Hot Reads: Strong Year for the Big Ten
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hot Reads: Strong Year for the Big Ten, Just Not for Nebraska Yet

October 14, 2019

This has not been the season many Nebraska fans––heck, many impartial observers––expected for the Huskers, but it has been a strong year so far for the Big Ten as a whole. That's of no solace for those in red, but it is relevant for what happens over the Huskers' final five games.

Bill Connelly of ESPN released his updated SP+ rankings on Sunday and they included eight Big Ten teams in the top 30. Ohio State, on a bye week, moved up to No. 1 despite a strong win from Alabama at Texas A&M. Wisconsin, which delivered its fourth shutout of the season with a 38-0 win over Michigan State, moved up to No. 4. Penn State (6) and Michigan (13) are holding strong as well.

After manhandling Nebraska, Minnesota was one of the biggest movers of the week. The Gophers rose nine spots to No. 17. There was no real shame in Iowa's loss to Penn State, so the Hawkeyes remained in the top 20. And Indiana, Nebraska's next opponent, is at No. 25. Michigan State, despite a woeful offense, is hanging on at No. 27.

Win in the Big Ten this year and, unless the opponent is Rutgers, you'll get some credit for it. From Connelly:

With each week, schedule adjustments begin to play a heavier role in these ratings, which is good news for Big Ten and Big 12 teams, in particular. Those two conferences are now nearly tied with the SEC in terms of average SP+ rating. The average SEC team is at plus-12.6 adjusted points per game, while the Big 12 is at plus-12.3, and the Big Ten is plus-12.2.

Problem is, Nebraska has been awful through four conference games. Separate out the nonconference stats and things get shocking quickly. The Huskers have been outscored 110-69 in Big Ten play; 42 of those 69 points scored came in fumble-plagued, closer-than-expected win over Illinois. The passing game has dropped from 8 yards per attempt (sacks included) in nonconference play to 5.6 in conference play. The run game (sacks not included) is basically the same––5.0 yards per carry in the Big Ten, 4.9 otherwise––but that's thanks mostly to the 357-yard day against the Illini.

In the three games since that sloppy shootout, Nebraska's offense has managed 27 points on offense. The Huskers have now been outscored on the season, despite the winning record.

That's where Nebraska begins its bye week, and it needs to be a productive seven days. The Huskers, of course, dropped in the three power rankings I've been tracking all season. Behind getting to a bowl game, being able to show some progress in Year 2 at the end of the season might be the most important task for Nebraska.

It's a tough argument to make at this point based on on-field results, and being able to make it at the end of the year won't be easy. ESPN's FPI ranks the Huskers' remaining schedule as the eighth-toughest in the country. Sagarin ranks Nebraska's schedule to this point 57th.

The hardest work this season is still ahead for the Huskers.


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