

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How do you lose a football game? Usually it’s with mistakes, either a whopping amount or a handful that are poorly-timed. And make no mistake: errors killed Nebraska’s victory chances in its season-opening football game against BYU.

To spare you a lengthy recap, just observe each team’s final drive of the game. Nebraska’s drive ends in a shanked field goal. BYU’s ends in a Hail Mary touchdown with all of NU’s defenders behind the receiver.

I didn’t watch the entire game — stories to write and post and the like — but I mainly liked what I saw from the offense, although I was more pleased with the passing game as opposed to the rushing attack. So much was made of how head coach Mike Riley’s passing emphasis was different from quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s demonstrated skill set, but that side of the game could have ended up a lot worse.

Punting wasn’t bad, but missing two field goals inside 45 yards is about inexcusable at the Power 5 level these days.

And then there’s the defense, shredded for a half and the out of position enough on the final play to claim defeat.

It’s unfortunate the Huskers lost the game, and with it the streak of consecutive home opening victories. But the game showed there is a lot of hope for the Mike Riley era. They say the most improvement in a given football season happens from Week 1 to Week 2. If that happens, Nebraska’s chances for returning to relevance improve dramatically — if not this year, then certainly by next season.

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Game preview: Emporia State at Missouri Southern

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Game 1: Emporia State at Missouri Southern
Time: 7 pm Thursday, Fred G. Hughes Stadium
Coverage: 6 pm, Mix 104.9 FM and Mix 104.9-TV on KVOE.com

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s go time. Time for football season, and another pivotal season for the Emporia State Hornets.

The 2015 season begins with a battle of the known versus the unknown as ESU travels to Joplin, Mo., to take on Missouri Southern. Emporia State has the stability in the coaching staff and quarterback, while Missouri Southern is all new. New head coach, new staff, new quarterback, new schemes both offensively and defensively.

There are some knowns for the Lions. Head coach Denver Johnson had decent success at FCS schools Illinois State and Murray State before a dismal 2-10 record and spiraling attendance at the end of the 2014 campaign spelled the end of the Johnson era at Tulsa. Defensive coordinator Kenny Evans, who had decent success at Northeastern State as a head coach, may have done better as Southern’s defensive coordinator from 1989 to 1997.

The questions for the Lions, though, are legion, including how the coaching staff melds together, how the offense adjusts to a spread formation with a former quarterback-turned-running back as quarterback and how the defense does with a 4-2-5 setup.

Things to listen to Thursday night:

Can the Emporia State offensive line keep Brent Wilson upright? Wilson got through most of the magical playoff run in 2013 clean before suffering a broken collarbone. No offense to Wilson’s replacement, but the Hornets’ playoff chances died on the spot. The Hornets were already scuffling when Wilson’s collarbone snapped again during the Northeastern State victory last year, and the team looked lost, disillusioned and frankly uncaring afterward. ESU should have a dynamic offense with a stacked receiver corps and a solid stable of running backs, but none of that matters if No. 15 is flat repeatedly or on the shelf again. If, however, Wilson has time to survey the field, look out. Kavaski Ervin, Mitchell Foote and Justin Brown should all have really good years, and one of them should have a big game Thursday night if Wilson is kept clean.

Does Emporia State’s glass jaw from 2014 extend to 2015? Last year, if the Hornets got hit in the mouth or had a case of the dropsies, you could guarantee a snowball effect. Guarantee it. And if it happened in the first half, there was no hope of a comeback. The only exception was the Nebraska-Kearney season closer, when the Hornets roared back from a 28-point deficit and overcame several miscues to lose by two (no second-half miscues, no loss, but that’s beside the point here). The hope is that loss to the Lopers, which saw the emotional emergence of Eddie Vinson as a team leader, reestablished the fight the Hornets have been known for the prior two seasons.

Can ESU’s defense harass Missouri Southern’s new quarterback? ESU fared poorly defensively last year, and that’s one of the bigger understatements of MIAA football from 2014: last in total defense, 10th in scoring defense, last in pass defense, 10th in third-down conversions against and dead last in sacks (32 behind No. 11 on the list). In general, the Hornets have to get after the quarterback better this year, and there’s no time like the present. Southern QB Ty’Quan Hayes has a feel for the offense, according to Johnson, but he was a reserve running back and return man last year — throwing all of one pass in the process. Hayes was an accomplished quarterback in high school, but rust can be expected. With the right attack, the Hornets should take advantage of this.

