ITS GOING TO GET UGLY
After a mudslinging, trash talking summer, Huskers and their foes will wear a target every Sunday
IRVING — Nebraska was on its best behavior.
After all, kickoffs are approaching. Following critical comments about Texas by Nebraska administrators, a rival-baiting promotional video in which Nebraska is taking dead aim at Texas, and stories in Nebraska newspapers suggesting the Cornhuskers have a one-game season this year, the Cornhuskers took the high road Monday.
That’s after they took the first road out of town.
With the season just over a month away, Nebraska didn’t want to talk about the ugly summer mud-slinging over realignment, even if the media wanted to take it one controversy at a time. And when the school’s coach
Continued from C and players did talk, they said all the right things — alas, without a polygraph machine in the room.
We all know many if not most in the Corn Belt are privately snickering that Nebraska got the better end of the deal by leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten — but there are some among us who have our doubts.
The Cornhuskers have turned their backs on lifelong rivalries — snubbing their noses at eternal partners like Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma — and are rejoicing in the fact they will become part of a grand new world where rose petals will be thrown at their feet everywhere from Madison to East Lansing.
But roses have thorns. If Nebraska can’t beat Texas in the Big 12, how much more luck will it have trying to knock Ohio State off its pedestal in the Big Ten? Michigan ain’t gonna play dead forever. Penn State’s got its act back together, Wisconsin’s one of the most underrated programs in the country, and Iowa will defend you until the last second.
Nebraska hasn’t been Nebraska for a while now, just a shell of itself since the three-title ’90s, when Tom Osborne treated Florida like Nick Saban would an NFL agent. Nebraska hasn’t beaten a team ranked higher than No. 20 since late 2001. It’s 0-9 against Top 10 teams since 2005. It almost never beats Texas (1-8 since the Big 12’s formation), even though it may do that this October, because of a strong defense and a terrific run game. But Big Red will be missed. Sorely. Nebraska’s departure leaves a gaping hole in the Big 12 that Iowa State just cannot fill. The Big 12 will survive, at least until the next round of realignment, but it’s not as strong a league. Colorado left amidst collective yawns, but the Big 12 is worse for Nebraska’s absence, don’t kid yourself.
Which is why this figures to be one contentious, spit-on-your-neighbor throwdown every Saturday. If nothing else, this year will put to the test the longstanding premise that Nebraska has the most knowledgeable and hospitable fans in college football.
Sportsmanship could be a thing of the past if you believe reports like a recent one in the Omaha World-Herald, which quoted a greenconscious woman who is tenderly nurturing her tomato plants … until Oct. 16, when the 91-year-old Cornhusker fan said she’ll target people wearing burnt orange with her rotten vegetables. Remember to duck, Mack.
Dan Beebe chatted up coach Bo Pelini on Monday, and the Big 12 commissioner said the league members “absolutely” are more cohesive than ever. Sure they are. Beebe said he plans to be in Lincoln for the last TexasNebraska dustup and he said, no, he will not be wearing a construction hard hat.
Despite all the frantic speculation and breathless reports of mega-conferences this summer, in the end very little happened. Colorado heads off with Utah to the Pac-10, and Boise State will link up with the Mountain West.
But the drums beat the loudest when Nebraska announced in June that it was bolting the Big 12 for the more prestigious Big Ten — with its stronger academic pedigree, its deeper-seated tradition, its profound sense of history, its one-for-all collegialism … well, you get the idea.
Nebraska had absolutely zero interest in being drawn into protracted discussions about all that on the first day of Big 12 football media days. Before he could take a single question about conference realignment, Pelini announced at the podium he wouldn’t take a single question about conference realignment. He later said he anticipates no problems of fan reception on the road, said recruiting in Texas has been “business as usual,” and said he’d visited with the tooth fairy the night before.
Nebraska lists 26 Texans among its current players. Good luck with keeping the number that high when your closest game to Texas may be 1,000 miles away. In one candid moment, however, the third-year head coach said the school regretted the Red Out promotional video that included a Beat Texas logo, which has since been deleted.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” Pelini said. “It was actually a mistake. To be honest, I wasn’t real happy about it.”
You know why? Because Nebraska is focused on beating Texas this year.
Just admit it, Nebraska. Take some ownership. It was no mistake.
But Nebraska should also blame itself — not Texas — for its fall from high ground. It promoted Frank Solich — good guy, sound coach, charisma of a cornstalk. It hired Bill Callahan, who fit in that culture as the stifferthan-straight whiskey John Mackovic did down south. It changed to a passing offense a decade later than everybody else. It no longer has access to all those partial qualifiers. It’s cold in Nebraska.
But Nebraska is always going to be relevant. And it desperately wants to give Texas a dose of humility in their last meeting.
That’s why the coaching staff, mindful of that 13-12 Big 12 title game loss to the Longhorns by a last-second Hunter Lawrence field goal only 18 miles from here, handed out red rubber bracelets in the spring that said “0.01” seconds on one side and “Finish” on the other. But the Cornhuskers figure to get, uh, a warm reception as they travel to places like Manhattan, Stillwater and College Station.
“We’ve seen hostile crowds before,” receiver Niles Paul said. “I don’t think they can turn it up any more. I hope we’re not the bad guys.”
They’re really not. Neither’s Texas. They’re all just looking out for themselves, the usual blueprint in sports. But that doesn’t mean both sides can’t be mad at each other.
It’s just not Texas’ fault if they keep cleaning the Cornhuskers’ clock on the football field. Oh, sorry. Clock’s a bad term.
But it is running, timing Nebraska’s final months in the Big 12. Tomatoes await.