Big 12: Shawn Watson

It’s Take Two Tuesday again, when we give our takes on a burning question in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of jumping up and challenging Big 12 favorites Baylor and Oklahoma for the conference crown?

Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas

Oklahoma and Baylor should both be considered top-10 squads in 2014, there’s no dispute about that. They’re in terrific shape going forward. But the way this league is set up, it’s hard to see either emerging undefeated by December.

The team best built to challenge them is Texas, at least on paper. Remember, for all its flaws in 2013, the Longhorns were two quarters away from winning the Big 12 despite major injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. They lose key pieces, but could come back better than expected.

That’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Charlie Strong is dedicated to changing the mentality of this program and bringing back the toughness and accountability that went missing in recent years. He put together an impressive staff and brought in a revered strength coach. This program is undergoing big changes.

And there’s enough talent on board to sustain another run at a conference title. Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will build an offense around the run game trio of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron, and there’s good depth at receiver and on the line. What Texas needs most is a full year from David Ash, but Max Wittek seems likely to become the insurance option there.

If Texas is going to challenge the league favorites, it’ll be with a defense that brings back leaders at all three levels (Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, Quandre Diggs) and is full of experienced talent. This is a unit that will line up a bunch of different ways and cause a lot of problems.

Revamping this Texas program will take time, but the Longhorns could have enough to make another run in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters was one of the nation's most effective quarterbacks during the second half of last season.
The Longhorns certainly have the talent and supporting cast to seriously compete for a Big 12 title. But until they find the answer at quarterback -- and I’m dubious they will in Strong’s first season – it’s hard to see them doing so.

The Kansas State Wildcats have no such issues. And they too have the surrounding cast to make a run at the Bears and Sooners for the league championship.

After struggling early, Jake Waters settled in at quarterback the last half of the season and cut talented playmaker Daniel Sams out of the rotation. From Oct. 26 on, Waters produced the 13th-best Adjusted QBR in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games (he threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the lone loss, too).

Besides Waters, K-State also boasts one of the top wide receivers in the nation in the uncoverable Tyler Lockett, who had the third-most receiving yards in college football during the same Oct. 26-on stretch.

On the other side, Bill Snyder replenished his defense with a trio of ESPN JC 50 signees in defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott and cornerback Danzel McDaniel, who should fill the slots in the lineup where the Wildcats have holes.

K-State will have to earn its way into the conference title chase, with road trips to both Baylor and Oklahoma. But K-State gets the Longhorns in the Little Apple, where it hasn’t lost to Texas since 2002.

The Wildcats also get defending national runner-up Auburn in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in September. If they topple the Tigers in that Thursday night clash, the rest of the Big 12 will quickly realize that K-State is a legitimate contender.
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong finally put an end to all the confusion on Tuesday. Or did he?

The great question is who exactly is responsible for calling the offensive plays at Texas, a topic that seemed fairly cut and dried when Strong first addressed it on Jan. 15, following the hiring of his staff.

"Joe Wickline will call plays on offense," Strong said then. "He’s the offensive coordinator; he will call plays.”

[+] EnlargeShawn Watson
John S. Peterson/Icon SMIShawn Watson, shown at Nebraska in 2010, is the assistant head coach of the Texas offense and will be in charge of play calling, though he won't necessarily be the playcaller.
Wickline is indeed the offensive coordinator after nine years of coaching the offensive line at Oklahoma State. Shawn Watson was hired as the assistant head coach of the offense and quarterbacks coach after serving as Strong's offensive coordinator and playcaller at Louisville, and Strong insisted in January that Watson will be heavily involved in influencing the Longhorns offense.

This seemed like a simple plan at the time, but then a different message started to spread.

Earlier this month, Strong told CBS' Jeremy Fowler that Watson is "gonna be in charge" of play calling and will run the game planning and organization of the offense.

This came just days after Wickline and Watson each met with Texas reporters for the first time and explained that their efforts to oversee the Longhorns offense would be a collaboration. (Wickline discussed his relationship with Watson in this Q&A.) And Strong's quotes to CBS led to a Texas spokesperson confirming to multiple outlets that, yes, Wickline was still expected to call plays on game day.

There are some off-the-field aspects of this story, too. Watson will be paid more than Wickline. And as the Austin American-Statesman reported in January, language in Wickline's contract at Oklahoma State demanded that Texas would have to pay OSU a sum of $600,000 if Wickline wasn't named "offensive coordinator (with play-calling duties)."

So, what's going on here? Strong was given a chance to clarify Tuesday after his first spring practice.

"The one final voice will be Shawn," Strong said. "Joe is the offensive coordinator. Shawn is the assistant head coach in charge of the offense. Two guys work together."

Strong went on to explain that such a split is, in his experience, not uncommon. He was co-defensive coordinator with Greg Mattison for three years at Florida, from 2005 to 2007, and they both made calls. Sometimes those calls were overruled by Urban Meyer. They all made it work. He believes his offensive coaches can handle this.

"When you talk about play-calling duties, they're mature enough. They've been around it enough. Neither one has an ego," Strong said. "Wickline is going to be involved in it. He's going to make some calls. Shawn is going to make some calls. When we go down the stretch and we have to have a call made, I think Shawn, because he's been doing it for a long time and I'm comfortable with him.

