We got a question for the mailbag this week that was cool. Actually, all the questions we get every week for all the mailbags are cool and you’re all wonderful for sending them in, but this particular mailbag question felt like it deserved its own standalone story.
How would you rank the Husker home football games in 2019?
See? A great question. And it requires an equally great answer. A thoughtful answer. The ranking criteria:
- Category 1: The Backstory. This one is pretty self-explanatory, and scored on a scale from zero to 25, with the stronger ties earning more points. Is there beef between the two head coaches? Do the two teams historically play each other close? How does the fanbase feel about the fans on the other side? On a scale of one to Texas, how much does the viewing public at large hate the team coming in?
- Category 2: The Stay-Upability. This is also scored on a scale from zero to 25. (Spoiler: each category is scored on a scale from zero to 25.) If the game was kicking off at 9 p.m., would you be willing to stay up until at least midnight to watch the whole thing? I’m not talking about being at the stadium, I’m talking you had to work on a Saturday and got home at 7 o’clock and the coffee isn’t working and you have to make a choice between watching this football game on TV or crawling into bed and dying. The more likely you are to delay sleep, obviously the better the game so the higher the score.
- Category 3: The Stakes. What does this game mean in the grand scheme of things? Are you playing for Paul Bunyan’s Axe? Which is the best name for a regular-season trophy in all of sports but the game is also completely meaningless? Or, is this one Big-Ten-West-division-title-deciding important? The higher the stakes, the higher the score.
- Category 4: The Conflict: Your brother is getting married. You are expected to be at this wedding. You guys were the kind of siblings that took turns standing in front of the bed while the other ran from the hallway into the room to tackle the tackle dummy as hard as he possibly could. (There’s no way this was just my brother and I; and yes, injuries occurred.) But it is the same time as the football game. If you pick the football game over the wedding, how mad is your brother? The more trouble you’re in, the lower the score here.
Tally up the numbers and you get a final score. It’s just simple math after that. Let’s do it.
South Alabama, August 31
Nebraska opens the season with the South Alabama Jaguars. As long as the weather cooperates. The weather didn’t cooperate last season. Can you imagine…?
- Category 1, Backstory — The only people who hate South Alabama live in North Alabama. I think. There’s no backstory here, because these two teams have only played once before, in 2015, when Nebraska won 48-9, but even South Alabama wasn’t mad at that. So no score here. 0/25
- Category 2, Stay-Upability — Meh. If this thing is like 40-3 going into the fourth quarter, and there’s a good chance it’ll be 40-3 going into the fourth quarter, the only people sticking around to see the end of the game will be the ones getting paid to do so. Or player family. They’re obligated. (Fact: The Jaguars are projected to be the fourth-worst defense in FBS football next year. Also fact: The Jaguars have to replace their starting quarterback from a season ago in an offense that ranked as the 13th-worst last year. Also fact: when those first two facts about your team are true, playing a Scott Frost offense in Scott Frost’s home in Scott Frost’s home-opener is not going to produce an entertaining 60 minutes of football. Thirty, maybe. But no 60.) Another low score. 10/25
- Category 3, Stakes — You can’t really lose the first game of your season. And Nebraska has gone back-to-back years losing a home pay-for-play game. So, there’s probably going to be a little bit of pressure on the home team to perform. But there’s also pressure on the home team to perform because the Huskers will likely be ranked or near the top 25 and will want a validating kind of performance. Those are all not nothing. 15/25
- Category 4, Conflict — Maybe try and pull the “But it was the home-opener!” card here, but if you miss your brother getting married to watch South Alabama, the odds of you getting punched raise exponentially. 5/25
So we’re at 30/100. The South Alabama game is 30 percent tough. It’s the equivalent of the anonymous Twitter reply guy.
Northern Illinois, September 14
This is game No. 3 on the schedule. The expected margin by S&P+ is 9.7 points and Nebraska’s win probability is right around 70 percent. We’re building.
- Category 1, Backstory — You bet there’s backstory here. The last time Northern Illinois came to Memorial Stadium, it beat Nebraska 21-17. Which isn’t a huge score, but it dropped the 2017 Huskers to 1-2 on the year and effectively terminated Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst and head coach Mike Riley. Maybe Husker fans will have a banner and cheers waiting for the Huskies. . . given those two firings paved the way for the two guys running the show now. . . or maybe the players who were on that 2017 squad feel the need for revenge. This is not the unofficial start of the Revenge Tour 2K19 (which begins a week before this game in Boulder, Colorado), but it’s the home start of it. And Northern Illinois is projected to be a middle-of-the-pack team so they might put up some fight. 20/25
- Category 2, Stay-Upability — Be honest with yourself. You would stay up to watch Nebraska hang half a hundred on this team. 13/25
- Category 3, Stakes — Nebraska is either 2-0 entering this game or 1-1. There is not a third option. And dropping to 1-2 is not an option. So there is once again a little bit of pressure to win this one at home. NIU also projects to have a top-20 defense thanks to the return of four of the top five defensive linemen from last season, all seven of the top seven linebackers and each of the top nine defensive backs. Nebraska will go back on the road the following week, then come home for the biggest game in, what, three years the week after that? Don’t look ahead. 14/25
- Category 4, Conflict — If you said you needed to be at this game with a sign that reads “Thanks 4 Moos,” you would probably still be hated and cut out of family photos, but you could try it. Little brother is big mad here. 5/25
That puts the score at 52/100. Northern Illinois is a so-so game. Could be convinced it’s going to be a better-than-anticipated game. Could be convinced it’ll be over after three quarters. The very reason the shoulder shrug emoji was created.
