Nebraska football fans saw their team re-enter the AP Top 25 Poll, suggesting that a dark-horse run at a national title is unlikely for NU. But BCS rankings could very well be crucial for Nebraska if it harbors hopes of a BCS at-large berth in the final year before the College Football Playoff.
So Nebraska’s BCS ranking is still very relevant, even if NU is not looking to make a national title run. Here are five teams that could help Nebraska’s metrics and boost its BCS rank and odds of an at-large berth.
If Nebraska doesn’t win the Big Ten title game, of course.
Nebraska’s sole blemish on its 2013 campaign is its 41-21 defeat by UCLA in September. The better UCLA plays as the season progresses, the “better” that loss will look in the eyes of both the computers and the pollsters as the final BCS rankings are calculated.
UCLA’s loss to Stanford this weekend did Nebraska no favors. But the Bruins have Oregon next week and are in pole position to win the Pac-12 South and play in the conference title game. So UCLA’s success could go a long way to propping up the strength of Nebraska’s schedule.
The Cowboys are 4-3 on the season after giving Nebraska a scare, falling 37-34 on the opening weekend. While Wyoming does have a win over Air Force on its resume, up till now the Cowboys are not doing Nebraska any strength-of-schedule favors with losses to Colorado State and (ouch) Texas State.
Still, Wyoming has nationally ranked Fresno State in Laramie later this season and is tied for the lead in the Mountain Division. A win over the Bulldogs and an appearance in the Mountain West title game would go a long way toward helping Wyoming become less of an albatross on Nebraska’s schedule.
Illinois was showing some signs of life after a dreadful 2012, including a convincing defeat of Cincinnati and a game 10-point loss to Washington. But conference play brought the Illini back to earth, with back-to-back losses at the hands of Nebraska and Wisconsin.
But next week, Illinois gets Michigan State in Champaign. If Illinois can knock off the Spartans, who are currently tied with Nebraska atop the Legends Division standings, the Illini can help clear the way for Nebraska to claim a division title and a trip to Indianapolis.
The Wolverines had been wobbling for a few weeks, needing nail-biting victories over Akron and Connecticut, before finally getting stung and losing a four-overtime thriller against Penn State in Happy Valley. Michigan is now 2-1 in conference play, meaning even a win over Nebraska on Nov. 9 would only give Big Blue a tiebreaker edge for the division.
Certainly, going to Ann Arbor is always going to be a tall order for Nebraska. But Michigan’s recent struggles suggest that the task may not be quite as daunting as it looked to some a few weeks ago.
Michigan will lead into its contest with Nebraska by traveling to East Lansing and facing in-state rival Michigan State in two weeks. If Michigan can take a bite out of Sparty before facing Nebraska, the extra conference loss for Michigan State will give Nebraska more breathing room as it vies for a division title.
Of course, the other side of the coin is true as well. If Michigan State takes out Big Blue in Spartan Stadium, Michigan will have two conference losses. Assuming Nebraska makes it through Minnesota, even a loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor would keep Nebraska above Michigan in the division standings.
That would set up a massive contest on Nov. 16 in Memorial Stadium, with the winner likely to be the Legends Division champion. Nebraska is 2-0 against Michigan State since joining the conference, and Nebraska fans would have to like their chances of the division-deciding game coming in Lincoln.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.