2011’s Best Big Ten Rivalry: Nebraska vs. Wisconsin


Back when the B1G Ten was the Big Ten, the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines ruled supreme. They were considered the crème de la crème of the conference, two of the most prestigious schools in all of college football, and infallible by any and all fans.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

These days, Ohio State can’t run away from the spotlight fast enough. And Michigan, well, Michigan is so irrelevant in the here and now that they may as well be a Pac-12 school. In their place rose two new conference powers, though – one new and one old.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers have taken the new Big Ten by storm without ever even having played a single game. A program that was always more suited for the Big Ten style of play than the way things are done over in the Big 12, the Cornhuskers now find themselves in ideal position if they play their cards right. In the recently released AP top-25 poll, Nebraska came in at No. 10, firmly atop the other teams belonging to their new conference and a mere one spot ahead of the school that they’ll inevitably battle all year long – the Wisconsin Badgers.

The Wisconsin Badgers are the closest thing the Big Ten had seen to a Nebraska-like program prior to Nebraska actually coming on the scene. In fact, in 2010, they were a better version of Nebraska. They’re consistently well coached, win due far more to their intestinal fortitude than the talent on their roster, and have an undeniably scary never-say-die attitude at seemingly all times. In the somewhat recent Coaches Poll top-25 that was released, Wisconsin came in at No. 10, firmly atop the other teams belonging to their conference and a mere one spot ahead of the school that they’ll inevitably battle all year long – the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

The Cornhuskers and Badgers are set to go to war on October 1 for Big Ten supremacy, but until then, comparing and contrasting the two teams on paper will have to suffice.

Wisconsin obviously lost a big piece of last year’s Rose Bowl squad in Scott Tolzien, and it remains to be seen if Russell Wilson will be good enough to fill that void. What Tolzien lacked in style and glitz, he more than made up for in smarts and perseverance. The one thing that he was missing, however, was infinite potential – which is precisely what Wilson brings to the table. Whereas Tolzien did what he needed to do and he did it well, Wilson has that special something that could make him one of the most terrifyingly strong game-changers in the Big Ten. When you add Montee Ball, James White and Nick Toon into that already enthralling pot, you see why the Badgers have one of the most respected squads coming into this 2011 season.

Nebraska, meanwhile, is learning from mistakes past. Bo Pelini sat back last year and watched his inconstant offense hinder his group’s chances of making one last legitimate impression on the Big 12 in what would have been poetic fashion. And while a lot of the offense’s struggles could be attributed to their young, rough-around-the-edges passer, Taylor Martinez, the Huskers’ head coach clearly felt as though some of the blame deserved to levied onto the shoulders of Ted Gilmore and Shawn Watson.

Look for freshly promoted offensive coordinator, Tim Beck, to pound the idea of holding onto the football into his guys’ heads, something that should play a pretty substantial difference in the team’s future success. Furthermore, a full year of seasoning for Martinez mixed in with the maturation of Rex Burkhead, Kyler Reed and Brandon Kinnie is very intriguing, to say the least. If the offense can get itself together, as many expect that it can, the Huskers suddenly become an extremely complete football team.

Nebraska’s real ace in the hole, though, remains their defense. The fact that the team is returning three All-Americans in Alfonzo Dennard, Lavonte David and Jared Crick means that the side of the ball that the Cornhuskers typically rely on most is laced with athleticism, experience and technical acuity. Whereas in seasons past they’ve more or less had to compensate for the offense’s notable flaws, if all goes according to plan, that won’t have to be the case this year.

So what does all of this mean in terms of who’s better between Wisconsin and Nebraska? Nothing. Games aren’t won on paper, and that’s a pretty big reason why these two programs (who traditionally win gritty) have been as prominently successful as they have been. The question of who is better can only be answered in one way – on the football field, with everything on the line.

October 1 can’t come quickly enough.


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