Nebraska football fans are thrilled knowing that the 2013 season is soon upon us. Every good politician running in the state has handed out a football schedule with his or her name on it (I've got one already!)
And fans will have gone through that schedule, game by game, and thought about how Nebraska will do in each contest. So let's walk through the schedule, with a technique I use to help make the analysis a little more objective.
I break games down into four categories: Better Win (meaning a win in every game), Should Win (meaning a win in a majority of games), Might Win (meaning a win in a minority of games) and Won't Win (meaning a win in none of the games).
I will also guess the final score of each game, thus giving me some wiggle room either way. Hey, I'm not particularly smart and handsome for nothing, you know.
Nebraska opens the 2013 campaign against a Wyoming team that is improving, and whose prowess throwing the ball might give an early indication in terms of how far the new-look Blackshirts have come in the offseason.
But between the disparity of talent and the Cowboys' lack of defensive prowess, Nebraska should come away with a high-scoring win.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 45, Wyoming 24
The Golden Eagles went 0-for-2012 last year, which led to the dismissal of one-year head coach Ellis Johnson. Todd Monken takes the reins for a squad that had an 18-year streak of winning seasons prior to 2012, meaning that Southern Miss should still have some talent on the roster.
The Golden Eagles also were the squad that handed Bill Callahan his first loss as head Husker, so there is at least institutional memory of success in Lincoln.
Having said that, asking Southern Miss to win in Memorial Stadium a year removed from 0-12 is likely a bridge too far.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 48, Southern Miss 17
The Bruins will come to Lincoln and face Nebraska's alternate uniforms for the year, but will also provide the first significant test for the Blackshirts until a mid-October trip to Ann Arbor. Gone are Jonathan Franklin and Joseph Fauria, but quarterback Brett Hundley will still test NU's defense.
Even though the game got an 11 a.m. kickoff, look for this to be an exciting and high-scoring affair that Nebraska shades thanks to home-field advantage.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 37, UCLA 33
"Well, that's no ordinary rabbit ... that's the most foul, cruel, bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on ... look, that rabbit's got a vicious streak a mile wide! It's a killer!"
- Tim the Enchanter, Monty Python and the Holy Grail
I'm fully aware that Monty Python references about the Jackrabbits are far from unique, but I'm willing to live with a bit of a stale gag for the chance to use the skit above. And yes, when the Jackrabbits came to Lincoln in 2010 they gave Nebraska all kinds of trouble before NU pulled away.
But that was with Taylor Martinez as a freshman, and before the development of offensive coordinator Tim Beck's schemes. There is no reason Nebraska should not win this game comfortably.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 55, South Dakota State 13
In its first two years in the Big Ten, Nebraska drew defending champion Wisconsin as its conference opener. In 2013, Nebraska exchanges Wisconsin for an Illinois squad that was worst in the conference last season. And NU gets the Illini at home.
Just a little bit of a difference.
While the Illini will mark a step up in quality of opponent from every previous 2013 opponent not named UCLA, this should still not be a game that is competitive in the fourth quarter.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 41, Illinois 21
Amazingly, Nebraska's first road trip doesn't come until mid-October, when NU hits the road to face Purdue.
And while the Boilermakers finished the 2012 season at 6-7 with an ugly loss to Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, don't forget that Purdue took Ohio State to overtime in Columbus (in a game the Boilers really should have won) and only lost by three to eventual national runner-up Notre Dame in South Bend.
Had Purdue pulled either (or both) of those upsets off, Nebraska fans might look at this game with a little more trepidation. On paper, Nebraska should have enough to win, but this game has sneaky upset potential.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 35, Purdue 24
After getting five straight home games, Nebraska gets back-to-back road contests (although with a bye week in between). Jerry Kill has been doing yeoman's work getting the Gophers back to respectability, and Minnesota does have one of the B1G's best tailbacks in Donnell Kirkwood.
But there's still an awfully big disparity in talent between the two teams, and Nebraska has had little difficulty in dispatching Goldie during its stay in the B1G. There's nothing to suggest that 2013 will change that dynamic.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 56, Minnesota 16
If it were any other team the week before Michigan, Nebraska fans would worry about a look-ahead trap game. But Northwestern has given Nebraska fits, knocking NU off at home in 2011 and nearly doing the job again last season. Northwestern may well win the game, but there should be no excuse for Nebraska not giving the Purples its full attention.
