All too often, games in college football and elsewhere are labeled as “must-wins” by fans, pundits, talking heads and sometimes even coaches and players.
Usually such a classification is nothing more than superfluous hyperbole, but there are a few games every college football season that fit the bill.
Saturday’s matchup between the seventh-ranked Wisconsin Badgers and eighth-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers is one of them—for both teams.
The Badgers have an opportunity to solidify their position as the next Big Ten superpower.
Nebraska has the chance to show their new conference mates and the nation that they belong.
More importantly, the winner of Saturday’s clash will establish themselves as a legitimate national title contender.
Only one team (if any) is going to make it out of the SEC unscathed, Stanford still has to beat Oregon, and Oklahoma has shown a penchant for losing winnable games over the last few years.
At the very least, the Wisconsin-Nebraska winner is going to be on the fast track to the Big Ten Championship game and a berth in the Rose Bowl.
Psychologically speaking, both fan bases also need a victory Saturday night.
For years, the Badger faithful have played second fiddle to the Ohio State’s, Michigan’s and Penn State’s of Big Ten Nation. Now that the Buckeyes are drowning in scandal, the Wolverines are rebuilding and the Nittany Lions are struggling to come up with a Joe Paterno succession plan, Bret Bielema has the Badgers poised to take over top-dog status in the Big Ten.
Husker fans, meanwhile, are no doubt suffering from an inferiority complex heading into Camp Randall this weekend. After watching Nebraska sleep walk through the non-conference portion of their schedule, Herbie Husker and his backers are waiting for Big Red to prove they are worthy of their new conference.
If Bo Pelini’s squad lays an egg on Saturday night, Nebraska and the rest of America are going to wonder aloud if the Huskers bit off more than they could chew by jumping ship to the Big Ten and more or less starting the conference realignment frenzy.
In the end, both perception and reality are at stake on Saturday.
Regardless of the outcome, both teams will be at the forefront of national conversations surrounding college football this weekend and beyond.
The winner will be the flavor of the week, and the loser will be shunned as an outcast not yet ready for prime time.
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