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Nebraska Football & Rivalries: A CornNation Roundtable

The CN team starts a series of summer roundtables. The first topic is on the Huskers and rivalries.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Minnesota
This is what Big Ten rivalry trophies are all about.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

As summer begins, we find ourselves in the doldrums. Baseball season is sadly over, and now we wait. Three more months until football and volleyball season; nearly six more months until Nebrasketball begins. So while the Huskers train and prepare through this offseason, fans have no choice but to wait with no games to watch or listen to.

Into the summer vacuum, the Corn Nation team is beginning a series of roundtables where we’ll dig deeper into some topics that we normally don’t have time to dedicate to during the season.

Our first topic: Rivalries.

Rivalries in the Big Ten are a pretty big deal, and frankly, a little different than what Nebraska fans had been used to. Weird trophies like Floyd of Rosedale, the Illibuck and the Oaken Bucket. There’s a jug, a spittoon and an axe. And even something that looks like a drunken bowling trophy.

How does Nebraska fit into this rivalry tradition? Before we can answer that, we’ve got to set a baseline:

What is a college rivalry? How many rivals can you have?

Nate M: This is probably the most important question of this whole debate. You need to define the term “rivalry” first or else you really can’t move forward with the debate of who is Nebraska’s rival. I don’t know if we can all come to a uniform definition, but maybe we can make progress.

To me, my definition of a rivalry is when the game feels personal to both teams. That is it. Does your “self-worth” (using that word figuratively) take a hit if you lose to them? Are you able to puff your chest out a little bit if you beat them? If yes, then it is a rivalry.

An additional characteristic for me personally is if you want them to lose regardless of who they are playing.

In terms of how many rivals you can have, I think it is unlimited. Putting a number on it really doesn’t work for me. Let it be natural. So rivalries can ebb and flow.

Mike: Rivalry games have special meaning over the other games; they just mean more, for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s location, sometimes it’s familiarity. More often than not with the really great rivalries, it’s a history of meaningful games. Rivalries have to grow organically; you cannot “designate” a rival. (Even if you have a big red crayon.)

As for the number, if you have “unlimited” rivalries, then you really don’t have any. In terms of football, I think it has to be limited to three or four rivalries at most. In a conversation with Hoss a couple of weeks ago, I came up with the convention of a Capital-R Rivalry and a little-r rivalry. Look at Michigan: they have a rivalry game with Michigan State, but their Rivalry game is against Ohio State. You really can have only one Capital-R Rival...but you can have a couple more little-r rivals.

Uglydog56: To me, a rivalry is an opponent, that if you lost every other game that season, the guy next to you in the Legion Club might say, “Well, that was a hellaciously bad season, but at least we didn’t lose to xxxx.” And you’d nod your head in agreement. I believe there can only be a couple at most, to keep the hate pure and undiluted.

Patrick G: A college rivalry is usually created by two fan bases over time that matures into either mutual respect or hatred towards each other. The feelings that come from this are so strong that you would rather give up your first born than lose to that opposing team that broke your heart time after time.

At last that’s what I understand as a rivalry. I assume proximity of fan bases to each other, competition in others areas outside of sport, and the media also have something to do with it but these can vary per situation.

Technically, you can have as many as you want but the rivalry usually has to be two sided for them to truly work (See UCF vs. UCONN).

Andy K: A true rival makes your blood run hot at the mere mention of the opponent’s name or the sight of their shitty little logo on a Tshirt or TV pregame spot - and I mean well into retirement age. I’m talking about being in the midst of vicious chemo treatment and still finding the strength to flip off their stupid rat-faced coach just because you see him talking on a hospital room TV with the sound off. Rivalry.

Special kudos to Georgia for having to my two favorite rivalry names:
Clean Old-Fashioned Hate (Ga Tech)
World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (Florida)

Ty: I think it’s been pretty well covered in here, but the one that rings truest is the “We can lose every game as long as we beat that team” idea. I will also give you in-state rivals as kind of built in, but I’m from Colorado where CU-CSU is a decent rivarly, but so is CSU-Wyoming.

Historically, who have been Nebraska’s rivals prior to the move to the Big Ten?

Nate M: Obviously numero uno is Oklahoma. Texas became a rival but never really reached the peak of Oklahoma. And the other two I would add are Missouri and Colorado.

Paul: Historically it has always been Oklahoma, but I agree with Nate that Mizzou and Colorado and Texas were rivalries as well...but mostly because losing to them evoke a nausea response and a need to pound one’s head against the wall. I used to read a writer who called himself Colonel Mustard. He called Colorado “The Vermin”. I like that, and think it sums up the essence of our relationship to those three teams.

