Saturday night, the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team plays its first conference game as a member of the Big Ten. When the ball is kicked off and that game begins, the long-awaited expansion of the Big Ten becomes a reality.
Fittingly, Nebraska’s first game is also a big game, and one that should give them a proper Big Ten welcome. The undefeated, eighth-ranked Huskers travel to Camp Randall Stadium to take on the unbeaten Wisconsin Badgers, who sit at number 7 in the polls. For a visiting team, Camp Randall is one of the toughest venues in the Big Ten, with the distinctive traditions found in many Big Ten stadiums. Nebraska will have to endure the taunts of the Wisconsin faithful and then, when the third quarter ends, feel the field shake when the stadium rocks and the student section hops to House of Pain’s Jump Around.
It’s hard to predict what will happen in this game. Wisconsin has pulverized its opponents, but it really hasn’t played anybody with a pulse yet. (C’mon, Wisconsin — it’s time to start scheduling some more competitive out of conference games. South Dakota? Really?) Nebraska has beaten marginally better teams, but has given up a lot of points. Given the caliber of the opponents, there’s no way of telling how tough these teams are. Saturday’s game will give us a tentative answer to that question.
As a long time Big Ten fan, I’ll probably be rooting for Wisconsin to win. Although I welcome Nebraska to the party, I want the Cornhuskers to understand that they’ve joined a tough, hard-nosed conference with more tradition than any other. A hard-fought loss in their first conference game seems like a very good way to send that message.