Pelini Not Changing His Volume
CHICAGO -- Nebraska's Bo Pelini isn't apologizing for his fiery demeanor on the sideline.
Heading into the Cornhuskers' first season in the Big Ten, Pelini said he isn't planning on changing the way he coaches his players, either.
In the Cornhuskers' final season in the Big 12 in 2010, Pelini was criticized for berating officials -- as well as Nebraska freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez -- during a 9-6 loss at Texas A&M.
Pelini said Friday that his relationship with Martinez is good and blamed the media for blowing the incident out of proportion.
"I raise my voice and discipline players and that's why we have discipline in our program," Pelini said. "We have this politically correct society where people say you can't raise your voice. I disagree."
After the loss at Texas A&M, in which the Cornhuskers were penalized 16 times for 145 yards, Pelini was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct in the fourth quarter. Pelini also had a sideline exchange with Martinez, in which he poked the quarterback's chest and screamed at him.
Apparently, Pelini was upset that Martinez had used his cell phone to talk with his father in the locker room, a violation of team rules.
The next day, Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said Pelini's behavior was "unfortunate."
"I've yelled at plenty of guys like that before and you see it on TV every week," Pelini said. "It's nothing personal. You can yell at a guy or discipline a guy and there's a trust between the player and coach."
Pelini said he won't ever apologize for disciplining his players.
"I don't run around yelling at my players all day," Pelini said. "But if somebody needs a talkin' to, I'm going to give them a talkin' to. Our players know there are expectations and it's not debatable. It's pretty black and white. If you asked our players, they'd tell you they don't want me to change."
Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick said Pelini's tirades are just part of who he is.
"The thing that happened at Texas A&M, we all know what happened and it might have been worse if we'd handled it," Crick said. "It's just who [Pelini] is. He's not yelling at you because it's personal. He's doing it because you're hurting your brothers or hurting the team. He wants to you to be the best player you can be."
QB Lessons In Diverse Locales
CHICAGO -- In an effort to improve his quarterbacking skills, Michigan State's Kirk Cousins traveled to two extremes this summer.
He went to the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La., a place Cousins described as "one step removed from 'Swamp People.'" He also said Illinois coach Ron Zook called it "just left of Hell."
He also went to the Elite 11 camp at Pepperdine University, which is in Malibu, Calif.
"They're essentially polar opposites," Cousins said with a laugh. "I guess the scenery in Malibu is a little nicer than Thibodaux."
But Cousins said he learned a lot in both locales. He was one of 35 college quarterbacks at the Manning Academy, being tutored by Peyton and Eli Manning and Jon Gruden. At night, Cousins coached a 7-on-7 team that went undefeated in four games.
Best advice he got from Peyton Manning: repetition of a few routes instead of trying to throw every route in every practice. He said he's copying Manning's practice of grabbing a couple of receivers and working on two or three routes 10-12 times, "until you can throw it with your eyes closed."
At the Elite 11 camp, Cousins roomed with Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, Florida State's EJ Manuel and Boise State's Kellen Moore. He got to pick their brains, and to spend a lot of time with ESPN analyst and former NFL QB Trent Dilfer.
Cousins took another trip during the offseason, spending spring break in the Los Angeles area. That trip included a visit to the ultimate destination for a Big Ten football player, the Rose Bowl.
Cousins tried to get into the stadium but was shot down by a security guard. He tried explaining to the guard that he played quarterback at Michigan State, but the guard told him the only way he'd get into the stadium is as a player in the game in January.
"I'll wave at you through the bus window," Cousins responded.
An Earlier Season Start?
CHICAGO -- Big Ten coaches aren't thrilled about the idea of a nine-game conference schedule, which likely will debut in 2017.
But another potential scheduling twist is gaining support around the conference. Big Ten coaches are discussing the possibility of playing one league game earlier in the season, like you see in the SEC, ACC and other major conferences.
Big Ten teams typically open the season by facing three or four nonconference opponents before opening league play in early October. While some non-league games are sprinkled in later in the season, the Big Ten avoids league games in the first four weeks.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema wants that to change. Bielema has proposed playing at least one conference game in each of the first four weeks.
"You can have a showcase game every week," he said.
Bielema's plan also allows Big Ten teams to soften their late-season schedules, when injuries are piling up. Last November, national champion Auburn faced Chattanooga after a stretch against Arkansas, LSU and Ole Miss.
