Big Ten: Barney Cotton

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis was 29-years-old when he received his first full-time coaching job in 2007, following Bo Pelini here from LSU.

Three years ago, Papuchis earned a promotion to defensive coordinator.

 The coach and his wife, Billie, are parents to four children, all born during their time in Lincoln, the youngest three days before the Huskers’ season-opener in August.

"My family, all they know is Nebraska,” said Papuchis, who will coach his last game at Nebraska on Saturday against USC in the National University Holiday Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). “One way or another, that’s coming to an end Saturday night. So if it’s going to come down to an ending, it might as well end on a good note.”

New Nebraska coach Mike Riley, introduced Dec. 5, has announced plans to retain secondary coach Charlton Warren. The remaining holdovers from the staff assembled by Pelini, who was fired on Nov. 30, are likely left to coach this week and leave.

Pelini is now the head coach at FCS-level Youngstown State.

The NCAA granted Nebraska a waiver that allows the old staff – under contract through January 2016 -- to run practices this month. Meanwhile, Riley’s hires, headquartered one floor above the football offices at Memorial Stadium, went to work on recruiting.

Difficult circumstances, for sure, said interim coach Barney Cotton, who worked with Pelini at Nebraska for the past seven seasons and in 2003 as the duo served under former coach Frank Solich as coordinators.

“I wish I could make it all go away,” Cotton said of the often-painful transition.

Cotton has accepted a position as offensive coordinator for new UNLV coach Tony Sanchez. Nebraska offensive line coach John Garrison is also headed to Las Vegas.

Papuchis is still looking, along with offensive coordinator Tim Beck. The remainder of the staff includes Rick Kaczenski (defensive line), Ross Els (linebackers), Ron Brown (running backs) and Rich Fisher (receivers).

“It’s been unique to say the least,” Beck said last week. “But I’m alive, and I get a chance to get out here and coach. I just coach. I enjoy it. I enjoy the kids. It’s what I do, and it’s all I know.”

In addition to Warren, Riley hired four assistants from his former school, Oregon State – defensive coordinator Mark Banker, linebackers coach Trent Bray, special teams coach Bruce Read and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh.

The new head coach watched the Huskers practice in Lincoln, and he said he’ll be an interested observer during the Holiday Bowl.

Meanwhile, the old staff is tasked to keep the Huskers focused for this game.

“The thing that I’ve tried to emphasize with the players,” Papuchis said, “in their career, they’ll only get four opportunities at the most to play in a bowl game. And every one of those opportunities, you’ve got to maximize and cherish.

“Despite all the things that are surrounding the program and however they felt about the transition, this is about them. The kids sometimes get lost in all the discussion.”

Papuchis, now 36, has tried to focus entirely this month on preparing Nebraska to face the 24th-ranked Trojans.

“I don’t ever want to cheat our players and cheat this program,” he said.

“At the same time, obviously, I’ve got four little ones and a family to take care of, so I’m trying to do the best I can as far as balancing what’s going to come after [Saturday] and what is taking place.”

Beck said he’s leaving Nebraska with no regrets.

“I think we did it with class,” the offensive coordinator said, “and I think we did it with humility, integrity. We are who we were from the beginning to the end. We’ve never changed. We’ve believed in each other and worked hard doing it.”

At Nebraska, Beck, the school’s highest-paid assistant at $700,000, and Papuchis worked in a spotlight that shone more brightly than on the position coaches. More of the same is likely on tap for Saturday, the first game for both without Pelini since 2007.

Papuchis said he’s “confident” about his future. And in this final game at Nebraska, he said, “there’s no real reason to be conservative.”

“I don’t mind saying this at all,” Papuchis said. “I look at this as an opportunity -- another chance to build on a résumé, to play a great team. And hopefully we have a good defensive showing, and that will help going forward.”
LINCOLN, Neb. -- There are two distinctly different ways to look at the mindset of Nebraska’s players as they get ready for the National University Holiday Bowl on Saturday against USC.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsAmeer Abdullah and the Huskers look to end their season with a win over USC.
The Huskers, who leave Tuesday for San Diego, have endured a tumultuous month -- from the firing of coach Bo Pelini on Nov. 30, two days after their overtime win at Iowa, to the deconstruction of his old staff as new coach Mike Riley hired his own assistants.

There was also the public reveal last week, presumably initiated by someone among them, of a volatile audiotape from Pelini’s final meeting with the players Dec. 2.

How, after all of that, can the Huskers be ready to play a football game? It’s a question for which they offer few answers. The past is behind them, quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. said.

