For Nebraska football fans, it’s never too late to look ahead. Yes, we’re not even through the first month of baseball season (the Kansas City Royals are in first place in the AL Central?), but Nebraska fans are already looking at NU’s 2013 schedule and thinking about where the wins will be coming from.
So let’s hop on the bandwagon! As always, I break upcoming games into four categories. Better win, meaning Nebraska should win all of them. Should win, meaning Nebraska should win a majority of them. Might win, meaning Nebraska should lose a majority of them. And, finally, won’t win, meaning something pretty obvious.
I'll also give you a Fearless Forecast (which is a polite way of saying "wild guess" as we're still four months away from the season) as to the outcome of each game.
Given that Bob Devaney, the architect of championship Nebraska football and lovingly remembered as the “Bobfather,” came to Nebraska from Wyoming, it always seems fitting for Nebraska to be facing off against the Cowboys. Coming off a 4-8 season, Wyoming has 14 returning starters and looks to be more competitive in the re-tooled Mountain West conference.
But don’t look for Wyoming to be an upset challenge for Nebraska this season. Better win.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 41, Wyoming 17
Last year, Southern Mississippi was tipped by some people (including this dope) to be a sleeper upset risk for Nebraska’s season opener. Instead, the Golden Eagles went 0-for-2012 and will start the season with their third head coach in three years.
New head Eagle Todd Monken will have quite a rebuilding job on his hands, so look for Southern Mississippi to be another tune-up game for Nebraska. Better win.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 48, Southern Miss 13
Wondering if Nebraska’s new-look defense will resemble the Blackshirts of old in 2013? UCLA will provide the first acid test for Nebraska’s young defensive unit, after burning NU for 653 total yards in Pasadena en route to a 36-30 victory.
Running back Johnathan Franklin and tight end Joseph Fauria have moved on, but the Bruins will be returning dynamic quarterback Brett Hundley and an offense that can compete for a Pac-12 title. This game will provide the Children of the Corn an early idea of just how good Nebraska will be in 2013, but the home-field advantage should be enough for NU to get a little payback for last year. Might win.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 35, UCLA 31
The Jackrabbits make a return trip to Memorial Stadium, perhaps their last after the B1G announced an informal moratorium on scheduling FCS schools. And while Nebraska struggled with South Dakota State in 2010, a senior-led offense and an athletic defense should prove sufficient to win this contest comfortably. Better win.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 55, South Dakota State 10
Nebraska opens conference play in 2013 against Illinois, facing the Illini for the first time as conference members and previewing what will be an annual game as members of the new B1G West division next season.
The Illini are coming off a 2-10 season in 2012 and have a ways to go before being competitive for a bowl game, much less for a divisional title. After two years of opening conference play against Wisconsin, Nebraska finally gets a softer open. Better win.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 35, Illinois 13
With Ohio State ineligible to win the Leaders Division last year, Purdue became a trendy pick to rise up and claim a surprise berth in the B1G title game. With a 3-1 start that included a narrow loss to Notre Dame, the Boilermakers looked ready to start conference play and make good on those promises.
Unfortunately for Purdue, things didn’t go as well once B1G play started. Purdue lost its first five conference games, ultimately finishing at 3-5 in the B1G and 6-6 overall, before getting thrashed in the Heart of Dallas bowl by Oklahoma State, 58-14.
As Nebraska’s first road game, Purdue should give NU fans a chance to see how the team will fare on the road. But on paper, this still looks like a game Nebraska should win comfortably. Better win.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 38, Purdue 21
Under head coach Jerry Kill, Minnesota looks to improve year after year. Once Minnesota settled on moving MarQueis Gray from quarterback to wide receiver, the Gophers offense appeared to settle in and be more productive last season.
With back-to-back road trips after a five-game homestand to start the season, it wouldn’t be unthinkable for Minnesota to threaten an upset. But Nebraska should still have too much talent for the Gophers to compete for four quarters. Better win.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 45, Minnesota 28
Two years ago, Northwestern came to Lincoln and took advantage of a sloppy and uninspired Nebraska performance to deal a 28-25 upset of NU (sorry, Purples fans, but I mean Nebraska when I say “NU” there. Deal with it.)
