In the four-year existence of the Big Ten championship game, Nebraska and Wisconsin have combined to make four appearances, including the Badgers' shellacking of the Huskers in 2012.
Before Nebraska made the move to this league in 2011, it played -- and lost -- in two straight Big 12 title games.
The point is, these programs are accustomed to competing for hardware and were expected again to contend for a December trip to Lucas Oil Stadium. Yet here, in Week 6, the red-blooded powers of the West face something close to an elimination game as Wisconsin (3-2) visits Nebraska (2-3) Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2) after both schools lost last week to open league play.
So which team more badly needs a win in Lincoln? Let's debate:
Jesse Temple: Wisconsin and Nebraska are both desperate teams, but a win means more to the Badgers. I'm basing my opinion off this: Wisconsin was picked to win the Big Ten West and still has a reasonable shot to do so if it can win out and Iowa loses twice. Wisconsin is favored in the rest of its games, according to ESPN's Football Power Index (the Badgers have been given a 52.8 percent chance of winning against Nebraska). Iowa is not favored in its road games against Northwestern and Nebraska in the regular-season finale, for what it's worth.
If Wisconsin loses, the dream of back-to-back West division titles is all but gone, wasting a season with one of the team's better defenses in recent memory. Nebraska, meanwhile, is a total mess. And no one truly thinks the Cornhuskers are capable of winning the West right now. So, what does one more loss really mean in the grand scheme of an already disappointing season?
Wisconsin isn't likely to win the West next year because it opens Big Ten play with road games against Michigan and Michigan State, followed by a home game against Ohio State. Those three East Division powers -- and Michigan will be a power under Jim Harbaugh -- have not been on the Badgers' schedule the past two seasons. The time is now for the Badgers, and anything short of playing for the Big Ten title will be considered a disappointment.
Mitch Sherman: What does one more loss, you ask, really mean to the Huskers?
Oh, Jesse, let's not go there.
Of course, if you're ready to witness an epic meltdown, a loss Saturday could trigger it at Nebraska. The Huskers are already off to their worst five-game start since 1959, featuring the nation's worst statistical pass defense. A trio of losses on Nebraska's final defensive final play and a near fourth-quarter collapse against Southern Miss have put Husker Nation on edge.
Another loss -- especially to the Badgers, whose three wins in four attempts against Nebraska since 2011 have come by an average of 35 points -- could send the Huskers into a tailspin with wide-ranging implications for their first-year coaching staff.
Think it's just another game? Nebraska needs a win over Wisconsin to maintain sanity around the program's exterior. Nebraska needs a win to avoid a collapse in the momentum that is so crucial for a new coach to assemble that all-important first full recruiting class.
And for Nebraska, the scheduling worries appear more imminent. The Huskers travel next week to Minnesota, looking for a third straight win in this series, then get upstart Northwestern at home.
To some observers, Nebraska had to extend its seven-year streak of nine wins or more to stamp Mike Riley's first year as a success. I never felt that way. The first season of a coaching regime is about building for the future.
It's hard to build, though, in the midst of a collapse. A win over the Badgers helps Nebraska avoids that scenario -- at least for another week.