Final score: ESU 31, Missouri Southern 21

First Takes and Second Helpings: Aug. 24, 2015

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Filling your plate with an unhealthy diet of my thought processes. Not exactly spanning the globe to bring you a variety of sports…

Austin Willis snapped up by the Buffalo Bills. That didn’t take long, although I didn’t think it would. Released by Oakland on Aug. 18, Willis signed with Buffalo over the weekend. What was surprising — pleasantly so — was the series of reports indicating several teams wanted Willis. That says volumes about Willis’ speed, athleticism and also his work ethic. Congratulations to Willis. Here’s hoping the Bills’ revolving door at quarterback doesn’t hurt Willis’ chances to make the team.

Emporia State upgrades its football experience. Hornet fans should have a blast once the Dennis Shogren Videoboard is totally up and running. The new scoreboard should be among Division II’s best. Now we’ll see how the Hornets upgrade after a forgettable 4-7 season. As mentioned last week, the Hornets don’t have to get back to the playoffs to reclaim the momentum seen in 2012 and 2013. Finishing above .500 with their schedule would do, although seven wins or better would certainly help.

New blood in Lincoln. Can’t wait to see how Mike Riley does as Nebraska’s head coach this season. I like the Riley hire, maybe because he reminds me more than any other D-1 coach of Tom Osborne — a happier, more media-understanding version of Osborne, I should say. I believe prior coach Bo Pelini fostered a toxic atmosphere in Lincoln and did nothing to stop the festering before he was booted out, and that more than anything was what led to his dismissal. I know he’s the Pelini antitype. Now it’s time to see if he’s the Pelini antidote and can move the Huskers to the next level.

Royals-Orioles. The rematch of the 2014 ALCS really doesn’t have that much buzz going into Game 1 tonight, in large part because the Orioles have been scuffling to stay above water all season long while the Royals continue to blister most of their opponents. As an O’s fan, it would have been nice to see the team with more significant upgrades last offseason and again before this year’s trading deadline. Buck Showalter is an amazing manager, but it would have been nice if he had been given more to work with this season. By the way, Mike Moustakas looks like he’s refinding his stroke, but even though his average has shed points like I need to lose pounds over the past six weeks, he has still had some of the Royals’ best at-bats of the season. Long live #OppoMoose.

Bowyer bounceback. After being set free by Michael Waltrip Racing (granted, at the end of the 2015 season), Clint Bowyer did extremely well at Bristol, finishing fifth. There are two more Chase for the Cup races before the field is set. Two more Top-5 finishes would go a long way towards solidifying a spot in the Chase, or if nothing else building momentum as Bowyer gets ready to make his next move.

The sobering side of racing. The racing community is praying for IRL driver Justin Wilson, who was severely hurt when Sage Karam crashed and a big piece of debris hit Wilson in the head at speed. If you remember, Dan Wheldon was killed during an IRL race when his car sailed over a football field worth of distance in the air before his head smashed into a pole at nearly 200 mph. Believe it or not, these kinds of accidents don’t happen all that often for open-wheel racers. The question now is what IRL, Formula 1 and other open-wheel series will do to protect their drivers so this doesn’t happen again.

Where Does Austin Willis Land? (Plus Patrick Crayton’s Possible Impact on Current ESU Receivers and the Hornets)

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There are a lot of people rooting for Austin Willis to make it in the NFL. Now they are hoping he latches on with somebody other than the Oakland Raiders, who cut the undrafted free agent this week.

It has been a long, long time since the Raiders could be considered the gold standard for personnel moves at either the player or coach level, but Silver and Black Pride, an SB Nation blog, writes Willis was having issues getting open as a receiver despite 4.38-second speed in the 40-yard dash. He was also stuck in a crowded field of receivers hoping to make an impact on the Raiders coaching staff, vying for time with guys like Brice Butler, Kenbrell Thompkins, Seth Robers, Kris Durham, Josh Harper and Milton Williams. That was before the Raiders signed veteran Devon Wylie, likely to build on the working relationship Wylie has had with quarterback Derek Carr since the two were teammates at Fresno State.

Willis was also well down on the kick return totem pole, buried behind Trindon Holliday, Taiwan Jones and T.J. Carrie.

