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Purple and Red Don't Mix: The Battle of NU Returns

How do you break down history, culture, football, food, cities, coeds, academics, population, and team colors all in one post? Easy, you create a competition, make some picks, and put food on the line. Nebraska and Northwestern fight... go.

Eric Francis

When Nebraska joined the Big Ten, I was pretty excited. After all, any time you get to wave goodbye to a messy situation and say hello to consistency and history, you gotta do it, right? I mean, no offense to the old Big XII North, but it has been nice to get a change of scenery. New stadiums, new sets of fans, new teams to understand, new coaches, new everything. It was fantastic. Then last year reminded me that watching Nebraska football in the 21st century is different than the 20th century and this was a brand new ball game. Nothing was more in line with that then playing Northwestern. Now, I had very little interaction with Northwestern before last year. I understood they played big boy football as of the mid 90s, that they settled on an overly generic nickname, and that they were in Chicago more or less. Being from the midwest, I also understood that they were a pretty good school, but that's about it.

In fact, the last time I had paid attention to Northwestern in context of Nebraska was the 2000 Alamo Bowl, so you'll excuse me if I had trouble buying the hype. Then last year happened, and the reality that it wasn't 2000 anymore became a sad reality -- at least for me. Throngs of (and by throngs, I mean the fifteen of them on the interwebs) Northwestern fans were quick to remind me of their innate ability to take down anybody. Now, the narrative has somewhat switched to Northwestern just dominates Nebraska and they should be favored this year. Basically, the annoyance that was just Northwestern will make games difficult, a la Iowa State in the Big XII, turned into Northwestern can be rivals with Nebraska. I am not completely aware of how this became a 'Get on our level' discussion, but it did and before you knew it, Northwestern fans were able to properly and continually troll Nebraska fans with Nebraska fans only retort being history, fans in the stadium, and other Iowa-built insults.

Basically, it sucked, but it went away and a new season started and other losses became more painful.. until now. The Nebraska-Northwestern Part Deux is this week and all of this is back on the line. Instead of writing another piece on why I hate Northwestern (King of Moral Victories and all), it became apparent that there needed to be a true blue comparison between Nebraska and Northwestern. Cory volunteered his time in defense of the Wildcats and after careful (see: two emails) examination, we were able to create five categories we could argue about. Instead of blindly babbling on about each other and trying our best to be spiteful, we figured this would be a lot more fun. In the end, we're putting food on the line and this weekend's outcome will decide who gets some good local fare. It's not a bad deal. The five categories are as follows:

  • Academics - Self explanatory
  • Football Culture/History - Again, pretty self explanatory, but I'll be honest, we're talking facilities here because we can
  • Current Offense/Defense/ST -
  • Team Branding (Nickname, Colors, Logo)
  • Potpourri (Chicago vs. Lincoln, coeds, basically everything else we can think of)

We'll finish off with some predictions of our own including the O/U which might be god-awful because holy crap are these defenses incapable of stopping anything. With that in mind, let's pull out the tape and see which school measures up. The following is a week-long E-mail discussion point by point...


The Case for Northwestern: Academics

Tossing me a softball to begin with, Jesse? This one's not even close, and I don't think even you can argue. Shall we look at the US News and World Report ranking for Northwestern? Now how about Nebraska? Good game, good effort. I always feel a little dirty calling another school "dumb" (and I absolutely hate the "state school" chant), and certainly Nebraska is not. But come on. Across the board, save for Nebraska's excellent agricultural research (a large contributing factor to its dismissal from the AAU), Northwestern wins.


The Case for Nebraska: Academics

I suppose I was going to let Northwestern get an early lead. After all, this is about to get ugly for the Purple and Black in a few moments. I will say this about Nebraska academics, we are an underrated institution. The research going on in Lincoln in robotics, bioengineering, and climatology are outstanding, and that is probably the tip of the iceberg. Are we on Northwestern's level? Nope, but that doesn't demean this university. Good things are happening here and I think we'll see the results of that soon. Also, the Husker football team has had 99 Academic All-Americans. I don't know if that helps or hinders our academic discussion. Let's move on...

See, Now I get to throw a more fun one out...

The Case for Nebraska: Football Culture/History

I suppose we should probably get the 'football culture is bad' joke out out of the way, but since I don't really care that schools are trying to pretend that football doesn't rule all, I'm going to move on. Anyhow, if academics was a softball for you, I'm going to go ahead and say this was a freaking tennis ball down the middle at a little league field. We're just going to throw out some fun stats and say scoreboard. No offense to Northwestern, but football did not start in 1995.

