It's been a running joke all season. So much so that the television announcers who called Saturday's game between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Kansas Jayhawks referenced it multiple times during their broadcast.
For several weeks, it's seemed that no one wanted to win the Big XII North Division Title.
And despite knowing otherwise, that oft-repeated "joke" has contained more than an element of truth during this topsy-turvy season.
It's not difficult to see why. Visit almost any college football message board or blog, and you'll quickly see a pattern. Scores of cynical fans repeatedly asking the same question.
Why would any team want to be offered up as a sacrifice to the undefeated Texas Longhorns in the Big XII Championship?
While I don't agree with that sentiment, and believe that Nebraska has the best chance out of the North to compete against Texas, it's understandable why some people might feel that way.
First off, let's look at the Longhorns.
Their offense is ranked second nationally in points scored at 41.6 pts/game. Aside from the Oklahoma game, which Texas won by three, the Longhorns' average margin of victory has been 10 points or more. However, most times it's been more. Much more. Texas Tech was the only other team that managed to keep within 10 points of the 'Horns when the final gun sounded. Texas defeated its eight other opponents by an average of 34.6 points, including this past Saturday as they pasted Baylor, 47-14.
Defensively, Texas is the No. 1 team in the nation, allowing an average of 232 yds/gm. In fact, the only things that Texas doesn't do exceptionally well (i.e. rank in the Top 25 in the country) is rush the ball (55th), punt (84th) and prevent sacks (48th).
Meanwhile, in the Big XII North, it's been a bumpy ride for most teams.
Colorado and Kansas have been downright awful. After winning five in a row, Kansas has now lost five in a row, the latest being a 31-17 defeat at the hands of the Huskers. Not even the fact that it was Senior Day for Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier, Darrell Stuckey and Max Onyegbule, among others, or the fact that the Jayhawks were playing for bowl eligibility could propel them to a win.
It probably wouldn't be too presumptuous to pencil in that sixth loss in a row; Kansas travels to Austin next week, though the Jayhawks still have their neutral site game against Mizzou on the horizon.
The Tigers, who have failed to find a consistent identity under Blaine Gabbert, did the Huskers a favor and beat the Wildcats, 38-12 in the battle of Big XII feline football. Coupled with the Nebraska win, that gives the Huskers a half-game lead over Kansas State.
It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that the Big XII North title will be decided next week in Lincoln when K-State comes-a-callin’.
And after Saturday, it appears that the Big Red wants it more. Either that or they have the talent to get the job done. Maybe both.
Nebraska has had their fair share of key injuries, so it's a negative on depth.
Aside from the Kansas offensive line doing a fine job containing the Nebraska front four for most of the game, there was improvement in other key areas, which should be an encouraging sign for the Huskers going into their own Senior Day with the North title on the line.
Nebraska was much-improved on offense, piling up over 400 total yards, their highest output since the Louisiana-Lafayette game. Roy Helu, Jr. backed up his 100+ yard effort a week ago with 156 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
In fact, it was the Big Red offense’s turn to answer the opposition for a change instead of forcing the defense to make a game-winning play, though Dejon Gomes’ third-quarter strip of Meier as he headed to the end zone certainly helped. Besides, after the Huskers’ eight turnovers against Iowa State (several in the red zone), it somehow felt fitting, as if the earth started spinning properly around its axis once more.
In the fourth quarter, Reesing, looking like the Todd Reesing of old, drove the Jayhawks 89 yards down the field (their longest scoring drive of the season) and punctuated the effort with a sweet 21–yard strike to Dezmon Briscoe to take a 17-16 lead.
However, following Niles Paul's hefty return of a KU pooch kick, the Huskers who had scored only four offensive touchdowns in as many games were not the same Huskers to take the field. Aided by a facemask call on KU cornerback Justin Thornton, Helu bolted for 20 yards and a score.
And unlike past games when the Huskers were unable to run significant time off the clock, the Nebraska offense managed to get the ball back with 5:15 to play and cap the game with another Helu rushing touchdown.
Nebraska still made mistakes, though not as many as last week. Asante’s late hit on Reesing could have easily earned him an ejection and will most likely be reviewed by conference officials in the coming week. Likewise, Keith Williams’ tripping penalty deep in Jayhawk territory most likely caused the Huskers to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown.
Overall, things could have been much worse for the Huskers, but they made some plays when it mattered, got some lucky breaks, cut down on penalties and managed to find the end zone more than once.
Instead, they could have had Danario Alexander compile 200 receiving yards against their defense, lose any momentum they might have had going into the game to decide the division and add another chapter to the comedy of errors also known as the 2009 Big XII North.
But on November 21st in Lincoln, when the Huskers and Wildcats face off, he who laughs last, will laugh best.
Until they face Texas.
With a chance to make history.