Husker 2014 Schedule: Where's the Parity Base?
Remember when everyone said Nebraska was leaving the Big 12 for the Big 10 because they couldn't beat Texas? Now they have a point.
Nebraska's 2014 schedule has validated many concerns about the competitive imbalance the Big 10's East-West divisions could create. The last two years in the Big 12, the Huskers' two best conference home games going into the year were Oklahoma and Texas Tech in 2009 and Texas and Missouri in 2010. In 2014, the best conference home games will be Rutgers, and fan's choice from Minnesota, Purdue, and Illinois. Would it have been too much to ask for a home game with Northwestern? If Miami doesn't rebound this year, it could be the worst home schedule in Nebraska football history.
Making the West Division schedule should not have been hard: Nebraska plays at Iowa, Iowa plays at Wisconsin, Wisconsin plays at Nebraska. It's understandable that the Big 10 didn't want to alter much of the existing schedule or have too many return trips (even though Iowa will be playing at Minnesota for the fourth time in five years), but the league owes the three premiere programs in the West one home game with each other every year.
As a whole though, Nebraska schedule in year one post-Taylor Martinez looks semi-challenging. While Michigan State and Rutgers aren't daunting, they are more difficult than Iowa's and Wisconsin's crossover opponents. (Iowa has Maryland and Indiana; Wisconsin has Maryland and Rutgers.) But even with four tough road games, the Huskers will have bye weeks before two of them, at Northwestern and more importantly, at Wisconsin on November 15, so things balance out a bit.
TV-wise, Nebraska will have better games for ABC to pick from for the network's primetime schedule (at Michigan State, Rutgers' first trip to the prairie) but again, the league has backloaded its schedule with the Nebraska-Iowa-Wisconsin games all in the last three weeks of November. Because of the competitive imbalance between divisions, the Big 10 probably had to make a choice of having a good TV product in October, or having a viable division race in the last weeks of the season. Not much of a choice there.
No one benefited from the schedule remold more than Iowa. The Hawkeyes will play Illinois, Indiana, and Maryland instead of Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, and will get to play Wisconsin at home now. Your move, Kirk Ferentz; all of the freshmen you had to play this year will be juniors, so you may want to take advantage of the easy schedule this time.
Other schedule observations: There will be twelve return trips in 2014, AKA a team playing at a team it played at in 2013. Four involve Indiana, and another four involve Iowa. The most significant are Michigan-at-Michigan State, Michigan-at-Northwestern, Northwestern-at-Iowa, and Wisconsin-at-Iowa. (The only return trip involving Nebraska is Illinois playing in Lincoln for the second year in a row.) Minnesota looses a schedule in which they play Iowa, Wisconsin, and Nebraska all at home or on the road every year. Rutgers will play Penn State in a showcase, welcome-to-the-Big-10 game on September 13, a great move counterbalanced by the idiocy of Maryland's first Big 10 game being at Indiana. Most importantly, the final weekend of the year has the traditional, regional match-ups that write themselves: Ohio State-Michigan, Michigan State-Penn State, Indiana-Purdue, Illinois-Northwestern, Wisconsin-Minnesota, Iowa-Nebraska, and Maryland-Rutgers. Hopefully, the Big 10 can find a trophy for Maryland-Rutgers that's worse than the utterly generic Heroes' Game steel football-on-a-chunk-of-wood. Maybe an old piece of interstate concrete would suffice, or a steel satellite dish since both programs were invited to the Big 10 because of the TV markets they bring.