Jay Christensen covered college football, among other sports, for the Los Angeles Times and produces the popular college football blog TheWizofOdds.com.
Would calling the Cornhuskers frauds contain a kernel of truth?
Undefeated Nebraska plays host to Texas on Saturday in a game that goes beyond football and into the politics of the Big 12.
Years of Husker frustration erupted in anger last December 5, after a clueless Mack Brown and the Longhorns allowed the clock run out in the league title game. The officials huddled, took note that the game was being played in Arlington and put one second back on the clock. Out trotted Hunter Lawrence and the Longhorns kicker converted from 46 yards to give Texas a 13-12 victory.
Hothead Cornhusker coach Bo Pelini and his brother, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini, each had an outburst in the tunnel leading to the locker room. Carl twice turned and screamed back to the field, “You should be ashamed to accept that trophy!”
Bo demanded to speak with Big 12 head of officiating Walt Anderson. Cornhuskers athletic director Tom Osborne was on the field, looking for league commissioner Dan Beebe. When he finally found Beebe, the commish extended his hand. Osborne refused to shake it.
It was all a painful reminder that Nebraska was no longer calling the shots in the Big 12. The Cornhuskers, the kingpins of college football in the 1990s, were just another voice in the Big 12. This was the new reality after Texas helped transform the Big 8 into the Big 12 in 1996. What flush-with-cash Texas wanted, it got.
By late spring, Osborne was looking for a way out. He found it and now Nebraska is headed to the Big Ten.
But the pain from December 5 remains. Cornhusker players have been wearing red bracelets saying “FINISH” on one side and “0.01” on the other.
Nebraska opened as an 8-point favorite in Saturday’s game and the number could be 10 before kickoff. Has there ever been a bigger lock?
The Cornhuskers’ return to prominence has been stunning.
Pelini, in his third season as coach, is 24-8. A year ago, he was 13-7 after Nebraska turned the ball over eight times and lost to Iowa State, 9-7, in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers, 4-3 after that loss, have since won 11 of 12.
But against the spread, Pelini’s Cornhuskers are 18-13-1. In its last 12, Nebraska is only 6-5-1 against the number.
Nonetheless, the feeling here is that it’s time to buy Nebraska stock.
Pelini’s first team in 2008 was built on offense. The Cornhuskers finished 12th nationally in team offense and 55th in team defense.
Last season’s team was all defense. Led by Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska was seventh in defense and 99th in offense.
The 2010 team is balanced. The offense is seventh and the defense 12th.
Offensively, the difference maker is freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez, who is fourth nationally in rushing at 147.40 yards a game.
The Cornhuskers have never been comfortable throwing the ball. The speedy Martinez, operating behind a bunch of earthmovers on the line, allows Nebraska to do what it has always done best - run.
In the second half of the season, Nebraska’s schedule is rather cushy. There’s a tricky game at Oklahoma State on October 23 and perhaps Missouri or Texas A&M can put up a fight. But it’s easy to envision the Cornhuskers playing an undefeated Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.
If Martinez stays healthy and Nebraska can continue to play within its comfort zone, the Cornhuskers could find themselves playing in the Bowl Championship Series title game. If not, it’ll be cornmeal mush.