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July 28, 2011

Big Ten Media Day notebook: A warm welcome

CHICAGO - The first day of Big Ten Media Days on Thursday marked the official debut of Nebraska in its new conference, and as could be expected, the Huskers were the talk of the league.

While mostly every coach discussed the addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten at some point during their print, radio and television interviews at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, some coaches seemed especially excited when asked what the Huskers' joining the league meant to them and their programs.

For Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, he said the addition of a storied program like Nebraska and the ensuing national attention it brought to the Big Ten and the Big Ten Network has paid off for the Badgers in a number of ways, especially on the recruiting front.

"When (Big Ten Commissioner) Jim Delany made the decision to bring Nebraska into our league, bring that name and program, I've noticed it overall," Bielema said. "I've noticed it in recruiting. I can't tell you how many times I've had parents or recruits sitting in my office talking about the Big Ten Network and the exposure that it brings, to bring Nebraska in, and for us to be a part of the Leaders Division for the first time in college football history, to have the Big Ten split into two divisions, I'm very privileged, excited."

Iowa's Kirk Ferentz shared Bielema's welcome to Nebraska, saying the new rivalry that is sure to be formed between the Huskers and Hawkeyes has generated a huge buzz and excitement throughout the Iowa fan base.

Ferentz compared the addition to when Penn State joined the Big Ten back in 1990, saying Nebraska will only make the conference stronger and more prestigious on the national level.

"First and foremost, I think it's a fantastic thing for the conference," Ferentz said. "I was in the league for nine years back in the '80s, gone for nine, now I've been back again. I was not here when Penn State joined the league. I think we'd agree that's been a tremendous thing overall. I think this is a move that balances that out, if you will. I was not here during that time of expansion, but what a tremendous program they have. What a tremendous university and tremendous people associated with the program. I think for the conference it's a great thing.

"In our case we have a border that we share. It's certainly I think something that is going to be something very much of interest for the fans. I remember coming to Iowa in 1981, there were probably more Nebraska fans than Iowa fans. Hopefully that's changed a little bit, but time will tell. I think it's a great thing for people in our state."

The warmest reception of all, though, came from Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, who certainly has his share of history and great memories from coaching against Nebraska during his 45 seasons leading the Nittany Lions.

When initial rumors of Big Ten expansion first started, Paterno admitted he was hoping the league would look to a team to the east for obvious regional reasons. After he found out Nebraska would be the new member, Paterno said he couldn't have been happier.

"One thing I feel extremely good about is the fact that Nebraska is in (the Big Ten)," Paterno said. "I think most people know I was trying to get another eastern team in the Big Ten. I was hoping we could either get Rutgers or Pitt or Syracuse because it would be more convenient for us as far as the media and things like that. When we got Nebraska, that was a real coup.

"It's going to make the league tougher. The tougher the other guy is, the better you get, if you're a competitor. I think bringing Nebraska in was a real big asset and I think the league's great."

Bielema takes a not-so-subtle shot at Ohio State

By far the juiciest moment of Day 1 at Big Ten Media Days was when Bielema was asked about all the negative headlines that have surrounded college football over the last few months.

Bielema was not specifically asked about Ohio State and its rash of NCAA violations discovered over the summer, nor did he mention the Buckeyes specifically. However, there was just something about his answer that immediately came across as a direct jab at former OSU head coach Jim Tressel.

"I remember early on in this process when I became a head coach, some of the older coaches in our profession, some guys with more experience, expressed, you have abnormal opportunity as a young coach, the success you're having, to be a great voice for our profession," Bielema said. "I'll never take that lightly. If I had a dream world, I would say hammer the guys that don't do things right.

"To me in my profession, the only thing I get very frustrated about is when I know things go on that aren't right, mainly in recruiting. That's the biggest thing that comes across my desk. People are willingly and knowingly abusing rules and breaking things. To me, when you are consciously aware of abusing a rule, there's no excuse for that.