“I’m focused on our staff,” he said. “These players and getting ready for USC.”

From the alternate perspective, the events of the past three weeks might have galvanized the Huskers.

As Armstrong suggests, they are driven to play well for interim coach Barney Cotton and the other eight assistant coaches, seven of whom likely will not remain at Nebraska after this week.

Riley plans to keep only secondary coach Charlton Warren.

Essentially, this is the last chance for the Huskers to work with the coaches who recruited them. It’s a motivating factor.

So is the desire to show well in front of Riley. The former Oregon State coach has watched from afar as Nebraska practiced this month and figures to use the Holiday Bowl as another chance to start evaluating his 2015 roster.

Mainly, though, they want to end this season well for one another.

“The things we’ve faced over the month, we’ve put them behind us,” safety Nate Gerry said. “We’ve kind of realized Saturday is the last time we’ve got together, and we’re just going to use our energy to go out there and play well for each other -- not really worry about anything.

“Play for the guys who brought you to Nebraska. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give it all I’ve got, like I know they’re going to do for me.”

If you get past the forest of subplots, an interesting matchup awaits.

Nebraska, 9-3 and winless in four games against the Trojans (most recently a 49-31 home loss in 2007) has a chance to finish with its best record since 2003 -- the season after which coach Frank Solich and his first-year defensive coordinator, Pelini, were fired.

Parts of this game, to be telecast at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN, look especially appetizing.

The Huskers the lead the nation in opponent completion rate at 47.5 percent; USC is No. 1 in completion percentage at 70.1. Nebraska ranks 10th in yards per opponent pass play and ninth in third-down conversion rate allowed; the Trojans rank 18th and fourth in the respective offensive categories.

It's safe to say, though, Nebraska has not faced a foe such as USC. Michigan State, the most productive passing offense among the Huskers’ 12 opponents, ranks 38th nationally.

“It will be interesting to see what happens,” defensive end Greg McMullen told reporters last week. “That could probably benefit us by them throwing a whole lot.”

McMullen said he thinks the Nebraska defensive line can pressure USC quarterback Cody Kessler.

Likely, it depends somewhat on the effectiveness of fellow end Randy Gregory. The junior, an elite NFL prospect, missed the season finale. He battled injuries most of the season and returned to practice Friday in Lincoln.

Nebraska also faces injuries on the offensive line. At center, Mark Pelini and top backup Ryne Reeves are out, as is Zach Sterup at right tackle.

“We’ve got to make sure we win our one-on-ones,” Armstrong said. “They play a lot of man -- make you beat them on the outside. And they’ve got a great, physical defensive line.”

No matter the individual battles, for Nebraska, the Holiday Bowl will boil down to a question: Can the Huskers find the right mindset?

“It’s not about how I want to end,” said senior I-back Ameer Abdullah, allowed extra time to heal from a knee injury that slowed him in November. “It’s about how we should end things.”

Big Ten morning links

December, 12, 2014
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Wisconsin survived its first full day since way back in 2012 without a head coach, though the search to replace Gary Andersen -- set to to be introduced Friday at Oregon State -- appears set end quickly.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Thursday night that the school is prepared to hire Pitt coach Paul Chryst, a former UW quarterback and offensive coordinator.

It’s a delicate situation, of course, for the Badgers, the uprooted assistant coaches and their families -- not to be taken lightly. But perhaps the most interesting byproduct of Andersen’s unexpected departure is the news that Barry Alvarez will coach Wisconsin in its bowl game. Again.

Alvarez, the 67-year-old athletic director and Hall of Fame former coach of 16 years in Madison, led the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl, a six-point loss to Stanford, after Bret Bielema bolted to Arkansas.

Alvarez ought to just coach the Badgers in every bowl game. In fact, other legends should follow suit and rejoin their former programs on the sideline in the postseason. Surely, the NCAA would allow a special 10th coach. If not, just make them interns.

Let’s bring back Bobby Bowden, Lou Holtz, Mack Brown (too soon?), Don Nehlen, Lavell Edwards, Hayden Fry, Barry Switzer and, if Indiana can get to six wins, Bill Mallory.

Yes, I’m joking. Slightly more serious about this, though: Nebraska has an opening on its staff for the Holiday Bowl. How about Tom Osborne? If Alvarez can go from the College Football Playoff selection committee to the sideline, why not Osborne?

Yeah, he’s 77, served three stints in Congress, lost a gubernatorial primary in Nebraska -- did that really happen? -- and spent five years as athletic director since coaching his last game, a resounding win over Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the 1998 Orange Bowl.

