The Nebraska Cornhuskers will play a two-game football series with the Cincinnati Bearcats, according to an announcement by the Nebraska athletic department Thursday.
The Bearcats will travel to Lincoln for the first game scheduled for September 12, 2020, and the Cornhuskers will play at Cincinnati on September 13, 2025. Both are the only non-conference games scheduled thus far for Nebraska in those respective seasons.
The reason for Nebraska’s eagerness to make long-term arrangements with Cincinnati is perplexing.
The Cornhuskers’ typical non-conference scheduling has included one marquee, major-conference opponent and other less prestigious ones to to fill in the gaps.
But the Bearcats do not seem to fit either mold.
The home-and-home arrangement suggests that Cincinnati is being considered a big-name opponent. As a member of the Big East that has appeared in 11 bowls in 13 years (two of which were BCS bowls), Cincinnati has seemingly earned that distinction.
Conference realignment, however, has landed the Bearcats in the newly formed American Athletic Conference. Without the Big East’s name and quality of competition, it may be difficult for them to maintain that level of success.
This matchup may seem intriguing (the schools have only met once before) and competitive right now, but the uncertainty about Cincinnati’s future brings this all into question.
So perhaps Cincinnati is meant to be a filler non-conference opponent, like Northern Illinois or Wyoming. If that is the case, then why must the Big Red travel to Cincinnati and only receive one home game in return?
The Northern Illinois series does not include any games hosted by the Huskies. And in return for Nebraska's 2011 trip to Wyoming, the Cowboys agreed to play the Huskers several times in Lincoln. In addition, the game in Laramie provided Nebraska fans in the western part of the state a more accessible venue to see the Big Red.
Going to Cincinnati, though, will be a tough sell for Nebraska’s normally strong traveling fanbase. Sure, it is a new destination. But the likely poor quality of opponent and distance simply cannot outweigh the intrigue of a unique non-conference date.
This series must then be motivated by Nebraska’s quest to strengthen its position in the Big Ten recruiting landscape. Another trip to the heart of Big Ten country must be designed to increase the Cornhuskers’ exposure to Ohio’s recruiting hotbed.
But there must be a better option.
Why not more aggressively pursue a home-and-home series with Notre Dame or Kentucky, programs that have much more certain futures? Or why not another two-for-one arrangement with Toledo or Ohio?
If Nebraska had recruiting in mind when it penned this deal with Cincinnati, it is going about it the wrong way.
For there are many ways to increase the Big Red’s exposure in Big Ten recruiting grounds. And scheduling a one-for-one deal with a program slipping from its place in college football relevance is not one of them.
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