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November 26, 2012
If you were to just look at the wall of championships in Memorial Stadium you might think Nebraska won so many titles in the 80's and 90's that there must be a separate wall for all the championships in the 2000's.
It's almost hard to fathom a program of Nebraska's stature hasn't won a league title since 1999 when the Huskers beat Texas in the San Antonio Alamodome. Of the 43 conference titles Nebraska has won, none have come in the 2000's.
There have been just three appearances in conference title games by NU since the 1999 season, and you can argue the Huskers had a good chance to win all of them - Oklahoma 2006, Texas 2009 and OU 2010.
That's why when you look at Saturday's game in Indianapolis it's important for so many reasons that Nebraska finds a way to finish the job against Wisconsin in Lucas Oil Stadium.
It's an awful lot of pressure if you think about it, but that's the reality of the situation. For Nebraska football to get back to where they want to be, it starts with winning conference championships again on a more consistent basis.
"We've kind of taken the attitude each week that everything that we've been able to do and everything we've been able to accomplish so far doesn't mean anything without a win on Saturday," senior tight end Ben Cotton said. "Especially as a group of seniors, and the guys that have been a part of this on this team, we've realized that each win became more important and every week the stakes have gone up.
"This is as high as they're going to get and I think we are going to do everything we can this week to make sure we are properly prepared to play our best game on Saturday."
Going back to that gap of championships on the wall of West Stadium, it's even something that caught the attention of senior linebacker Alonzo Whaley.
"Last week I asked Will (Compton) when the last time (Nebraska) won a conference championship," Whaley said. "(Compton) pointed up to the banner and I was like 'whoa.' I think a lot of us have that in our mind and want to be a part of winning a conference championship."
What's been frustrating for Nebraska in their last two conference title game appearances in 2009 and 2010 is they were so close.
In 2009 Ndamukong Suh played maybe the best defensive game in school history, but 1 second was put back on the clock to allow Texas to kick a game winning field goal. In 2010, the Huskers had a 17-0 lead on Oklahoma with a secondary that featured four NFL players in it, yet that wasn't enough to stop Landry Jones and the Sooners from mounting a comeback.
"We've been close twice and we are looking forward to getting it done this year," senior running back Rex Burkhead said. "Wisconsin is a great team and we got a taste of them earlier this year. I know they're going to be hungry and we are going to have to be ready to play."
Senior linebacker Will Compton also recognizes the importance of Saturday not just for this season, but the program as a whole.
"All that stuff won't mean anything unless we get the win on Saturday," Compton said of the Huskers six game win streak. "Everything we've sacrificed and everything we've done since January up to this point this is why we've done it. We're now in this position, so we have to take advantage of it."
Inside or outside
When the Big Ten first announced they were having a conference title game a lot of the traditionalists in the league thought the game should be outdoors at either a place like Soldier Field in Chicago or even Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
However, the Big Ten thought differently after weighing their options and signed a long-term deal with Lucas Oil Stadium - the host of the 2012 Super Bowl. After covering Big 12 Championship games in both Dallas and Kansas City, I think the league is making the right call, especially if they want to have a game played at night.
The 2006 Nebraska vs. Oklahoma game at Arrowhead Stadium was unbearable for fans to sit through, even though it was a major home field advantage for the Huskers. Both the 2009 and 2010 games were great experiences for fans in Dallas, and I expect it to be a similar feel in Indianapolis. Both Cowboys Stadium and Lucas Oil are world class facilities that have played host to the last two Super Bowls.
Playing the game in a dome will also allow both teams to feature their offenses at full strength, which greatly helps Nebraska. Taylor Martinez is not really a cold weather quarterback built for what he faced last Friday in Iowa City. For the image of the league I also think it looks better indoors, instead of a freezing cold stadium with sideline heaters all over the place.
I've come full circle on this. I used to be the guy attacking Dan Beebe for not wanting the Big 12 game in Kansas City anymore, mainly because the advantage it provided both Texas and Oklahoma by having the game in Dallas. I feel like Indianapolis is more of a neutral location, where no fan base will have a huge advantage over another. The Big Ten could put the game in Chicago, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland or Minneapolis and no matter what Nebraska fans would have to travel great lengths to get there.
Compton told me on Monday he's more than happy about playing Saturday's game in a controlled temperature dome.
"Lambeau and Soldier Field already reminds me of the weather from last Friday (at Iowa)," Compton said smiling. "I would rather play in a dome."
Ticket sales at a slow start
On Monday Nebraska announced that only 7,400 of their 15,000 allotted tickets to the Big Ten Championship game have been sold. In 2009 and 2010 NU's allotted tickets for the Big 12 Championship game were gone in days.
You get the sense right now that we won't see a full house on Saturday in Indianapolis. I still expect to see 20 to 25,000 Nebraska fans in attendance, but I think a lot of people got their tickets on their own ahead of time or through the secondary market.
Other people I have talked to tell me they are holding out hopes for the Rose Bowl. This is why the Pac-12 has their title game at home sites instead of neutral locations. It's almost unrealistic to expect Nebraska fans to take two expensive trips in a month wrapped around the holidays.
I can't ever see the Big Ten going to a home site for the conference title game, but could you imagine the scene in Lincoln this week if the Huskers were able to host this game at Memorial Stadium?
Three and out
***Nebraska's defense is now ranked 15th nationally. I never thought I'd be writing that after the Ohio State and UCLA losses.
***Pelini has really lobbied hard for junior corner Ciante Evans to get recognized on the all-conference teams, almost like he did for Eric Hagg in 2010. Pelini said if there's a better corner in the league than Evans, he hasn't seen him.
***If you looking for a good dinner spot in Indianapolis Friday night, try legendary steakhouses St. Elmo's and Mo's. You can't go wrong with either, but call ahead for a reservation. At St. Elmo's make sure you order one of their shrimp cocktails. You'll thank me later. See you in Indy.
Sean Callahan can be reached at email@example.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.