Nebraska vs Northwestern: Huskers Leap into B1G Title Race with Comeback Victory

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistOctober 20, 2012

Oct 20, 2012; Evanston, IL, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez (3) scrambles during the fourth quarter against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field.  Nebraska won 29-28. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

It may not take very long for the Nebraska Cornhuskers to claim their first ever Big Ten championship. After an impressive come-from-behind win over the Northwestern Wildcats, they are right in the thick of the race in a year that seems to be wide-open.

The Huskers showed an incredible amount of resolve in coming back to beat the Wildcats. Down 28-16 with just over eight minutes left in the game, it would have been easy to fold and call it a day, but the Huskers came up with the two touchdowns they needed, thanks to some outstanding play from Taylor Martinez.

This game was the kind that can go on to define a season. Had the Huskers lost, they would have been looking at a 1-2 mark in conference play and would have put Michigan and Iowa in complete control of the Legends Division.

However, with the win, Nebraska's destiny is now firmly in their hands. They will ultimately decide whether or not they will be making an appearance in the Big Ten Championship game.

With Ohio State ineligible and a lack of any truly elite teams, the Big Ten conference is more wide-open then ever before. The Cornhuskers are now in the perfect position to take advantage of that.


Best Offense in the Conference

The Cornhuskers may have had their difficulties on defense this season, especially in their two losses to UCLA and Ohio State, but the offense has been spectacular.

The Cornhuskers rank first in the conference in rushing (292 yards per game), total offense (507.3) and scoring offense (43.7 points per game). In essence, the Cornhuskers only "weakness" on offense would be the passing game.

Given Martinez's "27-of-39 for 342 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions performance" against the Wildcats, it's safe to say that Nebraska can throw the ball when it has to.

Across the conference, there are plenty of serviceable defenses. That would explain the prevalence of low-scoring games such as Michigan's 12-10 victory over Michigan this week. However, there are few offenses in the conference that can put up points like the Huskers have all season.


Best Quarterback in the Conference

When it comes down to it, the team with the better quarterback usually wins.

No quarterback has been as good, or meant more to his team, than Martinez has for Nebraska this season.

T-Magic has taken care of business on the ground and through the air. In the past, Martinez has been criticized for his ability to throw the ball, but his numbers have been above reproach this year.

Martinez is connecting on 66.4 percent of his passes and leads the Big Ten in passer rating with a highly efficient 161.32. After completing a mere 56 percent of his passes last season, the improvement he has made in his third season as a starter has been unbelievable.

On the ground, Martinez has been just as effective as always. With 338 yards and five touchdowns on the season, defenses still have to account for Martinez on every play, or he will make them pay.

As previously discussed, Nebraska's offense has been a juggernaut this season. It's Martinez's dual-threat ability that really makes this offense go and should be the key in every Cornhusker game from this point on.


The Schedule Lines Up

Perhaps, the most important reward for beating Northwestern is that Nebraska now completely controls its future.

A look at the current state of the Legends Division and it's plain to see that the division is down to a two-horse race. Michigan sits at 3-0 in conference play after its thrilling 12-10 win over Michigan State, but Nebraska gets the opportunity to close the gap with the Wolverines when the two teams play next week at home.

From what we've seen from these teams, this could wind up being a de facto Legends championship game. If they can beat the Wolverines at home, they'll be favored in every single game from that point on.

Michigan, on the other hand, will still have to travel to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes at the end of the season, a matchup that saw the Huskers get walloped 63-38.

After the Huskers put away a very game Northwestern team, it's clear that they've put the debacle against Ohio State behind them. After a comeback win against a Top 25-ranked team, the Big Ten may have an elite team after all.

The Cornhuskers have the look of a team determined to make a trip to Pasadena at the end of the season.