- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Preseason practice is in full swing, and kickoff is just around the corner. To get you ready, we're analyzing every Big Ten team's complete 2013 schedule.
Next up: the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Nonconference opponents (with 2012 records)
Aug. 31: Wyoming (4-8)
Sept. 7: Southern Miss (0-12)
Sept. 14: UCLA (9-5)
Sept. 21: South Dakota State (9-4)
Legends division games
Oct. 26: at Minnesota
Nov. 2: Northwestern
Nov. 9: at Michigan
Nov. 16: Michigan State
Nov. 29: Iowa
Oct. 5: Illinois
Oct. 12: At Purdue
Nov. 23: at Penn State
Gut-check game: The Week 3 matchup against UCLA might provide the best and possibly only gauge on Bo Pelini's Huskers before the calendar flips to November. UCLA outlasted Nebraska in a shootout last year at the Rose Bowl, and Jim Mora's crew will test a young Nebraska defense in Memorial Stadium. The Huskers have been very good at home and likely need a big game from senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, who struggled with his passing last year in his California homecoming.
Trap game: Nebraska easily could be 6-0 when it makes the trip north to Minneapolis to face Jerry Kill's Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Huskers come off of an open week, which hasn't been a huge help for Big Ten squads in recent years, and face a Minnesota team that should be a lot better by the end of October, especially on offense. Although Nebraska's defining stretch awaits in November, the Huskers can't look past Minnesota on the road.
Snoozer: There are several options here, but I'm going with Southern Miss. The former midmajor power has fallen on tough times, going from 12 wins and a Conference USA championship in 2011 to 12 losses last year. Southern Miss dumped coach Ellis Johnson after just one season and hopes to turn things around under former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken. The Golden Eagles were picked to finish fifth in the East division of the new Conference USA. Maybe they provide a better test than FCS South Dakota State, or maybe not.
Noncon challenge: UCLA clearly is the pick here. The Bruins won the Pac-12 South division in Mora's first season and return dynamic quarterback Brett Hundley, who passed for 305 yards and four touchdowns against Nebraska in 2012. Hundley will look for Shaq Evans to spark the air game, while the defense should be solid up front despite the loss of first-round pick Datone Jones to the Green Bay Packers.
Telltale stretch: Nebraska’s season truly begins when November rolls around, as the Huskers face division tests against Northwestern (Nov. 2), Michigan (Nov. 9) and Michigan State (Nov. 16) before making the always difficult trip to Happy Valley (Nov. 23). They wrap up the month on Black Friday against Iowa, a team that could sneak up on people this year.
Analysis: The schedule sets up very well for a Nebraska team that needs time for its young defense to grow up and get comfortable. The Week 3 home showdown against UCLA could turn out to be the Huskers’ only real test in the first two months of the season, and no one should be surprised if Big Red enters November at 7-0 and ranked in the Top 10. Nebraska doesn’t play Leaders division frontrunners Ohio State and Wisconsin and gets two of its top division challengers (Northwestern and Michigan State) at home. The problem is Nebraska could be in for a reality check down the stretch as the competition level jumps significantly. After flopping in big games the past few years, the Huskers must deliver their best efforts in venues like Michigan Stadium and Beaver Stadium if they intend to return to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship.
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