At Nebraska, only the faces change

The pomp and circumstance of a media onslaught can be off-putting at times. It can put players and coaches both in moods where you might not get what you hope. Yes, sometimes we reach for answers by asking certain questions. But sometimes we just want them to talk. Call Bo Pelini and company refreshing from that standpoint. That's exactly what they do.

From the start of a conversation to the end of it, Bo is Bo.

That's to say he is who he is, the mood of his delivery and receptiveness often dictated by how his players practiced that day.

But there wasn't any practice this morning. I doubt even Bo could find the time or the room to run goal-line situations or third-down scenarios on jetliner he and a trio of Huskers took to Dallas today for the event.

So, that's the good news, at least. We knew there wasn't a practice prior to this, which if it didn't go quite as planned, our responses would have been "yeah", "no" and "what do you think?".

That's not to say that "happy" Bo is going to give you dissertations after each question or diatribes recounting the varying intricacies of a position, his team and perhaps the game itself. It will be "yeah", "no" and "what do you think", but with kind of a grin.

That's why we like him. Or at least, that's why I like him. In the media you often find yourself wishing for some flair. You want some panache. You want a guy who will make these question and answer sessions not only informative, but entertaining.

After the last Head Coach, I like boring. I like simple. I like things being what they are.

That means when Bo Pelini heads to the podium you know exactly what you are going to get. And you can ask the same question two thousand different times. It won't matter. In one year of being an official Head Coach he's learned the angles. I wouldn't call him savvy, necessarily, when it comes to dealing with the media.

He's just Bo

It's funny and a little ironic, I used to complain that a post-practice session with Frank Solich was akin to watching paint dry, only the paint was infinitely more colorful. Bo has his moments, but it's mostly much of the same thing, but delivered in such a way that Bo is clearly not as concerned with what he says or how he says it.

He says it

That's it

All of this is a preface to the day today, if only to indicate that there weren't going to be any surprises. Outside of perhaps some changes in regard to injuries, nothing climactic was going to be learned. In that regard sophomore linebacker Matt Holt might be questionable for the season with an unspecified injury, according to the Head Coach. But Pelini did say that junior Jaivorio Burkes would not participate with the team this year, still battling health issues, also unspecified as to exactly what they were.

One of the odd things which came up, and I can't really say why I think it's odd. Maybe it's due to the fact that we cover Nebraska, and we see in other reports, posts on boards and now blogs, facebook posts and "tweets" – plenty of stuff that tells me fans of Nebraska are happy with where the program is going. But nobody is saying they are back.

Yet that was the line of questioning, for the most part. Is Nebraska back? What will take to get them all the way back? If they are back, why? One reporter even asked a question where they prefaced it by saying "Nebraska fans think you guys are back."

Maybe he meant Nebraska fans in Greenwich. I think up there Jerry Tagge just lept over the end zone, ball outstretched, as the Huskers won their first national title under Bob Devaney.

I haven't heard a single Husker fan, not one, say that this team is ready to take on and beat USC and Florida, and you know darn well they aren't exactly penciling in the "W" for the up-coming home game with the Sooners.

After just the first quarter of the disaster down in Norman last year, not penciling in the "L" in April would be a nice start.

But it's Nebraska. It's Oklahoma. It's tradition.

Much like your Sears credit card at Kohl's, that doesn't mean much in the end.

"We embrace the tradition. There are ways to do that, but it's about putting on the pads and representing that "N" the right way, and the only way to do that is to go to work every day and do what you are supposed to do," Pelini said. "My focus is to do the best job on a daily basis and win football games. If I do the job that I set out to do every single day and each season, we'll get to where we need to be. The way I do, I do my job and let the chips fall where they may.

"I let you guys (media) worry about the Nebraska of old and the Nebraska new. That's not my focus."

