First off allow me to apologize to Akron, Troy and Group of 5 schools overall. The Zips and Trojans are being excluded from the following exercise not because they're inferior, boring or otherwise. They're excluded because I only have five slots available and, as the two lowest ranked teams on most of the preseason lists, it's convenient to limit this discussion to Power 5 only.
But just know that if you care to make the case for Akron or Troy being the most interesting home game on Nebraska's 2018 schedule you're my kind of people and we should be friends. If you don't care to make that case, which home opponent are you choosing?
The Huskers' home slate doesn't have the historical heavy-hitter of most years, the type of program that hasn't really changed the look of its helmet in a half-decade, an Ohio State, a Michigan, a Penn State. Without that sort of game that demands top billing you're left with something of an ensemble cast of Colorado, Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan State. That's not a group where the storylines come ready-made, and that actually makes this process (if not the games themselves) more fun. You really have to get into what those schools bring to the table in terms of intrigue.
So which of those teams are you most excited to see come to Lincoln? Here's how I'd rank them from least to most interesting:
ILLINOIS: Sigh. The Lovie Smith hire was interesting, but the returns to this point haven't been. The Illini were super young a year ago, so that should mean some better football in 2018. But this still isn't a team that excites the general observer from a style-of-play perspective nor is it laden with individual stars. Put it this way: Putting Illinois last on this list –– and I'd have the Illini behind Troy, too, but probably not Akron –– was way too easy. The best thing about this game for Nebraska is that it is sandwiched between a road trip to Ohio State and the home finale against Michigan State.
MINNESOTA: Revenge factor might boost this game for some. (In case you wiped it from your memory, the Gophers did rush for 400-plus yards against the Huskers last year.) Longing also might movie it up the list; it's Nebraska's only home game during a five-week stretch. But after making a stunning debut at Big Ten media days in a plaid sport coat and burgundy pants, P.J. Fleck's first year at Minnesota had a surprising lack of pizazz. This year almost feels like more of a "Year 1" for Fleck and crew than last year ended up being, and Nebraska fans have their own Year 1 to focus on this year.
COLORADO: The first Nebraska game I ever attended was against Oklahoma in 1987, so I was around for that rivalry but the Oklahoma I really remember was mostly post-Switzer. That means I came of age during the Colorado era, so this game will be somewhat fun as a reason to reconsider the early-1990s. Buffs QB Steven Montez is pretty fun, and, speaking of helmet changes, I consider it a good thing that Colorado has gone full-on mix-and-match with black, gold, silver and white options now. If nothing else, I'm already excited to see what uniform combo Colorado chooses.
MICHIGAN STATE: This is the big one, I suppose. Michigan State looks like the best opponent on the home schedule and, according to most of the preseason predictions, the only home game where the Huskers might not be favored. If that all holds mostly true through two-and-a-half months of football, it sets up as a really interesting test for the Huskers because they too will have 2.5 months of football under their belts. (Metaphorically speaking. Football pants no longer have belts.) So what does Scott Frost's first Nebraska team look like at that point? Good enough to beat a presumed top-25 team at home? Mike Riley's Year 1 win over Michigan State in November was a small bright spot in an otherwise dim year. This year's game has the potential to mean more.
(At this point perhaps it has dawned on you. If the Spartans aren't number one, that must mean . . . yep, that's Purdue Pete's music.)
PURDUE: What a difference a year makes. Prior to 2017, Purdue was squarely in Illinois territory. Actually, that's not fair to Illinois; the Boilermakers were looking up at the Illini. But one year of Jeff Brohm turned Purdue from afterthought to fascination (at least for me). I'm not sure Year 2 will look like steady progress for Purdue when it's all said and done –– too many holes to fill on defense –– but Nebraska hosts the Boilermakers in Week 5. At that point, the book on the Boilermakers will be far from written and I think there's a little bit of additional pressure on Nebraska to win that one at home. It should be the "lightest" lifting in a four-game stretch that includes trips to Michigan, Wisconsin and Northwestern, but the larger point is that Purdue is no longer light lifting. Even more than that, however, I'm looking forward to this game the most because I think it's a matchup of two of the best play-callers in the country. Frost v. Brohm isn't the main event, of course, but that's not going to stop me from thinking of it that way.
You can make your pick for the most interesting home game of 2018 (Power 5 edition) over on the main page.
The Grab Bag
- ESPN's staff debates who will be the best quarterback in the country in 2018.
- Here are deep-dive previews of Michigan, Purdue and Northwestern.
- What are the greatest college football gifs? Here are 78 to consider.
- Former Nebraka fullback Ben Miles is transferring to Texas A&M.
Today's Song of Today