Big 12: Ted Gilmore
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).
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.
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.
"Nothing changes there," Gilmore told reporters after Thursday's practice. "At game time, we'll all find out."
Martinez was seen leaving practice with a boot on his left foot. He's battling turf toe, and also hoping to play through a right ankle injury originally suffered against Missouri and aggravated against Texas A&M.
Coach Bob Stoops said DeMarco Murray's knee has "improved" and that the running back has "felt better each day." He practiced more on Wednesday, but a decision has yet to be made on his status.
"For me to say anything else puts pressure on him, whether I'm expecting him to play or not," Stoops said earlier this week. "I want him to be comfortable and feel good about it."
Murray suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State and didn't return to the field, but Stoops said after the game Murray was walking around and celebrating with teammates.
Both coaches are scheduled to address the media on Friday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some of the tidbits that people are talking about across the Big 12 heading into games this week.
- After his receivers struggled to get acclimated in rainy conditions at Missouri, Nebraska receivers coach Ted Gilmore told his team to ditch the gloves and hand warmers and catch bare-handed. The biggest beneficiary was Niles Paul, who bounced back after two earlier drops to snag a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to key Nebraska’s rally.
- Iowa State coaches are enthused despite their 0-2 conference start. The biggest reason is the recent play of quarterback Austen Arnaud after the Cyclones have utilized a ground-heavy attack from the spread for most of the season. If Arnaud can continue to boost his passing, don’t be surprised if the Cyclones notch an upset or two that might be considered a surprise now.
- Robert Griffin’s knee surgery earlier this week ended any hopes he might have had of playing this season. What will be more important will be how Baylor coach Art Briles handles his starting quarterback job during the rest of the season. Blake Szymanski should get the nod as soon as he’s healthy to play. But it will be interesting to see if there’s a point later this season where Briles figures it’s more advantageous to get freshman Nick Florence the majority of the work to build for his future, rather than playing Szymanski, who is a senior.
- Colorado coaches believe that Tyler Hansen will be a different quarterback this season than the one who briefly claimed the starting position for the Buffaloes late last season. Hansen, they believe, won’t be quite as prone to run after progressing through his checks on offense. That maturity should help the Buffaloes become more productive offensively.
- The secret to Todd Reesing’s early success this season is the lack of hits he’s taken from opposing defensive linemen. Reesing’s diminutive size always makes that a concern -- particularly when the meat of the Big 12 schedule kicks in. After this week’s game against Colorado, the Jayhawks will play Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Kansas State to start a punishing finish that also will include games against Texas, Nebraska and Missouri. If he can remains well protected and upright during that time, Mark Mangino’s pitch for postseason honors for his senior quarterback won’t be out of line.
- One reason why Missouri’s ground game has struggled so much this season has been the Tigers' struggles with penalties. It’s been difficult for the Tigers to thrive in unfavorable down-and-distance situations. The Tigers were penalized for offensive holding four times last week against Nebraska. In 2008, the Tigers were flagged for 10 offensive holding penalties in a 14-game season.
- The key to success in the Texas-Oklahoma game Saturday -- as it almost always seems to be -- will be running the ball. Since the Big 12 was formed in 1996, the team that rushed for the most yardage has won 11 of the 13 games, including every game but once since 1997. Both teams will struggle against fearsome run defenses, but the team that is the most patient should have the most success.
- With the injury to starting guard Brian Simmons for the Texas game, look for Oklahoma offensive line coach James Patton to go with a player-by-committee rotation to fill in. Don’t be surprised if Tyler Evans, Stephen Good and Tavaris Jefferies all get a shot at snaps at Simmons’ position.
- Keith Toston’s role as the most valuable backup running back in the conference was re-emphasized with his big game against Texas A&M. He produced 204 yards of total offense and helped take the pressure off a young group of receivers with two critical big gains on screen passes early in the game.
- The experiment of moving Texas A&M tight end Jamie McCoy into the backfield as a running threat worked well enough that Aggies coaches plan to keep tinkering with the alignment. McCoy showed strong running as he picked up 24 yards on four carries in his first work as a ball carrier since playing briefly in the 2006 season as a quarterback.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Bo Pelini's new contract received much of the buzz Monday as the Cornhuskers' second-year coach received a hike that will push his yearly contract to $1.851 million per season.
Lost in that fanfare was the 22.2 percent boost that Nebraska assistant coaches received in the new deal.
The highest-paid assistant will be offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, who will receive a whopping 66.7 percent increase from last season. Watson's new yearly salary will be hiked to $375,000, according to figures obtained by the Lincoln Journal Star. It will make Watson the highest-paid assistant coach in Nebraska football history.
Here's a look at the salaries of Pelini's staff for the 2009 season.
Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson $375,000
Defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Carl Pelini $208,360
Running backs coach Tim Beck $208,360
Tight ends coach Ron Brown $208,360
Offensive line coach/associate head coach Barney Cotton $208,360
Wide receivers coach/assistant head coach Ted Gilmore $208,360
Secondary coach Marvin Sanders $208,360
Linebackers coach Mike Ekeler $150,000
Defensive ends coach John Papuchis $150,000
The collective package will pay Nebraska assistants a total of $1,925,160 -- the highest collective total ever paid to Nebraska assistant coaches. The school said the assistants' new salaries rank sixth among Big 12 teams.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nebraska receivers coach Ted Gilmore fanned excitement earlier today when he told Cornhusker fans his team wouldn't be intimidated at No. 4 Oklahoma.
