I hope Jim Delany was watching ESPN last night. The Big Ten commissioner, busy in recent weeks making comments that forced conference beat writers to consider the possibility of division-less football, would've liked what he saw from Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook in his post-match interview with Holly Rowe.
— Holly Rowe (@sportsiren) December 14, 2018
"It's Big Ten, baby."
Cook doubled down on that sentiment a few minutes later at his press conference.
"For us, this was another Big Ten battle," he said. "This is what it was like every week in the Big Ten. Illinois is a great team. I mean, they brought out the best in us. I think we brought out the best in them."
Cook's not wrong, of course. He's been saying for years now that winning a Big Ten title is harder than winning a national title, which makes sense. It's a matter of exposure to excellence. The Huskers faced at least one ranked team in nine of 10 weeks of Big Ten play. Depending upon how the bracket breaks, it's tough for even the NCAA Tournament to match that.
Being in those "battles" all season long may have been key to the Huskers' rally from 2-0 down last night, and it might be their biggest advantage against Stanford. One of the few advantages.
The Cardinal are big and powerful. They lead the country in kills and blocks per set. Stanford lost once this season, to BYU on the first weekend of the season, but then rolled through the Pac-12 and crushed the Cougars in the Final Four to avenge its only lost of the season. Based on the preseason poll, the Pac-12 was the one conference that could potentially match the Big Ten for depth. Both conferences landed seven teams in the rankings to start the season.
By the end of the regular season the Pac-12 had six teams still in the coaches poll, but there was just one top-10 team (unanimous No. 1 Stanford) and one top-15 team (No. 14 Oregon). The Big Ten still had its seven ranked teams, but that included five in the top 10 and all seven in the top 20.
That's not anything that will ever show up on the stat sheet. It didn't last night, but you could see it was there when the Huskers had no margin for error after two sets. They'd been tested plenty, what was one more?
Saturday will be the last test of the season, and maybe the toughest one yet. Both teams are used to this stage, but one had a slightly tougher road to get there. Stanford went 3-0 against the Big Ten this season, beating Minnesota and Penn State in September and then Penn State again in the Regional Final. But Nebraska's past two months have been filled with those kind of games.
Will that be the difference? I can't wait to find out.
The Grab Bag
- More from Minneapolis: Game story, photos, quotes and Twitter reactions.
- It was a year ago yesterday that Adrian Martinez committed to Nebraska. We took a look back at the QB’s first year as a Husker.
- Greg Smith takes a look at Nebraska’s junior college recruiting, and offers a list of when commits are expected to sign next week.
- Derek Peterson evaluates Nebraska’s secondary.
Today’s Song of Today