Ohio State, September 28
This is, before even trying to score it, the biggest game on the schedule, and maybe the biggest game at Memorial Stadium in years. Ohio State has the formerly-top-rated quarterback from the 2018 freshman class in Justin Fields. It has the guy Urban Meyer hand-picked to be his Buckeye coaching replacement. It has a defense with terrifyingly large people at every spot. It has the sixth-best projected offense in college football thanks to a 1,000-yard running back returning and four of the top seven receivers from last year returning.
- Category 1, Backstory — Where to begin? The pummeling started in 2012 in Columbus, when Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team beat Nebraska to a pulp 63-38, then carried over to 2016 when it got even worse and Ohio State won 62-3 in Columbus, then came back to Lincoln in 2017 and saw Ohio State win 56-14. That last game was called a sellout but it was maybe 70 percent full at kickoff and no percent full before the final whistle. Or do we talk about how Ohio State went SIX YEARS without punting a single time against Nebraska? The 2018 game, the first one Frost was a part of, saw Nebraska almost beat Ohio State in Columbus, and, in some ways, outplay the Buckeyes even in a losing effort. The players certainly felt like they should have won that game. Nebraska will be wanting to announce it isn’t the doormat it has been to the Big Ten’s best for the last seven years. 25/25
- Category 2, Stay-Upability — Anyone who calls themselves a Nebraska fan will be up through this entire game, and then either drinking to celebrate after or drinking to numb the pain. Either way, sleep is for the weak on this night. 25/25
- Category 3, Stakes — There’s a greater-than-50/50 chance ESPN’s College GameDay is at this game. There’s a greater-than-50/50 chance both teams are ranked for this game. There’s a greater-than-50/50 chance both teams are unbeaten heading into this game. All of those things equal high-stakes football. It’s going to be great, though still a little too early to know whether it’s going to decide anything in the Big Ten. 23/25
- Category 4, Conflict — If you’re at this game, instead of your brother’s wedding, and Nebraska wins in dramatic fashion, all is forgiven. If Nebraska wins, there will be a little resentment but what’s a little brotherly resentment every now and again? If Nebraska loses, you will only be asked, “Was it worth it?” You really have a case to be made with this game. 20/25
Ohio State gets a score of 93/100. Which is going to be pretty hard to beat. As it should.
Northwestern, October 5
So, funny story. Hail Varsity publishes a story almost immediately after the clocks hit zero on a Saturday. The goal is to have a recap ready to go as close to the end of a game as possible. On this particular Saturday last season, the recap was written with about five minutes left in the game, and handed off to an editor with the comment “You should only need to update rushing yardage numbers for Nebraska, everything else is good to go.” Then, from the field, everyone of our team members in Evanston, Illinois, for the game watched as Northwestern marched 99 yards on its final drive to tie a game it had no business tying and force and overtime it had no business winning.
The recap had to be completely shredded. The editor wrote an entirely new recap on the fly. It was not fun.
So. . . the Wildcats won’t be getting a warm Nebraska welcome for this one.
- Category 1, Backstory: Read the last three grafs. There are some Nebraska coaches that won’t even watch the tape from that game last year. (And these guys always play each other close. Three of the last four games have all been decided by seven points or less.) A max score doesn’t do this justice. 35/25
- Category 2, Stay-Upability: Read the first three grafs from this section. 25/25
- Category 3, Stakes: Read the first three gra… Kidding. Northwestern was the Big Ten West winner last season. Pat Fitzgerald can never be counted out and his Wildcat teams always play with those intangibles all coaches are looking for. Northwestern might not be the best team in the division, but if Nebraska wants to be in Indianapolis at the end of the year, it’s going to have to beat the reigning Indianapolis-goers. 18/25
- Category 4, Conflict — Recent history aside, if you miss a wedding for this game, one Nebraska is expected to win by five with a win probability of 61 percent, people probably aren’t going to be too happy. 12/25
Northwestern gets a score of 90/100. Which feels right. From a storyline standpoint, this game should be one of the best on the Husker schedule. From a football standpoint, Nebraska could very well be a much better team.
