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Wearing Blackshirt: Nebraska 'D' will beat Texas

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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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Since the third weekend of September, it has been all but engraved in stone that the winner of Dec. 5's Alabama-Florida SEC Championship Game will be playing Texas in January's BCS title game. Though there were potential "scares" in the Red River Shootout, the Florida-Arkansas game and the LSU-'Bama contest a few weeks back, that very BCS Championship scenario has remained intact for an uncanny length of time.
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This is college football. Preseason No. 1 teams are supposed to slip up. So are No. 2s. And No. 3s. This year, unlike any year before it, was supposed to be an open book, a roller-coaster ride to the finish. Alas, it hasn't happened. Since early autumn, it has been Alabama/Florida vs. Texas the whole way through. On Sunday, the BCS standings' top seven didn't change. The week before, the top eight remained exactly the same. Ho-hum. With just a handful of games left for the top three teams, it's beginning to appear as though the oft-criticized current BCS system is delivering what has essentially become a mini "playoff" format. Picture your standard NCAA tournament bracket. On one side of the imaginary grid, you have your Alabama-Florida bracket. On the other, you have Texas. It's December Madness, baby! Yawn. Perhaps we shouldn't count our BCS chickens before they hatch, though. There is still one team out there that can throw this thing into flux. Readers of my columns know where I'm headed with this. Heck, the "Blackshirts" T-shirt under my sweater is probably already peeking through. In last Thursday's "College Kickoff" column, I wrote, "Before I become the subject of locker room material out in Austin, let me first see how Nebraska looks on Saturday vs. Kansas State. I certainly think the 'Huskers can give the 'Horns a game, I'm just not ready to go all in ... yet." Well, call me Phil Ivey. Because after Saturday night's Big 12 North-clinching win over Kansas State, I'm all in. Yep, I'm putting it down in bold-faced Internet ink right this very moment: Nebraska will beat Texas in Dec. 5's Big 12 Championship Game. I've been dipping my toes in this pool for some time now. And though even the most faithful 'Huskers fans have been e-mailing to tell me I'm crazy, I'm diving in head-first. With a win over Texas in Arlington in two weeks, Nebraska is going to shake this BCS thing up. Hell, they're our only hope at a little chaos in what has been an all too predictable 2009 college football season. Forget Lincoln, Neb., and its suburbs — if you're a fan of college football and all the excitement that goes with it, Nebraska's now America's Team. Sure, the 'Huskers offense is about as prolific as a mediocre middle school squad's. But that defense? Well, it's something else. Ranked eighth in the nation in total defense, the Blackshirts have given up 17 or fewer points in each of their past five contests. They feature the likely top overall pick in next April's NFL draft in Ndamukong Suh, perhaps the conference's third best DT in defensive linemate Jared Crick and a ball-hawking safety in Matt O'Hanlon. Forget the rankings or what you're hearing elsewhere, they're the hottest — and perhaps the top — defense in the entire nation. And for as much as I rag on the O, a unit that committed eight turnovers in a 9-7 home loss at Iowa State a month ago, it's actually improving week to week, too. If they look like a mediocre middle school squad out there now, it's a heck of an improvement from the below-average grammar school squad they were a few weeks back. That spread offense garbage is gone; the power-I is in. All the quarterback tinkering is done; Zac Lee is the guy. Using two tight ends and two running backs out of the backfield for much of the last two weeks, the 'Huskers have relied on their workhorse, do-everything back Roy Helu, Jr. for the bulk of the team's offense. Helu Jr. ran 26 times for 95 yards and a touchdown and went over 1,000 yards for the season on Saturday night. No, this offense is not the '99 St. Louis Rams. Hell, they're not the '09 St. Louis Rams. But they're at least something. They complete forward passes and occasionally get first downs. And that's saying a lot compared to where they were a few weeks ago. The offense scored 17 points on Saturday and the defense did the rest, holding Kansas State scoreless after a field goal on the Wildcats' opening series. When the Blackshirts needed a big stop, they got it. When they needed a turnover or a sack, they got it. When they play Texas in two weeks, they'll need to be flawless. They will be. The Nebraska media bandwagon is slowly filling up now, but I'm booking the first four cars on the train. And if we're taking an Acela, I'm booking the entire "quiet car," too. I'll need a sanctuary for when I want to work on my portrait of Ndamukong Suh. The way I see it, the Texas offense was mystified by Oklahoma, the only good defense it faced the entire season, back in October. And though the Longhorns are a noticeably better team now than they were on that afternoon, I can see a fired-up 'Huskers D rattling the unit's cage under the lights on a national stage. This Nebraska defense will keep the 'Huskers in any game. A big special teams play here, a costly turnover there, and suddenly you never know. Nebraska has been valiant playing in its past three nationally televised night games. It has looked better in each and every one. Yes, I recognize the Longhorns actually have the higher-ranked defense of the two units. And sure, I see that the game will be played in UT's backyard. But this is the Big 12 Championship Game.
