Big Ten football continues on Saturday afternoon as the Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-2) travel to Illinois to take on the Northwestern Huskies (6-1), with both teams looking to keep pace with the leaders in the Big Ten Legends division.
An unranked Northwestern squad walked into Lincoln last season and took down the Cornhuskers, 28-25, knocking off the then-No. 10 team in the country and giving Northwestern their first win against Top-10 competition in two years.
Nebraska was on a bye last week, while Northwestern is coming off of a 21-13 win on the road against Minnesota.
Here's everything you need to know heading into this key game for both teams heading into the second half of the season.
Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois
When: Saturday, October 20 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: BTN2GO
Betting Line: Nebraska (-4.5) via Vegas Insider
Key Storyline: Who Can Stay Alive for the Big Ten Championship Game?
While both Nebraska and Northwestern trail Iowa and Michigan in the Big Ten's Legends division, they both only have one loss in conference play.
Both squads have Iowa and Michigan still to come on their schedules, and a second loss in Big Ten play will all but assure them of being out of contention for the division lead by the time those games come up on their schedules.
Who Might Not Play for Nebraska (via USA Today)
RB Rex Burkhead (Knee): Questionable for Saturday
LB Zaire Anderson (Knee): Out for Season
WR Tyler Wullenwaber (Knee): Out for Season
WR Tim Marlowe (Collarbone): Out for Season
Who Might Not Play for Northwestern (via USA Today)
CB Demetrius Dugar (Undisclosed): Questionable for Saturday
DB Jimmy Hall (Undisclosed): Questionable for Saturday
S Hunter Bates (Undisclosed): Questionable for Saturday
LB Roderick Goodlow (Undisclosed): Out for Season
LB Ifeadi Odenigbo (Undisclosed): Out for Season
Both Nebraska and Northwestern were ranked in the AP Top 25 at one point this season, but currently find themselves on the outside looking in of every Top 25 poll.
While there's no immediate danger of falling out of the Top 25, the winner will move one step closer to improving their standing on the national stage while the loser will fall further into irrelevance.
What They're Saying
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald told reporters that when his team walked out of Lincoln last year with a victory over Nebraska, they were riding a wave of momentum that they got from a win over Indiana the week before, a game that ended a five-game losing streak for the Wildcats. (h/t Fox Sports)
Medline (@NicholasMedline) October 15, 2012
It remains to be seen whether a win over Minnesota last week, on the heels of a loss to Penn State, will provide the same momentum needed to fend off the Cornhuskers for a second straight season.
Nebraska Player to Watch: RB Ameer Abdullah
Whether Rex Burkhead plays or not, Ameer Abdullah is going to see plenty of action against a Northwestern defense that ranks 22nd against the run, allowing just under 105 yards rushing per game and a total of eight rushing touchdowns on the season.
Abdullah averages 184.33 total yards per game, fifth in the country. Abdullah's ability to run the ball, along with being able to give the Cornhuskers good field position when he's returning kickoffs and punts will be key to Nebraska being able to take down the Wildcats.
Northwestern Player to Watch: RB Venric Mark
Like Ameer Abdullah, Venric Mark ranks top five in the nation in all-purpose yardage, just ahead of his Cornhusker counterpart with 184.57 yards per game, good enough for fourth in the country.
With Nebraska's defense ranking 91st against the run, allowing more than 189 yards per game on the ground and nine touchdowns, Mark's ability to get going early will put the Wildcats in a position to win the battle for time of possession and keep the ball out of Abdullah's hands.
Prediction: Nebraska 27, Northwestern 24
This one is going to be a battle, with the lead changing hands multiple times as both defenses struggle to contain explosive playmakers on offense.
Nebraska has had nearly two weeks to prepare for the game, and that extra attention to detail gives them the edge they need to pull out the win on the road against a very tough Northwestern squad.
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