The Emporia State graduate caught 128 balls during his Hornet career, finishing with 2,005 career receiving yards. He also scored almost 20 touchdowns, including 10 his junior year.

The cut is a disappointment for Willis, who was heralded as a possible Wes Welker-type player by The Bleacher Report shortly after he signed with Oakland. It’s also disappointing for a lot of fans — not just those of Emporia State football but those of “the little guy,” the guy from the small school who just wants a fair chance to compete against established players or more well-known recruits from bigger schools with brighter, Division I lights.

The good news? Willis apparently turned some heads in a positive way. Several journalists following the Raiders say he should catch on with another NFL team (or at least be given more than a mere passing look) because of his speed, sure hands, improved size — 192 pounds versus his ESU playing weight of around 175 — and his athleticism.

The way it sounds, Willis was a victim of circumstance in Oakland. And the Raiders did him a favor, believe it or not, by cutting him loose from a crowded field of pass catchers now as opposed to later.

Crayton reunites with former coach Higgins at ESU

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Meanwhile, receivers now at Emporia State just got a gift from the football gods — from somebody who was once in Willis’ shoes.

Patrick Crayton, a wideout who made a name for himself as an NAIA All-American at Northwestern Oklahoma State under current ESU head coach Garin Higgins, is now joining the Higgins staff as a wide receivers coach.

Crayton is on board at ESU thanks to the NFLPA Coaching Internship, which lets players have what a news release calls “an in-depth, foundational coaching experience.” He’s among less than 20 former players selected for this program this year.

Talk about learning from somebody who knows the football side of things and also the trials and tribulations of impressing the coaches when not from a big-name university. Crayton played eight seasons in the NFL, making most of his headlines during a six-year career with the Dallas Cowboys before ending his playing days with San Diego in 2011. All told, he amassed 3,650 receiving yards and scored 27 touchdowns, including two punt returns for scores.

Before that, however, Crayton pretty much did it all for NWOSU. He played quarterback, wideout and returner, and he still holds several school records. He is the only NAIA player to score a TD as a passer, rusher, receiver, punt returner and kick returner in a single season.

Crayton will definitely give Emporia State receivers a leg up when it comes to X’s and O’s, route-running, blocking and the sheer football side of the equation. But he was also a mentally tough receiver during his career, and that can only help a pretty talented corps of wideouts on a team that needs to show last year’s mental fortitude and concentration issues have ended.

You think Emporia State’s receivers will ignore anything he has to say? Uhhhhhh. No.

Hornets face tough road back to playoffs

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Is this a step towards ESU returning to the Division II playoffs like it did two years ago? Perhaps. The Hornets are picked near the middle of the pack in the cutthroat MIAA, but that’s about where they were picked when they had that magical run in 2013.

The season opens against Missouri Southern in Joplin on Sept. 3, and the schedule from there is no picnic. Central Missouri, the media’s No. 3 pick in the conference, is Emporia State’s home opener Sept. 10, followed by Central Oklahoma, the media’s projected No. 4 team, on Sept. 19. After games against Northeastern (Okla.) State and Lindenwood, the Hornets then face a stretch of five straight games against teams slotted to be in the top half of the conference, including Pittsburg State (MIAA No. 2, Oct. 10 at home), archrival Washburn (Halloween Day, only marginally more scary than a Halloween Night game) and Northwest Missouri (MIAA No. 1, Nov. 7).

The Hornets were beset by injuries, notably at quarterback, last year, but it seemed the collarbone break Brent Wilson suffered — his second in as many seasons — bruised the Hornets’ psyche far more deeply than any physical hurt. ESU appeared listless and dispirited, especially after falling behind, and after Wilson’s injury the only game where ESU had any second-half fight was the near-miracle finish in Kearney, Neb., to end the season.

Let’s face it. The Hornets were embarrassed by how last season played out. So this is a pivotal season at Emporia State. The Hornets have to show last year was the aberration, not the prior two seasons that featured a Kanza Bowl win and the team’s first postseason appearance in almost a decade. But this is also a season where postseason really isn’t mandatory for ESU to prove it’s headed again in the right direction. Finishing above .500, especially a 7-4 or 8-3 record, would go a long way towards erasing the nasty taste the Hornets had to deal with at the end of the 2014 season.

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