Every Tuesday, Matt Hayes tackles the 10 hottest topics in the Big Ten …

1. The B1G Story

There’s no way to spin this thing. No way to avoid the disappointment.

Nebraska lost more than just an elite high school quarterback recruit Monday afternoon, a player who would’ve been the highest-rated Huskers recruit in the recruiting services era.

It lost more than a Nebraska legacy, a player whose father is as Big and Red as any who have walked the halls in that storied football heaven in Lincoln, and whose uncle is the current Huskers offensive line coach.

It lost the safest, surest way to return to relevance in college football under new coach Matt Rhule when QB Dylan Raiola — the No.1 player in the 2024 recruiting class per the 247Sports composite rankings — committed to Georgia.

The college game is built around the quarterback, long the most important position on the field — but even more now in the era of the vertical passing game.

The last time Nebraska was relevant on the national stage, it still won big games with the triple-option and its quarterback (Eric Crouch) won the Heisman Trophy. That was 2001.

The Huskers haven’t had a quarterback of significance since.

If I would’ve told you in 2006 that Zac Taylor would win a Super Bowl as an NFL coach before Nebraska returned to national relevance, you’d have thought I was a few husks short of a bushel.

Yet here we are, and the last Nebraska quarterback who at least played with some competence in 2006 has the Cincinnati Bengals on the verge of winning the most important championship in football.

Meanwhile, Nebraska fans are still wading through Sam Keller and Joe Ganz — Joe Ganz! — the Martinezes (same game, no relation), Tommy Armstrong and … and I’m tired of it already. Imagine how fed up the great Nebraska fanbase has become.

They were told their golden son, Scott Frost, would deliver them from their pigskin wasteland. Didn’t happen — and in fact, it got worse.

Then Rhule arrived in town, and woah, buddy. What a perfect fit.

He gets it, he owns it, and it sure felt different. Until it wasn’t.

Until the gut punch of Monday afternoon, when Raiola did what so many other elite blue-chip recruits have done of late: commit to Georgia.

It crushed the collective psyche of a fanbase, and left Nebraska scrambling at the most important position on the field.


2. The next move

With one announcement, the Raiola news unfairly torpedoed all the goodwill built by Rhule over the last 6 months.

Nebraska put everything into the recruitment of Raiola. Securing his commitment would’ve gone a long way to securing a Top 10 recruiting class (with Raiola’s recruiting help), and more importantly, would’ve given the Huskers an elite talent at a position that demands it.

Now the hope is the new staff can develop uber-talented but enigmatic Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims. He has the size and arm talent to be a difference-maker, but hasn’t consistently shown it.

One ACC coach I spoke to in March told me Sims is an “elite talent” among all quarterbacks in college football, but wasn’t developed at Georgia Tech. Sims has 2 years of eligibility remaining, and in a perfect world, he’s a different player in Lincoln and Rhule has a quarterback to build around while recruiting the 2025 class.

“He’s all in his head,” the ACC coach said of Sims. “He needs someone to work with him, teach him, set him up for success — then just let it rip.”

Even in that perfect world, the Huskers are an injury away from a whole lot of issues at quarterback. The odds of recruiting a blue-chip quarterback for the 2024 class are slim, but there are numerous 3-star options.

Nebraska could also possibly flip Missouri commit Daniel Kaelin, a 3-star from Bellevue, Neb. But any quarterback addition will be a large step back from Raiola — and what could’ve been.

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3. The road to relevance, The Epilogue

The easiest out now for Nebraska is Rhule. Trust in what he accomplished at both Temple and Baylor, and that he can do it at Nebraska.

He got Baylor to the Sugar Bowl in Year 3, and did so with QB Charlie Brewer — a 3-star in Rhule’s first recruiting class of 2017 who was ranked the No.829 player in the nation by 247Sports — running the show.

Rhule arrived at Temple in 2013, and recruited a project named PJ Walker — who wasn’t even ranked by 247Sports — to play quarterback. By 2016, Walker was a 4-year starter and had led Temple to back-to-back 10-win seasons.

He’s still playing in the NFL today.

The great Nebraska fans may not want to hear this after watching Raiola commit to Georgia, but Rhule will find a quarterback. Maybe it’s Sims for the next 2 seasons, and maybe it’s another 4- or 5-star recruit for the 2025 class.

One thing is certain: It can’t be any worse than what Nebraska has produced since Crouch last played in Lincoln.

4. The non-starter non-conference games

A year ago, Michigan historians were complaining that the program’s non-conference schedule was the worst in a century.

A century.

