Monday, September 19, 2011

Huskers improving unlike most of its Big Ten foes

As much as we love to bristle at the coach-speak "one game at a time" idea, any sports season truly is about winning one game at a time. However, just for a day, I will stray from that idealogy as it pertains to the No. 9 ranked Nebraska football team as it heads on the road to take on Wyoming.

The Huskers are 3-0 after Saturday's 51-38 win over Washington, not a particularly overwhelming 3-0 record but it's 3-0 nonetheless. The Cowboys represent Nebraska's final nonleague tuneup before turning its attention to Big 10 opponents.

Throughout the offseason, most people tabbed Nebraska as the favorite to win the Legends division that also includes Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Minnesota. The Leaders division contains Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana. Wisconsin, which is currently the No. 6 ranked team in the nation, is considered the favorite out of that division.

The dynmanic about two division conferences is such that you have 12 teams, 12 regular season games and eight conference games. Teams play division opponents once every year while out of division opponents are rotated every two years. For example, Nebraska will play Wisconsin and Ohio State from the Leaders Division the next two years. The Huskers will play Penn State every year as the natural crossover game but in 2013 and 2014 Illinois and Purdue replace Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Since Nebraska did not draw what most people predicted as the lower third of the Leaders Division (Indiana, Purdue and Illinois), the perception was "Gee whizz, the Big Ten did Nebraska no favors in its first season." While rankings are often subjective, the feeling among many media members (specifically mainstream media members that cover the Huskers on a daily basis) is that Nebraska's No. 9 ranking is too high. However, as inconsistent as the Huskers have been to date, the only one of their remaining opponents that is playing at a higher level than Nebraska at the present time is Wisconsin, whom the Huskers visit on Oct. 1. While the Badgers would likely be favored against the Huskers, that game is far from out of reach.

Could other opponents not named Wisconsin be potholes on the Husker slate? Certainly. Michigan, whom the Huskers travel to face on Nov. 19, could definitely pose a threat in large part because of quarterback Dennard Robinson.

Michigan State was supposed to be Nebraska's biggest threat in the Legends division but the Spartans looked God-awful in a 31-13 loss to Notre Dame Saturday. Iowa rallied to beat Pittsburgh 31-27 but still looks suspect. Northwestern lost to a winless army squad. Minnesota is rebuilding -- as usual. Ohio State and Penn State are struggling against any competant competition.

Point being, Nebraska may have its flaws but compared to the rest of the teams on their slate (Wisconsin and Michigan notwithstanding) the Huskers are at least improving.

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