Huskers shun hype but relish opportunity

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
9:30
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Russell Wilson and Taylor MartinezGetty ImagesRussell Wilson and Taylor Martinez will meet in the first matchup between the two teams since 1974.
From the beginning, Bo Pelini has made it about Nebraska and no one else.

He contributed practically nothing to the hype following Nebraska throughout its transition to the Big Ten Conference. Asked numerous times about preparing for new teams, new schemes and new stadiums, Pelini has tossed out brief, bland responses and waited for the conversation to return to his team and its mission.

In case you haven't heard, Nebraska's game this week at Wisconsin happens to mark its first league contest as a Big Ten member. It happens to be the first Big Ten matchup of top-10 teams -- Nebraska is ranked eighth, Wisconsin seventh -- since the 2008 season. It happens to pair two undefeated teams led by two dynamic quarterbacks (Russell Wilson and Taylor Martinez). It happens to mark the teams' first meeting since 1974. It happens to feature the two teams many project to meet in the inaugural Big Ten championship game in December.

Oh, and a little show called ESPN "College GameDay" will be there for it all.

Saturday's game seems like a really big deal. Not for Bo Buzzkill.

Here are some snippets from Pelini's news conference Monday:

  • "The hoopla is all for you guys. It is just the next game on the schedule for us."
  • "The No. 1 thing we have to do is take care of us and get better."
  • "It's just the next game for us. It is just part of the process of what we are trying to accomplish as a team. Historically, it doesn't affect our guys."

What Nebraska wants to accomplish is crystal clear. It wants to win championships and reclaim a place among the nation's elite.

The Huskers haven't won an outright conference title and a BCS bowl since the 1999 season (2000 Fiesta Bowl). They haven't finished in the top 10 of the final AP Poll since after the 2001 season. They haven't beaten a top-10 opponent on the road since 1997.

They want to be great again. They can take a big step toward greatness Saturday night in Madison.

Make no mistake: it's still all about Big Red. Pelini would have it no other way.

But all the elements surrounding Saturday's game -- the magnitude, the history, the opponent, the spotlight, the setting -- help Nebraska's cause.

"We're going to be on a big national stage," Huskers safety Austin Cassidy told ESPN.com. "Nebraska hasn't been exactly where we've wanted to be since the heyday back in the '90s. It's an opportunity to get out in front of a lot of people and show that we can play some ball here again, and that we're back."

Nebraska couldn't have scripted a better opportunity to announce itself to its new league. Wisconsin is the defending Big Ten co-champ, a 2011 Rose Bowl participant and a team widely regarded as the class of the conference.

The Badgers are 45-4 at home since the start of the 2004 season and 34-3 under coach Bret Bielema. The three teams that beat Bielema's Badgers at Camp Randall all went on to BCS bowls.

That's where Nebraska wants to go. And this is the path to get there.

"That makes it even more important," Cassidy said. "This is our first Big Ten game of all time, and I can't think of a better venue to have it at than Wisconsin. It'll be a really good test for us."

Wilson and the nation's No. 8 offense will challenge a Nebraska defense that has had mixed results so far. Entering the season with lofty expectations, the Huskers allowed a combined 67 points to Fresno State and Washington before a stingier performance last week.

The Blackshirts will be as healthy as they've been all season in Madison as All-America candidates Jared Crick, Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard will play together for the first time this season.

"It's been a wild roller-coaster ride, up and down," Cassidy said. "When we're on, we're on. And when we lose focus or we lose our technique, that's when we've been giving up points and yardage. The thing that's reassuring is none of it has been the scheme. Everyone's starting to understand that we can really start to trust what we're doing.

"It's on us to go out there and execute."

Nebraska's focus remains on itself, but Huskers players still plan to enjoy the moment and the experience of a new road setting. They traveled to raucous settings in the Big 12 -- Texas A&M's Kyle Field stands out -- but they're gearing up for Camp Randall.

Cassidy has received the inside scoop from his fiancée's family, all of whom went to Wisconsin and grew up in Madison. They've filled him in on the program, the stadium, and yes, the "Jump Around" at the start of the fourth quarter.

"I hear that it shakes, literally, the whole stadium, you'll feel it," he said. "It'll be cool. I might start jumping around a little bit, too."

Cassidy and his teammates hope to be jumping around at the end of the fourth quarter, too.

"There's such high expectations around here for football, and rightly so," he said. "Everyone expects us to play at a certain standard, and this is an opportunity for us to go out and say, 'Hey, look, that same standard you've set us for us is what we want, too.'"

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