Last year, Nebraska needed a miraculous comeback in Evanston, including a late Northwestern missed field goal and a performance from the traveling Children of the Corn loud enough to force the Purples quarterback to a silent count for NU to escape with a 29-28 victory.
So, even with a trip to the Big House looming, there should be no excuse for Nebraska not to be focused and ready when Northwestern arrives in Lincoln once again. Expect this to be a four-quarter contest. Should win.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 31, Northwestern 24
It takes eight games to get there, but this looks to be the game that will define Nebraska’s season. It is entirely possible (and, indeed predicted by one particularly smart and handsome analyst) that Nebraska will be undefeated coming into this game. And Michigan, led by redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner, could also very well be undefeated, setting up a match of likely top-five teams in Ann Arbor.
Nebraska’s last trip to the Big House didn’t go so well, with Michigan knocking NU off, 45-17. If the Blackshirts have made the progress head coach Bo Pelini hopes, combined with a much more potent offense, the game should be far more competitive. Still, knocking off the Wolverines in Michigan is a big ask. Might win.
Fearless Forecast: Michigan 42, Nebraska 35
Nebraska’s homecoming will be against a Michigan State squad that disappointed in 2012 after the graduation of quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Spartans will be returning 15 starters, and will be counting standout running back Le’Veon Bell amongst the graduated.
Combine that inexperience with an offensive structure that plays well into Nebraska’s defense, and the Spartans look to be a manageable opponent in Memorial Stadium. Should win.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 31, Michigan State 21
UPDATE: This slide has been modified to reflect the accurate number of returning starters for the Spartans, according to philsteele.com.
When Penn State was socked with unprecedented sanctions after the Jerry Sandusky affair, many thought the Nittany Lions would fall off the earth. Instead, under first-year coach Bill O’Brien, Penn State scrapped to a respectable 8-4 record.
While 2013 will likely be the first year that the scholarship limitations really start to bite Penn State’s depth, there is still a great deal of talent (including the nation’s highest-rated pocket-passing quarterback prospect in Christian Hackenberg) in Happy Valley.
Beaver Stadium is an imposing place to play, much more so than Michigan Stadium, even though both can hold over 100,000 fans. Combine that snake pit with a well-coached team that will play solid defense and minimize its mistakes, and this game could spell trouble for Nebraska. Might win.
Fearless Forecast: Penn State 20, Nebraska 17
The third annual Heroes Game will try once again to establish a true trophy-game rivalry between neighbors Nebraska and Iowa. The first two contests, both won by Nebraska, have been dour contests that made for bad spectacle.
This year, Iowa will be trying to pick up the pieces after a disastrous 4-8 campaign in 2012. Iowa’s recruiting class—rated No. 58 nationally and No. 10 in the B1G, according to 247Sports.com—does not suggest that the cavalry will be riding to the Hawkeyes’ rescue any time soon. Better win.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 21, Iowa 9
So here’s how the games break down using my semi-objective standard, and the expected results from those games:
Better Win: 7 (7-0)
Should Win: 2 (2-0)
Might Win: 3 (1-2)
Won’t Win: 0
So, that results in Nebraska ending the season at 10-2. If the Fearless Forecasts are right, however, that could mean Nebraska will miss out on a return trip to Indianapolis. Nebraska, in that scenario, would have two conference losses and a loss to Michigan. That means the Wolverines would win the division with two losses if tied atop the Legends Division with Nebraska. Even if you give Michigan a loss against Ohio State, it’s hard to see where two more conference losses for the Wolverines are on their schedule.
(Yes, Northwestern fans, I did just discount the possibility of the Purples winning the division. Deal with it.)
That would mean Nebraska would end the season with an identical 10-2 record to 2012 but would miss out on a chance at redemption in Indianapolis. Sorry, Nebraska fans, I know that’s a bit of a drag. But hey, the Royals are in first place in the AL Central!
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