In my latest schedule analysis, I take a look at the Nebraska Cornhuskers. What are going to be their toughest non-conference and conference games? Where is the schedule seemingly easiest, and then when does it get really rugged? Go ahead and guess which game I call their “must win” game, then read the rest of this post and see what I picked.
You can also read my previous schedule analysis posts – we’ve now done Illinois through Nebraska alphabetically. The rest come out in the coming days. And tell me what you think about the Huskers’ schedule in the comments section, or come tell me on Twitter and Facebook.
Toughest non-conference game: There isn’t a lot of heavy lifting. But if I have to pick one, it would be the trip to UCLA on Sept. 8. Yes, the Bruins won the Pac-12 South last year, but that was only because USC was on probation. UCLA finished 6-8, became the first team ever to play in a bowl with a losing record, and then lost to Illinois. The Bruins have a new coach in Jim Mora, Jr., who by-the-way hasn’t coached in the college ranks since—are you ready for this?–he was a G.A. at Washington in 1984.
Toughest Big Ten game: The Cornhuskers’ visit to Michigan State on Nov. 3 could be a de facto Legends Division title game. Nebraska mugged the Spartans like no other team in 2011, rationing Michigan State 187 yards (86 passing) in a 24-3 whipping. Good news for Nebraska: The Spartans will be coming off back-to-back games on the road at Michigan and at Wisconsin when the Huskers wade into East Lansing.
Who they don’t play: Illinois, Indiana, Purdue. The Cornhuskers somehow drew the short straw when it comes to cross-division foes, missing a chance to play arguably the three weakest teams in the Leaders Division for a second season in succession.
Easiest game: Bo Pelini should be able to clear the bench and fans should be able to head back to their tailgates by the third quarter when FCS Idaho State visits Lincoln on Sept. 22. Enjoy it while you can, Big Red: The Huskers open Big Ten play the next two weeks vs. Wisconsin and at Ohio State.
Rugged stretch: Nebraska’s aspirations to be an elite team will be tested during a five-game stretch from Sept. 29-Nov. 3. The Huskers open Big Ten play vs. Wisconsin and then travel to Ohio State and to Northwestern—which won in Lincoln last year. Nebraska then welcomes Michigan and travels to Michigan State. A 5-0 mark over the stretch would be incredible. A 4-1 mark may be more likely.
Best chance to be upset: The trip to Northwestern on Oct. 20 could be scary. Remember: The unranked Wildcats waltzed into Lincoln last fall and stunned the No. 10 Cornhuskers, 28-25, while playing with a backup quarterback in the second half. And Nebraska needed a late touchdown to even make it that close. Could Nebraska be shocked again against the always-well-coach Wildcats?
Best chance to pull an upset: When Nebraska treks to Ohio State on Oct. 6, it figures to be emotional game for Youngstown, Ohio, native Bo Pelini, who was a Buckeye free safety from 1987-90. Ohio State figures to be one of the top teams in the Big Ten and ultra-motivated to win games like this during a season in which it is ineligible to win the conference title or play in a bowl under first-year coach Urban Meyer.
Must win: Nebraska must topple Michigan when the Wolverines visit on Oct. 27. The Wolverines, who may be the favorite in the Legends Division, crushed the Cornhuskers last season, 45-17. Michigan out gained Nebraska, 418-260, with Taylor Martinez hitting just 9-of-23 passes for 122 yards, as the Huskers were outscored, 28-7, in the second half.
Bye week: Oct. 13. This comes at the halfway point—perfect. The Cornhuskers will have played six games, figuring to be no worse than 5-1 and possibly 6-0 as they prepare for a stretch run that could include a push for the Legends Division crown.
Sept. 1 Southern Miss*
Sept. 8 at UCLA*
Sept. 15 Arkansas State*
Sept. 22 Idaho State*
Sept. 29 Wisconsin#
Oct. 6 at Ohio State
Oct. 20 at Northwestern*
Oct. 27 Michigan#
Nov. 3 at Michigan State
Nov. 10 Penn State*
Nov. 17 Minnesota*
Nov. 23 at Iowa#
*Must win; #tossup
BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, and all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart. Send questions to his weekly mailbag, subscribe to his RSS feed, and check out his video Q&A.