Dallas, Tex.--Growing up in Hartselle, Ala. Offensive lineman Brett Byford knew all about Auburn and Alabama and all of the Southern teams. When it came time for him to choose a school Byford decided that being away from home was the way to go and if you're an offensive lineman that means heading to the Midwest and playing for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
With five former Cornhusker linemen currently in the NFL and Outland Trophy winners such as Dave Rimington, Dean Steinkuhler, Will Shields, Zach Wiegert and Aaron Taylor in the history books Nebraska is the place to make a name for yourself if you're an offensive lineman. Byford says for him it was the place he felt like he belonged and for the starting center it has turned out to be the right decision.
"My main schools were Nebraska, Georgia Tech, South Carolina and Clemson," Byford says. "It has been a huge honor to play for Nebraska. That's the word. I'm extremely honored just to be able to play center for the Huskers. It's really cool."
Byford is a physical blocker that fits with the mold of Nebraska's history of linemen.
Admittedly a fan of Auburn when he was small, Byford says that he didn't really cheer for Auburn or Alabama in high school. Although that's the case he says this game is very special if for no other reason than he's playing against a home state team.
"It's a good opportunity," Byford says. "It's something I never really thought I would have the chance to do. When I found out we were playing Auburn I was pretty excited. I grew up watching them and was a fan growing up. Just getting this opportunity is really cool."
With very few Auburn players from North Alabama Byford says he doesn't know many of the Tigers personally. Even though he's not familiar with many of the Tigers he says that looking at home towns is something he has enjoyed the last few weeks.
"I don't know as many of Auburn's guys as I do players at Alabama," Byford says. "I know a lot more in Tuscaloosa. Just looking at their roster I remember three or four of them that I played with in the Alabama-Mississippi Game coming out of high school. Looking at the high schools I knew a lot of them and that's crazy because I'm used to seeing teams from all over the country. All of the sudden seeing a bunch of guys from Alabama is crazy."
Entering the 2006 season as the back up at center behind Kurt Mann, Byford entered the line up in the second game of the season because of an illness to Mann and hasn't come out since. Earning Honorable-Mention All-Big 12 honors at center, Byford was part of an offense that produced over 400 yards seven times and averaged 430 yards per game in 2006. He says that with every passing game the offense becomes better and he's looking forward to a strong finish in the Cotton Bowl.
"It just keeps getting better," Byford says. "You get more and more comfortable with the offense. The longer you do it the more at home you feel. It's really starting to flow with this season especially.
"Things have been good for me," he adds. "I went in there and it worked out well. I got better as the season went along. It has been a learning process and I have really grown a lot as a player. I guess I got better every day. That's the main thing. I didn't stay the same."
Nebraska enters Monday's 10:40 a.m. kickoff with a record of 9-4 overall looking to win 10 games for the 25th time since 1962. Beginning in 1970 the Huskers have won at least 10 games on 21 different occasions. Byford says a win would be huge for the program as it looks to regain its spot at or near the top of the college football world.
"It's a big game," Byford says. "We want 10 wins. That's a big deal for us. We want to finish up with that. It's a big deal for them as well. Hopefully we can go out and execute and win the game."