"I don't think it will ever be an issue because those two guys have been around too long for the egos. I'm not going to put up with it and they know that. We're not here for ourselves; we're here for these players. And if you have an ego, you're working at the wrong place. Check your ego at the door and let's get going around here. We're here to win and get these young men graduated."

So there's your answer. Watson has final say. Both coaches will contribute play calls. It might sound like a convoluted plan, but that's the plan.

It's not that Strong is attempting to play a shell game and fool everybody. More likely, he's just working with two coaches he knows and trusts and is trying to give both the responsibilities they want.

This may be causing consternation with the fan base, but that doesn't seem to be the case internally. Wickline and Watson publicly act comfortable and confident when talking about their respective roles and about this collaboration process.

Of course, this scheme also threatens to cause issues in the moments when Wickline and Watson have conflicting views on what needs to happen. Wickline acknowledged this month that you never really know how a staff will work together until you hit the season, run into problems and must fix them. That's when Texas truly needs to know who its offensive "voice" is, and that title belongs to Watson.

Right now, all Watson and Wickline care about is getting this Texas offense assembled and up to speed. They'll continue to collaborate and cooperate. That's Strong's story, and he's sticking to it.

Q&A: Texas OC Joe Wickline

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
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After developing a reputation as one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches in nine years at Oklahoma State, Joe Wickline decided the timing was finally right to make the big move.

[+] EnlargeJoe Wickline
Max OlsonJoe Wickline, who spent nine years at Oklahoma State, has known Texas coach Charlie Strong since they were graduate assistants at Florida in 1983.
He had the opportunity before, after the 2010 season, when Mack Brown approached him about the offensive line job. Wickline decided to stay put. But teaming up with Charlie Strong, a coach he has known for 30 years since their days as graduate assistants at Florida, was too tempting to turn down.

Earlier this month, the new Texas offensive coordinator discussed his decision to leave Oklahoma State and his growing relationship with UT assistant head coach Shawn Watson.

What did it feel like to make that switch from Oklahoma State to Texas?

Wickline: Well, it’s been an interesting ride. The big thing, more than anything, is you’re at one place for nine years. When you’re there, you’re kind of just riding and rolling, and it was a good ride. But then, boom, things transition and you move here and it’s new faces, new people, new players, a new system. The biggest thing is just learning new people and new faces.

Is it a weird feeling when you might build up animosity toward a program like this one, and then you make that move?

Wickline: It may be for a lot of people, maybe I should say it is. But I would probably like to say it’s part of the game. We’re all doing the same thing, whether it’s Baylor University or whether it’s Oklahoma State or Texas Tech. It’s another game.

Why was this the right time to come to Texas?

Wickline: Well, the first thing is that Coach Strong and me go way back, and I believe in Charlie Strong. We started this thing together in ’83 together at the University of Florida, we’ve been against each other on different sidelines, we’ve been back on the same staff together 10 or so years ago, back and separated again. Back together again. Just the relationship with Charlie and our relationship and how long we’ve been together and what we stand for is probably the first thing.

And the next thing is it’s the University of Texas. You can say whether you want, there’s not a better school in the United States for football and for academics, the environment and what it can do for the student-athlete and the places we can go at Texas.

Was it at all a difficult decision to take this job?

Wickline: No, it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love Stillwater and I love the people of Oklahoma and I gained a lot from being there and I’m very fortunate to have to have gone there. I tell you what, they did a nice job. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it hadn’t been for the people there, [athletic director] Mike Holder and [head coach] Mike Gundy and the staff members there. But my son was graduating in June and he actually signed a scholarship with Texas-San Antonio. And my daughter loves horses and my wife loves horses, and there are places to ride around here. As long as they’re happy, we’ll be all right.

How would you describe the dynamic you have with Shawn Watson in running this offense?

Wickline: It’s been special. You don’t really know where it’s at until you go through a battle, until you’ve been through a year and you’ve had a bunch of bad things happen and some good things, and there’s ideas and views and opinions. But as far as the relationship, the good thing is we all come from excellent backgrounds. I can tell you right now that every guy in that room -- Bruce Chambers, Tommie Robinson, Shawn Watson, Les Koenning myself -- are unbelievably qualified not only at their positions but as offensive coaches.

It’s been a lot of fun, actually, because you’re hearing new ideas, seeing how people did things. When you get with one area for a long time and you hear the same thing, it’s refreshing to get back and hear other ideas and concepts as a group.

How is your relationship with Watson coming along so far?

Wickline: The best thing about Shawn is he’s an unbelievably intelligent guy, he knows what he wants to do, he’s organized. I mean, he’s got a good feel for where he’s at with the quarterback play, offensive football. It’s a good situation for us. And secondly, it’s good to work with a guy who doesn’t have a giant ego and doesn’t need to prove to anybody ‘I’m this’ or ‘I’m that.’ He understands where we’re all at and this is my job and this is your job. It’s been a blast and I love it.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Balance is a boring word when used by a football coach, a simplistic summation of saying an offense can be anything and everything.

It’s common-sense coach talk, and it’s a word Joe Wickline throws around liberally and insistently when discussing the scheme he’ll construct as Texas’ new offensive coordinator.

The thing about it is, balanced never looked boring at Oklahoma State. Being balanced led to 41 points per game and 485 yards per game over the past five years.