"Without giving away the game plan, we're going to go at them," Gilmore said, drawing a strong burst of applause according to the Omaha World-Herald's account of the weekly Big Red Breakfast in Omaha. "We're not going to sit back. We're going to compete. We're going there to win."
That attitude is a marked contrast from how the Cornhuskers approached their last two road games at ranked opponents. In a 2006 game at Southern California, Nebraska threw only 17 passes in a 28-10 loss. And in a 2004 loss with Callahan at Oklahoma, the Cornhuskers attempted only 13 passes and scored late to avert a shutout in a humiliating 30-3 loss to their old rivals.
Nebraska hasn't won in the stadium of a football team ranked as high as the Sooners in more than a decade. The last time the Cornhuskers beat a ranked opponent in a true road game came on Sept. 20, 1997, when the No. 7 Cornhuskers beat No. 2 Washington in Seattle, 27-14. That game was so long ago that Tom Osborne was still coaching.
The Cornhuskers have dropped 11 straight games to Top 10 foes and hasn't beaten a Top 10 team away from home since beating Tennessee, 31-21, in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl.
Gilmore also confirmed that junior wide receiver Menelik Holt will not play against Oklahoma because of an injury, meaning that Niles Paul could move into Nebraska's rotation as the No. 3 receiver, the World-Herald reported.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nate Swift might not live up to his name and be the fastest receiver in the Big 12. He might not be the biggest, strongest or jump the highest.
|Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE|
|Nebraska's Nate Swift overcame a childhood illness to become one of the top receivers in Cornhuskers history.|
But even with his limitations, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini doesn't like to see any labels affixed to his leading receiver -- a player with an amazing knack for simply grabbing the football in traffic and making opponents miss.
"He's just a good football player," Pelini said. "I get tired of people saying he's a possession guy, he's this, and he's that. Nate is just a heck of a football player."
Swift lived up to his coach's rave reviews again Saturday with a career day that helped spark the Cornhuskers back into the North Division race with a comeback victory over Baylor. The senior receiver produced 11 catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns to resuscitate Nebraska's passing game.
In the process, he broke a 36-year-old record to become the leading receiver in Nebraska history, a record set by Cornhusker legend Johnny Rodgers.
Swift set the record on a 9-yard touchdown toss from former college roommate Joe Ganz late in the third quarter, providing the Cornhuskers the lead for good against the pesky Bears. He later iced the victory later in the game with a 53-yard TD grab.
"The biggest thing for me is to be on board with guys like Johnny Rodgers and all of the rest," Swift said. "It's a great honor to be listed among any of the all-time honors. And it's fun to break records that have been around forever. It's something I'll always remember."
His big game has given him 146 receptions, breaking the previous mark set by Rodgers during his Heisman Trophy winning career from 1970-72.
Swift has obviously received benefit from playing four years in his career, but his growth has been remarkable considering some of the obstacles that were thrown in his way.
Only 12 years ago, Swift was paralyzed for several weeks after he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre, a rare childhood disease that affects only about 2 out of 100,000 people.
As doctors slowly rebuilt his immune system and helped him return to a normal life, Swift worried if he would ever be able to run again and play with his friends.
A football career, he thought, would be a bonus.
"I couldn't do anything and for three months. I had to sit inside and watch the other kids playing," Swift said. "That was the toughest thing. I always wondered if I would ever be able to play sports again."
Within a couple of years, his recovery was complete. And he eventually developed into one of the most heralded prospects in the Midwest during a standout career at Hutchinson (Minn.) High School where he was a teammate of current Nebraska player Lydon Murtha. Swift was an all-purpose running back who rushed for more than 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior.
But he chose Nebraska over a slew of Big Ten offers because Frank Solich's former staff was prepared to give him a shot at playing receiver in a power-based option offense.
The arrival of Bill Callahan's West Coast passing attack, and the continuation of most of its philosophies under current Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, enabled Swift to blossom in college.
Swift has 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash. While that burst won't blow away defenders, he is still quick enough to get open when he needs to because of his uncanny ability to run precise routes.
And he's actually used his speed more this year. Earlier in the season, Nebraska coaches liked to use him in the slot, where his ability to get open against linebackers gave him a natural advantage.
But they've trusted his athleticism more as the season progresses, moving him more outside where he can also stretch defenses with his athletic ability.
Those talents were on display earlier this season when he brought back a punt 88 yards for a touchdown against Virginia Tech. It was the longest punt return so far this season in the Big 12.
Even that remarkable play brought some good-natured kidding from Nebraska coaches. Nebraska wide receiver coach Ted Gilmore joked that he could have beaten Swift down the field if he had run along with him down the sidelines.
"They kind of kidded me about that, but it was all good-natured," Swift said. "I think I showed I could definitely still run when I had the opportunity."
After all that he has been through, the chance to merely play football at such a high level is something that Swift will never take for granted.
"It always comes back to that," Swift said. "I think how lucky I was that everything worked out for me. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to do what I'm doing."