Let's get way ahead of ourselves for a second.
ESPN's FPI has five Big Ten teams ranked in the preseason top 12: Ohio State (4), Penn State (8) Michigan State (10), Michigan (11) and Wisconsin (12). Nebraska faces four of those teams in Scott Frost's first season, which is part of the reason you saw the Huskers' win total open at six. Nebraska has to go to Michigan (9/22), to Wisconsin (10/6), to Ohio State (11/3) and host Michigan State in the home finale (11/17).
Those are Nebraska's four toughest games on paper. Based on what we assume about the 2018 season right now, they'd all be "upsets" if the Huskers were to win. So here's a chance to call your shot: Which one is Nebraska most likely to win?
The obvious choice is Michigan State simply because it's a home game. FPI views the Spartans as slightly better than Michigan and Wisconsin (which will not be the case in my opinion) and gives the Huskers just a 20-percent win probability in that game. But that's nearly double the probabilities at Michigan and Wisconsin, and triple what's listed for the Ohio State game.
I'd give the Huskers much better than 4-1 odds against Michigan State. There are a couple of reasons for that. One, I think the Spartans are a little overvalued at something close to the 10th-best team in the country. They'll be good and return a ton, but top 10? It wasn't top 10 last year, a season in which the Spartans had a record in one-score games (5-1) that's unlikely in any year. If Michigan State had simply split those six games last year and finished 8-5 would anyone have the Spartans in a preseason top 10? Probably not.
Two, Nebraska should be what it's going to be in 2018 at that point in late November. That won't be the case when the Huskers go to Michigan in Week 4 or Wisconsin in Week 6. Continual development under this new staff is the story of Nebraska's 2018 season, but by Week 11 that journey will nearly be complete.
Three –– and this is what really makes this game the pick for me –– the Spartans' schedule doesn't exactly set up well for a late-November road trip to face Nebraska in the home finale. Michigan State has the earliest bye week in the Big Ten this season. The Spartans open against Utah State, head to Arizona State in Week 2 and then have an open date in Week 3. The Nebraska game will be Michigan State's ninth in a row and comes a week after facing Ohio State.
Now combine that with this: Nebraska has the latest bye week in the West. (Ohio State, Michigan and Rutgers are also off in Week 9.) The Huskers have to play eight straight to open the season, but gets a break at the end of October before facing Ohio State to kick off the final month of the season. I'm not a football coach, but if I were I'd pick the Week 9 bye week over Week 3 every time.
For all of those reasons, if you know of anyone offering 4-1 odds on Nebraska to win straight up on Nov. 17 let me know. I'm ready to book it.
And if you like another potential "upset" better, feel free to make your case in the comments below.
The Grab Bag
- College football provocateur Danny Sheridan says Penn State will "smoke" Ohio State this season.
- One of Minnesota's quarterback candidates is reportedly transferring to a junior college.
- What are expectations for Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M? Well, he is being paid $75 million.
- How LSU lured former Ohio State quarterback Joe Burrow to Baton Rouge.
Today's Song of Today