Nebraska vs. Michigan: What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been in the Big Ten

Michael HuckstepCorrespondent INovember 17, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 12: Taylor Martinez #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers hands the ball off against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the game on November 12, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

If Husker fans were asked to boil Nebraska's 2011 season down to one word, many might use words like "crazy" or "unpredictable."

However, one word springs to mind that might sum everything up quite succinctly: strange.

Or, to borrow a phrase from the Grateful Dead, "What a long, strange trip it's been."

Nebraska's first season as a member of the Big Ten has been filled with dizzying highs, both literal (a trip to Wyoming's Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium) and figurative (the Huskers' record-breaking comeback versus Ohio State on Homecoming).

Sadly, there have also been several lows: losing arguably their best defensive player in his final season, suffering a beat-down at the hands of the Badgers in the Huskers' first conference game and tripping up against Northwestern the week after a convincing win against Michigan State.

All these distinctly disparate moments have added enough twists and turns to a Husker football season worthy of comparison to a top secret, super-car test track nestled away in the Black Forest of Germany.

The culmination of these events thus far has been an emotionally charged moment of prayer last Saturday, led by the dynamic Husker assistant coach Ron Brown, prior to the start of the game vs. the Nittany Lions.

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 12: Running back coach Ron Brown of the Nebraska Cornhuskers prays at mid-field with players from Penn State and Nebraska before the start of the game on November 12, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Pho
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

In a span of silence that spoke volumes, the players from both teams joined together, providing a positive example to us all and effectively beginning the healing process at Penn State University.

However, there are still two chapters yet to be written, which might yet lead to a third in Indianapolis.

Admittedly, those odds are slim, as Nebraska needs Michigan State to lose once more while the Huskers attempt to win their last two games. Slimmer still, since the most likely opportunity of that loss actually occurring ended in a Spartan victory over the Hawkeyes last weekend.

So it's only fitting that Nebraska face Michigan this week, a team that has a bizarre history with the Huskers.

One need look no further than the frantic and almost disastrous finish of the 2005 Alamo Bowl, when players from both teams rushed the field during the last play and, in the confusion, NU cornerback Zachary Bowman alertly knocked Tyler Ecker out of bounds and prevented a last-second Michigan touchdown.

The game had been hyped by the media as a battle for bragging rights following Michigan and Nebraska's split National Championship in 1997, even though it was obvious that no players from either team remained from that bit of controversy.

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 12: Silas Redd #25 of the Penn State Nittany Lions carries the ball against the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the game on November 12, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

As Husker and Wolverine fans both know, the '97 season ended with Michigan No. 1 in the AP Poll and Nebraska No. 1 in the Coaches Poll, which many cynics took as a gesture of respect to Tom Osborne in his 25th and final year as the Huskers' head coach.

While the mantle of "National Champions" was gratifying to both programs, the split decision made some players (and fans) feel as if they had just kissed their sister. Predictably, both sides proclaimed to the media that they would love to settle it on the field, which of course, never happened.

So, in this strange Nebraska season, it only makes sense that the Huskers would face Michigan, a team with which they have an equally remarkable recent history as they try to secure the Legends Division and a possible rematch against Wisconsin should the Badgers take care of business against Penn State next week.

It's hard to say who will prevail and how, as fans from both teams will be watching two of the most unpredictable quarterbacks face off against equally intriguing defenses. 

However, if this memorable, yet mystifying season is any indication, it should be yet another wild ride on the Huskers' long, strange trip through the Big Ten.