In 1996, when the first Big 12 championship game was played, the Nebraska Cornhuskers were supposed to be the dominant force in the conference. Fourteen Big 12 championships have been played and only twice has Nebraska been the winner. The Huskers have played in five Big 12 championship games but perhaps none left as much of a bitter taste as last season’s 13-12 nail-biter to Texas.
Since losing that last-second game to the Longhorns Nebraska went on to see their top player, Ndamukong Suh, fly to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, they defeated Arizona in the Holiday Bowl in convincing fashion and they ultimately decided to leave the conference starting in 2011 and align with the Big Ten. Nebraska made no secret that they felt a move to the Big Ten would be a better fit for the program and that they would not play second fiddle to Texas in any conference alignment situation. Tired of watching Texas steal the headlines in the off-season realignment scenarios, Nebraska made the first, and most important, move to really start the breaking up of the Big 12.
To say Nebraska has a red target on their backs would be an understatement. If you ask anyone at Nebraska how important this final season is for the football program you will likely get a response confirming it is a statement season. How great would it be to win the Big 12 championship in their final season in the conference?
Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News sums it up best in his look at compelling story lines for this season in the Big 12 today;
“Just think if Nebraska’s migration to the Big Ten takes a detour through Arlington. Then imagine if the aftermath of the Big 12 title game features Bo Pelini, Tom Osborne and Co. accepting hardware from commissioner Dan Beebe on their way out the door. Short of David Stern handing the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Mark Cuban, it’s hard to imagine a more uncomfortable presentation.”
Nebraska will have a very favorable schedule this season so a run for BCS game appearance would not be out of the question if it is all about wins. Nebraska hosts Western Kentucky and Idaho each of the first two weeks, which should result in a pair of victories, before a trip to the northwest to take on Pac-10 up-and-comer Washington. The Huskies will be led by Heisman hopeful quarterback Jake Locker so the Nebraska defense could have their work cut out for them.
After the trip to Washington Nebraska returns home to play FCS opponent South Dakota State for homecoming before opening up Big 12 conference play. The Huskers will not have to play Oklahoma, who should be on the rebound this season, and they will get to play Texas, Missouri and Colorado at home. The toughest game on the schedule might be the road game at Texas A&M but Nebraska could realistically be the favorite each week of the season.
Nebraska is the favorite to win the Big 12 north, which would put them in their sixth conference championship game. Can they leave the conference on a high note before moving to the Big Ten?