Mike: Oklahoma was the undisputed Capital-R Rival. Bill McCartney tried to make his Colorado squad a Capital-R Rival, but that fell on deaf-ears for many Nebraskans. You can’t force a rivalry by being an asshole; rivalries develop organically over the years. And once, Nebraska was no longer playing Oklahoma on an annual basis, Nebraska really didn’t have a Capital-R Rival. Was Colorado a little-r rival? At times, perhaps, though it was a bit forced. Sometimes Missouri was. Arguably, Oklahoma State might have been more of a rival than either school. Nebraska would have loved to have made Texas a rival, but the Huskers usually ended up finding a way to crap the bed against the Bovines.

Patrick G.: Contrary to popular belief, we’ve had a few. Up until Nebraska departed for the Big Ten there was Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, Kansas State, and Missouri. Oklahoma was a long time rival. Colorado was one through the last two decades of our Big 8/12 affiliation. Texas was through the Big 12. Kansas State was like Colorado in regards to time frame. Missouri was one that was fairly heated from my understanding in the 1970’s but died off until the Mid 2000’s where Mizzou started to play football and Nebraska started having an identity crisis.

You can argue for or against any of these teams. The more passion in your beliefs I think helps the rival case. Which, in my mind, pushes them further into the “rival” category.

Also, these are all in football. I can’t remember when Nebraska had a rival in basketball.....I’m going to go weed my garden now.

Jon: Texas was a huge rival in baseball. Who can forget that sonofabitch Augie Garrido who just passed away in March? That guy was the funnest opposing coach to hate, ever.

Andy: Oklahoma, sort of. We’re like the dude who could never truly land the girl. I mean, yeah, Oklahoma, but Texas was always their true #1. Colorado tried to force their way in, but we knew that a program built on promise-keeping, hypocritical, jagoff Christianity, a hippie-infested communist campus and a recruiting pipeline best described as The Crips wouldn’t have a lot of staying power. Missouri? Meh. Texas? We’d have been about 5th on their list at best.

Ty: By the time I was really paying attention as a Husker fan, the Oklahoma rivalry had cooled off due to Big XII divisions. Colorado always thought the Nebraska game was a bigger rivalry than it seems Nebraska did, but I lived in Boulder County, basically 10 miles due east of Folsom Field, so it felt really real to me. My friends back home STILL say 62-36 regularly.

The big question: Has Nebraska developed a rivalry with anybody in the Big Ten at this point?

Nate M: Yes. Iowa. This is based off of my definition. When we play it is personal. You may disrespect them and think they are a lesser program (which is true), but you want to knock their teeth in and ruin their season. And based off of last year, they want to do the same with us.

I think if Nebraska goes in the direction we think it will go, then Wisconsin will definitely became numero uno and Iowa may be pushed to the side. Maybe Iowa will step up as well and we can have two rivalries in the Big Ten. I don’t really see anybody else in the division reaching that point. Even though Northwestern has gone back in forth in terms of winning, I never have felt it was personal. Same goes with Minnesota.

It will be hard for teams in the other division to becomes rivals if we don’t start playing them on a yearly basis.

Paul: Again, I’ll go with what Nate says. Iowa is a natural geographic rivalry for NU. And though Iowa may have scoreboard on us the last few years, it has been fairly competitive and balanced historically. Also, they wear black and gold...which is kind of a trigger for Nebraska.

Mike: Nope, not yet. We’re too new to this realm to really develop a true rivalry; they can’t be created instantly by throwing a bunch of stuff into an Instapot. And when you factor that Mike Riley was Nebraska’s football head coach for nearly half of NU’s time in the B1G, you shouldn’t read ***ANYTHING*** into that time. (Unless you think that the last three years really represent a “new normal” for Nebraska, of course.) Rivalries evolve over time. They grow over the years. We’re too new here, and just spent three years driving the program into a really muddy ditch.

Uglydog56: People keep pushing Iowa, but I’m just not feeling it. If I were to pick a B1G team, it might be Northwestern. That game always seems to be wild and unpredictable and have an extra edge of excitement to it. We are to Wisconsin what Colorado was to us: an annoying horse fly that won’t quit bothering us. Honestly, the recent Miami games felt more like rivalry games to me than anything in conference.

Patrick G.: Right now, I would say Iowa whether anyone wants to acknowledge it or not. Many people want Wisconsin but I think that might happen further down the road. Again, these things take time. No university, newspaper, or one city can push these. The more organic the better.

In other words, keep an eye on the Northwestern games...

Jon: Depends on how persnickety you are about having only a single rival. Iowa is a rival. Minnesota is a rival. Wisconsin is a rival. Northwestern is a rival, and we keep kicking their ass in debate. Let’s just accept that and have fun with it until time goes on and the rivalries set themselves up.

