Things I know, and things I think I know:

With Nebraska's spring football practice set to begin March 7, new Husker head coach Mike Riley's in the early stages of devising his offense.

He's matching scheme with personnel and seeing what fits. The task is enormous and daunting.

Joe Newton can't wait to see the finished product.

"The thing I love about his offenses is Coach Riley is brilliant at figuring out how to put defenders in positions where, if you execute correctly on offense, they can't win," the former Oregon State standout tight end told the Journal Star.

"He tries to put defenders in a position where they have to pick between two guys to defend."

Newton, one of the nation's top tight ends in 2006, ended his college career that season as Oregon State's all-time leader in touchdown receptions at his position, with 15. The Beavers finished 10-4 (6-3 in the Pac-10), highlighted by an upset of second-ranked USC.

Newton's glowing comments regarding Riley's offense are weighed against the fact Oregon State last season, in finishing 5-7 (2-7 Pac-12), was last in the league with an average of 25.7 points per game. And -- this is eye-opening -- the Beavers converted only 31.7 percent of their third-down tries, which also ranked last.

Bear in mind, Newton invoked the caveat, "if executed correctly ..." That's obviously important. And that is what makes the coming spring so enormous for Riley and his staff.

There will be a steep learning curve for players. Some will adapt better than others. Coaches will evaluate personnel while simultaneously introducing and installing new systems on both sides of the ball, ever mindful that technique development must also be part of the package. Time will be of the essence.

As for the offense, Newton said to look for a lot of deep-crossing and corner routes that put pressure on safeties.

Nebraska tight ends should be licking their chops because Riley has been known to use them "in a lot of different ways," Newton said. The Huskers last used tight ends extensively in 2012, with Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton.

"Obviously, it depends on what you can do as a player," Newton said. "I caught a lot of passes ranging from 5-yard (out routes), to little 8-yard stops, all the way to deep crosses, seam routes and corner routes.

"And then, the tight end was a tremendous weapon in the red zone. It's a phenomenal offense for a tight end who likes to catch the ball."

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Newton also said something that reaffirms what Riley has been saying since Dec. 5, when he took over the Nebraska job.

"Every year he's going to look at what he has personnel-wise, and he's going to tweak his offense," Newton said. "When I was playing for him, one year we had outstanding running back Steven Jackson."

Jackson, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound workhorse, rushed for 1,545 yards and had 470 receiving yards as a junior in 2003 before leaving for the NFL.

"When Steven left, we went from having a guy who rushed for well over 1,000 yards -- and who was a great pass-catcher out of the backfield, and who scored tons of touchdowns -- to being a different offense where we threw the ball more and were successful doing that."

In Newton's final season, 2006, Oregon State ranked in the top half of the conference in scoring, passing efficiency and first downs.

Bottom line, "Coach Riley will tailor his offense to the personnel and get the most out of what he has," Newton said.

Which could be good news for Nebraska junior Tommy Armstrong, a dual-threat quarterback who started every game last season. Armstrong, who completed 32 of 51 passes for a career-high 381 yards in the Holiday Bowl, has "a little different skill set than I'm used to," Riley has said. But the coach says he's keeping an open mind.

Which evidently is nothing new.

"I played for a lot of different coaches, and coach Riley has as good of an offensive mind as anyone," Newton said. "I think you're going to enjoy watching what he can do with that offense."

* In losing to Purdue, the Nebraska men's basketball team, as a unit, did nothing particularly well, at least nothing that stood out. Watching these Huskers (13-12, 5-8 Big Ten) has become a ponderous exercise. 

Call me crazy, but I still think Tim Miles' crew could generate enough spark to win three more games before the Big Ten Tournament, and perhaps steal a couple more in Chicago. How would NU fans feel about an NIT bid? Would a bid even be in the offing? 

We could start a movement for the NIT to return to using red, white and blue basketballs. The search for fun shall never wane.

* There's nothing fun about Rachel Theriot's ankle injury. She's a joy to watch as a passer, the most natural passer in the Husker women's program since ... I'll go with Anna DeForge (1995-98).

* Anybody catch Mack Brown's speech on the Austin City Limits stage about the late Darrell Royal's love for country music? Royal, the former Texas football coach, would play host to "pickin' parties," with Willie Nelson and heaven knows who else. Now that sounds fun.

Reach the writer 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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