LINCOLN — Nebraska joining the Big Ten hasn’t exactly been a pleasure cruise, but one of the perks was watching Michigan State in those first five years (2011-15) NU was in the league.
The Huskers and Spartans played each year, and each game in its own way was revealing. MSU had defensive linemen, linebackers and length on the edge at corner and receiver. Before Nebraska started aiming for Ohio State’s benchmark at those positions, Michigan State was doing just fine, and it was a program to which NU could capably compare itself. Nebraska even won three of those first five games.
You can have a certain respect for coach Mark Dantonio, a sturdy, tough, slightly formal man who built a program that traded blows with Michigan and Ohio State. He wasn’t a celebrity like Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh, but he fit the lunch-pail attitude of Michigan State fans who are, perhaps, the most blue-collar bunch in the league.
But after Michigan State’s College Football Playoff berth in 2015, a lot of the tougher, mid-three-star players who built Dantonio’s empire left. Like a lot of coaches, he aimed for a little higher class of talent. And things started to erode until now, when Michigan State is slipping back to where Dantonio found the program in the mid-2000s.
From the start of the 2016 season to now, Michigan State is 24-23. The offense has hovered around three touchdowns per game. The defense has allowed about that, too. Of the 47 games, 22 were decided by 10 or fewer points. Michigan State is 11-11 in those.
Spartan football has plateaued. A 37-34 loss to Illinois — in which Michigan State, in its ludicrous neon uniforms, lost a giant lead — is the latest indignity to Dantonio’s past four seasons.
The coach has taken heat for not making major changes in his offensive staff — he mostly shuffled around job responsibilities — and bristled earlier this season when asked to revisit the decision after a 38-0 loss to Wisconsin.
“We’re seven games into the schedule,” Dantonio said. “I think that’s sort of a dumbass question, to be quite honest with you.”
It’s a fair question after MSU gained 149 yards and scored zero points, but the tenor of Dantonio’s response reveals how sensitive it is. And as MSU heads to rival Michigan as a 14-point underdog, it underlines the need for a big upset to prolong Dantonio’s tenure.
Harbaugh, who often likes to poke at Michigan State, had nothing but love for Dantonio in his Monday press conference.
“We understand Coach Dantonio’s a master motivator,” Harbaugh said.
Dantonio will need every speech and trick he’s got. He may need it, too, to give him one more year on the job.
My pick: No. 14 Michigan 31, Michigan State 24
Other Big Ten picks
No. 15 Wisconsin (7-2, 4-2) at Nebraska (4-5, 2-4)
The Badgers are unchanging and happy to be that way. Nebraska is undergoing its most significant transformation since the mid-2000s. Is there a game, just one, where NU shows its progress and fights in an unexpected way? Yes, but Wisconsin’s run game is what it is — excellent. Even against good defenses.
My pick: Wisconsin 33, Nebraska 21
No. 24 Indiana (7-2, 4-2) at No. 9 Penn State (8-1, 5-1)
Odd line here. It’s kind of like Illinois-Michigan State last week. Indiana has an offense very similar to Minnesota’s, and Penn State’s offense — a boom-or-bust operation that has loads of talent but average consistency — hasn’t changed all year. The Nittany Lions win, but this should be a football game.
My pick: Penn State 37, Indiana 27
No. 17 Minnesota (9-0, 6-0) at No. 23 Iowa (6-3, 3-3)
The Hawkeyes have won four straight games in the Floyd of Rosedale series and six of the past seven. How much will Minnesota have in the tank after an emotional win over Penn State? Plenty. The Gophers have defied all odds to this point. While Iowa has played spoiler often — Ohio State in 2017, Michigan in 2016, Penn State in 2008 — it won’t happen here.
My pick: Minnesota 23, Iowa 20
No. 2 Ohio State (9-0, 6-0) at Rutgers (2-7, 0-6)
With zero incentive to be merciful, the Buckeyes won’t be and almost can’t be with 74 players on the travel roster.
My pick: Ohio State 65, Rutgers 2
Massachusetts (1-9) at Northwestern (1-8)
How breathtaking is it that Northwestern, a one-win team, is favored by this much over another FBS team? Is UMass tanking for a fictional draft pick? How does a team give up 53 points per game?
My pick: Northwestern 38, Massachusetts 17
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The Nebraska cheerleaders, band, and mascot welcome the team back to Memorial Stadium.
A visual overview of the University of Nebraska’s mascots over the years, originally published in 2003 by the Omaha World-Herald to celebrate a new and improved version of Herbie Husker.
