No. 14 Nebraska hoping for title luck vs. Badgers
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Nebraska's Will Compton may never forget the agonizing details of his first two conference championship game.
A third one could finally put those nightmares to rest.
On Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, No. 14 Nebraska will rely on some of the lessons from losses in the 2009 and 2010 Big 12 title games as they try to claim their first Big Ten crown.
"We've been there a couple times and we've even tasted winning a championship because we ran out there the first time against Texas before we got that called back. So we've tasted the winning," Compton said. "We've got to do everything necessary to not be in those positions again and get it done this year."
Despite being one of only seven schools with 800 wins (856), appearing in 34 consecutive bowl games from 1971 to 2003 and winning 43 conference championships, the Cornhuskers (10-2, 7-1) haven't claimed a conference crown since 1999.
It's not been for lack of effort.
In 2009 against Texas, Nebraska started celebrating when Colt McCoy's errant pass sailed out of bounds as time expired. After a replay review, the officials added 1 second to the clock — enough time for Hunter Lawrence to make a 46-yard field goal as time expired again, sending the unbeaten Longhorns into the national championship game with a 13-12 victory.
A year later, Nebraska was back. This time, it jumped to a 17-0 second-quarter lead against longtime rival Oklahoma, surrendered the lead before halftime, got the lead back on a 42-yard field goal with 8 seconds left in the half, and then got shut out in the second half. Oklahoma hung on for a 23-20 victory in Nebraska's final Big 12 game, preventing the Huskers from reaching a BCS bowl.
So when this week began, Compton and the upperclassmen didn't need any reminders about championship games past.
"It's very motivating for our team and the whole state of Nebraska, they haven't had a conference championship since 1999, and we're really excited to go out and play for our third one in four years," quarterback Taylor Martinez said. "Hopefully, we can bring this one home."
It's been such a strange year in the Big Ten that Nebraska isn't even facing a ranked opponent in Indy.
The league's best team, No. 4 Ohio State (12-0), can't play because it is ineligible for the postseason under NCAA sanctions. Resurgent Penn State couldn't play, either, because of the same reason. The only other ranked teams in the league, No. 21 Michigan and No. 22 Northwestern, are in the same division as Nebraska, putting the stumbling Badgers (7-5, 4-4) in the title game.
Wisconsin comes into the game after back-to-back losses to the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions, three losses in overtime this season and two by a field goal, including a 30-27 defeat Sept. 29 at Nebraska.
But the Badgers do have Montee Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011 and the new career touchdown leader in the Bowl Subdivision, and a long history of performing well with titles at stake. Wisconsin has been to the last two Rose Bowls and is trying to become the first Big Ten team to make three straight trips to Pasadena, Calif., in more than two decades. Michigan last achieved the feat following the 1987-89 seasons.
And a year ago, Wisconsin passed its initiation into these title games by holding off Michigan State in Indy.
"The thing I remember about that game was the environment was something that every player dreams of. It was great. The lights, the cameras, the energy on our sideline, and we hope it's very similar this weekend," Ball said. "You play on a pro field, so that's very special and it felt like a bowl game. It was just very fun to be a part of."
Wisconsin made it back to Indy despite losing quarterback Joel Stave with a broken collarbone for the final month of the season and going with little-used Curt Phillips at quarterback. Phillips has been sacked nine times in the last three games, and Badgers linebacker Chris Borland has been bothered by a leg injury.
"They are different situations and I think we have different teams, too," Borland said comparing this year's trip to Indy against last year. "There's no lull in excitement, though. We do come into this year with five losses and that's different, but we're not that far off from being undefeated, so I think we'll come into this game with a lot of excitement and try to win our third straight championship."
Nebraska, meanwhile, would settle for just one elusive December win.
It should have running back Rex Burkhead, who returned from a sprained left knee last week against Iowa, , and the Cornhuskers have won six straight.
Will it be enough to win a title? The upperclassmen can only hope so.
"It's good to be back in a conference championship game again," Burkhead said. "The first two times we were in it, it was kind of a bum deal. Being part of Coach Bo (Pelini's) first recruiting class, we had it as one of our goals to win a conference championship, and we have a chance to do that."