- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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As we continue to welcome Nebraska to the Big Ten blog, who better to provide the state of the Huskers than Tom Osborne? Big Ten fans will get to know Nebraska coach Bo Pelini and his players over the coming weeks and months, but everyone should know Osborne and his accomplishments.
In case you just started following college football or something, a quick Osborne overview:
Nebraska head coach (1973-97)
Three national titles (1994, 1995, 1997)
Overall record of 255-49-3
1999 College Football Hall of Fame inductee
U.S. Congressman (Nebraska's Third District, three terms)
Nebraska athletic director (Oct. 16, 2007-present)
Yeah, so he's kind of important.
I caught up with the Nebraska AD earlier this week, and here's our conversation:
What has stood out to you about the transition to the Big Ten?
Tom Osborne: The Big Ten has done an excellent job of reaching out and recognizing that culture does matter and no matter how similar you think a school like Nebraska might be to other institutions in the league, there still might be some differences. There will be some things that are done differently in the Big Ten than were done in the Big 12. Those are unavoidable, and to make sure everyone has an adequate understanding of new parameters and how people communicate is important. So for the last six, eight months, we've had a fairly steady flow of people from the Big Ten who have come out here: compliance, business office practices, academic consulting, Big Ten Network and on and on. So we feel very good about the outreach and the effort that the Big Ten has put in to assimilating us into the conference.
What are some of those differences between the Big Ten and the Big 12?
TO: There are some relatively minor issues. In the Big 12, we were able to furnish complementary tickets to all of our student-athletes to football and to men's basketball games. This is not true in the Big Ten, so we've had to notify all of our student-athletes. For other athletic contests like baseball and track, we can give them tickets. That's not a huge thing. There are some minor issues in terms of academics. There are a few changes in the idea of oversigning. At Nebraska, we've had I think an average of 4.4 [baseball] players per year who have opted to go into Major League Baseball after their junior seasons. Under Big Ten rules, it's very difficult to replace those 4.4 players. You can replace maybe a couple of them.
We don't believe in oversigning, signing more letters of intent than you have spots. We've never done that in football, we don't do it in any of our sports, but we do feel in a couple areas, the Big Ten might be a little more restrictive than what we've encountered. Although it's nothing major.
We appreciate the stability, we appreciate the collegiality we've seen within the Big Ten. There is a good deal of concern about the welfare, the health of the league, as opposed to individual desires to get a bigger piece of the pie. That's probably a healthy thing because the long-term viability of the league eventually serves everyone well.
As you've gotten to know the league better, how comfortable to you feel with how Nebraska fits in culturally?
TO: I believe there's a great deal of common ground. We tend to look at the role of athletics through similar eyes. I think it's a very good fit for us. The differences are relatively minor and certainly nothing that can't be easily adjusted to.
From the football standpoint, what will be the biggest adjustments in transitioning to a new conference?
TO: I don't know that we'll do anything differently than we have been. Generally speaking, the Big Ten offenses are a little more what we might call traditional, where you're apt to see a tight end or two tight ends, and you're more apt to see a fullback in a game with an I-back. But you're still going to see spread offenses, you're still going to see some zone read, you're still going to occasionally see an option. But the Big 12 was more one running back and most schools don't use a fullback hardly at all. They had maybe more emphasis on throwing the football. Again, it doesn't really change your approach to football very much because in playing the 11 other teams in the Big Ten, we're going to see just about everything. We're going to see teams that operate out of the shotgun with no running backs, and we're going to see a full-house power running game. So you've got to be ready for all of it.
Defensively, because of the style of offense, you may see a few more traditional-type linebackers, guys that are 220, 230, 240 pounds in the ballgame, whereas in the Big 12, you had so many spread offenses that you ended up playing nickel and dime and you're playing with five, six defensive backs a lot of the time. And sometimes those guys are lined up as linebackers.
Will the move to the Big Ten change how you recruit? You've mentioned Texas being such a big recruiting area for Nebraska, and you won't be there as much playing games.
TO: I don't think we'll change our philosophy very much. We'll continue to recruit as we have. My perception is that we'll continue to go into Texas. Our presence in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, maybe even the East Coast, will be a little bit more pronounced than it has been in the past. But being a relatively sparsely populated state with 1.8 million people located right in the middle of the country, we've always recruited nationally, whereas so many schools would only recruit two or three states heavily. So we're all over the place, from Florida to Washington, from California to New England and all points in between.
Where would you say the program is in terms of your vision for it? Is coach [Bo] Pelini on track at this stage in his tenure?
TO: I feel Bo has done a very fine job here. We went from a losing season in 2007 and some pretty horrific losses to nine wins in 2008 and then 10 in 2009, 10 again this year and we came within a whisker of winning the Big 12 championship both years. So we're competitive. We're certainly a very strong program, but you always feel like there's room for improvement. I'm sure Coach is working hard to do that.
Do think it will take time for people, especially your fans, to get used to the idea of Nebraska in the Big Ten?
TO: A great majority of Nebraskans are looking forward to the Big Ten. They're looking forward to new venues, going to places like Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio State. A lot of them have been to Penn State at one time or another. But they're looking forward to seeing new places and having new opponents come into Lincoln. There seems to be a lot of excitement about it.
What are your thoughts on the 2011 schedule? They didn't do you guys many favors.
TO: No. Given the breakup of the divisions, we probably couldn't have drawn a more difficult hand. Outside of our own division, we're hitting schools like Ohio State and Wisconsin, so it's very difficult. It's probably as demanding a schedule as we've faced in a long, long time.
I know you're making a pretty big investment into your program and the facilities. How important is that going forward, being in a league like this where you have the facilities at places like Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan?
TO: We think it's important that we be very competitive as far as facilities because there are some things we don't have. We don't have a huge population base. We're not located real close to large numbers of great high school athletes. And we don't have tremendous weather to recruit in because a lot of our recruiting occurs during December, January, even in February. So I think we better maximize our facilities.
We think we do a good job of taking care of our student-athletes in terms of academic support, medical support, nutrition, all those types of things. So we're trying to do what we can to maximize our strengths and do whatever we can to mitigate whatever weaknesses we might have.
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