Huskers, Badgers have mutual respect

After Nebraska beat Wisconsin 30-27 in Lincoln on Sept. 29, Huskers coach Bo Pelini delivered a message for Bret Bielema in their postgame handshake.

"He smiled and said, 'Let's meet back in Indy,'' Bielema recalled this week. "I didn't really want to hear it at the time."

Pelini knew the landscape. If his team could just find a way to win the Legends Division, Wisconsin would be the likely opponent in the Big Ten championship game because of the probation at both Ohio State and Penn State.

"I thought they would be there," he said. "I'm not surprised that Wisconsin's there."

And it seems fitting that Nebraska will be playing the Badgers in Saturday's championship game. Though the Cornhuskers have only been in the Big Ten for two years, they already have some interesting history and connections with Wisconsin.

Nebraska's first-ever Big Ten game came in Madison last year, which ended in an embarrassing 48-17 loss. This year's rematch was the Big Ten opener for both, and the Huskers' rally from a 27-10 second-half deficit set the tone for this team's comeback ways.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, a Nebraska graduate, was a key figure in ushering Big Red into the Big Ten by brokering talks for the league. As I wrote last year, Alvarez built the Badgers program from the lessons he learned from his mentor, Nebraska legend Bob Devaney.

Nebraska's incoming athletic director, Shawn Eichorst, worked for years under Alvarez at Wisconsin. Bielema called Eichorst one of his closest friends. Bielema and Pelini also get along very well.

"I really respect Bo for what he is," Bielema said. "He's the same guy every day, and I love his approach to things. At Big Ten meetings, I find myself sitting next to Bo. We always share the same kinds of thoughts."

Badgers' defensive end David Gilbert may have popped off before this year's first meeting, but you're unlikely to hear too much trash talk between two programs that respect each other so much.

"Bret's a hell of a coach, and they've got a heck of a program," Pelini said this week.

Pelini correctly forecast this rematch way back in September. For Nebraska to win a Big Ten championship, going through Wisconsin seems the only natural route.

"There's a lot to it and I'm excited for our fans and our players," Bielema said. "Last year, when they came here, there was a lot of respect between the two fan bases, and this year when we went there, it was the same thing. We'll share a neutral site this week and see what happens."