The Nebraska Cornhuskers will take the field in Indianapolis on Dec. 1 to battle not just the Wisconsin Badgers, but also the feelings of nostalgia for the glory days and the pessimism that have haunted Husker Nation for over a decade.
In this week’s buildup to the Huskers’ showdown with Wisconsin, Nebraska fans have been beaten over the head with the same old statistics. No conference titles since 1999. No BCS bowls since 2001. Three straight conference championship game losses. No meaningful trophies during the Bo Pelini era.
Yet if Nebraska takes care of business against Wisconsin, these streaks will end and Bo Pelini’s critics should finally fall silent.
At many points this season, Pelini has come under fire for his team’s performance on the field, and rightly so. Conceding 653 yards in a loss to UCLA was obviously unacceptable and the coaching staff deserved to take heat for it. Likewise, allowing Ohio State to hang 63 points on the scoreboard was embarrassing.
By capturing the 2012 Big Ten title, Nebraska would improve to 11-2 on the season, claiming its 49th win in five years. Pelini would end his fifth year as head coach with three divisional titles, one conference championship and one BCS bowl berth (if not a BCS bowl victory).
If we compare Nebraska's record under Pelini record to Oklahoma's (a very similar program with equally high expectations) over the same time period, there are only a few small differences. The Sooners have managed 51 wins, no national championships, two conference titles and captured divisional titles in two of the three years possible.
Of course, Nebraska fans do not enjoy being second to anyone, particularly Oklahoma. But if Bo Pelini’s numbers from his first five years are only a shade behind those of Bob Stoops in the heart of his career, then he is clearly doing something right.
Although a few of his teams’ losses have been downright awful, a win this weekend should help silence the critics. Capping off a 10-2 season with Nebraska’s first Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl will show that Bo Pelini can win the big game, that the program is heading in the right direction and that Pelini is the right man for the job.
But if things do not go so well on Saturday for Nebraska, let skepticism reign in Husker Nation.