[+] EnlargeJoe Wickline
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiFinding the correct balance in play-calling and tempo is the main priority for Joe Wickline and the rest of Texas' offensive staff this spring.
For that, Wickline won’t accept much credit or praise. He says his success in Stillwater was the byproduct of a great system. Wickline likes to talk up the offensive geniuses he learned from: Larry Fedora, Todd Monken, Dana Holgorsen. Each one brought their own twists and tricks.

And now, after nine years at OSU, it’s Wickline’s turn to offer up his take on winning offensive football, to install his philosophy at Texas and build something that can rival the Big 12’s most powerful offenses.

That philosophy? Balance, running the ball, and some more balance.

“If you really look at what Coach (Mike) Gundy tried to get done, and what we tried to do as a staff, we’re not going to be one-dimensional,” Wickline said. “We’re not going to throw, throw, throw or run, run, run. It’s about balance in down and distance. Balance in run-pass. When we run, inside-outside. It’s about balance on types of runs, speed, tempo.”

The mission is not to build a replica model of the Cowboys’ wildly and consistently successful offense. There will be obvious influences, but Wickline has more to offer than that.

He’ll be the play caller down on the sideline, but he says his offense will be run by a committee of coaches. Quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson, running backs coach Tommie Robinson, receivers coach Les Koenning and longtime tight ends coach Bruce Chambers will all have a say.

Someone will specialize in the run game, someone will oversee the pass game, another will focus on situational playcalling. This isn’t a one-man show.

As Wickline puts it, he’s constructing a University of Texas offense.

“What does that mean? We’re going to do a little bit of everything,” he said. “We’re going to have some of Louisville, some Mississippi State, some Oklahoma State. The bottom line is, we’re going to do what our personnel allows us to do and get in multiple formations and be balanced and play fast.”

At Oklahoma State, the offensive scheme was revisited annually. It might’ve all looked the same on TV, year after year, but every spring Wickline and the offensive staff met to evaluate their personnel, their previous season’s play-calling and found ways to adjust. New wrinkles, new options, new ideas.

He’ll do the same as the Longhorns’ OC and offensive line coach. All those years in Stillwater have made him far more familiar with what he’s inheriting at Texas than he might’ve realized. He’s seen enough film, and recruited enough of these players, over the years to have a solid sense of what Texas can put on the field in 2014.

“I will say this: We have a very impressive looking group of guys, in terms of maturity and in terms of the physical combativeness of them,” Wickline said. “In terms of where they’ll fit and where they’ll end up, I think we’ll know more at the end of spring.”

Watson said the staff has spent the past three weeks working to piece together their offensive system. Thus far, the staff has stuck to running this show by committee, and this marriage of his ideas with Wickline’s is off to a good start.

“The other aspect, and what I think is a real important part of the multiplicity, is the speed part and the no-huddle part, which we have all been a part of,” Watson said. “At Louisville last year, we did that quite a bit to help us out with some injury situations. Joe has a great background with that and so does Les. Everybody has had experience with it, but everyone has had a unique and different experience.”

Wickline and Watson didn't spend much time Wednesday talking about their new players. There's plenty of time for that this spring, once they've put Texas' talent to the test. They've got an offense to construct first, but they're in agreement on the blueprint.

"Right now," Watson said, "we're working together and just putting it all together."
AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong says he had a fairly good idea of what he wanted from his Texas coaching staff before the hunt began.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesNew Texas coach Charlie Strong has put together an experienced staff he's familiar with.
He wanted coaches he knew and coaches who know the state of Texas.

The staff Strong unveiled on Wednesday appears to have a good helping of both.

Ten days into the job, his staff is finally assembled, and he will hit the road on Thursday to begin selling a school the staff has barely had time to visit.

Strong had to stifle a laugh when asked if he was starting to settle in at Texas. It hasn't been easy. Not after all the work he had to put into interviewing coaches and piecing together a staff that met his standards.

He believes he’s found a group that can get Texas back to its championship standard, and more importantly, he thinks these are the guys UT needs off the field.

“This is a staff that we know what it is all about,” Strong said. “We are teachers, we're role models, we're going to motivate and lead. Just a staff that are family men, and you want that with the players.

“Because you want the players to look at a coach and say how, someday, if they don't end up being an engineer or a doctor but could go and be a coach, [they would] emulate the man standing right there in front of me. I am just so happy that we are aboard and finally completed it.”

It’s a group that touts a combined 232 years of coaching experience and, at least on paper, has a good deal of familiarity both with each other and with this state.

Strong hired four coaches he’d worked with in offensive coordinator Joe Wickline, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson and linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary.

He hired four assistants who have coached college football in this state: Bedford, receivers coach Les Koenning, running backs coach Tommie Robinson and retained tight ends coach Bruce Chambers.

And he hired guys he’d recruited against in the past, coaches whose passion he respected in defensive line coach Chris Rumph and defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn.

And don’t forget the 10th man, the one he considers just as valuable -- if not more so -- than the rest: Strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer, who followed him from Louisville and is already putting his new players to the test with workouts this week.

All in all, it’s a haul that has industry experts impressed. Is this the blank-check dream team that Texas fans envisioned when Strong took the job? No, maybe not. But he’s found puzzle pieces that, thanks to all the familiarity, ought to fit together well and do so quickly.

Those fans fantasized about reeling in a big fish for an offensive coordinator, no doubt Strong’s most important hire of the nine. They wanted Strong to swing for the fences with someone like Clemson's Chad Morris or Ohio State's Tom Herman.