"If you're trying to be competitive, you're trying to win a football game, all those things, maximize all your opportunities, do what you have to do. But when you consciously break an NCAA rule, to me the only way to deter that is to get rid of people, or seriously hold programs accountable. That's probably the number one thing I would love to see happen in the world of college football."

Bielema wasn't done there, either.

A bit later, the sixth-year coach was asked about his thoughts on issuing far more severe punishments to coaches who are caught knowingly committing NCAA violations, even potentially banning said coaches from ever coaching in the NCAA again.

As harsh as the suggestion may sound, Bielema wasn't at all opposed to the idea.

"You know what, I think the proven thing there is if someone knowingly and willingly violates a rule, I don't see anything wrong with a substantial penalty," Bielema said. "What that is, I'll let other people decide. You know what, when I come across something that I know someone is willingly or knowingly doing, I have no tolerance for that, in my program especially.

"I remind my assistants all the time, as a head coach I'm responsible for so many people. I tell kids all the time in recruiting, I'm going to be in charge of you basically two or three hours on a practice field every day. I don't know what you're going to do at 1:00 on Saturday night. I hope I know because I recruit a young man. I said it earlier, but I think you recruit your own problems."

Shortly after making those comments, Bielema clarified that he was in no way directing what he said at Tressel or Ohio State, but merely speaking in general about coaches who knowingly commit violations.

Either way, there are only a handful of teams who fit the description of who Bielema was talking about, and the Buckeyes were definitely one of them.

Wilson brings Big 12 flavor to Big Ten

Just like Nebraska, Indiana is bringing a bit of the Big 12 Conference to the Big Ten with its first-year head coach Kevin Wilson, who spent the past nine years as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma.

While Wilson won't have the same caliber of players to work with as he did with the Sooners for at least the next couple years, he still plans on running the same type of offense that produced two Heisman Trophy quarterbacks and a slew of other All-Americans.

The Hoosiers may not be that far away from having their own Sam Bradford or Jason White either, as they just landed a commitment from quarterback Gunner Kiel, who was rated the No. 1 overall player in the country by Rivals.com.

However, Wilson insists his first starting quarterback at Indiana will have to earn the roll from the opening day of fall camp.

"You have to earn the position," Wilson said. "You have to earn the respect of your peers. Sam Bradford, we named him 10 days before his first start. Jason White and Nate Hybl are in a battle. We went with Jason, he got hurt. Nate's on the Rose Bowl MVP. Whoever is at Pasadena, which we're all going to be fighting to be out there, if you look on the wall, you'll see Nate Hybl that was in a battle that went down to the last week. I wanted our players to battle it out. I sleep very comfortably when I watched what our kids did this spring."

Quick hits

***Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman said the network has no plans to air high school games of prospective conference recruits even if The Longhorn Network is allowed to do so this season.

"To date, the network has never aired any high school football," Silverman said. "It's not in our current plans. We have a tremendous amount of content we put on the air. Actually last year we ended up televising over 600 live events. For the current time, it's not something we're looking at doing."

***Despite all the buzz surrounding Wisconsin's new transfer quarterback Russell Wilson, Bielema insisted that he's nowhere near naming the Badgers' starting quarterback just yet.

"I was very open with Russell during the recruiting process," Bielema said. "You will have an opportunity to come in and show us what you can do… We said, come in, have this opportunity, take full advantage of it, you'll be the guy that reaps the rewards. I haven't seen Russell Wilson compete one snap competitively in practice. I think I might know what will happen, but until it happens, that's where we're at."

***In his first Big Ten Media Days appearance, Ohio State interim head coach Luke Fickell went through the ringer with a barrage of questions regarding Tressel and the state of OSU's program. To help get through the unenviable position he was handed, Fickell said he's turned to former Buckeye coaches John Cooper and Earle Bruce for advice.

"Everybody has some insight for me," Fickell said. "I'm trying to soak it all in, take it all in. It is a unique situation. You take a piece of each and every person. Just like as a coach, you become a lot of who you've been around. You take a piece of each person that you have been around and each person that has taught you some things. I've done kind of the same thing with all those guys that have been former coaches at Ohio State or guys that have been in similar situations to where I am now."

