Dallas Colleges: Bo Pelini
1. Wisconsin-Ohio State could be the Big Ten's game of the year: In recent years, the Badgers-Buckeyes matchups have been more significant than Ohio State-Michigan or any other conference pairing. This week's showdown at Ohio Stadium could be just as significant. Ohio State is the Big Ten's best team, and Wisconsin might be No. 2 after another dominant rushing performance against Purdue. Both teams ascribe to the power run game but do it in vastly different yet equally entertaining ways. Although the Kenny G show has been terrific for the Buckeyes, top quarterback Braxton Miller should be back for the Big Ten opener. Miller might not be the biggest offensive star on the field, as Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon has performed as advertised, racking up 624 rush yards and seven touchdowns in the first four games. The game features first-year Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen going up against his former boss, Urban Meyer. One of these teams has held at least a share of the past eight Big Ten titles. The winner takes control of the Leaders Division. Should be a great one.
3. The Iowa-Minnesota game has added meaning: We love the pig, but there's a lot more than the Floyd of Rosedale at stake (steak?) this week as Iowa and Minnesota open Big Ten play in Minneapolis. Both teams have shown improvement, especially with their power running games, and enter the matchup with momentum. Iowa exploded for 38 first-half points Saturday against Western Michigan and finished with 59, its highest total since 2002. The Hawkeyes received contributions in all three phases, including two punt return touchdowns from receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and two pick-sixes from cornerback B.J. Lowery. Iowa's defense has yet to allow a rushing touchdown. After a miserable offensive performance in 2012, Iowa is starting to establish an identity behind its line and a stable of running backs. Minnesota is doing the same, finally showing it can control the line of scrimmage and dominate on the ground. Despite not having its starting quarterback (Philip Nelson) or starting running back (Donnell Kirkwood), Minnesota racked up 353 yards and six rushing touchdowns, including four by backup signal-caller Mitch Leidner, in an impressive win against San Jose State. The Gophers are 4-0 for the second straight season. Both teams have very challenging league schedules, so getting off to a 1-0 start is huge. Big one at TCF Bank Stadium this week.
4. Bo Pelini is still standing, but needs time to regroup: The open week couldn't come at a better time for Nebraska's coach and his team, which ended an emotional week with a 59-20 thumping of FCS South Dakota State. The firestorm from audio-gate should die down, at least a little, as Pelini got through Saturday's game without any further controversy, and received mostly support from Huskers fans. Pelini is hardly out of the woods, though, and must turn his attention to a defense that needs a ton of work before Big Ten play begins Oct. 5 against Illinois. The Huskers surrendered 465 yards to the Jackrabbits, who had a balanced attack (238 yards passing, 227 yards rushing). Pelini called it the defense's worst performance in a season filling up with them. Whether it's youth, talent, scheme or attention to detail, Nebraska's defense must get back on track soon. Although the schedule remains favorable the next month or so, it's hard to see the Huskers repeating as Legends Division champs without some significant upgrades on D.
5. Indiana still hasn't arrived: Indiana entered the year with high hopes for a bowl game this year, and with a warp-speed offense averaging 50 points a game through three weeks, the Hoosiers didn't appear to be deluding themselves. But after an impressive showing last week against Bowling Green, Kevin Wilson's team found itself right back in a familiar spot: unable to defend a good team. Missouri racked up 623 yards -- the most in Memorial Stadium history -- in a 45-28 win in Bloomington on Saturday. The game wasn't even as close as the final score, as Indiana tacked on a touchdown and two-point conversion with 10 seconds to go, and Missouri had three turnovers in the first half to kill promising drives. The Hoosiers' vaunted offense failed to score from the 6:31 mark of the second quarter until there was 11:24 left in the game, and IU punted nine times after punting only five times in the first three games combined. The loss to Navy now hurts even more, as Wilson's team would have to go 4-4 in Big Ten play to become bowl eligible. That seems like an awfully tall order. Penn State comes in next after a bye for both teams, and the Nittany Lions just righted their defense in a 34-0 shutout of Kent State. Penn State has never lost to Indiana and will be favored soundly again on Oct. 5. It might be wait for next year time again in Hoosierland.
