Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Steele predicts Huskers to go 8-0 in Big 10 and meet Purdue in title game

There are four kinds of Nebraska fans: 1) The Kool-Aid sippers, 2) The unless we have mid-1990s success, the season is a joke crowd, 3) The realists, and 4) The Debbie Downers.

Anyone who follows the preseason magazines knows that Phil Steele over the years has been the most accurate. As flawed as the Huskers have been, Steele predicts they will go undefeated in Big Ten competition and meet Purdue in the conference title game.  

The good news for Nebraska is that no other team in the conference has been setting the world ablaze. Purdue is flying under the radar right now and getting overlooked. They appear to have a really good team and a few folks in the media are starting to catch on to them.

With Ohio State and Penn State both on NCAA probation, it was generally assumed that Wisconsin, which won the Big Ten conference last season, would have a clear path to the Leaders Division title. Though the Badgers are 2-1, it is a shaky 2-1 with close wins over Northern Iowa (26-21) and Utah State (16-14) to go along with a road loss at Oregon State (10-7). Purdue has been much more impressive in defeating Eastern Kentucky (48-6) and Eastern Michigan (54-16) to go along with a close loss to No. 22 Notre Dame (20-17). Keep in mind, Purdue hosts Wisconsin on Oct. 13.

Considering Ohio State and Penn state being on probation couple with Wisconsin looking vulnerable, 4-4 could win the Leaders.

As for Nebraska, the offense has looked much better, which bodes well because with the exception of Michigan State, none of the defenses look scary. On the offensive side, no one else other than Michigan or Ohio State is anything to write home about.

Before the season began, the Big Ten was viewed as a conference that did not have a dominant team like the SEC (Alabama or LSU), Big 12 (Oklahoma) or Pac 12 (USC or Oregon). Instead, the Big Ten was seen as a conference that had a bunch of good but not great clubs clustered together like Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska. Records aside, Wisconsin has performed significantly under what was expected. The rest have performed slightly under what was expected. Michigan’s 41-14 loss to Alabama may end up not being so bad, considering how the top-rated Crimson Tide is rolling. Everyone knew Michigan State’s offense would need to gain experience, and its defense is still very tough.

Nebraska was not expected to lose to UCLA (but that might be because UCLA is be better than expected) and its other opponents don’t give much to go on in evaluating Nebraska. Ohio State has won all three, but has struggled at times. Purdue has probably played better than expected.

The bottom line is I don’t think anything dramatic enough has happened yet to completely rewrite the pre-season expectations, especially to predict Nebraska, or any other team, to go undefeated in conference.

I think that 8-0 is possible, but that is more a function of the overall weakness of the conference this year. I think that the Huskers have a very good chance to take care of business at home this year, including against Michigan. Right now, Nebraska should be favored to beat Wisconsin. The Badgers have looked like a paper tiger so far and the Huskers are going to be fully motivated to pay them back for last year after losing 48-17 in Madison. Michigan is definitely a decent team, but the Alabama game shows that they still have vulnerabilities to exploit, particularly with a strong running game.

Before last weekend, I would have ranked Nebraska’s chances at OSU and MSU at south of 50% for both games. Having watched both games this weekend, I’d now say the Huskers have a 50/50 shot in both games. I will say that Notre Dame does look like a legitimate top ten team to me (much as it pains me to say it) so that MSU loss may look better as the season develops.

As winnable as every game appears to be, however, the Huskers tendency of inconsistent play makes them just as likely (if not more so) to go 8-4 as it is 11-1

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