Bowl Appearances: Nebraska 48 to Northwestern 10
Bowl wins: Nebraska 24 to Northwestern 1
National Championships: Nebraska 5 to Northwestern 1

I could keep going, but I feel a little bad because the difference in resources is so great that it's not a fair fight, but you got academics. I'm resting my case on history.


The Case for Northwestern: Football Culture/History

First off, I deserve a small hand for making it through an entire segment on Nebraska academics without saying "N is for Nowledge hurr durr". But yeah, this section happened. I'll say one thing: I'm happy that my university has never fired a coach for going 9-3. Do I like that we've never had high enough expectations? No. That part sucks. But the wonderful, wonderful Bill Callahan Era was exactly what Nebraska deserved for its hubris. Furthermore, look. For all the "hurrr durrr Northwestern attendance a fan is a chair with a frowny face" bullshit, let's look at what attendance at Nebraska football means. Memorial Stadium is the third-largest city in Nebraska on game days. Capacity in Memorial Stadium is just above 81K. There are 1.8MM people in Nebraska. Congratulations, that state sucks so much that the only show in town is attended.

Hey, I'm trying to heat this thing up any way I can.

The Case for Northwestern: Current Offense/Defense/Special Teams

Offense: Congrats, Taylor Martinez has gotten his shit together throwing the ball in wins against...Southern Miss (113th of 120 in defensive pass eff.), Arkansas St. (75), Idaho St (FCS), and Wisconsin (37). Sure, the Wisconsin comeback was nice and Martinez got his 100+ rushing yards, but color me unimpressed. His throwing motion is still balls-ass ugly, and his three interceptions at Ohio State (against that defense)...ouch. He's a nice, dynamic player, but meh. Look at 10 fumbles and 5 interceptions for the Nebraska offense (compared with 5 and 2 for NU). The raw size of the numbers may not be in our favor, but we take care of the ball and plod down the field. That safer offense will win us this game.

Defense: Maybe Northwestern and Nebraska should just skip this category, yeah? At least Northwestern has shown the ability to adjust from game-to-game and prepare for their opponents: I was honestly impressed how Pat Fitzgerald and company shored up their pass protection after the Syracuse game. Even after the near-debacle against Indiana, the 'Cats limited big plays against Penn State, did a fantastic job against Minnesota, and should be able to do the same against a less consistent passer than Matt McG (seriously, that's how low I consider T-Mart).

Special Teams: Jeff Budzien has not missed a PAT or FG. Opponents are averaging 4.3 yards per punt return and Brandon Williams has been booming them. Oh, and meet Venric Mark. You know, he of the two punt return touchdowns. Advantage: Northwestern.


The Case for Nebraska: Current Offense/Defense/Special Teams

So now you're denigrating the fact that people are passionate about their local team? Come on, I mean, Nebraska might not have much better to do on Saturdays, so there's that, but we do help support the economies of other small towns and athletic programs. Have fun in that sea of red on Saturday. I've enjoyed the articles about how amped up Northwestern fans are for the game. Too bad, most of them didn't buy tickets because we bought them all before they were on sale (sidenote: actually a little bitter about that).

Offense: Make fun of Taylor Martinez at your own risk. Against mediocre secondaries, he's carved them up. Ohio State was his terrible game, right? And yet he still walked away with a ridiculous amount of plays that made that game interesting for two quarters. But you know, expect turnovers to happen from your aggressive defense that has three picks like that Ohio State defense that has 10. I'm sure that will work out for you. Also, I fully expect you to get an ungodly dose of Burkhead, Abdullah, Heard, Martinez, and maybe even Cross running the ball down your throat. Nebraska might not be perfect, but they're going to score points. We have the most dynamic offense you've seen this season, and that might not end the way you hope.

Defense: Um... You do realize that Northwestern has given up more yards per game, passing yards, passing and rushing TDs, and yards per play than Nebraska, right? Also, you do realize that the best offense you've faced is Indiana that rolled up 425 yards and averaged a shade over 6 yards per play. So keep thinking that you're doing something right. Also, for the record, while I am not a huge McGloin fan, the guy has been solid this season. Moreso than your QBs. Look, I don't doubt Northwestern will score points, but your defense is, "But we had a good plan against Penn State that didn't work and Minnesota almost beat us with a backup QB who couldn't hit an out route and had little run game to speak of." Good luck with that.

