Published Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 10:05 pm / Updated at 1:38 am
football
McKewon: Husker-'Horn reunion would buff up bowl season

LINCOLN — Fiesta Bowl Executive Director Robert Shelton compares it to an afternoon at Speaker's Corner in London's Hyde Park. At the famous spot for public debate, one side presents its argument, then the other side gets up to refute it and present its own arguments.

We're talking about the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and the choice this Dec. 28 game has among Big Ten programs Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Michigan. Shelton and his five-person selection committee want to keep all of their options officially open, so the Hawkeyes and Gophers get a cursory mention.

But Iowa likely is headed to the Outback Bowl and Minnesota has been to the “Valley of the Sun” three times since 2006. So this really is a discussion about Nebraska and Michigan. And if you want to narrow it down even more, it's a discussion about how Michigan, which finished 3-5 in the Big Ten and lost to Nebraska in the Big House, is somehow a more attractive option than NU.

“It's the national recognition of the program,” said Shelton, the former University of Arizona president. “You could make that argument for Nebraska, too.”

The BWW bowl — especially if played against Oklahoma or Texas — would reignite Nebraska's fan base for a month after a long, strange, injury- and controversy-ridden year. West Coast Husker fans would flock to Tempe, Ariz., and the Phoenix area. Many already live there. Shelton, once a professor at Iowa State in the Big Eight days, seems very warm to NU-OU.

“Heckuva matchup,” he says.

But Oklahoma has never been to the Alamo Bowl, where a choice game with Oregon or Arizona State awaits. So if Texas, or perhaps Baylor, lands at Sun Devil Stadium, here's Michigan, with its helmets, fight song and giant alumni base — 5,000 in the Phoenix area, Shelton said — elbowing in. The Wolverines lost four of their last five. But the BWW scouts were on hand for that last loss, a 42-41 thriller to Ohio State, and were impressed by Michigan's fight.

Whether Michigan would bring that kind of energy, or that kind of fan enthusiasm, to a bowl game out West — like it does against the most-hated rival on pigskin earth — is a different question.

BIG RED TODAY ON FACEBOOK
Join the conversation on the Big Red Today Facebook page.

The Wolverines did well with their ticket allotment to the Outback Bowl last year, selling several thousand more tickets than NU did for its return trip to the Capital One Bowl. Still, the Outback Bowl had an announced attendance of 54,527. Contrast that with the 59,712 fans who went to last season's Capital One Bowl or, better, the 57,921 fans who attended the 2010 Holiday Bowl.

Having been snubbed for Missouri by the same bowl currently in discussion — at the time, it was called the Insight Bowl — NU played Washington in a rematch of a Husker blowout earlier that season. Nebraska still sold 7,500 tickets to that game. For the 2009 Holiday Bowl against Arizona, Husker fans snapped up 11,000 tickets in hours. That game drew 64,607 fans, not far off a record. Shelton, Arizona's president at the time, joked Monday that NU's 33-0 win seemed like a Husker home game.

Does Michigan perform better in TV ratings? The Wolverines and South Carolina drew a 4.3 rating for last season's Outback game on ESPN. Its 2012 Sugar Bowl appearance — a 23-20 overtime win over Virginia Tech — got a 6.1 rating, less than the 6.2 Louisville and Florida got last season. Michigan drew a 1.7 rating for the 2011 Gator Bowl against Mississippi State.

NU's 45-31 loss to Georgia received a 6.6 rating and was the fifth-most-watched bowl game last season, but that's because it appeared on ABC instead of ESPN. The 2012 Capital One Bowl, featuring Nebraska and South Carolina on ESPN, garnered a 2.9 rating. NU's 2009 and 2010 Holiday Bowl appearances did well — a 3.5 rating in 2010 and a 3.7 in 2009. Those ratings are much better than last season's Holiday Bowl between UCLA and Baylor (2.0) or the 2012 Holiday Bowl game between Texas and California (2.7).

