Thursday, September 02, 2010

NU Pre-View:Happy-Sad, Western Kentucky

For fans of the Nebraska Cornhuskers looking ahead to the game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (September 04, 2010, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE, 6:00 p.m. CDT, PPV) ...


NUMBER 5 IS NUMBER 1: Perhaps throwing a bone to the media he locked out of practice in August, Bo Pelini has refused to name a starting quarterback going into the first game of the season. This has certainly made for good copy, but it seems pretty clear that Pelini knows who he's handing the keys to at the start. For 'Husker fans, they should be rooting for Zac Lee, the senior and returning starter. If the starting nod goes to either sophomore Cody Green or redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez, it's hard to see that decision as anything other than an indictment of Lee's ability to win the job. It also makes it very hard to go back to Lee and have any confidence in his ability to lead the team.

IT'S A HALFTIME COVER: The sooner Nebraska gets the game under control, the sooner the contest can be treated less like an actual game and more like a pre-season NFL contest. It's incumbent, then, on the first-teamers to get the job done early and remove any doubt from the outcome. If they're able to get that done by the end of the first half, NU will not only get a confidence boost but be able to get some preparation work in for the rest of the season.

THE BENCH CLEARS: No, this isn't a reference to a baseball fight (or, more accurately, the slapfest that passes for a fight in baseball). If NU is able to get ahead early in the contest, Pelini should be able to get a number of second- and third-team players into the game in the second half, giving those players valuable experience and protecting the starters from injury.


THE BLACKSHIRTS STRUGGLE WITH THE SLIPPERY: The Hilltoppers' quarterback, Kawaun Jakes, is an effective runner as well as having a serviceable arm. Nebraska fans are all aware of the struggles Pelini's teams have had in the past with mobile quarterbacks. Factor in WKU's diminutive Bobby Rainey (5'8") at running back, and the Hilltoppers will present at least a little elusiveness. If the Blackshirts struggle with WKU's slipperiness, it could be a bad omen for things to come.

THE ROCK IS NOT POUNDED: More than likely, Nebraska is planning to shuttle all three quarterbacks into the mix, and wants to keep the offense vanilla to minimize the preparation time needed and to keep the meatier opponents on the schedule guessing. That means we should see a heavy dose of running backs Roy Helu, Jr., Rex Burkhead, Dontrayveous Robinson, and the rest of the crew. Anything less than a 60/40 run-pass ratio will unnecessarily lengthen the game and expose the squad to more injury risk.

NU FANS GET TOO EXCITED: Remember, 'Husker fans, this is Western Kentucky that is coming to town. WKU was 0-12 last year, and is in only their third season as an FBS school. It is likely that Nebraska will roll, and that just about everyone wearing scarlet and cream will look good. Don't read too much into that. Remember how dominant NU's offense looked against Florida Atlantic and Louisiana last year? Ultimately, we are not going to learn very much that's positive about the 2010 Cornhuskers in this game. It's possible we could learn some negatives if NU struggles, but the concrete positives will be tough to come by.


NU, as Barry Switzer would say, just has better players than WKU, and should be able to name their score. Given that NU will want to give all three quarterbacks a chance to shine, there's less likelihood that the 'Huskers will call the dogs off if the score gets out of hand, meaning a real lopsided number is entirely possible. Nebraska 66, Western Kentucky 10.

NU Pre-View:Pros and Cons of Nebraska's Big 10 Division

Ever since Nebraska's move to the Big Ten was finalized, NU fans have been anxiously awaiting news as to how the 12-team Big Ten will divide into divisions. On Wednesday, the waiting was ended as the conference formally announced "Division X" and "Division O" to the fans. Nebraska was placed in a division with Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Northwestern, and Minnesota. So what are the pros and cons of these new divisions for Nebraska?


BIRTH OF A RIVALRY: This was probably the biggest no-brainer, but having Nebraska and Iowa being in the same division means the 'Huskers and the Hawkeyes will be meeting every year. Ever since Nebraska's conference move, the two fan bases have been sharpening their swords waiting to go at each other on the field. Particularly with both teams on the rise, this series has the potential to be a significant and heated rivalry.

OUT WITH THE BUFFS, IN WITH THE HAWKS: Starting in 2011, Iowa will replace Colorado as Nebraska's traditional day-after-Thanksgiving rivalry game. If this budding rivalry needed any gasoline poured on it, having this game played in late November over a leftover turkey-and-stuffing sandwich should push it over the edge.

EARLY SUCCESS: It's important for Nebraska to start well in their new conference affiliation. It was clear that there were four "major" powers in the conference - Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State. Right now, it's pretty clear that Michigan is the weakest of the Big Four, so pairing NU with the Wolverines means the schedule on paper looks at least a little softer than it would if Nebraska had to face Ohio State and Penn State as divisional rivals.

TRAVELING BANDS: One of the things NU will lose in leaving the Big XII is the ability to have easy road trips to away games like Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State. Thankfully, the Big Ten brass have given NU divisional foes that are easier trips for the 'Husker faithful, such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and Iowa City. It might be a little more arduous, but the road trip still lives for NU fans.


ALVAREZ-LESS: Nebraska fans have a special place in their hearts for Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin's athletic director. Right from the announcement, Wisconsin made it clear that they wanted to play Nebraska regularly. Given that Penn State was announced as Nebraska's "protected" cross-division rival, that isn't going to happen, and both 'Husker and Badger fans should be disappointed about that development.

BASKETBALL DISPARITY: Sure, men's hoops isn't a consideration in these conference realignment discussions, but these divisions are incredibly disparate in basketball. Of the twelve conference members, there's an argument to be made that four of the top five basketball schools are in one division (hint - it's not the one that contains Nebraska). That's probably bad for the conference as a whole. But if the schedule is unbalanced and teams get more games against division rivals, Doc Sadler may end up finding this a pro.

RECYCLING: Networks and the public as a whole have pretty well decided that rematches are not good television. But with the decision to leave the Ohio State-Michigan game at the end of the season means that the conference has the potential to have a marquee rematch a week later in the conference championship game. Nebraska fans will remember very well getting Oklahoma in an Orange Bowl rematch, and will likely want little to do with such a game in the Big Ten championship game.

NU ISN'T IN KANSAS ANYMORE, TOTO: At Wisconsin. Home to Ohio State. At Penn State. At Michigan. Home to Iowa. That's what the meat of Nebraska's 2011 conference schedule looks like. There's a little more weight to that schedule than visits from Baylor, Iowa State, and Kansas State. While the new conference schedule is exciting, Nebraska's run to a divisional or conference title in 2011 just got a lot more arduous.


Before today, Nebraska's move to the Big Ten was a little abstract. Now that we have divisions announced, and schedules for 2011 and 2012 set, the full reality of the change settles in. Teams like Michigan, Penn State, and Iowa will be coming to Memorial Stadium in October and November to play conference games, ones that really count. Having these concrete future plans in place, and the excitement those plans will generate, should help to ameliorate the melancholy of Nebraska's final trip through the Big XII.