In the wake of last week's uproar over criticism of Bo Pelini, Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald offered up his opinion on what would make Nebraska's 2013 season a "huge success": Rose, Fiesta, Orange, Sugar.
I'd agree with the Rose Bowl. Not that I have any love for the Rose Bowl itself or it's antiquated tradition, mind you. It's because getting there answers a lot of the criticism and doubts about the direction of the Nebraska football program. Playing in Pasadena in 2014 means Nebraska's done something that hasn't been done in nearly a generation.
Without a doubt, that's what Nebraska's primary goal should be in 2013.
Eleven other teams will have something else to say about that. And one of them, Ohio State, is the presumptive favorite of many to earn that bid. Heck, Shatel even waives the white flag towards the Buckeyes, and says Nebraska's prime goal should be elsewhere:
The minimum goal this season should be a 12-1 or 11-2 record that would put the Huskers in prime position to play in the Orange, Fiesta or Sugar Bowl. I spoke to a Fiesta Bowl official in Chicago last month, and he was salivating over the thought of the Huskers back in the desert for the first time since 1999. But he said the Orange and Sugar, who pick before the Fiesta, would surely take NU first.
Perfect. And that's almost what NU will have to be this year to get there. No more than two losses. No toes stubbed. Time to step up in class.
Well, I'm not ready to waive the flag on the Big Ten title. That should be goal #1. And if Nebraska wins the West division in 2013, they'll be back in Indianapolis with a trip to Pasadena on the line. If they win, celebrate.
But if they lose in Indy, Nebraska's probably not going to a BCS bowl game. Nebraska's best chance to go to the Fiesta, Orange, or Sugar Bowls is to lose to Michigan (or Northwestern) - and spend December 7th at home. The history of the BCS is littered with teams who lost BCS bowl game berths because they lost a conference championship game.
Take last year: Georgia ran out of time in their upset bid against Alabama. Their reward? Georgia went to the Citrus Bowl to play Nebraska, while Florida went to the Sugar Bowl.
2011? Michigan State narrowly lost to Wisconsin...and was rewarded with a trip to the Outback Bowl. Michigan, a team that the Spartans beat by two touchdowns, got the Sugar Bowl berth.
2007? Missouri found themselves ranked #1 going into the Big XII Championship game, but got smacked by Oklahoma. The Tigers' hated arch-rivals, the Kansas Jayhawks, earned a bid to the Orange Bowl, with Missouri having to accept a Cotton Bowl berth.
2001? Colorado defeated Texas for the Big XII crown...and Nebraska ended up in the BCS title game as an at-large team, while Texas ended up in the Holiday Bowl.
1998? Kansas State was ranked #1, but was upset by Texas A&M. The Wildcats fell all the way to the Alamo Bowl.
In the history of the BCS, only three conference championship game losers have earned BCS bowl bids: 2003 Oklahoma, 2008 Alabama and 2009 Florida.
So if you want to play in a BCS bowl game as an at-large team, you're best off not playing in a conference championship game. And frankly, it means more to compete for a conference championship than earn a BCS bowl bid.
Of course, one of the biggest criticism's of Pelini is that he's lost three conference championship games. That's frustrating, no doubt. But it's better to play in the game than not, in my opinion. A case could be made that it's better to not play in the game than get blown out, but I suspect that we'd be hearing complaints about Nebraska missing the title game twice in a weakened Big Ten.
So from my perspective, the base goal is still to get to Indianapolis. Win that game, and every Husker fan is feeling really good. Backing into a BCS Bowl game because Nebraska lost in Ann Arbor to a Michigan team that then lost twice to Ohio State doesn't seem quite as good to me.
I want to play in that Big Ten Championship game because anything can happen. Nebraska wasn't supposed to be able to win in 2009, but the scoreboard still said "Nebraska 12, Texas 10" both times the scoreboard clock read :00 in the fourth quarter.
Maybe they lose again. Maybe they get blown out again. It's still better to have taken the chance and tried.
What's your preference? A BCS bowl game or another trip to Indianapolis? Winning the Big Ten title would be best, of course, but what if that's not in the cards for 2012?