LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Will Compton has been with Bo Pelini for all the ups and downs within the Nebraska football program the past five years, and no one in the Cornhuskers' camp wants a Big Ten championship more than the middle linebacker from Bonne Terre, Mo.
Compton, like his teammates, says all he's concerned with is Friday's game at Iowa (4-7, 2-5 Big Ten). But Compton and his teammates see the big picture.
A win secures the 17th-ranked Huskers' spot in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin and a chance to play for the school's first conference championship since 1999. A loss would leave the Huskers (10-2, 6-1) needing Ohio State to beat Michigan on Saturday in order to play in Indianapolis on Dec. 1.
For Compton, if there is to be a satisfying close to his college career, there is no alternative but to win a championship.
"Without a doubt," he said. "I've never won a championship, even in high school or anything like that. Especially the seniors, we want to get this one. We've went through so much together. It would be a disappointment if we didn't win out and get ourselves a championship."
Compton arguably is more heavily invested than any of the 29 seniors.
He originally pledged to play for former coach Bill Callahan. When Callahan was fired, Compton gave second looks to Missouri, Illinois and Notre Dame. Finally, he came around to putting his faith in Nebraska's first-time head coach.
Compton was a starter along with Ndamukong Suh on one of the nation's best defenses in 2009. He came close to winning Big 12 championships in 2009-10.
Last year the defense was average, at best, and there were blowout losses at Wisconsin and Michigan, a stunning defeat at home to Northwestern and a bad loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
This year didn't start any better, with lopsided losses at UCLA and Ohio State. But now the Huskers have won five straight, coming from behind in the second half to post four of their six Big Ten wins, and the defense has steadily gotten better.
"I never want to sit there and say this is 'my' defense," Compton said. "We have a lot of great senior leadership. Right from the get-go in the offseason, myself and a few guys took the reins and did what we needed to do this offseason to set ourselves up for the position we're in now. We have to carry it out. We have to win out."
Compton is playing the best football of his career this season. His 93 tackles lead the team. He has three sacks, three other tackles for loss, seven pass breakups and three fumble recoveries.
"He means everything to our defense," safety Justin Blatchford said. "He has to know what he has to do, but he has to know what everyone else has to do. He's really a leader and shows just great passion to the game and puts in so much time in the film room and out on the field."
Pelini said, "I think he has played well all year, he really has. I think that we have a lot of contributors at the linebacker position. Will has been the center of it."
For that, Pelini can thank Kathy Compton, Will's mom.
Compton started considering other options after Callahan was fired. He took a shine to Illinois because the Illini were coming off a Rose Bowl appearance, and Missouri had just gone to the Big 12 championship game for the first time. Notre Dame had tradition.
"I remember telling my mom that I wasn't coming here that year and she started crying," Compton said. "She really liked the staff, coach Bo and everybody here and she thought I was making a mistake."
As if his mom's efforts to persuade him weren't enough, four Nebraska assistants visited Compton to make a last-ditch effort to keep him.
"We had a great night and once they walked out I just said I didn't know what I was thinking in the first place and I said that Nebraska is where I definitely want to go," he said.
Compton received his degree in business administration last December, and he said he'll treasure memories of the fans, the Tunnel Walk, Pelini's pregame speeches and the good times with his teammates.
Playing for a Big Ten title would be something else he could take with him if the Huskers can lock up a trip to Indianapolis.
"We're in a position to do a few different things that haven't been done here in quite a while," he said. "We're all aware of that, but we have to stay locked in."