Defensive lineman Ben Stille runs to tackle Wisconsin quarterback
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: A Way Too Early Look at…the Strength of NU’s 2020 Schedule

January 15, 2020

We have entered "Way Too Early" season. Didn't even wait for Monday's national-championship game to be over this time. A few 2020 top 25s arrived early, but once LSU had dispatched Clemson, the flood began.

Unlike a year ago, Nebraska isn't showing up in these rankings this time. North Carolina or maybe Arizona State seems to be this year's trendy pick, though unlike the Huskers entering 2019 the Tar Heels and Sun Devils are coming off winning seasons.

More than a handful of the Huskers' 2020 opponents are showing up in these rankings, however. We already knew the schedule was tough but four of the seven rankings I've seen so far have six Nebraska opponents in the top 25.

Here's a grid showing where Nebraska's opponents are falling in these rankings. (NU home games in italics.)

TEAM ESPN The Athletic CBS Sports USA Today B/R Sporting News Athlon
Ohio St. 2 2 2 3 2 2 2
Penn St. 9 6 12 7 7 9 6
Wisconsin 14 11 15 18 11 14 10
Cincinnati 17 18 18 16 20 17
Minnesota 19 16 11 15 12 13
Iowa 23 13 21 10 21

Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin are all part of the "usual suspects" group. No surprise to see those teams kicking around the top 15 and the Buckeyes are a near-unanimous No. 2 behind Clemson. Below that, things get a little interesting.

Stewart Mandel of the The Athletic had Iowa at No. 13, which I suspect will be as high as you see the Hawkeyes in the preseason. Most of the others have Iowa in the back half of the top 25, and two outlets didn't have the Hawkeyes ranked at all. Kirk Ferentz's squad returns a lot overall, but has to find a quarterback and star defensive end A.J. Epenesa won't be back.

Raise your hand if when Nebraska added a series with Cincinnati back in 2013 you were the one who said, "when those teams first play, one of them will be ranked and it will be Cincinnati." There's a good chance that happens. The Bearcats, coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons under Luke Fickell, should start the season in the actual rankings and play Austin Peay, Western Michigan and Miami (Ohio) before facing the Huskers. Western Michigan and Miami were bowl teams in 2019, but if Cincinnati is indeed a top-25 caliber team it will likely head to Lincoln 3-0.

Then there's Minnesota, which shows up everywhere from No. 11 to unranked. The Gophers lose a lot of production from 2019's 11-2 team (which had one of the best returning-production numbers entering last year) and have also lost a couple of coaches, including their offensive coordinator. That all feels like a pretty noisy team when it comes to trying to project how good Minnesota will be, but the Huskers and Gophers don't play until the regular-season finale so it'll all be sorted by then.

In case you're curious, Paul Myerberg of USA Today was the one who had Minnesota outside the top 25 in the "Just missed the cut" category. Myerberg also had Nebraska in that group, which might end up being about as high as you see the Huskers this offseason.

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