Ask any Nebraska fan to describe the final years of the Big 12 experience, and you’re guaranteed to hear one school’s name time and time again: Texas.
The attention Husker faithful gave to the Longhorns dwarfed anyone else. From the inception of the Big 12 in 1996, the burnt orange seemed to make Nebraska’s blood boil for one reason or another.
Roll Left, the Nathan Vasher pick, the extra second, and so on. The Longhorns always had the Huskers’ number beating the Big Red nine times out of ten.
The distaste for Bevo’s actions on and off the field was so strong that it became a major factor in Nebraska departing the conference it had called home since 1907. It takes a true nemesis to make you feel unwelcome in your own backyard.
Like Mack Brown said in his folksy, slightly-condescending manner, “Never let the same team beat you twice.” The Huskers likely won’t play the Longhorns any time soon and have new business deals across the board.
While the scenery changed, could there be a new enemy lurking in the shadows? Who will be Nebraska’s next nemesis, the New Texas? Could it be Michigan and their deep pockets, Ohio State and their recruiting prowess? Wisky, Sparty or the Hawkeyes? To answer that, we have to look at what turned Texas into public enemy No. 1 in the first place.
- Heartbreaking losses and the suffering afterwards: Texas doled out plenty of losses to Nebraska, but so did Oklahoma (4-1 since 2004) and Texas Tech (4-0). They never generated Longhorn-style heat from Nebraska faithful. It was how the Huskers lost to the Longhorns that defined the poisonous rivalry – One part close margin of loss, and one part self-inflicted wounds.
Texas beat Nebraska nearly every time, but what made it maddening were the scores. 20-16, 24-20, 22-20, 28-25, and who can forget 13-12? The outcomes were often thanks in large part to Nebraska itself: falling for Roll Left, skipping the game-tying field goal to throw the end zone pick and dropping the ball (literally) on Terrence Nunn’s game-sealing first down.
Even the infamous extra second was after the Huskers’ vaunted 2009 defense finally showed some cracks. These games always seemed be televised with a lot on the line to boot. Close, self-induced losses for the entire world to see.
- Painful program disparities: The University of Texas at Austin, deep in the heart of the Lone Star State, has one of the most enviable recruiting positions in the country with near unlimited access to blue chippers and the ability to fill up Junior Day every year.
Nebraska, with no interior FBS-level pipeline, has to work for every star. Recruiting, much like all areas of football operations, also takes deep pockets to function properly. Even as a national brand, the Huskers will never have Texas-sized coffers. The Longhorns never struggle to keep up with the Joneses. They are the Joneses.
- Clear, undeniable and irreconcilable differences: Nebraska is built on blue collar football. Walk on, work hard, run the ball, play defense. Nothing fancy. Texas, on the other hand, seemed all about flash and panache.
The pedigree of Chris Simms, the rebellious spirit of Ricky Williams, the raw athleticism of Vince Young; all perfect foils to Nebraska’s low key cast.
Even the coaching staffs were cut of a different cloth. Bo Pelini was as much a hard-nosed media-avoiding coach as Mack Brown was a smarmy, media-loving coach. Nebraskans never seemed to warm up to Brown like they did Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops.
Brown, in a constantly quasi-patronizing way, showed respect for Nebraska, but it was hard to at least question if it wasn’t because he was so often on the winning end.
Beyond Nebraska and Texas’ differing playing styles and staffs, the states themselves always seemed farther apart than the friendly 450 miles down I-35 would suggest. On the football field, these contrasting approaches clashed in a rare, tangible way.
Who will be the new source of heartburn for the Husker faithful? With a season full of Big Ten data in the books, several recurring matchups hold promise.
Wisconsin looks to be a salty, cross-divisional battle. Penn State has a geographical, big brand, Big Ten book-end appeal. Michigan has the yearly clash of college football royalty in its favor.
