Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster and his Wisconsin counterpart, Bret Bielema, both got a taste of what Nebraska football is all about while serving as assistants in the Big 12.
They have a message to Big Ten fans about the league's newest addition: you're gonna like Big Red.
Brewster and Bielema roamed the sidelines at Nebraska's Memorial Stadium as assistants with Texas and Kansas State, respectively. They faced the Huskers multiple times, and they're looking forward to a reunion in the Big Ten.
Nebraska on Friday officially became a member of the Big Ten and will begin play during the 2011 season.
"It's a first-class operation," Brewster said. "Coach [Tom] Osborne exemplifies what class is all about. And some of the classiest fans I've ever seen. When I was at Texas [in 1998] and we broke Nebraska's 47-game home winning streak, I was truly amazed leaving the field, the Nebraska fans gave Texas football players a standing ovation.
"That doesn't happen many places, let me promise you."
Bielema also had the fortune of winning a game at Memorial Stadium, as Kansas State crushed the Huskers in 2003 while he served as the Wildcats' defensive coordinator. Nebraska certainly wasn't Nebraska at that time, but Bielema came away impressed with the atmosphere in Lincoln.
"It reminded me a little bit of a Michigan-type stadium," Bielema said. "They've got their traditions -- they clap when you're walking off the field. It's a great environment. The people in Nebraska are very proud of the program and the history and all that goes into it, so it's a really unique place to play."
Bielema and Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, a former linebacker at Nebraska, had been trying to schedule a home-and-home series with the Huskers for several years. Although Bielema had heard Nebraska mentioned as a potential Big Ten expansion candidate for some time, he didn't stop pursuing a nonconference series with the Huskers.
Now there's no need, as Wisconsin and Nebraska could be playing every year if placed in the same division.
"With Coach Osborne's and Coach Alvarez's history, maybe we can start a little trophy game," said Bielema, who frequently recruits against Nebraska. "Call it the Alvaborn Cup or something like that. We don't have a season-ending finale game, so maybe we can start a tradition here."
Bielema already has contacted Big Ten associate commissioner Mark Rudner -- who handles scheduling and will oversee division alignment and a football championship game -- and told Rudner that Wisconsin will do "anything we've got to do" to set up a rivalry. Wisconsin likely will have some competition from Iowa, Minnesota, Penn State and others.
Brewster expects Minnesota's division to include both Iowa and Wisconsin, which would preserve long-standing annual trophy games, but he'd like to see Big Red a lot, too. Minnesota has faced Nebraska 51 times but not since it suffered back-to-back shutout losses to the Huskers in 1989 and 1990, falling by a combined score of 104-0.
"Adding Nebraska forces Minnesota to continue to step up," Brewster said, "knowing that we're competing against a program that has amazing support in all areas. We want to be the best in the Big Ten, that's our goal, and adding a program like Nebraska does nothing but help Minnesota in every way.
"It's going to turn into a natural rivalry. I would probably think Minnesota and Nebraska will be on the same side of a divided conference."
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald hadn't been as pro expansion as some of his colleagues, seeing no need for the Big Ten to expand simply "to keep up with the Joneses." But Fitzgerald thinks Nebraska is "a great fit" and welcomes the league's newest addition.
"Just an outstanding program," Fitzgerald said. "Obviously, it's a big change for our conference, and what a great one. Nebraska solidifies us as a conference even more."