Perhaps this is the year Northwestern takes the step up, wins in Lincoln and puts together a season that establishes the Purples as a true contender in the B1G. But I still have to see it to believe it, particularly in Memorial Stadium.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 35, Northwestern 30
This game looks to be one of the biggest in Nebraska's history, possibly the most-hyped game in Bo Pelini's career. If everything goes according to form, Nebraska and Michigan should meet up undefeated, with potentially both in the top 10. It's a great opportunity for Pelini to finally get off the schneid, win a huge game with the nation watching and change the perception of himself and Nebraska nationally.
Unfortunately, much like with Northwestern, I'll have to see it to believe it. Devin Gardner looks to be the real deal, and if Michigan can get anything out of Fitz Toussaint then this game looks to be prime for another Nebraska disappointment.
Fearless Forecast: Michigan 31, Nebraska 27
The Spartans will likely come to Lincoln boasting the best defense in the B1G. Unfortunately for Michigan State, it will also be bringing an offense diminished from last year with the departure of Le'Veon Bell and that already does not match up well with Nebraska's defense.
Michigan State's best chance to knock off Nebraska may have come and gone last season thanks to Jamal Turner's late-game heroics. With Nebraska coming off a tough loss the week before, look for the home crowd to help NU right the ship—for a week, at least.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 24, Michigan State 17
Under Bo Pelini, Nebraska has yet to go through a season without dropping a game it otherwise shouldn't. In looking through the 2013 schedule, Nebraska's trip to Penn State looks like the most likely place where that upset could happen.
On paper, Nebraska has better talent than the Lions. The sanctions flowing from the Jerry Sandusky scandal should start to bite Penn State this season, leaving its roster thin.
And yet head coach Bill O'Brien has forged a tough and well-coached squad used to adversity. Combine that with what should be a raucous Beaver Stadium and Nebraska's propensity for turnovers, and this game looks to be where NU's title dreams go up in flames.
Fearless Forecast: Penn State 27, Nebraska 23
With the Heroes Game firmly ensconced in its spot on the day after Thanksgiving, the Nebraska-Iowa rivalry will have its chance to develop properly. Unfortunately, the 2013 version of the game could very well have lost a lot of luster.
Nebraska, coming off a disappointing loss to Penn State the week before, knows it will need to beat Iowa to have any chance at a return trip to Indianapolis. The last two Heroes Games have been dour, drab games with little excitement or movement. While Iowa is better than its 4-8 record last season indicates, there is little evidence to suggest that the 2013 installment of the Heroes Game should go any differently.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 23, Iowa 10
So, let's take a look at our final tally. According to the Fearless Forecast, Nebraska ends up at 10-2. If we look at the formula described in the introduction:
Better Win: Six (win all = six wins)
Should Win: Four (win a majority = three wins)
Might Win: Two (lose a majority = one win)
Won't Win: Zero
So, either way, Nebraska ends the season at 10-2, with a 6-2 conference record. Iowa and Minnesota do not have the talent to be legitimate division title contenders. Michigan State has the defense to win a conference, but I remain to be convinced about their offense.
Northwestern has the squad capable of winning the Legends Division, without question. But the schedule makers did the Purples no favors, giving them road games at Nebraska and Iowa and putting cross-divisional games against Ohio State and Wisconsin (in Madison, no less) on the calendar. That gauntlet looks too rough to call a division crown for Northwestern.
Which leaves Michigan and Nebraska to fight it out for a trip to Indianapolis. I already have Michigan beating Nebraska, which means the Wolverines will hold a tiebreaker over NU. So lets take a look at Michigan's schedule.
Of course, Michigan has to play Ohio State in a cross=divisional game, although it does get the Buckeyes in the Big House. Michigan also has to travel to Penn State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa, with Nebraska its only competitive conference game at home (other than Ohio State).
In addition to an Ohio State loss, Michigan would have to lose two more conference games for Nebraska to win the division. Losing one more game, and ending at 6-2, is certainly plausible. But I don't see two additional losses for the Wolverines with Devin Gardner at the helm.
So, sorry, Nebraska fans. Even with a softer schedule in 2013, I do not see Nebraska getting a shot to avenge its loss in the conference title game this season. A 10-2 record might be good enough, though, to earn Nebraska an at-large BCS berth. And at least Bo Pelini won't lose four games this season!
Or you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.