Nebraska Cornhuskers a Key Component to Big Ten Expansion

Brian ChappattaCorrespondent IIJune 9, 2010

SAN DIEGO - DECEMBER 30:  Ndamukong Suh #93 of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers looks on during the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl against University of Arizona Wildcats on December 30, 2009 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Cornhuskers defeated the Wildcats 33-0. (Photo By Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

After all the speculation, the first step of Big Ten expansion could be made by the end of the week.

And it seems a larger Big Ten would result in a smaller Big 12.

A source told ESPN's Andy Katz that Nebraska is leaning toward joining the Big Ten but will not commit until the league has offered an invitation to the school. This comes in the wake of the Big 12 universities' presidents setting a Friday deadline for Missouri and Nebraska to declare their intentions to either stay in or leave the conference.

The Big Ten wants to expand so it can have a conference championship game in football like the other major conferences. One question Big Ten coaches often face is how ending their regular season before Thanksgiving impacts their teams' performances in bowl games.

Should this dramatic realignment happen, the Big Ten would be a clear winner. Nebraska and Missouri both fit the Big Ten's Midwestern image better than other potential schools like Syracuse and Rutgers do.

More importantly, the conference would add two top-tier football schools.

Last year the Big Ten performed well in bowl games. Ohio State and Iowa won in the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl, respectively. Penn State and Wisconsin also emerged victorious in their bowl games.

Meanwhile, three teams that did lose, Northwestern, Minnesota and Michigan State, only lost by a combined 14 points.

After facing questions about the Big Ten's inferiority compared to the other major conferences, a 4-3 bowl record and an overall great bowl game showing was just what the conference needed.

Add in two more bowl teams, and suddenly the league would get much more competitive.

That's ultimately what's holding the Big Ten back. The conference is rich in tradition, from the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry to legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno.

The issue is that the traditional powerhouses (Ohio State, Penn State) have not been challenged during the season, except when they face each other.

Adding Nebraska, the No. 22 team at the end of last season, will create another threat for the top-tier Big Ten teams to contend with.

It's a win-win. The Big Ten will get a football powerhouse, and Nebraska will get to leave a conference that has Texas, Oklahoma and other perennial national championship contenders in it.

Big Ten basketball is doing well. Michigan State has represented the conference well over the past few seasons, and it was not too long ago that Illinois was in the NCAA Championship Game.

That's why Syracuse does not make sense for the Big Ten. It is a great basketball school, but its football is not up to par. It had former Duke point guard Greg Paulus under center at the start of last season. The Orange are clearly basketball-oriented.

It's Big Ten football that needs to improve, and adding Nebraska is a large step in that direction. Missouri took a step back this past season, but it was not long ago that the Tigers were ranked among the top teams in the country and were one win away from playing in the BCS National Championship Game. Playing in the Big Ten could get them back to that level.

All parties involved in Big Ten expansion have been secretive up to this point.

With the ultimatum set by the Big 12, the time is nearly here for the Big Ten, Nebraska and Missouri to show their hands.

And with football legitimacy on the line, the Big Ten would be wise to hustle to bring in the Cornhuskers.