After an early review of Nebraska’s 2012 non-conference schedule involving a potential pitfall thanks to a Sun Belt sand trap, it’s time to move along to the joys of conference play.
Some would call it hazing. However, wanting to retain as much of their original schedule as possible as the Big Ten seamlessly integrates Nebraska with a slate featuring Wisconsin and Ohio State during their first two years makes a strange amount of sense.
The least Jim Delaney could have done is not scheduled those games back-to-back. Facing Bucky and Brutus in consecutive weeks puts a potential 10-plus win total in 2012 in danger. There’s nothing the Huskers can do but grin and fight through it.
Bo Pelini and crew are getting one advantage in playing best of the Legends division in weeks one and two of conference play. The Badgers and Buckeyes both are experiencing a year with significant changes. As was the case last year, the odds seem good that Nebraska can at least split the games.
The Huskers seem primed to get some payback for last year’s trip to Madison. Unlike last year when they had a road game before playing in Madtown, Nebraska has lowly Idaho State to feast on before Cheese Head Nation enters Memorial Stadium.
This year, Brett Bielema fields a team with its greatest loss being leadership. This starts with former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, one of five Wisconsin assistants to depart.
Yes, the Badgers did call up another experienced quarterback from their farm system (a.k.a. the ACC), but the part of the reason Russell Wilson had a huge year in 2011 was because he was such a poised leader who merged perfectly into a stable team.
Danny O’Brien didn’t do much to attempt to keep the sinking U.S.S. Terrapin afloat last year. The Badgers also lost three very experienced linemen including center Peter Konz. Losing the man in the middle of the offensive line is one of the most significant factors in predicting whether or not a team’s record will drop from the year prior.
While Wisconsin will play at Oregon State in their second week, this will be their first 2012 road game in an appropriate Sea of Red out for blood.
This is a game that’s set up for Nebraska to tell its fans and the nation about itself.
Bo Pelini has the experienced team with a third-year quarterback and motivation from last year’s embarrassment. However, as we all recall, in the biggest revenge game of the Bo Pelini era (Texas 2010), Nebraska showed up flat as a pancake. Might Kirk, Lee and the rest of the College GameDay crew show up in Lincoln that day?
The following match up could be the launching point for either participant.
Ohio State opens with four winnable games at home, then heads to East Lansing to face a rebuilding Michigan State team. The Buckeyes aren’t nearly as green as Wisky, though. It was baptism by fire for a number of players, chiefly quarterback Braxton Miller.
New offensive coordinator Todd Herman shouldn’t have to deviate much from his straight-ahead running game from when he faced Nebraska as Iowa State’s coordinator in 2009-10, even though his line is as uncertain as Wisconsin.
Much like the Huskers’ tangle with the Badgers, this could be a game defined by leadership.
Who could forget last year’s tilt? Nebraska’s three touchdown comeback thanks to a key strip by Lavonte David followed by Taylor Martinez. Rex Burkhead gaining momentum on offense and Bo Pelini blitzing wide-eyed interim head coach Luke Fickell.
The real question is how much progress can Urban Meyer make between now and then? Probably a fair amount, and we all know he had opportunities to pick Pelini’s brain when Meyer spent time as an analyst last year. For what it’s worth, Meyer was 1-2 against LSU when Pelini was Les Miles’ defensive coordinator (both losses in Baton Rouge).
If the Big 10 had chosen a scheduling model similar to the SEC’s or ACC’s where every school plays one new opponent every year, Nebraska could be playing Purdue and a visit to Lucas Oil Stadium would seem far easier. Instead, fans will find out what kind of leadership this team has top to bottom in a hurry.