Apples and Oranges: Huskers vs Tigers

As Missouri comes into Lincoln ranked as one of the top five teams in the country, there aren't many who are giving the big red much of a chance. But we might be remiss not to mention some similarities between now and not very long ago. It doesn't mean Nebraska has any better shot, but when these two teams clash, there will be some obvious parallels going in, and maybe even some coming out.

"It wasn't a real fun day for me. I didn't get in this business to do this. I don't like this.

"It's my job to fix it and I'm going to get that done."

Those word were spoken by first-year Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel following a 36-3 pounding in Columbia by the Cornhuskers, which were ranked No. 4 in the country, led by Heisman hopeful quarterback Eric Crouch.

That was 2001, the last time the Husker football team left Columbia with a win.

Fast forward to this year, the No. 4 Tigers head into Lincoln, Nebraska, led by Heisman hopeful quarterback Chase Daniel, and they will face first-year Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini.

A lot can change in seven years, eh?

Missouri, a one-time afterthought in the Big 8/Big 12 race now stands as one of the premiere teams in the conference and certainly THE premiere team in their own division.

Nebraska has gone from being a juggernaut of the collegiate gridiron to being a program which finds itself rebuilding or at the very least, revamping...again.

Since that time, while Missouri hasn't won in Lincoln, they have convincingly trounced the Huskers in Columbia, one of those poundings, a 41-24 victory in 2003, over then Husker Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini.

One other thing of note between the meeting in 2001 and the meeting this season, much to the chagrin of Husker fans, is that like Missouri in 2001, who limped into that game unranked with a 1-1 record, expected to lose that game by double-digits, this Husker team is limping in a bit themselves, unranked and coming off a loss.

That leads most outside of Husker land feeling that Nebraska will be doing good just to stay in the game.

One of the most obvious differences, though, between the two separate meetings is that Nebraska was a perennial victor over Missouri going into that 2001 contest, that victory the 23rd consecutive defeat of Tigers, while Missouri will be going into Lincoln to try and snap a losing-streak which dates back 30 years.

This kind of speculation and/or comparison, obviously isn't good news for the Huskers. After all, it didn't pan out as a Cinderella story for the Tigers when Nebraska went into the 2001 game as an undefeated team, and only Notre Dame's 27-10 loss to the big red was the closest thing resembling something competitive.

Missouri, on the other hand, while they have put up points in absolutely sick fashion, ranking second in the country with a scoring average of over 53 points per game, they have given up over 20 per game, which puts their scoring defense at 47th, overall.

Nebraska could also take some solace in that they are going into this game ranked in the top 20 in scoring offense, averaging over 37 points per game as well as placing just a bit ahead of the Tigers in scoring defense at 40th, giving up 19.5 points per game.

When Missouri faced the Huskers in 2001, in either category they didn't rank better than 80th .

You know how this comparative stuff works though. It's like saying that because you beat team A by 30 and they beat Team C by 20, if you had to play Team C, the margin would be 50 points or more.

It also doesn't take into account that Missouri sports not one, but two Heisman hopefuls, quarterback Chase Daniel leading the popular vote, but all-everything athlete Jeremy Maclin is a playmaking machine who can kill you not just on offense, but in special teams.

When Nebraska beat Missouri in 2001, they did it doing what they did best at that time. Eric Crouch ran his way to the Heisman trophy, both figuratively and literally, this game actually displaying perhaps the play which cemented himself as the most dynamic playmaker in the country that year.

The Huskers were backed up on their own five-yard line, Crouch took the snap, and he just managed to avoid getting taken down for a safety. What followed was a record-setting 95-yard touchdown run which put the former Millard North High School star permanently into Husker lore and the Tigers squarely out of the game.

It's what Nebraska did. That was their identity: Crouch takes the snap and everyone else was just supposed to get the hell out of the way.

That paved the way to a national title game.

Could this game be the same sort of catapult for the Tigers?

Back to the point, though, it would stand to reason that if Missouri sticks to what got them here, you'd have to think that Nebraska doesn't stand much of a chance. Daniel has thrown 12 touchdowns on the year to only a single interception. He completes almost 76 percent of his passes and ranks fourth in the country in pass efficiency. In addition, while he isn't asked to run that much, he's fairly productive when he does, averaging almost six yards a pop.

In Nebraska's case, as it was with Missouri in 2001, they will have to do a few things which have been a bit of an issue up to this point:

Stop the pass: Nebraska ranks 96th in that department, giving up 245 yards in the air per game.

Run the ball: Nebraska managed over 300 yards on the ground against New Mexico State. The Aggies have managed to give up almost that much on average in the two games since. Take that game out, and Nebraska averages less than a hundred yards per game, good enough to rank them in the bottom 20 of Division 1-A.

Control the clock: In Time of Possession Nebraska has the ball for an average of 29:06 per game, good enough to rank 75th out of 119 teams.

It might be only because Missouri hasn't won in Lincoln so long this game gets even a mention on national TV. Let's face it, Nebraska is still a ways away from relevancy when you are talking about a conference title, much less a BCS bid.

It shouldn't be a surprise, though, because look at where Nebraska was when Bo Pelini took over, much like Missouri when Pinkel got the head job.

There's a long ways to go.

One other disparity between the two contests is that when Nebraska traveled to Columbia in 2001, it had already etched itself into the record books with conference titles galore, national titles aplenty and even the recent down years can't take away the fact that the Huskers rank as one of the most successful college football teams of all time.

Missouri has flirted with greatness here and there recently, but has yet to cash in, either victims of their own mistakes or simply not being able to solve the Oklahoma Sooners.

No national titles, no Big 12 Conference titles, and even if they come out of Lincoln with a three of four touchdown victory, nobody is going to say that this game will mark their arrival onto the scene as being one of the elite teams across the land.

It's sad to say for the Husker faithful, but losing streak aside this is a game Missouri is supposed to win. For Nebraska this is only game five of a head coaching tenure that those in Husker land hope will continue for a long stretch, but many might be a bit blind to the reality of just what will probably happen along the way.

Gary Pinkel had to deal with it, and all the while there was rampant speculation about his job, his ability to recruit his own state and just being able to win games that actually matter. Until the Tigers win the conference outright or appear in a national title game, those questions might linger on.

But for Pelini, his road is just beginning, and while I know Husker fans would hate to admit to this or shut their ears at even the hint that this could be true, if Bo in seven years finds himself and his team in the position where the Tigers are now, it would be hard to say he hasn't succeeded.

No, the Huskers and Tigers have far different roots when it comes to ingrained expectations, but as Pelini has said as recently as this week, you have to look at the reality of what you've got.

It is apples and oranges comparing the Huskers and Tigers of 2001 to those of 2008, but you could foresee a lot of similarities down the road.

If it does make you feel better, though, as a member of the rabid red, think of this game in this way:

If Missouri wins, they will have broken a streak 30 years in existence, and somewhere someone will say that this is a huge step forward for the Tigers, because it's one more obstacle of the past being shattered as they try to get over that hump for the future. Maybe now they can take that momentum and have it carry them to not just a division title, but a conference title and beyond.

If Nebraska wins, they will have maintained the home field advantage, gotten a win over a top five team and the national media will talk about them as something other than a team which is one of those once glorious traditions which lost its way only to never really find its way back.

Nobody will be talking national title, and most will not even approach that the idea that they could win the conference title either. But some will say that Nebraska has made a turn or in their case, a RE-turn toward prominence.

Missouri was trying to find an identity when Gary Pinkel took over and Nebraska is trying to get it back.

If Missouri wins, they were supposed to, but if Nebraska wins, some people will say they are on their way.

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