Commentary: Nebraska’s entry beefs up Big Ten conference

BY SETH ROBERTS | JULY 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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Do you know what today is? Here’s a hint: It’s a day that will be remembered as being Big and Red, which isn’t a reference to the sunburns you’ll get the moment you set foot outside.

No, today is the day Nebraska officially joins the Big Ten. The move was announced about a year ago, on June 11, 2010, but today the conference finally gets its 12th team.

One could argue that today’s expansion doesn’t actually mean very much. After all, we’ve all known Nebraska was coming for more than a year — why is today newsworthy?

Today is special mostly because the timing of the official addition is immaculate. Big Ten football has had several rough months as far as its public image is concerned, beginning with Iowa’s highly publicized rhabdo outbreak and continuing through all the coverage of the shenanigans at Ohio State.

Thanks to the Cornhuskers, though, both the blemished teams and the league as a whole have something refreshingly positive to hang their hats on for the first time in a long time.

The trade off for Iowa is that adding Nebraska to the table means the Hawkeyes will lose their annual meeting with Wisconsin for the Heartland Trophy — but that’s not as big a deal as some would make it out to be.

Now, the series with Wisconsin has always had great parity — the teams are tied at 42-42-2 all-time. There was something about the rivalry, though, that didn’t seem very much like a rivalry. At the very least, it never seemed as heated as the games against Iowa State or Minnesota, even though those teams have posed mostly zero challenge to the Hawkeyes over the past few years.

Last year’s reaction to the realignment news suggested something different, though — all signs appear to indicate that the rivalry with that school to the west will quickly turn into something special.

People seem to be genuinely excited about Farmageddon, even though Iowa hasn’t played Nebraska since 2000 and hasn’t beaten the Huskers since 1982. Whether it’s the shared border or some other factor, it feels like the game on Black Friday is already more highly anticipated than the annual battle with the Cyclones.

The anticipation will only continue to grow in the future if the teams continue to meet on the last day of the regular season. Even with the Hawkeyes’ inexperienced roster this year, the team’s relatively easy schedule means there’s a very real possibility the showdown with the Huskers will decide who represents the Legends Division in the Big Ten Championship Game.

The excitement appears to be mutual, too.

The guys in charge of a student-run Nebraska sports talk show called “Upon Further Review” said Husker fans think the matchup has the potential to be considered one of the most talked-about rivalries in the country. They implied the yearly battle would be on par with Ohio State vs. Michigan or USC vs. Notre Dame in the next couple decades.

That seems like a bit of a stretch, but stranger things have happened — for example, who predicted Iowa would lose to Northwestern three years in a row?

And football is just the tip of the athletics iceberg. Starting today, Nebraska instantly gives more credibility to almost every Big Ten sport (except basketball). The Huskers even field an excellent women’s bowling team, apparently.

So today, as you celebrate Big Red Day, prepare to watch the Big Ten once again become the premier conference in college sports. It’s going to be a fun ride.

Oh, and Nebraska: Welcome aboard.

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