Nebraska is headed to the Big Ten, and its membership will become official on July 1.
But what lies ahead for the Cornhuskers, specifically the football program.
This past season wasn't exactly a tearful goodbye between Nebraska and the Big 12, the conference the Huskers would rather chide and soon thereafter forget than give any credit.
As far as Nebraska and the rest of college football is concerned, the partnership is done.
So, in that spirit, we analyze what the future holds for Nebraska as it and the Big Ten await the official consummation of their upcoming union.
Nebraska will forever and always be the recruiting king in its home state — there’s no debating that. But the shift to the Big Ten includes challenges in regards to where the staff targets high school players beyond the state border.
By my count, Nebraska’s roster for 2010 was comprised of 20 players from the state of Texas, which is a fertile secondary recruiting base for the Huskers, as are Arizona, Colorado, and various parts of California and the Northwest.
With the changes in Nebraska’s travel itinerary about to reflect its new road schedule, will recruits from the aforementioned states now think twice about the Huskers? Will the families of said recruits be wary of the travel, or will the broad reach of the Big Ten Network soothe those fears?
The biggest problem could involve Texas, where recruits would presumably favor staying in-state to play for a Big 12 school, for no other reason than the fact a majority of the entire schedule would be played inside the state.
If the program does encounter a recruiting backlash, it would be because of insufficient resources. The abundant revenue will ensure that.
If nothing else, Nebraska will have toil to seek out new recruiting territories, which means attempting to intrude on the long-established East Coast pipelines of other Big Ten programs.
I must preface this particular slide by seeking an answer from Husker fans regarding the rumored transfer of Martinez, who didn’t exactly earn a bunch of gold stars with the coaching staff during the latter stages of the season.
If he stays, and then wins what head coach Bo Pelini has said will be an open competition at quarterback for 2011, Nebraska will again have an explosive offense capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. But more than that, it will be interesting to see how Martinez performs over the next few years against Big Ten defenses, which, by all accounts, won’t really differ much from what he saw in the Big 12 as a freshman.
As Martinez matures, will the Nebraska staff delve into more of the playbook? Will the Huskers, traditionally a running team, uphold the Big Ten tradition of smashmouth football or choose to go to the air more often with an experienced quarterback?
I guess we should wait to see who Martinez’s offensive coordinator will be next season before we get too far ahead. Shawn Watson, Nebraska’s current coordinator, has been linked to head coaching vacancies at Miami (Ohio), Vanderbilt, and Texas State.
Nebraska’s home base includes the cities of Omaha and Lincoln, which combined house just over 1.1 million people. Huskers fans are among the most passionate, fanatical, and entrenched in all of sports, but simplicity is a way of life in the Midwest.
The Husker faithful don corn cobs as hats. Red paint as body adornment knows no bounds. And the fact Memorial Stadium has been the setting for an NCAA-record number of consecutive sellouts speaks to the tradition and pageantry of Nebraska football, but the streak also speaks to the limited number of activities available in the state.
How well does Nebraska fit culturally with the Big Ten, whose geographical footprint extends into parts of Middle America but also includes Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, and Cincinnati — some of the densest metropolises in the nation?
Whether or not they readily admit it, Big Ten supporters, because of their conference’s collection of highly esteemed academic institutions, project an aura that they're intellectually and socially classier than other fan bases.
Will a culture clash ensue when a cosmopolitan-swilling socialite from Chicago bumps heads with a Cornhead the first time Nebraska visits Illinois?
The end-game for Nebraska in defecting from its old conference was escaping the alleged injustices of the Big 12 while joining the considerably deeper revenue pool of the Big Ten.
But the ultimate goal, as it relates to football, remains reaching a BCS bowl game. Of course, winning out is the most logical path, however unrealistic it may be, but the makeup and structure of the conference can dictate that path just as much.
That said, did Nebraska tempt its BCS fate by leaving the Big 12? Think about it.
As it stands now, even if Nebraska navigates its schedule unscathed, it still faces the very real possibility of losing the Big Ten title game to an Ohio State, Penn State, or Wisconsin. As we have seen before, a season-ending loss is potentially dooming, particularly to BCS hopes.
If Nebraska swallows its pride and remains in the Big 12, because Colorado bolts for the Pac-10, it’s entirely possible the conference still turns to a division-less format, void of a conference championship.
A streamlined 11-team Big 12 would be no less strong than it was with Colorado as a 12th member, and an undefeated season, more often than not, would include wins over Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech.
Under that scenario, if you run through the Big 12, nothing short of an undefeated SEC team keeps you out of the national title game. And there’s no pesky conference championship to worry about.
