Published Sunday, November 10, 2013 AT 11:22 PM / Updated at 12:32 AM
Last Call: Big Husker weekend includes best win of Pelini era
Tom Shatel Omaha World-Herald

1. Has there ever been a better weekend for Nebraska athletics? Husker hoops, men and women, open the Pinnacle Bank Arena with wins. Football win at Michigan. Women’s soccer wins Big Ten tournament. Volleyball team beats Wisconsin and Minnesota on the road.

The folks in Lincoln may not want to share the love, but you could throw in UNO hockey being in first place in the NCHC after a split with North Dakota, Creighton’s season-opening win and Maverick hoops taking Iowa to the mat before losing. That’s a full weekend.

2. So I wrote that Saturday’s win at Michigan was the best win of the Bo Pelini Era. That did not exactly have the historians scrambling for the media guides, but World-Herald beat man Sam McKewon asked the Twitter crowd if they agreed. Mike’l Severe of KOZN’s “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” chimed in and so did several others.

Here were the other games mentioned:

The 27-12 win at 24th-ranked Missouri in the rain (think Ndamukong Suh tossing Blaine Gabbert like a rag doll).

The 10-3 win over 20th-ranked Oklahoma in Lincoln a few weeks later.

The 26-21 win over Clemson in the 2009 Gator Bowl.

The 51-41 victory at 17th-ranked Oklahoma State in 2010.

The 31-17 win over seventh-ranked Mizzou in 2010.

The 34-27 win over Ohio State in 2011.

The 24-3 win over No. 9 Michigan State in 2011.

The 30-27 win over Wisconsin in 2012.

I didn’t agree with the Clemson win; Tigers were unranked and it was the Gator Bowl. Same with Wisconsin last year, unranked, at home, and it’s cancelled out by what the Badgers did to Nebraska at the end of the season.

The 2009 win in Columbia is legit. That was Pelini’s first big win, and though it wasn’t pretty, with Zac Lee throwing deep balls in the rain, it was a psychological victory for NU. Mizzou had the upper hand on Nebraska. That tilted the scales back toward Lincoln. It’s impact was lessened by the next two games, losses to Texas Tech and Iowa State at home.

The 2009 OU game wasn’t a great Sooner team. But Bob Stoops’ program was top dog in the Big 12 and had beaten his buddy Bo 62-28 the previous year in Norman. Any time you can beat one of the power teams in the league, that’s a big deal. This one may have been the one that helped NU win the Big 12 North that year.

The 2010 win at Oklahoma State was a great win. NU had just lost to Texas at home in a all-chips-in game, and things could have escalated downward quickly. This was a Brandon Weeden Cowboys’ team, and Taylor Martinez showed he could make big plays with his arm in this one. NU got back on its feet by winning this shootout. This was also the last trip to Stillwater, though I’m not sure Huskers have any sentimental value for that old town, other than memories of taking over Eskimo Joe’s on game day.

The 2010 win over Mizzou at home was the next week and the Tigers were coming off their big win, over OU at home, and were ranked seventh. It was the Big 12 North title game, and Blaine Gabbert came to Lincoln, and it was the last Nebraska-Missouri game as we knew it, so there was a bunch riding that day. Roy Helu stole the show, Jared Crick and the boys harassed Gabbert. It was a win that put Nebraska on the path to winning the North in its last go-around. That meant everything. But was it bigger than the 2009 win in Columbia? Maybe because it was for the last laugh.

That leaves the 2011 Ohio State game. The points for this one include the breathless second-half comeback, led by Rex Burkhead. and the fact that it was NU’s first Big Ten game in Memorial Stadium, and it was tOSU. Even with Luke Fickle coaching, that’s a big deal. It also prevented an ugly 0-2 start after the blowout loss at Wisconsin. But I’m not sure this qualifies as best win, because it was an average Ohio State team at home, and the Pelini blow-up with the crowd before halftime, and then, of course, after the game in the press conference, add to the experience. Not the coach’s best day, even as his team fought for him.

The 2011 Michigan State game put Nebraska into the mix of the Legends Division race, and it came against a top 10 team. The Huskers were workmanlike in their dominance of Sparty, but I’m going to take some points off for MSU’s approach and game plan. The Spartans looked flat, coming off their dramatic win over Wisconsin the previous week. And the way they shrugged off the loss afterwards said a lot about their approach. Good win, but not Bo’s best.

Here’s my case for why Michigan is his best win.

Yes, Michigan was unranked and coming off a demoralizing loss to rival MSU and were beat-up. But the Wolverines were also a decided favorite before the game.

But this was still Devin Gardner, a veteran quarterback, against NU’s redshirt freshman, Tommy Armstrong. A Michigan offensive line, which looks soft now, against a Nebraska defensive line that hadn’t been able to stop the run all season.

Meanwhile, Nebraska’s offensive line was missing three starters.

This was Michigan football, at home, where the Blue had won 19 straight times.

And, unlike the other wins on the list, this was Pelini, coaching for a new athletic director, with more pressure on the coach and his staff now than at any time in his six years.

And then I throw in the Michigan factor. There are two names in this league that hover above the rest: Michigan and Ohio State. When you win at one of those two places, that’s a big deal. It makes everyone else in the league take notice. For Nebraska, trying to forge its identity in this new place, I thought it was its biggest win in three seasons, and I don’t care how Michigan looked. Nebraska had its own issues, too.

You throw all those circumstances in: where it happened, the timing with the pressure on the coach, the kid quarterback and kid defense, making plays on that field in the fourth quarter, I think it’s No. 1.

Mostly, I’m giving this one points because, unlike Faurot Field or Lewis/Pickens Stadium, this came at one of the important stadiums in college football, where they hadn’t lost in three years. And the credibility Nebraska will get for winning there.

Now, there are three games left this year and when it’s all said and done, this one may not mean so much. Or it could mean a lot. Either way, when you look back at this season, you’ll say, “Hey, they won at Michigan,” and that will mean something. Even if Gardner and Co. didn’t look right.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Sorry to keep you so long tonight. See you tomorrow for “big game week” chat, same time, same channel.

P.S. Bo’s best game at Nebraska remains the 2009 Big 12 championship game against Texas.

Meanwhile, the next time we talk about “best win” for Bo, it’s got to be the Big Ten championship game.

About Tom Shatel

Tom Shatel is a columnist for The Omaha World-Herald. You can get in touch with Tom on Twitter (@tomshatelOWH), or send him an email at tom.shatel@owh.com.