Nebraska Cornhusker fans got a surprise when it was announced that NU would be playing the Georgia Bulldogs—again—in the Gator Bowl. Rather than a rematch of last year’s Capital One Bowl, most were expecting Nebraska to be selected by the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ari. to face a Big 12 opponent.
Reaction to the announcement was, shall we say, less than universally enthusiastic.
@Gator_Bowl so, neither Nebraska nor Georgia want to play each other again in your bowl. Hope you have lots of tarps to cover empty seats.— Sean Kelly (@skelly54) December 9, 2013
huskerzone (@huskerzone) December 9, 2013
@Gator_Bowl ANNOUNCEMENT: WTF— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) December 11, 2013
(As a brief aside—did you ever think you’d see the day where Nebraska fans were genuinely upset about getting snubbed by something called the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl? Strange days, indeed.)
While a rematch against Bill Snyder and the old-school Purples certainly would have been fun, there are good reasons for Nebraska fans to view the Gator Bowl selection as a positive.
It’s A Reality Check
For 2013, the Gator Bowl was fourth in the pecking order of bowls with Big Ten ties, coming after the Captial One, Outback and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowls. Wisconsin was a no-brainer for the Capital One Bowl after Ohio State and Michigan State were snapped up by BCS bowls.
But it’s after that where Nebraska fans got a dose of reality. The Outback Bowl selected 8-4 Iowa over 8-4 Nebraska. Sure, the Hawkeyes beat Nebraska, which makes the selection on the field make sense. But bowl selections aren’t necessarily earned on the field. Bowls pick teams they think will fill the seats and bring fans to the tube.
At one point in history, a bowl game with the option to pick Nebraska or Iowa (which the Outback Bowl had this year) would have taken Nebraska in a heartbeat, given the difference in national cache between the two programs. No longer, clearly.
The reality of Nebraska’s diminished national stature was brought into even sharper focus when the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl selected Michigan, a 7-5 team with a losing conference record that Nebraska beat in Ann Arbor, over the Cornhuskers. Apparently Big Blue was a better national draw for the bowl organizers than Big Red, at least in the current environment.
Those aren’t easy words for Nebraska fans to read. And it should not be read as a death knell for Nebraska as a player on the national stage in college football. Other storied programs, like Alabama and USC, were dormant for years before being re-energized by success on the field.
But the fact remains that Nebraska has not won a conference title since 1999—14 years ago. That means college football fans in their early 20s—a significant portion of the fanbase—were in grade school or middle school the last time Nebraska was a conference champion. It would make sense that fans of that age would look at Nebraska as a program with a great history, but one that has never been relevant for them.
Again, that doesn’t mean Nebraska can’t return to that position of national relevance. But it is a reminder to Nebraska fans that they shouldn’t expect that national relevance until NU does something to earn it on the field in this century.
It’s A Better Opportunity
Sure, it’s better to win a bowl game than to lose one; I will stipulate to that at the outset. But a win over Kansas State on December 28 will not carry nearly the same weight to a national audience as a win over Georgia on New Year’s Day.
Not that a Nebraska win is a sure thing; far from it. While Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray will miss the game due to injury, Nebraska will be facing the best tailback it has seen all season in a healthy Todd Gurley.
It will also be facing an SEC defense; albeit one which has struggled some in 2013, ending the season at No. 48 in total defense (according to cfbstats.com). According to oddsshark.com, Nebraska is a nine-point underdog to Georgia, meaning Vegas thinks Auburn (as an 8.5-point dog) has a better shot to beat a Jameis Winston-led Florida State than Nebraska has to beat Georgia.
So, Husker Fan, how do you feel about a rematch with Georgia?
But in a sense, drawing Georgia is a no-lose proposition for Nebraska. A win over Kansas State would likely earn Nebraska little to no national credit, while a loss to the Purples would further erode NU’s standing. A loss to the Bulldogs leaves Nebraska right where it is now. But a win over Georgia—over any SEC team, really—would start to turn the national narrative about Nebraska in a positive direction.
So chins up, Husker fans. The rematch against Georgia may smack of the Washington rematch in the 2010 Holiday Bowl and the back-to-back trips to the Capital One Bowl. But it presents for Nebraska a much better opportunity to build a platform to move forward in 2014.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge