A Civilized Parting
IRVING, Texas -- If there is to be bad blood in this breakup season of Big 12 football, it apparently will not be shed here and now.
As the opening speaker at Big 12 media days, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini attempted a pre-emptive shutdown of discussion about his program's 2011 transition to the Big Ten. "I will not be taking any questions in regards to any Big Ten issues," Pelini said. "We're excited about being in the Big 12 this year."
Pelini's stiff-arm stance didn't hold; he wound up answering the questions. But his answers did not deviate from the Big Red company line of embracing and appreciating this last season in a conference Nebraska defiantly is departing.
"If you start looking ahead," Pelini said, "you'll get stomped in this conference."
So the Cornhuskers are not looking ahead. Not to 2011 and joining up with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and the rest of the Big Ten. And not even to Oct. 16 and that hotly anticipated showdown with Big 12 rival Texas.
That's the new Nebraska stance. The old stance -- literally putting the date of that game in red letters on a provocative "Red Out Around the World" athletic department video -- officially has been abandoned.
To its credit, the Nebraska brass ordered an alteration of the video to remove any and all mention of Texas. That was well received by Pelini, who called the video "regrettable" and apparently was not asked to sign off on it before it was distributed.
"I was on vacation," he said. "I didn't even know about it. ... To be honest with you, I wasn't real happy about it.
"We have a lot of things to do before we even consider Texas or worry about that football game. We've got a lot of work to do in the meantime."
Expect Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe to be in Lincoln, Neb., for that game. But he, too, has a lot of work to do in the meantime. Part of it is safeguarding against a recrimination festival here during the league's first major media moment after the tumult of June, which saw the Cornhuskers and Colorado declare their allegiances for rival conferences.
Beebe made a point of talking to Pelini at the end of Nebraska's print interview session Monday and said afterward that he wants this transition period to be as classy as possible.
"I'm going to miss Nebraska and Colorado, but they're fellow members of the conference until they're not," Beebe said. "... It was the very, very strong expression of our board and athletic directors that these relationships are treated well, and both institutions that are departing are treated with the utmost respect.
"It's harder to get that down to the fan level, but we're trying hard to do that."
Among the steps the schools are taking to defuse any tensions is a planned meeting of Texas and Nebraska administrators in Lincoln the night before the two schools play Oct. 16. No truth to the rumor that fans from both schools are encouraged to meet for a group hug outside the stadium and a rendition of "We Are The World."
A&M Looks For Walters To Catch On
IRVING, Texas -- Troy Walters, a former Biletnikoff winner and NFL player, was the offensive coordinator at Indiana State a week ago. On Monday morning, Texas A&M announced Walters as its new wide receivers coach, and head coach Mike Sherman called Walters "a perfect fit."
Walters is a native of College Station, Texas, and had been coaching under ISU's Trent Miles, a former receivers coach himself in 2000 under Sherman with the Green Bay Packers.
"A lot of the language -- he's very familiar with the West Coast terminology, which is what our base is," Sherman said.
Knowing that now-former receivers coach Steve Kragthorpe intended to resign to attend to family health matters full time in Tulsa, Okla., Walters went to College Station on Friday to interview.
"A selling point for me was the fact that he worked in the Indianapolis Colts' system, which in NFL circles it's very well known that the Colts, in all of football, run probably one of the most precison-driven routes of anybody, and he conveyed that preciseness, that discipline in his interview with me," Sherman said. "So that's exactly what we're looking for."
Huskers With QB Options
IRVING, Texas -- Coaches normally hate a quarterback controversy, but it wasn't such a bad thing for Nebraska coach Bo Pelini on Monday.
It served as a useful change of subject from questions about the Cornhuskers' pending divorce from the Big 12 Conference.
Pelini says he has at least three options at quarterback. They begin with returning starter Zac Lee, but he's coming off an uninspiring junior year and offseason elbow surgery. That injury opened the door in spring ball for junior Cody Green and redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez -- and Pelini sounds intent on leaving that door open for quite a while.
"We're in no hurry to make that decision," he said. "That's going to be one that's going to go at least up until the first game and maybe beyond. ... I do know we have some very capable athletes at the quarterback position."
Athleticism does seem to be at a surplus for Nebraska QBs. Lee ran for 171 yards last season, while Green averaged 5.1 yards per carry while rushing for 158 yards. But Martinez might be the best runner of the bunch, scampering for 60 yards in the Nebraska spring game. He also threw two touchdown passes in that scrimmage.
The fact that Nebraska returns 1,100-yard rusher Roy Helu, its top three receivers and four starters on the offensive line means the quarterback shouldn't have to be a star to make the Cornhuskers go. But a team that was held to 20 or fewer points seven times last season must find some more punch if it wants to win its first Big 12 title since 1999.
Briles Focused On Straight Shooting
IRVING, Texas -- Baylor coach Art Briles refused to spend time worrying about issues outside his control. Influencing conference realignment clearly fell outside his job description, even as his school faced possible exile from automatic-qualifier conference affiliation.
"The thing I learned here over the last couple months is that it really doesn't matter what Art Briles thinks," he said, also referencing the decisions on keeping the Big 12 as a 10-team league moving forward and the existence of a Big 12 championship game.
On Monday afternoon, Briles learned that the Big 12 was not held together contractually, but like everything else off the field in the hands of the higher-ups, it hasn't attracted his focus. Briles, a former high school coach in Texas, took a simple approach that he learned early in life as a reason for his lack of anxiousness moving forward in the still-kicking Big 12.