But Osborne has perhaps never watched more college football than in this season. He must have some ideas on how the Huskers could surprise USC. One more fumblerooski up his sleeve.

What an experience it would be for Barney Cotton, long loyal to Nebraska, to have the ex-coach at his side. Cotton played under Osborne from 1975-78, then sent his three sons to Nebraska. It could also be a meaningful sendoff for Ron Brown, the Nebraska running backs coach who worked alongside Osborne in the legendary coach’s final 11 seasons.

Might help a bit with ticket sales, too, and inject a little spice into a game that means a great deal to several Huskers who want to honor their former coach, Bo Pelini, but realistically, little to the forward movement of the program.

Alvarez played linebacker for Bob Devaney on Nebraska teams of the 1960s that included Osborne as an offensive assistant. If Barry can do it, so can Tom.

Alas, it’s unrealistic. Osborne would likely never thrust himself into the spotlight in such a way. But just let me dream.

Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida...

Lots of hardware

What a night on the Disney Boardwalk at the College Football Awards Show. The Big Ten had a good showing, as Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff won the Outland Trophy, presented to the nation's top interior lineman; Maryland's Brad Craddock took home the Lou Groza Award as the top place-kicker; and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon beat finalists Tevin Coleman of Indiana and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska for the Doak Walker Award, given to the best running back.

Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright won the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa was among the finalists.

Also, Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp won a vote for college football's play of the year for his behind-the-back catch in the season opener.

Around the league:

West Division
  • As expected, Gordon plans to leave after this season for the NFL.
  • Some confusion exists over Iowa's starting quarterback for the TaxSlayer Bowl.
  • A meeting with Missouri in the Citrus Bowl is a "big step" for Minnesota, according to coach Jerry Kill.
  • One of Purdue's recent football brings a French flavor, by way of a California junior college.
  • Northwestern needs to make changes, writes Teddy Greenstein, but will it happen?
  • The competition continues at Illinois during bowl practices.
East Division
  • Urban Meyer and Nick Saban have already met once in a playoff. They sat side by side Thursday and recalled the 2009 SEC championship game.
  • No surprise that Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess did not meet his own expectations this year.
  • The explanation of playoff committee chair Jeff Long on Mississippi State's final-week jump over Michigan State does not erase flaws in the process, writes Graham Couch.
  • Indiana lands UAB receiver Marqui Hawkins but misses a juco QB target.
  • Freshman quarterback Michael O'Connor is leaving Penn State.
  • Maryland coach Randy Edsall, in San Francisco on Thursday, to discuss the Terps' matchup with Stanford, says receiver Stefon Diggs will play in the Foster Farms Bowl.
  • The salary pool for Rutgers' assistant coaches ranks eighth in the Big Ten.

Nebraska coaches face uncertain future

December, 11, 2014
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska's first practice since the Nov. 30 firing of Bo Pelini provided important structure on Wednesday for its players.

Pelini's former assistant coaches may have needed it even more, according to Barney Cotton.

"It was great for our coaching staff to get out here and be with our players," said Cotton, the eight-year Nebraska assistant and interim coach. "This was really good for us."

The 58-year-old Cotton, a former offensive lineman at Nebraska and Omaha native, served as run game coordinator and tight ends coach under Pelini. He and eight other assistants, unsure of their futures, are set to remain on staff through the Dec. 27 National University Holiday Bowl against USC.

Before Wednesday, the last time they gathered with the Huskers, a celebration followed Nebraska's 37-34 overtime win at Iowa to cap a 9-3 regular season.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Barney Cotton
AP Photo/Nati HarnikBarney Cotton is serving as Nebraska's interim coach in the wake of Bo Pelini's firing.
The 12 days since have included plenty of sorrow.

"What I'm drawing more on is my strength," Cotton said. "I really have a very simple job, and that's to help our players finish out the best way, and to help this coaching staff stay cohesive and united and keep loving each other."

Cotton sent each of his three sons to play at Nebraska, including Jake, a senior offensive guard and co-captain this season, and sophomore tight end Sam.

The elder Cotton said he nearly broke down three times in a 20-minute meeting with the Huskers after Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst addressed the team over the decision to fire Pelini at the end of seven seasons that included no fewer than nine victories each.

Many of the Nebraska players have struggled to accept the move.

"I've learned a lot of life lessons since I've been here," senior cornerback Josh Mitchell said Wednesday. "The biggest one that Coach Bo taught us was to focus on the process. It's about being a man. Sometimes things in life just don't go the way you want them to go, but you've got to move on. Life goes on."

