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What’s At Stake for Nebraska This Saturday

October 26, 2018

There’s little upside to being projected to beat a team by 40-some points. Win ugly and it’s a problem. Win big and it’s expected. Lose and it’s a catastrophe.

There’s no value in games like these, only exactly what a team like Nebraska pays a team like Bethune-Cookman for –– another home game and an almost certain win. I hate having to look at games that way, but it’s sort of disingenuous not to with games like this.  They serve an important role in college football’s ecosystem, but that doesn’t make this sort of transaction fun for anyone.

At least that’s the typical setup, but the 2018 season has thus far been anything but typical for the Huskers and this may be the rare case where a money game offers more than just the expected return.

We’re here, of course, because the opener was canceled. That act of nature prompted two teams to give up their bye weeks, one in exchange for money and the other in exchange for . . . what?

I think there are at least a few things that will benefit Nebraska on Saturday.

1. The additional game. Unless the Huskers win out they aren’t going to a bowl and won’t get the extra practices that provides. I’ve always felt too much is made of those bowl practices, but people tend to worry when a team doesn’t have them. Given the choice, I’d pick an additional game over bowl practices. I’d pick this game, even. The beauty of a bowl is that a team gets both, but that’s not on the table for Nebraska right now. It will, however, get its full allotment of 720 minutes of game action, and for a program that is just getting the foundation laid those 12 60-minute chunks carry more weight now than they will down the road. 

2. The competition is largely internal this Saturday. This isn’t a slight against Bethune-Cookman, but the spread is what it is for a reason. Any Wildcat win would require a big, heaping pile of help from the Huskers. And this dovetails nicely with the mindset Scott Frost is currently trying to instill in Lincoln. If a team wants to consistently beat opponents, the only way to do that is to get used to competing against its own lofty standard. 1990s Nebraska was that way. Chip Kelly’s Oregon was that way. Nick Saban’s Alabama is that way. 

Saturday’s game may be this Nebraska team’s first real opportunity to experience what it’s like when the primary opponent is itself. Frost is pushing for that to be the case every day, but an 0-6 start indicated the Huskers weren’t there yet. Are they there now? Beating Bethune-Cookman as expected would be a great sign that Nebraska is getting closer.

3. The defense could use a dominant day. The Huskers’ offense hasn’t really been shut down outside of Michigan, which has one of the nation’s best defenses. The progress report for Nebraska’s offense keeps trending up.

Defensively, Huskers fans are still looking for a trend to emerge. Nebraska held its first two opponents to less than 4.7 yards per play. Averaging 5.7 lands you in the middle of the national rankings right now, so that was a pretty good clip. Since then, however, the Huskers have held just one opponent (Northwestern) below 6.4 yards per play. It’s the points that are the bigger deal, however. Nebraska hasn’t given up fewer than four scores in a game this season. If you want a super basic benchmark for Saturday, Bethune-Cookman’s points scored will be the one I’m watching most closely. The Wildcats average 32.4 points per game, tied for 30th in FCS. They have some playmakers. But giving up four scores here would qualify as a disappointment in my mind.

4. It’s another fall Saturday with football. I consume a lot of college football media, from stories to podcasts to games to coaches shows. “As much as I can,” wouldn’t be an inaccurate representation of the total. One thing that increasingly drives me crazy is when I come across the sentiment that “there are no good games this weekend.” It doesn’t add up. Plenty of people claim to be football obsessed and most of those that do spend at least 90 percent of the offseason (that’s an estimate, compiled by me) bemoaning the lack of football in their life.

Then we get to the part of the year with football and some of those same obsessives are disappointed because the football is not good enough? It just doesn’t square. Nobody’s pretending that Bethune-Cookman-Nebraska carries the same intrigue as Nebraska-Ohio State will a week from now, but no matter the opponent we only get 12 of these guaranteed a year.

And this one wasn’t even guaranteed. But here we are. It’s another Saturday and each one remains an opportunity to see something you’ve never seen before.

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