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The Voice: Big game brings spotlight back to Madison

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgIt is a new era of Big Ten football, and why not start with this week's version of "The Game of the Century?" You thought last year's tussle with Ohio State was big? When it comes to hype, this Saturday night's conference opener with Nebraska might be even bigger.

Beyond the obvious of this being the Cornhuskers' first Big Ten game, the matchup also marks the first time since Nov. 24, 1962 that a game at Camp Randall Stadium featured two teams ranked in the top 10. On that day nearly 50 years ago, No. 3 Wisconsin beat No. 5 Minnesota, 14-9.

That was a few years before Chris, Lee, Kirk, Desmond, David and Erin started doing College GameDay. (I think that is the full roster, not including reporters such as Tom Rinaldi. If I left out anyone, I apologize to the good folks at ESPN)

This weekend also marks the beginning of divisional play, with the Badgers as part of the Leaders Division. Here is a simple formula to remember how the Big Ten is divided -- schools starting with the letter "M," and "N" along with Iowa -- are in the Legends Division. Everyone else is in the Leaders Division.

Divisional play also changes the tiebreaker system, making a game within the division more important. For instance, say Wisconsin, Penn State and Illinois finished tied for first in the Leaders Division, and against each other, every team is 1-1. The next step in the tiebreaker is a team's record within the rest of the division. With this in mind, the games against Ohio State, Purdue and Indiana carry more weight than a game against a Legends Division team.

Yeah, I know, this week's game is really huge anyway, regardless of the fact that the Badgers and the Huskers play in opposite divisions.

The atmosphere should be electric, and earlier this week head coach Bret Bielema urged fans, especially the students, to be in the stadium and ready to roll for the opening kickoff.

Which leads to perhaps the question of the week -- how many Nebraska fans will get a ticket?  Who knows, but word is we will be able to tell the difference between the Cardinal and White and the Big Red.

Seems folks from Nebraska will be wearing black shirts. Why black shirts?  That is symbolic of the Blackshirts nickname for the Cornhuskers defense. This goes back to the early 1960s, when then-coach Bob Devaney wanted to distinguish the defensive starters in practice.

Barry Alvarez knows firsthand about the Blackshirts. He can tell you all about it. He also can tell you about that 25-yard interception return against Wisconsin when the Huskers beat the Badgers in Madison.

Anytime there is video of that play, the Hall of Fame coach catches a ton of grief. In a nutshell, I will say nobody questioned Barry's toughness, but he was not exactly a sprinter. As the old line goes, Barry picked off the pass in 1966 -- and the play ended in 1967.

No doubt that story will be told many more times this week, and that is part of what makes college football so much fun.

So do spotlight games, and Big Game America returns to Madison, Wisconsin, this Saturday as the 116th season of Big Ten football gets underway.

It is a ticket worth saving, don't you think?