Mike Riley, introduced Friday in Lincoln as Pelini's replacement, met for about 30 minutes last week with Cotton. They talked in general, Cotton said, about Nebraska football and state of Nebraska. Cotton said no members of the old staff have learned if they would receive a chance to coach for Riley.

The new coach, on the road recruiting through the contact period that ends Sunday, will not be involved in Nebraska's bowl preparations. He is believed to have added four assistants at Nebraska from his previous job at Oregon State.

Nebraska received a waiver from the NCAA, similar to Ohio State in 2011, that allows it employ two coaching staffs. Riley's new staff cannot be involved in coaching this month; the Cotton-led group cannot recruit.

The practice on Wednesday was the first of three this week. Nebraska will conduct a normal series of practices next week and travel to San Diego before Christmas for the National University Holiday Bowl.

Despite the circumstances, the Huskers said they will not lack organization or motivation this month.

"I know the team is fired up right now," Mitchell said. "I know they want to have a great time. Everyone is just excited to get away from everything and play some football. As competitors, you've got to go out, strap it up and have some fun."

This trip marks the Huskers' fourth to the Holiday Bowl and third since 2009. Nebraska lost to Steve Sarkisian-coached Washington 19-7 in the 2010 Holiday Bowl, sandwiched between regular-season Nebraska wins over the Huskies in 2010 and 2011.

Sarkisian is at the end of his first season USC, the Huskers opponent in this year's Holiday Bowl. The Trojans own a 3-0-1 record against Nebraska, including wins in 2006 and 2007.

"We're going out there, expecting to win," senior safety Corey Cooper said. "Guys have a lot of different reasons why they want to win. It."

Cotton said he laid out four objectives for the players.

"Honor God with your effort," he said. "Honor your teammates with your effort. Honor coach Bo with your loyalty and love and support, along with your effort. And let's reveal our character one last time together in the Holiday Bowl."

Of the old staff, "we do know what our future is."

"We know that we've got one last chance together," Cotton said. "That's our future here. And I hope and pray that everybody gets an opportunity to do what they want to do next year."
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Five Oregon State assistant coaches have been linked to Mike Riley’s new coaching staff at Nebraska, according to media reports.

Riley, at his introduction Friday, said he hoped to bring a portion of his staff from Oregon State, where he had coached since 2003.

[+] EnlargeHawaii Bowl
Marco Garcia/USA TODAY SportsDefensive coordinator Mike Banker (middle) is among the former Oregon State assistants reportedly following Mike Riley (right) to Nebraska.
Linebackers coach Mike Bray on Saturday helped deliver to Riley his first recruit at Nebraska as linebacker Tyrin Ferguson of New Orleans switched his pledge from the Oregon State to the Huskers. Bray also contacted safety prospect Kahlil Haughton of Waco, Texas, about Nebraska, according to Huskers Illustrated.

The 32-year-old Bray has coached the past two seasons in a full-time position at Oregon State. He recruited the Dallas metroplex and portions of southern California. Regarded as a top recruiter, Bray previously was linebackers coach at Arizona State.

Others reportedly headed to Lincoln from Corvallis include defensive coordinator Mark Banker, 58; special teams coach Bruce Read, 51; and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh, 51. All three coached for at least 10 years at Oregon State.

Read and Banker have a history with Riley that dates to their time together with the San Diego Chargers from 1999 to 2001.

Additionally, receivers coach Brent Brennan has been mentioned in reports as likely to follow to Riley. Brennan, a 1996 UCLA graduate, coached Brandin Cooks, the 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner, at Oregon State.

Riley said he planned to meet with the remaining coaches at Nebraska but that he could not assure any positions. Bo Pelini was fired Nov. 30 after seven seasons. Barney Cotton, assistant head coach under Pelini, will serve as interim coach for Nebraska's bowl game.

Riley will not be involved in bowl preparations.
Is it safe? Is Big Ten coach poaching season over? For the sake of this post, let's hope so.

Although this year's Big Ten coaching carousel didn't include as many riders as last year's, which featured an unprecedented 40 changes in the league, there was a flurry of activity at the end. We saw two coaches -- Jim Bollman and Jim Bridge -- make jumps from one Big Ten school to another (in Bridge's case, he left Illinois the day the Illini opened spring ball for Purdue, where he replaced, you guessed it, Bollman as offensive line coach).