They might not realize what they’ve got in Wickline, one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches at Oklahoma State. He and Strong were grad assistants together at Florida in 1983 and met again in Gainesville from 2002 to 2004. He knew he was handing the keys to his offense to an underappreciated gem.

“Guys pay their dues, and guys have been around great systems, and if you look at the system he has been around at Oklahoma State for nine years, they have moved the ball very well on offense,” Strong said. “When the guys have put in their time, it's like me: I have put in my time and want to be rewarded. So he has put in his time, and he is being rewarded.”

What sold him on Wickline, and so many other members of the new staff, was a mandatory trait: Toughness. His offenses and players played. Strong is surrounding himself with hard-nosed leaders because that’s what Texas needs right now.

Just as this group comes together, it’s time to split up again. The new Longhorns coaches begin their recruiting quest on Thursday, and they’ve got plenty of catching up to do on that front.

Over the next few weeks, Strong will find out just what kind of recruiters he’s hired. And then the real job -- putting the pieces back together at Texas -- will begin.

It’s a familiar challenge for Strong. To pull this off, he’s surrounded himself with familiar allies.

“I told them right from the start that this is going to be a coaching staff with no egos,” Strong said. “We are here to work together, and it is all about success. We are here to win and whatever we have to do to go win a football game, that is what we have to do.”

Meet the Texas coaching staff

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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New Texas head coach Charlie Strong completed and announced his coaching staff on Wednesday. A closer look at who will join him in his first season of leading the Longhorns:

Offensive coordinator/offensive line: Joe Wickline
Age:
55 Alma mater: Florida
Previously: Oklahoma State offensive line coach
Past stops: Florida, Middle Tennessee State, Baylor, Southwest Mississippi C.C., Pearl River C.C., Ole Miss, Delta State, Tennessee
Coached up: Oklahoma State T Russell Okung, Oklahoma State OT Levy Adcock, Florida OT Max Starks
Stat: During Wickline’s nine seasons at OSU, the Cowboys averaged 37.7 points per game, which ranked third-best in FBS behind Oregon and Boise State.
In short: The longtime Oklahoma State assistant is considered one of the nation’s best line coaches and was a significant steal for Strong’s first staff. He inherits plenty of young talent up front.

Assistant head coach/quarterbacks: Shawn Watson
Age:
54 Alma mater: Southern Illinois
Previously: Louisville offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Past stops: Nebraska, Colorado, Northwestern, Southern Illinois, Miami (Ohio), Illinois
Coached up: Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater, Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez, Colorado QB Joel Klatt
Stat: Bridgewater ranked No. 3 in FBS in raw QBR during the 2013 season at 84.5.
In short: Texas is getting an offensive mind that Strong trusts and who proved, with his coaching of Bridgewater, that he has what the Longhorns desperately need: The ability to develop a quarterback.

Running backs: Tommie Robinson
Age:
50 Alma mater: Troy State
Previously: USC pass game coordinator/running backs coach
Past stops: Arizona Cardinals, Miami, Memphis, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, Dallas Cowboys, TCU, Utah State, Arkansas
Coached up: Cowboys WR Michael Irvin, Cardinals RB Beanie Wells, Oklahoma State RB Tatum Bell
Stat: Four USC running backs combined for 2,225 rushing yards in 2013, with two surpassing 700 yards.
In short: Robinson comes to Austin after a year at Southern Cal, where he was a respected recruiter and position coach with a wide range of experience.

Receivers: Les Koenning
Age:
54 Alma mater: Texas
Previously: Mississippi State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Past stops: South Alabama, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU, Houston, Duke, Miami Dolphins, Rice, Louisiana-Lafayette
Coached up: Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee, Texas A&M QB Reggie McNeal, Texas A&M WR Albert Connell
Stat: Mississippi State’s offense set school records for passing yards, total yards and completion percentage in 2013.
In short: Koenning has coached all over Texas and is leaving an SEC coordinator job to return home. Strong needed assistants with ties to this state and Koenning is plenty of that.

Tight ends: Bruce Chambers
Alma mater: North Texas
Previously: Same role
Past stops: Dallas Carter High School
Coached up: Texas RB Ricky Williams, Texas TE Jermichael Finley, Texas RB Cedric Benson
Stat: Texas tight ends Geoff Swaim and Greg Daniels combined for six receptions last season.
In short: The only assistant retained from Mack Brown’s staff, Chambers has been at Texas since 1998 and can help with this staff transition, especially in recruiting.

Defensive coordinator/secondary: Vance Bedford
Age:
55 Alma mater: Texas
Previously: Louisville defensive coordinator/secondary coach
Past stops: Florida, Oklahoma State, Chicago Bears, Michigan, Colorado State, Navarro J.C.
Coached up: Michigan CB Charles Woodson, Florida CB Joe Haden, Louisville DE Marcus Smith
Stat: Since the start of the 2012 season, the Cardinal defense ranks No. 4 in FBS in total defense and No. 5 in pass defense.
In short: Strong brought Bedford with him to Austin, and the former Longhorn defensive back brings a lot to the table. Known for being fiery and passionate in his time at Louisville.

Assistant head coach/defensive line: Chris Rumph
Age:
42 Alma mater: South Carolina
Previously: Alabama defensive line coach
Past stops: Clemson, Memphis, South Carolina State
Coached up: Clemson DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson DE Gaines Adams, Alabama DT Jesse Williams
Stat: In his stints at Clemson and Alabama, Rumph coached at least nine NFL Draft picks.
In short: Like Wickline, Rumph is considered one of the best of the best at what he does. Doesn’t have much experience in Texas but does have a history of signing and developing elite linemen.

