Big Ten Football 2012
Big Ten Football Championship Preview
Big Ten Football Scores Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Wisconsin Badgers
Saturday, Dec. 1 – 8:17 p.m. Eastern time
Line: Nebraska -3
A long and unexpected exile, a journey through the wilderness, could very well be over for one of college football's most decorated and storied programs.
Nebraska. It is a name that matters in college football, or at least, it is a name that is supposed to matter. This is the school of Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. This is the school that produced Johnny Rodgers and the Game of the Century against Oklahoma in 1971. This is the program that won back-to-back national championships in 1994 and 1995, delivering the sport the greatest team college football has seen in the past 50 years, the 1995 juggernaut that never won a game by fewer than 14 points.
Nebraska won three national titles (two of them split) in a four-year sequence from 1994 through 1997. Nebraska would have played in the 1996 national championship game, too, if it had not been upset in the first-ever Big 12 Championship Game by the Texas Longhorns. Through the late 1990s and into the first years of the new century, Nebraska had established a name synonymous with not just excellence, but supreme centrality in the college football world. The Huskers won the Big 12 in 1999. They beat defending national champion Oklahoma in one of the signature games of the 2001 season and delivered a Heisman Trophy to quarterback Eric Crouch. They made the national championship game in the Rose Bowl that season, and it appeared that the Huskers would continue to reign forevermore.
Then, in 2002, the music stopped. A seven-loss season threw the program into an all-out panic. The Huskers rebounded in 2003, winning nine regular-season games, but athletic director Steve Pederson got spooked and fired head coach Frank Solich, replacing him with Bill Callahan, an NFL refugee whose career with the Oakland Raiders abruptly ended one season after a Super Bowl appearance.
Nebraska made the Big 12 title game in 2006 under Callahan, but the program lost hold of its identity: defense and rough, tough, power-running. Now, the Huskers sit in 2012, 13 years without a conference championship.
It's time for them to win a conference title again. Moreover, they should. Just look at Wisconsin's path to this game. It's not a conventional one.
The Huskers won the Big Ten Legends Division, whereas Wisconsin finished third in the Leaders division and made this game only because the top two teams in the division, Ohio State (first place) and Penn State (second place), were ineligible. Nebraska is a much more balanced team. It has a passing game to complement its running game, whereas Wisconsin relies disproportionately on running back Montee Ball. If Wisconsin can't establish Ball, it won't generate much of any offense to speak of.
Nebraska has had to win three games in 2012 after trailing by at least 10 points in the second half. The Huskers have lived a fortunate existence this season, getting loads of timely breaks in the third and fourth quarters of games. An illegal blocking penalty on a Michigan State interception return for a touchdown kept Nebraska in one game. A blown call on what should have been a Penn State touchdown (but was instead ruled a touchback for Nebraska) enabled the Huskers to pull off a 14-point comeback against the Nittany Lions. Nebraska also came back from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Northwestern. This team has lived on the edge.
However, it is playing a third-place division team and is trying to snap a run of bad luck that has developed over 13 years.
It's time for Nebraska to pounce. It is time for the Huskers to seize a moment of long-denied opportunity.
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