Purdue saw a complete staff overhaul in the transition from Danny Hope to Darrell Hazell, while Wisconsin brought in seven new assistants under new boss Gary Andersen. Illinois coach Tim Beckman survived a disastrous first season in Champaign, but he lost six assistants during the winter months, five of whom left voluntarily. Iowa's stretch of staff stability is over, as Kirk Ferentz hired three new assistants for the second straight year, and Michigan State restructured its staff after losing offensive coordinator Dan Roushar to the NFL's New Orleans Saints. Michigan made its first staff change of the Brady Hoke era after losing defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery to Oklahoma.

Despite the movement around much of the Big Ten, the league also had complete staff continuity at four schools: Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State. Nebraska flipped responsibilities for Barney Cotton and John Garrison, making Cotton the tight ends coach and Garrison the sole offensive line coach. Ohio State added special teams coordinator to the title of cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs.

Minnesota and Northwestern are the only FBS teams without a staff change for the past three seasons.

It seems like the carousel has finally stopped, so let's take a look at the staff changes throughout the league. These changes only include head coaches and full-time assistants.

Here's the rundown (number of new coaches in parentheses):

ILLINOIS (5)

Who's gone?

Chris Beatty, co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Billy Gonzales, co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers
Luke Butkus, offensive line
Keith Gilmore, defensive line
Steve Clinkscale, cornerbacks

Who's in?

Bill Cubit, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Mike Bellamy, wide receivers
A.J. Ricker, offensive line
Greg Colby, defensive line
Al Seamonson, outside linebackers

Other moves

Hired Ricker after Bridge left for same post at Purdue
Made defensive coordinator Tim Banks secondary coach (had previously coached only safeties)
Split linebacker duties between holdover Mike Ward and new assistant Seamonson
Promoted Bellamy from assistant director of player personnel

INDIANA (2)

Who's gone?

Mike Ekeler, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
Mark Hagen, defensive tackles/special teams and recruiting coordinator

Who's in?

William Inge, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
James Patton, special teams and recruiting coordinator/assistant defensive line

IOWA (3)

Who's gone?

Erik Campbell, wide receivers
Lester Erb, running backs/special teams
Darrell Wilson, defensive backs/special teams

Who's in?

Bobby Kennedy, wide receivers
Chris White, running backs/special teams
Jim Reid, assistant linebackers

Other moves

Reid and holdover LeVar Woods will share linebacker duties
D.J. Hernandez, an offensive graduate assistant hired this winter, will work with the tight ends

MICHIGAN (1)

Who's gone?

Jerry Montgomery, defensive line

Who's in?

Roy Manning, outside linebackers

Other moves

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will coach defensive line (head coach Brady Hoke also has responsibilities there)
Manning and Mark Smith will share linebacker duties, as Smith now will handle the inside linebackers

MICHIGAN STATE (2)

Who's gone?

Dan Roushar, offensive coordinator/tight ends
Ted Gill, defensive line

Who's in?

Jim Bollman, co-offensive coordinator/tight ends
Ron Burton, defensive line

Other moves

Promoted quarterbacks coach Dave Warner to co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach. Warner will call plays this fall
Moved running backs coach Brad Salem to quarterbacks
Promoted defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to assistant head coach

PENN STATE (1)

Who's gone?

Ted Roof, defensive coordinator

Who's in?

Anthony Midget, safeties

Other moves

Promoted secondary coach John Butler to defensive coordinator. Butler will continue to coach cornerbacks
Running backs coach Charles London and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden will oversee special teams, an area Butler previously handled

PURDUE (10)

Who's gone?

Danny Hope, head coach
Gary Nord, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Tim Tibesar, defensive coordinator/linebackers
Greg Burns, defensive backs
Shawn Clark, offensive line
J.B. Gibboney, special teams coordinator
Patrick Higgins, wide receivers
Cornell Jackson, running backs
Donn Landholm, outside linebackers
Kevin Wolthausen, defensive line

Who's in?

Darrell Hazell, head coach
John Shoop, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Greg Hudson, defensive coordinator
Jon Heacock, defensive backs
Jim Bridge, offensive line
Kevin Sherman, wide receivers
Jafar Williams, running backs
Marcus Freeman, linebackers
Rubin Carter, defensive line
Gerad Parker, tight ends/recruiting coordinator

Other moves

Replaced Jim Bollman with Bridge after Bollman left for Michigan State

WISCONSIN (8)

Who's gone?

Bret Bielema, head coach
Matt Canada, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Chris Ash, defensive coordinator/defensive backs
Zach Azzanni, wide receivers
Andy Buh, linebackers
Eddie Faulkner, tight ends
Bart Miller, offensive line
Charlie Partridge, co-defensive coordinator/defensive line

Who's in?

