He is ... the most interesting man in the Big Ten.

At a spirited, defiant press conference after losing to Iowa, he dared his athletic director to fire him. And kept working.

At the spring game, he led the team into the stadium holding a live cat. Why? Because he could.

After years of denying he cared about his image, and this thing called Twitter, he let the cat, well, out of the bag. He cares and he reads.

He’s been a hard-liner on player behavior. But last year he took in an offensive line transfer from Colorado who served a 45-day jail sentence for third-degree assault. And he welcomed a wide receiver transfer from Washington who was involved in an incident in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault.

The offensive lineman is expected to bring a nasty “edge” to Nebraska’s O-line. The kid from Washington jumped to Ole Miss after committing to Nebraska.

Maybe Pelini is learning what most college coaches eventually find out: Nasty difference-makers win championships.

Whatever, these were situations that Bo Pelini never would have touched earlier in his Nebraska coaching career.

Back before he was the cat whisperer.

Is the furry friend softening up tough guy Bo? Is he taking a cue from Husker Hoops’ funny front man, Tim Miles?

Or is this what you do when your career flashes before your eyes and then the press release comes from the boss that all is well?

Where is Bo Pelini and what have you done with him? The Pelini who comes to Chicago on Monday has never been more compelling. And, dare we say, media friendly?

This is a coach who suggests doing away with national signing day. A defensive guy who runs an up-tempo offense. A coach who opens up practices to the media while most other coaches are putting padlocks on access.

Interesting guy. But is anyone interested?

It’s been awhile since Pelini was seen as a rising star in college football. Now his seventh Husker team is picked to finish third, behind Wisconsin and Iowa, in the Big Ten West.

Now Pelini, and Nebraska, fit nicely next to Illinois and Purdue and Minnesota and Iowa into the background for Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio and Penn State’s James Franklin, who will be the exciting new face for Big Ten media.

Big Ten Boss Jim Delany will get his at-bat for a state-of-college-sports speech, and you wonder what headline Delany will go for, since it seems that’s what college commissioners do these days.

Somebody will mention that Rutgers and Maryland are in the house, but darned if anyone can name their coaches. Or fight songs.

Oh sure, Pelini is bound to get some traffic from media types looking for a quick sound bite about the cat. That’s Nebraska football. The coach who didn’t get fired and held up a cat.

For Husker fans, it’s enough to make you laugh. Or cry.

It’s hard to remember a year when Nebraska entered a season further under the radar. Third behind the Badgers and Hawkeyes? Really?

Maybe you’re enraged. Or maybe you can’t offer up a decent argument.

Ameer Abdullah can argue NU’s case. And argue well. The senior running back has siblings who are lawyers.

Nebraska football’s image has taken some hits over the past year, but Abdullah will come to the rescue. He’s been picked to give the “student-athlete” speech at Tuesday’s massive Big Ten lunch.

It’s expected to be only five minutes long, but it’s a big deal for Abdullah, and for Nebraska. He’ll deliver. And he’s not bad with the football, either.

Football? Oh, yeah. That.

What lies under the radar could be interesting, too. This is Pelini’s most talented bunch, especially on defense, since 2009. Back when he had a chip, instead of a pet, on his shoulder.

The third-place pick speaks volumes, though. Wisconsin and Iowa aren’t loaded with more talent than NU. What it says is Big Ten folks have seen enough not to trust Pelini, even with a better defense, a new quarterback and a bowl win over Georgia.

Nebraska football is an afterthought these days, relevant for being irrelevant. But you knew that. You’ve been sledgehammered over the head with that narrative. We’d all love to move on.

Maybe this is that year. Look at the flip side. What a story that would be.

If Pelini finally won that championship, with his team sneaking around as an underdog, the national media would be lined up from here to Bristol, Connecticut, to tell the tale about the coach who stared down his A.D. and came out a winner.

There’s nothing more interesting than winning.

The road begins on Monday in Chicago.

Let’s hope he doesn’t bring the cat.

Contact the writer:

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Video: Pelini enters Memorial Stadium with cat

Video: First segment of "The Bottom Line" football roundtable with Shatel, Jon Nyatawa and Sam McKewon. Watch the full roundtable here.

Video: Big Red Today Show, July 24

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