All right, we're coming into the home stretch of the Big Ten season, and it probably stands to reason that most fans can't wait to get this year over with and move onto the next one. Next season is when Ohio State gets to go to the bowls like everyone else, so for as wonderful a first season as Urban Meyer is having, it's still lacking.
Michigan State obviously can't wait for this year to end. Same with Iowa. The quicker Penn State can get the sanctions over with the better, and Illinois and Purdue would prefer we just never mention 2012 again. And while Michigan's still having a decent season, suffice it to say Denard Robinson wanted to accomplish just a little bit more than this in his senior season.
Don't look now, though, but Nebraska is in a groove—and on the fast track to the Rose Bowl. All the Huskers need to do is beat Minnesota and Iowa (or just beat one and wait for Ohio State to take down Michigan), then dispatch Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship and it's off to Pasadena.
Oregon's not in line to be there waiting; even though the Ducks are the best team in the Pac-12, they've got bigger goals at this point, ones that end with hoisting a crystal football. And there doesn't look to be another slam-dunk option in the Pac-12 to replace Oregon in the Rose Bowl. So who does CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm project to go there instead?
Comment: With Ohio State ineligible for a bowl, Nebraska lands here as the Big Ten champion. Since no Pac-12 team will be eligible to replace Oregon, the Rose grabs Notre Dame to replace Oregon.
That's right: Nebraska and Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl, a situation that, in retrospect, probably sounded profane as little as 24 months ago but sounds kind of awesome now.
It'd be the first time Nebraska and Notre Dame had met in a bowl game in 40 years, right down to the day. The two teams squared off in the Orange Bowl after the '72 season, and Nebraska thrashed the Fighting Irish there, 40-6.
The two teams also played a two-game series in 2000 and 2001—again, both Nebraska wins—but that was Frank Solich coaching against Bob Davie, so let's just say we're not exactly talking about Bob Devaney and Ara Parseghian squaring off there.
The game would be close. It'd be a lot of fun to watch. The Notre Dame defense would give Nebraska's option attack fits, especially up front, so anyone expecting fireworks from this game would likely be disappointed.
And yet Notre Dame is only scoring 26 points a game this year, good enough for 77th in the nation, so if Nebraska can keep the Irish at 20 points or fewer in regulation (something that has happened in five of Notre Dame's 10 games thus far), the game should be close enough that Nebraska is within striking distance late.
What a Husker win in this game would really accomplish goes deeper than just Taylor Martinez walking around with a rose in his mouth after the final gun, though. Nebraska's at No. 16 in the AP poll as of right now and No. 14 in the BCS. If it doesn't crack the Top 10 by the time bowl season runs around, it'll be really, really close—close enough that beating Notre Dame would be the last push it needed.
That would have a significant impact on not only the national standing of Nebraska—a program that hasn't had a season with two losses or fewer since 2001—but the Big Ten as a whole. The knock on the Big Ten for years has been that its best teams couldn't get it done against elite national competition when it came down to the big bowl games. And that is absolutely an earned reputation, and one that looked to be true again this year.
So what would it say if the Big Ten's second-best team could waltz into Pasadena and knock off a powerhouse like Notre Dame en route to a Top 10 finish? Sure, the center of the conference would be as soft and doughy as ever, but remember—that's not how conferences get judged. It's by what their best teams do come January (see: the SEC rightfully crowing about its streak of national championships), and it's hard to imagine a better accomplishment for the Big Ten than Nebraska taking down Notre Dame in Pasadena.