Linebackers/recruiting coordinator: Brian Jean-Mary
Age:
38 Alma mater: Appalachian State
Previously: Louisville linebackers coach
Past stops: Georgia Tech, North Alabama, South Carolina
Coached up: Georgia Tech LB Phillip Wheeler, Louisville LB Preston Brown, Georgia Tech LB Gerris Wilkinson
Stat: Under Jean-Mary’s tutelage, Brown recorded 301 career tackles and twice earned all-conference honors.
In short: Jean-Mary was assistant head coach of the Louisville defense and followed Bedford and Strong. He’ll be Texas’ third linebackers coach in the past 12 months.

Defensive backs/special teams: Chris Vaughn
Age:
37 Alma mater: Murray State
Previously: Memphis cornerbacks coach
Past stops: Ole Miss, Arkansas
Coached up: Ole Miss CB Marshay Green, Ole Miss CB Cassius Vaughn, Arkansas LB Tony Bua
Stat: At Memphis, Vaughn inherited the second-worst pass defense in FBS in 2011. In his two seasons, the Tigers ranked 26th-best in the country in yards per completion allowed.
In short: The youngest member of the new staff, Vaughn already has eight years as an SEC recruiting coordinator on his resume.
Nebraska is officially part of the Big Ten blog, and the welcome wagon hasn't stopped rolling.

To help us learn more about the Huskers, I've reached out to colleague David Ubben from the Big 12 blog. David knows all about Big Red and covered Nebraska during its transition from the Big 12 to the Big Ten. After being nice enough to hand off the Huskers -- actually, I had to pry them from his hands -- Ubben took some time to talk about the Big Ten's newest member.

Let's go back to June 11. What was your initial reaction to Nebraska leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten?

David Ubben: Ha, well it was certainly an unpopular one among the Nebraska supporters. I thought it was a great move for the university and the football program, but a huge, huge blow to the future stability of the Big 12.

In short, I equated Nebraska leaving to pulling the pin on the Texas Grenade that would blow up the Big 12.

Obviously, that's not what ended up happening, and for a fan base that since June has despised all things Big 12, I was surprised at how much the Huskers didn't want to be blamed for the Big 12's demise. One would think they would relish in it.

At the core, I think there was some fear from fans that their Huskers might be villainized as a program for the self-serving move, but that's not at all what happened to Arkansas, who certainly did much of the same thing to the Southwest Conference when it left for the SEC.

Back to your original question, though, Nebraska leaving definitely meant a weaker Big 12 if it continued to exist moving forward, and anyone who wants to try to argue otherwise is kidding themselves. Nebraska did what it needed to do: secure infinitely more stability and a good amount of cash with a move to the Big Ten, as well as the academic prestige that comes with, to borrow a phrase from deservedly maligned Missouri governor Jay Nixon, aligning themselves with Northwestern and Wisconsin rather than Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

Yeah, anytime a school wants to upgrade its league, it should remember Mizzou and do exactly the opposite. But back to Nebraska. People know about the national championships, Dr. Tom and the option offense. What should Big Ten fans know about the current Nebraska program and its fan base as the Huskers transition to the conference?

[+] EnlargeMemorial Stadium
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesNebraska's Memorial Stadium has been sold out for every single home game since Nov. 3, 1962.
DU: Nebraska's biggest asset is its fan base. People like to knock Huskers fans for being a bit full of themselves, but they have reason to be. They're going to rival any team in the Big Ten when it comes to traveling for road games. Prepare yourselves for a sea of red in your stadiums when Nebraska comes.

One big reason? It might be tougher to get a ticket to see the Huskers in Lincoln. Every single home game has been sold out since Nov. 3, 1962, a streak of 311 games. That's an NCAA record, of course. The ones who do make it into Memorial Stadium on fall Saturdays enter under permanent signs that read "Through these gates pass the Greatest Fans in College Football."

Is it obnoxious? Yes. Will it turn off a few opposing fans? Most definitely.

But I would argue that it's not inaccurate.

Husker fans are voracious supporters. They love their team. They know their team. They read about and are opinionated about their team. They spend money on their team. Any other fan base should admire at least that much. Because of that devotion, among other things, the program is one of college football's blue bloods and is able to make a big move that will benefit the program tremendously.

Let's talk about the team itself. Bo Pelini is an Ohio guy, and his track record on defense speaks for itself. Nebraska has seemed more up and down on the offensive side. How do you see the Huskers' style translating to the Big Ten?

DU: That's presuming Nebraska has an offensive style. Nebraska was all about the run early in the year, and ran over and around just about everybody in the first half of the season. Since no one could stop it, they didn't have to throw much, and when they did, they were so, so dangerous.

But the offense slowed late in the season, and I thought they relied on Taylor Martinez to simply drop back and pass way too often and didn't run the zone read enough.

The latest word from Nebraska's recruits is they want an offense that most closely resembles Oregon's, likely minus the dizzying tempo. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson would describe his offense as a bit of a hybrid between Oregon's offense and the West Coast passing attack, but he looks like he's on his way out.

I'm a big believer that you have to do what suits your personnel, and with a zone-read whiz like Martinez and quality running backs like Nebraska has, it would seem that's a good fit.

