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Texas and Nebraska: Where Did It Go Wrong?

Texas and Nebraska

Texas and Nebraska

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image source="featured_image" img_size="large"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]December 5, 2009:

Texas and Nebraska played an all-time classic. Texas would defeat Nebraska by the slimmest of margins in the Big 12 Championship Game to seal their trip to Pasadena for a shot at a national championship. Colt McCoy had a tough day, tossing three interceptions, but managed to find a way to lead his team to a game-winning (though controversial) field goal. Ndamukong Suh dominated the game in a way that seems flatly impossible even to this day. There has never been a player at the college level in my lifetime to dominate play the way this man did. As an aside, he should have won the Heisman trophy. Suh had 6 TFLs and 4.5 sacks from the DT spot on that day alone against the Longhorns.

In 2009, it appeared the Cornhuskers were headed in the right direction under head coach Bo Pelini. The Longhorns were headed back to the national title game for the second time in five seasons. Nebraska had been inconsistent but still primarily relevant in the '00s after having a dynasty in the 90s. Texas football hadn't been winning with this kind of consistency since the days of Darrell Royal. The Longhorns were cooking on the recruiting trail too, and Nebraska was developing players and sending them to the league. All seemed great for the Big 12 rivals. However, things could not have turned out worse for either program since.

What happened?

The Big 12 was the first "Super Conference" - it merged the Southwest conference's best with the powerhouses of Oklahoma and Nebraska's Big 8 conference. The league was revolutionary and counted as one of the strongest from the time it was formed in the mid-90s to the realignment in 2010. Colorado, Texas A&M, Missouri, and Nebraska decided to scatter to the four winds and find greener pastures elsewhere. This move would be the beginning of unraveling these two storied programs for the next decade.

Nebraska's Story

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The Cornhuskers were a national powerhouse and brand. They no longer wished to be in the shadow of the Texas brand. Insulted by the not-so-even revenue sharing that would send a larger share of revenue to Texas and Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas A&M decided it was time to move in a new direction. Nebraska chose to head north to the B1G; it was an academic and cultural fit. Nebraska borders the state of Iowa, and the geographic fit made sense. In their inaugural season, Nebraska succeeded right away, making it to the B1G championship game, though they fell badly to Wisconsin, losing 70-31. Bo Pelini was on the hot seat, and after saying a few off-color comments in the eyes of Husker nation was ousted.

Since then, Nebraska has struggled to find the right coach. While the Huskers thought they were leaving for greener pastures, that was not entirely true. Nebraska pockets were lined with green, but the talent on their roster was different. Nebraska had previously recruited well in Texas, creating a pipeline to the talent-rich state. But since they no longer regularly played in the Lone Star state with their move to the Big Ten, that talent well dried up for the Cornhuskers, and so did the results on the field.

What Happened to Texas?

The story for the Longhorns is much more complex. Mack Brown had a couple of bad seasons at the end of his tenure for Texas. The boosters at Texas decided perhaps Mack was getting too old. That happened to Bobby Bowden, right? With Mack under a ton of pressure, and a loss to Baylor in a de-facto Big 12 Championship game, it was decided Mack would retire after their bowl game.

Texas then brought in Charlie Strong, who proceeded to lose more games than he would win in his tenure at Texas. Strong brought a tornado to the Texas roster, leaving them with virtually nothing to show for his time and a negative blue-chip rate. Forcing Mack Brown out may have been premature, but the timing made it worse. With the additions of Missouri and A&M, the SEC was expanding its recruiting territory west. Texas used to be controlled almost exclusively by Texas and Oklahoma. The landscape shift allowed A&M to begin to take some of the athletes they would not usually get.

Alabama's triumph over Texas in the national championship did them no favors. Nick Saban began his road to becoming the greatest of all time on the backs of his titles over the Longhorns and Sooners. Texas was now competing for players when they were accustomed to picking whoever they so chose before handing it off to the next in line. In the meantime, though Oklahoma was suffering in the recruiting trail as well, Bob Stoops remained in place and held OU steady. Soon enough, the Sooners had vaulted far in front of the Longhorns. Baylor and Oklahoma State emerged into serious conference contention as well. This further buried the Longhorns under the rubble. Texas began to get some of that momentum back under Tom Herman but ultimately fired him.

So What Happens Next?

Texas and Nebraska will one day return to prominence.  Will the SEC be greener pastures for the Longhorns? Scott Frost appears to be instilling a better culture in Nebraska, and the talent has been on the upswing, but the wins have not. Will Scott Frost be afforded enough time to complete the turnaround? Or is he even the answer he was thought to be? Texas continues to churn out money and is now back on top of the recruiting world. Nebraska appears on the upswing. Will either return to glory soon?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]