Finally, Nebraska has clarity.
Since its announcement in June that the conference would be ditching out-of-league games, Nebraska’s 2020 football schedule has been in limbo. The season was originally scheduled to begin at home against Purdue on Sept. 5, but that game would be followed by three more home affairs against South Dakota State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati.
A seven-home game season for the Huskers evaporated. For a while, the schedule on Huskers.com listed four home games, five road games, and a month-long gap between the season kick-off and Nebraska’s No. 2 opponent.
That was obviously written in pencil, but it was nevertheless unnerving for a team that needs to continue to build under head coach Scott Frost. Fall camp was scheduled to start on Friday, Aug. 7, and in recent days rumors were that a Big Ten schedule announcement would come soon, or maybe not so soon.
Wednesday morning, the league finally revealed its plans. Nebraska can now get to work with some certainty. The Big Ten has flex dates built into its schedule still, so this may change, but here’s Nebraska’s full schedule as things currently stand.
- Sept. 5: at Rutgers
- Sept. 12: vs. Illinois
- Sept. 19: vs. Wisconsin
- Sept. 26: at Iowa
- Oct. 3: vs. Minnesota
- Oct. 10: at Ohio State
- Oct. 17: bye
- Oct. 24: at Northwestern
- Oct. 31: vs. Penn State
- Nov. 7: bye
- Nov. 14: at Purdue
- Nov. 21: vs. Michigan State
Let’s dive in.
>> That first game is noteworthy for a number of reasons.
First, Nebraska had been preparing for Purdue at home. Instead, it’ll open its season on the road for the first time since 1999. No easy task regardless of the opponent and regardless of the presence of fans in the stands.
It remains to be seen whether Nebraska will be able to safely stay overnight in a hotel when they travel. Those logistics will now need to be worked out on an abbreviated timetable. It’s also unclear when Nebraska will actually go to New Jersey. The state has a travel advisory in place by the governor that suggests individuals traveling from a list of states with increasing numbers to quarantine themselves upon arrival for 14 days. Nebraska is on that list. Is the football team asked to comply with that even if the team is conducting its own regular tests? To complete such a quarantine, Nebraska would need to be leaving for Piscataway on Aug. 22.
The Huskers could also be walking into a proverbial hornet’s nest. Rutgers has halted workouts for its football team, according to NJ.com, following an outbreak related to players attending a campus party. Initially, Rutgers had 15 positive tests among players and staff. That number has risen to 28. The entire team was placed under quarantine on July 25, one day after the NCAA allowed teams to move to on-field walk-throughs with a ball and film review. A 14-day quarantine would have the team back on the field no earlier than Aug. 8. With fall camp set to begin on Aug. 7, Rutgers would need every practice it can get.
Should the game become unplayable, it would need to be rescheduled to one of the open dates built into the schedule. Commissioner Kevin Warren praised the flexibility the league was able to build into the slate of games, but Nebraska and Rutgers don’t have a common bye week, so assuming no other cancellations, the earliest the game would be able to be rescheduled would be Nov. 28.
>> Previously, NU closed its season with five straight weeks against Ohio State (on the road), Penn State, Iowa (on the road), Wisconsin (on the road), and Minnesota. One might call that a murderous stretch. Another might call that overkill from the league office.
Under its new schedule, Nebraska doesn’t have such a ridiculous close to its season, but it does still have a particularly brutal run of games.
Over a four-week stretch from Sept. 19 to Oct. 10, the Huskers play the top three teams in its division and then the best team in the conference. The good news is Wisconsin is coming back to Lincoln after a trip a season ago (the series with Wisconsin and Purdue will reset in terms of locations, according to the league), but Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio State is a potentially physically debilitating stretch of games.
Nebraska is a team trying to regain its physical prominence. This offseason has once again been about getting bigger, stronger, and faster. The initial start to the season gave Nebraska a strong chance to get to 6-1, maybe even 7-0, before the “prove it” games began. Now, it won’t have the same kind of time to round into form. It got pushed around by Minnesota a year ago and everyone remembers Scott Frost’s post-Iowa commentary from 2018. Can Nebraska hold its own in the trenches? The Huskers could see their season derailed if they aren’t clicking after the first two weeks. No slow starts.
That puts the onus on quarterback Adrian Martinez and this Husker offense to hit the ground running once fall camp begins on Friday. Settle on the offensive line, start building chemistry with a new room of receivers, and figure out who’s going to be playing where.
Nebraska’s a young team that missed out on crucial spring practices. But it has been hard at work, in the ways allowed, ever since.
In years past, it hasn’t just been physicality that has spelled Nebraska’s doom, but a lack of depth in tandem. The Huskers have some depth for the first time in a while, and, in theory, that’s the counter to a more front-loaded slate of division games. If the offseason gains are enough to give real results this year, we’ll find out sooner rather than later.
>> The new team added to NU’s schedule is Michigan State. The joke here is that Nebraska will never escape Mel Tucker, the Spartans’ new head coach by way of Colorado.
The reality might be something more positive.
If things go off without a hitch, Nebraska will play just twice in November. It’ll travel to Purdue for the second straight year before getting Michigan State at home. The Spartans are rebuilding and Nebraska should be fresh.
One option that was floated recently was Nebraska picking up Michigan as its additional game. Given the presence of Ohio State and Penn State already on the schedule, that would have been a step too far from the league. This seems about as manageable as it could have been for NU.
>> Nebraska will not play on Black Friday for the first time since 1990. The plan was to play Minnesota on Black Friday before a return to Iowa in a few years.
With the new schedule, Turkey Hangover Day won’t feature Nebraska football. That’ll be weird.
>> Assuming it can get those early games in (sorry, lots of couching being done in this piece), Nebraska will have its home opener and a home game against Wisconsin before the SEC and the Pac-12 even play a game. That trip to Iowa City falls on SEC Day, but Nebraska might get some favorable TV coverage in those first three weeks with other conferences waiting on the sidelines.
>> Two games on the schedule, Wisconsin and Purdue, feature breaks from the traditional year-to-year rotation. Wisconsin will play in Lincoln in back-to-back years and Nebraska will play in West Lafayette in back-to-back years. They represent two of six total Big Ten games that had their locations flipped to aid in building the league schedule. The conference clarified that in order to make this possible, the rotations will be adjusted moving forward. So, Nebraska, scheduled to play Wisconsin at home and Purdue on the road in 2021, will now see those games flipped as well, and so on and so forth moving into the future.