In the Big Ten, three teams play inside stadiums that seat 100,000 or more people. Not even the SEC can make that claim. When Nebraska officially joins the league in July, that number won’t change, but the Huskers are making a push.
In an attempt to stay up to snuff with its Big Ten comrades without risking the sellout streak, Nebraska announced in October its plans for a $56 million expansion of Memorial Stadium, which currently holds 81,067.
The project, which includes the addition of more than 30 luxury boxes and is expected to be completed prior to the 2013 season, will add more than 5,000 seats to the east end. In all, the expansion will boost Memorial Stadium’s capacity to about 90,000.
Michigan’s Big House, renovated just recently, seats 109,901 as the largest stadium in college football.
Nebraska was a worthy candidate for conference expansion, and the Big Ten clearly got its top choice. But that doesn’t mean the league can’t pick on the new kid a little bit.
The Huskers got somewhat of a reprieve when they were placed in the conceivably weaker Legends Division, along with Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Northwestern. But maybe that’s simply a gentle precursor to the hammer that awaits.
In 2011, Nebraska plays crossover road games at Wisconsin and Penn State and against Ohio State at home, canceling out what looks to be a soft divisional schedule that includes only two road games — Michigan and Minnesota.
This runs in line with the previous slide concerning Taylor Martinez.
What will the Nebraska offense look like in the Big Ten? Regardless of whether Shawn Watson is retained as offensive coordinator, or he leaves on his own volition, the Huskers will be a running team, per Bo Pelini’s philosophy.
But shouldn’t there be some room in the game plan for a vertical passing game?
Not even the traditionally rigid Big Ten is immune to the offensive fads that sweep through college football, and Nebraska, while it doesn’t need to conform, desperately needs to throw the ball more effectively than it has in recent seasons, which means finding at least a few explosive wide receivers.
If successful, how much of the existing playbook is reworked to find room for an aerial attack as the Huskers settle into life in a new conference?
Bo Pelini is one of the finest coaches in college football, as evidenced by the turnaround he has architected in Lincoln over just a few short seasons. But the guy needs to tone it down a notch.
Since his nationally televised tantrum at Texas A&M drew criticism from Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, Pelini has acknowledged his missteps and vowed to keep his Oscar-worthy emotions under lock and key. But will Pelini’s vow of silence end up being a feigned attempt at satisfying his bosses?
Let’s hope not. There’s no room in the Big Ten for such venom, especially on the same field as Tressel’s Ward Cleaver getup or Paterno’s homely khaki pants-white socks combo.
The general consensus, at least among Nebraskans and perhaps those Big 12 fans who have grown tired of the perceived injustices cited by Husker players, coaches, and media, is that this program is better suited for its new conference.
But is the grass necessarily greener on the other side of the fence? Ultimately, mainly because of the Big Ten’s enviable television network revenue stream, it probably is. But it may take a while before Nebraska officials see the fruits of their conference expansion labor, financially speaking.
In order to make a clean break from the Big 12, Nebraska, like Colorado, agreed to pay its former conference a heavy sum while departing, reaching a settlement in September to forfeit $9.25 million worth of revenue from the 2009-10 academic year.
Not the biggest of deals, but the financial strain worsens, if only for a time. Nebraska jumped at the chance to join the Big Ten despite the insistence of commissioner Jim Delany and other conference officials that the school accept an introductory revenue figure lower than the sum allowed to other Big Ten members.
The condition, which will protect Big Ten schools while officials gauge the value of the Nebraska television market, is strictly temporary and couldn’t be less bothersome to Nebraska administrators, who salivate at the prospect of conference expansion potentially doubling the conference’s revenue as early as 2016.
As any good-natured Big Red fan will tell you, Nebraska could care less about what’s in store for the Big 12 during the post-realignment era.
As far as Nebraska is concerned, it’s good riddance. And, for as much as I despise the Cornhuskers as a Missouri fan, it’s hard for me to disagree with that sentiment.
The slings and arrows that Nebraska alleged were targeted at the school during the hullaballoo of conference expansion are just as baseless as those claimed by Mizzou supporters, but the wailing and moaning spilled over into the season, with claims that the Big 12 was making the Huskers’ farewell tour as miserable as possible via botched calls and phantom penalties.
The divorce couldn’t happen soon enough, and its effective date of July 1 won’t be bittersweet.
The breakup is amicable, but Nebraska may be the only party smiling during the departure, for it leaves behind a conference held together by a wealthy few, back room deals, mistrust, inequality, and way too much dependence on a television deal that may or may not happen this spring.