Pelini confident Cornhuskers will adjust, succeed in Big Ten

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini vows, 'We're going to do our thing. We're going to play our way.' (US Presswire)  
Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini vows, 'We're going to do our thing. We're going to play our way.' (US Presswire)  

CHICAGO -- Nebraska made its unofficial debut as the newest member of the Big Ten on Thursday and Coach Bo Pelini wasn't shy about the Cornhuskers' plans in their new conference home.

"We're going to do what we do and we're going to do it well," Pelini said at the Big Ten's Football Kickoff at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. "We're not really going to adapt what we do to the conference.

"We're going to hopefully make the conference adapt to what we do."

The conference already is adapting.

Thursday's Big Ten Football Kickoff press conference -- except for a steady stream of questions about former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel (did Michigan State's Mark Dantonio really call him a "tragic hero"?) -- was dominated by discussion about the league's newest member.

Eight of the other Big Ten coaches managed to give Nebraska some love -- whether they actually meant it or not. Only Illinois' Ron Zook, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Ohio State's Luke Fickell did not utter the word "Nebraska" during each coach's opening press conference.

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Nebraska was mentioned 14 times by the remaining eight coaches. Coaches usually prefer not to acknowledge opponents, especially conference rivals, but there was no shorten of admiration for the Cornhuskers.

At one point, I expected Jim Delany to look into the Big Ten Network cameras and whisper: "I see red people."

Penn State's Joe Paterno admitted he initially hoped the league would have added an Eastern school, such as Rutgers, Pittsburgh or Syracuse. But said he felt "extremely good" about getting Nebraska.

"When we got Nebraska, that was a real coup," Paterno said. "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."

Here's what the Big Ten is going to get: one of the most -- if not the most -- passionate and devoted fan bases in America and a program that ranks fourth all-time in victories, including first in victories since 1970.

By the way, with the addition of Nebraska, the Big Ten now features four of college football's all-time six winningest programs: No. 1 Michigan (884 victories), No. 4 Nebraska (837), No. 5 Ohio State (831) and No. 6 Penn State (818).

The Cornhuskers won or tied for the North Division title in each of their last three seasons in the Big 12, but haven't won a conference title since 1999.

Although the Big Ten doesn't conduct a preseason poll, the Cornhuskers are generally regarded as the Legends Division favorite and expected to be ranked in the top 10 when the Associated Press preseason poll is released next month.

Those lofty expectations might be difficult to achieve, however, with a league schedule featuring road games against Wisconsin, Minnesota, Penn State and Michigan and home dates with Ohio State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa.

"Obviously the schedule makers didn't do us any favors in our first year, did they?" Pelini said. "You want to play against the best."

"You come to play college football to be challenged, trying to be the best you can be. You do that by playing against tremendous opponents, great coaching and in a great environment. We're going to have all that in year one."

Besides playing a tougher overall schedule in the Big Ten, Pelini also expects a tougher style of play than the Cornhuskers' previous conference. It's what he experienced while playing safety at Ohio State from 1987-90.

"It's hard-nosed, tough football," Pelini said. "Those are the type of kids that play for these teams. The coaching is always tremendous. I see that hasn't changed. It's always been a physical, hard-nosed style [of player] that plays in the Big Ten. I see it on the film. That hasn't changed."

Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David welcomes the Big Ten style of play after having to deal with the large number of spread offenses in the Big 12.

"The [worst thing about the Big 12] was the spread offenses, man," David said. "They spread you out. You have to run all over the place."

Added Nebraska I-back Rex Burkhead: "I think the Big Ten and Big 12 are both great conferences. I think they're a little bit different styles. The Big 12 is more spread 'open up' offenses. The Big Ten is more power running."

Pelini said regardless of the style, the Cornhuskers will be prepared.

"I don't know if it's about style of play or anything else," Pelini said. "We feel like we can line up and play against anybody in the country. We're going to do our thing. We're going to play our way. Obviously you have to make some adjustments according to who you're playing in a particular week. But we feel like our style, the type of kids we recruit, the type of football team we put on the field can fit into any conference

"Is the style of play a little bit different [in the Big Ten]? In some ways yes, in some ways no. Football is football. You're going to win by the basics, the fundamentals. If you're good at those things, you're going to win football games, no matter who you're playing, no matter what conference you're in."

Pelini acknowledged the biggest difference will be getting acclimated to their new conference opponents. Although Nebraska is 31-6 against Big Ten members since 1970, NU hasn’t played a Big Ten team since beating Michigan in the 2005 Alamo Bowl.

Nebraska's last road game against a Big Ten opponent came in 2002 in a 40-7 loss at Penn State.

"There are eight new [conference opponents this year], a lot of unknowns," Pelini said. "We're going to play against different opponents, but at the same time it will be different for our opponents that have to play us.

"The difference is we have to play eight of them, they only have to plus us once. We'll see how it goes. It's going to be a great thing for football team and our university. Hopefully it will be real smooth and we can win a championship. That's what we want to do -- win a championship for our football team."

Pelini didn't want to discuss the Cornhuskers' past life in the Big 12. "I'm looking ahead, not looking back," he said. "I'm ready to move forward. All I'm concentrating on is what we have lying ahead."

Pelini already knows what he hopes will be Nebraska's biggest benefit by joining the Big Ten Conference. That could be realized on Dec. 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the first Big Ten championship.

"If we're in Indianapolis standing at the podium," Pelini said. "I'll think it's a great deal."

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