How Many Top 25 Teams Could the Nebraska Cornhuskers Beat?

Brandon Cavanaugh@ IAugust 22, 2010

How Many Top 25 Teams Could the Nebraska Cornhuskers Beat?

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    The Nebraska Cornhuskers are currently ranked the highest that they've been in nearly eight years. Expectations are soaring in Lincoln, Nebraska. Whispers of BCS bowls and even a run at the National Championship can be heard throughout the fanbase.

    Just one thing stands between Nebraska and the No. 1 spot.

    Well, technically seven things if you ask the Associated Press, which ranked Nebraska No. 8 in its preseason poll.

    Taking a look at that initial poll, it makes you stop and think. How many teams on that list could Nebraska beat right now?

No. 25 - West Virginia

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    Noel Devine and the Mountaineers would provide a stiff test for Nebraska's defensive front seven. Devine would be the key target for Bo Pelini, forcing Geno Smith to make plays without him.

    On defense, WVU would likely hang with the Huskers, especially with cornerback Brandon Hogan and free safety Robert Sands. Niles Paul and the rest of Nebraska’s receivers would find things difficult, but when Nebraska’s offense provides a ground-based attack, WVU drops this one.

    Chances of winning: Very likely

No. 24 - Oregon State

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    The Beavers return plenty of starters, but still don’t provide Nebraska with much of a challenge.

    Running back Jacquizz Rodgers and wide receiver James Rodgers are about the only viable weapons on offense. The Cornhuskers’ defense should be able to isolate them from quarterback Ryan Katz.

    The Nebraska offense must find a way to account for defensive tackle Stephen Paea. Aside from his presence, the Huskers should be able to mow their way down the field on their way to a decisive victory.

    Chances of winning: Very likely

No. 23 - Georgia

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    The Bulldogs might be the ideal opposition to find out just how good this Cornhusker secondary is. A.J. Green would likely find himself up against Nebraska's star cornerback Prince Amukamara all day. An interesting battle to watch.

    Another point of interest: Nebraska’s “new” defensive line versus offensive tackle Clint Boling, center Ben Jones, and the Bulldogs' offensive line

    On defense, Georgia has lost so much, it’s hard to think that Nebraska would have difficulty scoring at least a couple of touchdowns. Tack on a few field goals from Nebraska kicker Alex Henery and it’s good night, Bulldogs.

    Chances of winning: Likely

No. 22 - Auburn

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    This one could be fun. Could Nebraska get to Auburn’s quarterback with center Ryan Pugh and offensive tackle Lee Ziemba anchoring the line? That matchup would likely be touch and go.

    The Tigers often give a stiff defensive challenge, but returns eight starters from a team that ranked No. 68 in total defense. While Nebraska may not be lighting the world on fire on offense just yet, I think that they could wear down the week one Auburn Tigers.

    Chances of winning: Likely

No. 21 - LSU

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    A tantalizing match up for Bo Pelini, the Tigers give him something that immediately works in the Cornhuskers’ favor: A quarterback-wide receiver combo to sic his charges after.

    The Blackshirts would likely have a grand time in quarterback Jordan Jefferson’s backfield. Any Cornhusker defensive back would love the challenge of covering wide receiver Terrance Tolliver.

    When the Tigers’ defense takes the field, it’s a different story. I can see Nebraska struggling early and often with LSU. They’d likely stick to the ground game in an effort to keep cornerback Patrick Peterson out of the mix.

    Chances of winning: Probably, but close

No. 20 - Florida State

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    A renewal of pleasantries between old rivals in the 1980s and early 1990s wouldn’t likely be kind to the Seminoles.

    Quarterback Christian Ponder is on some Heisman lists. His supporting cast doesn’t appear to have anyone that appears capable of penetrating the Nebraska defense enough to win.

    FSU’s defensive line gives them even less of a chance. They would be more difficult than Western Kentucky by a longshot, but Nebraska could likely put a few touchdowns on the scoreboard.

    Chances of winning: Very likely

No. 19 - Penn State

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    The first of Nebraska’s Big Ten brothers on this list, Penn State would make Nebraska earn every yard.

