It is finally here. The week that most Husker fans (and B1G fans in general) have been looking forward to since that fateful day when Jim "CtR" Delany stepped to the podium with Tom Osborne and welcomed Big Red into the family. The day that was circled in red when the schedules were released. The game of the year when the talking heads declared Big Red and Bucky to be favorites to win their divisions. While I am not completely sure all the rest of the B1G 'family members' are going to be nearly as warm and welcoming as Mr. Delany, I still believe everyone is happy to be here. This Saturday's game represents more than position for BCS games, the Division Lead, or Conference Championships, this game represents why Nebraska was asked to join the Big Ten, and why Nebraska said yes.
While there will be a lot of talk this week about why Nebraska is overrated and Wisconsin will pound them to smithereens because the Wisconsin Offensive Linemen are bigger (Did you know the B1G is BIG?), the Badgers are a more complete team (Bucky destroyed their opponents and Nebraska sucks), and Taylor Martinez is going to be broke into ten pieces (you know, because the B1G is BIG and all... just want to establish that point because obviously Nebraska has never had defensive linemen), I'll save the trash for the comment threads. No, this week it's is all about why the Big Ten is the best conference in the nation, and why Husker fans couldn't be happier to be here.
Throughout the past week there were a lot of articles about conference realignment. The threads were blowing up about who would go where, who needed to go where, and what a fan's particular conference of choice needed to do to stay top dog. Admittedly, I got bogged down in the nitty gritty of it all because I am a Nebraska fan and therefore I am an expert on everything (fans everywhere shake their heads). The one article that struck me as most interesting, however, was one that I had missed altogether. The NY Times, of all people, had an interesting study on fan presence per team. Their College Sports section, The Quad, did research on what teams had the most fans by breaking down a team's market share of College Football fans via Google search data. What they found was interesting:
The Big Ten can afford to be picky. Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are the three most popular college football teams in the country, according to our study. Seven Big Ten teams, including new addition Nebraska, rank in the top 20 nationally. And all but one Big Ten school is in the top 50, the lone exception being Northwestern, which has the Chicago market and strong academics going for it.
Think about that for a second. Of the Top 20 fanbases nationwide, the B1G has the top three AND has more than half of their teams placed. The vaunted SEC only has four in that space which happens to be the same as the ACC. While fanbases do not always mean ratings, sales, dominance, success, or really anything outside of one blog's pursuit for page hits, it still does shed some light on what makes the B1G so powerful. It is a collection of people that have the same general ideals, the same respect for college football tradition, and extremely strong ties to their teams.
So why does this matter? Great question. I am so glad you asked. The Cornhuskers live and breathe this stuff. Listen, I know that many of you out here in OTE think Husker fans are arrogant and naive, and to be fair, some deserve that designation. I think it is something deeper than that, though. Nebraska fans assume we are going to win every game we play, we will try to reason and logic our way to the championship, we will make excuses for losses, and make sure you know when you lose. However if you take a step back and look at the big picture, it's generally because we share the same passion you all do. Big Ten fans can reason with anyone and believe their team is one good game away from a streak to the Rose Bowl. In that respect we are a lot alike.
Even more so, Nebraskans understand tradition and pride. We want to be a part of Jump Around at Camp Randall, we want to see the 'i' get dotted at Ohio State, and we want to know about Kinnick and listen to his Heisman speech over and over because it's just that good. We want to hear the Big Bass Drum at West Lafayette, taste a Big Ass Turkey Leg at Iowa City, and see the Big House in all its glory. As fans of gameday, we want to go to East Lansing and shake hands with Sparty, learn the tailgating traditions at Ryan Field, go see the Bank in downtown Minneapolis, and check out Illinois' version of Memorial Stadium. There is tradition, and then there is the Big Ten. That's why we couldn't be happier to be here. Nebraska fans I know aren't any different than the fans I've met on these boards and in person since we joined up to the Big Ten. There is an understanding that you root for your team, then the conference minus your rival, and then your rival when they play an SEC school, Texas, or USC. Even Minnesota fans get this and are passionate enough to get riled when their chips are down.
Let's all be honest for a second. At this moment, as much as every fan base not named Alabama, Auburn, LSU, or Florida would like to admit, the SEC is dominating the landscape from a competitive stance. We can call it oversigning, paying players, the WWL bias, or a whole slew of other factors, but the fact still remains that they are doing what they do and doing it well. Still, if given the opportunity to choose between the SEC and the B1G, Nebraska fans would always choose the B1G, and it transcends football. While it is hard to describe, it really does just feel like everything is right with the world. From Volleyball to Soccer, academics to administration, and everything in between, Nebraskans will tell you that this just makes sense. It's not that the SEC is a bad conference either. I respect what they do. They are competitive, and arguably as deep in tradition as the Big Ten, but they don't have the same passion that epitomizes the B1G to its core, and at the end of the day, they just don't have the same pride that the Big Ten does. It's more than crazy fans. It's about people who are passionate AND knowledgeable, fired up AND respectful of the game. It's a conference that knows how to support Indiana try to scratch out wins, a conference that rallies behind Jerry Kill, and a conference that understands how to root for Michigan even when they forget how to play defense. It's about Bo, Woody, Paterno, and Fry. It's about Ron Dayne running past defenders, Charles Woodson taking it to the house, and Orlando Pace leveling everyone in his way. Husker fans get this, and feed off of it.
So here's to the B1G kickoff week! I have no idea what will happen on Saturday. My head tells me Wisconsin will win by a lot, but there is something in my gut that says otherwise. The Nebraska faithful will tell you that the Pelini Brothers have a way of playing up (and sometimes down) to competition. Whether it was winning at Okie State and backing that up with a win versus Missouri, or taking Oklahoma to the ropes (and beating them the year before), Nebraska can be good when they understand the weight of the game. There will be a lot of hoopla between now and Saturday, and we all know Corso will be wearing that Badger head while the other guys on the panel laugh hysterically and the fans go crazy (night game in Madison... can we place bets on passed out fans? I'm guessing that number will be higher than normal. Nebraskans can drink and all, but not like the Bucky contingent... I hear they are legendary). Whatever happens, know this, I'm so damn proud to be a Big Ten member, and it's about time we got the real football started. It's good to be a part of B1G Saturdays!