Big Ten: Todd Monken

Schedule analysis: Nebraska

August, 7, 2013
8/07/13
3:00
PM ET
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

Crossover games

Oct. 5: Illinois
Oct. 12: At Purdue
Nov. 23: at Penn State

No plays

Ohio State
Wisconsin
Indiana

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.

More schedule analysis

Legends: Iowa | Michigan | Minnesota

Leaders: Purdue | Penn State | Illinois
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

Today's Take Two topic is inspired by Justin from Baltimore, who writes: Would you rather lose assistant coaches or star players? If you are Wisconsin, would you rather lose five assistant coaches and have Montee Ball return for his senior season or would rather have kept the staff intact and seen Ball go to the NFL? If you are MSU, would you rather lose Jerel Worthy to the NFL and keep Pat Narduzzi as defensive coordinator or would you rather have seen Worthy stay for his senior season but lose Narduzzi to Texas A&M?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

As a general rule, I'd rather have the Jimmys and the Joes rather than the guys doing the X's and the O's. For example, Oklahoma State lost a star offensive coordinator last year when Dana Holgorsen went to West Virginia (you know, the guy who rang up 70 points on Clemson in the Orange Bowl). What did the Cowboys do? They hired Todd Monken from the NFL and went on to win the Fiesta Bowl, mostly because they still had Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Great players make coaches look good. I think the situation may be a little different with Wisconsin, which is losing a whole lot on the offensive staff and a tremendous playcaller in Paul Chryst. There is almost certainly going to be an adjustment period there. Having Ball will ease that transition, though maybe not as much as having Russell Wilson at quarterback another year would have helped. While I really like Narduzzi and think he is ready to be a head coach, I think another defensive coordinator could step in and succeed with that talented Spartans group, especially if Worthy were still around. There are a lot of good coaches out there who haven't had the chance to work with great players. That's because great players are harder to find.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

Some excellent points, BB. I definitely agree that the players often make the coaches. But in Michigan State's case, I actually think it was more important to retain Narduzzi than Worthy. Although he likely will soon depart for a head-coaching job, Michigan State showed by retaining him that it's willing to pay top dollar and retain a top assistant coach. Ohio State is paying more for assistant coaches. Michigan is paying more for assistant coaches. Michigan State needs to keep up and, in my mind, passed an important test by retaining Narduzzi. The Spartans also have recruited extremely well on the defensive side and should have enough depth to survive the loss of Worthy. The difference between Narduzzi and Chryst was Chryst left for a head-coaching position, while Narduzzi would have made essentially a lateral move for more money. So I think Michigan State had the better situation in the end. Regarding Wisconsin, while it's never easy to replace so many assistants, especially guys like Chryst and offensive line coach Bob Bostad, you don't often get to have a Heisman Trophy finalist back in the fold. Wilson was gone no matter what, and the offensive line would have had some turnover no matter what, but losing Ball could have really set back the unit with the quarterback situation so cloudy. Although Chryst and the others do great work, Wisconsin is so entrenched in what it does offensively and how it develops certainly position groups, namely offensive line. Bret Bielema has made good assistant coach hires in the past, and Wisconsin fans need to have some faith his track record will continue this time.

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