Think of the Stephen Stills song - If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with

Works, doesn’t it?

Andy: Iowa seems like a natural, but there’s a Catch-22. Yes, they’ve got our number lately (as did everyone else, I guess. Thanks again, Little E & Riley.), but it if we get to where we want to be, then they’re not exactly the program we’ll be battling for Western superiority. They’re strutting pretty hard right now & I think they’ve finished ranked something like 3 or 4 of the last 10 seasons. No one’s impressed when your rival is generally 7-5.

Wisconsin would be the natural. None of the other big boys call them their true rival & beyond that there’s just those Big 10 pig, barrel & tree trophies. Now, we have to let it happpen - see Colorado - but if we rise up and that game is consistently for the West title like was starting to happen under Pelini, we could be onto something.

Also, they’re totally trying to be us, and we could make fun of them for that.

Ty: I mean, the conference wants it to be Iowa, don’t they? So shouldn’t we just let that be?

Early on, I thought it was going to be Wisconsin. You had two teams with nearly identical Adidas uniforms and Adidas always brought alternates for that game (love it or hate it). However, it’s hard to call it a rivalry if the “rival” is regularly gut-punching you.

I don’t see one. Yeah, it’s fun as hell to hate Iowa, but that rivalry feels so contrived. As mentioned earlier (not by me), great rivalries develop organically (Alabama-Auburn, for one), have something to play for, and are fairly balanced. I would say the most likely candidates, at least in the short term, for that in the B1G are Minnesota and Northwestern. To add a little bit of volleyball spice to it, Minnesota fits that bill nicely.

Nebraska currently has two officially sanctioned Big Ten rivalry trophies: the Heroes Trophy (with Iowa) and the Freedom Trophy (with Wisconsin). There’s also the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy (with Minnesota). What do you think about these trophies?

Nate M: They’re fine. I don’t get get too worked up about these trophies. I probably personally like the Heroes Trophy the most because they walk the football from Iowa to Nebraska or vice versa.

Paul: The official ones are contrived bullshit. The $5 Bits of Broken Chair, on the other hand, is the real deal and I’m glad it was back on the sidelines last year. Now, let’s bring that thing to Lincoln and keep it there.

Mike: The overpriced supermarket trophy for the “Heroes game” is the antithesis of a Big Ten rivalry trophy. Big Ten rivalry trophies are kitschy; they include things like an axe, a bronze pig, a brass spittoon and an oaken bucket. They don’t have a corporate sponsor.

Nebraska only has one actual rivalry trophy: the $5 Bits of Broken Chair. Silly? Maybe, but no more than a spittoon or a bronze pig. More importantly, it occurred organically. The way all of the other great trophies did.

Uglydog56: The Chair is the only trophy. I don’t know what those other things even are. CHAIR! CHAIR! CHAIR! CHAIR! CHAIR! CHAIR! CHAIR! CHAIR! CHAIR! CHAIR! CHAIR! CHAIR!

Patrick G.: The chair seems to have the best traction online at least. Which is kind of sad considering that I don’t believe most of Nebraska even realizes Minnesota is even there or what the trophy really is unless you have spent time online.

The other two are there and I assume they will develop into rivalries over time. There are enough factions in each fan base that will most likely make them happen. As I stated above, Iowa will most likely solidify first, and then Wisconsin. Once the entire state of Nebraska get’s on Reddit then possibly Minnesota if P.J. keeps coaching in an upward trajectory.

In all honesty, my kids will most likely have stronger feelings about these trophies and rivalries that I ever will.

Jon: I keep forgetting there is a trophy with Wisconsin. I have no idea what it looks like, nor am I going to look it up. At least the Heroes Trophy with Iowa has good intentions about it, but the only real trophy is the chair trophy with Minnesota. They have it now, right? I mean, they beat the living snot out of us last year.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Wisconsin
Jon wasn’t going to look it up, but Mike did.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Andy: The chair trophy is fun. That’s truly in the tradition of Big 10 “stuff laying around the house” trophies.

The “Heroes” and “Freedom” trophies are contrived attempts to get in on the heavily marketed patriotism at sporting events malarky (which has absolutely nothing to do with the schools or the rivalries themselves) that the NFL has made the cornerstone of their marketing push since Iraq 2 - and that really seems to working out for them these days!

Note to marketing people: You can’t have a rivalry just because you make a trophy, get a sponsorship and put a flag on it. Name one worth a shit if you don’t believe me. They have to happen on their own.

Ty: The heroes trophy is a nice tribute to people in Iowa and Nebraska going above and beyond. It is. I like it. But it’s a BS rivalry trophy.

We have a trophy with Wisconsin? Huh.

