Huskers associate media-relations director Shamus McKnight shares this helpful mnemonic device: "We've got three M's [Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota], two N's [Nebraska, Northwestern] and an I [Iowa]."
So much to learn about their new home. After 102 years in the Big 12 and its antecedent, the Big 8, the Cornhuskers filed for divorce last year. We've grown apart. Besides, you spend so much time catering to the Longhorns, it's like the rest of us don't exist.
Nebraska's exodus means the extinction of some old rivalries and longer road trips for Huskers fans. (Nebraska's closest conference foe is now Iowa, a 4½-hour drive.) But what will it mean for the Cornhuskers on the field? Bo Pelini and his brother Carl, Nebraska's head coach and defensive coordinator, respectively, have spent the last three seasons scheming to stop the wide-open spread offenses of the Big 12. Now they find themselves in a conference that is, in general, less pass happy and more reliant on the run. Is this going to be a problem?
It very well could be ... for Big Ten offensive coordinators who must now match wits with the Pelinis, who fielded the No. 2 defense in the Big 12 in each of the last three years.
It's a difficult challenge facing 11 new opponents, concedes Carl, who has two master's degrees and is as voluble and eloquent as Bo is brief and brusque. "But I think we're different enough defensively," Carl says, "that facing us once in a year is going create problems for our new opponents."
Nebraska's defensive coaches have "been playing mad scientist" for the last six months, says Carl. Last season DeJon Gomes and Eric Hague were used as defensive back--linebacker hybrids. If the other team ran, the duo had the freedom to play linebacker. If the offense went to a spread, they became defensive backs.
This season Nebraska will apply that hybrid philosophy to the defensive line as well. The team's most versatile lineman is the guy everyone calls Crick. (His first name, which no one uses, is Jared.) One of the Pelinis' first moves upon arriving in Lincoln was to move the 6'6", 285-pound Crick inside, from defensive end to tackle, where he played beside future first-round pick Ndamukong Suh. While Suh is "just a beast, physically," says Carl, Crick relies more on his "speed, quickness and athleticism. They both have the whole package, but in different ways."
Crick could have entered the most recent NFL draft. One of the things that kept him in school was the opportunity to play a season in the Big Ten. This year Nebraska will venture into such iconic venues as Beaver Stadium, Camp Randall and The Big House. "That should be pretty cool," says Crick, who has 143 tackles and 19 sacks over the past two seasons yet still seems surprised, at times, by the extent of his success.
As late as his junior year at Cozad (Neb.) High, he says, "I didn't expect to play college sports at all." One day his football coach pulled him out of class to tell him that Kansas had offered him a full ride. "I was pretty good at track and field," he recalls, "so I thought maybe they'd offered a track scholarship."
Crick rooms with the laid-back Marcel Jones, a Phoenix native who chose Nebraska because "I'm a calmer, chill type of guy, and the atmosphere here fit my personality."