It seemed a little clearer during the Big 8 days of Nebraska Football, but during the Big 12 era, who was really the true rival of the Big Red? Some say it still was and always will be Oklahoma, even if the two teams played only twice in a four year stretch. Some say it was with Colorado, because there was never a lot of love lost between Herbie and Ralphie. Both teams also played every season. In the final stretch, many would also point to Texas (I put myself in that category). All of those answers are legitimate and had a special significance to them in their own way.
Those years are gone, though, and Nebraska is making is final preparations for season two of the Big 10. This year, the same as last, the Huskers first test will be against Wisconsin. And folks, we may have found our new rivalry.
There may be some debate to that, and by all means, Nebraska’s time in the conference is still fresh so the floor is open to possibilities. It seems pretty clear that the conference wanted this to be the new rivalry, even if the two teams only face off twice every four years like the Huskers had against Oklahoma. On the other hand, Penn State seemed to be the likely candidate, especially since the conference allowed a division crossover so the teams could play every year. It’s not the same, but that’s similar to the old Colorado scenario. However, while that could develop into a classic rivalry one day, Penn State’s more pressing issues could have that on hold for a while. Iowa also feels like a natural fit, and the fans on both sides have no trouble taunting each other, but this could be a hot-and-cold rivalry. The Hawkeyes may rebound at some point but haven’t had much to sing about so far this year.
Going into Year 2, Wisconsin feels like the true front runner for the the Rival. The Team You Love to Hate. A fuel for some friendly football animosity for the future years to come. It’s not even for the revenge aspect that the game this Saturday has been labeled with (touching on that subject later). Yes, the Badgers gave Nebraska a rude welcome last year. The Huskers were outplayed, outcoached, out-everything. While getting a “revenge-like” win this year would feel good, that doesn’t really constitute a true rivalry. It’s just a piece of the puzzle. The teams, the players, the fans, and even the media really have to get in on it to feel like a rivalry, and there’s a possible storm brewing here.
Last year, Huskers fans also received a rude welcome by the Badger fan base. Crude chants, miscellaneous items thrown around…feels like a trip to Boulder, doesn’t it? That’s unfortunate, it’s one thing to be passionate about the game, but at the end of the day, people need show respect to each other no matter what team color. This year, hopefully Husker fans will do what they’ve always done, and not respond to it equally as negative. Not to say all Husker fans are innocent, nor that all Wisconsin faithful are garbage-flingers. Let’s keep it clean and fun, or at least leave the trash for talking.
Speaking of which, there’s seems to be some choice actions on the player level as well. Since everything was still really new last year and the teams had to feel each other out, the “communication” directed at the opposite squad has gotten a little spicier this season, just ask Wisconsin defensive-end David Gilbert. Apparently, he had plenty to say about Taylor Martinez. Maybe in good fun, maybe not. Coach Bielema decided it was not, and Gilbert will sit out the first play of Saturday’s game. Kudos to Bielema for trying to keep things professional. No doubt that resonated with Pelini and his crew, so one shouldn’t expect any recoil from Nebraska players, not unless they want the same punishment.
Aren’t rivalries fun?
This game should no doubt be a hard hitter for both sides, not only physically, but also mentally and maybe even verbally. Husker players may save their talk for the field. Granted, Nebraska nor Wisconsin are where they’ve wanted to be this season, but that won’t stop them from trying. Wisconsin has a great coaching staff, and while this squad may be less talented-looking without Russell Wilson, Ball has been cleared to play, and he will be a load for the Blackshirts. Missed tackles are not an option for this game. The Badgers will be well prepared and ready to play.
Touching on the point made earlier, Nebraska could benefit from not approaching this as revenge. Bragging rights until the next matchup? Sure, why not. Not revenge, though. Historically, and this is with any team in any game, but has it seemed like teams that go out for “revenge” end up playing sloppy and going home with another loss 90% of the time (NU vs. Texas in the cringe-worthy 2010 game)? If a team wants true redemption, make a statement instead of revenge. Nebraska should try to beat Wisconsin the same way they would beat a non-rival. They should win with execution. The same way and the only way Nebraska can bring home a conference title. Bo beats that word to death, but it’s a meaningful term.
Rivalries are intense. Rivalries are also a blast to watch. This year, Husker fans get some new uniforms to keep track of to make it even more interesting. Ohio State versus Michigan State will be a fantastic game to be sure, at least it looks that way on paper, but there’s a feeling in the air that Lincoln is going to be the Big 10 place to be Saturday night.
By Tyler Wanek
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