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Power Ranking the Nebraska 2013 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

Patrick RungeCorrespondent IJune 17, 2013

Power Ranking the Nebraska 2013 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

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    Nebraska’s 2013 football schedule certainly looks to have its ups and downs. There are dates Nebraska fans will circle on the calendar as can’t-miss games and dates Nebraska fans will consider whether a weekend of yard work to build up brownie points with a spouse might be an option.

    So, in the service of creating harmony amongst Bleacher Report readers and their families, here is a power ranking of Nebraska’s 2013 season, from the easiest game to the most challenging.

    Note that, in deference to those who believe Nebraska fans are arrogant and entitled, there is no mention of a Big Ten title game or a bowl game on this list. You’re welcome.

No. 12: South Dakota State (Sept. 21, Lincoln, Neb.)

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    “Well, that's no ordinary rabbit …That's the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on! ... Look, that rabbit's got a vicious streak a mile wide! It's a killer! … He's got huge, sharp ... er... he can leap about … look at the bones!”

    —Tim the Enchanter, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Quotes from IMDB.com.

    One of the worst results of the B1G’s new policy against scheduling FCS schools is that I won’t be able to use the Monty Python bits when the South Dakota State Jackrabbits come to town. So I’ll have to get the most out of it while I can.

    And yes, I know that South Dakota State gave Nebraska a bit of a scare the last time the Jackrabbits visited Lincoln. But that was a less-experienced Bo Pelini at the helm and a freshman Taylor Martinez still learning the ropes. In 2013, this game should look much more like the Idaho State contest from last year.

No. 11: Southern Mississippi (Sept. 7, Lincoln, Neb.)

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    South Dakota State actually had a little bit of competition for the No. 12 spot in this list, surprisingly. The Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles are coming off an 0-12 season which saw first-year head coach Ellis Johnson get the sack.

    The Southern Miss athletic program is in such straits that the 2013 contest against Nebraska was moved from Hattiesburg, to New Orleans, to Kansas City and finally back to Lincoln in an attempt to increase the payday.

    New head coach Todd Monken will have his work cut out for him in rebuilding a Golden Eagles program that has fallen very far, very fast.

No. 10: Wyoming (Aug. 31, Lincoln, Neb.)

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    Yep, Nebraska’s three easiest games of the season are within its first four on the schedule. Gives you some idea of what the nonconference slate has worked out to be this season, although there is one big exception.

    Wyoming does have some offensive weapons, particularly quarterback Brett Smith, and does have the advantage of being the season opener against what looks to be a very inexperienced Nebraska defense. But given the talent disparity, Nebraska should still have enough to beat the Cowboys comfortably.

No. 9: Illinois (Oct. 5, Lincoln, Neb.)

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    Last year, new Illini head coach Tim Beckman came to town with a lot of bravado and upset a few people. His football team did not deliver in 2012, winning only one game against FBS competition. 

    While year two is likely to be better (mainly because, in all honesty, it would be difficult to be worse), it is still a big ask to expect much of a contest from Illinois in Nebraska’s conference home opener.

No. 8: Minnesota (Oct. 26, Minneapolis, Minn.)

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    I like Jerry Kill as a head coach quite a bit, and the Minnesota Golden Gophers have shown signs of life from time to time under his leadership. And Minnesota is improving its investment in football, most notably with the gorgeous new TCF Bank Stadium.

    But Minnesota football is a long, long way from its halcyon days of glory in the mid-20th century. And even though the Gophers are the second on a back-to-back road trip for Nebraska, the difference in talent should make this a comfortable Cornhuskers victory.

No. 7: Purdue (Oct. 12, West Lafayette, Ind.)

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    Last year, with Ohio State’s postseason ban, Purdue was a sexy pick as a sleeper to win the Leaders Division. Unfortunately, the Boilermakers couldn’t live up to their end of the bargain, losing their first five (!) conference games before rebounding and winning their last three.

    There is talent on the squad, though, as last year they only lost to Notre Dame by three and took Ohio State to overtime, both games being on the road.

    And Purdue will be Nebraska’s first road game after five consecutive home contests. One smart and particularly handsome analyst picked Purdue as an upset possibility for Nebraska next season, and a confluence of factors may make the game more challenging for NU.

No. 6: Iowa (Nov. 29, Lincoln, Neb.)

