Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pre-Season Countdown: #3

The Pre-Season Countdown continues toward the most difficult game . . .

12. Indiana State University
11. Eastern Michigan University
10. Temple
9. Indiana
8. Purdue
7. Illinois
6. Northwestern
5. Iowa
4. Ohio State

And the third most difficult game on our schedule this season is . . .


Not to be a spoiler, but I think we all know who the #1 team will be, even though they are ranked #2 in the nation pre-season.  That leaves Wisconsin and Nebraska to battle it out for #2 and #3 spots.  The Badgers are returning 13 starters from a 10-2 team while the Huskers return 11 from a 10-4 team that lost to Washington in the Holiday Bowl (a team they defeated during the season 56-21.)

Moreover, the Wisconsin game is at Camp-Randall Stadium, while we have the luxury of playing the Huskers at home, after a bye week.

There is some evidence that the bye week IS NOT beneficial, according to this WSJ article.

In the Big Ten in particular, byes seem to hurt more than they help. The Big Ten's 11 teams are a combined 17-32 since 2002 when playing conference games on extra rest. Ohio State, which is 56-10 in Big Ten play over that span, is 1-3 on extra rest against conference opponents. Among the defeats was a 2004 loss to Northwestern, the Buckeyes' only loss to the Wildcats since 1971. Penn State and Iowa also are 1-3.

Not exactly what you want to hear.  Reality can be a bitch.  But I am going to over-rationalize this and assert that that bye week will help us.  Why?  This bye week comes late in the season.  Penn State has Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin in consecutive weeks to close out the season.  I think the chance to take a breath here might be helpful.  In some cases, I think it hurts if you are on a roll--it throws your timing and emotion off.

This is not the Husker team of the Tom Osborne era.  The offense has a "west-coast" flavor to it and a dual threat quarterback in Martinez who could give us fits if he stays healthy.  Jamal Turner was recruited as a QB, but switched to WR during spring practice.  That opens the door for some gimmick style plays ala Randel El for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL, where he threw a TD pass to Hines Ward off a reverse play.

The Husker defense ranked 11th overall in the nation last season, and looks to be their strong point again this season.  DT Jared Crick, LB Lavonte David and CB Alfonzo Dennard are all stars, and according to most of what I've read, they have pretty good depth and are set to reload for another great year.  Teams only managed 17.4 points per game against them in 2010.

The Huskers will already be immersed in Big Ten football by the time they come to Happy Valley in November.  They will already have faced Wisconsin at Camp Randall in the Big Ten opener, and they will follow that rude awakening with a trip to Columbus.  They pull MSU at home in late October, and they have a trip to Ann Arbor planned for the week after Penn State.  Could they be looking ahead?

As for the game against the Badgers, some, like Athlon Sports, are predicting this could be a preview of the inaugural Big Ten Championship game.  For what it's worth, these may be the two teams to beat in the Big Ten race.

Overall, I like our chances against the Huskers and look forward to this game.  Nebraska has not won at Beaver Stadium since 1980.  Their loss in 1982 ruined a chance at the national championship for them and paved the way for Joe Paterno's first national title.  The loss in 2002 was simply an electric atmosphere, when Penn State knocked off then 7th ranked Nebraska by a score of 40-7.  That is one game I will never forget.  Penn State fans had a chip on their shoulder after losing to the Huskers in the polls in 1994.  A decade of frustration was taken out on them that night in one of the loudest games ever at Beaver Stadium.

And as an historical aside, PSU beat Central Florida 27-24 the week before pasting the Huskers.  Granted, Nebraska ended the season unranked and was probably over-rated.  This season, we open with a team like Indiana State before hosting Alabama.  Could history repeat itself????

Hey!  I can dream can't I?

Prediction:  If Nebraska is as good as the experts claim them to be, then I don't think PSU can win this game.  But I do think it is winnable.  I'm not sold on QB Martinez, and he had an ankle injury last season which may play a factor in his play this year.  I think Nebraska is going to find play in the Big Ten to be a little different than the high scoring shoot 'em up Big XII conference, where the only Big D they have heard of is Dallas.  Officially, I call this a loss.  Off the record, I think we can win this game.

I'm so good at hedging, I ought to start a hedge fund!

For your enjoyment . . .

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