Senior Writer

Conference realignment now official, teams feeling way along


LINCOLN, Neb. -- The start to a gala holiday weekend has Nebraska receiver/returner Tim Marlowe conflicted. The calendar is screaming that it's OK to relax, kick back. The significance of Friday, July 1 also makes it OK for the Youngstown, Ohio native to scream ...

... or at least to officially express his dislike for the home-state Buckeyes, now that they are conference rivals.

"I've always had a little vendetta against Ohio State," Marlowe said. "I don't know why. Just because everyone loved them and I was a Notre Dame guy growing up. Ohio State is the one I have circled that's for sure."

Nebraska receiver and Ohio native Tim Marlowe is already looking forward to the Oct. 8 matchup with the Buckeyes. (Getty Images)  
Nebraska receiver and Ohio native Tim Marlowe is already looking forward to the Oct. 8 matchup with the Buckeyes. (Getty Images)  
The upheaval that conference realignment wrought in 2010, becomes accounting reality Friday when a new fiscal year starts. That's the day Nebraska (Big Ten), Colorado, Utah (Pac-12) Boise State (Mountain West) officially join new conferences while BYU goes independent.

Five teams, five affected conferences (out of 11 in FBS). The carnage isn't as significant as it could have been given Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott's bold play for what would have been a Pac-16, but it's been enough.

While Friday marks a shuffling of paper for school bean-counters, the significance of those five schools leaving conferences that have been homes for a combined 200-plus years has not been underplayed. At least in this corner of the college football world.

"Once I heard it was official, I was ecstatic," Marlowe said. "I have friends that play in the Big Ten. We'll be playing more games close to Youngstown. The truth is the Big Ten fits our culture.

"Coming from the Big 12 they're going to think this is a passing league -- spread it around, throw it 50 times a game. We want to show them, that's not us. That's not our culture. We're going to come right at them, and I know they're going to come right at us."

In the dog days of July, the mighty Big Ten has been warned -- by a 5-foot-10, 175-pound rising redshirt junior with more attitude (lots) than career catches (none). Nebraska was among those speed-dating and quickly hooking up when realignment fever hit less than 13 months ago. Heads were spinning here when the Huskers joined the Big Ten, which was really 11 and was expanding to 12.

Goodbye Texas Two-Step, hello Wisconsin bratwurst.

"Obviously we think we're right up there at the top," Marlowe said. "We're not taking anything from anyone. We've got a fresh start. Our strength coach tells us this is our interview process. This is our first year. This is our interview with each [Big Ten] team. We've got to show them what Nebraska football is all about."

Big Red Nation is already looking forward to the first conference game Oct. 1 at Wisconsin. A warning, Badgers: Your loyalty will be tested when Husker fans hit Madison determined to overpay for tickets. Ask Notre Dame about Nebraskans' ability to snatch up seats on the road.

The following week, the Buckeye Five (minus one) make their season debut when Ohio State comes to Lincoln.

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"We'll be in uncharted water," Huskers' legend/AD Tom Osborne said of his school's new league, "but so will they."

There is a fascination about how both sides are going to adjust to each other. Nebraska last won a conference title in 1999 (although it did play in the 2002 BCS title game). How will a switch to the Big Ten affect that 11-year drought?

"I couldn't tell you yet," Nebraska tailback Rex Burkhead said. "We've got to play some games."

That's two whole months away for the newest and westernmost Big Ten member. That won't wait for the formation of new rivalries, assimilation into a new culture and the same old shots at Texas.

"The emphasis is on the Big Ten doing well, as opposed to individual schools doing well," Osborne said.

Workers were busy in Lincoln this week saying goodbye to the contentious past. They were hanging "Go Big Red" banners on light posts, the "Big" part incorporating the new Big Ten logo. The Pac-12 was adding the 42 combined national championships of Colorado and Utah to the league's already conference-record of 400 team titles. Boise will see if moving to the Mountain West will push the league to the BCS automatic qualifier status it has desperately craved.

BYU has decided to go out on its own in football with a TV partner (ESPN) and TV network.

Some have yawned this week. The transition is well under way.

"Symbolic," BYU AD Tom Holmoe said of July 1.

"There's pretty much no significance to it," said Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez.

Tell that to the WAC, which has been left clinging to FBS status with the loss of Boise and, in 2012, Hawaii, Nevada and Fresno State. Dive into the debate of whether a conference with 10 teams has the moral and mathematical right to call itself the Big 12. Consider the new Mountain West mark and wonder if it resembles every real estate logo on every for-sale sign on every lawn you've ever seen.

Marlowe is merely a bit more focused than most this far out from actual competition. With or without him, Nebraska is now part of the football crossroads that is Youngstown. The city that produced Huskers coach Bo Pelini, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops (and his brothers) is a melting pot of Steelers, Browns, Buckeyes and Wolverines fans, among others.

The football culture extends all the way to Marlowe's former neighbor. Before he was The Sweater Vest, Jim Tressel was the guy down the street winning multiple I-AA national championships at Youngstown State.

What would Marlowe say to the coach today?

"I don't even know," he said. "What's next? Do you see yourself coaching anymore?"

When Marlowe visited Nebraska, he saw a culture that was similar to home. His high school, Cardinal Mooney, is a state power. Pelini and the Stoops brothers still return to the school's camp each summer to coach, tell war stories and play a little bocce ball.

"This place reminded me of Mooney," Marlowe said of Nebraska. "Football is everything. The other sports tend to take a back seat at times. The whole city used to watch us just like the whole state watches us here."

But for how long? Larry Scott recently suggested that no one should get comfortable in their new conference homes.

"I don't see anything major on the horizon, in the short term," the Pac-12 commissioner said. "But I'd be surprised in the second half of this decade we don't see another major round [of realignment]."

Is that enough time to even memorize the other members of the Big Ten Legends Division? Nebraska is getting there.

"I can name most of them," Burkhead said.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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