Will Taylor Martinez and Nebraska run away with the Big Ten title?
At the beginning of every season, most fans go through the schedule and try to figure out what their favorite team's record will be. The problem is, any die-hard fan of a halfway decent team will talk themselves into believing there are more wins to be had than there really are.
The difference here is I will do my best to take an objective look at the Nebraska Cornhuskers' schedule and figure out what games they will win and lose. Here for your reading pleasure, a game-by-game preview of the 2011 Nebraska football season.
I am not about to try and convince you that Chattanooga is going to be able to make a game of this. Let me be clear, it can't. The simple fact is the FCS school is outclassed in just about every way by Nebraska.
I say, "just about" every way because the Mocs may actually have a better quarterback than the Huskers. Chattanooga senior B.J. Coleman was originally a Tennessee Volunteer, and was a four-star recruit out of high school (according to Rivals.com). He transferred after not being named the starter, despite outperforming his competition in spring ball.
Still, Coleman's best effort will not be enough to keep Chattanooga from getting run out of the stadium by the Big Red in their first game of the 2011 season. B.J. Coleman and the Mocs may go on to have a good season (they were 6-5 last year), but don't count on them to turn in an Appalachian State-type effort in Lincoln.
Predicted Score: Nebraska 48, Chattanooga 17
Fresno State is an interesting opponent for Nebraska in the sense that while it is not a true measuring-stick game, it could be challenging. The Bulldogs were 8-5 last year and are a pretty solid bet to make a bowl game just about every season. Pat Hill has a decent program built up.
The strange part about this game for the Huskers is that it poses essentially a no-win situation. Fresno State has a history of being able to compete with bigger programs, but it isn't so good that Nebraska will get much credit for beating them.
At the same time, it is a game the Huskers absolutely cannot afford to lose. There are certain games that a fan base goes into knowing that it's going to be a battle. Fresno State is not one of those games, yet it still has the ability to surprise you if you take them too lightly.
Knowing the Huskers' tendency to occasionally play down to their competition, this game could be a problem. Ultimately, I believe Nebraska will survive and advance.
Predicted Score: Nebraska 34, Fresno State 20
This game is setting up in a way that does not look promising for the Washington Huskies. First of all, they have to travel to Lincoln, which is no picnic. Second, they have to replace quarterback Jake Locker, who, aside from running back Chris Polk, was pretty much all they had going for them last year.
Finally, after the embarrassing performance Nebraska put up in the Holiday Bowl against Washington, I think it's safe to assume the Huskers will not be coming out flat in the rubber match. The Big Red should be eager to assert their dominance over the Locker-less Huskies.
The Huskers should cruise to an easy victory over Washington, as they just can not match up physically with Nebraska.
Predicted Score: Nebraska 41, Washington 6
Nebraska takes to the road in its final non-conference game of 2011, although judging by the opponent, it appears as though the Huskers were looking more for a bye week before their Big Ten opener than they were an actual contest.
Nothing against the Wyoming Cowboys, but they are simply not in the same class as Nebraska. It wouldn't matter if this game was played in Laramie, Lincoln or Lithuania; the Cowboys don't have a prayer in this one.
Predicted Score: Nebraska 52, Wyoming 7
I have thought for quite some time that this was going to be the toughest game on Nebraska's schedule. Nothing has changed my mind about that. Camp Randall is one of the toughest venues in college football to play in and the environment ratchets up a few more notches for night games.
The Huskers will have a tall order to fill if they are to knock off the Badgers on the road. Wisconsin did lose 11 starters from last year's Rose Bowl team, but James White is probably better than departing running back John Clay, and transfer Russell Wilson brings a more dynamic threat to the quarterback position than Scott Tolzien did.
I know Wisconsin is losing three starters from its vaunted offensive line, but it seems as though the Badgers have an endless supply of mammoth road-grading linemen they can use to refill their ranks.
When it is all said and done, I think the Huskers will have too much to overcome in trying to take down the Badgers in Madison. Nebraska will suffer its first lost of the season.
Predicted Score: Wisconsin 17, Nebraska 13
There are some people that believe the Ohio State Buckeyes are going to remain a good football program despite everything that has happened in the off-season. However, I am not one of those people.
Losing head coach Jim Tressel and starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor under such scandalous circumstances is more than enough to derail any team—no matter how good they were the previous season. Besides the distraction that has been created, the actual loss of a possible Heisman Trophy candidate and one of the better coaches in the game will damage the on-field product.
Despite the marquee match-up in name, Nebraska should have a fairly easy go of things in its first Big Ten home game. With everything hanging over the program, and perhaps with more NCAA investigations looming, Ohio State will not be able to keep up in Lincoln.
Predicted Score: Nebraska 21, Ohio State 13
Minnesota is not a good football team. The only title it will be fighting for this season is for that of worst team in the Big Ten, which will be a very tight race with Indiana. The Golden Gophers were a decent passing team last year, however, quarterback Adam Weber is gone, which leaves Minnesota with little hope going into 2011.
The hiring of Jerry Kill may give Gopher fans something to look forward to in the future, however, it is going to take him at least a couple years to turn around a dormant Minnesota program. The bottom line is Nebraska is going to roll over the Golden Gophers and pick up its second Big Ten win.
