Now that Nebraska has officially joined the Conference , I thought it would be nice to talk with some of the most knowledgeable Cornhusker fans out there. Darren and Steve from Big Red Network were kind enough to have a conversation, the results of which you can see below, and over on their site. As we get closer to Nebraska’s (proposed) debut in 2011, I hope we can have a few more dialogues. In the meantime, best of luck in your Farewell Big 12 Tour.
If they had their collective druthers, would Nebraska fans rather stay in the current Big 12?
Darren (BRN): At this point, no. There are some who will miss the traditions established by the old Big 8 days, especially the affiliation with Oklahoma. But even that became tarnished when the Big 12 was formed. And, I don’t think people feel a sense of nostalgia for the last decade and a half. And the events of the last few weeks have made co-existing in the Big 12 pretty much impossible. I talk to a lot of fans, and unanimously they are excited at the prospect of joining the Big Ten. Sure, there will be some critics. But most see the Big Ten as a very good move for NU.
Steve (BRN): An unscientific poll I saw said that five out of six visitors to the Lincoln Journal-Star’s website approved of the move. It’s hard to say whether that’s in the context of the Big 12 possibly breaking up anyway, or whether it’s a more absolute judgment about whether life is better in the Big 10 or not.
Now that Nebraska is (still unofficially) the twelfth member of the Big Ten, would you rather the League stop at 12? And, if Texas ultimately joined, would Cornhusker fans be upset? Is the animosity between those programs as strong as reported?
Darren: For starters, I am happy they finally made it to 12 teams. My harshest criticism of this league has been the lack of divisions and a title game. The SEC, Big XII and ACC had a much different (harder) path to the BCS than the Big Ten and Pac-10.
Seriously, play an additional difficult opponent (often for a second time) at the end of the year. It’s a different animal. If these re-alignments do nothing but balance out that part of the overall playing field, then I am more than happy Nebraska moving is part of a bigger solution.
I have no idea if the league will stop at 12, or try to get to 14 or 16 at this point. I really don’t. We’ll have to see how it plays out. Yes, the Texas animosity is every bit as strong as reported. This isn’t just about football anymore. There is a culture clash now.
I would have very mixed feelings if they jumped in to this league as well. It’s geographically insane. The provincial nature of college football would no longer exist. I also could go a long time without ever wanting to deal with another Texas fan. But, the competitor in me wants NU to have some more shots at the Horns. Our record against them is a sad 1-8, filled with ridiculously close losses. It would be nice to balance that ledger.
Steve: There’s never been any real interest by Texas in joining the Big 10. If they did, it would be a bonanza for the conference, so you’d have to be in favor of it for that reason. Further expansion might water things down, but the right school could improve things. Notre Dame’s the no-brainer, but even schools like Pitt wouldn’t be a bad fit. As long as Nebraska gets to play Iowa every year, then NU fans would probably be agreeable to more teams.
When Penn State joined the League they were at the height of their program (I am sure you are familiar with the 1994 season). Yet, they have had trouble with Ohio State and Michigan (combined 11-21). Do you have any doubt that Nebraska, with its current trajectory, can compete in the Conference?
Darren: If Nebraska felt like they couldn’t compete, they wouldn’t want to join. Of course, Husker fans are very thankful to have Bo Pelini in charge of the football team right now. He has won 19 games over the last two seasons. He has been to and won two bowl games in his last two years. Nebraska is playing well right now. Do we really know what the roster and results might look like in two years? No. But, NU is sure better off now than they were just a few years ago.
I see what you mean about PSU, and why you would ask. They were the last team to join. And, I remember a lot of PSU fans saying things like they were going to “show those Big 10 boys how to play.” But, their problems stemmed from and included a lot more than just struggling with OSU and Michigan. From 2000 to 2005, they were 26-33 overall. So, they lost to a lot of people. Programs ebb and flow. They are much stronger now. Nebraska, in the long term, is committed to football and not going to back down from anybody. And, by the way, the Big 12 is a strong football league.
Steve: Considering Texas and Oklahoma generally outrank the better Big 10 schools, you’d expect Nebraska to do at least as well in the Big 10 as the Big 12. The Huskers have also been on a strong run over their last dozen or so meetings with Big 10 schools. So Nebraska can compete, but Ohio State’s probably still got the strongest program right now.
You asked a question that has been rattling around a distant corner of mind since the announcement: Does this new conference alignment increase or decrease Pelini’s interest and likelihood of roaming the Horsehoe’s sidelines someday?
Darren: This notion makes a lot of people nervous. Let’s just say I am a big Jim Tressel fan. Pelini’s familiarity with the program plants the seed. If OSU fans see what they like in him, it might sprout. Hopefully for both our sakes, there is some serious competition (rivalry!) between the Bucks and Huskers and makes it impossible for Pelini to jump ship.
Steve: He’d never say so no way to gauge his interest, but it might raise awareness of Pelini among OSU fans. That might make him a more attractive candidate. There are a lot of people in Lincoln hoping that Jim Tressel is coaching in Columbus for another 25 years.
Off the cuff, what is Nebraska’s biggest advantage and disadvantage as they come into the Conference?
Darren: Nebraska’s biggest advantage is the will of the program and the general public to be good. I am not kidding. This is Nebraska’s identity. Come visit Lincoln, you’ll see.
They are also a national-level program, capable of moving the needle when they are on TV and recruiting a player from just about anywhere. The biggest disadvantage is geography and population. But, those are the same disadvantages Nebraska had when it was winning championships.
Steve : This sounds self-glorifying, but it’s really been the fans. One of the huge things that draws recruits to Lincoln, is the environment and the passion that exists for college football. From the backup quarterback to the linemen to the kicker, these guys are rock stars. There can be a downside to that too, but that’s one of those things that makes Nebraska unique in college football. An outgrowth of that is the walk-on program that’s the envy of most other schools. Nebraska attracts a lot of kids to walk-on that makes the practices more competitive and can create greater depth. Affordable tuition helps too.
The disadvantage is the natural recruiting base. There aren’t that many top quality players in the state or even bordering states. Nebraska has to recruit nationally to fill out the roster. It’s not as easy as Texas loading up on blue chippers without leaving the state.
Finally, Ohio State and Nebraska have only played twice (1955-56) in their storied histories. How excited are you for that first matchup? And, is there a team Cornhuskers’ fans are looking forward to playing most?
Darren: Hell yes, I’m excited. Ohio is the cradle of life when it comes to football. Ohio State is a truly great program. We have essentially no history. So, let’s do this.
My colleague Brandon Vogel wrote very astutely that Nebraska has lacked a real rival since the NU-OU series got put on the back burner. So, I am excited for Nebraska to establish some rivalries again. Geographically, Iowa makes the most sense. There are a lot of Hawkeye fans living in Omaha, and the smack talk between the two groups of fans have already begun. The NU series with Penn State is littered with some hard feelings. There are Penn State fans who think they were robbed in 1994. It will be fun to mix it up with them. Michigan and Nebraska argue over 1997. So, that’s good. There is a respect for Wisconsin because of Barry Alvarez. The possibilities abound.
Steve: I’d say Iowa because they’re a natural rival, but OSU is up there. Many of us are not old enough to have seen those last games between the schools so it will be cool to see these two great programs finally face off again.