See more on my criteria here.
Let's move on with the list:
No. 3: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska (2005-09)
Why he's on the list: Suh's career had modest beginnings, and coach Bo Pelini famously almost told the Oregon native to take a hike when he took over the Huskers job before the 2008 season. Instead, Suh bought in and became the Big 12's most decorated and best defender ever in two years as a starter. We're not taking his NFL career into account, but colleague Mel Kiper called Suh the most dominating defensive tackle in college football he'd seen in 32 years. Suh's greatest achievement was becoming a Heisman finalist as a defensive tackle in 2009, and I've always believed he should have won the award ahead of Alabama's Mark Ingram, who was arguably the second-best running back on that Alabama team that won the national title. Suh was simply the most dominant player in college football that season, impacting every game he played and just about every snap.
Do you know how hard it is to lead a team in tackles as a defensive tackle? Suh did it twice. He had 43 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks in two seasons as a starter. In 2009, he collected an absurd amount of hardware: He was the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year and he won the Lombardi Award, the Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award. He was also a unanimous All-American and a finalist for the Camp Award as college football's best player. Nebraska's defense in 2009 was one of the best in Big 12 history, and the team fell just short of the Big 12 title. That's not Suh's fault. His performance against a big-time Texas offense in the title game was one of the best I've ever seen. Against the Longhorns, led by senior quarterback Colt McCoy (No. 5 on our list of top Big 12 players), he made 12 tackles and 4.5 sacks, racking up a school record seven tackles for loss. He was everywhere, and it seemed like he was in McCoy's face on every snap.
All season long, Suh was unblockable. Only two players are blocking him from being the greatest Big 12 player of all-time.
The rest of the list:
"I think if you didn't think that, Lord, you shouldn't be at Texas," Brown told reporters. "I think two years ago was not the norm for us. Last year we had a lot of growing to do to try to get back in the mix. We had our chances, didn't work out like we wanted it to, and this year I think we've got a chance to be in the mix."
Brown's not far off. The defense should be dominant and will keep the Longhorns in games at times. The big question: Will the offense have a quarterback capable of making big throws when he need to, and will the running game be as good on the field as it should be on paper.
"If we play really good we've got a chance to win every week. If we play average we've got a chance to lose," Brown said. "So the coaches and the players have to do a tremendous job of being prepared to play each week and play at a high level."
That quote reminds me a little bit of Nebraska's Bo Pelini. After routing Washington in the Holiday Bowl, he took to the podium and shouted to delirious Husker fans that Nebraska was back, and here to stay.
Asked to expound on the comments later, he explained that by "back" he meant the Huskers would have a great chance to win every single game they played, and it was up to him to make it happen. He was right, though the Big Ten transition last year made it a bumpier ride than maybe he expected at the time.
Still, being in every game and winning every game is a far different task. Pelini has still lost four games in every season at Nebraska. That's not acceptable at Texas.
Yes, a top five finish is possible this year for Texas. So is a finish outside the top 25, thanks to a crazy-deep Big 12. It's up to Brown to navigate his team to the top of this league. The ability is there, but Texas won't be favored in every game. It'll be within reach, but only the fall will tell if the Longhorns reach out and grab those wins.
Oklahoma's Bob Stoops grabbed the top spot in the league at No. 2, behind only Ohio State's Urban Meyer.
No arguing that spot, in theory. Stoops has four former assistants who jumped from OU to become head coaches: Kevin Sumlin (Houston, now at Texas A&M), Mike Leach (Texas Tech, now Washington State) and Kevin Wilson (Indiana).
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini spent 2004 as the co-defensive coordinator before eventually getting the Huskers job in 2008 after three years coordinating LSU's defense.
Not bad, and that's without even mentioning other guys from Stoops' tree who have been fired since becoming head coaches. Mark Mangino is out at Kansas now, and brother Mike Stoops is back as defensive coordinator after nearly a decade as the head man at Arizona.
Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach even gets credit for his own tree. He checked in at No. 4 on the list for spawning Art Briles (Baylor), Sonny Dykes (Louisiana Tech) and West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy just missed the list, but may join it soon with former coordinators Larry Fedora (North Carolina), Holgorsen and Tim Beckman (Illinois) in charge of big-time programs.
Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville and Kansas State's Bill Snyder just missed the list. Snyder's tree begat Stoops and Wisconsin's Brett Bielema, which is impressive enough on its own. Without Snyder, plenty of the guys mentioned in this post wouldn't be the coaches they are today.
What other coaches' trees impress you?
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.
1. Sept. 30: Oklahoma State 38, Texas A&M 35. This Thursday nighter was the Big 12's only game-winning field goal of the year in conference play, and had a much bigger impact on the Big 12 South race than perhaps anyone thought when it was over. Both teams ended up tying for the Big 12 South title alongside Oklahoma, but the Aggies could have won it outright if they'd pulled the upset in Stillwater. The Aggies dominated the first half, leading 21-7, but the Cowboys' offense rallied behind Kendall Hunter in the second half for the comeback win. Jerrod Johnson filled up the stat sheet with 409 yards on 40-of-62 passing. He had five touchdowns passes and four memorable interceptions. The final one sailed over his target into Shaun Lewis' hands to set up Dan Bailey's game-winner.
2. Nov. 20: Texas A&M 9, Nebraska 6. An awful roughing the passer penalty on a Courtney Osborne hit on Ryan Tannehill that extended the eventual game-winning drive left a bad taste in Huskers fans' mouths, but A&M fans will likely choose to remember it for a dominant defensive performance and a workhorse night for Cyrus Gray to give the Aggies a second signature win of the season after beating Oklahoma two weeks earlier. Taylor Martinez left early with an injury, returning a call to his concerned father from the locker room, and Bo Pelini's accosting of his freshman quarterback when he returned was one of the lasting images from a game that didn't feature a touchdown. The penalty discrepancy (16-2 in favor of Texas A&M) got plenty of attention, but that doesn't tell the whole story.
3. Nov. 27: Oklahoma 47, Oklahoma State 41. No. 2 on the list didn't have a touchdown? This one had four in a 92-second span in the game's final five minutes. No other fourth quarter could compete with this game, which decided the Big 12 South. It also featured my pick for the play of the year, which, shockingly for this track meet, was a defensive play. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones threw three first-half interceptions, including one returned for a score, but bounced back for a career-high 468 yards that helped the Sooners win their eighth South title since 2000.
4. Nov. 6: Nebraska 31, Iowa State 30 (OT). Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads tried his hand at the call of the year, but his fake extra point in overtime failed when punter Daniel Kuehl's pass floated in the wind and was intercepted by Nebraska's Eric Hagg. The win kept Nebraska on track for a Big 12 North title, and it did it without Martinez, who missed the game with an ankle injury. Iowa State rallied from a 24-10 deficit entering the fourth quarter, but the gutsy call in overtime didn't pay off for the Cyclones, who would have gone bowling if they'd won the game.
5. Dec. 4: Oklahoma 23, Nebraska 20. The nostalgia faded early. Nebraska was the early aggressor and looked ready to bury Oklahoma. The Huskers sprinted to a 17-0 lead and the task of climbing out of that hole away from home against the best secondary in college football was a gigantic one. Jones and the Sooners answered the call. The sophomore quarterback racked up an astonishing 342 passing yards and helped Oklahoma win its seventh Big 12 title in the last decade.
Honorable mention: Kansas 52, Colorado 45; Colorado 44, Kansas State 36; Oklahoma 28, Texas 20; Texas Tech 45, Baylor 38.
Nebraska's secondary won't see the same Landry Jones on Saturday, but Jones won't see the same Nebraska secondary, either.
"Last year when we played him, he was a young quarterback just learning the system and everything," defensive back DeJon Gomes said. "One of the biggest things we took away from that game is he’s a competitor and he’s going to do the best he can to get his team into a situation to win."
