Heading into their year in the Big Ten Conference (B1G), the Nebraska Cornhuskers already have conference title game appearance under their belt, as well as the best conference and division records in their first two years. The Huskers boast an overall conference record of 12-4, going 8-2 against division opponents.
Impressive as that may be, those four losses saw the Huskers give up 184 points, and were outscored by a combined 87 points during those games, which were losses to Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan and Northwestern. The game against Northwestern was the only one in which the Huskers lost by less than three touchdowns (28-25). And that doesn’t even include the B1G Championship game blowout to Wisconsin from last year, when the heralded Blackshirts gave up 70 points to an underachieving Badgers squad.
Luckily for the Cornhuskers, they will avoid both Wisconsin and Ohio State this year, which seemingly makes for a much easier conference schedule this time around. Both of those teams have basically dominated the Huskers, and if it were not for two ridiculous second-half comebacks, the Huskers would be 0-5 against these teams, compared to 2-3 as it currently stands. Without those two huge road blocks, Nebraska looks primed to continue their dominance in the Big Ten and find themselves atop the Legends Division at season’s end.
Here’s a game by game look at Nebraska’s season, as well as my predictions for how they will all go down.
October 5 vs. Illinois
This will be the last game of a five-game home stand to start the season, and Nebraska shouldn’t have too much trouble against the worst team in the conference from last season. The Illini were winless in conference play and only won two games all of last season, against powerhouses Western Michigan and Charleston Southern. 2013 doesn’t seem to be much better for the Illini, as they do return two-year starter Nate Scheelhaase, who threw for twice as many interceptions as touchdowns last season. Against a talented secondary such as Nebraska’s, I don’t imagine he’ll do much better.
October 12 at Purdue
The Husker’s first road game should prove to be an easy one for them against Purdue. The Boilermakers were less than impressive last year, going an even 6-6, and don’t seem to have made much of an improvement. Purdue Head coach Darrell Hazel has yet to decide on a starting quarterback, and that uncertainty will probably lead to a big game from Nebraska’s young defense, which looks to improve upon a lackluster season in 2012. Taylor Martinez and the rest of the Husker’s offense should also do some work on a Boilermaker defense that gave up over 30 points a game last season.
October 26 at Minnesota
Since joining the B1G, Nebraska has dominated Minnesota in both meetings between the schools, with Nebraska averaging 39.5 points in those games. Minnesota struggled last season, although they did improve on a dreadful 3-9 season from 2011. While Nebraska will probably have some defensive struggles with so few returning starters, Minnesota has been awful offensively under Coach Jerry Kill, and that should help the Blackshirts find their groove defensively. The Golden Gophers have a decent defense, which should be able to keep the Huskers’ scoring down, but Minnesota will be coming off games against Michigan and Northwestern, both likely losses, and it’ll be tough for them to bounce back against what should be an undefeated or one-loss Nebraska. The only problem I see for the Huskers would be overlooking this game for their anticipated matchup against an ever-improving Northwestern.
November 2 vs. Northwestern
Much like the last two meetings between these schools, this one is sure to be another thriller. Northwestern upset Nebraska in 2011 when the Huskers were the No. 10 ranked team in the country, in Lincoln, which is coincidentally the last time the Huskers lost at home. The Huskers have been unbeatable in Lincoln since, but that probably won’t mean much once the game starts. The Wildcats will bring their two-quarterback system into Lincoln in what is sure to be a great game. Dual-threat QB Kain Colter will no doubt be a challenge for the Blackshirts defense, and don’t expect the Huskers to keep him in check as they did last year, holding him to 41 yards of total offense in a 12-point fourth quarter comeback win. Look for running back/returner Venric Mark to also have a big game, as he ran for 118 yards, including an 80 yard TD run in last season’s matchup. If the Huskers can contain the Wildcats two big playmakers, they should be able to carry their winning momentum into their game in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines.
November 1 at Michigan
Michigan no longer has Denard Robinson to pick apart the Huskers defense, but they do have Devin Gardner, the highly touted quarterback who replaced Robinson after last year’s game in Lincoln. Along with Gardner, Michigan brings in arguably the best recruiting class this year and will certainly be ready to contend for a B1G Championship out of the Legends Division. The Huskers won 23-9 last season in one of their better performances of the season, albeit Robinson went down in the second quarter with an elbow injury, giving freshman Russell Bellomy the reigns at quarterback. He threw three interceptions on 3-of-16 passing for 38 yards. Barring another very unfortunate injury, the Wolverines will be much more prepared for Martinez and Co. as the game will probably have huge Legends Division implications. Although talented, Gardner is largely inexperienced and unproven as quarterback, and if the Huskers defense can keep him under wraps, the Huskers should head back to Lincoln ready to take on Michigan State.
November 16 vs. Michigan State
Nebraska has never lost to Michigan State in football, and I don’t think they’ll do it this year. As aforementioned several times, the Huskers are nearly unbeatable in Memorial Stadium, and Spartan quarterback Andrew Maxwell will bring a 52.5 completion percentage against a very strong defensive secondary. Michigan State also said goodbye to Le’Veon Bell, who rushed for 1,793 yards last season and 188 yards on 34 carries in the game against Nebraska. Michigan State has been known as of recently to exceed expectations leading into the season, as they did in 2010 and 2011, winning 11 games in both seasons, but I don’t see that magic continuing for a third time in four years. Martinez ran for over 200 yards and passed for 160 with four total touchdowns last year, but also threw three interceptions. If he limits the mistakes (as with the rest of the Huskers offense) Nebraska should be in a position to win the Legends division with a win against the Spartans.
November 23 at Penn State
Last year’s game against the Nittany Lions was the fourth time the Huskers overcame a double digit deficit in the second half to win the game. After being down 20-6 at halftime, Nebraska outscored Penn State 26-3 in the second half to win 32-23. The Penn St.-Nebraska matchup always proves to be a good one, and I expect them to give Nebraska everything they have in Happy Valley. Nebraska has been known to lose a game they shouldn’t the past few years, and I think this game with be tough, especially if Penn St. continues to get better throughout the season. The Lions had one of the country’s better defenses last season, and it should be a relatively low scoring game unless the Cornhuskers go off like they did in the second half of games last season.
November 29 vs. Iowa
I really don’t see too much trouble in this game. While Iowa has played two pretty decent games against the Huskers in their two years in the B1G, Nebraska should put the finishing touches on what should be a great season and put the Hawkeyes away at home. The Hawkeyes have three quarterbacks with absolutely no Division I experience, and that should play right into the Huskers game plan. I think it’ll probably be a blowout win for the Huskers, especially after the rough stretch of games against Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan St. and Penn St.
Overall, I see the Huskers losing one game, most likely to Northwestern or Michigan, because I think those two teams present the most problems for the Blackshirt defense. The Huskers offense should again be one of the country’s best, and I assume they’ll rack up a lot of points, helping them get their second division crown in three years in the Big Ten. Nebraska will likely edge out Northwestern and Michigan for the Legends title, and meet up with heavily favored Ohio State out of the Leaders division for the conference championship.
Prediction: 7-1, 1st place Legends Division