Commentary

Huskers look for perfect ending in Big 12

Updated: October 19, 2010, 5:35 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

The last official hurdle, if you will, in Nebraska's divorce from the Big 12 was cleared Friday. The university's regents approved a $9.25 million settlement to be withheld from the league's year-end payout to the school. Nebraska can reduce its departure penalty a bit if the Huskers football team makes a BCS bowl game. The good news for all involved in the breakup is the issue doesn't have to go to court.

There will be no financially-forced lingering beyond this strange, limbo year for the Huskers. Next year it's off to the Big Ten, and the book will be closed on Nebraska's 15 years in the Big 12 and a league affiliation with Kansas and Missouri that goes back more than a century to 1907, when the seeds of what became the Big Eight were planted.

So it seems a good time, as we're at the midway point in Big 12 volleyball season, to reflect on the degree to which Nebraska has owned the sport in league play in the Big 12 and in its predecessor, the Big Eight.

The No. 3-ranked Huskers, 17-1 and 9-0 with their only loss to No. 1 Florida, appear on their way again to winning or sharing the Big 12 title for the 12th time in 15 seasons. The closest thing they have to a competitor now is No. 11 Texas, 7-2 in league play, with losses to Texas A&M and Nebraska.

The closest thing they have to a competitor in the Big 12 is No. 11 Texas, which is 7-2 in league play with losses to Texas A&M and Nebraska.

Texas lost the Horns-Huskers meeting in Lincoln, Neb., 3-1 on Oct. 2. The rematch will be Oct. 27 at 9 p.m. ET, televised on ESPNU.

If this does end up being a perfect last Big 12 season for the Huskers -- it would be their fifth in this conference -- there couldn't be a more appropriate representation of the Big Red Godzilla that Nebraska has been in league volleyball play for more than three decades.

Nebraska's program began in 1975, with officially recognized Big Eight play beginning the next year. In the 20 seasons from 1976 until 1995 -- after which the Big 12 began -- the Huskers won the Big Eight regular-season volleyball title 19 times and the league tournament 17 times.

When the Big 12 formed, the league tournament was discarded, as coaches/school officials deemed it likely was more hindrance than help in increasing teams' chances to get NCAA tournament bids.

That was good news for most of the schools in the league that knew they had no more chance of beating Nebraska in a conference tourney than they did during the rest of the season, which is to say virtually no chance.

Against its fellow former Big Eight schools, Nebraska's record stands at 440-20. Yeah, take that in for a second.

Kansas has had the worst of it, losing all but one of 86 matches against the Huskers. And that "one" was not a victory but a 1977 tie when the teams only played two sets.

It's not much better for Missouri, which has lost 70 of 74 matches, with three victories and another of those odd 1977 ties. Kansas State is 3-81 against the Huskers. Iowa State is 1-77, with the lone victory coming last season from a Cyclones team coached by a former Nebraska player, Christy Johnson-Lynch.

What passes for "competitive" against the Huskers among the old Big Eight schools are the records of Colorado (7-48) and Oklahoma (6-73). Oklahoma State went 0-6 against Nebraska, all of those matches played between 1976-79, before the Cowgirls discontinued their volleyball program.

Of the four schools that merged with the Big Eight to form the Big 12, Texas -- which won the 1988 NCAA title -- has been the biggest challenge to Nebraska. The Longhorns are 17-30 against the Huskers, who had lost four in a row against Texas before "restoring order" with the Oct. 2 victory.

Texas A&M is 7-31. Texas Tech, which faces the Huskers for the first time this season Wednesday, is 1-32 against Nebraska. The lone victory was in the inaugural season of the Big 12 in 1996.

Then there's Baylor, which like Kansas, has never defeated Nebraska. That series record is 0-30.

Nebraska won the NCAA title in 1995, 2000 and 2006. The Huskers were NCAA runners-up in '86, '89 and '05. And they've been to the Final Five an additional five times.

For all the ways the move to the Big Ten will change things for Nebraska's entire athletic department, the effect in volleyball is among the most intriguing. Next season, the Huskers become the second volleyball "titan" in that league, joining four-time NCAA champ Penn State.

The Nittany Lions, who've won the last three NCAA titles, have been national runners-up three times and have one other Final Four trip. Penn State is the closest thing that Nebraska could find to itself in volleybal, away from the West Coast.

Add in that the Big Ten has five other schools that have made it to the Final Four: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan State. Other than Nebraska, Texas is the only Big 12 school to make it that far.

Thus, league competition should get noticeably tougher for Nebraska volleyball next year. The Huskers have never lost more than four conference matches in a season. They lost four times in 1997 and 2009.

So life in the Big Ten will be a little different for the faithful and enthusiastic Nebraska volleyball fan base. After all these years of dominance, that isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it will take some getting used to.

The weekend that was …

• Speaking of getting used to a new league, Colorado will have to do that, too, when it leaves the Big 12 for the Pac-10 next season. And that's especially daunting.

The perils of Pac-10 volleyball play were in full force again this weekend.

A week after UCLA toppled then-No. 1 Stanford, it was the Bruins turn to get upset. Friday, No. 10 UCLA rallied from down 2-0 to Arizona. But Saturday, they fell to Arizona State.

It was a monumental weekend for the Sun Devils. They beat No. 5 USC on Friday and UCLA the next day. The wins marked Arizona State's first over those powerhouse programs since 1995. The Sun Devils are now 8-11 overall and 3-4 in the league.

Meanwhile, No. 6 Cal swept No. 7 Washington, 3-0, setting up the Bears match at Stanford on Friday night as a showdown for first place in the conference.

• In men's soccer, No. 3 North Carolina and No. 20 South Carolina will meet Tuesday in Chapel Hill, N.C., and both come into that match after similar outcomes to their previous matches.

Friday, the Tar Heels salvaged a 1-1 tie at No. 18 Boston College. Saturday, the Gamecocks did the same against Central Florida.

Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.