Montee Ball rushed for 202 yards and three more touchdowns Saturday night, leading the Badgers to a 70-31 rout of No. 14 Nebraska for a third straight Big Ten championship and a third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl. …Nebraska hadn’t allowed 70 points since a 76-39 thrashing by Kansas In November 2007. The loss ended the Cornhuskers’ six-game winning streak, which began after a 63-38 loss to Ohio State, and the Huskers simply had no answers.
Don’t look at me. I didn’t even watch it.
I had made other plans. Call me a turncoat, but part of me figured Nebraska would win, anyway, albeit in maddening fashion, and I decided that I wasn’t in the mood for the stumblebum antics that would result. I am not ashamed to say that there is a benefit to my well-being in rationing the number of times I am compelled to watch Taylor Martinez fumble a ball off his hind end.
Instead, I chose a museum, craft beers and the cold November air.
But another part of me was already done. Call me a cynic, but there really was nothing of value left to play for. Now, I admit, a casual observer might say that the conference title of the so-called Big Ten was left to play for. But it says here that that is small beer when you remember that undefeated, and ineligible, Ohio State was clearly the best team in the league.
The conference trophy should be emblazoned with the legend, Best Team Not Named Ohio State.
The sentiment was clearly there, anyway. Sportswriters had to be rolling their eyes Saturday night as they typed sentences like, “The Badgers are the first five-loss team to reach the Rose Bowl.”
A five-loss team with weeks to plot …pressed the reset button on an NU season that had been defined by improbable, clutch comebacks. Should those fond memories eventually linger, Saturday night will still live in Husker infamy.
To wit, Mr. Ball rushed for 202 yards, scored three touchdowns and set two N.C.A.A. scoring records.
Wisconsin became the first team from the so-called Big Ten to earn three consecutive trips to the Rose Bowl since 1979, it rushed for 539 yards (fourth-best in team history and the most ever allowed by a Nebraska team) and tied the record for most points in a conference championship game.
When the final gun mercifully sounded, it was one of the most depressing walks to a locker room you’ll ever see a team make.
You want to talk depressing? After the game, Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini told reporters, “I’ve never been a part of a game like that as a coach.” The irony of that statement, of course, is that he was a part of a game like that just a few weeks ago when the Buckeyes throttled the Huskers by a similar score, 63-38.
Back then, a bemused Mr. Pelini shrugged his shoulders when reporters asked to try to explain what had happened. “I don’t know,” he said then. “I wish I knew.”
Now that it is Sunday, the only sensible thing to do is forget all about it. Pretend it never happened. Before the season, it seemed clear Nebraska would not be a solid team. Now that the season is mostly over, nothing has changed.
I should get over it.
Maybe what I should do is stop caring so much in the first place. In this morning’s Times, there was a tiny little reality check. There were three paragraphs in the Sports section on the game and, coincidentally, thousands of words about the life of a woman who accused a Nebraska football player of raping her 20 years ago. Nebraska’s football program at the time was a monument to brutal efficiency, and the player was never punished.
It was a reminder that the bold Husker edifice was not without its flaws. Today, that imperfect monument leans more precipitously to one side.
Pelini bristled at the notion that the loss is indicative of cracks in the program’s foundation. He made a good point — Nebraska had 10 wins in the regular season and won six straight. But, man, how does this happen?
At one point in his postgame comments on Saturday, Mr. Pelini seemed to be asking for someone else to explain: “What do you do?” he said.
The worst part, perhaps, about Mr. Pelini is his petulant demeanor in news conferences. He’s brusque. He’s smug. He acts like his answers should be unnecessary. “What is defensive football?” Pelini lectured reporters Saturday night.
“It’s play your gaps. Handle your responsibility and be where you’re supposed to be to make tackles. We did none of the above.”
He never seems to have the answers. Which leads to the question, Why is anyone listening to him anymore?
Maybe no one is.
Nebraska looked ill-prepared, lackluster and like it had no business being on a championship field. This, in the fifth year of Pelini’s tenure, with his guys, his seniors, his way of football. Look at this way: at least you won’t hear his name come up for any of the SEC openings.
- Wisconsin whips Nebraska, reaches Rose Bowl (scores.espn.go.com)
- Huskers left bruised and Badgered in Indy (nebraskaradionetwork.com)