Another plus is it prevents the Big Ten from having a slate like Week 4 of 2010, which featured no games against opponents from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences.
"It was bad timing, but it was reality," Bielema said. "So I'm trying to figure out, 'The SEC always plays one [league game] up front.' I started looking at that schedule, talked to a couple buddies in that conference, threw it out to [Barry] Alvarez and he said, 'Bring it up in the Big Ten meetings.'"
Bielema's plan is gaining support.
"It's a good idea," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "The exposure of college football and the popularity, everybody's watching it and they want to watch the games that mean more. Maybe we could move a [conference] game up, second week, or each of us play one each week."
One Step At A Time
CHICAGO -- Illinois senior wide receiver A.J. Jenkins has no doubt this season's Illini team will become the first in nearly 20 years to reach consecutive bowl games.
"We're going to a bowl game this year," Jenkins said during the Big Ten media days on Friday. "There's no questions. That's what we're going to do. That's nothing to worry about."
Illinois has experienced success since it last went to consecutive bowl games in 1991 and 1992. The Illini reached bowl games in 1994 (Liberty Bowl), 1999 (Micronpc.com Bowl), 2002 (Sugar Bowl), 2008 (Rose Bowl) and 2010 (Texas Bowl). The problem has been sustaining that success.
Illinois coach Ron Zook, who is entering his seventh season, thought the Illini's Rose Bowl trip in 2008 did as much damage to his team as it did good.
"Probably one of the things in my tenure when I look back at my tenure, I think going to the Rose Bowl probably was something that thwarted our progress," Zook said. "As much as you try to tell everybody, 'We're not there yet.' I think they were hearing, but they weren't listening.
"When we went to the Rose Bowl, there was nobody on that team who had been to a bowl game. That's the grand daddy of them all. All of a sudden, everybody thought we were there, maybe the coaches did, as well. There's not a big difference between playing up here and down there."
It's a lesson Zook has learned from and tried to stress upon his current players after they defeated Baylor in the Texas Bowl last season.
"From day one when we got back from the bowl game, [we've been saying,] 'We're not there yet,'" Zook said. "We have a long way to go, and we're going to continue to go forward. We're not going to rest on our laurels."
Illinois senior cornerback Tavon Wilson said he feels a responsibility to make sure the program stayed afloat this time around.
"I feel more of a pressure on me because I've been around here, and I won't let the program go back to what it was," Wilson said. "I helped build this program up to winning a bowl game. I've been through a 3-9 season before. Some of these people on our team haven't been through those tough times two years in a row, going 5-7, going 3-9, missing a bowl game."
What's That Buzz?
CHICAGO -- Kevin Wilson brought that rarest of all commodities to Big Ten media days.
Indiana football buzz.
The first-year head coach created a ripple of interest earlier in the week by securing a stunning verbal commitment from quarterback Gunner Kiel of Columbus, Ind. Kiel is the No. 20 prospect in the ESPNU 150 and the No. 2-rated quarterback in the country. He also was considering Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Notre Dame and Missouri.
Kiel safely qualifies as the Hoosiers' biggest recruit in decades.
Indiana had a couple of built-in advantages, since Kiel's older brother, Dusty, is a sophomore QB at IU and Columbus is just 36 miles from Bloomington. But Wilson's reputation as an offensive coach with a quarterback-friendly system was a major part of Kiel's decision. (It didn't hurt that Kiel had a conversation with Wilson product and Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, either.)
Wilson could not comment specifically on the Kiel commitment due to NCAA rules, but did talk in general terms about his early recruiting impact at Indiana.
"There's a lot of water to go over the dam with guys that are committed," he said. "We're selling a great product, a great school, a great opportunity because we're ready to take this ship and get this thing exploded."
In exploding ship terms, Indiana football has often resembled the Titanic. The Hoosiers have won just 17 Big Ten games in the past decade and have played in just one bowl game since 1993 and have not won a bowl game since 1991. But Wilson is so totally uninterested in the past that he hasn't even watched game film of last year's team because he doesn't want it to color his perception of the players. Everyone is getting a fresh start.
"I will probably watch, when we play some Big Ten opponents, watch how our team did when it's game time to play Penn State in our opener," Wilson said. "We concentrate ourselves on developing our players, putting in our scheme offensively, defensively, special teams, and moving forward. That's all we've done. That's not coach speak, that's dead true."
CHICAGO -- On a late Friday night nearly two weeks after he had been named Ohio State's emergency head coach, Luke Fickell decided it was time. Time to cut the football umbilical cord between him and the man and mentor he replaced.