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    Since Nebraska’s entry to the B1G, the Heroes Game has been a blood-and-thunder contest, with the two teams slugging it out and making a tough (and kind of difficult to watch) contest.

    There is no reason to think the 2013 version should be any different. While Nebraska has a clear edge over Iowa in talent, history tells us this day-after-Thanksgiving affair will be a bruising, bare-knuckles and ultimately low-scoring affair.

No. 5: Michigan State (Nov. 16, Lincoln, Neb.)

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    It may seem counterintuitive to put Michigan State at No. 5, given how the Spartans had Nebraska all but beaten last year in East Lansing. But Michigan State has questions at quarterback and loses quite a bit of talent from its 2012 squad.

    Moreover, the type of offense that Michigan State runs does not match up well (from the Spartans’ perspective) against Nebraska’s style of defense. Plus, the game is in Lincoln, a significant advantage for Nebraska.

    So while Michigan State may be first in the list of truly contested games for Nebraska, it also looks to be the easiest of that set.

No. 4: UCLA (Sept. 14, Lincoln, Neb.)

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    Any criticism of Nebraska’s nonconference schedule should dissolve when looking at what the Bruins bring to Lincoln. Returning starter Brett Hundley at quarterback leads a UCLA offense that will be a stern test for Nebraska’s young Blackshirt squad. We are going to learn a lot about how successful Nebraska will be in 2013 from its performance against UCLA.

    Nebraska will be looking to avenge a 36-30 loss last year in Los Angeles. And the Bruins have lost some significant playmakers like tight end Joseph Fauria and running back Johnathan Franklin.

    Still, UCLA will be one of Nebraska’s sternest tests in 2013, and it will likely be the canary in the coal mine for next season’s success.

No. 3: Penn State (Nov. 23, State College, Pa.)

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    Putting Penn State at No. 3 may not make much sense, given that this dope already picked the Lions to be one of Nebraska’s two losses in 2013. If Penn State is going to beat Nebraska, shouldn’t the Lions be No. 2 on the list?

    Maybe. And the things working against Nebraska—a smart and disciplined team lead by a phenomenal coach, the most intimidating road atmosphere Nebraska will face in 2013 (yes, Michigan fans, worse than the Big House) and an NU squad prone to game-killing mistakes—remain in place.

    Winning in Beaver Stadium will be a huge task for Nebraska this year.

    But we are also in year two of the Sandusky sanctions against Penn State. Those sanctions will start to take their toll not necessarily on the Lions’ starting 11, but on their depth. And given that the game is in late November, that depth advantage for Nebraska could become dispositive.

No. 2: Northwestern (Nov. 2, Lincoln, Neb.)

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    Yes, Northwestern fans, you’re getting my respect, even if I won’t refer to the Purples as NU.

    The fact remains that Pat Fitzgerald might be doing the best coaching job in the B1G with what he has built at Northwestern. With Kain Colter returning, and apparently having his role under center more defined, Northwestern will bring a tough, smart and talented squad to Lincoln.

    And don’t forget, it’s a squad that knows how to win in Memorial Stadium, having knocked Nebraska off 28-25 in 2011.

    I do think that Nebraska should win against the Purples, given that the game is in Lincoln and I still can’t wrap my head around Northwestern winning two straight in Memorial Stadium. But Nebraska fans overlooking this game on the schedule do so at their own peril.

No. 1: Michigan (Nov. 9, Ann Arbor, Mich.)

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    What looks to be the game of the season for Nebraska is its return trip to Michigan Stadium in early November. Nebraska avenged an ugly 2011 loss to Michigan with a 23-9 win over the Wolverines last season. However, in that game, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke declined to turn the quarterback reins over to Devin Gardner after a second-quarter injury sidelined dynamic playmaker Denard Robinson.

    Inexplicably, Hoke left Gardner at wide receiver and turned to backup Russell Bellomy to complete the game. Bellomy did his best Joe Bauserman impersonation, the Wolverines gained only 44 yards while he was under center and Nebraska pulled away for a comfortable win.

    This year, the quarterback job is Gardner’s from day one, and his combination of athleticism and throwing ability make Michigan the team to beat in the (thankfully) final year of the Legends Division.

    If you’d like to contact Patrick, send an email to patrickrunge@gmail.com.

    Or, you could always...Follow @patrickrunge.

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