On the whole, though, Martinez has to continue to develop as a passer to really give the best defenses trouble. How much of that happens over the next three years will determine how successful they ultimately are. If he can't do it, there's nothing saying he's guaranteed to be the starter above incoming freshmen Bubba Starling (if he stays with football and doesn't sign an MLB contract) and Jamal Turner. Even Cody Green, who played when Martinez was injured this year, could earn some quality snaps if Martinez struggles as a sophomore.

Wow, sounds like we could soon have a QB controversy. Interesting. What do you think will be the biggest adjustments for Nebraska in transitioning from the Big 12 to the Big Ten?

DU: I'm a big believer in Pelini as a defensive coach, so I think they'll be able to make these adjustments eventually, but they're going to have to change the type of players they recruit defensively. You need so many defensive backs (and good ones) to have success in the Big 12, and winning the line of scrimmage will put you over the top, but teams like Missouri and Texas Tech have had success in the league without doing it on a consistent basis.

The Big Ten is all about the beef up front. The Huskers are big and fast on the defensive line with guys like Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler. I don't see many problems there.

Nebraska's best linebacker this year, Lavonte David, made a Big 12-best 152 tackles. He also happens to be 210 pounds. Players like him, while they're incredibly valuable in the Big 12 for their ability to make plays in coverage and provide a speed rush, will be marginalized in Nebraska's future for bigger, run-stopping linebackers.

There will be all kinds of things that will have to change, but the type of defensive personnel will be No. 1 on the list. Specifically, Nebraska will need more, bigger linebackers and fewer defensive backs.

Nebraska always has recruited so well in the state of Texas. How do you think the move to the Big Ten will impact Nebraska's recruiting strategy?

[+] EnlargeJamal Turner
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI Now that it's left the Big 12, Nebraska will have more difficulty luring elite Texas high school players like Jamal Turner.
DU: Oh, what a contentious question. So, so much disagreement on this issue.

I don't think there will be a time when Nebraska just has no one from Texas, but their success in the state will take a considerable hit with the move. I do believe the Huskers should continue to recruit the state, but I also think they need to take some of those efforts and resources previously allocated toward Texas and use them to start scraping the Rust Belt and compete with their new conference mates, rather than their old ones.

Pelini knows the area well, and I think the Huskers will have some success doing it. They had a huge year in 2011 in Texas, getting three top-tier, ESPNU 150 players in ATH/QB Jamal Turner, RB Aaron Green and CB Charles Jackson.

I do believe they can keep getting some talent like that in 2012 and 2013, but as recruits and their families really realize what life is like as a parent of a Texas kid playing in the Big Ten, they'll realize why so few Texas recruits elect to play in the Big Ten. I talked with Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville about this issue last week actually, and he said for most families, it's a huge deal. Watching on TV simply isn't the same thing as going to games, home or away. And the facts are, a lot of families can't afford to fly to a ton of games.

Nebraska traditionally only played one or two games in Texas during a season, three if they made the Big 12 title game and it was in Texas. That doesn't sound like many, but look at it this way, unless you can pay for a flight or make a ridiculously long drive, you're talking about going four or five months without seeing your son versus around two or fewer if they play games in Texas.

So in short, I don't think there will be a time when Nebraska absolutely can't recruit in Texas, but they need to take advantage of their new opportunities in Ohio and Michigan, too, as compensation for the guys who won't want to play up North.

OK, you're on the spot. How do the Huskers fare in Year 1 in the Big Ten, which has already branded them a legendary team in the Legends division?

DU: The Big Ten certainly didn't do them any favors with their first-year schedule, booking them for trips to Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan. Hosting Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State is going to be tough, and they have to play the Buckeyes in the first game with their five suspended players back. Who knows what happens there?

With a still-maturing passer who won't have a ton of help at receiver, they'll have some struggles offensively, but they should be solid again on the defensive end.

I'll say 9-3 or 8-4. Short of what you might call a Legendary season, but certainly a good one.

Thanks to David for his time, and stay tuned as we'll both have more on Nebraska's move to the Big Ten.

Lunch links: Bad news, Boone Pickens

February, 9, 2011
2/09/11
12:30
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You know when things ain't happenin' the way they supposed to happen, Triple T gonna condense the nonsense.

None more 'interesting' than Nebraska

February, 8, 2011
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I first (briefly) stated my argument on Twitter: No team in college football was more interesting on and off the field for more reasons in the last year than Nebraska.

A lot of those reasons for interest were positive for the program. Others were negative. But I would argue that no team had more headline-worthy happenings on campus than the Huskers in the past year.

I hear the arguments for USC (coaching change, sanctions), Notre Dame (coaching change, student death, anticlimactic realignment) and Florida (Urban Meyer postseason flip-flop, "You're a bad guy" media incident, offensive collapse, coaching change).

I disagree.

A refresher course on the past 12 months in Nebraska football, for those who have forgotten:

Spring 2010: Starting quarterback Zac Lee is forced to sit out spring practice, and rumors about the progress of a redshirt freshman, Taylor Martinez, start to emerge. Martinez validates those rumors with a memorable spring game performance that leaves fans buzzing.

May-June 2010: Realignment rumors build into reality, and days after Big 12 spring meetings close, Nebraska leaves the Big 12 for the Big Ten, by far the biggest move of the summer's realignment. It becomes official on July 1, 2011.

