What if Nebraska Never Left the Big XII?

27 Dec

Here’s a great “what if” question that I’ve been thinking about lately…

What if all of the conference realignment drama of 2010 and 2011 never happened?  What if Nebraska and Colorado never left the Big XII?  How would Nebraska’s 2011 season play out?  Here is my best guess:

Non-Conference

Nothing changes here.  For the sake of argument (and simplicity) NU plays the same non-conference schedule regardless of their conference affiliation.  Sure, you could make a case that with a schedule heavy with Big XII North weaklings, Tom Osborne might have found a better opponent than Tennessee-Chattanooga.  But for our purposes let’s just assume Nebraska still wins their first game, regardless of the MAC/WAC/mid-level BCS opponent.  Okay?

Just to recap, the non-conference schedule looked like this:

9/3 – vs. Tennessee-Chattanooga (Lincoln, NE)

A fairly standard, feel good 40- 7 win.

9/10 – vs. Fresno State (Lincoln, NE)

Closer than the experts thought, but good enough to win.  42-29.

9/17 – vs. Washington (Lincoln, NE)

Nebraska’s 51-38 win gives the Huskers a 2-1 series win over the Huskies.

9/24 – @ Wyoming (Laramie, WY)

Rex Burkhead and the offense grid out a 38-14 win.

Conference Schedule

Here is where things get interesting.  I couldn’t Google the original 2011 schedule from when NU was still in the XII, but there are several things I know for certain:

a) Nebraska alternated home and away games with the other five North schools.  The schedule below is the reverse of where NU played in 2010.
b) The schedule against the South rotated in four year cycles.  Year 1:  Baylor in Lincoln, @ Texas Tech, @ Oklahoma.  Year 2:  @ Baylor, Texas Tech & Oklahoma in Lincoln.  Year 3:  @ Oklahoma State, @ Texas A&M, Texas in Lincoln.  Year 4:  Oklahoma State & Texas A&M in Lincoln, @ Texas.
c) 2010 was a “Year 3” cycle, so 2011 would have been a “Year 4” slate of South games.

I am quite confident of the opponents and game locations.  What I don’t know for sure (and couldn’t find) was the order and dates of the games.  To keep things simple, I used the same order as 2010, and the same calendar of dates from 2011.  Clear as mud?  Okay, let’s dig in.

10/1 – vs. Kansas State  (Lincoln, NE)

Bill Snyder is doing it again in Manhattan.  He’s taking a bad program, infusing it with a heavy dose of junior college talent, and is getting wins.  KSU has a mobile QB (Collin Klein) and some good skill players around him, which could mean trouble for a Nebraska defense still finding their rhythm.  Regardless of how NU has fared against purple wearing Wildcats in 2011, I think Pelini gets it done.  If this game was in Manhattan, it might be a different story, but for some reason (ahem, 2003) Bill Snyder usually gets Bo’s best shot.

Nebraska 31 – Kansas State 24

10/8 – @ Texas (Austin, TX)

On paper, Nebraska is a much better team than Texas.  But let’s face the ugly truth:  Texas is the Big XII version of Oklahoma in the Big 8 – always finding some dramatic, last second way to pull out a victory.  This time around, Taylor Martinez is having an amazing day running and passing the ball.  The offense is moving the ball up and down the field, but penalties turn potential touchdowns into five Brett Maher field goals.  Late in the 4th Quarter, Nebraska has a 15-9 lead, and is driving to go up by two scores.  On a critical 3rd & 8, Martinez scrambles for 12 yards.  As he runs out of bounds, he slips in a pile of Bevo’s finest, and leaves the game with a sprained ankle.  The drive stalls and Texas gets the ball back.  Texas moves down the field, thanks in part to a couple of very questionable defensive penalties, but the Blackshirts stiffen and set up a 4th and 10 from midfield.  Case McCoy throws a long pass, which hangs up in the air.  Aaron Green jumps and almost intercepts the ball.  Austin Cassidy nearly catches it on a ricochet.  The Texas receiver catches the deflection and runs in untouched.

Texas 16 – Nebraska 15

10/22 – Oklahoma State (Lincoln, NE)

The open week comes at a good time, as the Texas loss stings more than usual, and the Blackshirts have to prepare for Oklahoma State’s prolific offense.  Fortunately, OSU has a below average defense and Nebraska is able to gain a bunch of yards and score a lot of points.  But it isn’t enough to overcome the Cowboy offense clicking on all cylinders against a Nebraska defense that is still struggling.

Oklahoma State 48 – Nebraska 35 

10/29 – @ Missouri (Columbia, MO)

In 2010, Roy Helu, Jr. rushed for a school record 307 yards against Missouri.  Nebraska enters the game with a better offensive line and a back in Rex Burkhead who is every bit as capable as Roy.  Therefore, Mizzou sells out to stop the run.  Taylor Martinez passes for 275 yards and four TDs (two to Missouri native Brandon Kinnie).

