For Nebraska football fans, the loss to Michigan State on Saturday may have felt like the end of the season. Sure, there are still two games to go plus a bowl game, but losing to the Spartans meant that Nebraska could not win the Legends Division and was guaranteed to extend its conference championship drought to 14 years.
So, in theory, it should be premature to declare an MVP for a team with two games left to play (three if you count the bowl game). But I-back Ameer Abdullah's performance this year has been so remarkable that it's safe to call this vote early even though all the precincts have yet to report.
Abdullah's raw numbers are good enough to make a case for MVP on their own.
Take a look at his production in 2013:
Abdullah is No. 6 nationally in rushing and leads the Big Ten in that category. He has been Nebraska's most dynamic and most dependable offensive weapon throughout the 2013 season.
And this year, Nebraska has needed that kind of a reliable weapon.
At the beginning of the campaign, most Nebraska fans were looking to senior quarterback Taylor Martinez to finish his career in style, but a toe injury hampered and eventually sidelined Martinez, forcing Nebraska to tap redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. to lead the offense.
Armstrong showed flashes of his ability, of course, but it is a lot to ask a redshirt freshman to come in midseason and take over the team. So it has been Abdullah who has carried the load, providing production and leadership for the Nebraska offense.
And boy, has Abdullah delivered.
Last week, he faced the nation's top-ranked rushing defense in Michigan State. Many national analysts (looking right at you, Desmond Howard) thought there was no way Abdullah would be able to crack the Spartans defense.
22 carries. 123 yards. 5.59 yards per carry. Crack.
Yes, Michigan State won the game on the back of five Nebraska turnovers, but that shouldn't conceal a stellar (and, to at least one former Heisman Trophy winner, surprising) performance by Abdullah against a salty defense.
Abdullah is also responsible for what was arguably the most important play of Nebraska's 2013 season.
On November 2, Nebraska was coming off the heels of an upset loss to Minnesota and had fallen behind Northwestern 21-7 at home. The wheels well and truly felt like they were falling off the Nebraska season, and Bo Pelini's position as head Husker had never looked more precarious.
Nebraska righted the ship, tying the game and looking for all the world like it would grind out a victory. But a late Armstrong interception gave the Purples incredible field position, which they converted to a field goal, giving them a 24-21 lead with 1:20 left in the game.
Of course, the Hail Mary from Ron Kellogg III to Jordan Westerkamp (for which I hope the nickname "RKIII to 1" sticks) won the game for Nebraska and will long be remembered as one of the most exciting plays in the history of Memorial Stadium.
But that play doesn't happen without one of the most remarkable plays authored by Abdullah.
After Northwestern took the lead, Nebraska started with the ball at its own 17. After getting one first down, Nebraska faced a fourth-and-15 at its own 24. Kellogg was forced to throw a checkdown pass to Abdullah, leaving him eight yards short of the line to gain with three Northwestern defenders to navigate.
Somehow, Abdullah managed to twist, squeeze and worm his way through those defenders for 16 yards, getting the first down and keeping Nebraska's hope for a miracle alive. Yes, the Westerkamp catch was amazing, but it doesn't happen without Abdullah's magic to keep that drive alive.
And the consequences of that drive failing would have been monumental for Nebraska. A loss to Northwestern would have put Nebraska at 5-3 and 2-2 in conference. Would Nebraska have had the confidence to go to Michigan the next week and hand head Wolverine Brady Hoke his first loss at home in 19 attempts?
We'll never know, but it's safe to say that it would have been far more difficult had Abdullah not gotten that amazing first down. And if Nebraska had lost at Michigan, coming home at 5-4 and 2-3 in conference to face Michigan State, this season (and Pelini's career path) would look a lot different.
There are two weeks left in Nebraska's regular season as NU plays for pride and the chance to play in a top-tier bowl. But there is very little that could happen in those two games to alter the perception that Abdullah has been Nebraska's MVP for 2013.
Stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
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