With as hot as the Huskers have played at parts of this year and as cool as they have been in others getting to the Championship Game is testament to their determination. There were injuries. There were suspensions. There were the officials. There were penalties. There were losses. Did I mention there were the officials?
Nebraska fans before the Colorado game looked back and could have said ‘What if?' or ‘Woulda, coulda, shoulda…', but with the Huskers in the Big 12 Championship game those questions, those scenarios roll right off of you. They made it.
It's the grand exit to the Big 10. It's the grand exit that so many in the national media don't understand or care to acknowledge its significance at this moment and that's too bad. It doesn't take a magic 8 ball to see the writing on the wall.
Put me down for two predictions this week folks. I will give you my take then prediction of the Big 12 Championship between Nebraska and Oklahoma then I will give you my prediction for the Big 12. Both, in my opinion are good. Before the predictions though, here is what I am thinking about and will be watching for Saturday night:
Three storylines :
1. Nebraska plays an ole' friend one last time - This has been a nostalgic week for me thinking back to the days of the Big 8 and the classic OU/NU match ups. I don't think that this one could have played out any better for Nebraska fans when it comes to the opponent. There have been a lot of conspiracy theorists this year and I think a lot of hatred that Nebraska and Nebraska fans have felt overall from most of the Big 12, but not from Oklahoma. This has always been more of a "gentlemen's war" and more than that the mutual respect that has been there between these two teams on the field is almost rivaled by the respect off of it. It couldn't have worked out any better for Nebraska.
2. How healthy is Martinez? - I had heard that Martinez was practicing during the week this week and I thought that was pretty interesting because the player I saw limp off of the field that one last time at College Station looked beat up and sore beyond all belief. I am wondering how healthy he really is because I don't think that the NU staff would name him the starter without thinking he was healthy enough to play and was the best option to win.
3. Huskers try and leave Big 12 as champs - Besides the opponent that Nebraska faces tomorrow night there is the opportunity for Nebraska to leave as champs before riding off into the Big 10 sunset. The last game for NU in the Big 12. The last Big 12 Championship! The Husker team and fans to some extent have felt this us against the world mentality this season and with good reason. It all started last year in the Big 12 Championship with a questionable review of the clock to other penalties this season, suspensions and lack of review of violent act plays against Nebraska that you can point the finger at.
Three match ups :
1. Nebraska's tackles vs. Oklahoma's rush ends - There is no other way to say this, but Jeremy Beal from OU is a stud. There is a serious need to keep Nebraska's quarterback upright on Saturday night and the way that starts is to account for Beal on every play. Jeremiah Sirles, Yoshi Hardrick, D. J. Jones and Marcel Jones will have their hands full all night long, depending on where Beal lines up.
2. Baker Steinkuhler and Jared Crick vs. OU's interior offensive line - When Nebraska has been successful getting pressure on the quarterback this season it's been due in large part to the success of the inside pass rush of Nebraska's defensive line. Steinkuhler and Crick will need to at first get pressure and then make OU adjust that might allow for the defensive end pressure from Cameron Meredith and Pierre Allen to get going or blitzes from the secondary or linebacker positions.
3. OU's receivers vs. Nebraska's secondary - With the Huskers now getting a chance to see Ryan Broyles you can now say that the Huskers have seen the top three receivers in the Big 12 South and probably in the conference (including Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State and Jeff Fuller from Texas A&M). OU doesn't just have Broyles though. They are deep at the receiver position a lot like what Oklahoma State and what Texas A&M brought to the table. Nebraska will bring a defensive style in the secondary and at a level that OU hasn't seen this season (hence Nebraska being #1 in pass defense nationally).
First onto my game prediction; I think that this is going be a defensive game. I have heard people talk about OU and Nebraska putting up points on Saturday night and I think that combined there might be 40 points scored tomorrow night, but I think that Nebraska has the advantage and let me tell you why. I think that a week off has done the body right for Taylor Martinez and that his health is actually pretty good. I think that Nebraska will have some wrinkles for OU in the rushing the ball department that will catch them off guard. Finally, I think that Nebraska's strength of the defense is in the secondary and if Nebraska can get to Landry Jones and get pressure that it will cause him to get erratic with the football. Give me the Huskers to win, 21-14.
Now onto my prediction for the Big 12 and what I think is going to happen long term; for anyone that thinks that Nebraska and Colorado jumping ship for another conference is a fad will be sorely mistaken. This conference will become a conference of the haves and the have nots. The unequal revenue sharing that has been agreed to going forward to retain 10 of the original 12 members is something that in the short term made sense for those that didn't have anywhere else to go. More than that, it made sense for those that have the ability to spin off their own broadcasting network. Did anyone find it coincidental that the Big 12 announces a contract extension on the same day that Texas announced a partnership with ESPN for the Longhorn Network? Put another nail in the Big 12 coffin why don't you. Put the Big 12 conference on an egg timer folks. I give them three to four more years.