Photos and information provided by World-Herald photographers and staff writers, NU Sports Information, and the Robert Ihrig Cornhusker Collection.
From 1900 to the 1940s, various corn images appeared on athletic publications, cheerleader outfits and fan material. By the late '30s and early '40s, the corn images started to take on a human appearance. A character with a head of corn dates back to the Corn Cobs men's spirit group mascot around 1942. This figure appeared throughout the next couple of decades, but apparently had no official name. Unofficial names for the cornhead figure included Corn Cob Man, Johnnie Husker and Old Man Cornhusker.
"Johnnie Husker" mascot on display at Bob's Gridiron Grille in Lincoln, Neb.
This character resembled the first cornhead guy, but this time looked more like a full ear of corn. Mr. Cornhead also sometimes sported a Bob Devaney-influenced cowboy hat. It was not uncommon to see multiple Mr. Cornheads roaming the sidelines during the games.
2011: Cornhead-wearing fans from Canadian, Texas continue tradition as they take in the scene at Memorial Stadium, before a football game against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
In 1962, the Corn Cobs introduced a new figure to replace the cornhead guy. The nine-foot straw-hatted giant was called Husky the Husker. The mascot's tenure, however, was short-lived, due in large part to the arrival of new coach Bob Devaney in 1962.
Coach Devaney is said to have been unimpressed with the Husky Husker character. A new image was needed. By 1963, as a nod to Devaney's previous job with the Wyoming Cowboys, red cowboy hats with the letter 'N' were made available for fans through free hat promotions. Likewise, a new generation of mascots would emerge also wearing cowboy hats.
Created by Bill Goggins, this character first appeared in the November 7, 1964 issue of Nebraska Farmer magazine. Initially called Mr. Big Red, the character later became known as Harry Husker. The character eventually became a sideline mascot in the early '70s, but after 1973, Harry vanished and Herbie Husker appeared.
"Harry Husker" mascot on display at Bob's Gridiron Grille in Lincoln, Neb.
1971: The Kansas Jayhawk and Baby Jay meet Mr. Cornhusker. Though Cornhusker was outnumbered two to one in mascots, Nebraska ran away with the game, 55-0.
2010: A Harry Husker mascot head from the 1950s and '60s continues to watch over fans at Barry's Bar & Grill in Lincoln.
A lady counterpart to Harry Husker appeared on a mug in 1965 that was given to parents by the Athletic Department. A Harry Husker mug was given to the fathers, and a Harriet Husker was given to the mothers.
"Harriet Husker" mascot on display at Bob's Gridiron Grille in Lincoln, Neb.
The most enduring of all Husker mascots first appeared in 1974. New coach Tom Osborne had taken over the year before, and it seemed time for another image change. Sports Information Director Don Bryant commissioned for the creation of a new mascot after seeing a cartoon by artist Dirk West of Lubbock, Texas, depicting a Nebraska farmer in overalls. Shortly thereafter, Herbie Husker was adopted as the official team symbol.
"Herbie Husker" mascot on display at Bob's Gridiron Grille in Lincoln, Neb.
1989: Herbie Husker underwent numerous manifestations over thirty years as mascot.
1996: Herbie Husker Keith Cunnings, a sophomore from Grand Island, gets suited up as Missouri's mascot zips up his tiger suit in the background.
2011: A Herbie Husker yard sign is garnished with a flotation device near the toll bridge connecting Decatur, Nebraska to Iowa - an area that had been heavily flooded earlier that year.
This character first appeared in the fall of 1993. Born of the vision of Associate Athletic Director Barbara Hibner, Lil' Red is known for his many antics. He dances, he stands on his head, and he can even make his head disappear. The mascot is an eight-foot tall figure inflated by a small battery-powered fan, worn by the human operator inside. Originally intended to appeal to children, Lil' Red has won national awards and rave reviews from across the country.
In early 2003, Athletic Director Steve Pederson announced that a new and improved Herbie Husker would be unveiled for the upcoming season. The new look trades in the overalls for jeans as well as leaner and more athletic body.
2009: A sharply-dressed Herbie Husker high-fives a fan as Nebraska took on Louisiana-Lafayette at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.
2016: Herbie Husker takes off his hat during the Big Red Bash at the Devaney Center in Lincoln.
2019: Herbie Husker also makes appearances at Nebraska basketball games. Here, he celebrates during halftime as Nebraska broke its seven-game losing streak with a 62-61 win over Minnesota.