Andrew Maxwell, T.J. Jones

Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell (10) is hit by Notre Dame's T.J. Jones during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in East Lansing, Mich. Notre Dame won 20-3.

AP photo

Amid the hullabaloo in 2010 of Nebraska leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten, you heard little to no discussion of a trend that suddenly has everyone's attention.

Big Ten football is eroding. Has been for years. And you have to wonder if it ever will fully regain its national stature.

You wonder because of a population shift in our country — droves leaving the Midwest and Rust Belt for the Sun Belt region.

You wonder what Nebraska has gotten itself into, so far as football is concerned.

Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press, in addressing the Big Ten's struggles on the gridiron, pointed to electoral college shifts since 1980 and how they reflect population movement. Michigan lost 20 percent of its presidential electoral votes — from 21 to 16 — since 1980. Ohio has gone from 25 to 18, Pennsylvania from 27 to 20.

(Nebraska has five electoral votes — same as in 1980). 

Meanwhile, Florida jumped from 17 electoral votes in 1980 to 29 in 2012, while Texas moved from 26 to 38.

Those changes are bound to affect college football. It's self-evident. As population grows, the talent pool deepens.

Nebraska recruiting coordinator Ross Els is unsure how much of an impact, if any, the population shift has had on NU's recruiting. Keep in mind, the Huskers remain committed to recruiting nationally.

What's more "We try to get down South," Els said. "We've done well in Arizona. California has been pretty good to us. Texas has been good to us.

"But when we get into SEC country, I don't know ..."

His voice trails. Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee — those typically are very challenging places for Nebraska to recruit successfully, he said.

"It's hard because No. 1, there are some very good teams in that area," Els said. "But also, if you look at the state of Florida and where we are located, there are a ton of BCS schools that kids have to fly over to get to us."

Nebraska has a better chance for success in, say, Los Angeles. Granted, there also is stiff competition in that region: USC, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, Arizona, Arizona State. And a few more. After that — looking east from L.A. — NU's chief competition is Utah and Colorado, Els said.

There is at least one other football-related byproduct of the population shift: The greater the population, the greater level of public funding available for high school football programs.

In Texas, spring football "is the second most popular sport behind fall football," Els said. "It's unbelievable. You don't see a lot of dual-sport kids when you start getting down in the Texas area."

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has an acute understanding of the nation's population shift. His hometown, Youngstown, Ohio, had seven public high schools in the city limits while he was growing up. It now has two.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten this week has only one team ranked in the Associated Press top 15 — No. 14 Ohio State. That's it. Perhaps we should get used to it.

Thumbs up, down

Thumbs up to Fisher, the third-year Florida State coach. He has the Seminoles finally playing like they did during the program's glory years under Bobby Bowden. The talent this season is eye-popping on both sides of the ball — enough to challenge the likes of Alabama and LSU for all the marbles.

Thumbs down to Ohio State. The Dayton (Ohio) Daily News did a fascinating investigative report detailing OSU president E. Gordon Gee's lavish spending. Red flags went up all over the place, including the thousands OSU spends on Gee's signature bow ties. Perhaps most concerning is the university took nearly a year to respond to the Daily News' request for Gee's pertinent financial records.

Numbers crunch

0. Wisconsin's defense is one of three nationally that has yet to allow a run of 20 yards this season, along with Texas Tech and UConn. The Badgers rank third in the Big Ten and 13th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 80.8 yards per game.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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