Well, we made it.
Three overtime losses -- all in the last four weeks -- and several more nightmares tested our mettle, and a three-quarterback carousel ensured there would be no solid sleep for the state of Wisconsin. But the Badgers are back in the Big Ten Championship Game, and once again they face a team who got the better of them in the regular season.
Bret Bielema and several of Wisconsin's players have touted the familiarity with the venue and stage last year's win over Michigan St. brought, and it might very well be the greatest of a small number of advantages vs. Nebraska. In their second season as members, the Huskers ran roughshod over the Big Ten. Their 10-2 record is the nicest number, but the stats are also impressive -- the conference's second-best scoring offense, fifth-best scoring defense and the nation's eight-best rushing attack, to name a few.
Nebraska also, of course, has the benefit of a win over Wisconsin already in the pocket. Despite spotting the Badgers a 17-point deficit back on Sept. 29, the Huskers pulled out four straight scoring drives to restore the brilliance to their season and set a nasty course for Wisconsin's.
Since then, so much has happened that we've once again turned to a two-part Q&A with Corn Nation, SB Nation's fine Nebraska blog. David McGee, James Stevenson, Aaron, Husker Mike and Jon Johnson were kind enough to reunite and share their thoughts on the ramifications of a potential upset by Wisconsin, the best parts of Nebraska's spectacular season and what impact that first game has on these two teams entering Saturday. Part 2 will be up Friday morning, and there we'll break down Nebraska's defense and some other advantages it might hold.
1. B5Q: To start, how do Nebraska fans feel about the 10-2 (7-1 Big Ten) season? I imagine pretty well, but would it be at all incomplete with a loss to Wisconsin on Saturday?
David McGee: Yes. Without question. With the situation in the conference this year, anything short of winning it would be disappointing. This year has been a rollercoaster ride. Three double-digit comebacks have Rolaids stock through roof here in Nebraska. The entertainment value of this team has been high, but it's been stressful, no doubt. It's been 13 years since Nebraska last won a conference crown. Nebraska hasn't seen a drought like that in half a century. Husker fans feel they're due to change that and now's as good a time as any.
James Stevenson: You have to be happy about the double-digital regular season win total. Some dis-merit for losing in a blowout/ugly fashion in Columbus. And you probably take a little bit away from all of the crazy comeback wins: exciting yes, but we don't want weekly heart-attacks from our team. Husker fans want this game badly; we want the first conference title since 1999 badly. This is Pelini's third crack at a conference title game, this team has been focused and driven all year, failing now would cast a rough light on the entire season. It'd still be a passing grade, but instead of an A or A-, you're looking a B as the final letter grade.
Aaron: I'm one of the rare Husker fans that believe a 9-10 win season is a great accomplishment. Throw in the occasional year that they can go above and beyond and I'm happy. I also believe that the team should compete for a conference title every year. That doesn't mean that they necessarily win or get to the title game, but that they had a chance up until the end. This has been a great year and hopefully they can cap it off with a win on Saturday.
2. B5Q: What's gone right or wrong for the Huskers this season, and how do you expect it all to translate into Saturday's game?
Aaron: Well, turnovers and penalties really set the team back early on and caused them to have to play from behind a lot this year (google Nebraska comeback 2012). They still turn the ball over, but the penalties are down and they are creating turnovers too. When the offense clicks, they do really well. This weekend the weather will be 72 degrees with no wind. I expect them to play well after 12 games.
Husker Mike: What's gone right is that Taylor Martinez has gotten better with knowing the offense and improving his fundamentals to hit his receivers. The first Wisconsin game might actually have been his worst game of the season passing the ball; his receivers had to go to extraordinary efforts to make catches in that game. When Martinez gets on a roll, he can complete 70% of his passes. He's still got the speed and running ability, but he also knows that he can't get hurt, so he'll duck out of bounds to avoid the hit... but almost always right after getting the first down.
Jon Johnston: The defense has come around. The loss to UCLA was the result of a defense that gave up the second-most yardage in school history and made many Husker fans question whether Bo Pelini had lost "it". Now, here we are heading into the Big Ten title game 15th in total defense, first in pass defense and 75th in rushing defense. Fear us, oh Badgerites! Fear us when you throw the ball seven, eight, or maybe even 10 times Saturday night, knowing that each one will result in something potentially horrible.
Okay, so we gave up 344 yards on the ground to UCLA and 371 to Ohio State. Those teams have mobile quarterbacks as long as you consider Brett Hundley mobile. Does Wisconsin have a mobile quarterback? No, so consider yourselves crushed by our 75th-best against the run defense that's missing its most consistent defensive tackle. I see you brustle with fear. I hear your cries in the night. I steal your cheese curds and make myself fatter with delight.
3. B5Q: After playing out the rest of the regular season and having the benefit of hindsight, just how big of a win was the first Wisconsin-Nebraska game? Did that close call do anything to elevate Huskers fans' respect/fear for the Badgers?
Aaron: I think it showed that the team can play with any team in the conference. It also set a precedent that the team can play from behind and win tough games. The Badgers are a solid team, but we can beat them again.
Jon: It was a huge win because after the butt-kicking you gave us in Madison last season I don't think I could handle another loss to the Bucky lovers. Actually, I think that close call made Nebraska realize it could shut down the run as we held you to 56 total yards on the ground. Then we went and played Ohio State and that theory got blown all to hell. Wait, what was the question?
4. B5Q: Obligatory Taylor Martinez question: in his junior season, how well has Martinez led Nebraska's offense? The Huskers rank second in the Big Ten in scoring offense (35.4 points per game) and first in total offense (460.9 yards per game).
Aaron: Our backup QBs have not played well when they have had a few snaps. He leads the offense and we would be in deep trouble without him. He provides a passing threat in addition to the Huskers running game. It makes our offense very hard to stop.
Check back Friday morning for Part 2.