Nebraska 35 – Missouri 14

11/5 – Iowa State (Lincoln, NE)

Paul Rhodes has had good success against Nebraska, winning in Lincoln in 2009, and coming very close to beating NU in Ames last year.  His Cyclones are perennially undermanned, yet scrappy, and find ways to win.  Not this time.  After a sluggish first half, the defense hold ISU to a lone touchdown early in the 3rd Quarter.  Meanwhile, the Husker ground game gets going with Rex Burkhead picking up 94 yards in the 4th – including all of the yards on a 9 play, 62 yard scoring drive that put Nebraska ahead.

Nebraska 24 – Iowa State 17

11/12 – @ Kansas (Lawrence, KS)

Taking advantage of a 2-for-1 Groupon ticket sale, 30,000 Husker fans make the drive to Lawrence.  Turner Gill is near the end of a very rough year at KU.  Internet rumors abound that Tom Osborne stops in the locker room at halftime to ask Bo to call off the dogs to avoid embarrassing Gill.  Ron Kellogg III plays most of the fourth quarter against his dad’s alma mater.

Nebraska 56 – Kansas 7

11/19 – Texas A&M (Lincoln, NE)

Last year in College Station, NU lost due to a toxic combination of penalties, injuries, and inept offense.  This year, Tim Beck’s offense clicks on all cylinders as a healthy Taylor Martinez runs for 100 yards and throws for 200 more, accounting for all four Nebraska touchdowns.  The Blackshirts don’t play as well as they did last year, but the team only commits 3 penalties for 15 yards.  During the coin-toss, ABC cameras pick up audio of NU captain Ben Cotton telling A&M’s Tony Jerod-Eddie “Keep your hands to yourself”.

Nebraska 34 – Texas A&M 20

11/25 – @ Colorado (Boulder, CO)

It is the 10th anniversary of Colorado’s blowout win over Nebraska.  CU honors the 2001 team, wears throwback uniforms, and plays clips from the game during every TV timeout in an attempt to recapture some of that magic.  Unfortunately for CU, they are a long, long ways from 2001 in terms of talent and execution.  Nebraska gives thanks that nobody is injured in this tune-up for the Big XII Championship Game.  Colorado is thankful that KU is worse than they are so they did not go winless in conference.

Nebraska 49 – Colorado 0

Final tally:  10-2, champions of the North Division.

*   *   *

What about the rest of the conference, you ask?  I can provide my best guess on that too.  As noted above, I’m using the same 8-game conference schedule as last year, which is slightly different from the 9-game schedule the Big XII played this year (most notably, if NU and CU were still around, Oklahoma State might be undefeated, since Iowa State was not on their 2010 or original 2011 schedule).  Also, since the remaining Big XII teams only played three non-conference games this year, I gave each an extra non-conference W – because let’s face it:  Big XII teams aren’t exactly known for scheduling tough non-conference games.

Obviously, I have used the 2011 on-field results wherever possible.  I am also assuming that since Colorado is horrible in the Pac 12, they would also be horrible in the Big XII.  I have CU losing all of their mock Big XII games with the exception of Kansas (I love Turner Gill, but even Colorado would beat them).  So with another confusing explanation out of the way, here are the standings:

Big XII North
Conference Overall
Nebraska 6-2 10-2
Kansas State 6-2 10-2
Missouri 5-3 8-4
Iowa State 3-5 7-5
Colorado 1-7 3-9
Kansas 0-8 3-9
Big XII South
Conference Overall
Oklahoma State 8-0 12-0
Baylor 6-2 10-2
Oklahoma 5-3 9-3
Texas 4-4 8-4
Texas A&M 3-5 6-6
Texas Tech 2-6 6-6

 

Nebraska and Oklahoma State meet again in the Big XII Championship Game in Dallas.  Okie State is playing in the game for the first time ever (it is the first time since 1998 that Oklahoma or Texas has not played for the title).  Nebraska in playing in their third straight championship game.  That experience (along with an improved defense) makes the difference.  The Blackshirts sack Cowboy QB Brandon Weeden five times (three by Baker Steinkuhler) and have him under pressure all night long.  Although the secondary does not get an interceptions, Alflonzo Dennard holds Justin Blackmon to one catch for 9 yards.  The offense sputters, but OSU’s defense is average enough to allow Nebraska to score enough points to upset the #2 Cowboys and win the Big XII Championship.

Nebraska 20 – Oklahoma State 10

Having won the Big XII Championship, Nebraska earns a spot in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Stanford.  The “Battle of the Big Reds” pits two top 10 teams against each other in a prime time matchup.  The injuries on the Nebraska defensive line take a toll as Andrew Luck has all day to throw the ball.  Luck is an excellent QB without getting all day to find an open receiver, and Stanford races to a 21-7 halftime lead.  In the second half, the defensive effort improves and the offense starts clicking, but it is too little too late for NU’s hopes for a 12-win season and top 5 finish.  A NU onside kick with 15 seconds to go is recovered by a Stanford WR who out-jumps two Huskers for the ball.

Stanford 35 – Nebraska 27

Nebraska ends the 2011 season 11-3

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