Welcome to the Big Ten West, Nebraska. Welcome to the next phase of your history.
Nebraska. Wisconsin. Northwestern. Iowa. Minnesota. Illinois. Purdue. It looks strangely familiar, doesn't it?
It's the Big 12 North, with stocking caps and deep-dish pizza.
The Big Ten is set to announce the reconfiguration of its 14-member 'hood, when the new neighbors from back east move in in 2014. For a Husker fan, there are some things to like.
There's the travel budget. It just got friendlier. NU will now play most of its games against schools Nebraska license plates can reach on a couple of tanks of gas, in a Big 12 North kind of way.
These are games that make sense, and there might even be a barroom brawl or a trophy that grows out of it.
There's the Wisconsin factor. Everybody trumpeted Huskers and Hawkeyes when NU joined the Big Ten, but it's been a dud so far. Meanwhile, Nebraska and Wisconsin looked at each other out of the corner of their eyes, and with the Barry Alvarez (and now Shawn Eichorst) connection, this series looked pretty intriguing.
And then they kicked off. Wisconsin is 2-1 against Nebraska, with the Badgers playing the hammer to NU's nail, but this has the look of a budding rivalry.
Mostly, this division looks manageable if you're a Husker fan. Northwestern boss Pat Fitzgerald, who is a play or two away from being 2-0 against Bo Pelini, might take issue with that. But the fact is, Nebraska stands out in this crowd in terms of pedigree, facilities and pigskin passion.
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And, what the heck, let's add the Tim Miles Geography Factor. The NU basketball coach says it's hard to recruit to the northernmost location in a conference. He says Lincoln is like San Diego in the Big Ten. So NU football coaches will be recruiting to the “West.” Hey, why not?
Just don't tell them there's no beach.
There are only two things wrong with this divisional setup, from a Big Red standpoint.
No Michigan. No Ohio State.
The two Big Ten heavyweights — both legends and leaders in this league — belong together in the same division, for the sake of their rivalry. And let's face it: Maintaining a healthy Michigan-Ohio State series is priority one in this league, as it should be.
Nebraska will have to carve its own legend in this conference. It will be interesting to see if NU can become a Big Ten heavyweight without annual games against scarlet or maize.
This has nothing to do with attendance. If the NU sellout streak ever ends, it won't be because there are years when neither Ohio State or Michigan visits. The Streak grew up in an era when Oklahoma came to town only once every two years. The Streak is about Husker victories, and this divisional setup helps that cause.
But something to watch in the future is the Oklahoma Effect, or lack thereof.
Bob Devaney built the foundation of this program without facing a strong Sooner Schooner in the mid-1960s. But Big Red went national, went big time, with the help of Chuck Fairbanks and Jack Mildren, Barry Switzer and Billy Sims.
Oklahoma was obsessed with national championships. And whatever OU did, Nebraska had to do. Or better.
Through the late 1970s and 1980s, these two giants of the heartland pushed each other. Tom Osborne changed his recruiting, then went to the option, because to win the Big Eight, you had to beat the Sooners at their own game.
Wisconsin has been to three straight Rose Bowls. That's a big-time deal. But Wisconsin is not Oklahoma. Pat Fitzgerald looks like a young genius. Kirk Ferentz has two Orange Bowls on his résumé. But there is no elite team in the Big Ten West. Nobody who is going to motivate you to become an elite program.
Now, was that always the case at NU? Osborne changed recruiting and scheme (defense) again in the early '90s, and some of that was due to Colorado, but most of it had Miami and Florida State in mind.
Kansas State and Missouri were thorns in Nebraska's side in the Big 12 North, but neither made NU react the way OU always did.
In the immediate future, the Big Ten West looks like Nebraska butting heads with Wisconsin, Northwestern and occasionally Iowa, for the right to play Ohio State or Michigan.
Or Oklahoma and Texas. Sound familiar?
No doubt there will be a perception eventually that, just like the Big 12 South, the Big Ten East is where it's at. On Friday night, one Big Ten veteran writer tweeted that the Big Ten has named its two divisions “The One with Michigan and Ohio State” and “The Other One.”
That doesn't mean Nebraska can't or won't be motivated. Husker fans never take their foot off the pedal. But eventually, if the goal is to beat Wisconsin and Iowa, that's the most you accomplish. If you have to keep up with the Michigan or Ohio State machines every year, it forces you to reach higher.
Bucky Badger is the three-time defending Big Ten champ. But it appears Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke are mobilizing for a hostile takeover. The ante is being upped as we speak.
Are the Huskers ready to ante up? Or will it be enough to win the future Nebraska-Wisconsin Trophy?
You never know. It might be the Brat of the Century.
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