Indiana, October 26
Who knows? This one is sandwiched in between road trips to Minnesota and Purdue. Indiana should be good (projected No. 46 in S&P+) and has a good quarterback and a good running back and good pieces on defense. But who knows?
- Category 1, Backstory — These two teams have played once since Nebraska joined the Big Ten. This is like going to a family barbeque and seeing that cousin you’ve heard about but only met once and you can’t remember when that happened and it’s awkward. So, there’s no backstory. 0/25
- Category 2, Stay-Upability — If it’s really been a long day, and this game is like 17-6 after the first half, you’re probably going to have it on in the background as you fall asleep. This just has “Meh” written all over it. 12/25
- Category 3, Stakes — Even though there isn’t much going on in the lead-up to this one, Nebraska has games against Purdue, Wisconsin and Iowa in the five weeks that follow this one. For a team that wants to win the West, that’s a murderous stretch. Taking care of business at home against Indiana is most likley going to be a must if the Huskers are in play for the division title this late in the season. 19/25
- Category 4, Conflict — Yeah you’re getting punched if you choose this game. 2/25
We’re at a score of 33/100 for Indiana, which seems a little low for a conference game against a good team, but there just isn’t anything exciting or sexy about it for the Huskers. Not given what else is on the home slate.
Wisconsin, November 16
Like this one.
- Category 1, Backstory — Nebraska hasn’t beaten Wisconsin since the East-West division structure was put in place. It’s now been six straight losses. Wisconsin has Barry Alverez and sneaky similar uniforms and sneaky similar color combinations and sneaky similar play tendencies to the Nebraska teams everyone grew up on. And this one is a rivalry in a way Iowa may never be. There’s respect here between the two fanbases, but Nebraska desperately wants to win. I think about what could have been if the 2017 game in Memorial Stadium didn’t begin with Nebraska throwing a pick-six at least once a week. 24/25
- Category 2, Stay-Upability — Wisconsin is Wisconsin. Expecting the Badgers to drop is expecting something that hasn’t happened in a while. They’re projected by S&P+ as the 11th-best team next season with the fifth-best offense because they have the first-best running back in football and a quarterback who looks like the next best thing. Also defense. Their defense is good. This one will have eyeballs everywhere glued to the TV until the very end because this figures to be a fantastic football game between two fantastic football teams. Wisconsin is also expected to win by 11, which feels too high. 25/25
- Category 3, Stakes — Playing Wisconsin is playing for the Big Ten West crown until Wisconsin has like five straight sub-500 seasons. Thems just the breaks. So playing Wisconsin in the third-to-last game of the season for a team hoping to be playing for the Big Ten West Crown is, by definition, playing for all the marbles. 25/25
- Category 4, Conflict — Just like with the Ohio State game, if Nebraska wins on a last-second score or stop, you’re fine. If Nebraska wins big, you will be asked what the atmosphere was like. If Nebraska loses, you’re probably in a little bit of trouble, but who schedules a November wedding anyway? 19/25
Wisconsin gets a score of 93/100 because it felt dirty saying the Wisconsin game is going to be bigger than the Ohio State game. We shall see.
Iowa, November 29
Who’s ready to play Iowa on Black Friday for the last time in a few years? Because of the lack of care toward the game the last guy showed? Minnesota? No? Don’t shoot the messenger.
- Category 1, Backstory — Iowa has really enjoyed Nebraska’s time in the mud. Like, really enjoyed. Twitter conversations between the two fanbases are wonderful. Iowa has never won anything of substance; Nebraska, obviously, has. But Iowa has been good-to-great this century and Nebraska has been ok-to-dear lord what is this during this century. And Iowans have enjoyed that. The trash -talking is real and Iowa has won five of the last six. This is a hate fest. 25/25
- Category 2, Stay-Upability — Last year’s game, to a casual observer, was tremendous. It went back and forth. It had momentum swings and even up until the very end, you had no idea who was going to win. It was everything you hope for post-Turkey Day when you’re in a food coma. This year’s game could provide the exact same thing. Nebraska’s offense should be very good. Iowa’s defense is projected to be a top-20 unit. The margin is expected to be a field goal, just like last year. This could be one of the better games on the entire schedule. 25/25
- Category 3, Stakes — Iowa might not be in the hunt for the West crown by this point. It could be, but it might not be. Same goes for Nebraska. The division winner may already be decided by this point. But this is a game that earns an entire state bragging rights for a whole year, and those bragging right apparently come with the ability to be incredibly annoying on Twitter. This is why we play. 20/25
- Category 4, Conflict — Again, who schedules a wedding in November, especially this last? 18/25
Iowa ends up with a score of 88/100, making it the fourth-best game on the home schedule behind Wisconsin and Ohio State, and Northwestern.
Do you agree? Let us know in the comments.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.