Every Game (Doesn’t) Matter

30 Sep

On Saturday, Nebraska plays Wisconsin in a nationally televised, primetime match-up.  The hype is through the roof:  it is Nebraska’s first game in the Big Ten, a match-up for top 10 teams, and tens of thousands of Husker fans are expected to invade Madison.  Throw in the deep Nebraska ties with former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, as well as the similarities between the teams and fan bases, and there is no shortage of storylines for what is one of the most anticipated games of the young season.

Fans of both programs feel they can win, as fear that they might lose – which is always a good sign of strong game.  But here is the dirty little secret that nobody is talking about:  by almost all measures, this game does not matter.

Oh sure, the loser will likely be on the outside looking in for a spot in the National Championship game (unless chaos strikes and there are a bunch of one loss teams).  But otherwise?  No real impact.

It didn’t used to be this way.  In years past, this game would have made a huge statement for Big 10 dominance, and an inside track to the Rose Bowl.  There was one set of conference standings, and a head to head loss would mean a lack of control over your season’s destiny.

On Sunday, October 2, one team will wake up 1-0 in conference and another will be 0-1.  The difference?  Nebraska and Wisconsin are in different divisions (is Nebraska a Leader, a Legend, a Legume, or a Loader?  I can never keep track).  Whichever team is 0-1 will still have an excellent chance to win their division and make the B1G Championship game in Indianapolis, where they would be 60 minutes from a Rose Bowl berth.  Obviously, the 1-0 team will have a great chance of being in that Championship game too, so a rematch of Nebraska-Wisconsin could likely happen in early December – and most pundits will tell you it is likely.  Since the popular opinion is it is darn near impossible to beat the same team twice in a season (see also: Washington) the loser of tomorrow’s game could potentially find themselves at a perceived advantage should a rematch occur in Indy.

Personally, I hate the idea that this game is something short of a the do or die battle royal it should be.  One of the things I love about college football – compared to every single other sport – is that each and every game matters.  College basketball is entertaining, but only diehards care about most regular season games, because a loss to a top 10 team in December rarely has any great impact upon seeding in March.  Before I start getting up on my anti-playoff soapbox (we’ll go there in December, I promise) let’s just say that I’m strongly opposed to anything that strips meaning from big games like the one being played Saturday night.

Obviously, both coaches will play to win, and will pull any punches, but I guarantee that late Saturday night, one of the two coaches will console his team by telling them this loss does not really matter, and all of their goals are still there for the taking.  And you know what?

He’ll be right.

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