Friday, May 20, 2011
2011 schedule analysis: Nebraska
By ESPN.com staff
My team-by-team breakdown of each Big Ten schedule continues with the league's newest member, the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)
Sept. 3: Tennessee-Chattanooga (6-5)
Sept. 10: Fresno State (8-5)
Sept. 17: Washington (7-6)
Sept. 24: Wyoming (3-9)
Legends division games
Oct. 22: at Minnesota
Oct. 29: Michigan State
Nov. 5: Northwestern
Nov. 19: at Michigan
Nov. 25: Iowa
Oct. 1: at Wisconsin
Oct. 8: Ohio State
Nov. 12: at Penn State (protected)
Gut-check game: At Wisconsin. Nebraska's first Big Ten game as a league member will provide an excellent gauge for the program. The Huskers face a Wisconsin team that boasts a 43-4 mark at Camp Randall Stadium under coach Bret Bielema. Camp Randall will be electric at night, and both teams likely will enter the game at 4-0. Wisconsin doesn't resemble many of the Big 12 teams Nebraska faced, so the Huskers will need a polished effort with few mistakes to come away with a win.
Trap game: At Minnesota. The Huskers will be coming off of a bye week, which can lead to a lackluster performance. Also, Nebraska will enter a tough closing stretch after the Minnesota game. The Gophers likely will be pegged to finish at the bottom of the Legends division, and while Bo Pelini will try to keep his troops focused, there's always a chance they overlook this game.
Snoozer: At Wyoming. It's between the Wyoming game and the Tennessee-Chattanooga contest, but at least Chattanooga is the season opener and we'll finally get a look at Nebraska's new offense under coordinator Tim Beck. I can't get too excited about Nebraska's trip to Laramie to face a Cowboys team that went 3-9 last year and had some ugly losses (Utah, TCU, Boise State and Texas).
Non-con challenge: Washington. Pelini will have his players geared up after the Holiday Bowl debacle, and Nebraska should be on its game in Lincoln. But Washington still likely poses a bigger threat than Fresno State, although Pat Hill's crew loves upsetting teams from power conferences. Washington loses Jake Locker but returns eight starters on a defense that shut down Nebraska in San Diego. The Blackshirts also must contain talented Huskies running back Chris Polk.
Key stretch: The Wisconsin and Ohio State games will garner most of the attention, but Nebraska's more important stretch begins in late October and early November. Nebraska plays all five of its Legends division opponents in the final six games, beginning with the trip to Minnesota. The final five games really stand out as Nebraska hosts division title contenders Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa and travels to both Michigan and Penn State. There are no gimmes down the stretch for Pelini's crew.
Analysis: Nebraska has the Big Ten's toughest overall schedule when you factor in the crossover games and the no-plays. The Huskers face the three traditional powers in the Leaders division and miss Illinois, Purdue and Indiana. But here's the good news for the Huskers: they play three top division opponents at Memorial Stadium. Although they don't want to start 0-2 in league play, Nebraska could survive if it sweeps its division schedule. The games against Wisconsin and Ohio State should prepare Nebraska for what to expect in its new league, and no matter what happens, the season likely will come down to those final five games.
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