Just One Game
This week both Lincoln and Madison will be abuzz about the matchup between the Cornhuskers and Badgers. Not only is it the first Big Ten game for a storied program like Nebraska, but it is also a matchup of the two top-rated teams in the conference. Emotionally, the stakes couldn't be higher. Practically, they actually are pretty low.
Think about what's to be gained or lost. Both teams can still win their division or the conference if they were to lose the game. Nebraska would even still have a shot at a national championship with a loss to Wisconsin, provided they won each game that followed. There are those who might even argue that if the teams were to meet in a rematch in the conference championship game, the losing team in the initial contest might actually hold an edge since it's so hard to beat a team twice in one season. Given those realities, should head coach Bo Pelini or the NU players treat this game as an all-important season-defining outing? Yes and No.
Yes in that you'd hope that Nebraska has built a culture where your next opponent is always all-important. Nothing this week matters but the Badgers. Nothing last week should have mattered but the Cowboys. Nothing next week should matter but the Buckeyes, and so on. At the same time, you don't want to make the emotional stakes too high for a game whose practical stakes are so low. It's an out of division game. At the end of the regular season it could matter a lot less than the games against Michigan, Michigan State, or Iowa.
You also don't want to see a hangover effect. Florida State lost a highly anticipated game against Oklahoma two weekends ago. Then they come up short against a much less impressive Clemson squad that many felt the Seminoles should have beat. Miami got a feel good win over Ohio State two weeks back. Then they go out and lose a home game to Kansas State who very few would have given much of a chance against he Hurricanes. Win or lose, Nebraska can't let the emotional stakes of this game cost them the next one.
This is where fans play a part as well. Last year, the loss to an underwhelming Texas squad in Lincoln seemed somewhat attributable to the incredible emphasis placed on the game by fans. The Husker Nation wanted -scratch that, DEMANDED- that NU erase the pain of fifteen years of heartbreak in one game against the Longhorns. That seemed to take a toll mentally on the team. No one in red could catch a ball, even if it hit them in the hands. This year the Husker faithful needs to learn from that mistake and keep this week and this game from becoming more than it should be. It's an exciting game, no doubt. But it shouldn't determine the season, the division or even the month. It's just one game after all.