And one more thing.
No kidding. Jones has racked up 527 pass attempts in 2010, in part because of Oklahoma's hurry-up offense and in part to find more success as a sophomore passer.
No quarterback in the Big 12 has more than 500, and Dominique Davis at Eastern Carolina is the only quarterback in America with more attempts than Oklahoma's Jones.
The Blackshirts picked off Jones five times in Lincoln in 2009 -- including three by departed safety Matt O'Hanlon -- though Huskers coach Bo Pelini tossed a wet blanket on talk of that game having any relevance over a year later.
"It's a different time, different place, different offense, new challenges," Pelini said. "The furthest thing from my mind is what happened in that game last year."
What does matter is what's happened this year. Nebraska has put together the No. 2 pass defense in the country, allowing just 144 yards a game. Jones averages almost 330 a game, good for No. 3 nationally.
"It’s going to be an exciting game, especially with them having one of the top offenses in the country and us priding ourself on defense," Gomes said. "It’ll be a fun one to watch."
If history repeats itself, it'll be a lot more fun for Huskers fans than Oklahoma fans when it comes to passing the ball. On the way to that No. 2 ranking, the Nebraska secondary has ruined the days of a handful of good quarterbacks. A sampling:
- Nathan Enderle, Idaho: 16-31, 141 yards, TD, 5 INT
- Jake Locker, Washington: 4-20, 71 yards, TD, 2 INT (stress: not a typo)
- Carson Coffman, Kansas State: 14-22, 91 yards, TD, INT
- Garrett Gilbert, Texas: 4-16, 62 yards
- Blaine Gabbert, Missouri: 18-42, 199 yards, TD, INT
- Quinn Mecham, Kansas: 3-13, 15 yards, INT
- Cody Hawkins, Colorado: 10-26, 162 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT
Only Iowa State's Austen Arnaud, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill at Texas A&M managed decent days against the secondary. Part of Weeden's success was in finding receiver Justin Blackmon, one of the nation's best, for 135 of his 283 yards and both touchdowns. Only Tannehill got a victory with his success, however moderate (19-29, 172 yards).
Jones has another of the nation's best receivers, Ryan Broyles, to throw to, but even Broyles could only manage eight catches for 74 yards in 2009, one of his lowest outputs of the season while healthy.
"They have a trigger man who can get the ball to everybody," Pelini said of Jones. "They stretch the field on you. It's a good challenge for us."
It could be an even bigger challenge for Jones.
Mecham was sacked six times in Kansas' 20-3 loss to the Huskers, completing just 3 of 13 passes for a hearty 15 yards and an interception. The entire Jayhawks offense was held to just 87 yards of offense in the loss.
Two weeks ago, with the Big 12 North hanging in the balance, the Blackshirts held Gabbert to 18-of-42 passing for just 199 yards in a convincing 31-17 win.
"We're playing very, very well," said Eric Hagg, the lynchpin of the Huskers quarterback-perplexing Peso scheme. "But we can't get overconfident because we know we have to keep playing well."
They'll try to add Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill to their list of victims on Saturday, but the No. 19 Aggies are playing some of the best football on both sides of the ball of any team in the league since naming Tannehill the starter.
"The last couple weeks we haven’t had as many mental mistakes," Hagg said. "We’ve had some, but that and we haven’t had many missed tackles either. We’ve been swarming to the ball and that’s helping us out."
Texas A&M's downhill running game, with only one featured back in Cyrus Gray after leading rusher Christine Michael was lost for the season with a broken leg, is more effective than the one that helped hand Nebraska its only loss of the season, at home against Texas.
"You’ve got to have balance. You’ve got to be able to defend everything that they do," coach Bo Pelini said. "They’ve shown good balance, they’ve shown that they can hurt you in a number of different ways, so you’ve got to be able to prepare for everything that they can do."
Said Hagg: "They seem like they come out in one formation and then another one. They don’t line up in the same formations every time. They switch it around a lot."
