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Can Huskers-Badgers become a rivalry?

9/28/2011

Wisconsin and Nebraska will play what looks like the game of the year in the Big Ten on Saturday. Many expect the two teams to stage a rematch in December at the league championship game. The two states are both football-crazy with only one FBS team within the borders, and they play a similar physical style. There's also the Barry Alvarez connection.

So this game has all the underpinnings of a new rivalry in the making. Except for one small detail: the two teams are in separate divisions and are not guaranteed to play every season.

No matter how classic this weekend's game or subsequent meetings are, that will hurt the chances of this series becoming a true rivalry.

"It's hard to have a real strong rivalry when you won't play every year," said Alvarez, the Wisconsin athletic director.

There's very little history between the Badgers and Huskers. They've only met five times, and the last game came in 1974.

But some certainly wanted this to become an annual event. Badgers coach Bret Bielema asked the league office last year to put Wisconsin and Nebraska together when it was forming divisions, and he thought Nebraska and Wisconsin would make a great end-of-season rivalry game. Instead, Iowa-Nebraska will be that final weekend showdown.

Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne thought the two teams would be together when divisions were being discussed.

"I thought the divisions would go along geographical lines," Osborne said. "But Jim Delany and the folks in the Big Ten decided to go for competitive balance. With us just coming into the league, I wasn't in any position to say, 'Here's what we'd like to have.'"

Osborne saw firsthand in the Big 12 how playing in opposite divisions can affect a rivalry.

"We saw it with Oklahoma," he said. "That was a historic rivalry, but when it came down to two games out of every four years, it certainly diminished the rivalry. I think we'll always see playing Wisconsin as a great opportunity, and they'll see us the same way. But we won't play every year, and that makes a big difference."