Husker Monday Takes: Ugly Big 12 Divorce, Big Ten Divisions

By at June 21, 2010 | 10:00 AM | Print

With all the news that’s traveled through our fine state during the last month, a summer version of Husker Monday Takes seemed in order. Here’s six of them:

*Nebraska’s football team should – and will – put on blinders for its final Big 12 season. Expect head coach Bo Pelini to place a moratorium on any Big Ten talk before the season begins – and for his senior-laden team to follow suit. There’s just no percentage in lingering on a future that hasn’t come to pass.

But the divorce between NU and its old league could be ugly. This “liquidated damages” clause – we’ll dive deeper into it this week – that extracts up to $40 million in revenue from the Huskers and Colorado won’t be hard to enforce – after all, it’s withholding distribution, not a penalty – but it could hard to uphold. If Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman is serious about this “withholding” being “inappropriate,” you could see NU move on this before the Big 12 even has a chance to withhold revenue.

It’ll be another distracting sideshow in a pivotal year of the Pelini era. Nebraska could legitimately be in the national title hunt – or out of the Big 12 North Division race by the end of October.

*But if the Huskers win big in 2010, Pelini is well-positioned to make the Midwest region – a seven-state area from Denver to St. Louis, from Bismarck to Wichita – his oyster. Our analogy: Nebraska football needs to be to the Midwest as the Boston Red Sox are to New England. And the conference realignment changes should help NU achieve that goal.

The slimmer version of the Big 12 will stick Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State and Iowa State in the hurt locker; the chance any will break through against schools with inherent recruiting and tradition advantages get smaller by the year. The Northern Four get to cultivate their precious basketball programs, with Kansas enjoying the biggest name; the Big 12 will serve those winter passions quite well. But not football.

Nebraska can – and should – step into that vacuum. Don’t worry; it’ll be there. Within four years time, all of the Big 12 South programs will have surpassed their northern brothers. Consider: A thoroughly mediocre Baylor team – missing its starting quarterback – put a good scare into NU and upset Missouri in 2009. And the Bears haven’t even started integrating their best recruiting classes into the two-deep yet.

When the time is right, Bo needs to do the weeklong media tour to all the big stops: Denver, Des Moines, KC, Minneapolis, Sioux Falls, Wichita. Get the name out. Mark the territory. When there’s a Bubba Starling to land – land him. The Big Ten brand has staying power with kids.

*Of course Nebraska’s football recruiting will be affected in Texas, especially now that the Big 12 lives. Instead of the state being divided into four power leagues like postwar Berlin, it remains solid Big 12 country, with UT, as always, at the epicenter. Whereas some of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State’s recruiting inevitably would have shifted to the West Coast in a move to the Pac-10, it stayed rooted in their neighbor to the south.

NU’s exposure on the Big Ten Network will help ease the concerns of parents, but their best chance to see their sons in person will no longer be a day’s drive to Austin, Waco, Lubbock or College Station.

Remember: Since 1996, NU could promise recruits from Texas that at least one game would be played annually in the Lone Star State. Starting in 2011, that won’t be the case.

And Texas high school coaches can count on pressure, implicit and possibly explicit, from the Big 12 schools to keep Nebraska out of the Metroplex, where NU running backs coach Tim Beck has knocked down some doors in recent years.

Two ways to lessen the blow: Win so big it doesn’t make a lick of difference; or consider a home-and-home two-fer with Rice, SMU, Houston or TCU. I wouldn’t count on any of the Big 12 South teams, except perhaps OU in the distant future, ever scheduling Nebraska again.

Winning’s the better solution, yes?

Fortunately, Nebraska is well-positioned to make inroads into Big Ten country. The Brothers Pelini and Beck hail from Youngstown. Shawn Watson’s old stomping grounds is Illinois. Ted Gilmore coached at Purdue. Marvin Sanders is a Chicago native. Director of football operations Jeff Jamrog coached at Minnesota State. Strength coach James Dobson coached at Iowa and got his undergrad at Wisconsin.

*Three great things about landing verbal commitments Jamal Turner and Bubba Starling for the 2011 recruiting class:

1. Only Ohio State (with verbal commit Braxton Miller) can match NU’s haul in the Big Ten.
2. Both of them have enough athleticism to play several different positions.
3. They both run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash – which is damn fast.

Hey – where you can get speed like that, get it – and put it on the field. Somewhere.

Slender with a long, impressive stride, Starling is some athlete. Can he be a consistent passer in college? Does he have to be if he’s surrounded by a good offensive line? Turner is more accurate in the short and intermediate routes, and well-schooled in the spread offense. Durability and height could be an issue. Plus – Turner lacks Starling’s sheer upside.

*The Big Ten will undoubtedly create divisions in a way that achieves what the conference views as “competitive balance.” Hopefully the league doesn’t go overboard insisting that Penn State is one of the “big four” in the league, considering the Nittany Lions’ ten-year record (77-46) is worse than that of Iowa (80-41) and Wisconsin (86-43). If the criteria is relative longevity – a decade is a good marker – PSU is the fifth-best program in the Big Ten. Something to chew on.

Let’s not overdo it on the phony trophies, either. You can’t force tradition. You make some initial choices and let it unfold. For example: We can presume Nebraska and Penn State might be blood rivals in volleyball, but perhaps Minnesota, no slouch of a program itself, emerges instead. Same could happen in football.

*If you’re going to watch one sleeper team in the Big Ten this year, make it Michigan State. The Spartans are close, and head coach Mark Dantonio – a Nick Saban pupil – has recruited quite well for East Lansing. The 2010 conference schedule is a little rough, though – games at Michigan, Iowa and Penn State.

*Not a take – but be sure to take our Big Ten Survey – we’re interested in your take on NU’s new league!

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