Now, the $5 Bits of Broken Chair Trophy is legit. It’s as organic as it can be in the social media age, and it feels like something that is actually fun and worth playing for. Ignore that fact that it was really founded by a gopher and a Chicago lawyer... and that at least our fun-hating former AD tried to bury it. It’s also something that lends credence to a Nebraska-Minnesota rivalry.

Twenty years from now, how will we feel about Nebraska’s rivalries?

Nate M: Our budding rivalry with Wisconsin will likely be a little less intense since Oklahoma will have joined the Big Ten by then. Maybe Texas as well.

Paul: With any luck Frost will position Nebraska to be facing an East Division team every year for all the marbles. That will be the equivalent of our history with OU. In the near term, however, it seems that Wisconsin is going to stand between NU and a CCG appearance. So they get all the attention.

Mike: Nate stole my Oklahoma joke, though technically, I would only be half joking. If the Big Ten expands to 16 teams, I’d expect Oklahoma and Kansas will be the invitees. Barring that, I suspect that Nebraska’s “Capital R” Rivalry will be with Wisconsin. They’ve already played for one Big Ten conference title and one west division title; both went poorly for the Huskers, but they were meaningful games. As for Iowa, they’ll end up being one of those “little-r” rivalries. Pre-Riley, Nebraska had won 8 out of the 10 matchups since football went to the two platoon system. All time, the Huskers lead the series 29-16-3. Winning the game isn’t a major accomplishment for Husker fans (remember, Nebraska fired a coach two days after beating the Hawkeyes); it’s more of a game that Nebraska fans just plain don’t want to lose. Honestly, from my dealings with Iowa fans, a victory means more to Hawkeye fans than it does to Husker fans, because Husker fans just don’t want to listen to the chatter from the east side of the Missouri River.

Uglydog56: If Texas joins the B1G, I hope we move to the ACC. Then Miami really CAN become our rival! And, more close games for this North Carolinian! Hopefully the product on the field improves to the point that Wisconsin/Nebraska becomes as important as Oklahoma/Nebraska used to be.

Patrick G.: I imagine college football will have changed quite a bit by then. Let’s say Creighton will have a football team again by then and they will be our rival on the court and field.

But back to the question, I imagine that the above Big Ten rivalries we talked about above will be solidified. It’s the current younger generation that will make it so, not us.

Finally, a friendly reminder for those who pine for the glory days against Oklashoma. Barry Switzer was 12-5 against Tom Osborne during those years. What do you think about that for a rivalry? Remember that when KSU or CU pops up in conversation for rivalries.

Jon: It would be really shocking if I’m still around in 20 years. If I am, it’d be doubtful if I’m in my right mind.... well, even worse than I am now. How ‘bout a five year timeline?

Let’s look at this from a perspective of the worst-case scenario. Right now, we’re all making fun of Michigan and Jim Harbaugh. There’s this constant harping on Harbaugh about his 1-5 record against Michigan rivals Michigan State and Ohio State.

It’s entirely possible that in five years Scott Frost is in roughly the same position. Let’s say he’s beating everyone up except Wisconsin. He has yet to win a conference title. Will the same thing happen? Will Frost have to deal with the “rival” question the same way Harbaugh does?

It’ll be interesting to see what happens. (I know, I know, Scott Frost is the greatest second coming of Tom OsNickSaborne and this won’t happen. Ask yourself how you’ll feel if you’re wrong.)

Andy: In a stunning development, an “old school” fervor will begin to grip college football around 2029 and by 2033, all of the old conferences will have been restored including the Big 8 and the Southwestern. Nebraska - Oklahoma will play on Black Friday, or hell, maybe even Thanksgiving - and Texas with still be their true hate.

But the previously-unknown bastard child of Bill McCartney and the mothers of one of three of his former players (it was a wild night under assumed names at a Denver club in 1991). William Wellington McCartney Jr. will take the head job at Colorado, return the Buffs to prominence and they will finally become THE HUSKER RIVAL...

...until scandal erupts in 2039 involving McCartney Jr, Erin Andrews’ daughter, a Boulder hotel glory hole and his inability to figure out the Delete function on his iPhone 23 with new BrainLink function. *** sigh ***

Colorado ruins everything.

Ty: Conference re-alignment will be purely regional, with FBS 7-on-7 Flag Football having eight conferences of sixteen teams apiece. The rivals will be basically the same, with Nebraska as the 4-time reigning Upper Midwest Conference champion, having knocked off Iowa the last two years.


OK, you tell us. Over time, who will be the Huskers main Big Ten Rival?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    (209 votes)
  • 9%
    Oklahoma (anticipating the inevitable collapse of the Big XII)
    (30 votes)
  • 21%
    (67 votes)
  • 0%
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    (6 votes)
315 votes total Vote Now