In an effort to self-correct the mess that was the COVID-19-impacted 2020 football scheduling fiasco, the Big Ten made changes to its 2022 slate, and Nebraska’s saw tweaks.
The Huskers will have one neutral site game—the season-opener against Big Ten West foe Northwestern was always scheduled to be played in Dublin, Ireland—along with seven home games and four true road contests. There are two bye weeks sprinkled in on Sept. 24 and Oct. 22.
What’s the easiest stretch? How about the hardest? What’s the easiest win on the schedule and the most difficult game? Let’s break it all down.
First, here’s what the schedule looks like:
August 27: Nebraska vs. Northwestern in Dublin, Ireland
September 3: North Dakota at Nebraska
September 10: Georgia Southern at Nebraska
September 17: Oklahoma at Nebraska
September 24: Bye
October 1: Indiana at Nebraska
October 8: Nebraska at Rutgers
October 15: Nebraska at Purdue
October 22: Bye
October 29: Illinois at Nebraska
November 5: Minnesota at Nebraska
November 12: Nebraska at Michigan
November 19: Wisconsin at Nebraska
November 25: Nebraska at Iowa
This isn’t surprising, but it’s the two-week span from Sept. 3-10 when nonconference opponents North Dakota and Georgia Southern visit Lincoln. By no means will they be walks in the park, however.
North Dakota is the lone Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent on the Huskers’ schedule. The Fighting Hawks went 5-6 in 2021 but played a couple notable teams hard, including Group of Five member Utah State and FCS powerhouse North Dakota State.
North Dakota, expected to be blown out, actually led Utah State 21-7 after the first quarter before losing 48-24. The game wasn’t as lopsided as the score made it seem, and it surely put a scare into then-first year Aggie head coach Blake Anderson. Three weeks later against North Dakota State, the Fighting Hawks gave the eventual FCS champ Bison all they could handle, losing only 16-10. It’d be wise for the Huskers to not let North Dakota hang around in their game.
Georgia Southern will be in Lincoln with a first-year head coach in Clay Helton, the same Clay Helton who was fired from USC on Sept. 13, 2021, just two games into the season. In three seasons from 2018-20, the Eagles were 25-14 under then-head coach Chad Lunsford. Georgia Southern made the move to fire Lunsford after he started 1-3 in 2021, and the Eagles finished 3-9.
Since joining the Sun Belt in 2014, Georgia Southern has been one of the best rushing offenses in the conference. The Eagles finished either first or second in the conference in average rushing yards and attempts per game in every season except 2021, when they were fourth and second, respectively. If Helton sticks to Georgia Southern’s run-heavy identity, it should be a good early test for a Husker defense that will have players in the front seven who will be stepping into bigger roles, like Ty Robinson, Casey Rogers, Jordon Riley and Nash Hutmacher.
It’s the four-game slate to end the regular season from Oct. 29 to Nov. 25 against Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the finale at Iowa. The good news? The Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin games are all at home. The bad news? Scott Frost is a combined 3-12 against those three programs, and he’s never beaten Paul Chryst and Wisconsin (0-3) or Kirk Ferentz and Iowa (0-4).
Nothing against the Fighting Hawks, but the answer here has to be North Dakota. However, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that penciling in a win for the Huskers these days is never a good idea. With that being said, Nebraska will have the superior talent in this game and absolutely should win it.
Just keep in mind: North Dakota is a solid FCS program that’s 23-18 in the last four seasons. The Fighting Hawks and their two Nebraskans on the roster—Kason Kelley of Millard North and Marcus Vaughn-Jones of Creighton Prep—will want to come to Lincoln and ruin Nebraska’s season.
The most difficult game to win
Interesting question, right? Let’s run through the contenders of which game will be the hardest for Nebraska.
The game against Northwestern will be difficult—season-openers always are, especially if they’re being played in a stadium in Ireland—but you can’t pick the first game to be the hardest. Neither the Huskers nor Wildcats will be at their best in a week-zero contest.
Oklahoma won’t be the hardest game to win, either. The Sooners are in rebuilding mode under first-year head coach Brent Venables and his offensive coordinator sidekick Jeff Lebby. They’ll have a new quarterback, likely Central Florida transfer Dillon Gabriel, and will be replacing a lot of production from the team that hung on to beat Nebraska in 2021.
Yes, the quintet of Indiana, Rutgers, Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota all pose challenges. Heck, PJ Fleck and the Gophers have won the last three meetings with the Huskers. But no one in that group is the pick. For this answer, one needs to look to the end of the season.
The hardest game of the year will be against the Badgers.
First, let’s get a few things out of the way. Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst lost a key assistant—offensive line coach and the program’s top recruiter, Joe Rudolph—to Virginia Tech this offseason. That’s a big move in the Big Ten coaching world. Rudolph, who’s been in charge of Wisconsin’s o-line for the past seven years, joined Brent Pry’s staff where he’ll coach the o-line and be the run-game coordinator.
Wisconsin fans shouldn’t worry just yet, though. There would be plenty of solid coaches who would take the o-line job at Wisconsin. Something, though, needs to be done with the Badgers’ offense, which finished eighth and ninth in the Big Ten, respectively, in scoring the past two seasons. And what about the quarterback situation? Graham Mertz threw more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10) in 2021.
Chryst was the one calling plays in 2021. Will he be doing it in 2022?
Even though Wisconsin has its own questions to answer, the Badgers have still owned the Huskers recently by winning the last eight games and are 10-1 in the last 11. There’s something unsettling about the inevitable when playing Wisconsin. You can count on there being a tough-as-nails defense. There will be massive, nasty and mean offensive linemen born and raised in the Midwest. And the running backs—Wisconsin will always have a good one toting the rock.
Wisconsin’s o-line and rushing attack has had their way against the Blackshirts recently. In four straight games, Wisconsin running backs have rushed for over 200 yards.
2021: Braelon Allen, 228 yards, three touchdowns
2019: Jonathan Taylor, 204 yards, two touchdowns
2018: Jonathan Taylor, 221 yards, three touchdowns
2017: Jonathan Taylor, 249 yards, two touchdowns
That’s nightmare stuff for a defense to look at. It’s something that can create a mental hurdle to get past, too. That’s why Wisconsin will be the hardest game for the Huskers in 2022.