2015 will give Husker Fans More Hope than '16 or '17
So the SEC has yet to release its schedule for 2014, and the Big 10 has already released football schedules through 2017. Come on SEC, writers and bloggers have a few more weeks to fill before fall camps open up on campuses across the nation. You could at least do what the ACC did and release football opponents for the next twelve years. But to our point, four years of schedules now sit before Husker fans, and one thing is for sure: fans should enjoy 2015.
The biggest positive concerning the 2016-2017 schedules is that the Big 10 will be putting new opponents on each team's schedule every year, avoiding the mistake of the old Big 12 of having the exact same schedule rotation over a four year period. Remember when Kansas went 11-1 in 2007 when they got to play Texas A&M, Baylor, and Oklahoma State, then went 7-5 the next with virtually the same team when they had to play Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech? Remember how Nebraska always had to play at Texas the year after losing to Texas at home in heartbreaking fashion? Those problems will be avoided in the Big 10's format.
But this model does raise the question of return games and whether or not one team is owed a home after visiting a conference opponent. Some good offseason storylines could be lost -- say for example, Nebraska schools an improving Maryland team in Lincoln on Senior Day 2016, and a September 2017 payback game in College Park could be a good summer storyline to chew on. Granted, not many Nebraska fans will care as much, and Maryland fans don't care at all, but the point is the same. Back when the SEC had 12 teams, each team had two rotating opponents, one that had not been played the year prior and one that was carried over from the previous year, with the previous year's home team playing at the previous year's visitor. Even now, look at the anticipation for Alabama-Texas A&M in Week 3.
As far as difficulty is concerned , neither of these schedules will make the road to a conference title game in Indianapolis easy because of back-to-back road games. In 2016, Nebraska already had enough trouble with Iowa and Wisconsin on the road, but the Big 10 gave the Huskers two series of back-to-back road games, first at Northwestern and Indiana (the Huskers' first trip to Bloomington), and at Wisconsin and Ohio State, all four games taking place in the span of five weeks. Aside from aiding Mr. Academic's “What about the student-athlete?” argument, such a schedule is a blatant competitive disadvantage. In both 2011 and 2012, Nebraska had two sets of back-to-back road games, once because their final non-conference game happened to be a road game, and once because they made the conference title game. In both situations, the Huskers got whitewashed in the final game of the two back-to-back games by Michigan (45-17) and Wisconsin (70-31), the latter in the Big 10 Title Game. (To be fair, Nebraska had a bye week between the games at Ohio State and at Northwestern last year.) Don't expect the Huskers second trip to the Horseshoe to be any easier than the first.
Even in 2017, when the Huskers get Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Iowa at home, they have to play Penn State on the second of two back-to-back road games at the end of the season. And can't Nebraska get Ohio State at home in a year when they play Wisconsin and Iowa on the road?
At least 2015 should give Nebraska a very good shot to win the West division. While avoiding Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State, the Huskers draw Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State, and Iowa at home, with a bye before the Iowa game. (You've been thrown a bone, Kirk Ferentz.) They face no back-to-back road games, and their most difficult stretch of games could the Spartans at home and Rutgers on the road. Assuming the starting quarterback is in place (whether it's Johnny Stanton, Tommy Armstrong or someone yet to transfer), the Huskers should be poised at a road to Indy that's just as manageable as this year's.
Then there's the Michigan issue. When the first Big 10 divisions were announced back in 2010, I personally thought the Wolverines would become the most anticipated foe on Nebraska's schedule. Even though each of the last two years, the winner had a leg up in the post-season pecking order (Michigan's win in 2011 helped them secure an at-large BCS bid, Nebraska's win in 2012 got them to Indianapolis), the lack of strong emotional reaction just goes to show you can't fake a rivalry.
As a proponent of early season games, I am glad the Big 10 will be playing September conference games, and that Nebraska will be a part of it, with the Huskers hosting Rutgers in Week 4 of 2017. Michigan will play at Purdue the same week, and Ohio State will play at Indiana in Week One. (This will also allow the Buckeyes a bye the week before they host Penn State). Not the greatest slate of early season conference games, but it's a start.