So at 11 p.m. in the all-but-deserted Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Fickell reluctantly entered his new office. He slid manila folders under the legs of the heavy desk and bull-rushed it across the floor. He rearranged the chairs, moving them to the other side of the room. He angled the remaining furniture just so.
"It was something I had to do," Fickell says.
In that moment of late-night interior decorating, Jim Tressel's office became Fickell's. The awkward transition was complete.
"I have the utmost respect for Coach Tressel," says Fickell, who was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, played for Ohio State and later spent nine years on Tressel's staff as an assistant. "I can honestly say he made me better in every aspect of my life."
But this is Fickell's program now because Tressel failed to practice what he often preached. Tressel's swift and spectacular free fall leaves Ohio State with a 37-year-old, first-time head coach who always thought he'd be an Olympic wrestler, a doctor or optometrist, not the caretaker of Buckeye Nation.
To read the rest of Gene Wojciechowski's story, click here.
Michigan: Denard Robinson
One Good Thing
Illinois: Illinois senior A.J. Jenkins made a considerable jump in his receiving production from his sophomore to his junior season. He caught a total of 21 passes in his first two seasons with the Illini before making 56 receptions for 746 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Now, as a senior, Jenkins believes he's capable of even more and has set some lofty goals. "I want 1,000-plus yards, 10-plus touchdowns and around 80 catches," Jenkins said. "So, I'm ready to have a real big year this year."
Indiana: Kevin Wilson's first goal in turning around the Hoosiers' program is changing the entire mindset. He says that includes everything from the players' body language to what they are listening to. "Like I tell them all the time, when I'm talking it's bouncing off you, so if somebody tells you you're not any good, let it bounce off you," Wilson said. "I told you to go to class and you didn't go, so if a guy says you're not going to win any games, don't worry about it."
Iowa: In the past, Kirk Ferentz has tried to give his players some time off at Thanksgiving. The Hawkeyes were upset by Minnesota last year after the holiday and have had some other post-Turkey Day letdowns. That will change this year, as Iowa will play the "Heroes Game" against Nebraska on the Friday after Thanksgiving. "I'm not saying that's why we performed the way we did at Minnesota, but the thought entered my mind," Ferentz said. "The way it's mapped out now, I'm enthused about it. We'll all be together on Thanksgiving. There will be no decisions about what to do anymore."
Michigan: The Wolverines have a lot of competition at the running back position, including veterans Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith and several younger players. They lack a true established No. 1 back. Head coach Brady Hoke said Michigan will utilize the depth and play two-back sets often. "At end of the day, we'd like to have a lead back as that I-back or tailback, but we'll have to see how we progress through fall camp," Hoke said. He added that he'd like his main running back to take about 25 carries per game.
Michigan State: Kirk Cousins sees similarities in the Spartans' lone two losses last season, blowouts against Iowa and Alabama. Michigan State lost the battle in the trenches and couldn't run the ball effectively. The senior quarterback, though, pins blame on himself. "If things go south up front, I can't let my play on the back end go south," Cousins said. "I can't start trying to do too much because we're not running ball and try to get it all back in one play. I need to make sure to stay patient in those situations."
Minnesota: Immediately after hearing that Jerry Kill was his new coach, MarQueis Gray jumped on YouTube to watch highlights of Kill's offense at Northern Illinois. "I saw some games last year where they'd run for 200 yards," he said. "I thought, 'This is the type of offense that we need.' It makes everybody on our offense salivate."
Nebraska: Bo Pelini still isn't sure what freshman quarterback Bubba Starling will do. Starling, who was the No. 5 pick by the Kansas City Royals in June's amateur baseball draft, has been working out with the Cornhuskers in Lincoln this summer and has until Aug. 15 to agree to terms with the Royals or enroll in fall classes at Nebraska. "Obviously, money plays a part in it, but at some point it comes down to what he wants to do," Pelini said. "Do you want to go to college and be a multisport athlete? Or do you want to go pro? I think it's got to be where his heart is."
Northwestern: Northwestern dropped its final three games of last season in large part due to the absence of quarterback Dan Persa, but the defense didn't help matters, either. The Wildcats allowed 163 points, including 70 points to Wisconsin, during their final three games. It was a humbling stretch for Northwestern's defense, and one it doesn't want to experience again in 2011. "It was definitely a growing experience," Northwestern senior cornerback Jordan Mabin said. "We learned from it. We grew from it and try not to repeat it."