Nebraska's offense has slowed as conference play has continued, in part because of a gimpy Taylor Martinez trying to regain his early-season form from an ankle injury suffered in the win against Oklahoma. Martinez didn't play in the overtime win over Iowa State, and didn't look like his usual self in the win over Kansas.
If that continues against an offense like Texas A&M's, it might take another virtuoso performance from Pelini's defense to come home from College Station with a win.
"We need to take the game plan that we put out there and play the way we’re coached to play," Pelini said. "If we do that, we’ll be in good shape. If we don’t we’re going to be in for a dog fight."
Then: Mack Brown was 3 years into his head coaching tenure at Texas, with a 21-10 record and outranked in tenure by several of his Big 12 colleagues, including Texas A&M’s R.C. Slocum, Iowa State’s Dan McCarney and Missouri’s Larry Smith.
Now: Mack Brown is 13 years into his head coaching tenure at Texas, with a 131-29 record and the longest tenure in the Big 12.
Then: Will Muschamp was just six years out of college and was the defensive coordinator of the Division II Valdosta State Blazers.
Now: Will Muschamp is the Texas defensive coordinator and head coach in waiting.
Then: Texas fell out of the poll even though it beat Colorado 28-14 the day before.
Now: Texas fell out of the poll after losing to Oklahoma 28-20 the day before.
Then: Garrett Gilbert was 9 years old.
Now: Garrett Gilbert is 19 years old and Texas’ starting quarterback.
Then: Major Applewhite was one of two main Texas quarterbacks.
Now: Major Applewhite is assistant head coach and running backs coach at Texas after becoming the youngest coordinator in FBS in 2007 when he coached the offense at Alabama.
Then: Chris Simms was one of two main Texas quarterbacks.
Now: Chris Simms is an NFL free agent quarterback after spending the 2009 season with the Denver Broncos.
Then: Shaun Rogers and Casey Hampton were a pair of defensive tackles for Mack Brown’s Texas team.
Now: Shaun Rogers and Casey Hampton are both 10-year NFL veteran defensive tackles playing in the AFC North, combining for eight Pro Bowl selections and 44.5 sacks in their careers.
Then: Oklahoma beat Texas 63-14 in the Red River Rivalry behind six Rush TD from Quentin Griffin.
Now: Oklahoma beat Texas 28-20 in the Red River Rivalry behind two Rush TD from DeMarco Murray.
Then: Oklahoma was 6-0, on its way to an undefeated season and national title.
Now: Oklahoma is 5-0, eyeing an undefeated season and national title.
Then: Purdue, Oregon State, Minnesota, Georgia and Notre Dame were ranked in the AP Top 25.
Now: Those teams are a combined 8-15 this season.
Then: Alabama, Boise State, Auburn, LSU and Michigan State were not ranked in the AP Top 25.
Now: Those teams are a combined 24-0 this season.
Then: The Big 12 was still forming its own identity. It was its fifth year as a conference, having recently added four Texas schools from the Southwest Conference to the existing Big 8 to form a new conference.
Now: The Big 12 will soon form a new identity. It will lose two members when Colorado leaves for the Pac-10 and Nebraska leaves for the Big Ten.
Then: Texas had three national titles, one Big 12 Title and two Heisman Trophy winners (Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams).
Now: Texas has four national titles, three Big 12 Titles and the same number of Heisman Trophy winners (despite the recent Reggie Bush-Vince Young controversy).
Then: The Longhorn Sports Network was nowhere to be found.
Now: The Longhorn Sports Network is broadcasting Texas football and Texas basketball coverage on both television and radio, and could expand to become the first of its kind -- a broadly distributed sports network created by and focused on one university.
Then: Bo Pelini was in his first year as the linebackers coach of the Green Bay Packers.
Now: Bo Pelini is the coach of Texas’ next opponent, No. 7 Nebraska.
Then: The State Fair of Texas (during which the Red River Rivalry was played) unveiled the Millennium Quilt -- Texas Then and Now.
Now: The State Fair of Texas (during which the Red River Rivalry was played) featured the Eli Young Band, Collective Soul and fried beer.
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