Gary Andersen, head coach
Andy Ludwig, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator/linebackers
Chris Beatty, wide receivers
Bill Busch, secondary
Jeff Genyk, tight ends/special teams coordinator
Chad Kauha'aha'a, defensive line
T.J. Woods, offensive line

Retained from previous staff

Thomas Hammock, assistant head coach/running backs/recruiting coordinator
Ben Strickland, assistant secondary coach

Other moves

Hired Genyk to replace tight ends/special teams Jay Boulware, who left earlier this month for a post at Oklahoma

Big Ten lunch links

March, 5, 2013
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Snow around Big Ten country, and two more spring practices (Ohio State and Illinois) kick off.

To the links ...
Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck oversaw one of the most prolific attacks in the Big Ten in 2012. Now, Beck is getting rewarded for that good work.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, the third-year coordinator had his salary nearly doubled on Jan. 1, going from $365,000 last season to $700,000 this year. That would make Beck the third-highest paid coordinator in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell ($761,000) and Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison ($750,000). Beck would be making more than Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges and Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. (We took a look at the highest-paid Big Ten assistants last month, which you can find here).

According to the story, head coach Bo Pelini said Beck had been contacted by at least two teams for jobs after the regular season.

Some other Huskers assistants also got raises. Defensive coordinator John Papuchis went from $300,000 to $310,000. Assistant offensive line coach John Garrison got the biggest bump, going from $160,000 to $245,000. Running backs coach Ron Brown and offensive line coach Barney Cotton saw their salaries jump from $240,000 to $254,800. Overall, the Huskers are adding more than $500,000 to their assistant coaching salary pool this year.

We've talked here recently about how Big Ten teams need to continue to pay their assistants well if they want to compete with other national powers. It's good to see Nebraska step up and reward Beck, who has done a great job so far in Lincoln.

Big Ten lunch links

December, 31, 2012
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Last links of 2012. Enjoy.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 14, 2012
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One day, I am going to grow wings. A chemical reaction. Hysterical and useless. Hysterical and ...

Recruiting needs: Legends Division

January, 24, 2012
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Earlier today, we took a look at the recruiting needs of every team in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Now it's time to turn our attention to the Legends Division and see what positions each team needs to restock before next week's signing day:

Iowa

Running backs: Iowa's problems with keeping running backs in school has been well documented, and the Hawkeyes lost leading rusher Marcus Coker and backup Mika'il McCall after off-the-field problems last season. The team really needs some more depth in the backfield, and don't be surprised if incoming freshman Greg Garmon pushes for playing time immediately.

Defensive linemen: Iowa had three defensive linemen drafted off the 2010 team and now loses its top two guys up front in departing seniors Broderick Binns and Mike Daniels. That's an awful lot of talent to replace in a couple of years, and the Hawkeyes can't expect to improve their defense without doing so. Finding some more pass rushers off the edge will be key.

Wide receivers: Marvin McNutt had a wonderful senior season, but the passing game often stalled whenever he couldn't wiggle free. Now he's gone, leaving a void at the position. Kevonte Martin-Manley and Keenan Davis have shown promise, but James Vandenberg could use some more weapons. Iowa has secured commitments from three receivers in this class.

Michigan

Wide receiver: The loss of Darryl Stonum, who was dismissed following another run in with the law, created a void at receiver, especially with top pass-catcher Junior Hemingway out of eligibility. The Wolverines will have to hope Roy Roundtree can bounce back with a big season, because all other wideout options are unproven at this point. Three receivers are committed to Brady Hoke in this class.

Defensive line: Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen were key cogs in Michigan's run to the Sugar Bowl title in 2011, and they have both moved on, along with starter Will Heininger. Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison are defensive line coaches at heart and will want to grab as many difference makers as they can at that key position. Ondre Pipkins, a 325-pound tackle, is the highest rated defensive lineman in the Wolverines' class right now.

Offensive line: While the Wolverines should be fine on the O-line in 2012, even without Rimington Trophy winner David Molk and starting right tackle Mark Huyge, they signed only four offensive linemen total in the past two classes. Since linemen are often slow to develop, they need to refill the cupboard now. Michigan has four offensive linemen committed in this class, including standout Kyle Kalis.

Michigan State

Offensive tackles: Thanks in large part to injuries, Michigan State had to move a defensive lineman (Dan France) to tackle last summer and plug in a junior-college transfer (Fou Fonoti) into the other tackle spot. That the Spartans won the Legends Division title despite that is kind of amazing in retrospect. France will be a junior in 2012 and Fonoti will be in his final year of eligibility. They need more depth at the position, and they've got commitments from two offensive tackles so far in this class.

