The Nebraska Cornhuskers are one of just four teams to have won nine or more games in each of the last four years, so put that in your pipe and smoke it haters. OK, that may be a bit strong of a statement, but it does put in to perspective how hard it is to be a consistent winner in college football.
On the flip side, Bo Pelini has failed to do something that every other one of the other three teams (Alabama, LSU and Oregon) have done in that time — win a conference championship. With the realignment of the Big Ten, some believe this could be Pelini’s best chance at winning that elusive conference title.
However, the road back to Indianapolis won’t be as easy as some believe it will be. There are potential pratfalls in the non-conference slate and all throughout Nebraska’s Big Ten slate.
Will the Huskers survive a challenging (perhaps the most challenging of any contender) schedule and make it two of three years in Indianapolis to end the Big Ten season?
Let’s take a look at Nebraska’s 2014 schedule and see how we predict it going down.
Aug. 30 – vs. Florida Atlantic: WIN
This was supposed to be brother vs. brother; the Pelini’s facing off. Instead, Carl got himself fired amid allegations of illicit drug use, and now it will be a former Badger assistant, Charlie Partridge, going up to Lincoln to take on the Huskers. There are some interesting parts for Partridge to work with, but the talent gap is just too much and Nebraska shouldn’t have any issues handling this opening matchup. Consider it a great way to break Tommy Armstrong in as the full-time starter.
Sept. 6 – vs. McNeese State: WIN
It’s a good thing the schedule makers gave Nebraska a relatively light load to start the non-conference season because what comes after this is anything but a cakewalk. That said, McNeese State finished last season 10-3 on the year and made it to the second round of the FCS playoffs. At least this won’t be a below .500 FCS opponent, but the gulf in talent is immeasurable and Nebraska wins another one in easy fashion.
Sept. 13 – at Fresno State: WIN
Going out to Fresno State is never easy, as the Bulldogs have been sneaky good at home throughout the years. Fortunately for Nebraska, they are catching this squad as they are in rebuilding mode. Fresno State’s defense is better than most will give it credit for in Big Ten country and it showed up on film at times last season, so don’t expect this game to be as easy as the first two. Still, I’d be shocked if Nebraska doesn’t come out as 2-3 touchdown winners at the very least.
Sept. 20 – vs. Miami (FL): WIN
In the mid-90’s this would’ve been the premier matchup on the college football calendar, but in 2014 this game is anything but a prime time game despite it’s television spotlight. Miami (FL) has some potential stars on it, but it hasn’t been a nationally relevant program for a long time. A matchup between Duke Johnson and Ameer Abdullah is one of the best running back battles we’re likely to see all non-conference season in college football. For me, this game comes down to three facts: Nebraska is at home, Nebraska has the stronger defense and Miami’s quarterback situation is an absolute mess. It all adds up to a close win for the Huskers and a 4-0 start to the season.
Sept. 27 – vs. Illinois: WIN
The Big Ten scheduling gods gave the Huskers a nice gift in scheduling the Illini to open up conference play this season. One quick look at what is around the corner and you’ll see why. However, the Huskers challenge after a win over Miami (FL) is to not overlook an Illini squad that has talent to do damage with their offense. Letting off the gas won’t win Nebraska this game, but knowing Bo Pelini, he won’t let that happen internally. No slip up here, but a much closer game than a lot of people see it — look for a 10 point win for the Huskers.
Oct. 4 – at Michigan State: LOSS
Michigan State finally got over the hump in 2013, winning the Big Ten and also the Rose Bowl. Now the question is can they take on everyone’s best shot. Getting the Huskers early in the Big Ten slate could be advantageous to the Spartans, especially with this game at home. These one-time Legends division foes know each other well and are actually very evenly matched in 2014. Arguably they have two of the best defenses in the Big Ten, so I look at offense to play a key role in who wins this one. The difference is an experienced and winning quarterback named Connor Cook. Look for Michigan State to pull this one out at home, but it will be a TD or less.
Oct. 18 – at Northwestern: WIN
I don’t know if you can call a game on the road to Northwestern a reprieve, especially if you are Nebraska and have played a few classics against the Wildcats since joining the Big Ten. Last season it took a memorable last-second Hail Mary for Nebraska to win at home, and it was the biggest margin of victory for either team (3 points) since the Huskers joined the conference. This season it could be an interesting battle with an improving Northwestern defense and a team that appears much healthier entering 2014. Yet, the Huskers seem to have the better of the talent pool overall and I believe this will be the first time a game is decided by seven points or more. Huskers win this by exactly seven points.
Oct. 25 – vs. Rutgers: WIN
Rutgers will have found out just how rough life will be in the Big Ten by the time this matchup happens, and that means it could be a bruised and battered bunch when it comes in to Lincoln the last week of October. Unless the Scarlet Knights see significant improvement from quarterback Gary Nova it’s unlikely that it’s coming away from this game victorious.
Nov. 1 – vs. Purdue: WIN
Nebraska needs this win, mainly because a win in this game gives it some momentum in to the final stretch run against the rest of the top of the Big Ten West. At home against one of the worst Big Ten teams we’ve seen in a while? Let’s just put it this way, if Nebraska can’t win this game Bo Pelini doesn’t deserve his job. Huskers by 20-plus if you ask me.
Nov. 15 – at Wisconsin: LOSS
These two teams have played some memorable Big Ten matchups and arguably are the best aligned to have a real rivalry with the Huskers going forward. In 2014, this late season matchup could have big time implications — dare we say it could be the difference between going to Indianapolis or not? The truth is, Wisconsin doesn’t lose big time football games at home very often and that’s exactly how I see this one going. Additionally, the difference between these two teams is that Wisconsin has the trustworthier quarterback entering the 2014 season. It will be a good matchup to say the least, and it is my early candidate for potential game of the year.
Nov. 22 – vs. Minnesota: WIN
If there is a team with a bigger upside in the Big Ten West than Minnesota, I’d like to see it. That being said, the Huskers will have revenge on their mind and a ticked off demeanor coming off a close loss to Wisconsin the week before. Nebraska’s ability to put pressure on the Badgers even after the loss hinges on winning this game — lose one it’s no problem, but lose two in a row and the Huskers run the risk of derailing a promising season all together. That being said, Minnesota isn’t at home and Nebraska aren’t going through the issues they dealt with heading in to the game last year. Look for Nebraska to win this one in impressive fashion.
Nov. 29 – at Iowa: WIN
The question surrounding this game is just how much it will matter in the big picture of the Big Ten. It could give one a chance to win the West division, but it could also mean nothing depending on what these two do against Wisconsin in previous weeks. I’m looking at this game meaning more for the Huskers, and despite Kinnick Stadium being a difficult place to play, it’s the Huskers defense that will make the difference in 2014.
Overall Record: 10-2
Big Ten Record: 6-2