The day has finally arrived.
As the Wisconsin football team validated its stature among the Big Ten’s elite last season – and through the beginning of this season – Badger Nation has been anxiously awaiting this weekend.
Inaugurating the Cornhuskers into the conference in one of the toughest atmospheres to play in the country – an atmosphere senior safety Aaron Henry describes as “ridiculous” – let alone under the lights, the game is all anyone can talk about. ESPN’s “College GameDay” is even making the trip.
So to quote my fellow Herald Sports writer, Nick Korger, “A word of advice: When you file into the stadium Saturday, make sure you stop for a second and think. You are a part of history. You are witnessing the birth of a new rivalry, a new opponent and a new chapter in Wisconsin history. Soak it in.”
It won’t be a game where an improbably No. 18 team dominates the No. 1 team in the nation. Wisconsin is by no means the underdog in this situation, but Saturday night will be just as historic.
This game marks not only the still-inaccurately-named conference’s newest rivalry, but also a new era in the Big Ten.
Saturday has been talked about before the Badgers even kicked off the season. There are a lot of Big Reds out there, but this Big Ten opener is the battle of the Biggest Reds.
“I think ever since they joined the Big Ten, this has been the Big Red Rivalry. A lot of people have thought this would be bigger than Minnesota,” center Peter Konz said. “Personally, I love the Battle for the Axe and I don’t think that’s an overrated rivalry at all, but people have been talking about this game since the beginning.”
“Obviously, it’s going to be their first Big Ten game. This is going to be a ranked game; this is a game against the defending Big Ten champs. And obviously they’re going to come after us to prove that they can hang with the Big Ten and be one of the best. We’re expecting a good battle.”
This is the first time the Badgers and the Huskers have met since 1974, and it also is the first matchup of two top 10 ranked teams at Camp Randall since 1962.
For both teams, it’s a new beginning that, given the history of both programs and their current strength, could lead to one of the greatest rivalries in college football.
Fans are already starting to treat it as one of the biggest games in the Big Ten. A “shuck ‘em” trend has already plagued Madison, and an estimated 20,000-to-40,000 Husker fans are making their way here for a game that could truly be a preview of the Big Ten Championship.
With Michigan fighting to stay alive in its lack of a complete offense, Ohio State coming off likely its worst offseason ever and an Iowa team that just can’t seem to put it together on the field, schools like Nebraska and Wisconsin are taking over as the teams to beat.
As the two strongest teams in the Big Ten, Wisconsin and Nebraska have experience and depth that will allow them to stay on top of their respective divisions and the conference as a whole.
Before I wrap this up, I have one request – do not rush the field.
Both these teams know success and know what it’s like to win those big games.
In the case of Wisconsin specifically, we’ve been there. We’ve had that feeling of great euphoria as David Gilreath returned the opening kick off for a 97-yard touchdown. We know what it’s like to win.
If the Badgers do indeed win, rushing the field would make it seem like we haven’t played a game of this magnitude, much less won it.
After the Ohio State experience last year, the football team knows what to expect from the game and how to react. The fans should too.
“I think we know what to expect when we go out on the field,” senior defensive tackle Patrick Butrym said. “We know how electric it’s going to be. Also, now we know how to prepare during the week. We know what to expect when all the media is around here. Obviously it’s a big week, we’re embracing it. Now we know how to win in these kinds of situations.”
Kelly is a junior majoring in journalism. Do you think the Big Red Rivalry will become a standard in the new Big Ten or headed to GameDay Saturday morning? Let her know at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @kellyerickson4.