August 2010: During fall camp, linebacker Sean Fisher (broken leg) and cornerback Anthony Blue (torn ACL) were injured during a closed practice, and rumors of their injuries leaked onto message boards. As a result, media members tried to reach family members, at one point, while Fisher was undergoing surgery. As a result, coach Bo Pelini banned the media from accessing his team for three days.

Sept. 4, 2010: No starter was officially announced before the season opener against Western Kentucky, but the speedy Martinez was announced during starting lineups to a raucous reception from the fans. He becomes the first freshman to start a season opener in Nebraska history. On his first career carry, he runs for a 46-yard touchdown. Nebraska wins, 49-10.

Oct. 7, 2010: Martinez had considerable buzz after rushing for 496 yards and eight scores in his first four games, but his coming out party was a nationally-televised, Thursday night game against Kansas State. He ran for four touchdowns, 241 yards and led the Huskers to a 48-13 road conference win over the bowl-bound Wildcats. That's Heisman-type stuff, and for the first time, he realistically threw his name into the Heisman race (alongside shoo-in Heisman winner Denard Robinson) and then-No. 5 Nebraska was looking like a very real national championship contender. Martinez would not score another rushing touchdown the rest of the season.

Oct. 16, 2010: Nine days later, they hit the first of many speed bumps. Texas' free fall lessened the impact of what looked like the biggest game of the year, but the Longhorns, who finished 5-7, were still able to remind Nebraska of the mysterious mojo they have over the Huskers. Martinez struggled, was benched in the fourth quarter and Nebraska suffered its first loss, 20-13, at home, in a shocker. The loss moved Nebraska to 1-9 against Texas since the Big 12 began in 1996.

Oct. 30, 2010: Roy Helu Jr. runs for 307 yards to help beat Missouri and gives the Huskers control of the Big 12 North. Martinez suffers a sprained ankle late in the first half and doesn't play in the second half. It eventually proves as one of the biggest moments of Nebraska's season.

Nov. 6, 2010: Martinez sits against Iowa State with an injured ankle, and the Cyclones erase a 24-10 lead to send the game into overtime. The Huskers score first, but intercept a wobbly pass on a fake extra point to win the game, 31-30, and maintain control of the Big 12 North, which they eventually win.

Nov. 20, 2010: Nebraska is flagged a school-record 16 times, compared to Texas A&M's two. The worst of the 16 flags is a phantom roughing the passer call that extends Texas A&M's game-winning drive in the 9-6 win.

The biggest news, though, has little to do with the on-field action that resulted in a second loss.

Martinez starts, but re-injures the ankle early and heads to the locker room. There, he returns a call from his father in violation of team rules. Upon learning this information, Pelini screams inches away from a stone-faced Martinez while jabbing his chest with a finger. ESPN's cameras catch the controversial interaction, which re-airs countless times over the following days.

After the game, Pelini chases an official off the field while screaming inches away from his face as well, a scene seen on the sideline during the game. As Texas A&M fans storm the field, his brother, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini, throws down a cameraman's camera, breaking off a few detachable pieces, but doing no permanent damage to the equipment.

After the game, Pelini makes his players off-limits and briefly addresses media.

Nov. 21, 2010: Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman publicly criticizes Pelini's actions during the game. Pelini later apologizes, saying he "let it get personal" toward officials.

Throughout the day, rumors that Martinez planned transfer swirl after the freshman misses a team workout. Later, it's revealed that Martinez also suffered turf toe on his left foot to pair with his sprained right ankle. Pelini denies rumors that Martinez planned to transfer.

Nov. 23, 2010: Top receiver/kick returner Niles Paul suffers a broken foot in practice. He misses the season-ending, Big 12 North-clinching win over Colorado and the Big 12 title game but returns for the bowl game. (That's a wholly terrible four-day stretch, no?)

Nov. 26, 2010: Nebraska clinches the Big 12 North with a win over Colorado, but no Big 12 officials are on hand to deliver the championship trophy. Commissioner Dan Beebe tells Nebraska media later that night that he didn't make the trip because of safety concerns. He had received death threats after the Texas A&M officiating fiasco.

Dec. 4, 2010: Nebraska closes its run in the Big 12 by reviving one of the league's great rivalries, one final game against Oklahoma. The Huskers' early 17-0 lead is erased, Martinez takes seven sacks and the Huskers lose, 23-20, to land in the Holiday Bowl for the second consecutive season against Washington, a team it beat in Seattle 56-21 in September.

Dec. 30, 2010: Nebraska, 17-point favorites, suffers a shocking loss to Washington, 19-7. They finish 10-4, and lose three of their final four games.

Jan 5, 2011: Martinez's father, Casey Martinez, confirms to ESPN.com that Taylor will return to Nebraska for the 2011 winter semester, ending rumors of a transfer.

Jan. 11, 2011: Defensive tackle Jared Crick announces he'll return to Nebraska for his senior season.

Jan 26, 2011: Nebraska ends its licensing agreement with Corn Fed, Inc., Casey Martinez's apparel company. The deal paid Nebraska 10 percent royalties on all merchandise sold and began in June 2007.

Feb. 3, 2011: In Indiana, new Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson announces that his assistant, Corey Raymond, is leaving for Nebraska to coach the secondary. Huskers secondary coach Marvin Sanders is still employed.

Pelini hasn't spoken with the media in five weeks.

Later, during his signing day teleconference, Pelini refuses to answer any questions about his staff, and says no staff members have been hired or fired yet.