Ohio State has the Youngstown connection. Michigan State has a strange, respectful fellowship brewing. Iowa is the validated border war that so many Nebraskans craved in the days of the Big 12. In a single season, one gets the idea that the Cornhuskers will have no shortage of potential dates to the rivalry prom.
The question remains: Who’s “Texas?” A nemesis is different than a rival, while not mutually exclusive. The key difference being that a rival often respects you, but a nemesis hates you and everything about you.
We can use the process of elimination to shrink our list of the aforementioned Big Ten roster. Let’s boldly remove the Urban Meyer-led elephant in the room: Ohio State.
After all, last season Nebraska borrowed some Longhorn Luck against The Ohio State, winning a 34-27 comeback special. With Bo’s Ohio connection, it seems the Buckeyes may end up more of an “Oklahoma” in Nebraska’s eyes, so they’re out.
So is Penn State, who won’t likely win many football games for a long time. Wisconsin and Michigan State seem to have the ingredients to spoil some Husker seasons, but neither program has the deep pockets we’re looking for, and let’s face it, they’re basketball schools when it comes down to it.
Iowa is intriguing and seems thorn-worthy, but in reality they’re too much like Nebraska. There’s no culture clash. It’s also difficult to imagine the Hawkeyes crushing the Huskers’ dreams year in and year out.
With their black and gold uniforms making the comparison all too natural, the Hawkeyes seem more like the Big Ten’s Missouri equivalent as far as the Big Red is concerned.
Only one team remains. Another football giant, and one of a different temperament, one that’s a little meaner: Michigan.
The maize and blue has no love lost for Nebraska. Ask any Michigan fan who the “real” 1997 national champion is. You’ll receive an angry burst about being wronged at the hands of Nebraska. Fresh anger, like it all went down yesterday. Husker fans are more than ready to defend their position, too.
While both teams have only met once under the Big Ten banner, the programs seem to have a head start on hating each other.
Put the Wolverines up against the criteria listed and it all syncs up. Last season, Michigan delivered a jagged 45-17 drubbing, memorable thanks in no small part to Nebraska helping out with an eye-popping string of errors.
The win catapulted Michigan to a BCS appearance, a win over Virginia Tech, and an 11-2 season. Nebraska faded from the BCS picture, and ended the season with a thud. With so much on the line, the Wolverines bested the Huskers by never losing their cool.
Very Texas-like and with Brady Hoke closing the books on just his first season at the helm, it’s easy to see more losses being handed to Nebraska courtesy of Hoke and company.
In terms of program differences, Michigan is hard to compare with anyone, let alone Nebraska. Much like Texas, they are built on prestige. Wolverines know this, and they treasure it openly. The all-time NCAA wins record, the ridiculous 11 national titles, the “Michigan Man.”
The Wolverines can be summed up with one simple image: Desmond Howard’s Heisman pose. It’s hard to imagine anything that clashes more with Nebraska’s football philosophy.
The Huskers have some of the greatest fans in college football with the NCAA sellout record to show for it, while the stories coming out of the Big House regarding Buckeye visitors are enough to make even Mack Brown blush.
Finally, there’s the culture. Both states are Midwestern, cold weather and blue collar. Any argument of complete symmetry between these states needs to take a “Michigan left.” Detroit and the entire state of Michigan were built off the auto industry. They are blue collar in a manufacturing sense, while Nebraska is in an agricultural sense.
Michigan claims 10 million people and shrinking, while Nebraska steadily cruises toward two million in population. Michigan thinks Nebraska is flyover country. Nebraska thinks Michigan is rust country.
The two states don’t meet in the middle on much despite being Midwestern brethren. They are New Big Ten versus Old Big Ten. Nebraska versus Michigan, It has a nice, nasty ring to it. It seems like a rivalry in the making, but there’s a weird vibe about it, something we’ve all felt before.
It may be a new era in Nebraska football, but somewhere along the Big Red in the Big Ten parade route lurks a new archenemy. It’s much like the old one, except this one has wings instead of horns.