When Nebraska football fans look ahead to the upcoming season, they tend to look at the big games and dream about how Nebraska could win. The tricky part comes when trying to forecast upsets, games Nebraska should win but may fail to do so.
To be clear, I am considering an “upset” as a game where Nebraska is likely to be favored by most betting lines the week of the game. So, sure, guessing those lines is a bit of speculation this far out from the start of the regular season. But assuming I am right on the games Nebraska will be favorites in, here are where I see the most likely places NU could stumble in 2013.
After the Jerry Sandusky sanctions hit, many thought that Penn State would be a football ghost town for years to come. But head coach Bill O’Brien kept the Lions upright, guiding them to an amazing 8-4 campaign in 2012.
Next year, while the effects of the scholarship restrictions will start to bite at Penn State’s depth, the Lions still have a talented roster and the top-rated quarterback prospect in Christian Hackenberg headlining a surprisingly good 2013 recruiting class.
Plus, the game is in Happy Valley, one of the most intimidating atmospheres in college football. The game also falls at the end of a tough stretch for Nebraska, after games against Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State in consecutive weeks.
One particularly smart and handsome analyst has already picked Penn State to beat Nebraska. Given that NU will likely be favored in the contest, then, it makes sense to pick the trip to Pennsylvania as Nebraska’s most likely upset.
Wildcat fans will probably be upset to see the Purples included in this list at all. In Nebraska’s two seasons in the Big Ten, Northwestern is 1-1 against NU and holds a 57-54 advantage in aggregate score (sometimes, my soccer love just can’t be contained).
And we won't include the last time Nebraska played Northwestern, in the 2000 Alamo Bowl, because that would mess up the point I'm trying to make in this slide.
But the three-point loss in 2011 probably flattered Nebraska, given how well Northwestern played. And last year, Nebraska needed a near-miracle comeback to avoid an upset in Evanston. Given the talent returning, a legitimate case could be made that the Purples should be favored over Nebraska.
We know, however, that is extremely unlikely to happen. So if we assume that Nebraska will be favored against Northwestern, then it is not at all difficult to foresee the Purples pulling another upset in Memorial Stadium this year.
Last year, given Ohio State’s probation, Purdue was a trendy pick to win the Leaders Division and play for the B1G title. Things looked promising for the first four games, when the Boilermakers went 3-1, including a three-point loss on the road against Notre Dame.
But then the bottom fell out. Purdue lost five straight conference games, quickly eliminating itself from title consideration. Finishing at 6-6, Purdue squeaked in to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where the Boilermakers got eviscerated by Oklahoma State, 58-17.
For 2013, the Boilermakers have a new head coach in Darrell Hazell. And they have the talent of a team that came within a field goal of beating Notre Dame in South Bend and took Ohio State to overtime in the Horseshoe. Purdue also finished the season with three straight wins after its five-game swoon, demonstrating some resilience among the squad.
And don’t forget that Purdue will be Nebraska’s first road trip of the season, after five (!) consecutive home games. Nebraska will likely be a prohibitive favorite over Purdue, but if there is one shocking upset on the schedule for NU in 2013, it might be in West Lafayette.
When Nebraska joined the B1G, many thought that Iowa would become NU’s natural rival. The Nebraska-Iowa contest was slid into the day-after-Thanksgiving slot where Oklahoma and Colorado had resided, and the game got a name (the Heroes Game) and a trophy.
And while Iowa’s struggles in football have left the rivalry on simmer, the two Heroes Games so far have been far from blowouts. Nebraska has won both games, but they have been slugfests that were competitive going into the fourth quarter.
Absent something unexpected, Nebraska should be a double-digit favorite going into year three of the Heroes Game. But given how tight and defensive-minded the series has been, and Nebraska’s propensity to turn the ball over, an Iowa upset (and a kick-start to the Nebraska-Iowa rivalry) isn’t inconceivable.
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