Heavy is the head that wears the Big Ten crown, apparently.
Leading up this week’s highly anticipated, winner-take-all Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Wisconsin Badgers showdown, the coaches of both teams are doing their best to keep expectations at bay.
"The hoopla's all for you guys," Bo Pelini told reporters at his Monday news conference in Lincoln, Neb. regarding his team’s next outing. "It's just the next game on the schedule for us, the first conference game.
"What we're concentrating on is getting better as a football team. We've got a lot of things we need to improve upon and get better (at). We're just working day in and day out to try and become a better football team."
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On the other side of the equation, Bret Bielema is trying a slightly different approach. While acknowledging the magnitude of this Saturday’s battle, the Badgers head coach also simulationiously looked to temper expectations by pointing out how great the Huskers are – despite being the new kids on the block.
"I told our team (Sunday), 'How many times can you, as a player or coach, say you're going to be involved with the start of league play in a new division alignment, against an opponent the caliber of Nebraska?'" Bielema told reporters.
"The tradition, the history, everything they bring with themselves, in addition to being just a really good football team this year."
For Wisconsin, this week is all about shutting out outside influences. Already the pundits, critics and, well, odds makers anticipate that they’ll throw Nebraska beating this weekend, and it’s hard to keep the players on an even keel with so much noise coming from all directions. Bielema realizes, no doubt, that being the favorite coming into this game isn’t particularly advantageous for his bunch, and that’s why he’s trying to heap on as much praise onto the other side as possible.
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Pelini isn’t having any of that, though. For him, it’s all about milking the we-don't-care-what-anyone-says-about-us card.
"We don't pay attention to the odds. That's for you guys," he responded, when told that Wisconsin was a heavy Vegas favorite. "You guys approach it any way you want. We don't talk about whether we're underdogs or 30-point favorites. Our approach doesn't really change.”
Make no mistake about it, however, this game is just as huge for Pelini and Co. as it is for the other side. Look no further than Tom Osborne’s recent plea regarding what colors the fans should be wearing this Saturday for a surefire indicator of that. This weekend's battle is a way of legitimizing the Huskers as a true blue, Big Ten powerhouse – and it essentially cements the winner as the team to beat in new and improved B1G Ten.
For now, though, fans on both sides can have a little fun watching Pelini and Bielema play hot potato with the burdensome expectations that neither program wants at this early juncture of the season. As the players prepare to lace up and go to war on the field this Saturday, the head coaches at the helm of both of these schools are already engaged in a fascinating game of gamesmanship through the press.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. eastern time on Saturday.