Nebraska vs. Wisconsin, 12.1.2012

Things I know and think I know:

Extremists are out in full force. Emotion is still raw. You hear anger and consternation from many fans. It's understandable, and in some ways healthy.

As one might expect, Bo Pelini is getting plenty of coaching advice in the wake of Nebraska's 70-31 loss to unranked Wisconsin in Saturday night's Big Ten Championship Game. It's as if NU is a 3-10 team.

I've been asked frequently this week if Pelini should make staff changes. I talked to Pelini on Monday night (mostly about the coaching rumor mill) but didn't ask about potential staff changes because the notion doesn't make any sense to me -- at least not at the moment.

It doesn't make sense because Nebraska ranks 22nd nationally in total defense and 24th in total offense.

It doesn't make sense because Nebraska is 10-3 (7-1 in the Big Ten) against the 11th-toughest schedule in the nation, according to the NCAA.

It doesn't make sense because if coaches at NU keep getting fired after 10-3 seasons, well, good luck finding high-grade replacements. Good coaches will gladly go places where a 10-3 record doesn't get them a pink slip.

I don't foresee changes on the offensive staff because the unit made significant improvement compared to last season, when it ranked 66th. The offense clearly wasn't to blame for Saturday's loss.

In fact, I'm guessing it won't be too much longer before offensive coordinator Tim Beck is getting mentioned frequently for head coaching jobs. We're already hearing murmurs.

Nebraska offensive line coach Barney Cotton often receives his share of criticism from fans. However, Pelini told me in September that he has very high regard for Cotton as a coach.

Ron Brown did an excellent job this season with the running backs (NU ranks eighth nationally in rushing offense), and Rich Fisher did perhaps an even better job with the best group of receivers in the Big Ten. Somehow I don't think John Garrison, the co-offensive line and tight ends coach, is on a hot seat of any sort unless he has heated seats in his vehicle.

As for the defense, Pelini runs the show there. Odds are he won't fire himself. John Papuchis? Once again: Bo runs the defense, with help from Papuchis. Pelini trusts Papuchis.

Nebraska ranks first nationally in pass defense, so it might look a bit silly to jettison secondary coach Terry Joseph. And are you really going to blame first-year defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski for the Huskers' issues up front?

As for Ross Els, yes, he coordinates special teams. And yes, special teams had some rough spots. But if you're going to mention Nebraska's lackluster return units, you also have to point out excellent coverage work on both punts and kickoffs. What's more, Brett Maher missed only one field goal in the last six regular-season games and two total in conference play.

Coaching special teams is a group effort. For instance, Els doesn't coach the punt returners.

Meanwhile, Els is in his first year as Nebraska's recruiting coordinator. It was only this past July when I heard him regularly receiving kudos for the Huskers having 14 verbal commitments at that early stage.

Should Pelini consider reducing Els' job to recruiting only? The idea has merit. But staff shuffling obviously would be necessary.

Pelini won't make moves to appease anybody. He coached on the 2003 staff that got broken up after a 9-3 regular season and was stung by the turmoil. I envision Pelini standing pat.

Now, if Georgia dismantles Nebraska in the bowl game, then maybe ...

OK, I'll go back to trying to manage my own job. Yeah, I know, good luck with that.

* One other thing: Nebraska's staff obviously faces some serious evaluation of its entire operation. One area that should be emphasized is upgrading talent along the defensive line.

In the 2008-11 classes, Nebraska recruited no fewer than 13 defensive linemen. Of those 13, seven have either left the program or are yet to make a significant contribution. That's too many misses, which helps explain the glaring lack of depth at those positions.

However, the staff does like the young talent in the system, including (but not limited to) freshmen Avery Moss, Greg McMullen, Vincent Valentine and Thomas Brown. Put a star by Brown's name.

* Michigan State, at No. 5, is the only Big Ten team that has played a tougher schedule than Nebraska, according to NCAA ratings that are based on opponents' cumulative record. So why do I keep hearing folks say the Huskers played a soft schedule? One word I wouldn't use to describe the Big Ten is "soft." In terms of physical play, the gap between the Big Ten and Big 12 is startlingly wide.

* Perhaps this will make Nebraska fans feel better about the bowl matchup: Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is 1-11 against ranked teams. And yes, Nebraska is still ranked.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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