Ohio State: Center Mike Brewster is used to snapping to a freshman quarterback, doing so with Terrelle Pryor. The Buckeyes could go with another newbie at QB this year if Braxton Miller wins the job. But now Brewster is a grizzled vet. "It's probably better than having a freshman center and a freshman quarterback, because at least I know what I'm doing and he can just play," Brewster said. "With myself and Terrell our freshman year, we didn't really know what we were doing. We were just playing off instincts."
Penn State: Joe Paterno looked pretty spry during media days, and the legendary coach said he intends to be more involved with play calling this year. "I told the staff, 'Your day in the sun is over,'" Paterno said. "'I'm going to call a lot more plays and lot more defenses and the whole bit, so get ready.'" He also revealed that third-string quarterback Paul Jones will miss the season because of academics. Kevin Newsome and Shane McGregor will compete for the No. 3 job behind Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin.
Purdue: The Boilermakers always want to beat in-state rival Notre Dame, but linebacker Joe Holland has extra incentive to do so. Both Holland's parents and his grandfather graduated from Notre Dame. The Irish have beaten Purdue during Holland's first three years on the team. Holland also sees the bigger picture. "That game is the week before we go into Big Ten play," he said. "So getting a win in that game will hopefully jump-start us into having a good Big Ten season. Each and every game is important, but that's a big one on our schedule."
Wisconsin: Badgers coach Bret Bielema came up with a novel idea while recruiting former Central Florida defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable to Wisconsin. Bielema paid to fly Huxtable's wife to Madison, Wis., with money out of his own pocket. Huxtable filled one of the vacancies created when former Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Doeren was named head coach at Northern Illinois. "We really had to do a good recruiting job," Bielema said. "He was leaving money and a title on the table. His wife was able to come to Wisconsin and see it all. She was at dinner when I offered him the job."
Wisconsin: Bret Bielema
Northwestern: Dan Persa
Best self-critique: Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. Taking over the Northwestern program at age 31 after the sudden death of Randy Walker, Fitzgerald admitted he struggled to delegate. The Wildcats went 4-8 in 2006.
"I was slowing our staff down," Fitzgerald recalled, "like, 'What are we doing? When are we doing it? Why are we doing it? How are we doing it?' Just pop, pop, pop. I'm micromanaging instead of trusting them. That's how I failed initially and that's why we stunk. As long as I don't screw 'em up, we'll be all right."
Best slogan: Michigan State. Spartans players are adopting the acronym "P4RB," or prepare for the Rose Bowl. They got the idea from Wade Salem, the brother of MSU running backs coach Brad Salem, who runs an organization called Coaching 4 Life that helps teams and organizations develop character qualities. Wade Salem met with Spartans players in February and said everything they do should be directed toward a trip to Pasadena.
"I go out to the Manning camp this summer, I go to the Elite 11 in California, I'm doing summer running with our team, summer lifting, all the winter workouts, spring ball," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "We're not just doing that for no reason. We're doing it to prepare for a Rose Bowl."
Best bragging right: This season, Michigan will try to maximize the talents of defensive tackle Mike Martin, even using the 299-pound senior in pass coverage. Martin hasn't dropped back much during his career but caught on quickly in practice this spring. He even recorded an interception against star quarterback Denard Robinson.
"I give Denard a bit of crap," Martin said. "It was actually only my third time dropping back and I got it."
Best dressed/accessory: Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema. While no one topped Nick Toon's getup from Thursday, Minnesota's Gray looked dapper in a navy blue suit and gold tie. Bielema, meanwhile, sported a sizable silver ring commemorating Wisconsin's first Big Ten championship in 11 years.
"What happens is if you lose the [Rose Bowl], you put the Rose Bowl emblem on the side," Bielema said. "If you win it, you put it [in the middle]. This is called a Big Ten championship ring. We don't call it a Rose Bowl ring."
Best memory: Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt. The Hawkeyes senior still gets asked about his game-winning touchdown catch on the final play against Michigan State in 2009 to preserve an undefeated season. Iowa trailed 13-9 when Ricky Stanzi found McNutt on a slant route in the end zone with no time left on the clock, setting off a raucous celebration.
"They always ask me, 'How did it feel?'" McNutt recalled. "I say, 'I really couldn't feel anything. I couldn't breathe.'"
Michigan State: Mark Dantonio
Tracking Big Ten media days
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