The Nebraska Cornhuskers have a new home in the Big Ten blog, and bloggers Adam Rittenberg and David Ubben are guiding the Big Red ship through these waters of transition. Before Ubben and the Big 12 give up Nebraska for good, it's time for something we like to call a blog debate.
Adam Rittenberg: Mr. Ubben, I know you're all torn up about losing Nebraska. How can you possibly wake up in the morning without all those e-mails from Huskers fans flooding your inbox? Somehow, you must push forward. We here in Big Ten country certainly appreciate your generosity. The Big Ten undoubtedly gets better with the addition of Nebraska.
Let's face it: The Big Ten needs to catch the SEC, and Nebraska gives the league another big-name program with a ton of tradition on the football field. Nebraska has reached back-to-back Big 12 championship games and could have won both. Bo Pelini seems to have things going in the right direction, aside from his sideline flare-ups. My question to you is this: How close is Nebraska to becoming a true national powerhouse once again?
David Ubben: Very, very close, and if the ball had bounced their way a bit different a few times during the previous season, we might already be agreeing that the Huskers were truly back.
Pelini announced Nebraska was back after the Holiday Bowl win following the 2009 season and I agree with his statement. Nebraska won't play anyone next season, and didn't play anyone this season, that they didn't have a very good chance of beating. Doing that consistently is what separates the elite programs from everybody else. Everything is in place for Nebraska to have big-time success moving forward. They have tons of talent, lots of depth and a great coaching staff. There are obvious places where improvement is necessary, namely on offense, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Nebraska become a major player in the national title race in the next few years. They weren't far off this season.
We've heard a lot of talk about next season's schedule, though. How tough will it be? Where do you think Nebraska fits into the Big Ten on the field in Year 1?
AR: The Big Ten certainly is doing Nebraska no favors right off the bat. Not only will the Huskers play five teams, in what I think will be a very competitive division, but their crossover opponents are the three top teams in the Leaders division (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State). Two of those games (Wisconsin and Penn State) are on the road. Bottom line: We'll find out very soon how well Nebraska stacks up with the Big Ten's top teams. If the Huskers can win their division after going through this schedule, they'll immediately put themselves among the Big Ten's elite.
Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, we've heard a lot about the cultural similarities between Nebraska and its new league and also some of the cultural differences between Nebraska and the Big 12. Big 12 officials didn't even deliver the North division trophy to Lincoln. How contentious did things get at the end with Nebraska and the Big 12?
DU: "Quite" probably doesn't do it justice, but suffice it to say, Nebraska welcomed the end of the Big 12 era. Ever since the Big 8 became the Big 12, Nebraska hasn't quite been as happy with the Texas-centric nature of the league. The league offices moved from Kansas City to Dallas and the Big 12 Championship was set to be played at Cowboys Stadium for the next three years before Colorado and Nebraska left. That's not why Nebraska is leaving, but it didn't help establish much good faith toward the Huskers. It's a mischaracterization to say they're running "from" the Big 12, but rather they're running "to" the Big Ten.
The action on the field didn't help ease the transition. Nebraska was the only team that had a player suspended for a helmet-to-helmet hit all season, and there were plenty of controversial calls in the Huskers' second loss of the season, on the road against Texas A&M. Their final two losses were mostly free of controversy, but like I said, Nebraska's bags are packed and they're definitely excited about the future in a more stable Big Ten.
What do you think will be the best and worst parts about the transition for the Huskers?
AR: The positives certainly outweigh the negatives. The Big Ten provides the stability Nebraska craves and the equitability from a revenue-sharing standpoint that the Big 12 lacks. Nebraska also aligns itself with a stronger group of academic institutions, and membership in the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (the Big Ten's internal academic association) will please those in the administration. Nebraska also will get a bump in exposure not just for its football team but for other athletic programs because of the Big Ten Network.
The biggest negative, other than a tougher schedule in most seasons, is the potential recruiting impact. Other than Ohio State and, at times, Penn State, the Big Ten isn't a major player on the national recruiting scene. Nebraska has had great success in the state of Texas, but it no longer will be playing games there on a regular basis and players and their families will have to travel a lot farther on fall Saturdays. Can the Huskers continue to recruit well in Texas and also establish themselves more in the Big Ten footprint?
OK, Ubben, you're on the spot. How much will Nebraska's departure impact the Big 12? Can the league continue to be considered one of the nation's elite or will the ACC and Big East have company soon?
DU: As long as the Big 12 survives as a league, and I believe it will, it will be fine. Next season isn't a big concern. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M should all be top-20 teams at worst, and Texas and Missouri could find their way into that group without surprising too many people as well.
Long term, I think there are a lot of programs moving in the right direction to keep the Big 12 a nationally relevant league. Nebraska leaving hurts, but it's not a death sentence. Oklahoma isn't going anywhere. It's hard to see Texas getting any worse, and the new network will help that, too. Texas A&M is probably the biggest question mark in terms of long-term success, but they finally got things moving under Mike Sherman and despite an underwhelming 2011 recruiting class, are off to a nice start in 2012.
Oklahoma State and Missouri are having great success, racking up a lot of wins even if they haven't been able to win the conference. Texas Tech looks like it's building some great things under Tommy Tuberville. Baylor is better than it has been in the history of the Big 12.
On the field, it should be fine.
And the flip side of that Nebraska recruiting debate is this: Where do you think those Texas players that don't choose to go to Nebraska will go? TCU is becoming a big player in the state, but in all likelihood, most of the best among those 400 or so FBS signees in Texas every year will stay and play in a slimmed-down Big 12. More parity could theoretically be on the way if that happens.
For now, the ACC and Big East will continue to be the only leagues who gain entrance into the BCS as little more than legacy admissions. Thanks for playing last month, UConn.
What's the biggest impact Nebraska's entrance will have on the Big Ten, both on and off the field?
AR: Nebraska gives the Big Ten another impact program, another program that demands national attention. Big Ten blog users often see me write the phrase "move the needle," which basically translates to: make an impression nationally.
Some college football programs move the needle win or lose and others have a much harder time doing so, even if they have great success on the field. The Cornhuskers give the Big Ten four programs that truly move the needle: Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Just looking at the 2011 schedule, there are so many more potential marquee games in the Big Ten with Nebraska entering the mix.
The Big Ten has fallen behind the SEC both on the field and, to a lesser extent, in buzz factor. If Nebraska enters the league and truly restores itself as a national powerhouse, the Big Ten will have a better chance of catching the SEC in both arenas.