photo and story by Patrick Runge
“Wake me up when September ends.”
– Wake Me Up When September Ends, Green Day
Nebraska football fans are quite pleased to see NU putting September in the rear-view mirror with the team sitting at 5-0, including a cathartic 41-31 win over Miami in Lincoln. For the first time since 2010, Nebraska is undefeated through five games and, much like that 2010 season, has a monster national showdown coming up in week six.
(Although, in fairness, Michigan State has no shot to replace Texas and the disastrous “Red Out Around The World” game from 2010).
Getting through September is a prerequisite for having a special season. But that doesn’t mean much if Nebraska can’t take care of business in October. So let’s look ahead and see what Nebraska faces as the calendar turns.
All stats from cfbstats.com.
October 04: at Michigan State
Without question, this Saturday’s game in East Lansing is the marquee game in the Big Ten to date. Michigan State comes into the game ranked no. 10 in the AP poll, and Nebraska comes in at no. 19. The Spartans have only one loss, a 46-27 defeat in Oregon where Michigan State held a lead in the third quarter. Michigan State’s other wins have been gigantic blowouts against overmatched opponents.
Nebraska comes into the contest at 5-0, with the most impressive win against a talented Miami team in Lincoln. Nebraska has also blown out three overmatched opponents, and had an ugly win against FCS McNeese State, needing an “Ameeracle” with 20 seconds remaining to avoid overtime.
In many ways, this game has an “immovable object/unstoppable force” vibe going. Michigan State has the no. 6 rushing defense in the nation, allowing only 80.75 yards per game. Nebraska has the no. 3 rushing offense in the nation, gaining an average of 354.8 yards per game.
A smart and particularly handsome analyst picked before the season that Nebraska would beat Michigan State, and the rationale for that pick holds up. Last year, Nebraska lost to Michigan State not because of superior Spartan talent, but because of a minus-five turnover margin. When Nebraska wasn’t giving the ball away, it was going blow-for-blow with Michigan State.
Add in to the mix this year Ameer Abdullah’s raised level of game play and a healthy Randy Gregory, and the setting for an upset. That guy at the start of the season might have been on to something.
Nebraska 28, Michigan State 24.
October 18: at Northwestern
Yes, Northwestern got a huge conference win last week, going into Happy Valley and knocking off Penn State. But that win doesn’t really change the underlying dynamic—that with the departure of Venric Mark and the loss of Christian Jones to injury, the Purples are devoid of true game-changing playmakers on offense. Combine that with a baseline of talent level that is below Nebraska’s, and ultimately this game becomes less frightening than previous contests.
Sure, Northwestern will play hard, and play smart. And going to Northwestern is a challenging trip, although having a week to prepare after Michigan State will be a big help. Look for Nebraska to take care of business in the windy city.
Nebraska 35, Northwestern 17
October 25: Rutgers
At the start of the season, Rutgers looked to be a few years away from being competitive. Don’t look now, but the Scarlet Knights may have hit the fast-forward button on their development.
Rutgers is 4-1, and really should be 5-0 with a tough-luck three-point loss at Penn State. The Knights have wins on the road at Washington State and Navy, two teams that may not be world-beaters but are challenging foes to face.
The knock on Rutgers coming into the Nebraska contest before the season was that it was going to go through a gauntlet beforehand, getting Michigan at home and away to Ohio State before arriving in Lincoln.
Well, things have changed a bit. Michigan looks like a gimmie, and Ohio State has not looked to be the national powerhouse expected by many. At this point, Rutgers coming into Lincoln anything less than 4-2 would be a disappointment, and it’s not impossible to imagine the Knights pulling off an upset in Columbus. After all, Virginia Tech already has.
This year feels a little different from years past, so maybe this is the year Nebraska puts the four-loss hoodoo behind it. So no call for an upset yet on this one, but watch this space.
Nebraska 30, Rutgers 27