Nebraska Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions
Nebraska football fans know that the season is now achingly close. Fall camp is just about finished, and fans throughout the state have been anxiously reviewing Nebraska’s schedule to imagine how the 2014 campaign will unfold.
So now that we’re just about ready to kick a football in anger, let’s take one final game-by-game look to see how Nebraska’s 2014 season will unfold.
Aug. 30: Florida Atlantic
When this game was first put on the schedule, it looked to be a reunion of the brothers Pelini. But with Carl losing his job as head coach of the Owls and Bo potentially losing his job after his post-Iowa meltdown, there was a chance that neither Pelini would be prowling the sidelines on Aug. 30.
As we know, Bo survived, but Carl did not. Given that the Owls are breaking in a new coach and there's a pretty significant talent gap separating them from Nebraska, the Cornhuskes' 2014 lid-lifter should be comfortable.
Prediction: Nebraska 42, Florida Atlantic 13 (1-0 overall, 0-0 in conference)
Sept. 6: McNeese State
An Football Championship Subdivision opponent for Nebraska looks to be a thing of the past, with the Big Ten going to a nine-game conference schedule, a B1G decision to remove FCS opponents and a strength-of-schedule component to the new College Football Playoff selection committee.
The Cowboys may very well be the last FCS opponent to make the paycheck-driven trip to Lincoln.
McNeese State did upset South Florida 53-21 last year in Tampa, so the Cowboys could be dangerous if not taken seriously.
However, Nebraska is better than South Florida, both in terms of talent and coaching. An upset here would be a stunner.
Prediction: Nebraska 56, McNeese State 10 (2-0 overall, 0-0 in conference)
Sept. 13: At Fresno State
On paper, this looks like a dangerous game for Nebraska. There are some reasons to be concerned. The game is on the road, at a very weird starting time (9:30 p.m. CT) and Nebraska will play a team that was a BCS-buster threat a year ago.
But that was a year ago, when the Bulldogs had Derek Carr at quarterback. Carr is gone now, and there is not an NFL-ready quarterback waiting to take his place.
The time and road trip might make things challenging to start, but this game should not be a major threat to Nebraska.
Prediction: Nebraska 38, Fresno State 17 (3-0 overall, 0-0 in conference)
Sept. 20: Miami
For longtime Nebraska fans, this game is a dream come true.
The Hurricanes made their name on the national scene by beating Nebraska in their home stadium of the Orange Bowl time and again.
"Just once, it would be great to see the Hurricanes have to play a game in Lincoln," Nebraska fans thought when watching Miami run circles around the Big Red on those New Years nights.
Well, now is the Cornhuskers' chance. While it is unlikely there will be snow on Sept. 20, Miami will still have to face the Sea of Red at long last.
As of right now, we still don’t know who will be Miami’s quarterback when the Hurricanes arrive in Lincoln.
According to the Miami Herald's Susan Miller Degnan, the quarterback race is still between fifth-year transfer Jake Heaps and freshman phenom Brad Kaaya.
While Duke Johnson will be the best tailback to face Nebraska in Lincoln—and second only to Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin overall—the unsettled quarterback situation offers an opportunity for a marquee win in September.
There's also the fact that head coach Al Golden has a minus-one coach effect rating on CFBMatrix, meaning he'll be responsible for at least one loss per year.
Prediction: Nebraska 31, Miami 20 (4-0 overall, 0-0 in conference)
Sep. 27: Illinois
Nebraska’s game against the Illini will be unique for a couple of different reasons. First, the game will kick off at 8:00 p.m CT—incredibly late for a home game—to accommodate television. Second, the game will feature this year’s alternate uniform for Nebraska, the “Red Rising” outfit from Adidas.
And Illinois will be bringing Wes Lunt, an Oklahoma State transfer, at quarterback. Lunt was tapped to be Brandon Weeden’s successor and does at least bring a big-time athlete to the Illini sideline.
But with a deficit of talent around him, Nebraska’s 2014 alternate uniforms should have a better result.
Prediction: Nebraska 48, Illinois 14 (5-0 overall, 1-0 in conference)
Oct. 4: At Michigan State
At first blush, this looks like an easy loss to pick for Nebraska. The Spartans handled NU last year in Lincoln and would have gotten a home win in East Lansing the year before without a dramatic last-second touchdown catch by Jamal Turner.
Plus, Michigan State is the defending B1G champion and has all the momentum, while Nebraska seems stuck in a four-loss rut.
But Michigan State is a uniquely good matchup for Nebraska. Even with a horrific minus-five turnover differential, Nebraska outplayed the Spartans last year. Of Michigan State’s 41 points, 24 came on drives starting in Nebraska territory after turnovers.
The easy pick would be for Nebraska to drop this game on its trip to East Lansing, but a Nebraska team on a five-game roll—with a marquee win against Miami under its belt—should come into the game with confidence.
If it can limit the turnovers, this could be a season- and career-defining win for Bo Pelini.
Prediction: Nebraska 28, Michigan State 24 (6-0 overall, 2-0 in conference)
Oct. 18: At Northwestern
When the 2014 schedule came out, this game screamed danger for Nebraska. Northwestern was 5-7 last year, sure, but it lost some achingly close games—including, of course, a loss to Nebraska on a Hail Mary pass in Lincoln.
Plus, the Purple were getting a healthy Venric Mark back. He was one of the most dynamic and dangerous offensive weapons in the B1G.
But then Mark decided to leave the program. Christian Jones, Northwestern’s leading receiver, has also been lost to a knee injury. While the Purple's defense should still be stout, it’s hard to see how Northwestern will score enough to compete in this contest.