    Running back Evan Royster would obviously be the key offensive target in Bo Pelini’s crosshairs. The battle in the trenches would be furious.

    Eight starters return for PSU on a defense that was eighth against the run and ninth in total defense last year.

    Would Nebraska win? I’m not so sure. If they did, it would be ugly. 2003 Penn State vs. Nebraska ugly.

    Chances of winning: Toss-up

No. 18 - North Carolina

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    I look at this matchup much like I do Nebraska’s 10-3 victory over Oklahoma last year. You have two offenses that need to prove themselves and two smothering defenses.

    Much like that game, I think that we’d see a lot of special teams play by both squads.

    UNC returns a lot from 2009 and were very impressive defensively. The Huskers would need a few lucky breaks and a lot of crowd noise.

    Chances of winning: Toss-up

No. 17 - Arkansas

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    I see quarterback Ryan Mallet, wide receiver Joe Adams, tight end D.J. Williams and…not much else.

    Nebraska’s defense would be dead set on getting to Mallet, let alone making Adams and Williams’s day a pain.

    The Razorbacks’ defense wouldn’t be able to hold up to what Nebraska could throw at it (figuratively and literally), and middle linebacker Jerry Franklin and outside linebacker Freddy Burton may try to stuff the run, but I’d be curious to see how Arkansas would stop Nebraska’s short passing game.

    The Cornhuskers’ tight ends would be the key to victory here.  That, a clock-chewing running game, and a few play-action passes.

    Chances of winning: Very likely

No. 16 - Georgia Tech

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    If Nebraska wants to find out how good their defensive line is, this would be the game to answer any questions.

    Defensive ends Pierre Allen and Cameron Meredith would have their hands full with contain while the Cornhuskers’ defensive tackles’ heads might spin at what Georgia Tech could produce on offense. The Yellow Jackets definitely would put up points.

    The question is could they score enough to win?

    While Tech’s offense would inevitably score, the Blackshirts would find a way to stifle the unique attack of the Jackets, at least, occasionally. Nebraska’s offense would stall, but much like Tech, eventually score in a back-and-forth game. Nebraska kicker Alex Henery would prove to be the difference yet again.

    Chances of winning: Probably, but close

No. 15 - Pittsburgh

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    Nothing like a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back to put a few dents in a new defensive front four. Couple Dion Lewis with wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, and you’ve got yourself a ballgame when it comes to Pitt’s offense versus the Nebraska defense.

    The flipside of the coin is intriguing, too. Defensive end Greg Romeus would give Nebraska’s quarterback all he could handle on pass plays. Strong safety Dom DeCicco would likely have an interception or two to his credit with Romeus’s disruption.

    This is a matchup that one might see come bowl season.

    Chances of winning: Toss-up

No. 14 - Southern Cal

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    A unique matchup featuring former Nebraska defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s progeny versus his recommendation for his alma mater's lead role. As Lane Kiffin probably knows, when his father thinks you know your defense, you’re probably going to win and win often.

    USC is as human as they’ve been since before Pete Carroll roamed the sidelines. Nebraska’s last run-in with a Pac-10 team proved fruitful. While I certainly wouldn’t expect a 33-point win or shutout against the Trojans, I wouldn’t expect a loss.

    Bo Pelini has been able to get into a quarterback’s head almost eerily at times. Matt Barkley’s been a little too prone to mistakes as it is, let alone with a hungry, Pelini-led defense after him.

    Nebraska’s offense could likely find a way to confuse USC, much as they did Arizona in the 2009 Holiday Bowl. Several starters return for the Cornhuskers and depth has been built. While the margin of victory might not be large, it would definitely be in Nebraska’s favor.

    Chances of winning: Very likely

No. 13 - Miami (FL)

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    Another Floridian foe would provide more of a challenge for Nebraska. Miami offers an offense that could hang around for four quarters and make things interesting, or fall apart early and never recover.

    Defensive end Allen Bailey would certainly be a help against the Cornhusker passing attack in testing out the mettle of Nebraska’s offensive tackles. Cornerback Brandon Harris might very well negate Niles Paul.

