The Nebraska Cornhuskers' 2013 football season is just more than a month away, and as the team prepares for preseason fall camp, fans must arm themselves emotionally with realistic expectations for the 2013 Huskers.
Yet this is no easy task. College football’s summer lull is a breeding ground for optimism and overconfidence.
So it is in every Cornhusker fan's best interest to take a step back before August 31st and calmly assess Nebraska’s chances.
But make no mistake, “realistic expectations” is no euphemism for pessimism, for the Huskers’ schedule is a friendly one, at least at first.
Until Nebraska’s November 9th date at Michigan, the Big Red will face only two FBS teams that finished last season with a winning record: UCLA and Northwestern.
And both will have to travel to Lincoln.
The Bruins will arrive without star running back Johnathan Franklin, who ripped the Blackshirts for 217 rushing yards a year ago, and the Huskers will undoubtedly have revenge on their mind.
Northwestern, on the other hand, will not surprise Nebraska as it did two years ago. After winning 10 games in 2012, the Wildcats are a known contender for the Legends Division title this time around. And as the Huskers’ first quality conference opponent of the season, Northwestern will receive their undivided attention.
How many regular season games will Nebraska win?
So, largely due to strength of schedule, Husker fans should expect at least a 7-1 start, with a good chance at 8-0 and a potential top-10 ranking heading into Ann Arbor.
But that's where it gets dicey.
Nebraska squares off with Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State in consecutive weeks in November.
Michigan will be a brutal test. Likely with a Big Ten Championship Game berth on the line, Nebraska must overcome its embarrassing visit to The Big House in 2011.
Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner, though very different than Denard Robinson, will also provide Michigan dual-threat talent in the backfield. The Big Red’s ability to contain Gardner could decide who represents the Legends Division in Indianapolis.
And although Michigan State and Penn State are very young, the Huskers have their own inexperience to deal with on defense. Nebraska should win both matchups. But if there is any hangover from a devastating loss or momentous victory in Ann Arbor, these two games could cause the Big Red trouble.
Tacking on a probable season-ending win against Iowa, Husker fans can realistically expect a 10-2 campaign.
Certainly, the possibility is there for 11-1 or even 12-0. After all, Nebraska will likely be favored in every game this fall except Michigan. But Bo Pelini must avoid the upset losses against mid-level conference and non-conference opponents typical of his time in Lincoln.
If he can, Nebraska’s season and BCS hopes will hinge on a November 9th matchup at Michigan.