Digging out from the rubble of another rout is a skill a fan base would rather not have, but Nebraska fans do. Saturday night's 48-7 loss to Ohio State was another one of those losses. There's no shame in losing to a really good team, but when it looks like your team doesn't belong on the same field as a current power you kind of have to confront just how much hard work there is ahead.
Husker fans have had a good decade or so of those kind of games now. They force you to reset expectations. The magical Year 2 leap for Nebraska football––something nobody fully expected but wouldn't fully eliminate as a possibility either––might be off the table at this point. But the nice part of this latest razing is that the path forward appears pretty clear.
Nebraska, in my mind, should have a realistic and immediate goal: Go undefeated in October. I'm including Nov. 2 in that group as well––Northwestern, at Minnesota, Indiana, at Purdue. Those are the Huskers' next four games, with a well-timed off week between games two and three.
Winning all four won't close the gap between Nebraska and Ohio State, a gap that appeared massive again on Saturday, but here's what it would do: It would get Nebraska to 7-2 with Wisconsin coming to Lincoln for what would likely be a key game in the West Division race.
After a loss like last week's, that's what everyone really wants––a second chance to test yourself against one of the best in the country. But it's better that Nebraska has to go through four games to earn that opportunity. They're not games that have the built-in brand recognition of Nebraska-Ohio State, but they all are basically tossups based on what we know about these teams today.
Nebraska only dropped four spots in the latest SP+ rankings (to 39th) following the loss to Buckeyes. It was 12 spots (to 48th) in FPI and the Huskers actually rose six spots (to 36th) in the Sagarin ratings where Ohio State is now the top team in the country. (The Buckeyes are almost there in SP+, too.)
Here are the same rankings for the next four opponents:
Nebraska is a program that will always be measured by how it competes against the Ohio States of the world rather than the Minnesotas and Indianas, but right now the month ahead is the right test at the right time.
Northwestern (1-3) has been a consistent foil for the Huskers since joining the Big Ten. The Wildcats execute at a high level and ask their opponents to do the same. Nebraska has struggled to do that consistently this season, so the challenge here is primarily that. Can the Huskers do what they want to do better than Northwestern does what it does? The line for this game opened at around eight points. FPI shows the Huskers as 6.3 points better on their home field with a 68.1% win probability.
Minnesota is 4-0 with a total scoring differential of 20 points. The Gophers host Illinois this week and are a two touchdown favorite in that game. Nebraska will likely head to Minneapolis as an underdog. FPI gives the Huskers a 35.8% win probability here. This should be Nebraska's first chance to make a mini-statement post-Ohio State.
Following an off week, the Huskers host Indiana (3-2). Like Minnesota, the Hoosiers are right in the rankings range with Nebraska at the moment. FPI looks at this one as a coin flip, too, giving Nebraska a 61.9% win probability.
Then––on the first Saturday in November, which really messes with the #undefeatedinOctober branding––the Huskers go to West Lafayette. Purdue (1-3) has struggled with a young offensive line and bad injury luck, but it's still a well-coached team. By virtue of being on the road, the Huskers are given a 58.4% win probability here.
FPI isn't the final word on anything, of course, but it can be a useful guide at times. Add all of those win probabilities up and the projected win total for Nebraska from its next four games is 2.2.
Can the Huskers be better than that? Can they get it to four?
The coaches won't look that far ahead, but winning all four feels like a realistic goal that will require Nebraska to play well. If it gets there, this season would feel like its back on track.
The Grab Bag
- Derek Peterson’s Monday morning column remains a must-read. Here he looks at the Huskers’ in the I-formation, how they find their own Chase Young and more.
- The Huskers are continuing to make Iowa a priority on the recruiting front.
- Greg Smith caught up with 2021 defensive end commit RJ Sorensen following his visit to Nebraska. (Premium)
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