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HOLSTEIN: Big Ten conference title is within Nebraska’s grasp

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“We have to win out. We have to win out.”

Bo Pelini’s message to his team following its colossal meltdown in Columbus is starting to look more and more like a prophecy. With another come-from-behind win – this time from 14 down to Penn State – the Huskers edge ever closer to fulfilling the wishes of their fifth-year coach.

Games against Minnesota and Iowa remain, but they appear to be much lesser challenges than the ones Nebraska has faced during the past few weeks. The Gophers and Hawkeyes are a combined 10-10 overall and 4-8 in the conference; they don’t exactly boast daunting resumes.

Should the Huskers take care of business against those schools – which is no guarantee, the way this season has been going – they will find themselves in the Big Ten championship game with a chance at their first BCS berth since 2001, when they played Miami in the national championship game.

That would be quite an accomplishment when you consider where this team has come from. After losing 63-38 to Ohio State and then falling behind by 12 in the fourth quarter of the Northwestern game, Nebraska’s season was on the brink of collapse. Pelini had just made his famous “win out” proclamation the week before, and it looked as though Nebraska might not have what it takes to get that done. It looked like mighty Nebraska would be in for another mediocre season.

Taylor Martinez was having none of that.

The junior quarterback put the team on his back, leading consecutive touchdown drives at the end of the game – the second of which was the game-winner.

Flash forward to now. After a 23-9 win against Michigan and two more come-from-behind wins against the Big Ten’s best scoring defenses, Nebraska is in the Legends Division driver’s seat. Tied with Michigan, it still must win out to guarantee a spot in Indianapolis, but that was the plan all along.

It’s been impressive to watch this Nebraska team battle through the weekly grind this season. Say what you want about the Big Ten, but Nebraska has faced a group of teams this season that has tested its mettle. The Huskers have been down, backs up against the wall every week. And consistently they’ve scraped out wins.

This may be no 1995 Nebraska, but it’s a quality team with a shot at a conference title. Nebraska hasn’t won a conference title since quarterback Eric Crouch led it past Texas in the 1999 Big 12 title game.

Pelini has gotten the Huskers close a few times, but back-to-back appearances in the Big 12 title game in 2009 and 2010 resulted in a pair of tight losses to Texas and Oklahoma. After entering their first Big Ten season as the media favorite, the Huskers faltered in big games a year ago. This time around, they are pulling out the wins in marquee games.

It’s not a done deal by any means, but in all likelihood, Nebraska will be in the Big Ten championship game in a few weeks. Penn State was the last major regular season hurdle for the Huskers.

It’s already been an extremely entertaining season for Nebraska, but if the Huskers can beat Wisconsin – one of the teams they used a comeback to beat earlier this season – in the title game, it would be historic. Pelini’s Huskers twice came close in the Big 12, but they might finally get over the hump in the Big Ten.

Lanny Holstein is a junior broadcasting and finance major. Reach him at sports@dailynebraskan.com.

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