And if ever there were a game where we've come to expect the unexpected, it's this one. In 2003, an undefeated, No.1 Oklahoma Sooners squad was steamrolled by Darren Sproles and Kansas State. In 2007, No. 1 Missouri fell to No. 9 Oklahoma, knocking the Tigers not only out of the BCS title game, but out of a BCS bowl altogether. In 1998, No. 2 Kansas State fell in double overtime to Texas A&M. Both the Longhorns and 'Huskers have been burned in Big 12 championship games before, too. No. 9 Colorado shocked No. 3 Texas in 2001, and an unranked Longhorns squad toppled No. 3 Nebraska in '97. Annually, this game is where the crazy happens. Only, after Saturday night's performance in Lincoln, I can't call a Nebraska Big 12 Championship victory "crazy" at all. "I'm happy for our football team," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini told reporters after Saturday's 17-3 victory. "We've kind of been through a lot up to this point. They persevered. I still think our best football is out there for us to play, but we have to keep working to get better." The truth of the matter is, Nebraska is our last shot at throwing some mud on what's been an all too pristine college football season. If you took a nap in mid-September, you could have woken up today and not missed a thing. At the very least, you would have been all caught up by the time you stepped in the shower and had your morning cup of coffee. And my apologies to all in War Eagle country, but Auburn is not beating Alabama. Florida State is not beating Florida on Friday, either. And though they've won two of the past three meetings with the Longhorns, Texas A&M isn't beating Texas. But Nebraska? Well, I'm putting my eggs — every last one of them — in its basket. If I'm not the first member of the media to put this in print, let me at least be the loudest. What can I say? I'm a fan of the chaos that comes with college football. It's what separates this game from the one played on Sundays. I've missed that chaos this season. There hasn't been one major upset; not one shocking result. The entire pre-bowl season can't go by without something. So with 100 percent confidence (OK, maybe 85 percent), I'm saying Nebraska is going to throw this all too pretty BCS picture into the dumpster with a win over Texas on Dec. 5. Then, it will be up to the voters. Will Texas still get the invite to the BCS Championship, even with a season-ending loss in Arlington? Don't laugh. That was the case with Oklahoma after their Big 12 Championship defeat in '03. In one of the most curious BCS outcomes yet, Oklahoma went on to play LSU for BCS title. The Tigers beat the Sooners, 21-14, in the Sugar Bowl. Will the voters be bold enough to give TCU their deserved spot in the title game? It's worth noting that a non-Notre Dame, non-BCS conference team hasn't played for a national title since BYU in 1984. Or does Cincinnati, with a convincing win over Pittsburgh at Heinz Field on Dec. 5, jump the Horned Frogs, Longhorns and SEC Championship Game loser and find itself in Pasadena on Jan. 7? The wildest scenario of all is one we almost saw come into play following the Michigan-Ohio State classic in '07, when Florida barely edged out Michigan to earn a spot in the national title game. Could we get a rematch of a potential all-time classic SEC Championship in December with Alabama and Florida going at it for a Round 2 out in California a month later? The SEC haters out there would have a fit, but it's not entirely impossible. With a Texas loss, it's actually quite possible. These are questions I'd love to see answered. They're questions I'd love to at least see addressed. It's up to Nebraska. Realistically, it's our last hope at a little chaos.
Tagged: Florida State, Pittsburgh, Michigan, California, USC, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas State, Iowa State, Colorado, Texas

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