This year, a game-by-game analysis of Nebraska's season would prove mostly fruitless, as the Huskers look to be favored in eleven games, perhaps six or seven of those by double digits. But just because the road appears easy doesn't mean that the 2013 Nebraska Cornhuskers will automatically be one of the school's best teams.
Phil Steele's ratings for Nebraska for this year set forth a clear dichotomy. Steele rated the Huskers #16 in his preseason rankings, rankings that are based on how teams will finish at the end of the season. But in his power poll, based on a team's raw talent, he ranks Nebraska #27. So even if Nebraska is 12-0 or 11-1 this year, it will have to be balanced. Remember last year, Nebraska trailed by double-digits in the second half of four of their wins. Another (Iowa) was only by six, and in the win that clinched the Legends Division for Nebraska, Michigan had to play Russell Bellomy in the second half, not Devin Gardner. Suffice to say, Nebraska had its share of luck in getting to 10-2.
With that in mind, let's evaluate what certain records will mean for Nebraska at the end of the season. These are just regular season records, and do not reflect possible Big 10 Title game results, or bowl game results. These evaluation do not take in to account everything, such a health, another area where Nebraska was very fortunate a year ago. Taylor Martinez goes down week one and is out the full season, a lot of things are different.
12-0: most years, I wouldn't even entertain the discussion of a 12-0 season, but with the schedule being what it is and with a hurry-up offense going up against plodding Big 10 defenses, it's worth talking about. But my gut instinct is that going undefeated in the regular season would require even more luck than last year, which is saying a lot. If Nebraska didn't play Northwestern, Michigan, and Michigan State back-to-back-to-back and/or had bye weeks before more important games than Illinois and Minnesota respectively, I'd give them a much better chance of going undefeated than say, seven percent.
But if Nebraska goes 12-0? It's would be the best accomplishment for any Nebraska team since 1997, even if the Huskers get blown out in the Big 10 Title Game and a bowl game. It will be the most wins since 1999 and a BCS Game. There are a lot of teams that play crappy schedules in lesser conferences, but only Boise State goes 12-0 with any sort of consistency. It means something, even against fluff.
11-1? Like 12-0, it's the best Nebraska accomplishment since 1997, and a BCS game is most likely, depending upon who is competing for the slot. This year, the Fiesta Bowl gets the first pick after the BCS Title Game, so Nebraska will have a good shot to get in if the opponent is Oklahoma, Texas, or Oklahoma State. Even more to be excited about.
Of course, if the one loss is a blowout at Michigan, some Husker fans will feel the sting, and there will be the same round of whining about getting blown out. But a program's highest win total in over a decade should not be taken for granted.
10-2? A passing grade, albeit a high passing grade. In that way, going 10-2 this year would fit Bo Pelini's resume to a T, however frustrating that is.
The strength of a 10-2 finish will depend on who the losses are to, and how Nebraska plays in those losses. There will be critique of Pelini's coaching, even if the losses are close. If there's a close home loss to Northwestern, or a close road loss to Purdue, this one could be harder to swallow than if the losses to just UCLA, Michigan, or an improved Michigan State or viable Penn State, a team who no one is quite sure how good they will be at the end of this year.
9-3? Probably, there will be some legitimate criticisms, as this will be the lowest possible win total that fans should say is “acceptable”. Nebraska will not go 9-3 without a win that gets away against a mediocre opponent where Nebraska can't run the ball in the fourth quarter. Granted, nine wins shouldn't be taken for granted, but with the respective offensive, quarterback, and comeback experience that Nebraska has, fans have a right to whine a bit.
8-4? This is the banner for underachievement. Don't be surprised if this record includes a season-ending to loss to an Iowa team desperate for a sixth win. Your coaches are failing you, Husker fans.
7-5? The only way Nebraska goes 7-5 is if they have massive injuries.
Derek Johnson is a Seward, Nebraska native who works for his family's organic farm seed company, Blue River Hybrids, and is a freelance writer and commission photographer. He has been a contributor to Husker Max since 2013, and is a former contributor to the website Husker Locker. Visit his blog, derekjohnsonmuses.com, and follow him on twitter @derekjohnson05 for regular updates.