Are college football fans that conditioned to watching certain names? Not as much. The proliferation of games on TV has made fans more savvy in their choices. That savvy, at least to me, would suggest that a Nebraska-Texas rematch gets the TV rating flowing more than Michigan-Texas, whose history boils down to one well-played Rose Bowl nine years ago. These Wolverines and Longhorns bear no resemblance to those teams.

NU-UT has a history. Juice. Michigan has a name. But what's the narrative? Intersectional game? That narrative isn't worth what it used to be. There needs to be a story now. Huskers vs. Longhorns is a story.

The Big Ten will start managing bowl pairings more next season when it uses its tiered system. But the league isn't much help here; the Big Ten is ending its relationship with the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. So if this game ever wanted Michigan, here's the chance. Even if Nebraska is the better fit.

Should NU fall out of the BWW slot, the Gator Bowl is comfortable welcoming the Huskers with open arms. Though Gator Bowl President/CEO Rick Catlett said his board is considering Minnesota, too, the Huskers are a strong draw. Even if they play Georgia.

“We've have no problem with that,” Catlett said. “It's not the same two teams that played last year.”

True. The Huskers and Bulldogs are riddled with injuries and not as good as they were in 2012. But Catlett said there's a chance Georgia heads to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta instead.

If that happens, Catlett thinks another Texas team might head to Jacksonville: A&M and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Wouldn't be a bad dance card.

Just don't bring Big 12 refs.

* * *

>> Video: The Big Red Today Show, Dec. 3:

Contact the writer: Sam McKewon

sam.mckewon@owh.com    |   402-219-3790    |  

Sam McKewon covers Nebraska football for The World-Herald. Got a tip, question or rant? Good. Email him. Follow him on Twitter. Call him.

PHOTO GALLERY AND VIDEO »

 

< >
SPOTLIGHT »
2013 college football preview
View our 2013 college football preview, a 26-page, three-part section filled with coverage of the Huskers, Big Ten conference and more.
Big Red Bowl Retrospective
See complete historical results, game recaps and photo coverage from the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football bowl game appearances, from the 1941 Rose Bowl up to today.
Big Ten football recruits
The World-Herald's Big Ten recruiting database contains every football recruit that signed with a Big Ten school from 2002 to 2011, complete with color-coded interactive map representations, player information, high-concentrations recruiting clusters and more.
Devaney Center timeline
Check out a World-Herald timeline to see the evolution of memorable moments at the Devaney Center, complete with photos, videos, memorable quotes and more.
Follow OWHbigred on Twitter
Looking for the latest Husker sports news from The Omaha World-Herald and Omaha.com? Follow us on Twitter!
Husker scholarship distribution chart
Want to see how many scholarships NU has invested at each position? Wondering how the Huskers have appropriated their offers by class? Check out our handy chart to look further into how Bo Pelini has built his team.
Husker Signing Day 2013
The World-Herald's top-notch coverage of the Nebraska football's class of 2013, complete with videos, photos, articles, live recruit interviews, interactive components and more.
Husker turnovers: A slippery slope
Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NUís turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, theyíre 13-18. Why hasnít Nebraska joined the nationís elite? More than anything, itís turnovers.
Interactive: Bo Pelini's contract
View an interactive PDF of Pelini's revised contract signed by the NU football coach, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Darin Erstad's contract (2012)
View an interactive PDF of NU baseball coach Darin Erstad's contract released in August 2012, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Tim Miles' contract
View an interactive PDF of Tim Miles' contract signed by the Nebraska men's basketball coach on May 4, 2012, complete with brief legal explanations, comparisons to other Big Ten coaches and more.
Omaha.com's Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from Omaha.com and other top news outlets from around country.
Husker Recruiting: Changes shrink NU's sphere of influence
For decades, the Great Plains represented fertile recruiting ground for Tom Osborne's football program. Restoring that lost tradition won't be easy.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Dr. Welbes Natural Health Clinic
$129 for 2 LipoLaser Sessions with Additional Complimentary Services ($605 value)
Buy Now
BRT ON TWITTER »
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT »
< >