No. 17 Huskers set sights on No. 20 Michigan
All the attention is back on football this week at Nebraska.
Last week, the 17th-ranked Cornhuskers were Penn State's first opponent since the revelation of child-sex abuse allegations involving a former assistant coach cost coach Joe Paterno and the school president their jobs.
Once the Huskers (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) landed in Lincoln after their 17-14 win, they began looking toward Saturday's game at No. 20 Michigan (8-2, 4-2).
''There were a ton of distractions last week, a lot of media attention surrounding the game,'' running back Rex Burkhead said Monday. ''I thought we did a great job as a team staying away from that and focusing on the game. I guess there's not as much going on for this game.''
Actually, a lot rides on this game. The winner stays alive in the Legends Division race; the loser is all but eliminated.
Nebraska is in better position than the Wolverines as it makes its first visit to 109,901-seat Michigan Stadium since 1962. The Huskers would go to the Big Ten championship game if they beat Michigan and Iowa while Michigan State loses to either Indiana or Northwestern. The Wolverines must win out and have Michigan State lose twice.
''We've got a lot to play for,'' Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. ''We're going into a tough environment against a good football team.''
Nebraska survived Penn State's comeback bid in the fourth quarter to keep itself within striking distance in the division.
''Our team has a lot of character and a lot of want-to,'' Pelini said. ''I give them a lot of credit. I said after the game I give the kids from Penn State a lot of credit for how they were able to play. That was a well-played football game. That was a hard-hitting, pretty physical football game - and a good one to come out on top of.''
Pelini said in his postgame news conference that he didn't think the game should have been played because of the nature of the sordid allegations against former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
''We didn't know what it would be like when we got there,'' Pelini said Monday. ''There was a sense of the unknown. I don't think our team approached it any different. Maybe it enabled us to focus a little better during practice.''
The game will long be remembered for the gathering of the teams at midfield for a pregame prayer, led by Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown. Pelini and Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley agreed that the midfield gathering would show solidarity and compassion for the victims.
Pelini said he hadn't received much feedback from people in Lincoln other than folks he spoke with at church Sunday.
''I think they appreciated the efforts of our kids,'' he said, ''and that makes you feel good.''
Burkhead said it was an unforgettable day.
''It kind of had a weird feeling, like it was more than a football game,'' Burkhead said. ''Normally in a game you have that tension between two teams as you go head-to-head. Just to come in and say hi to each other and ask the other players how they're doing and good luck on the game and stuff, it eases all the emotion and the distractions heading into the game.''