Foolish readers. Did you think that surviving Monday night’s “foreign policy” debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (and missing Ndamukong Suh totally planting Jay Cutler) meant you were finally done with debates?
Think again! We are eight weeks into the college football season, and it is time for a certain particularly smart and handsome analyst to debate the question of whether Nebraska is a BCS contender or pretender with the most Formidable Opponent he could find.
So get your scorecards and your debate memes out, and let’s get started!
The B1G didn’t do Nebraska any favors in its first two years as a conference member, saddling NU with the toughest possible divisional crossover games. But, at this point in the season, Nebraska has gotten through what looks to be the most daunting part of its 2012 schedule. Nebraska has already faced the two-time defending conference champion, and gone on the road two weeks in a row to face offenses that presented bad matchups for NU.
That’s not to say, of course, that the remaining schedule for Nebraska is a cakewalk. Michigan will provide Nebraska’s biggest test next week, but having the game in Lincoln (and coming off an emotional win for the Wolverines the week before) is a big advantage for NU. Penn State and Minnesota look far better than expected, but both teams come to Lincoln. Michigan State and Iowa are Nebraska’s remaining road games, but both have offenses that match up better against Nebraska and both are struggling with sub-par seasons.
So, Nebraska’s schedule down the stretch could be a big factor in helping NU make a run at the B1G title and a BCS bowl appearance.
It has almost become cliché to say that Nebraska defenses under Bo Pelini can’t stop a mobile quarterback. Of course, after watching UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller run wild on the Blackshirts, you realize that it’s cliché for a reason.
But a funny thing happened last weekend. Kain Colter, a dual-threat quarterback who torched Nebraska in Lincoln a year ago, was bottled up by the Blackshirts. Fourteen carries for thirty five yards bottled up. Sure, Colter didn’t play quarterback the whole game. Sure, he isn’t the threat a guy like Miller—or Michigan’s Denard Robinson—is.
But there’s at least some signs of life in the Blackshirts, which means there are signs of life in Nebraska’s hopes to make it back to Pasadena.
Had the kick from Northwestern’s Jeff Budzien been a few feet to the left, Nebraska would be coming into the game against Michigan at 4-3, with two losses in the conference, and all but out of contention for a BCS bowl bid.
But the kick went wide right. Nebraska sits at 5-2, and can take command of the B1G Legends Division with a win against the Wolverines on Saturday. An appearance in a BCS bowl remains firmly within Nebraska’s control.
Against Northwestern, Nebraska had eight penalties for 62. That performance fits right in line with Nebraska this season, which has committed 45 penalties for 435 yards, averaging 62.1 penalty yards per game. That’s 85th in the country, in case you were wondering.
Nebraska also turned the ball over three times, twice on muffed punts and once on a Niles Paul-esque fumble from Kyler Reed. Nebraska has fumbled the ball 20 times in seven games, losing 13 of them. That’s an average of 2.86 fumbles per game, with 1.86 fumbles per game lost. The 13 lost fumbles are 124th in the FBS.
Just as a reminder, there are 124 teams in the FBS.
Regardless of whatever Nebraska has going for it, the sloppy execution we’ve seen this season is enough to keep Nebraska out of a BCS bowl.
Nebraska has been blessed with tremendous depth at running back. Ameer Abdullah has emerged as a legitimate first-tier running back, Braylon Heard has showed tremendous potential moving back from the defense, and Imani Cross has emerged as a change of pace threat as a true freshman.
But that shouldn’t diminish the importance of Rex Burkhead to the team. His power, elusiveness and leadership, as well as his experience, will be sorely missed if he is not able to return at full power. Without Burkhead, Nebraska’s path to the BCS becomes much more difficult.
On offense, Nebraska is blessed with an amazing collection of talent at the skill positions. But Nebraska’s offensive line has struggled with issues of depth and talent.
The defensive line has had similar struggles. Nebraska has been without a standout talent to emerge, and injuries have made the rotations even more challenging. While the lines on either side of the ball might be the least glamorous positions, if Nebraska cannot get improved performance in the trenches then a return to the BCS is a very difficult prospect.
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