Brandon Kinnie

Former Nebraska receiver Brandon Kinnie (84) scores during first-quarter action against Oklahoma State on Oct. 23, 2010.

It's cold. God-awful cold. But it's not too cold to get behind the wheel and let your mind wander.

Let's take a drive.

1. I'm hearing from a lot of Nebraska men's basketball fans. I still hear optimism. But I'm beginning to hear increasing levels of consternation.

No surprise there, considering the circumstances.

One fan in particular got my attention.

"I have been thinking about the whole debate on, is Tim Miles a good coach?" the fan wrote. "I have landed on this: I don’t 'trust' a Tim Miles team. Great game, good game, blah game, awful game, you never know what's coming. You just can’t depend on a Miles team. That is my chief frustration."

I heard from another ardent Nebraska hoops fan — my younger brother, Adam — who suggested I lighten up on Miles. Adam is a bit of a bleeding heart. But I still listen to his opinions.

A good friend who follows the team closely suggested I think of Nebraska's season along a continuum of sorts: "1" is a bad performance and "5" an excellent one. So, put the win against Creighton in the "5" category (the Huskers played exceptionally well across the board) and the triumph at Indiana as a solid "4," although the Hoosiers are on a five-game skid. The road win against Clemson also merits a "4," as does Nebraska's second-half performance against Oklahoma State on a neutral court.

Problem is, Nebraska is only 3-5 in the Big Ten. That's a disappointing record at this juncture. Most people expected 5-3, maybe even 6-2. What's more, NU comes off a loss at Rutgers where the pendulum swung clear back to "1." The Minnesota loss was a "2." Bottom line, great teams avoid such wild backward pendulum swings. Many of us thought Miles had a team that could consistently trend toward great -- that is, stay in the "3" to "5" range. It hasn't done enough of that.

Miles himself said this week his team has played only 1½ good games this month, pointing to the Jan. 14 win at Indiana and one half three days later against Michigan State. Just 1½ good games is not good enough considering Nebraska has played six games this month. Hence, the lack of trust.

"We're a soft team," the coach said Wednesday on the "Sports Nightly" radio program. "What I mean by that is it's just the little things that show up. That comes from our practice and what we're doing. We're a little bit of a casual team."

On the bright side, Nebraska, 13-6 overall, is No. 21 in the NET rankings — the ones used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee — and has plenty of time to show Miles that it's not soft. It's very possible Miles made those comments to get his team's attention this week with an 11 a.m. game against Ohio State (12-6, 2-5 Big Ten) set for Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena. 

The Buckeyes have dropped five straight games, including a 79-67 loss to Purdue on Wednesday night in Columbus, Ohio. The Huskers won't need to play at a "5" level to beat the visitors. But if Miles' crew can operate somewhere close to that range, and come away with a win, it could regain some of the trust it lost with many fans Monday night at Rutgers.

I'm keeping an open mind on all of it. It's too early to jump too far in either direction. But Nebraska's next two games — Wisconsin (13-6, 5-3) comes to PBA on Tuesday night — feel awfully important.

2. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas on Thursday released Volume I of the Bilas Index, which he playfully describes as "the most reliable measure of basketball excellence on this tiny, little planet."

Miles fans should hope it's a reliable measure.

Bilas puts Nebraska at No. 22 and expresses confidence in the head coach.

"Tim Miles has done a great job in Lincoln, and the Nebraska brass has stuck with him rather than stay on the 'fire the coach, don't give adequate time, fire the next coach' carousel. Miles has veteran guards in James Palmer and Glynn Watson, along with outstanding wings in Isaac Copeland (the Georgetown transfer) and Isaiah Roby. If Nebraska can rebound the ball better, this is a potential second-weekend team."

He means a second-weekend team in the NCAA Tournament.

Which means Miles would get a statue.

But Jake Sorensen, my partner on "Early Break" (93.7 FM) from 6-to-8 a.m. every weekday morning, raised a good question Thursday: Can a team suddenly become good at rebounding?

3. You know what Miles could use right now? I'll tell ya what Miles could use right now: Some Nebraska football news to take some of the spotlight off his team.

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It's a relatively slow time in the Husker football realm in part because the early signing period for recruits steals the thunder from the upcoming late period (which begins Feb. 6). Not that Scott Frost and company don't have important recruiting work on their docket. 

Only a handful of slots remain in the 2019 scholarship class. Mike Schaefer, recruiting analyst for 247Sports, said Thursday on 97.3 FM's "Early Break" that the top two remaining targets in terms of importance are 6-foot-4, 220-pound Steven Parker, a four-star weakside defensive end from Dallas, and 6-5, 200-pound Charles Njoku, a three-star wide receiver from Wayne, New Jersey.

Njoku captures the imagination because he elicits memories of some recent big-body Nebraska receivers who were fun to watch, particularly with how well they ran after making catches. That list includes Maurice Purify (6-4, 220), Quincy Enunwa (6-2, 225) and Brandon Kinnie (6-3, 225).

The Huskers need a few more dudes of that ilk coming off the team bus.

4. Speaking of dudes who will look good coming off the bus ... 6-5, 285-pound Ty Robinson tells me that he was sleepy for the part of his recruiting trip to Nebraska that included a meeting with Keith Zimmer, senior associate AD in charge of life skills.

But Zimmer's presentation got Robinson's attention in a big way. In fact, the incoming freshman defensive lineman said the Nebraska football program's emphasis on giving back to the community was one of the top few reasons he selected the school last month over finalists Oregon, USC and Alabama.

"I was really shocked by how much community service Nebraska does," Robinson said. "I like giving back to the community. It puts a good name on yourself and your program."

In his hometown Gilbert, Arizona, Robinson takes part in a program dubbed "Shop with a Jock," in which sponsors provide money for athletes to take youths shopping for Christmas presents.  

"It was a lot of fun," Robinson said. "I had a sixth-grader or seventh-grader. I got to talk to him about high school, girls, sports, video games, what he wanted for presents. It went pretty smooth."

You'll seldom hear a recruit emphasize a program's commitment to community service as a leading reason to choose it as a place to play. Big thumbs up to Robinson.

Addendum to No. 4: Fans are going to like Robinson, is my guess. The kid has a wonderful sense of humor.

5. Seventeen months after CBS hired him, Tony Romo's work in the broadcast booth has become an American phenomenon. Put it this way: Few would blink if you publicly declared Romo as the NFL's best television analyst, writes Richard Deitsch of The Athletic, who did a long interview with the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback.

Romo is so good as a broadcaster I'm starting to remember him as a good quarterback.

6. Deitsch's interview with Romo was intriguing on several levels. One of the questions from Deitsch: I know you have said you want to keep working to improve your craft as a sports broadcaster. But at a base level, this has worked for you. Why has broadcasting worked for you so far?

Said Romo: "I don't pretend to have all the answers. I do think in some ways I have studied the game for 20 years and, at my core, I have tried to improve and get better at football. I think that has really helped me do this job, where I just know a lot of stuff that I have thought about over the years. It gives you a history."

He continued, "It is fun for me to get beneath football. As far as the broadcasting aspect of it, I think at the core it is nothing more than my ability to get you, the viewer, to care about this play, this game, and why is this important. Why is this really special with this coach schematically? Why did this quarterback protect this play? It's like, can I get you to care about my story of my buddy who was drinking the other night? Do you care about the story I am about to tell?

"You are trying to get people to care about things."

Words to live by for journalists of all types. Bravo.

Extra point: In my vision of a better world, more coaches would dress like this ...

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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