Bo Pelini was on the offensive following the Nebraska football team’s final bowl practice in Lincoln. “All right, guys,” he said as he approached reporters, “first of all, there’s some . . .”
Clearly, he had anticipated the first question.
“The irresponsible reports out there aren’t true,” he said. “I have not interviewed for Penn State. And I’m not saying anything anymore on that.”
The Nittany Lions are looking for a head coach to replace Joe Paterno, of course. And according to a newspaper report in Harrisburg, Pa., Pelini had talked to Penn State officials.
The report quickly spread through social media and provided the short-lived post-practice topic, as well as a back-drop of sorts for the Huskers’ preparations for the Capital One Bowl.
As if a special back-drop were needed.
Where Nebraska football is concerned, there are always plenty of issues, it seems. And the circumstances surrounding the Huskers’ bowl match-up against South Carolina – and the ol’ ball coach Steve Spurrier – in Orlando, Fla., on Jan. 2 were no exception.
Besides the Penn State rumor, Pelini had to deal with off-field issues related to senior center Mike Caputo, a two-year starter, and junior defensive end Eric Martin, whose offense was the less serious of the two. Both were disciplined “internally” and will play in the game.
Pelini also had to deal with the departure of his defensive coordinator brother Carl, who was named head coach at Florida Atlantic in early December and began his new job immediately.
Before the team left for Orlando on the day after Christmas, Pelini had announced the promotion of defensive line coach John Papuchis to defensive coordinator and the hiring of Rick Kaczenski to coach the defensive line, his job the past five seasons at Iowa.
There were other less significant matters, such as banning players from tweeting, with which Pelini had to deal as the Huskers prepared for 10-2 South Carolina, ranked No. 9 or No. 10 depending on the poll.
As for the Capital One Bowl, it was as good as Nebraska could have gotten, short of a BCS bowl, with the highest non-BCS payout, about $4.6 million per team. It offers warm weather for Husker fans, and a new experience, after the Huskers’ back-to-back trips to the Holiday Bowl.
Nebraska will be playing in the Capital One Bowl for the first time, though the Huskers did lose to Georgia Tech in its previous life as the Citrus Bowl following the 1990 season.
That was a forgettable afternoon, the final score 45-21.
South Carolina will be a formidable foe, from what is generally considered the strongest conference in the country, the SEC. The Gamecocks are fast and physical, according to Papuchis.
“It’s going to be a challenge. I don’t know if it necessarily has anything to do with the conference they’re in, but they’re a well-coached team, and they play hard,” he said.
“And they have a good offensive scheme.”
Apparently, that has allowed them to overcome losses of a starting quarterback and running back.
Their strength, however, is defense. They rank fourth nationally in total defense and 13th in scoring defense, as well as second in pass defense and pass efficiency defense.
Even though Nebraska came up short of its goal of reaching the Big Ten championship game, a victory would give the Huskers 10 for a third consecutive season, no small accomplishment.
“It’s something we can always say we did,” said senior fullback Tyler Legate.
Spurrier, against whom Pelini first coached as an NFL assistant and then when he was defensive coordinator at SEC-rival LSU, called the Capital One Bowl an opportunity of a lifetime for a South Carolina program that has never won 11 games.
“Every time you play it’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Pelini. “You’ve got to respect every opportunity you get to go out there and compete.”
As it turned out, he did say more about the subject of coaching vacancies after the final practice in Lincoln, in response to a question as to whether he was flattered by having his name mentioned.
“There’s all kinds of speculation all the time,” Pelini said. “I don’t address all those rumors and irresponsible reports that are going on. If I addressed every coaching job, every opening that was going on in the country, I wouldn’t do anything else.”
And there’s plenty else to do as head coach at Nebraska.