Nebraska faces off with Minnesota this Saturday in a game that signals the end of the Big Ten gauntlet to which the Huskers were subjected. And lucky for the Big Red, their easier schedule will carry into next year, offering the returning Huskers another chance to achieve as much as, or more, than they have in 2012.
It was no secret that the Big Ten did Nebraska no favors upon entering the conference.
In addition to their annual cross-divisional game against Penn State, the Huskers were “randomly” assigned conference heavyweights Wisconsin and Ohio State for their other two games against the Leaders Division.
And now, through six games of their conference schedule, the Cornhuskers have emerged relatively unscathed after an absolutely brutal stretch. Despite playing Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Wisconsin in consecutive games, Nebraska has suffered just a single conference loss.
After taking on Minnesota this weekend, the Big Red will have played seven straight games against opponents at or above .500.
In fact, they will have matched up with every other team in the conference without a losing record. And reaching back into the non-conference slate increases this mark to nine out of ten consecutive games against at or above .500 teams.
While Husker fans would be the last ones to admit this, perhaps only registering two losses over that stretch is not so bad, all things considered. But the good news for Nebraska is that this is likely the last time for the foreseeable future that the Big Red will have to endure such a nightmarish Big Ten schedule.
In 2013, Nebraska’s marquee non-conference game will once again feature the UCLA Bruins. But this time around, Jim Mora’s boys will have to travel to Lincoln where the crowd will be almost entirely Husker fans, as opposed to the mere 50 percent of the Pasadena crowd adorned in red this September.
Yet the real difference in Nebraska’s schedule will be seen within Big Ten play.
While the Huskers endured the aforementioned bad luck of drawing cross-divisional matchups with the clear three best teams in the Leaders Division the past two years, Ohio State and Wisconsin will be replaced with Illinois and Purdue in 2013. To put that change in perspective, the Buckeyes and Badgers have combined for ten times the conference wins of the Illini and Boilermakers this year.
And this schedule change is not the only reason for optimism heading into 2013.
Aside from returning a four-year starter at quarterback in Taylor Martinez, the Big Red will return their top three receivers and every contributing running back outside of injury-riddled Rex Burkhead. With only two starters on the offensive line graduating, Nebraska’s offense, the best in the Big Ten in 2012, is poised for another big year in 2013.
Certainly, there is much work left to be done in 2012 as Nebraska competes for its first conference title in over a decade and its first Rose Bowl berth as a member of the Big Ten. While it is definitely early to begin looking to 2013, this weekend’s matchup with Minnesota undeniably begins a new chapter in Nebraska’s conference play.
The incredibly brutal and challenging stretch of the last six conference games is over. Although there will be difficult and trying games from time to time, the Huskers will no longer enter into a heavyweight bout every single Saturday.
Dotted into the schedule will now be matchups that tilt strongly in Nebraska’s favor. The Huskers can now enjoy games which they should dominate, instead of just games they should just win.
The Big Red have survived the Big Ten gauntlet and can now enjoy greener pastures as they take on weaker opponents, beginning with Minnesota.