DALLAS -- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini began the Big 12 media days by saying he would not take any questions about the Big Ten. Then, of course, he took questions on the Big Ten. Lots of them, because the prevailing emotion in Nebraska this year is something close to hate.
|Pelini on the Oct. 16 meeting with Texas: 'It's not about being angry about something or revenge ... it's about competing ...' (AP)|
A hate of Texas.
The dislike has been percolating for 15 years since economics, television and sponsors dictated that Nebraska and Texas become conference partners. The Big 12 they called it, and they might still call it that, but it will be without Nebraska.
The "partnership" disintegrated June 11 when the school rather flamboyantly and pointedly announced its divorce from Texas and the Big 12. Somewhere in there was language about joining the Big Ten but that was almost subtext to what was happening.
Basically, given an ultimatum to declare its loyalty to the Big 12, Nebraska shoved its middle finger in the air and instead accepted an invite from the Big Ten 6½ weeks ago. The Huskers begin play next season.
Monday, then, was a going away party. Going far away. Nebraska AD Tom Osborne wasn't here -- he'll be at next week's Big Ten media days instead. Texas is at the opposite end of the rotation, appearing last before the media on Wednesday morning.
"It's not about being angry about something or revenge or anything like that," Pelini said of the very much hyped Oct. 16 meeting with Texas. "It's about competing and executing."
And that's where you had to stifle a laugh. It's a lot about anger and revenge. Pelini is a Big Ten guy -- an Ohio State guy -- who played for Earle Bruce and John Cooper. He coaches like he played -- with something to prove at every moment.
Nebraska has spent a decade-and-a-half ceding administrative and athletic power to Texas in the Big 12. In that time, Nebraska lost Osborne the coach to retirement and went from national power to Big 12 North also-ran. In 1998, Texas hired Mack Brown and the program took off. It has played for two national championships, winning one, while reeling off 12 consecutive seasons of at least nine victories.
It was also noticed by many that Texas became the richest athletic department in the country (annual budget: $138 million) during Brown's reign.
And Nebraska's downturn.
The Huskers now believe they are back. Pelini said as much after a shutout of Arizona in the Holiday Bowl. One thing, though. They haven't won the Big 12 or beaten Texas since 1999. That's why the schools' final conference meeting in Lincoln has become a one-game brawl to settle it all for some in Huskerland.
There's a good chance both will be ranked in the top 10 with the prospect looming for a rematch in the Big 12 championship game.
Nebraska's own marketing department summarized the rancor in a promotional video. The presentation starts out innocently enough celebrating the football program's work ethic and success. But in the final few seconds -- which you won't see in the link -- it quickly shifts to a single-minded football jihad against the Longhorns. It ends with what looks like a logo drawn up especially for the game urging fans to "Wear Red, Be Loud, Beat Texas."
The video has since been altered to remove a reference to Texas.
"It was actually a mistake," Pelini said. "To be honest with you I wasn't real happy about it."
Nebraska was used to having its way in the old Big Eight. It usually played Oklahoma for the Orange Bowl berth each year and that was that. Everything else was details.
But things changed when Texas came in the room back in the mid-1990s and declared that the new Big 12 would not allow partial qualifiers. That's where it started for Nebraska. Osborne had built part of his empire on kids who just needed a chance. They didn't have either the minimum grade-point average or high enough SAT test score. They could achieve initial eligibility with one or other but they were labeled. Prop 48s they called them, a nickname derived from the NCAA legislation.
"I was on the [Big 12] task force," said former Iowa State AD Gene Smith, now with Ohio State. "I'll never forget when [Texas] came in the room.
"Texas would not come into the league unless we eliminated the Prop 48 deal. Nebraska lived on it. Oh my God, it was like heat across the board. The animosity started back then."
The final straw might have been December's one-point loss to Texas in the Big 12 championship game. In a weird, parallel universe you can almost imagine none of this happening had the Huskers finally gotten over on Texas.
If Nebraska holds on, it gets its first Big 12 title in a decade. Everyone feels good. There's a BCS bowl. Things are looking up. Maybe Nebraska rides out the wave of conference upheaval without looking elsewhere.
Instead, the frustration continued. After Colt McCoy almost frittered the game away running around the backfield, a second was added back on the clock, allowing Hunter Lawrence to kick the game-winning field goal. That it was absolutely the right call by the officials solidified once again Nebraska had become Texas' caddy.
The animosity has carried over. The Omaha World-Herald reported that one Seward, Neb. farmer discovered a longhorn head at a nearby slaughterhouse. He rushed home, got his camera and Nebraska hat, rushed back, grabbed hold of the horns and had his picture taken with the 150-pound dismembered head. He's thinking about making a T-shirt out of it for Texas game day.
Nebraska fans' reputation as the world's nicest is going to be tested on Oct. 16. In 1998, Texas came into Memorial Stadium and upset Nebraska with soon-to-be Heisman winner Ricky Williams. The crowd applauded, like it does for every opponent, as Texas left the field.
The Big Ten had put everyone on notice -- and edge -- in December with its intention to explore expansion. Nebraska's name had been on the periphery while most thought that Missouri was a goner from the Big 12.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was in Lincoln for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes speech in the spring. During a tour of Nebraska's athletic facilities, Osborne became more inquisitive about Big Ten expansion.
"Right near the end of the tour he said, 'Do you know anything about expansion?' Tressel recalled. "I said, 'We're not privy to any of that.'
"I could tell just from his tone that he was probably privy ... I just sensed when I was there that there was more of a heritage there about being part of the Big Eight. And that they didn't feel as if the Big 12 had the same kind of heritage."
At the same time Nebraska fans are celebrating a move to a perceived higher academic and athletic plane beginning next season, they are seething that it ever came to that. Nebraska is part of a core of schools in the Big 12 that have been together in a conference for more than a century.
There weren't any lines to read after Osborne and chancellor Harvey Perlman stood before the Nebraska board of regents on June 11 and basically accused Texas of running it out of the Big 12. Half the league, Texas included, was seriously considering a move to the Pac-10. That would have broken up the Big 12.
"Nebraska did not start this discussion ...," Perlman said. "The Big Ten offered stability the Big 12 could not offer."
That was on a Friday. Colorado had left the day before for the Pac-10. It looked like the Big 12 had dissolved and the age of the super conference was upon us. By Tuesday, the league had stepped away from the brink and decided to continue on with 10 schools.
As the Big 12 gathered for one of the last times as a group on Monday, everybody was happy.
Or as happy as they could be at a going away party.