It's been a week filled with shame for fans of the Big Ten.
Nebraska—with an added boost from the return of star tailback Rex Burkhead—looks like the league’s best hope to reclaim some respect after a strong performance in a 73-7 drubbing of Idaho State.
While a blowout victory over an opponent from the Big Sky conference is hardly a feat worth celebrating, Burkhead’s performance (eight carries, 119 yards and two touchdowns in less than two quarters) is a sign that the ‘Huskers should be considered the favorite to come out of the Legends Division at season’s end.
That side of the bracket does have two of the league’s three unbeaten teams in Northwestern and Minnesota, but neither squad figures to be favored in a matchup against Bo Pelini’s club.
Preseason favorites Michigan and Michigan State may be still be formidable. The ‘Huskers, however, appear to have fewer glaring weaknesses than both the Wolverines and the Spartans.
Mark Dantonio’s team has the best defense in the league, but its offense was woeful in last week’s loss to Notre Dame. The Spartans did not look much better in this week’s 23-7 lackluster victory over Eastern Michigan.
Alabama exposed Michigan’s deficiencies in the trenches on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Nebraska’s talent and experience on both the sides of the line should give them a decided advantage against the Wolverines.
With Ohio State ineligible for postseason play, the Leaders Division winner figures to be a decided underdog for the Big Ten title.
That said, Nebraska has its share of flaws too, most of which were exposed in a 36-30 loss at UCLA on Sept. 8.
However, Burkhead missed that game with a sprained MCL and quarterback Taylor Martinez struggled to find a passing rhythm against the Bruins.
With Burkhead back, along with emerging skill players such as sophomore running back Ameer Abdullah and sophomore receiver Kenny Bell, the Husker’s offense may have the most formidable all-around attack in the division.
While Nebraska’s defense remains a work in progress, Pelini is one of the better defensive minds in the country. That fact lends credence to the theory that the Blackshirts will improve as the season moves forward.
The early setback to UCLA may have dampened the spirits in Lincoln temporarily, but the ‘Huskers are clearly a different team—one capable of capturing its first Big Ten title—with a healthy Burkhead in its lineup.