Nebraska senior receiver Kenny Bell doesn’t mind playing Wisconsin.
But he didn’t like the whooping the Badgers laid on the Huskers in the opening game of the 2011 Big Ten season in Madison with quarterback Russell Wilson leading the way. Bell certainly didn’t like that other whipping that ended up 70-31 in the Big Ten championship game in 2012.
“They hammered us at their house with Russell and those guys,” Bell said. “We beat them at our place in 2012 (30-27) and played them again in 2012 and they hammered us.”
But despite two lopsided losses to Wisconsin, Bell had nothing but good things to say about the Badgers this summer at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago.
“I truly respect the University of Wisconsin and their football team,” Bell said. “They’re an amazing group of guys. They’re fun to compete against. They don’t run their mouths. They’re quiet and they win, year in and year out. There’s no question Wisconsin is going to be a good football team every single year.”
So Bell respects the Badgers. That doesn’t make that big loss at the end of 2012 any easier to take.
The Huskers wanted to win a conference title for a program that hasn’t won one since 1999.
Getting stomped in the Big Ten title game was tough to take..
“I’ve never felt worse after a football game than after that championship game,” Bell said. “I’ve never been beaten senseless like the University of Wisconsin beat us...I’ve never felt so terrible in my entire life than when I was showering after that Big Ten championship game.”
Bell was one of just a handful of current Husker players who played in that Big Ten final. running backs Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross, center Mark Pelini and Bell were listed on the final participation report, which isn’t always reliable. Senior safety Corey Cooper said he played on special teams and a few snaps on defense.
In any event, Bell hasn’t gotten over it yet.
“I’ve never seen a group want something more than how bad we wanted that Big Ten championship that year,” he said. “That was terrible. We didn’t just lose. There were like four football games that weekend so everybody in the country was just going...oh man.”
Now the No. 11 Huskers get another shot at the No. 22 Badgers Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s a big game in the Big Ten West Division. Nebraska (8-1, 4-1) and Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) are tied for the division lead with Minnesota (7-2, 4-1), but the Gophers will be hosting Ohio State earlier in the day.
Nebraska offensive guard Givens Price was a freshman two years ago and didn’t make the trip to face Wisconsin in Indianapolis, but he remembers.
“Whether you play or not, I am still a Cornhusker,” Price said. “Seeing the loss after the preparation that we had put in that week, just shows how we beat ourselves offensively … It left a bitter taste in our mouth that we haven’t been able to get rid of since then. This game will be a great opportunity to do so.”
But is it a revenge game? Not if you ask Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.
He wants to approach this game just like any other.
“I don’t buy into the ‘this is a big game, this isn’t a big game’ thing,” he said. “Just watch college football. You better be ready week in and week out. There are no games that are bigger than the next. This just happens to be the next one against a tough opponent in their stadium. But our approach won’t be any different.”
Sophomore safety Nate Gerry received that message loud and clear.
“We don’t really treat this game any differently than we have any other Saturday,” Gerry said. “That’s one thing that Coach Bo wanted to do, was treat every week like it’s the most important week of the season. If you don’t win the week you’re in right now, then there’s no point in playing next week. So we just have to treat this week as if it’s the biggest game of the year, like we did against Purdue.”
So Pelini wants to treat this just like any other game. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is.
Pelini remembers that loss two years ago. It hurts him just like it hurts the players.
“Me personally, I’ll never flush that out,” he said. “That’s something that will always be there. It’s hard to flush that one away. But there’s nothing you can do about it. That was one of the most unusual games I’ve ever been a part of. And frustrating at the same time.”
The bottom line, Pelini said, is the team that executes the best on Saturday will win.
That loss two years ago won’t have much effect when the ball is teed up Saturday afternoon.
“It’s completely different teams,” Cooper said. “I mean I was there but a lot of cats on the team weren’t there in 2012. For me, I still got a bitter taste in my mouth from when we got beat pretty bad, but this is a big game.
“We are pretty much playing for a chance to go to the Big Ten Championship. What happened in 2012 is pretty much irrelevant. We just need to focus on the team now, like I said, it’s a huge game so everyone will be ready to go.”