Wide receivers: Two of the most successful receivers in school history are gone as Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham finished off wildly productive careers. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett is seeking a waiver to play immediately and will help the future even if he has to sit out a year. Michigan State is looking to sign three other receivers in this class to fill out the future two-deep.

Running back: Edwin Baker's early entry to the NFL draft came as a surprise. Michigan State is still in good shape at tailback for 2012 with Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper. But after not signing a running back in last year's class, Mark Dantonio could use at least one more option in the backfield.

Minnesota

Defensive backs: It was no secret that Minnesota's pass defense was brutal at times in 2011, and top tackler Kim Royston leaves a hole at safety with his graduation. Getting Troy Stoudermire back for an extra year helps, but Jerry Kill needs to upgrade the talent in the secondary. That's why he has signed three junior-college defensive backs and secured commitments from four high school safeties so far.

Defensive tackle: One of the reasons the pass defense was so bad was a lack of pass rush applied by the front four. The Gophers had only 19 sacks this season, a year after registering just nine. Making matters worse, both starting tackles were seniors this season. Kill signed a junior-college defensive tackle and has two prep tackles committed. He needs to find guys who can find their way to the quarterback.

Overall talent and depth: Kill has said there are gaps in the Gophers' classes, and depth issues could plague the team during his rebuilding efforts. Including six junior-college players signed to help right away, Minnesota has a class of 28 right now. Minnesota simply needs more bodies everywhere.

Nebraska

Linebacker: Lavonte David leaves some rather large cleats to fill. Not only was he Nebraska's leading tackler the past two seasons, he was the only linebacker who played at a consistently high level. The Huskers' starters at the other two linebacker spots will be seniors this year, and depth is thin behind them. So it's little wonder why Bo Pelini has used four spots so far in what is expected to be a small class to fill that position, led by four-star prospect Michael Rose.

Tight end: Three of the top four options at tight ends will be seniors in 2012, leaving very little behind them. Sam Cotton, son of offensive line coach Barney Cotton and younger brother of current Huskers tight end Ben, is on his way to help.

Quarterback: Taylor Martinez is entrenched as the starter going into his junior year, and Nebraska never had to worry about playing Brion Carnes in a big spot this year after Bubba Starling opted for baseball. Still, it's dangerous to not have depth at quarterback, and so the Huskers need to add at least one signal caller in this class.

Northwestern

Defensive backs: The Wildcats were burned repeatedly in the passing game in 2011, and their best defensive back (safety Brian Peters) won't be around next season. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has commitments from three safeties in this class already.

Defensive playmakers: Northwestern was shockingly short on guys who could blow up another team's offensive play in 2011, so Fitzgerald's main mission had to be finding more guys who played like he did in college. That aim got a big boost when stud defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo committed to play in Evanston. That's a good start.

Wide receivers: Highly productive star receiver Jeremy Ebert is gone, along with starter Charles Brown. Venric Mark and Christian Jones have a lot of potential as the next big passing targets, but Northwestern's spread offense feeds off of speed and depth at the receiver position. Four receivers have given the Wildcats their pledge in this class.

Big Ten lunchtime links

June, 20, 2011
6/20/11
12:00
PM ET
Hope everybody had a happy Father's Day.

Nebraska spring wrap

May, 4, 2011
5/04/11
8:30
AM ET
Nebraska


2010 overall record: 10-4

2010 conference record: 6-2 in Big 12 (T-1st in Big 12 North)

Returning starters

Offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners

DT Jared Crick, LB Lavonte David, CB Alfonzo Dennard, DE Cameron Meredith, QB Taylor Martinez, RB Rex Burkhead, WR Brandon Kinnie, C Mike Caputo, TE Kyler Reed

Key losses

CB Prince Amukamara, DB Dejon Gomes, DB Eric Hagg, DE Pierre Allen, G Ricky Henry, RB Roy Helu Jr., WR Niles Paul, K/P Alex Henery

2010 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Roy Helu Jr. (1,245 yards)

Passing: Taylor Martinez* (1,631 yards)

Receiving: Niles Paul (516 yards)

Tackles: Lavonte David* (152)

Sacks: Jared Crick* (9.5)

Interceptions: Eric Hagg (5)

Spring answers

1. Flippin' out: Nebraska entered the spring needing more options at receiver, and freshman Jamal Turner made it very clear he can contribute this season. Turner, who switched to receiver from quarterback, made the most memorable play of the spring game when he scored on an electrifying 49-yard catch and run, capping things with a flip into the end zone. He recorded 228 all-purpose yards in only seven touches in the game. Speedster Kenny Bell also drew praise this spring and should help the pass attack.

