June 12, 2010
Geographically, Nebraska and Wisconsin are separated by Minnesota, Iowa and the Mississippi River, but they still have a lot in common: They're both synonymous with hearty, humble Midwestern stock; they're both cold; they're both predominantly Catholic and/or Lutheran; they're both leading exporters of industrial machinery; they're both decked out in red and white; their capital cities are both named for 19th Century presidents; they both claim Barry Alvarez (Nebraska Class of '69, Wisconsin head coach/athletic director 1990-present) as one of their own.
Wisconsin-Nebraska is a rivalry that goes back more than 100 years, technically, to the teams' first meeting in Milwaukee in 1901, though they've only played four times in the intervening 109 years, in 1965-66 and 1973-74. The Badgers' other "trophy games," with long-time Big Ten rivals Minnesota and Iowa, have been staged almost every year since 1892 and 1894, respectively. The 'Huskers and Badgers haven't met since Bielema, now 40, was four years old.
Next door, however, Minnesotans of a certain age can remember when the 'Huskers were an annual menace out of the old Big Eight. Nebraska and Minnesota met 33 times in 43 years from 1932-74, and kept playing on a semi-regular basis through 1990, when Penn State's admission to the Big Ten forced the Gophers to reluctantly scuttle the series. (I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that Nebraska had taken 14 in a row from Minnesota by an average score of 40-7 since 1963, including consecutive finals of 49-0, 48-7, 54-0, 84-13, 38-7, 48-0 and 56-0 over the last seven games of the series.) For some reason, Minnesota coach Tim Brewster's Twitter feed has remained suspiciously quiet over the new addition to the conference family.
The only other Big Ten outfit with any claim on a "rivalry" with Nebraska is (predictably) Iowa, once an annual opponent for the Cornhuskers until the mid-forties. But even the Hawkeyes, sitting just one state away, have only met the Big Red twice in any current player's lifetime, in 1999-2000. Unless they're still upset in Iowa City about the pilfering of the name "Cornhuskers," Bielema's opportunism may carry the day.
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.