Nebraska signs 20 players and four ESPNU recruits for the nation's No. 14 recruiting class, which ranks No. 3 in the Big 12 and No. 2 in the Big Ten.

Later that night, Sanders, receivers coach Ted Gilmore and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson are absent from an Omaha recruiting dinner.

Feb. 4, 2011: Sanders announces his resignation for "family and personal reasons" amid reports of possible disciplinary action toward the coach for a nonfootball issue.

Feb. 5, 2011: Charles Jackson, Nebraska's only cornerback signee, tells the Omaha World-Herald he found out about Sanders' departure from a stranger via Facebook, and expresses discontent at not being notified that any moves had occurred or that they would follow his signing. He also adds he probably would have signed with Nebraska if he had been told.

Later in the day, his father goes on Omaha radio to diffuse the situation, and says his son is content and excited to start his career.

Feb. 7, 2011: Former Huskers star Scott Frost elects to stay at Oregon as receivers coach, rather than join his alma mater, who was reportedly unwilling to offer him playcalling duties.

Today: Gilmore and Watson are still employed, and Pelini says he knew nothing of an ad posted on Nebraska's website last week looking for an offensive assistant.

Now that, folks, is a whole lot of stuff that's happened in the last year. We can only assume 2011 will offer plenty more headlines in the Big Ten.

Can anybody top that? I say absolutely no way.

Nebraska secondary coach resigns

February, 3, 2011
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Nebraska coach Bo Pelini declined to answer questions about his staff during his signing day teleconference on Wednesday, but on Thursday, he announced in a release that Marvin Sanders had resigned for "personal and family reasons."

Questions first arose on Wednesday after Indiana coach Kevin Wilson announced that his assistant, Corey Raymond, was leaving to coach the secondary at Nebraska.

Nebraska, however, still employed Sanders at the time. Now, presumably, Raymond might soon be announced as Sanders' replacement.

Pelini declined to answer questions about Sanders' status on Wednesday, but the Lincoln Journal Star reported later in the day that Sanders "may face disciplinary action by the school for a nonfootball issue."

For Nebraska, Sanders might only be the first of a few assistants to leave Pelini's staff after signing 20 recruits on Wednesday.

Sanders, along with offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, receivers coach Ted Gilmore and Pelini, did not make their annual appearance at a recruiting dinner in Omaha on Wednesday night.

It should be a very interesting few weeks before spring practice begins in Lincoln.

Lunch links: Gabbert talks NFL decision

January, 6, 2011
1/06/11
12:00
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Or you could just be nice and pay it forward. They don't make movies out of bad ideas.

Lunch links: Coaching carousel spins

January, 4, 2011
1/04/11
12:00
PM ET
How dare you hang up on me! My brother's a corrupt fireman, and I'm a corrupt cop. He's going to set you on fire, and I'm not going to investigate it!

Lunch links: Rehashing 'The Bronx Salute'

December, 31, 2010
12/31/10
12:00
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Lunch links: Mark Mangino to Nebraska?

December, 28, 2010
12/28/10
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They call me the Hiphopopotamus, my lyrics are bottomless.

The Big 12's highest-paid assistants

December, 22, 2010
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USA Today provided further analysis of its coaching salary information this week, after offering up the information for the Big 12's highest paid head coaches earlier this season. Here's a look at that list.

But what about the assistant? Their salaries are certainly not created equal. Here are the Big 12's highest-paid assistants for the 2010 season. Just as in the head coaching salaries, none of these figures include possible bonuses, which are listed on USA Today's chart. These numbers include just base salaries, both from university and non-university sources.
  • Will Muschamp, defensive coordinator, Texas -- $907,000
  • Greg Davis, offensive coordinator, Texas -- $477,084
  • Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Oklahoma -- $449,000
  • Kevin Wilson, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma -- $445,000
  • Tim DeRuyter, defensive coordinator, Texas A&M -- $400,000
  • Shawn Watson, offensive coordinator, Nebraska -- $380,000
  • Carl Pelini, defensive coordinator, Nebraska -- $375,000
  • Joe DeForest (special teams/safeties), Bill Young (defense), Dana Holgorsen (offense), Oklahoma State -- $360,000
  • Neal Brown, offensive coordinator, Texas Tech -- $355,400
  • James Willis, defensive coordinator, Texas Tech -- $353,400

Again, you can see the full list here.

A few notes from those numbers:
  • Muschamp was the nation's highest-paid assistant in 2009 by nearly $150,000, right above Alabama offensive coordinator Kirby Smart. No other Big 12 assistant was in the top 13.
  • Interesting to note that three of the top four highest-paid assistants won't be back in 2010. Muschamp (Florida) and Wilson (Indiana) took head coaching jobs, and Davis resigned.
  • That leaves Venables as the league's highest-paid assistant, and it's come with plenty of tenure. Next year will be his 13th season as at least co-defensive coordinator for the Sooners. He's been defensive coordinator since 2004.
  • DeForest is the only non-offensive or defensive coordinator to crack the list, but he's also an associate head coach, and got nibbles from Louisiana-Lafayette, his alma mater, for its head coaching vacancy this offseason.

Additionally, three schools from the Big 12 made the top 10 for highest paid assistant coaching staff. See the full list here.

No. 3: Texas -- $3,032,820

No. 6: Oklahoma -- $2,744,300

No. 9: Oklahoma State -- $2,535,000

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