    In this instance, I’d see the Cornhuskers simply taking their chances on double-teaming Bailey and pressing forward with the running game. Secondary receivers like Brandon Kinnie and Mike McNeil would be utilized along with tight end Ben Cotton.

    Chances of winning: Likely

No. 12 - Wisconsin

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    The Badgers would be a pain. John Clay is going to get yards. He’s also going to score touchdowns, especially in the early season.

    Another future Big Ten battle features similar elements of the previously mentioned one. Smash-mouth football where it’s quite possible that the last team with the ball wins. This would be a game for fans of grind-it-out, “Blue Collar Ball.”

    In the end, could the Cornhuskers contain Clay? Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

    Chances of winning: Toss-up

No. 11 - Oregon

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    First, promise me that the Ducks will show up wearing either those cool “carbon” helmets or throwback uniforms. Second, this would be incredibly fun as an early season matchup.

    Oregon’s spread-option isn’t new to the Cornhuskers, but LaMichael James is a fantastic back to have in it. The entire Nebraska front seven would be put to task with keeping him in check. While doing that, quarterback Nate Costa might be able to take advantage of the inevitable early season miscues to sustain some long drives.

    The Ducks’ defensive reputation isn’t that bad, either. Nebraska would still likely be able to move down the field and bust into the end zone behind their trio of running backs. I think the Cornhuskers take this one, but not by much.

    Chances of winning: Probably, but close

No. 10 - Virginia Tech

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    The Hokies have been able to stop the Huskers in their tracks two years in a row. Who’s to say 2010 would be any different?

    I think that this game would play out much like the two prior. Defense and special teams rule the day while quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running back Ryan Williams steal the show for Virginia Tech.

    Knowing the Cornhuskers’ luck, the Hokies would win. Then again, third time’s the charm.

    Chances of winning: Toss-up

No. 9 - Iowa

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    The third Big Ten matchup features a geographical clash.

    Defensive end Adrian Clayborn and strong safety Tyler Sash help anchor a defense that returns eight starters from the No. 10 defense last year. That doesn’t spell good things for an offense needing a morale boost.

    Offensively, Iowa always seems to be a mystery, but quarterback Ricky Stanzi’s as reliable as they come. Stanzi would have difficulties against Nebraska’s defense, but he would also likely have multiple opportunities.

    Nebraska’s offense would likely struggle against Iowa’s defense, especially if they don’t convert the first few third downs.

    Chances of winning: Possibly, but unlikely

No. 8 - Nebraska

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    Much like in the spring, when Nebraska plays Nebraska, the Cornhuskers always win. Moving on.

No. 7 - Oklahoma

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    This was the team that Bob Stoops wanted to bring into Lincoln with him last year.

    A seasoned Landry Jones with DeMarco Murray and Ryan Broyles might result in a stalemate for the Nebraska defense. Much like in 2009, the Cornhuskers would need luck and a turnover or two (or five) to win this one.

    I’m a huge fan of outside linebacker Travis Lewis and with defensive end Jeremy Beal’s help, the Sooner defense would stifle the Nebraska offense in week one much as they did last season. Kicker Alex Henery would be needed for the Cornhuskers to defeat the Sooners two years in a row.

    Chances of winning: Possibly, but unlikely

No. 6 - TCU

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    I’m sorry, Horned Frogs, but this isn’t the Mountain West Conference.

    While I enjoy TCU myself, Andy Dalton would find himself hard-pressed to make much progress against the Blackshirts. His offensive line may be able to stuff the front four’s attack most of the time. Nebraska’s linebackers and secondary would have a field day with the TCU receivers save perhaps Jeremy Kerley.

    The Cornhuskers would most likely see enough progress on offense to take the game from TCU. Not to say that the Horned Frogs wouldn’t make Nebraska work for the win, but in the end, Nebraska would halt the BCS-busters.

    Chances of winning: Likely

No. 5 - Texas

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    Is it October 16th already?