***If there's one thing you can say about first-year Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, it's that he has no shortage of pride and confidence in his alma mater. When asked what it would take to return the Wolverines back to a national power, Hoke seemed offended at the notion that UM had ever left the ranks of college football's elite programs.

"I don't think we're rebuilding, period," Hoke said. "I mean, we're Michigan. We've got kids who understand that they're Michigan. I don't put any stock into that."

***Even at 84 years old, Paterno can still completely own the room. When asked his thoughts on all the recent scandals in college football, Paterno broke into a story/rant about the ways those issues would've been handled back in the good old days, and he had the hundreds of media members in attendance eating up his every word.

"The old days when I first started to coach, I lived four blocks off the campus," Paterno said. "I used to get a telephone call from one of the campus cops who would say, 'Hey, coach, you better come up here and get a hold of Mike. Too much to drink, making a lot of noise.' I'd go up at 2:00 in the morning, grab Mike, put him in bed, get him up at 5:00 in the morning, run his rear-end off for a week. You guys never heard about it.

"Every once in a while I hear one of these guys that I know a little bit about when they were 19 and 20, I'm talking about all the kids today, they ought to go back and read Socrates. Socrates, 400 years BC, said, 'The kids today are terrible, tyrants. They don't pay attention.' That's 2,500 years ago, OK? Anyway, I'm shooting my mouth off too much. Let's go (laughter)."

***Wilson revealed a unique and interesting coaching philosophy he's using in his first offseason at Indiana where he refuses to watch any film of last season. Instead of evaluating his players on what they've done in the past, Wilson is going off solely the 15 practices the Hoosiers will hold before their season opener.

"I have yet to watch one snap of last year's games," Wilson said. "If you're a police officer trying to catch me, you're going to have to chase me a while because I'm not looking in the rearview mirror. I'm looking forward."

***Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald gave an update on quarterback Dan Persa, who ruptured his Achilles tendon in last year's win over Iowa.

"He's going to be back, it's going to be a little bit different because his body is going to operate a little bit different," Fitzgerald said. "He's 100 percent healed from the standpoint of the surgery, now it's about adding the strength, getting the conditioning level up, getting back to having fun. I know he's chomping at the bit to play football again."

***One of the biggest storylines for Iowa heading into fall camp is replacing quarterback and team leader Ricky Stanzi. Ferentz said he's fully confident in junior James Vandenberg to pick up right where Stanzi left off.

"We've had a chance to watch him over the past year getting ready and preparing as if he were going to be the starter," Ferentz said. "I think he really took advantage of his opportunities last year. He's really grown. Sometimes good players get stuck behind good players. I think that's really what we have with James. We had a great confidence level in him last year. Obviously Ricky Stanzi was our quarterback. He has a nice window of opportunity and he's worked hard to prepare for this moment."

***Entering his seventh year at Illinois, head coach Ron Zook can't believe he is now the third-longest tenured coach in the Big Ten behind Paterno and Ferentz. In a way, Zook said that could be somewhat of a disadvantage when it comes to preparing for all of these new schemes around the conference.

"The teams that you're the most familiar with, usually you're able to have the best plans for," Zook said. "Maybe be looking for some expectations or expecting some things that may happen. When you have new staffs, new offenses and defenses, there's a lot of new things that are hard to prepare for."

***Purdue head coach Danny Hope is excited about many aspects of his football team coming into the season, but there wasn't a coach more excited about his kicker than Hope. When asked about senior kicker Carson Wiggs, Hope didn't hold back from dishing out the praise.

"He brings a lot to our football team," Hope said. "I think he's the most exciting field goal kicker in all of football. He nails world record field goals on a regular basis in practice. If you look at other athletes that train, if they train at world record performance on a regular basis in practice, that's always a good sign. So I think Carson Wiggs is a special player."



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