I wouldn't know an Oaken Bucket if it fell out of the Indiana sky and clobbered me upside the head.
I don't know where to stay next fall in Columbus, Ohio. I can't remember if it's Champaign or Champagne, Ill. And I couldn't pick the Heroes Game Trophy out of a lineup with the Rolling Stones.
The kids' shop at Midway Airport. The long walk past the legions of well-oiled tailgaters on the way to Camp Randall Stadium. The Mall of America. Waiting for what seemed like an hour to pass the Amish couple in the horse and buggy on the way to Penn State. The Indiana basketball museum that is Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
A lot of cool, old battleship stadiums. And a lot of punts.
Those are the images of my rookie year in the Big Ten Conference.
Here's a confession: I still feel like a rookie.
Can you relate?
The Big Ten is a good place to be. It's also still a strange land to find one's self. One year into the new life, I feel like a man without a conference. I've moved beyond the Big 12. But I don't feel like a Big Ten guy yet, either.
Anybody else feeling that?
This isn't about regret. A friend of mine who is a Texas fan asked me recently if I had “buyer's remorse.”
Interesting question. As of Friday, it's a whole new Big 12. Our old league announced an agreement to play the SEC in a new bowl game, which is designed to rival the Rose Bowl in stature and revenues. Go ahead and connect the dots to four super football leagues in the future, with a reborn Big 12 sitting at the big boy table.
So, Husker Nation, if you knew the Big 12 would not only survive but be in position to become an SEC partner and bring in Florida State, Miami and others, would you still want to be there?
I say no. First, you can't change what happened two years ago. The Big 12 was a mess. It had no future. It had to go to the brink of extinction to get where it is today.
Mostly, the Big Ten is just a better place for NU. The cultural fit is perfect. The money ($24.6 million per school, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) is off the charts and the revenue explosion has only begun. Academics, traditions, grilled brats to die for. The Big Ten's got it all.
I believe that the majority of Husker fans like it just where they are.
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|Click the image above to join the discussion of NU's first season in the Big Ten on the Big Red Today Facebook page.|
They just don't know exactly where they are yet.
It was a strange year. I still found myself watching Big 12 games last fall and winter. It was hard not to look longingly at the Kansas State-Oklahoma State track meet of a football game and think, “Man, this is a lot of fun.” Compared to rock-'em, sock-'em, punt-'em robots.
Anybody else do that?
On the other hand, there was that fall day in Ann Arbor, Mich., where I looked around at the mammoth Big House, full of life and atmosphere, and thought, “I could get used to this.”
Nebraskans will get used to the Big Ten. But, for now, if you strapped Husker fans to a lie detector, how many would admit that they've wondered what in the heck they've gotten into here?
The celebration of leaving the Big 12 behind and the excitement of being the new kid in school lasted until the first day of school, when the new kid got taken to the woodshed.
The big bully was Russell Wilson and Wisconsin.
A blowout loss at Michigan. Finishing third in the Legends Division.
NU fans got bragging rights over Iowa, but the first rivalry game was a dud.
The plodding style of Big Ten football had Nebraskans looking for their remote control. The lack of urgency often shown toward the national title race was a cold splash of water. The Rose Bowl mentality.
The football season wasn't bad but wasn't great. Bad came in the winter with Nebraska men's basketball. It's one thing to get smashed at Kansas. But when it happens in front of your new neighbors at Ohio State, it's another story.
The new kid on the block wanted to make a good first impression. There weren't many of those.
The women provided the highlights. Volleyball, gymnastics and indoor track won Big Ten titles. Women's hoops made a strong showing.
|CHART: ALL-SPORT WINNING PERCENTAGE|
|Click the image above to see where Nebraska ranks overall in the school's first year in the Big Ten.|
NU didn't teach the Big Ten how to play football. Or baseball. But what did we expect? Those programs weren't in any shape to win the Big Ten or Big 12. It wasn't a Big Ten thing. It was a Nebraska thing.
And that's the take-away from Year One. If Nebraska is right in any sport, it can win the Big Ten.
Getting there will be the trick. But the Big Ten will force Nebraska to keep up. Or else.
It will be harder to win a Big Ten football championship than the Big 12. That's a fact. The big reason is Michigan.
There was no Michigan in the Big 12 North. When Nebraska was good, it could fall out of bed and win the Big 12 North. Then have to beat Oklahoma or Texas, not both.
This will be tougher sledding. But I look at it this way: Michigan will make Nebraska bring its “A” game, something that hasn't happened in decades. A Husker “A” game would be enough to win the national championship.
NU coach Bo Pelini is adjusting to Big Ten ball on the fly. Nebraska is recruiting more upper Midwest, Big Ten areas. More big linebackers, big backs. This is a style that Nebraskans like.
The Big Ten will be a better place for Husker Hoops. Simply put, the Big 12 is a lottery pick league, a safe haven for one-and-dones.
Those kids aren't coming to Lincoln.
The Big Ten is more about coaching and good, solid skilled basketball players from the Big Ten areas. Nebraska can get those kids.
With the Big Ten's hoop reputation, if the Big Red can get in the top six or seven, they'll make the NCAA tourney.
Husker baseball probably took it on the chin more than any sport in this move. But if Darin Erstad can get the program right, there's nothing standing in the way.
Volleyball coach John Cook wrote the bottom line for NU back in the fall. Cook's program is rolling and it rolled through a league with more obstacles than the Big 12.
If the program is right, it can win in the Big Ten. That's what you need to know about the Big Ten so far.
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