Prediction: Nebraska 27, Northwestern 17 (7-0 overall, 3-0 in conference)
Oct. 25: Rutgers
Welcome to the club, State University of New Jersey! The Scarlet Knights make their first trip to Lincoln, coming off a 6-7 campaign in 2013, but take a big step up in class from the American Athletic Conference to the B1G.
According to Keith Sargeant of NJ.com, it does look like senior Gary Nova has won the starting quarterback job, which will help the Knights gain some continuity in fall camp.
But the talent level overall is still a question, and Rutgers’ schedule is simply brutal. Before facing Nebraska, the Knights travel to Washington State, get Penn State at home and then have back-to-back contests with Michigan and at Ohio State before coming to Lincoln.
Any chance of an upset by Rutgers will likely have been beaten out of the Knights prior to their arrival at Memorial Stadium.
Prediction: Nebraska 41, Rutgers 20 (8-0 overall, 4-0 in conference)
Nov. 1: Purdue
When a team goes 1-11 in the previous year, there’s no place to go but up. While Purdue may have won the divisional realignment lottery for the Hoosier State, being placed in the West instead of the East like in-state rival Indiana, that doesn’t mean the Boilermakers are looking to compete anytime soon.
Whether head coach Darrell Hazell is the right man to turn Purdue around is open for debate, but it isn't going to happen in 2014.
Prediction: Nebraska 49, Purdue 10 (9-0 overall, 5-0 in conference)
Nov. 15: At Wisconsin
Let’s stop to take a breath. In this preview, we’ve now got Nebraska at 9-0, with wins over Miami and at defending B1G champion Michigan State.
Nebraska, at this point, would likely be in the Top 10 and a serious contender for making the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Can Nebraska keep the magic going with a trip to Camp Randall in November?
It’s a tall order. Assuming Joel Stave wins the quarterback position, it’s true that he’s not going to scare anyone. Wisconsin has lost almost all of its returning receiving corps, as well as its entire front seven on defense, to graduation.
But the Badgers still have Melvin Gordon, who would still be my pick as the conference’s best running back. They still have an offensive line that would rival an NFL squad’s in terms of size and power. And they still have Gary Andersen, whose teams tend to not beat themselves with turnovers and penalties.
Also, the game is in Madison, in the notoriously difficult Camp Randall, in mid-November—and likely with a prime-time kickoff, especially if Nebraska is undefeated coming into the game.
We won’t get into the B1G title game in 2012, the last meeting between the two schools, when Gordon torched the Blackshirts for 216 yards on nine—yes, nine—carries en route to a 70-31 demolition of Nebraska.
The upshot? This is a game Nebraska can win. On paper, Nebraska is at least equal if not superior to Wisconsin.
However, it’s hard to see Nebraska under Pelini being able to escape Madison with a win.
Prediction: Wisconsin 24, Nebraska 20 (9-1 overall, 5-1 in conference)
Nov. 22: Minnesota
Nebraska’s loss to Minnesota was, in some ways, the most distressing of the four last season. Nebraska had a big lead against UCLA and collapsed with a young defense. Turnovers doomed Nebraska against Iowa and Michigan State.
But against Minnesota? In Minneapolis, Goldie simply outmuscled a Nebraska squad, grinding out a thoroughly deserved victory.
Can the Gophers repeat that upset in Lincoln?
Unlikely. Minnesota will be breaking in a new quarterback and has lost defensive back Brock Vereen and defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman to the NFL. Minnesota’s talent level is not where it was in 2013.
More importantly, Nebraska will not be trotting out a clearly injured Taylor Martinez at quarterback, which hamstrung NU’s offense and forced the Blackshirts to stay on the field even longer against a punishing Minnesota ground attack.
Head coach Jerry Kill is very good at getting the most out of his players. But with the memory of last year’s upset fresh in its mind, look for a focused Nebraska to stay on track in Lincoln.
Prediction: Nebraska 31, Minnesota 17 (10-1 overall, 6-1 in conference)
Nov. 28: At Iowa
Who says the Heroes Game doesn’t mean anything?
Nebraska fans should already have burned into their memory the image of the entire Iowa sideline rushing across the field the moment the clock hit zero last year to take the trophy from the Nebraska sideline in Memorial Stadium, giving this year’s day-after-Thanksgiving contest extra venom.
Plus, the stakes really couldn’t be higher. In this scenario, Nebraska is 10-1 and 6-1 in its conference. Look at Iowa’s schedule. Go ahead, take a look.
Iowa has the most settled quarterback situation in the B1G West, a stable of talented running backs and the best offensive line in the division.
If the Hawkeyes have more than one loss coming into this game—barring catastrophic injuries—serious questions about Kirk Ferentz’s leadership would need to be asked. Quite simply, between returning talent and the schedule, Iowa is looking at its best chance to win a division title in the next decade.
So can the Hawkeyes retain the trophy? Iowa’s talent on the offensive line is better, going squarely against Nebraska’s strength on the defensive line.
This will be an end-of-season game before which Nebraska will have just finished playing two brutally physical teams in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Add into the mix that the game is in Iowa City, against a Hawkeye squad not prone to beating itself, and the trends point black and gold.
Iowa was tapped as Nebraska’s natural rival coming into the B1G. Last year’s loss in Lincoln didn’t kick-start the rivalry, likely because of all the drama surrounding Pelini’s job status.
But Iowa denying Nebraska a shot at a conference title and a possible entry into the College Football Playoff? That’s the stuff rivalries are made of.
Prediction: Iowa 17, Nebraska 14 (10-2 overall, 6-2 in conference)
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