2. D-line depth: Injuries to starters Jared Crick (knee) and Cameron Meredith (shoulder) allowed other players to gain increased reps this spring. The result is what defensive coordinator Carl Pelini calls the deepest line he has had at Nebraska. Converted linebacker Eric Martin had a strong spring and looks like the replacement for Pierre Allen at end. Players like Thaddeus Randle, Jay Guy and Kevin Williams add to the depth at defensive tackle.

3. Rex 'n effect: The run game will drive Nebraska's offense this fall, and junior I-back Rex Burkhead looks ready to lead the way. Burkhead had a strong spring and capped the session with 91 rush yards on 11 carries in the spring game, gaining seven yards or more on eight carries. Burkhead seemed to grasp the new offense well, and while heralded incoming freshman Aaron Green and others will be in the mix for carries this fall, Rex is the Huskers' most reliable option.

Fall questions

1. Taylor Martinez: T-Magic drew some good reviews this spring and showed a greater willingness to be a public face for the team, but he struggled in the spring game (4-for-13 passing) and battled a toe injury for part of the session. We saw last season that Martinez isn't nearly the same player when he's limited, so he needs to get healthy and continue making strides this summer. Coach Bo Pelini says Martinez is his starter if the season started today, but others like Cody Green and spring game star Brion Carnes are in the mix.

2. Offensive line: The Big Ten's best teams typically boast elite offensive lines, and Nebraska's front has drawn mixed reviews the past few seasons. Nebraska must replace three starters, including first-team All-Big 12 guard Ricky Henry. Line coach Barney Cotton wants to play 8-10 men up front, which should keep players fresh in Tim Beck's fast-paced offense. Center Mike Caputo is a nice piece to build around, but Nebraska needs others to step up.

3. Oh, Henery: Nebraska fans could take the kicking game for granted in recent years as All-American Alex Henery did it all at an extremely high level. Replacing Henery will be a big storyline as the Huskers enter a league where weather can have a major effect on kicking and punting. Brett Maher looked good in the spring game, drilling three field goals, including the winner. The Huskers need continued improvement from Maher, who could handle all the kicking duties, although scholarship kicker Mauro Bondi arrives this summer.
Nebraska is accelerating its offensive tempo and entering a league loaded with daunting defensive linemen.

What does that mean for the Huskers' offensive line? Hopefully more hands on deck.

Line coach Barney Cotton has wanted to establish an eight-man rotation up front. The past two seasons, Nebraska rarely used more than six in games. Cotton hopes the number can change this fall.

"This year, it’d be great to play 10," Cotton told me earlier this week. "I don't know if that's possible or not, but the spring is all about competition and development, and we've got a good start on that."

Nebraska returns two starters up front in center Mike Caputo and tackle Jeremiah Sirles. Tackle Marcel Jones missed most of last season with a back injury, but he has starting experience from 2009. The Huskers also bring back linemen like Andrew Rodriguez who saw a bit of time as reserves in 2010.

But the need to build depth is very real. Nebraska loses both of its starting guards, including first-team All-Big 12 selection Ricky Henry. The new offense largely eschews huddling and wants to stay a step ahead of the defense. There's also the matter of durability, especially after the poor end to last season.

"We're all about competing here and how we finish," Cotton said, "and we're certainly not happy up front with how we finished, especially those last two games.”

Conditioning will be a focal point in the summer months, but Cotton wants to have as many options as possible.

"Creating not just depth but playing depth is what’s really going to be important for us," Cotton said. "By playing depth I mean guys we feel comfortable putting in the game when the game's on the line."

Caputo fits into that category. The former walk-on started throughout last season and earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors.

Cotton calls Caputo "the unquestioned leader" of the line, a role Caputo embraces.

"I’m working on that, trying to become more vocal," Caputo said. "Last year, we were all kind of old and now, me and [Marcel Jones] are really the only old guys left. It's a little different."

Caputo has seen several young linemen step up this spring, including Rodriguez, Brent Qvale and Brent Long, all sophomores. Nebraska's revamping of the coaching staff this offseason put a greater emphasis on the line as Bo Pelini promoted John Garrison to assist Cotton and coach the tight ends.

"This year, we’re very young," Cotton said. "We have three seniors in the top 10, so we've got kind of a youth movement here, but there are a lot of guys who look like they’re ready and willing to step up to the plate."

Big Ten lunch links

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
12:00
PM ET
Happy St. Patrick's Day (and start of NCAA tournament day)! It's great to be back at work.

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