Nebraska schedule analysis: Taking an early look at Huskers' 2015 slate

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska schedule analysis: Taking an early look at Huskers' 2015 slate

The Mike Riley era offers hope at Nebraska, hope for the program’s first conference title since 1999.

[ MORE: Get all of Tom Dienhart’s 2015 schedule analysis posts ]

The key will be the offense. Will the line come together? Is quarterback Tommy Armstrong a fit for Riley’s offense? Are there any playmakers at running back?

The Cornhuskers also must deal with a tough schedule that has nine bowl squads.

Have a look at my early schedule analysis.

Toughest non-conference game: at Miami (FL), Sept. 19. The season opener vs. BYU won’t be easy, as the Cougars have 17 starters back from an 8-5 squad that will be led by stud QB Taysom Hill. But let’s go with the Huskers’ trip to Miami (FL). The Hurricanes continue to look for consistency under Al Golden after going 6-7 last year. This will be Golden’s fifth season in Coral Gables and he has two consecutive bowl bids. Nebraska beat Miami last year in Lincoln. And the Huskers won their last time in Miami, taking a 24-17 win in the Orange Bowl after the 1994 season.

Toughest conference game: vs. Michigan State, Nov. 7. The Spartans will be one of the top teams in the nation. And they have won the last two meetings with Nebraska, including a 41-28 triumph in Lincoln in 2013.

Who they don’t play: The Cornhuskers miss Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Maryland and Indiana.

Easiest game: vs. South Alabama, Sept. 12. This one should be easy. Still, don’t overlook the Jaguars, who went to a bowl last season and always have some speed.

Rugged stretch: There is no daunting stretch. But let’s go with the back-to-back games vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 10 and at Minnesota on Oct. 17. Nebraska is 1-3 vs. the Badgers since joining the Big Ten. And the Huskers often have lost in spectacular fashion, falling 48-17 in Madison in 2011; 70-31 in the 2012 Big Ten title game; 59-24 last year in Madison. The Huskers have lost the last two games to the Golden Gophers, who had lost 16 in a row to Nebraska prior to this run of success.

Factoid: When BYU visits Lincoln on Sept. 5, it will mark the first time the Cougars and Cornhuskers will have met.

Best chance to be upset: at Rutgers, Nov. 14. Nebraska needs to be careful when it travels to the Scarlet Knights, who can be a tough out at home. Ask Michigan (lost) and Penn State (close win). And Kyle Flood has his program on the rise.

Best chance to pull an upset: at Minnesota, Oct. 17. If the offense is purring under QB Tommy Armstrong—and Minnesota’s attack continues to have issues passing the ball—Nebraska may be able to win in the Twin Cities vs. a rising Minnesota program that has knocked off the Huskers each of the last two seasons.

Must win: at Illinois, Oct. 3. If Nebraska wants any shot at contending in the West, it must open Big Ten play with a victory. Yes, the Fighting Illini have shown improvement under Tim Beckman. Still, the Cornhuskers need to dispatch a division foe that it has more talent than. Each road win is precious. Nebraska hasn’t lost to Illinois since 1924.

Bye week: Not ideal, as the bye week comes Nov. 21 after Nebraska will have played 11 games. The Huskers will be coming off a game at Rutgers and then will entertain Iowa in the season finale on Nov. 27. The Hawkeyes won the last time they visited Lincoln in 2013, taking a 38-17 verdict.

2015 Nebraska Schedule
Sept. 5 BYU
Sept. 12 South Alabama
Sept. 19 at Miami (FL)
Sept. 26 Southern Miss
Oct. 3 at Illinois
Oct. 10 Wisconsin
Oct. 17 at Minnesota
Oct. 24 Northwestern
Oct. 31 at Purdue
Nov. 7 Michigan State
Nov. 14 at Rutgers
Nov. 21 OFF
Nov. 27 Iowa

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About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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