IU football coach Kevin Wilson wasted little time acknowledging the addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten. During his introductory press conference in December, Wilson had every right to focus on himself and his new program. And to some extent, he did.
But when a question about his former Big 12 rival came up, a more serious expression crawled across his face and his tone changed.
“We could play them in the Big Ten Championship,” the former Oklahoma offensive coordinator said, rather matter-of-factly.
It didn’t matter to Wilson that his Hoosiers and the Cornhuskers were placed in separate divisions. He had been part of the Big Ten for all of 10 minutes, and he still recognized the impact a powerhouse school like Nebraska could have on the conference — and on his program.
So, while IU and Nebraska won’t meet during Wilson’s first year in Bloomington and Nebraska’s first year in the conference, the Cornhuskers mean something to the Hoosiers.
They represent a goal — a goal for Wilson, a goal for the players and a goal for the fans.
“I think it’s great,” senior wide receiver Damarlo Belcher said. “It added more competition to the Big Ten. I would like to play them. I hope to play them. But we won’t see them until we go to the championship. So we’ll see later on.”
I’m sure Wilson would be thrilled to see Nebraska coach Bo Pelini standing on the opposing sideline. For a coach that experienced so much success with the Sooners, it would bring back memories of playing the Cornhuskers in the Big 12 Championship.
It would mean he turned the IU program into a winner, something he said he hopes to do. Plus, he doesn’t like Nebraska very much.
“He doesn’t talk too much about them,” Belcher said, a smile creeping to his face. “There are a couple of coaches from Nebraska on the team, and he’s cool with them, but he don’t talk about Nebraska too much.”
It’s good Wilson doesn’t like the Cornhuskers. His feelings come from the fact that his Oklahoma teams created a bitter rivalry with Nebraska — and a rivalry means each team wins a fair amount against the other.
Wilson can use Nebraska as motivation for his current and future players. It’s a perfect example of a program that wins by doing things the right way.
“When Kevin talks about a football season, he talks about 14 games,” said IU Athletics Director Fred Glass. “Twelve regular-season games, the Big Ten Championship game and a bowl game. For some, that may seem to strain his credibility, given where we are, but I think that’s how you have to envision yourself. You are what you aspire to be. We don’t aspire to be competitive, we don’t aspire to be respectable — we aspire to be champions. That’s a great mindset that Kevin’s brought, and it’s certainly the mindset that Nebraska has.”
The addition of Nebraska is good for the Big Ten. It adds revenue. It creates a conference title game. It evens the number of teams at 12, and it adds competition to an already competitive league.
But the addition is also good for IU — even if it doesn’t look that way on the surface.
Now, the Hoosiers have an additional goal to strive for at the end of the regular season. The preseason pep talks and press conferences no longer have to focus solely on making it to the Rose Bowl. Now, there’s something more, something that could actually help a school like IU make it to Pasadena — the Big Ten Championship game.