Frisbie -- Seven years ago, when league officials began daydreaming about the impact that the Big 12 would have on NCAA Division-I football, their wildest fantasies centered around the kind of matchup that is on tap for 6 p.m., Saturday, in frigid Lincoln, Nebraska.
"Nebraska is the third-winningest program of all time (770 wins in 113 years) in college football and Texas is No. 4 (762 wins in 110 years)," head coach Mack Brown said. "When you start thinking about the history of the coaches and the players, it's why people come here. It's why I came here to coach. It's because of games like this that the Nebraska people do the same."
Which brings us to 2002 edition of Cornhusker football. Nebraska opened the season with a now almost-forgotten 48-10 win over Arizona State (AP No. 16). But then the wheels came off in back-to-back embarrassments to Penn State (40-7) and Iowa State (36-14). The ‘Huskers lost their first league opener since 1974, then lost to Oklahoma State for the first time since 1961, and now (despite the 38-31 comeback win against Texas A&M) find themselves unranked for the fifth consecutive week (which hasn't happened since God was a boy).
Brown has been saying this all week about 6-3 Nebraska: They're baaaa-ck.
He points out the those three losses were on the road, and that the game Saturday is at Tom Osborne Field where the home team is 73-1 since 1991 and has been lying in wait for the squad that handed the program its lone loss in Lincoln during the previous decade.
"That's (home record) phenomenal," Brown said. "We're proud of our little 17-game (home winning) streak. These guys have done it like they're supposed to do it. They've beaten a lot of really good teams at home. They've got a tremendous amount of pride, like here. Any time they lose, they catch a lot of criticism, both locally and nationally. Their players have responded to it. They've come back and played really, really well."
But does quarter-and-a-half against the Aggies represent a bona fide comeback.
Of course not. But a win against No. 7 Texas would.
That's why the ‘Huskers will be stoked and the 73,918 seat stadium will be at capacity for the 253rd consecutive time.
"Our team has gained a lot of toughness and confidence over the past two weeks," Brown said. but they'll be challenged again this week."
Here are the facts:
Nebraska has a typically robust, if not resurgent, ground game. The ‘Huskers are No. 4 nationally in rushing (279.1 yards per game) but are the Big 12's bottom feeders when it comes to its passing game. They are dead last in the league, and No. 114 of 117 NCAA Division-I teams, in passing offense (106.2 yards per game, six TDs, six interceptions).
This is not your vintage Blackshirt defense, giving up an average of 344.2 yards per game (NCAA No. 40). They have been relatively stingy against the run but susceptible to the deep ball, giving up 212.8 (NCAA No. 54) through the air.
The difference-maker, however, is RCB/PR DeJuan Groce. The senior leads the nation in punt returns (20.0 yards per return). He also leads the team with four interceptions.
If Groce continually shortens the field because of a return or a pick, Texas will lose. If Texas has as horrific of a punting game at Nebraska as it did against Iowa State (28.7 yard average, plus one blocked), it will lose. If the running game goes back into neutral, Nebraska's option game will win the time-of-possession battle and then wait for Texas to make a critical turnover or special teams blunder, and Texas will lose.
Texas has to take the crowd out of this one early and remained poised.
"You've got to walk into their stadium knowing that you're going to win the game," Brown said. " I think that's probably the most important thing and not panicking because you'll be behind more on the road. Your players have to understand that you probably have to give the other team 14 points on the road as far as their enthusiasm and confidence."
Still, Texas has faster players, more experienced players and more talented players across the board than does Nebraska. And as far as that home field advantage: Texas needs to remember it is more undefeated at Lincoln since 1991 than are the Cornhuskers.
The forecast here calls for sub-freezing temperatures and for lightning to strike twice. Nebraska will be a "phenomenal" 73-2 at home come late Saturday night. Texas 20, Nebraska 16.
Ross -- Before the start of the season, I predicted Texas to be 6-2 after the Iowa State game, with losses to both OU and K-State. Starting with ISU, though, my crystal ball showed nothin' but Ws, including this weekend in Lincoln, for a 10-2 finish. At the time of my prognostication, the Huskers looked to be the class of the Big 12 North (albeit with a lot of question marks), but in my mind, the Wildcats looked to be the tougher match-up for the Horns. Nebraska, of course, hasn't exactly proven to be top 10 material, or even top 25 material, as have KSU and Colorado. And Texas has already pulled off what based on my preseason picks was an upset in Manhattan. So does that change any of my feelings about Saturday's showdown with the Cornhuskers?
The Horns match up well with the Huskers. UT's speed defense is well-suited for NU's suddenly resurgent option attack, particularly with the recent return to near-health of Kalen Thornton (which has enabled Cory Redding to turn in the type of dominating performances that have long been expected of the senior RDE) and the emergence in the middle of true frosh DT Rodrique Wright (freeing the D from the shackles of a three-man front, which misplaced MLB Reed Boyd at the line of scrimmage rather than free to roam and makes plays as he is now).
The Longhorn O also has the personnel to exploit a less-than-stout Blackshirt (if that name even applies anymore) defense. The cold weather (and projected miniscule-but-apparently-disruptive, if recent games are any indication, 7 mph wind) could affect the Texas offense (the wide receivers' hammie injuries probably won't take well to freezing temps), but Chris Simms, the receiving corps and the ground game have had solid performances in dreary weather, and this game will provide another opportunity for just such a performance: not spectacular, but solid. Against this Husker team, that will be enough. Texas 27, Nebraska 16.