Monday, August 8, 2011
Nebraska addition helps B1G's title push
By Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten is tired of tipping its cap to its rival conference, but there's an important lesson to be learned from the SEC's dominant run.
Bo Pelini and Nebraska give the Big Ten another program capable of contending annually for BCS bowls.
Five consecutive national championships are remarkable, but what's even more impressive is that four different SEC teams have hoisted the crystal football in January. While the Big Ten has held its own against the SEC in non-BCS bowls, the SEC's depth advantage at the top is undeniable.
Other than Ohio State, the Big Ten hasn't consistently put enough teams in the national championship mix. The Big Ten has had nine different teams win at least a share of the league title since 2000, but how many of those teams could be labeled national championship caliber?
Here's where expansion can really help the Big Ten. The addition of Nebraska potentially gives the Big Ten another dog in the national championship fight.
It's important to note that Nebraska hasn't been to a BCS bowl since after the 2001 season (Rose). Fourth-year coach Bo Pelini still needs to prove he can beat top 10 opponents. But Nebraska has recorded 10 wins in each of the past two seasons, coming up just short in the Big 12 title game in both years. The Huskers have been close to a BCS breakthrough, and they've restored their traditional excellence on defense. Pelini and his staff also are recruiting well. There's momentum in Lincoln.
Nebraska also has reached college football's pinnacle before, winning five national championships, most recently in 1997 (shared title with Michigan).
Unlike some expansion additions in other leagues, Nebraska enters the Big Ten with a team equipped to immediately compete for a conference championship. Nebraska is a program, much like Wisconsin and Iowa, which isn't far from claiming a spot among the nation's elite. Michigan State could be knocking on the door, too.
This is important as Michigan works its way back and Penn State tries to establish some greater consistency after failing to build on the 2005 and 2008 seasons. Make no mistake, the Big Ten needs Michigan to be Michigan and Penn State to be Penn State, but Nebraska's arrival along with the continued improvement of Wisconsin allows more margin for error.
Nebraska also enhances the Big Ten brand, bringing another national name to the conference, and will help the league boost revenue. The Huskers' arrival also should make the Big Ten more appealing to recruits, as Lincoln is another first-rate destination to play games.
Could adding Nebraska hurt the Big Ten's chances for a national title? Sure, but only in the sense that the Huskers' arrival, along with the implementation of divisions and a championship game, make it tougher to run the table. But a deeper, more competitive league should ultimately produce teams in the title mix.
These days, major conferences are judged solely by national championships -- the Big Ten knows this better than most. Ohio State can't continue to be the only Big Ten squad in the title talk.
But if Nebraska continues to take steps, the discussion about the Big Ten and the national championship should broaden in the coming years.