LINCOLN — Ask a member of Nebraska's senior class about his two Big 12 title game experiences and he's likely to grimace or groan.
It's hard to forget losses like those.
Both were like a punch to the gut, with victory — and a conference championship — nearly in their grasp.
In 2009, the Huskers lost a 13-12 heartbreaker to Texas. Round 2 came in 2010, when they suffered a 23-20 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma.
Against the Longhorns, the NU sideline gleefully poured onto the field, only to realize one second was to be added back on the clock. Texas promptly booted the winning field goal.
A year later, a party erupted on that same sideline after the Huskers took a 17-0 lead on the Sooners, but the enthusiasm was stripped away as NU's lead gave way to a Sooner comeback.
Time — it's been two years — helps dilute the sting, though it's possible that the Huskers involved never will quite escape the memory of those near-misses.
But they have a chance Saturday to secure some balance to the story. Nebraska, in its second year in the Big Ten, will play Wisconsin in the conference championship game at 7 p.m. in Indianapolis. It's NU's third try at a league title in four years. The program hasn't won one since 1999.
Not that players ever need added motivation when a trophy is on the line, but Nebraska's seniors are sincere when they say that they're driven to blot out past failures by finally getting that championship.
“There's those feelings of being disappointed with ourselves and how we played,” senior linebacker Will Compton said. “We've got to do everything necessary to not be in those positions again. We have to get it done this year.”
Compton's one of 29 seniors on the team, not all of whom played in both Big 12 championship games, though each felt the emotional aftermath.
They don't talk about it often — although in a low-key locker-room moment a couple of weeks ago, tight end Kyler Reed remembers chatting with a few teammates about the losses. Dwelling on those games has little benefit, Reed said.
Still, one takeaway resonates.
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That was the big lesson learned, and a word that will presumably be repeated on the Nebraska sideline inside Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.
Against Texas in 2009, the Huskers led 12-10 with 1:44 left, but a kickoff out of bounds and a horse-collar penalty helped the Longhorns get into position for the game-winning field goal. The clock dwindled down and showed all zeros after Colt McCoy threw an incompletion. But a second was added back on.
“We ran out there the first time against Texas before we got that called back,” Compton said, “so we've tasted winning and gotten that taken away from us.”
The 2010 game was just as bad, though.
Nebraska jumped to the 17-0 lead over the Sooners, who eventually stormed back. NU managed a 20-17 halftime advantage, but never scored again.
Said senior Ben Cotton: “We won half a quarter, but they won the other 3Ĺ, and that's why they were the victors. I think that's something that we have to keep in the back of our minds.”
The Huskers' track record this season should help them maintain confidence and poise. They've faced six second-half deficits in Big Ten play — and they've won five of those games.
Senior Rex Burkhead said earlier this week that he's noticed a different mind-set on this team, as compared with past squads. More focused. More accountable. Improved character.
“When you have guys pushing you every single day, then that drive and desire to win the Big Ten championship is always there,” Burkhead said.
It helps to know how failing feels, according to running backs coach Ron Brown.
Those past two losses in conference title games have influenced the way the team leaders approached the season, especially this week, Brown said. And he thinks the past will factor into how the Huskers react in key moments against Wisconsin on Saturday.
“That's why you go through the things you go through and you learn from that.” Brown said. “Obviously those lessons that the older guys have been through will kick in well for Saturday night.”
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