You saw it rise out of the muck of a typical Big Ten slobberknocker.

It emerged slowly, and wobbled a little.

But an undeniable truth came to light Saturday night: Nebraska is the favorite to capture the Legends Division, if not the whole Big Ten ball of wax.

Say that slowly, Husker football fans. Savor it. Wallow in it, at least for the next week.

You may not feel much differently about your team after Nebraska's 23-9 triumph against 20th-ranked Michigan at Memorial Stadium.

But you no doubt feel differently about the Huskers' season.

"I don't buy into any of that crap," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said when asked about his team becoming the favorite to capture the Big Ten.

Yeah, say that slowly. Nebraska, the favorite to win the Big Ten. It's no longer a stretch. And you can bet even Bo would agree NU's situation on this fine Sunday is much better than the alternative. Lose to Michigan, and the chances to win the division would've become miniscule. The Huskers likely would've had to win out and have had the Wolverines lose three of their final four games.

So, yeah, Nebraska should feel much differently. Much better, if only because the discussion in Huskerland shifts from Pelini's job security to NU's chances to win its first league title since 1999.

One could argue that most of the heavy lifting is finished.

Nebraska (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) probably will be favored in each of its final four regular-season games (at Michigan State, Penn State, Minnesota, at Iowa).

Nebraska has the head-to-head tiebreaker over Michigan (5-3, 3-1), and the Wolverines still have that little showdown Nov. 24 at Ohio State to deal with.

Husker fans might not feel all that differently about their favorite team because NU did not exactly light the world on fire in defeating Michigan — which played without dynamic senior quarterback Denard Robinson for the entire second half.

The 6-foot, 197-pound Robinson reportedly aggravated a nerve injury in his right (throwing) arm with 3:51 left in the second quarter. His replacement, redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy, was a likelier threat to throw an interception than Robinson, and that's saying something.

Nebraska picked off three of Bellomy's passes, matching the Huskers' season total through seven games.

And Bellomy, unlike Robinson, wasn't a threat to take it to the house every time he had the ball. Bellomy, in fact, was hardly a threat at all.

Michigan had 89 rushing yards when Robinson left the game. It finished with 95.

Bellomy was 3-for-16 passing for 38 yards.

Still, if you're Nebraska, you take this victory and run with it. In fact, the Huskers may encounter a similar type of game next Saturday against offensively challenged Michigan State.

Don't get me wrong, Nebraska has plenty of work remaining to achieve its stated goal of winning the conference.

But the Huskers now can breathe much more easily. Even though they completed an impressive comeback last week at Northwestern, Pelini was getting heat from critics, some of it deserved.

Nebraska often has been sloppy (it had eight penalties for 104 yards Saturday). The Huskers have taken their fans on a wild ride. A defensive collapse against UCLA. A wild comeback win against Wisconsin. A team-wide collapse against Ohio State. The big rally last week.

And suddenly, Big Ten favorites.

What a country.

Hey, somebody has to be the favorite in this beleaguered Big Ten bunch.

Say this for Pelini's crew: It reflects its coach in that it has plenty of fight. The Huskers also seem to be improving, especially on defense.

Yeah, they earned those Blackshirts with back-to-back strong performances — first, in shutting down Northwestern's Kain Colter. And then in holding Michigan to 188 yards of total offense, just 52 in the second half.

Nebraska generally kept Robinson in check. He rushed 10 times for 46 yards, with a long run of 7 yards, and completed 6 of 11 passes for 55 yards.

"I'll take that," Pelini said.

Meanwhile, Nebraska junior quarterback Taylor Martinez was solid. His best work was the way he managed the offense's tempo — the Huskers continually changed their pace effectively to fit the situation.

You knew Nebraska's offense would be a strength this season. Now, the defense may be finding its stride.

"If you don't get better from game one to 12, you have bad coaches and a bad team," Husker defensive coordinator John Papuchis said.

Nebraska evidently is good enough to be regarded as the favorite to win the Big Ten — for now, at least. Whatever the case, the Huskers will take that discussion over the alternative.

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