Special Teams; Venric Mark meet Ameer Abdullah. Who's he? Just the guy who has a TD and is averaging over 16 yards per return. Mark might be a little faster, but he also has only fielded 8 punts this year. Are people not kicking to him? Maybe, but maybe he's also not fielding as well. I would like to point out that I don't believe your coach believes your kicker can kick from beyond 45 yards. Ours? He's not been as consistent, but we'll give him the ball from 55, so there's that. Keep thinking advantage to you, though. I think Nebraska plays better with no expectations.

Then again, all of this is probably a moot point. Now that we've said this will be a shootout, both teams are going to stalemate...

The Case for Nebraska: Team Branding

I might think a Cornhusker is a ridiculous image, but it is incredibly fitting and unique. The red N is iconic, and the uniforms are known across the football landscape. People know about the blackshirt tradition (as dumb as that moniker seems right now) and while both our mascots are a bit... interesting, I'll take this collective brand over the lack of thought given to Northwestern. Purple and Black and Wildcats? Also, I may be in the minority, but I hate the Northwestern N. I don't know why, and it's not all that rational, but it looks like a second year design student won a contest to design it. I'm sure there's probably a better story that I'll regret even bringing up, but it looks funny. As for the mascot? Come on, how many Willie the Wildcats can there be? I feel like the design guide was pulled straight from K-State.


The Case for Northwestern: Offense/Defense/ST Rebuttal

Oh wait, a Northwestern attendance joke?! Congratulations, Jesse. You're now on par with an Iowa fan. Hope that sucks. Northwestern fans are amped up about this game--there just aren't that many of us. Shit happens. I'm over it, people will mock it. Ask '09 Wisconsin or '10 Iowa fans how it feels to have 25-40% of capacity be wearing your colors, then silently file out of the stadium with 2 minutes left. I certainly enjoy that.

Regarding your offense? Bring it. Will I regret that? Probably. But this Northwestern team isn't Ohio State's defense; they don't pretend to be. Bend don't break, bend don't break, and if you do break, get your offense to start marching down the field. And Nebraska can't stop us. When there's a redux of last year's 4th quarter, 13-play, 13-run drive which ends in a Northwestern touchdown and Taylor Martinez is warming up his armpunter on the sideline, you'll think of me.

Oh, and no team in this conference defines "playing better with no expectations" quite like Northwestern. But good try. Nebraska hasn't shown it's capable of adjusting to another team all season; if they do successfully in-game, I'll tip my hat and say 'too good'. But I doubt that'll happen, and I think a large percentage of Nebraska fans would agree with me regarding adjustments.

The Case for Northwestern: Team Branding

Is this where you insert your Chicago's/Winnetka's/Evanston's Big Ten Team joke? I'll save you the trouble. Look, Northwestern again lacks that tradition that Nebraska has. Here's the thing: while you mock "purple" and "wildcats" because of Kansas State, Northwestern's boys have been dubbed "Wildcats" since the fall of 1924 (hat tip and major thank-you to the excellent historian JHodges at Hail to Purple). And as for your complaints about the "Block N"? Psh. I'll take the Block N over that Iron N you call a logo any day. Oh, and it's Purple. Purple is the official color. White is our de facto secondary color, and we sing "Hail to purple/hail to white/hail to thee, Northwestern" in our Alma Mater. Black is just a color we can toy with for uniforms' sake.

Lastly, you're going to talk about how generic Willie the Wildcat is? Hoooooooooo-k. I'll take that over this:

[ed note: the pic didn't come across the E-mail... I'm assuming Cory wanted to put a picture of Lil' Red here. I'm not going to do him a solid and put that here, though because we're a family site and scaring children is not my MO]

The Case for Northwestern: Potpourri

I'll handle this in the two areas I really cared about: girls and booze.

  1. Co-eds. Nebraska wins. I don't wanna talk about it. You can have this one. I did a lot of knuckle-biting on the trip to Lincoln last year. Just...well done.
  2. Booze. Bars? Chicago or Lincoln... Chicago or Lincoln... Hmmmm. Yes, Northwestern's not "in" Chicago (please, let's not have that discussion again). But it's a train ride away, with a world of amazing bars at anyone's disposal. Chicago wins. Look, I've been to Lincoln. Everyone was hospitable and I couldn't say a mean word about the people there if I wanted to. But it's not Chicago.

Oh, and while I have the mic, might I shamelessly plug the Finest Band in the Land? Your Marching Red are nice and all, but get them a pair of goddamn spats and a real run-on step before they march back on the field. NUMB's where it's at. Go 'Cats, beat the Huskers!


