Published Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 10:52 pm / Updated at 1:30 am
football
Shatel: Got the Big Ten blahs? Nebraska has itself to blame

So you've got the Big Ten blues?

So you've had it up to the top of the East Stadium with 11 a.m. starts against Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota?

So you've been around the Big Ten block once and you've seen the sports cathedrals and ivy and the thrill is already gone?

So you're frustrated by Nebraska's inability to move up in the rankings and you're blaming it on the Big Ten? And you look at the last six games and they don't look so interesting anymore?

So you look with more than a hint of envy at Florida State, jumping back into the national title scene, with the next big thing at quarterback? And you wonder how anyone is going to notice ol' Nebraska on this deserted island, in a league that just invited Rutgers and Maryland to the table?

So let's cut to the chase.

This isn't about the Big Ten. This is about Nebraska.

Now, maybe this isn't for you. Maybe you're on board with the Big Ten, and good for you. Be patient. It's going to get better. More on that later.

This is for the readers who responded to Dirk Chatelain's “Mad Chatter” blog*, the ones who said the Big Ten isn't what they'd hoped, and some are looking longingly to the Big 12. Stop that.

*Editor's note: Dirk posted the responses he received in several blog posts over the course of last week. You can find them here, here, and here.

And this is for the fans who I've heard echo those sentiments, who are frustrated by the lack of juice in the Big Ten, the lack of compelling games at Memorial Stadium.

Don't blame the Big Ten. This one's on the Big Red.

Sure, the Big Ten has its issues. For starters, Big Ten football mysteriously lacks the vision and guts of, say, Big Ten basketball.

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The unwillingness to move league games to take advantage of prime time in September and November. The refusal to schedule marquee nonconference games.

For instance, Michigan announced Wednesday future games with Central Florida, Air Force and SMU. That's to go with scheduled games against UNLV, Utah, Appalachian State and Cincinnati. The Wolverines do have a series with Arkansas and a neutral site game against Florida down the road. Thanks for that, Blue.

The Big Ten plods along in football because it can. The networks are the enablers. In a few years, they'll drop enough dime on the Big Ten to make it the leader in TV revenue.

Here in the Big Ten, you have to create your own urgency. And playoff committee buzz.

Which brings us back to Nebraska.

The folks holding their noses at the quality of Big Ten opponents need to take a trip back in the Big Eight hot tub time machine.

Pick a year, any year. How about 1987?

The Huskers won their first five league games 54-2, 35-0, 56-3, 42-7 and 42-3, respectively, before their only league loss, 17-7 to Oklahoma.

That year, second-ranked NU also beat UCLA 42-33, Arizona State 35-28 and South Carolina 30-21. That was the thing about back-in-the-day Nebraska. The nonconference schedules were usually stacked, in case the league wasn't.

And it wasn't.

These complaints about Purdue and Minnesota and Michigan State? You never heard them when NU was mowing down Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State.

That's because Big Red types were too busy scheming for a way to beat OU at the end, and then packing for south Florida or Arizona. Every single year.

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Every. Single. Year. The Big Eight race was laughable. Occasionally Colorado or Okie State would rise up and try their luck. But most games were a way to pass the time until The Game.

The Big Eight used to do a coaches teleconference. Midway through each season, writers would ask each coach to compare Nebraska and Oklahoma. Iowa State coach Jim Walden once said of Nebraska, “They're big, they're fast, they're strong and their mamas love 'em.”

Their mamas still love them, but somewhere alone the way, the Huskers ceased to be bigger, faster and stronger than everyone else.

If there's apathy, if there's frustration, put it on that.

The Big Ten is average, but it's got nothing on some of those Big Eight schedules. The Big 12 was good, not great. At least fans got to see Oklahoma or Texas on a regular basis, unlike what the Big Ten is doing with its nine-game rotations.

But somewhere along the line, it became about the quality of opponents coming to Lincoln. And that's the point, too.

If all is well with the Huskers, Nebraskans have no problem kicking through the leaves week after week, whether it be Purdue or Kansas under the pile.

What's missing aren't trips to Eskimo Joe's or Aggieville. It's the trips to South Beach and Scottsdale.

I'm sure Husker fans have fond memories and good friends from the old days. But any attachment to the past comes from year after year of celebrating in those haunts.

Yes, Big Ten football is boring. But there was no excitement like a 50-2 thrashing of the Big Eight Game of the Weak.

The inability to move up the rankings, or flag down the Associated Press voters? That's on Nebraska's inability to show well in a big game — most notably UCLA — not the mediocrity that is Big Ten football.

Embarrassed by being in the Big Ten? Flip it around. When is Nebraska going to do something for the Big Ten?

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Conference image is simple. It's always been about the health at the top. If you have two teams in the top 10 — preferably your big names — that's a strong league.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and Husker fans have one big thing in common: both want Nebraska to start doing what Nebraska does best. And that's be Nebraska.

The Huskers look like strong candidates to win the Legends Division and end up back in Indy. If there's apathy or skepticism, it's from people who think they know how that movie ends.

Florida State had its game-changing moment last week at Clemson. Going to Indy and winning the Big Ten would be that moment for Nebraska.

I still think the Big Ten will be a good place for Nebraska. The addition of Rutgers and Maryland muddies future schedules. But if — or when — Iowa gets back up, I see the games with the Badgers and Hawkeyes becoming an intense triangle.

It will take time. It will take winning. Lots of winning.

The recruiting gurus say Ohio State and Michigan are cleaning up in recruiting. Give Bill O'Brien time to build Penn State. The dynamic of this league could be totally different in five years. Or less.

Maybe, then, you won't hear how conference games aren't an anchor weighing down the Big Ten's chances of being in the four-team playoff.

For Nebraska, that sounds like a nice problem to have.

* * *

>> Video: The Big Ten Preview Show, Oct. 23



>> Video: The Big Red Today Show, Oct. 22

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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