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NU Fans Left Shaking Heads After Flag-Filled Nightmare

Just what in the name of fair play was that Saturday night?
Though we all saw it, and while it’s been the number one topic of conversation across the state since, I don’t know if anyone yet knows exactly what to make of it.
Penalties: Nebraska 16, Texas A&M 2. Inconceivable. Unimaginable. Preposterous. Unconscionable. How could it happen? And why?
I, for one, never dreamed, in this day and age of media spotlight, internet access, youtube, twitter and all the rest, with billions of dollars involved in college football television contracts, we could see such blatant inequity by officials so influence the outcome of a game.
Yet there it was, 16-2. Mindboggling.
There have been plenty of theories bandied about. Some possibly credible, others as preposterous as the officials’ performance itself.
One thing I did find interesting as I searched various  college football websites and message boards late Saturday night and Sunday was that our own naturally-biased fan base wasn’t alone in believing something stunk in College Station. The smell permeated nationwide.
At Rivals.com, fans from schools around the country weighed in with comments acknowledging the obvious discrepancy against the Huskers.
Even some professionals were dismayed. Following are some comments by Matt Zemek, columnist for College Football News.com:
Officiating should be avoided as a central source of the game’s outcome. Let’s not try to pretend that the 16 penalties called against Nebraska, compared to just two for A&M, didn’t carry a disproportionate degree of impact in an even-steven and hard-fought defensive battle. Most importantly, let’s not ignore the woeful, this-cannot-possibly-be-true nature of the roughing-the-passer penalty called on Nebraska’s Courtney Osborne. The hit – which was not late, and which did not hit any part of A&M QB Ryan Tannehill’s helmet – failed to meet any standard for a personal-foul penalty. It was as standard-issue a hit as anything seen on any gridiron in week 12. Yet, it drew a piece of yellow laundry, and it directly led to the Aggies’ game-winning field goal. It’s impossible to look at this game and not conclude that one call – a judgement call poorly arrived at and then unrevoked – decided the outcome. It’s not as though the Aggies made a good play or did anything to render a flag a moot point. It was a gift, and a gift that carried more than a little weight.
Of course, you don’t need the words of an impartial judge to convince Husker fans that Nebraska received another shaft deep in the heart of Texas Saturday night. The debate Sunday and into Monday shifted to the larger picture. Is there – and has there been all along – a Big 12 conspiracy against Nebraska during its final season in the conference, fueled by the acrimony of this past summer’s divorce?
Well, perspective always plays a large part in analyzing officiating. So many things come into play. Bias. Loyalties. Angles. Replays. Intent. Rules interpretations. Often, you can skew things to whichever side you support.
So, let’s take a look at some cold, hard numbers.
During Bo Pelini’s three seasons as head coach, Nebraska’s penalties per game have been pretty consistent: 7.23 per game in 2008, 7.14 in 2009, 7.82 in 2010, to date. So, the Huskers are drawing less than one extra flag per game this season.
However, the difference between NU’s penalties and those of their common opponents has risen fairly dramatically: Nebraska is averaging 4.0 more per contest for 34 more yards per game than foes in 2010, compared to 0.9 for 11 yards in 2009 and 2.5 for 24 in 2008.
If you go a step further, looking at the 2010 Big 12 season alone, the numbers become a bit stunning. Following are the  number of penalties called on Big 12 teams’ opponents through 11 games (12 for Baylor and Iowa State): Kansas 90, Texas Tech 86, Oklahoma 89, A&M 87, Kansas St. 73, Texas 65, Baylor 77, Missouri 75, Colorado 64, Oklahoma St. 69, Iowa St. 61, Nebraska 48. Hmmm.
Penalty averages in the Huskers’ Big 12 games this season? Nebraska, 8.14 for 71.86 yards; Opponents, 4.14 for 38.0. In only two conference games have opponents been penalized more than the Huskers (Missouri 7-6, Oklahoma St. 8-7). Keep that in mind when assessing these final sets of numbers.
The crew that worked Saturday’s contest, headed by referee Greg Burks, has been involved in three of NU’s Big 12 games in 2010: Texas, Iowa State, A&M. The penalty totals from those three games? Nebraska, 32 for 293 yards; Texas/ISU/A&M combined, 9 for 103. The aggregate totals for the Huskers and their opponents in Nebraska’s other four conference tilts? Nebraska 19 for 162, opponents 16 for 133. Nebraska’s two most lopsided penalty games of the season? NU 16-A&M 2; NU 10-Texas 4.
Did I already say hmmmm?
While the numbers this season point to some officiating chicanery during the Big 12 season, I still can’t buy a season-long conspiracy being pulled off without a leak of some kind. That would be giving Commissioner Dan Beebe and his oft-incompetent crews an awfully lot of credit. Besides, three games seem to skew the overall numbers.
So, that brings us to, what, a “rogue” crew, for whatever reason(s), having targeted the Big Red in 2010? Both numbers and perspective are beginning to point there.
Is it coincidence that Ben Cotton was flagged for personal fouls Saturday night after being basically “molested”, when this same crew watched an Iowa State player try to unscrew Rex Burkhead’s noggin from his shoulders, yet flagged Burkhead’s teammate Tyler Legate for coming to his rescue? What about 32 penalties to 9 in games this crew worked? And, ultimately, an absurd, indefensible penalty swaying Saturday’s outcome in the final minutes?
We like to think better of officials, of so-called professionals. But the evidence is becoming pretty staggering here. Whatever the reasons, this crew has stepped over the line.
Husker student-athletes deserved better Saturday night. Nebraska now deserves the Big 12 to step forward with reprimands and sanctions. Greg Burks and company should answer for this debacle.
Without some action, it may then become fair to truly consider Big 12 conspiracy theories.

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