Let's be absolutely honest here. It's time to mess with Texas.
In fact, while we're laying down the hyperbole, let's call Saturday's last dance between Nebraska and Texas what it is: the most personal home game for the Huskers since Oklahoma in 1978.
You could roll out phrases like “most important game'' or “most meaningful'' since Jim Pillen fell on Billy Sims' fumble. But the 1994 Colorado game featured No. 3 NU vs. No. 2 Colorado. Tom Osborne's first national title was still on the line and Bill McCartney was still Bela Lugosi to most Husker fans. That was pretty meaningful way back when.
Texas? It's important, meaningful and most of all incredibly personal for one simple reason.
Lose to the Longhorns again, and Nebraska will be packing demons on the way to the Big Ten.
Forget the current, blossoming circumstances for the moment. On Thursday night in Manhattan, Kan., Nebraska re-introduced itself as a national title contender. And all of the Heisman pundits and national talking heads know who Taylor Martinez is now. It's been a while since the Huskers have been this alive on the radar.
Ordinarily those things would take precedent over past grudges, but not this time. Not this week.
This one's not about last year's Big 12 title game. Or one second. You can't change what happened. You won't get revenge with a victory. Texas has the trophy and is not giving it up.
This isn't about the Big 12 and Big Ten. If Nebraska wins, it doesn't validate the move east. If the Huskers lose, it doesn't mean they should stay. Nebraska made the right move for itself. So did Texas.
Those are side issues, big-picture stuff that doesn't get settled with shoulder pads. Nebraska already told Texas what it could do with its ultimatum. It stared down the Horns in the board room. Doing it inside the white lines has always been trickier.
This isn't about a last word, either. Not really. Husker fans need to be mindful of that. Some K-Staters put this cosmic significance on Thursday's game, as if victory would be a statement of superiority that would last into infinity. Nah. A K-State win would not have changed the Huskers' view of the Big Ten or K-State or of themselves, for that matter.
Same is true this week. Texas doesn't care about Nebraska. Texas doesn't care if the Huskers are in the Big 12 or the Big East. Texas has never, ever thought about Nebraska, not before the Big 12 and not now. Texans are amused by Husker fans' angst and obsession over them. They don't understand it. They take delight in taunting and teasing NU. Mostly because Nebraskans care so much. Texas cares about money, power and winning. And Texas. Texas cares a lot about being Texas.
So the Big Red can't change that on Saturday. They can't thumb their nose at a league they never truly liked. That might come into play if NU plays for the league title. But this week is about something bigger. Something very personal.
Nebraska just needs to finally beat these guys.
It's been 11 years. Eleven. Where were you in December 1999? Charlie McBride was getting the best of Major Applewhite. Frank Solich won his Big 12 title, and NU's second — and last. Eric Crouch ran wild and it was 22-6 in the Alamodome. And everyone thought it was the beginning of a beautiful, bloody relationship.
But that was it. Texas is 8-1 against Nebraska in the Big 12, including five straight after that 1999 loss. Nobody in Lincolnland would have ever guessed that. But nobody saw a turbulent decade coming. While NU bumbled and stumbled the last 10 years, Mack Brown's program exploded.
They were two ships passing in the night. Even then, the average margin of victory in eight Texas wins over NU has been 6.3 points. Only the 2003 game in Austin (31-7) got out of hand.
And that's what really eats at Nebraskans. Not the arrogance or the power or the fact that Oklahoma turned away from Nebraska and toward Texas. The core of it all is that the Huskers just can't beat Texas. You could stomach some attitude if you beat them once in a while. You hear it from other corners of the Big 12: That's why Nebraska's leaving. Can't beat Texas.
If there's a regret to the timing of the move, that might be it. Nebraska is finally up on its feet and ready to take Texas. We saw it last December. We rarely saw these two on equal footing in the Big 12. If Nebraska was staying, this “rivalry'' would be strapped to a rocket. But it's not. And it won't. And that's why this one is a must-win for the soul.
NU needs to know it can do it.
This is somewhat similar to the 1970s. Osborne lost his first five games to Oklahoma. Back then, NU had beaten the Sooners in meaningful games of the century. But Osborne hadn't. And even though fans thought this young coach might work one day, he couldn't beat OU. And it was driving everyone nuts.
Finally, in perhaps the most brutally physical game in Memorial Stadium history, Osborne, Rick Berns, John Ruud and Pillen drew a line in the turf and got it done in 1978.
This game has that feel. It's the feel of urgency, broken bones and determination. It's time again. Or else it's going to be a long drive to Iowa City.
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