It's ours, of course, but even players, those youthful-energetic-oft-times a little too verbally spontaneous players, didn't give into the emotion of a dramatic turnaround of the team from a year where they won just five games, ranked as one of the worst defenses in the country and didn't make a bowl - to nine wins, a bowl-victory and maybe just a little respect.

Nope, not buying it.

"We haven't done anything this year. Last year is done. It won't score us a single point this season," said senior center Jacob Hickman who looks as if he will keep playing center this year providing junior offensive lineman Ricky Henry works out well at right guard. "The more you look behind, whether it's good or bad, the more you aren't looking to the future.

"You aren't going to get better doing that."

Obviously, Bo would agree.

Point of fact, when we being the media, all seem to be concerned about the future and assuming that this prediction of the North title this year validates our optimism, however subtle, Pelini says that he makes sure his players aren't thinking the same thing. "If they start talking about being the North favorite, I can ground them pretty quick. It's not about all that," Pelini said with a gruff laugh. "We are going to either win or or lose it on the field. All those predictions – I could care less."

Bo cares about football.

He cares about his players, of course, but on a day like this we aren't looking for feel-good. We were looking for feel-great. This indication that though they tried to hide it, mask it, do anything they could to make sure we didn't see it, we caught it – just that faint little glimpse. Call it a wink, if you will.

It's a nod to the crowd, that ever-faithful fan base, around 85,000 of which will be in attendance this year for the 300th consecutive sellout in Nebraska football history.

It's that little indication that things weren't just going that direction. They were there, but with all these subtle deliveries over the last year, they managed to make a nine-win season look ordinary. We never saw it coming. Nebraska actually is back, and something these guys would do would tell us that.

Nope, nothing.

It's like defense. When Bo talks defense, here is a guy who has coached at every level, been in Super Bowls and been a Coordinator for a national champ. When he talks people listen. If you know you have their attention, a good salesman uses this opportunity to drive the point home, so by the end of it nothing else needs to be said.

We couldn't even get that.

"Playing good defense is about being fundamentally sound and executing. It's all about execution. These offenses aren't reinventing the wheel," Pelini said after being asked about the improvement of his squad from the woeful defense they were just two years ago. "Playing great technique, executing play after play. It's not magical. I think people put too much into it. It's not about out scheming people. It's about out executing people. I think people have lost sight (of that).

"It's not about tricking somebody. It's about dominating somebody."

Not even someone fishing for a response, asking about the run-in with Bill Snyder following the Kansas State loss in 2003, got even a glimmer.

"That's water under the bridge. That was six years ago," Pelini said with a laugh.

But when the dust had settled we did get a prediction from Bo. We got him to commit to whether or not Nebraska was back, what their record would be and he talked about how the North has finally closed the gap with the south and perhaps even overcame them on the field and in recruiting.

OK, maybe not.

Someone did try, though, to get Pelini to flat out admit that the South was better, because he asked about the disparity that still existed. He wanted to know how much better the south was. Bo may not be big for predictions in Nebraska's favor, but he's also not hip about you putting a coffin nail in his team and apparently his division, before the season has even been played. "Is it? We'll find out. We'll find out what happens this year, won't we?" he said. "They had three teams in the top five (last year). It's pretty hard to match up with that, so obviously it played out that the South was ahead.

"It's a new year coming up, though, right?"

In year two there is a different mind-set which Pelini himself has admitted to. It's one where he said that instead of starting over he's beginning again. The difference comes from knowing your players, getting a feel for their personality and more importantly, imprinting your personality on them.

And with Bo it isn't pretty. But it's not ugly either. It's blue collar, lunch pail kind of stuff, kind of boring, but kind of exciting too.

There is an old saying about there being this calm before the storm. The only way that means anything is if the storm itself is something to see. The "calm" is, of course, our own interpretation of what is going on right now, because Pelini and company aren't giving an inch.

Guess what?

That's never going to change. What you see today is what you will see next year, the year after and the year after that. Only the faces of the players will change.

I can live with that.

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