"Where I'm from, verbally works for me," he said. "If I tell you I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it. You may not even have to shake my hand. If you look me in the eye and say, 'Coach, I'm going to be there at practice,' I'm going to expect you to be there. If I tell you, 'I'm going to go out and buy you lunch today; it's my day to buy lunch,' forget your billfold."
Basic Training Helps Cyclones
IRVING, Texas -- If you're looking for reasons why Iowa State vaulted from five total victories in two years under Gene Chizik to seven victories in one season under Paul Rhoads, here's a big one:
"It was horrible," Rhoads said.
So horrible, in fact, that rudimentary tackling had to be retaught.
"The first time we put on pads that first spring, we had to shut practice down for about 15 minutes and go back to Tackling 101," Rhoads said. "We got their attention, and I think they've improved greatly as a tackling football team."
Rhoads didn't want to toss Chizik -- a hugely successful defensive coordinator before becoming a head coach -- and his staff directly under the bus. So he explained that there are different ways to teach tackling -- successful coordinators can disagree on methodology.
According to Rhoads, the methodology under Chizik involved flying full speed at ball carriers more than hitting with form and balance. That might have worked better with star athletes at Texas (Chizik's last stop before Ames) than it did with less-gifted players at Iowa State.
"We control ourselves before we're in a hitting situation," Rhoads said. "So if a ball carrier makes a move, we're not tackling air like a cartoon character."
Last season Iowa State allowed 21.8 points per game, down from 35.8 in 2008 and 31.8 in 2007 under Chizik.
One Good Thing
Baylor: Baylor coach Art Briles brought in one of the best recruiting classes in program history this season, highlighted by Waco native Ahmad Dixon, rated as the nation's No. 3 safety. Rumors persisted that Dixon might have to enroll at junior college before suiting up for the Bears, but after initially being noncommittal, Briles made a confident declaration of Dixon's status this fall.
"He will be in camp when camp starts August the 5th," Briles said.
Additionally, 2010 receiver signee Eddie Johnson, who the Waco Tribune reported Sunday would be forced into a junior college, might still be eligible.
"There's still an outside chance that Eddie could enroll in Baylor," he said. "So it's a little premature, I think, to completely lock the door."
Iowa State: Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads called his team's offseason "outstanding" on Monday afternoon, pointing to the Cyclones' season-capping Insight Bowl win as one big culprit.
"[There's carryover] every direction that we turn, internally and externally, as far as everything associated with our football program," he said.
Without that win, he doubts the progress over the past seven months would have been as encouraging.
"We launched ourself into January. I think that was evident in how the kids worked the entire offseason. I think that's evident in how they approached it in a team-like manner all summer long," Rhoads said. "I think that shows an excitement as we go out on the road and talk to our fans. Ticket sales, so on and so forth. I think the bowl win was very much a large part of where we've gone in the last seven months."
Nebraska: Nebraska brings back a 1,000-yard rusher in Roy Helu Jr. and another talented back in sophomore Rex Burkhead. Neither will be able to produce without a solid five-man wall clearing holes in front of them, but the offensive line got Huskers coach Bo Pelini fired up Monday afternoon, saying it was "absolutely" the best situation he's had since coming to Lincoln, adding that it was "not even close."
"We really like our young talent on the offensive line, and we added a couple of young men in the incoming class, and it's nice to have depth at that position because they pound," he said. "They get beat up. I mean, it's a long season, and I think you look across the board, this is the first time we've had that."
Texas A&M: Texas A&M is a popular pick for a dark horse in the Big 12 South, with a flashy offense that can pass and run alongside the best in the league. A defense that hopes to improve under new coordinator Tim DeRuyter should decide how close the Aggies get to their first trip to the championship game in more than a decade.
With Nebraska prepared to leave the Big 12 after this season, coach Mike Sherman wants his team to provide another marquee program for the conference.
"I think the Big 12 needs A&M to step up to the plate and be that type of team," he said. "We're ready to accept that challenge."
Nebraska: Jared Crick
Best Of Day 1
Best response to an Internet viral video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, on the "Red Out Around the World" video
"I didn't know anything about it. It was actually a mistake. ...To be honest with you, I wasn't real happy about it. I mean, I like the idea. ... I didn't like the message it sent to our football team, especially because that's way down the road. We have a lot of things to do before we even consider Texas or worry about that football game."
Best deadpan response to a repetitive question: Baylor coach Art Briles, asked about the rehab of his QB, Robert Griffin III
"I haven't been asked that one much."
Most convincing player shill: Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, on running back Alexander Robinson
"I wouldn't trade him for another back in this league. I think he ranks right up there with all of them. He runs it. He catches it. He blocks. He's intelligent. He's a leader. And I think you'll continue to see that out of him if he remains healthy as we go through 2010."
Best grammar lesson: Baylor coach Art Briles, on successes versus success'
"[Robert Griffin III]'s going to be an integral part of any successes we have this year. I can say it -- not sure I can spell it. What do you do after that? Is that s-s ... then apostrophe? Or do you go the 'es'? I mean, I know you don't, I actually taught English for two years, but what do you do? Just 'e-s'? S-u-c-c-e-s-s-e-s? Like that? OK, thank you."
Texas A&M: Jerrod Johnson
Tracking Big 12 Media Days
Iowa State: Alexander Robinson
Texas A&M: Von Miller