Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE
Yes, we're still doing this. For those of you just tuning in, this is a series were we take a brief (although this post isn't all that brief comparatively) look at how the other teams in the Big Ten did. This is primarily for Michigan fans who don't follow any other team besides Michigan. We're here to help.
This time we're reviewing BIG RED, also known as the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Enjoy.
Bo Pelini's second year in the Big Ten and fifth year as Nebraska's head coach was full of really high highs and really low lows.
For starters, the Cornhuskers won the Legends Division (and they had to defeat Michigan to do it) and they played in the Big Ten Championship. But when they entered the game against Wisconsin, things didn't go exactly as Nebraska had planned. They lost, big--which left many Big Red fans wondering what the meaning of everything is.
All of their losses were surprising blowouts, save for the Capital One Bowl, which by the standards of the rest of the 2012 losses, was actually competitive: they lost to SEC-runner up Georgia, 45-31. Every Cornhusker loss was marked by an utter defensive collapse.
Nebraska finished with a 10-4 record, which to anyone else would have been seen as really good, but given the nature of all the losses, all that Nebraska fans really take from it is a bunch of questions and concerns about the future.
Expectations Coming In:
Most teams take a couple years to get acclimated to their new conference opponents before provoking serious talk of competing for a conference championship, but not Nebraska. The Cornhuskers had lofty goals, both as an individual program and in terms of its arrival into the Big Ten.
As an individual program, Nebraska and their fans are still stewing over the fact that they haven't won a conference championship (either in the Big XII or the Big Ten) since 1999, although they've been in the conference championship game or secured their divisional title multiple times in past decade. Like Michigan, they would also maybe like to compete for a national championship sometime in the near future.
Although Bo Pelini had won three division titles in the last four years (prior to 2012), the onus was kind on him that this was the year that Nebraska would finally get that conference championship monkey off their back. And while Pelini's record at Nebraska is currently stellar (he has won four division titles in the last five years), many if not most of Nebraska fans are of the opinion that if he can't get them Big Ten championship trophies, it might be time to start looking for someone who can.
Nebraska's goal in terms of its arrival into the Big Ten was to really show the conference how it's done. The general consensus from many of my Nebraska friends was that the Big Ten was a much easier conference (at least in football) than the Big XII, and so Nebraska should have no trouble racking up conference titles in no time.
As we've seen, the Big Ten might not be on the cusp of competing with the SEC, but they're certainly no slouch when it comes to playing against each other. Nebraska has done admirably for its first two years as a Big Ten team, but it has hardly met the expectation of lighting the conference up right away.
Best Moment of 2012:
Hindsight tells us that this one has to be the victory over Michigan in Lincoln. Without that, and if both Michigan and Nebraska finish the season as they did, the Cornhuskers are kept out of the Big Ten Championship, switching conference records (6-2 instead of 7-1) with Michigan. No other game did more for Nebraska's season than that one.
There was a great deal of hype going into the game, for both teams, but it may have seemed slightly more important for Nebraska. CornNation, our fellow SB Nation blog, called it the most important game of Bo Pelini's career thus far.
Worst Moment of 2012:
Nebraska got the absolute piss beat out of them by Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Cornhuskers lost an unbelievable 31-70, in one of the worst displays their defense put up the entire year. I don't care who you are; giving up 70 points is atrocious. (I don't think even we lost that badly during the LET-US-NOT-SPEAK-OF-IT years of Rich Rodriguez and Greg Robinson.) The loss served to tarnish what was generally a good year and a respectable record.
Two distant runner-ups in the Worst Moment category may be the blowout loss to Ohio State (which the Cornhuskers lost 63-38) or the loss in the Capital One Bowl, or (if we're adding a third) possibly the unexpected loss to UCLA in Pasadena. Although I'm pretty sure the loss in the Big Ten Championship Game falls into the "Without a Doubt" Worst Moment category. When the Huskers lost a game, they made sure the fans felt it.
Expectations Going Forward:
The Cornhuskers are still stewing about not winning a conference title since 1999, but at least this year they got a little closer. Sure, to many Nebraska fans, that's not good enough, but to come into a brand new conference and post consecutive 9-10 win seasons is pretty impressive in my book.
The biggest concern that Nebraska fans have right now, however, is in recruiting. Big Red had hoped that its move to the Big Ten would quickly make them synonymous with Michigan and Ohio State on the recruiting trail, but according to most of the recruiting sites (Rivals and 247sports especially), the Wolverines and Buckeyes seem to be leading the way while Nebraska, like the rest of the Big Ten, seems to be falling behind.
(It should be noted that Scout, as an exception, loves Nebraska's class, but that site admits to having a Midwest bias. Seriously, go look: they think Michigan and Ohio State's classes are worlds better than any of the traditional powers of the SEC.)
Consider this as a possible reason: While in the Big XII, Pelini and his staff (and, really, Nebraska did this before he arrived) recruited heavily in the state of Texas and even a bit in California. With the move to the Big Ten, Pelini is now transitioning to a recruiting hotbed that not only makes more sense for the conference but is also more appealing to Big Ten-type recruits: Ohio. The slight dip in recruiting rankings could be explained by the notion that Nebraska is trying to recruit in newer, somewhat unfamiliar territories.
Pelini will undoubtedly try to maintain his pipelines in California, Texas, and Florida, but Nebraska has traditionally relied on more local, homegrown talent (like Iowa or Wisconsin do) than national recruiting in the Notre Dame way, so I imagine we'll see less of this in a few years as Nebraska focuses less energy on the coasts and more on the Midwest... which makes sense, because Nebraska is a Midwest school anyway.
As for 2013, Nebraska fans, like many fans of traditional powerhouses, will keep their high expectations. They will expect Pelini to "get it right" this time and make a repeat appearance in the Big Ten Championship. A lot of that starts with fixing their problems on defense, which is disturbing, since Pelini is supposed to be a defensive-minded coach.