Every win and loss that occurs over the course of a given college football season has serious repercussions. Some wins and losses, however, extend beyond the scope of a single season – and that’s precisely what would happen if, against the odds, the Nebraska Cornhuskers were to beat the Wisconsin Badgers this Saturday.
Coming into the 2011 season, Nebraska found itself in a very unique situation. Despite the Huskers being the new kids -- and they ended 2010 on a disappointing note, they were immediately catapulted to the top of the Big Ten food chain by virtue of their prestige and playing style. It makes sense, of course, given Nebraska’s traditional focus on defense and the run attack versus the typical Big 12 run-and-gun approach, but it was still interesting.
Now in the Big Ten, Nebraska has found itself in the precarious position of somehow having to defend the lofty expectations set for them in the preseason, all the while not being the ones to set those expectations themselves. Essentially, because the pundits and critics felt as though they -- along with Wisconsin -- were among the class of the Big Ten, the onus fell on the Huskers to prove the critics and pundits right.
In the early going, they stumbled. Against Chattanooga they didn’t dominate sufficiently. Against Fresno State the defense wasn’t all there. Against Washington the defense really wasn’t all there. And, finally, against Wyoming, they didn’t start playing particularly well until the second half.
As a result, despite the Huskers steadily climbing the national rankings over the past month, a growing pessimism has emerged regarding this anointed status, which (perhaps unfairly) stemmed from the preseason.
It feels like, these days, everyone is hoping that Wisconsin will take Nebraska down a peg, even if it wasn’t Nebraska who put themselves in the big seat initially.
And that’s precisely why a victory versus the Badgers would be huge for Bo Pelini and Co.
In one fatal swoop, they could legitimize themselves as a deserving member of the Big Ten elite, all the while shaking that conference to its very core. They would simultaneously take the perceived big dogs out of championship contention, and solidify themselves as the team to beat for the foreseeable future. Even if Nebraska were to beat Wisconsin this Saturday and then stumble down the line against some substandard Big Ten challenger as the season went on, that victory over the Badgers were keep the Huskers in the conversation as a conference elite for at least another year.
It would also instantly kill the notion that they are somehow undeserving of their current standing among the other top-tier teams in the country and the idea that they’re skating by on program prestige. That somehow, the Huskers’ blowout wins versus awful competition mean less than other teams’ blowout wins over awful competition. Things would be put in perspective – quickly.
Will Nebraska ultimately prove the skeptics wrong? Will the program shake the Big Ten up? Will they be the ones to take the highly-touted Badgers down a peg?
We’ll find out on Saturday.