On paper, it would appear that the toughest part of Nebraska’s schedule is over and the Cornhuskers look like a lock to represent the Big Ten Conference in the Rose Bowl.
The problem is, as we all know, football games are not played on paper.
The Huskers still face three regular season hurdles before they actually get a shot to play for a trip to the Rose Bowl. One slip-up and Michigan regains the pole position in the Legends Division.
Heading into Saturday’s game against Penn State, Nebraska is favored by just over a touchdown. So far this year, Nebraska’s average margin of victory over BCS conference opponents is less than six points.
It’s always dangerous to compare scores and results against common opponents, but the fact of the matter is that Penn State beat the same Northwestern team by 11 that Nebraska beat by a point. The Nittany Lions then dropped a 12-point decision to an Ohio State squad that beat Nebraska by 25.
The Huskers should win, considering what they have to play for and the fact that the game is in Lincoln.
By no means, however, should a Nebraska win be considered a lock.
Bo Pelini’s squad will follow up the Penn State game with a visit from Minnesota. The Huskers will do themselves no favors by sleeping through this one, as Jerry Kill’s teams come ready to play. With wins over Syracuse and Purdue, not to mention a valiant effort against Northwestern under their belts, I’m not ready to rule out Minnesota as Nebraska's yearly bad loss under Pelini.
Nebraska will wrap up their regular season with a trip to Iowa City and Kinnick Stadium, a place where victories don’t come easy.
Iowa is in danger of missing out on bowl eligibility. The Nebraska game could either be a chance for the Hawkeyes to become bowl eligible or end up being their default bowl game. Either way, the black and gold-clad fans will be loud, rowdy and ready for part two of the Big Ten’s newest border war.
Should the Huskers navigate their minefield of a remaining schedule, they’ll earn a trip to Indianapolis where they’ll likely meet either a Wisconsin team out for revenge or an Indiana club with nothing to lose, looking to forge a new legacy at a school with little to celebrate in terms of success on the gridiron.
Part of me thinks that Nebraska fans would prefer Wisconsin, as the team would know what to expect and would likely take them more seriously than an upstart Indiana.
Any way you cut it, Nebraska is the odds-on favorite to represent the B1G in the Rose Bowl. Just don’t be surprised if they trip up somewhere on their way to Pasadena and find themselves in Orlando, Tampa or Jacksonville on New Year’s Day.