by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
It requires focus, toughness and togetherness to start out 6-1, no matter what conference or Division you play in, or where your strength of schedule ranks. So many things can go wrong. Just look at Michigan State. The preseason Big Ten favorite with a dominant defense, sterling recent track record and designs on a league championship is backsliding, with just four wins in tow and the possibility (though very unlikely) of missing a bowl game altogether. Then there's Purdue, who entered this season as the Leaders Division's lone eligible challenger to Wisconsin. In two conference tests, the BoilerMakers have lost by a combined score of 82-27. To say they've failed to meet expectations would be a gross understatement of the truth. There are countless others who haven't lived up to their preseason billing, and the collective disappointment has invited a national piling on against the talent level, recruiting base and style of play in the Big Ten. In my opinion, it's somewhat overblown -- every league has down years, and the Big Ten is simply going through a rough time -- but the widespread criticism has turned the league into a national punching bag. That's disappointing any way you slice it.
The substandard levels of performance in the nonconference have caused many to turn a blind eye against the league's proceedings. Teams that are rounding into form after poor starts -- Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State have engineered impressive turnarounds -- are flying under the radar based off some overblown notion of Big Ten inferiority. Meanwhile, Northwestern's hot start has been thrown by the wayside by most national onlookers. Part of this has to do with scheduling: NU hasn't beaten anyone of consequence yet. Part of it deals with NU's long-held perception as a Big Ten doormat: there are still fans, extremely ignorant ones, who view the Wildcats as some misplaced high-brow institution who has no business competing in a power conference. But the crux of this NU negligence involves the Big Ten's embarrassment in nonleague play, which sprung a general indifference towards the divisional and conference title races. Most Big Ten fans don't share this sentiment, nor do they believe conference play was rendered meaningless once the league fell out of the national championship hunt. There is still plenty of quality football to be played in the land of Legends and Leaders, plenty of intriguing rivalry games and story lines to be played out. Take today's game at Ryan Field. For increasingly bitter and impatient Nebraska fans, it's a flashpoint in coach Bo Pelini's tenure, and a game he simply must win to stave off coaching hot seat whispers -- particularly after losing to the Wildcats at home last season.
For NU, the divisional fixture takes on different shades of meaning. It's a chance to prove that 6-1 is, indeed, a legitimate 6-1, that its impressive start is not a fluke, that it will remain a major factor in the Legends Division race. This is without question the Wildcats biggest game to date. A victory would put NU in decent position to challenge Michigan atop the Legends. A loss likely knocks the Wildcats out of the race. Either way, the result could set the course for the rest of NU's season. More importantly, beating the Huskers, and reaching 7-1, would elevate NU's perception among fans previously willing to write off its promising start as a mixture of favorable scheduling and deflated league competition.
We hope this post finds you in good temperament as you proceed through whatever gameday routine accompanies these precious fall Saturdays. Hopefully our preview material has you ready for the upcoming matchup, but in case you missed anything, below we’ve compiled a last-minute study guide for any opponent queries that may yet stand unresolved. It never hurts to get some last-minute cramming in before watching your beloved Wildcats in game action. That said, read up, and enjoy the game!
Getting players insight in advance of gameday is the best way to gauge the team's collective psyche, and where its mental focus is heading into the weekend. Both cornerback Daniel Jones and defensive end Quentin Williams chimed in on the week's preparation for Nebraska.
The Omaha World Herald runs a microsite dedicated solely to Nebraska football. Yeah, Huskers fans take their team pretty seriously. Rich Kaipust contributes to BRT's comprehensive coverage. Get his prediction on the game, plus more enlightening thoughts. Lee Barfknecht, another BRT contributor, weighed in on the Huskers' offensive and defensive highlights and lowlights.
The magnified focus on the Nebraska football program made this week's link list a challenging proposition. We did our best to consolidate our list into a digestable yet enjoyable serving size.
In its undivided entirety, Nebraska is an imposing football team. Broken down into three parts, the Huskers' strengths and weaknesses come into focus. Offense, defense, special teams -- we broke down which side has an edge in each phase, with a score and prediction of NU's chances based on the preceding analysis.
There are a wealth of playmakers on both sides of the ball for Nebraska. Because you can't keep track of all of them, we tell you who to watch out for.
In our most divided picks panel to date, the NU media supplied predictions and scores. The scores and rationales may surprise you.