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Nebraska Football

Hot Reads: A High-Leverage Game for Nebraska

August 14, 2018
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According to the official record, I first wrote about this 2018 Nebraska-Michigan game on Jan. 16 of this year. It's a game I've been thinking about for a while now.

So it wasn't much of a surprise to see it land on ESPN's list of the "five most important conference games":

The Big Ten debut for Scott Frost, the Cornhuskers' first-year coach who ruffled Michigan feathers in 2016 while at UCF, ought to serve as a litmus test for progress at Nebraska. But even if it's another year or two before the Huskers stand toe to toe with Big Ten heavyweights, there's importance in this matchups of the Nos. 1 and 4 winningest programs in the history of the sport. For Jim Harbaugh's team, after a Week 1 trip to Notre Dame, the schedule is back-loaded. The Wolverines can't afford a misstep in the league opener.

This is what I'd call a high leverage game for Nebraska. The Huskers can either win or lose, and, barring some drastic developments over the next five weeks like Michigan starting 0-3, Nebraska will be projected to lose. Thus a win over a presumably strong opponent at this early stage in Scott Frost's reclamation of Nebraska football –– while only worth one in the win column, same as all the others –– offers multiples in perception returns.

Win that one, if the Huskers get through the nonconference schedule unscathed, and Nebraska is off and running. Win that one and the three before it and Nebraska, at 4-0, would be 66.7 percent of the way to its projected win total by FPI. Win that one and the three before it and Nebraska might crack the top 25 just a month into the Frost era. If you think Husker fans are over-the-moon excited about what Nebraska will eventually be under its new head coach, what if it suddenly looks like Nebraska already is?

That's an argument one could maybe make after a win over Michigan. If everything breaks right, of course, and there are many ifs to set up the perfect scenario people, myself included, see when they look at that game. But it's too fun not to think about. Right now, 16-second video clips feel like a feast . . .

. . . so the prospect of a huge game is almost too much to process.

And should Nebraska drop its Big Ten opener at Michigan? Nothing really happens. What's expected to happen will have happened. The game is high leverage but also low risk. For Nebraska. Not Michigan. And I don't expect Husker fans to find themselves in that position very often in the years to come. But it could exist for this game.

At Big Ten Media Days Frost said teams "better get us now." It's different for that Michigan game, however, given the storylines and trajectories. For the Wolverines it's more accurately "better not get got now" because what would that mean for the future?

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