When the Big Ten Championship Game began with a 14-0 lead by the Wisconsin Badgers thanks to a march down the field by Bret Bielema‘s team and a Taylor Martinez-thrown pick-six, things looked bad for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Then, an amazing ankle-breaking touchdown run by Martinez and chip shot field goal by Brett Maher brought Nebraska right back into the game. By the final gun, a four-point loss would’ve been far more preferable to see than the horror in Indianapolis. If you’re a Husker fan, that is.
This was supposed to be Nebraska’s night. The Huskers hadn’t held a conference championship trophy high in 13 years. They pulled together after a massacre at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes and went on a tear winning every game afterwards, just like their head coach said they must.
Then they ran into a 7-5 Wisconsin team with nothing to lose and plenty of time to plan. The Badgers had fun, they played with reckless abandon and in the end, that may have been the worst thing for Nebraska. The 14-10 score almost seems like a tease in the wake of the eventual 70-31 result. So close, yet so far away – again.
The Huskers have played 122 years and more than 1,200 games of football. They’d never surrendered 70 points and 539 yards of rushing (a record) in the same game before. Nebraska fans have seen 70 points hung on the scoreboard against their team in semi-recent history, though. That was under the tenure of Bill Callahan whose name several Huskers would rather never be uttered in the state again.
This brings up an interesting question: If Bo Pelini, a coach lauded for his defensive game planning allowed the same number of points scored on his team as the hated Callahan did, yet more rushing yards than any coach ever, what does his future hold with a new athletic director coming in?
There’s the argument that Pelini’s 49-19 record speaks for itself. However, many of those 19 losses have been humiliating. From the Missouri Tigers’ 52-17 win in Lincoln in 2008 to Wisconsin’s second pummeling of the Huskers in two years, the question of whether or not he can win the big games he’s in is a legitimate one.
Many fans will question the sanity of those who suggest Pelini needs to go. He’s won nine games every year, but when those wins lead up to embarrassing losses when Nebraska manages to get back into the spotlight, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate them.
For those who still believe that he the answer for the Huskers following the 2012 Big Ten Championship, they’ll have an opportunity for their faith to be redeemed, likely in a bowl somewhere in Florida. The potentially bad news is that Nebraska will be facing a very good SEC team.
If Pelini brings an apathetic, sluggish, “just-happy-to-be-here” team into the Sunshine State only to get waxed again, what then?
On the night that was supposed to be the one where he took the program, his program, a step forward, he hit the glass ceiling amazingly hard and fell back to Earth.
For all involved, whether fans or those who determine Pelini’s fate with the program, there appears to be the need for serious consideration of where the Huskers are, where they want to be and who can lead them there.
Brandon Cavanaugh is a college football columnist for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter: @eightlaces