Predicted Score: Nebraska 45, Minnesota 10
Michigan State is the defending Big Ten co-champion, but has not been respected as such. Many fans and analysts alike considered the Spartans' 2010 season an aberration. This idea may be based on the fact that MSU was only average to slightly above average in most team statistics that would give an indication of a squad's success.
The Spartans ranked only 47th in points for and 39th in points against last season, which makes it seem like they overachieved with their 11-2 record.
There are a couple things that Michigan State has in its favor, and that is the return of quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Edwin Baker—both of whom should help improve the teams' offensive output. This ability to put points on the board is going to make Sparty a tough test for Nebraska.
Fortunately for the Huskers, keeping people from scoring is their specialty. The Big Red were a top-ten defense last season, and there is no reason to believe that will change. Nebraska's defensive prowess should allow them to prevail over Michigan State's offensive fire power.
Predicted Score: Nebraska 24, Michigan State 14
Each of the last couple years, Nebraska has lost a game that it probably had no business losing. Last year they did it twice. First when they lost the Texas game that had been so built up after the events of the 2009 Big 12 Championship game.
The second time, it was its rematch with Washington in the Holiday Bowl where the Huskers were clearly not interested in even being there. Two years ago, it was a loss to Iowa State when the Huskers had eight turnovers, which inevitably doomed them.
There is reason to believe that Northwestern could be that sort of game for Nebraska this year. The Wildcats are a solid yet unspectacular team with an experienced, veteran quarterback at the helm that could potentially lead them to an upset of the mighty Cornhuskers.
Usually these types of losses, whether by Nebraska or any other team are not a result of being outplayed, but rather a result of a lack of mental toughness and discipline.
However, I am going to proceed under the assumption that as Nebraska continues to climb back to its place as a national power house; their days of immaturity and no-show Saturdays are behind them. A major sign of growth in a football program is when it wins the games its supposed to, and hopefully the Huskers are ready to take that step.
Predicted Score: Nebraska 28, Northwestern 17
Joe Paterno will be roaming the sidelines as the head coach of Penn State for the 46th season. Aside from that fact, there is not a lot of certainty about what the upcoming football season will bring to Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions struggled on offense last year, and there isn't much reason to think it will get any better in 2011. Penn State is still trying to figure out if Rob Bolden or Matt McGloin is the better fit at quarterback, and PSU will have to replace running back Evan Royster who had rushed for over a 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.
Because of Penn State's tradition and who its head coach is, it can never be counted out to field a good squad. However, the Nittany Lions have more questions than answers at this point, and Nebraska is not a team you want to play if you haven't found those answers yet.
Predicted Score: Nebraska 21, Penn State 9
The problem for Michigan last year wasn't putting points on the scoreboard with its offense; it was keeping the other guys off the scoreboard with its defense. The Wolverines ranked 108th nationally in points allowed per game.
Due to this abomination of a defense, Michigan brought in the defensive-minded Brady Hoke to be its new head coach. Luckily for Hoke, the cupboard is far from bare on the defensive side of the ball. Since 2008, Michigan has brought in 19 defensive players who were rated as four-star recruits or better by Rivals.com.
It appears as though the issues on defense were not a lack of talent, but rather a lack of quality coaching. If Hoke can turn the defense around, he will be pairing it with an offense that put up over 32 points per game last season.
Even though Hoke will be moving to a more traditional pro-style offense, I get the feeling he will find a way to take advantage of Denard Robinson's immense talent, while perhaps not putting him in harm's way quite so often.
I believe the Wolverines will get off to a slow start as they adjust to their new coach in 2011, but by the time Nebraska visits Ann Arbor, the Maze and Blue should be running on all cylinders. All things considered, it adds up to a second conference loss for the Huskers.
Predicted Score: Michigan 38, Nebraska 34
Nebraska will finish the regular season at home in the first installment of the newly named "Heroes Game" rivalry against its neighbor to the east, the Iowa Hawkeyes. This will be the Huskers' new marquee day-after Thanksgiving game.
If it weren't for everything that went down at Ohio State during the offseason, we may have been talking about Iowa as the Big Ten program in the most turmoil. After turning in a disappointing 8-5 season in 2010, things got even worse for the Hawkeyes.
Several Iowa players faced allegations of possessing and possibly selling narcotics as the team prepared for their bowl game. Then during offseason conditioning, 13 Hawkeyes' players were hospitalized with a baffling muscle disordered, thought to be brought on by workouts that were not supervised closely enough. Both of these situations nearly turned into huge scandals for the Iowa football program.
Besides all of the issues off the field, Iowa also has to replace starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi. This alone is enough to force the Hawkeyes to take a step back this season, and that is exactly what I think they will do. The game against Nebraska will be the exclamation point on a disappointing season.
Predicted Score: Nebraska 27, Iowa 6
If you have been keeping track, you realize that your 2011 Nebraska Cornhuskers will finish the regular season with a 10-2 record. Not a bad effort for their first run through the Big Ten. I believe this will be good enough to win the Legends Division and send Nebraska to its first Big Ten Championship Game.
The Huskers should meet Wisconsin in the title game for a rematch of their regular-season clash. This time Nebraska will prevail, avenging its previous loss and march into a BCS bowl game as Big Ten champions.
It may not be a National Championship, but making it back to the BCS is a step in the right direction for the Cornhuskers.