    It might as well be if this matchup were first up on Nebraska’s docket. The Cornhuskers want nothing more than to knock the Longhorns off during their last Big 12 season, and this would be the year to do it.

    With no Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley, and half of an offensive line needing to be rebuilt, the Nebraska defense is ready to shine. Texas’ receivers are all more than adequate, but those defending them are amazingly talented. The Blackshirts cannot wait to get their hands on burnt orange jersey. It may as well be during week one.

    I would estimate that Nebraska needs about 21 to 24 points to win this game. If you combine 60 minutes of football with an occasional scoring drive and a punishing defense, you’ve got a Texas loss.

    Chances of winning: Likely

No. 4 - Florida

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    For the first time in a good while, No. 15 isn’t under center for the Gators. It doesn’t help when you lose a center like Maurkice Pouncy or a tight end like Aaron Hernandez.

    All things being equal, this would be a fantastic early season matchup. Florida’s offensive line is going to need to be its strength going into 2010. Nebraska’s defensive line wants to prove it’s just as good without Ndamukong Suh.

    On defense, Florida returns six starters from a unit ranked fourth overall in 2009. Nebraska would likely have difficulties, but may surprisingly move the ball on a defense looking to find an identity.

    On paper, this is about as much of a coin flip as you can get.

    Chances of winning: Toss-up

No. 3 - Boise State

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    The Broncos are gearing up to take on Virginia Tech, a team that I said would take Nebraska to the limit. Would they do the same to Nebraska?

    Conferences aside, Boise State features one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Kellen Moore. Running back Jeremy Avery is a quality back and receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young are very talented. That said, if Moore is on his back, it doesn’t matter how good his receiving corps is.

    The Nebraska defense would likely overwhelm BSU’s offensive line, making things very difficult for Moore during the course of a game. Pettis and Young would be given tremendous matchups in Nebraska’s secondary, delaying Moore’s options and resulting in punts.

    On offense, Nebraska would have to bust through Boise’s defensive line and beware of safety Jeron Johnson, but that appears to be a manageable task. I think Virginia Tech gives Nebraska all that they can handle and perhaps even win. Boise State could beat the spread, but that’s about it.

    Chances of winning: Likely

No. 2 - Ohio State

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    Oh boy.

    If the Cornhuskers want to have a prayer against Terrelle Pryor and THE Ohio State University, they’d better get their defensive backs ready. It’s no secret that OSU can run the ball. It’s also no secret that they usually present a salty defense. They return six starters from a unit that finished fifth in total defense last year.

    What would it take for Nebraska to win against the Buckeyes in week one? An interception returned for a touchdown, maybe two. Special teams excellence, keeping Pryor and running back Brandon Saine in check, and winning the turnover battle would be crucial as well.

    Am I saying that a Nebraska win would be an upset of epic proportions? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

    Chances of winning: Very unlikely

No. 1 - Alabama

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    So you’re saying there’s a chance?! Actually, yes. Nebraska could beat Alabama. Penn State could beat Alabama, so why not the Cornhuskers?

    It’s a little more believable than you might think. Alabama’s defense was fantastic last year, but they only return two starters. Given, their replacements are incredibly talented, but it’s week one and everyone’s prone to a mistake or two. Still, the Crimson Tide has the upper hand here against the Cornhuskers.

    When the Blackshirts take the field, it’s a different story. Eight starters return from an Alabama offense that ran the ball well. You have to when you want to produce a Heisman Trophy-winning running back. Unfortunately, Greg McElroy is not the best passer in the SEC, let alone the country.

    This plays into the Nebraska defense’s hands. The secondary being perhaps the best unit that the Blackshirts have to offer, if the Cornhuskers were to have any shot at toppling the Tide, it would come by stopping Ingram.

    Forcing McElroy to pass isn’t an easy proposition. Should Nebraska’s line manage to work around offensive tackle James Carpenter and force a bit of pressure, No. 1 might just go down.

    Much like OSU, Nebraska would need luck and then some to force Alabama’s hand, but it’s possible. Just not probable.

    Chances of winning: Very unlikely