The Case for Nebraska: Potpourri

I know the attendance thing is touchy and all, but come on. Your head coach is promising pizza for students who show up early. So, uh, congratulations on that? I am happy for you all being amped up, though. It should make Saturday that much more fun. However, if you have to point out with specificity the times opposing fans have been sad in your own stadium, you've opened yourself up. It is what it is. Just don't expect the blackout to be much more than a red sea.

Also, come on. Not adjusting at all? Did you see Arkansas State? No adjusting at all... Whatever. I would argue that Northwestern has less ability to adjust considering teams have this uncanny ability to start off terrible against the Wildcats and then rattle off a ridiculous amount of points after halftime. So, sure. Good work on gameplanning, but terrible work on, you know, keeping leads? Good try. Good effort.

But that's not what I'm here to finish up with. Let's talk Potpourri. I appreciate that you start with the Lincoln and Nebraska coeds because it's really a thing. Don't ask me how this happens, but the girls here are beautiful, and I will fight anyone who thinks differently. Well, I may not fight you, but I will treat you with disdain and give you snide looks. So there's that. As for Chicago vs. Lincoln? Come on, that's not remotely a fair fight. That's like comparing Manhattan, KS to Manhattan, NY. It's just not even a contest. However, I will say this. Lincoln and Omaha have a lot more going for them than people think. It's a growing area with a lot more to do than it gets credit for. There's good people here and it will continue to be more awesome as time progresses.

As for other wildcards about Lincoln? I don't know. Cheap steak that is the size of your face and delicious? Because I'm pretty sure that's the epitome of awesomeness.

Nebraska Closing Arguments and Predictions:

Look, we probably don't agree on the outcome of Northwestern vs. Nebraska and we shouldn't. They are completely different lifestyles and place import on wildly different things. As for the football side of things, I'm sticking with my team because I think that a bad loss puts Pelini in his best mode. That sounds terrible, but after Wisconsin last year, Iowa State a few years back, and a smattering of other dumb losses (Texas Tech comes to mind), Bo rallies the troops and gets things moving in the right direction. This team has talent, and if they simplify things, I think they play to their strengths instead of hide their weaknesses. Kenny Bell gets 2 TDs this weekend and Jamal Turner takes one to the house for his first career TD: Nebraska holds on 48-42 by stopping a late Northwestern drive.


The Aftermath:
I saw the thing about Pat Fitzgerald buying kids pizza...the sad part is, student attendance hasn't been the problem! Northwestern has produced a student section around at least 75% capacity or more for every game since the kids have been on campus (and even before that--it was rocking for Vandy, too) (I'm looking at you, Michigan State). Can Pat buy pizza for alums and area folks? Could that work? That just seems like an unwinnable battle. Truth be told, if students are turning up for games, I don't really care. They're loud, it's awesome.

The Northwestern Closing Argument:

O/U: 61

Line: Nebraska by 6.5

I'm naturally a little pessimistic on Northwestern football, and after that slogfest in TCF Bank Stadium last weekend, I'm feeling down on the Northwestern offense. Will they score? Oh yeah. But it just doesn't feel like it'll be enough. Can the D stop Nebraska? I'm sure we'll have at least one or two T-Mart armpunt moments, but if this Nebraska offense gets running downhill, the 'Cats defense will get gassed a la Penn State and a rout could be on.

With all the hype and hoopla (naptime, pizza4students, Big Red in Evanston, ABC) surrounding this game, it just seems like a classic game for Northwestern to put up the "typical Northwestern fight", only to fall short in the end and get the consolatory pat-on-the-back from the national media. Nebraska 31, Northwestern 28.

The Steaks (note: super proud of that one):

Jesse and I agreed that, in the battle of the NUs, the OTE writer whose team wins deserves a little extra credit. We've decided to go with the classic food bet:

Jesse: Food bets are all about giving some of the best local fare and while there are a bunch of restaurants and small beef producers in the area, the name recognition of Omaha Steaks is where it's at. If Nebraska manages to lose the game on Saturday, Cory will be chowing down on beef produced in the heartland. Seriously, this stuff grills perfectly.

Cory: While deep dish (Giordano's being the best chain, and kindly go to hell if you disagree) seems like a logical choice for Chicago, I'm putting up an equal amount of delicious Italian beef from Portillo's. A co-worker brought 2.5 lbs of it back for me when she visited Chicago, and I plowed through that delicious, delicious beef and gravy goodness.