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December 31, 2011

Husker Buzz: Taking center stage

ORLANDO, Fla. - Nebraska's John Papuchis worked the room on Saturday at the Capital One Bowl coordinator press conference like an old veteran.

If you were to just listen to Papuchis talk, you would think he's been a long time coordinator. It's hard to imagine he's just 32 years old and already a coordinator at a place like NU.

To put that in perspective, the only other coordinator the Huskers have had that young was Tom Osborne when he took over in 1969 under Bo Devaney. Like Papuchis, Osborne was also 32 years old when he became Nebraska's offensive coordinator after working as a position coach the previous five seasons.

Just to hear Papuchis talk about his path getting to where he's at is fascinating. Papuchis didn't play a down of college football and he began his coaching career as a volunteer assistant coach at Blacksburg High School in Virginia.

Papuchis then took the graduate assistant coach route and was hired at Kansas by Mark Mangino after sending out several different letters inquiring about coaching jobs at Division I football programs. From there he left KU and served as an intern coach under Bo Pelini at LSU before taking his first fulltime staff job at Nebraska in 2008.

It's a true success story. For every John Papuchis there are a thousand other guys who have tried to be him but came up short. Papuchis got the right breaks, but most importantly as offensive coordinator Tim Beck said on Saturday he's got the "it" factor.

"It's rare you final a guy like J.P.," Beck said. "He endured. He took the path a lot of people don't want to take. He took the path a lot of people don't want to take. It's a microwave society anymore. They want to pop it in for 30 seconds and be where they need to be.

"He has the 'it' factor. That's what good coaches recognize when people have that 'it' factor, which makes them different than other people. There are a lot of hard working people, there are a lot of guys that put in the hours and coach ball and run around and scream, but there are just a handful of people that are different. They have 'it.' You can't really describe it, but they have 'it' and that's why he's where he's at and as successful as he is."

Monday will obviously be Papuchis's first ever game as Nebraska's defensive coordinator, but he made one point clear that Pelini will always have the final say on the defense and make a majority of the calls.

I know Pelini tried to hand more play calling duties over to his brother Carl Pelini this past year, but I think it's pretty clear he's more comfortable in a role where he calls the game.

"Regardless of whom the coordinator is Bo (Pelini) is going to make a majority of the calls, if not all and that's always going to be the case and that's how it should be," Papuchis said. "He's gotten to the point where he is in his career because he's a tremendous defensive coach and he has the talent to call games and does a great job.

"At the end of the day he'll make most of the calls. Like we talk a lot about our defense, everything we do is a team or collaborative effort. We game plan as a staff, we make game day decisions as a staff and a lot of times we discuss calls as a group. At the end of the day Coach is going to make the decision, but we are all going to have our input."

Okafor pondering med school

Junior Nebraska running back Collins Okafor told me this week in Orlando that he's currently applied to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and he should know officially if he gets accepted by February.

Okafor is set to graduate in May and if he gets accepted to UNMC, his plan is to forgo his fifth season at NU and enroll in medical school the fall of 2012.

It has obviously not been the type of career Okafor would've wanted at Nebraska, but he remains positive through it all.

He told me that playing at NU has been a great life lesson for him and he's learned a lot from it. Most importantly he'll graduate in four years and have a chance to attend medical school, which in some ways trumps any accomplishment he could've made on the football field.

Martinez 'one of the guys'

Over the last year, you heard a lot of stories or rumors about quarterback Taylor Martinez not being "one of the guys."

However, I can tell you after being around him all week and seeing him at some of the team functions here in Orlando, he's very much a leader of this football team.

Martinez constantly had a group of football players with him at all events and was always open to do interviews the three or four times I approached him this week.

Martinez was smiling and having fun. These are things I don't think most people get to see. I think he's come a long way since taking over the starting job in 2010.

Balancing the fun

I've covered every Nebraska bowl game since 2001, and the Capital One Bowl is very unique to me because of the large number of activities built around the week.

There were three straight days of theme park visits, a trip to an Orlando Magic game and time spent at the Disney Quest video arcade with local area youths before practice one day. I thought Pelini was smart to bring his team down a day earlier, because there were so many days of activities and events for the players.

NU was able to be finished with all of their park visits by Thursday, where South Carolina was a day behind wrapping up things on Friday at Sea World.

Director of football operations Jeff Jamrog told me when he spoke to a Penn State official about what to expect in Orlando for the bowl week, he said the heavy slate of activities was something to make sure you had a plan for.

However, Beck said he felt like the players did a good job of balancing out the fun and not overdoing it.

"You know, you'd be surprised. They had shuttles running all the time, so if a guy went to a park he might be there from 2 to 4 and be home," Beck said. "It wasn't like we were there from 'this time to that time' and we had to be there."

For the stat geeks: Ticket sales struggling for Capital One Bowl

Nebraska returned around 4,000 tickets to the Capital One Bowl and South Carolina has returned roughly 2,000 from their allotment.

HuskerOnline.com's ticket partner SeatGeek.com gave us some interesting data just on how much Capital One Bowl ticket sales slowed down this month. SeatGeek.com pulls the data from every single major online ticket broker, including Ebay. I expect to see a crowd of around 50,000 in the 68,000 seat stadium.

***Ticket prices for the Capital One Bowl have actually decreased substantially in the past few weeks. The matchup was officially announced on December 4th and tickets sold through SeatGeek rose to prices of $147.55 on the day of the announcement. However, since then, prices have decreased steadily and are currently selling for $74.51 as of December 28 on the secondary market, according to SeatGeek. Tickets in Nebraska and South Carolina's allotments were being sold for $87.

***The overall average of tickets sold for the Capital One Bowl is $125.26 according to SeatGeek, only marginally higher than the $115.14 average price for what is often a lower-profile game in the Champs Sports Bowl. This is interesting in light of the New Year's Day slot for the Capital One Bowl, which just 6 years ago had made a serious bid to enter the BCS bowl rotation. The Capital One Bowl also maintains the largest payout of any non-BCS bowl game.

***The cheapest seat for the Capital One Bowl posted on SeatGeek was $23 on Dec. 28, while the most expensive seat will cost you $1,043.


Sean Callahan can be reached at sean@huskeronline.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.


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