Now, the bad news: games against Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn in 2022 are only marginally worse than this year’s non-conference schedule of ECU, UNLV and Bowling Green.

How did we get here, you ask? There’s 1 easy answer: The Playoff.

Michigan will say that in 2019 it dropped a home and home series with UCLA — to be played in Ann Arbor in 2022, and Pasadena in 2023 — because it needed 7 home games in 2023.

The athletic department needs the estimated $7.5 million gate it earns with each home game. Fair enough.

But it paid UCLA $1.5 million to get out of the contract, and paid Hawaii $1.9 million (in 2022) and UNLV $1.5 million (in 2023) to replace the UCLA games.

So Michigan paid $4.9 million to cover its tracks after canceling the UCLA series. Translation: this was about an easy road to the Playoff as much as it was the need of a 7th home game.

5. The Weekly 5

Wisconsin’s win total from our friends at FanDuel is 8.5. Not including rent-a-wins vs. Buffalo and Georgia Southern, and 2 lock Big Ten home wins (Rutgers, Northwestern), the 5 best chances for the Badgers to reach the over:

1. Nov. 18, Nebraska: Badgers have a better roster, and a defense that can control the game.

2. Nov. 4, at Indiana: Hoosiers will have problems scoring all season.

3. Oct. 21, at Illinois: The elite secondary of 2022 has been gutted. The breakout game for the Wisconsin Air Raid?

4. Sept. 23, at Purdue: Badgers’ pass rush will be a problem for Purdue offensive line and new QB Hudson Card.

5. Sept. 9, at Washington State: Badgers get a break with an early trip to Pullman and no weather issues.

6. Your tape is your resume

A scout analyzes an NFL Draft eligible Big Ten player. This week: Iowa OL Connor Colby.

“Where does he play here? He’s a tackle now (played at guard and tackle in 2022), but I feel like he might be more of an inside option if he can bulk up. Pass protection isn’t really his strength, though he got better at the end of last season. He has a problem with speed guys and reaches too often. His hands, his punch, is really effective. I’m excited to see him get 12-13 more opportunities to play tackle.”

7. Powered Up

The Big Ten is down to 3 scheduling models for when the league goes to 16 teams in 2024 — 3 permanent opponents, 2 permanent, and a flex option.

Another option that isn’t part of the list of finalists is the 1-7 model: 1 permanent, and 14 other schools rotated every other season. The 1 permanent rival in this “for funsies” scenario:

1. Michigan: Ohio State. The Toledo Strip. Michigan never forgets.

2. Ohio State: Michigan. They don’t give a damn about the whole state of Michigan.

3. Penn State: Michigan State. Ohio State and Michigan are more important, but the Spartans are the Rivalry Week game.

4. Wisconsin: Minnesota. The oldest football rivalry in the Big Ten was first played in 1890.

5. Iowa: Nebraska. The rivalry is exactly what the Big Ten hoped when Nebraska joined the conference in 2012.

6. Minnesota: Wisconsin. Paul Bunyan’s Axe? The first trophy, from 1930-43, was the Slab of Bacon (not a real slab).

7. Illinois: Northwestern. A wildly underrated rivalry, led by Illinois 57-54-5.

8. Maryland: Rutgers. Terps have won 6 of the last 8 in the series, averaging 35.5 ppg.

9. Purdue: Indiana. The basketball rivalry is just as bitter on the football field. Really, it is.

10. Nebraska: Iowa. The 2 fan bases are eerily similar: football smart, and passionate to a fault.

11. Michigan State: Penn State. A forced rivalry of sorts when Penn State arrived in the Big Ten in 1993, but 1 that has quickly developed.

12. Indiana: Purdue. I ask you, who doesn’t want the Old Oaken Bucket?

13. Rutgers: Maryland. You know Rutgers doesn’t fit, they know they don’t fit. Doesn’t mean they’re not cashing that $80 million check annually, baby.

14. Northwestern: Illinois. Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald is 11-6 vs. Illini.

USC: UCLA. All things being equal, UCLA can’t recruit at the level of USC. So it can’t win at that level, either.

UCLA: USC. Remember when USC and UCLA used to trade runs in the series, where each side would dominate for 4-6 years? UCLA barely remembers, too.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: Realistically, what programs in the new Big Ten have the ability to get to the Playoff. — Sam Fishmann, Canton, Ohio.


More than you think. Let’s start with the obvious: USC, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State. That’s 6 right out of the gate.

That’s 6 programs that, given the right coach, have either proven they can make the Playoff (Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State), or should’ve made the Playoff (Penn State in 2016) in a 4-team format. Now expand the field to 12 teams, and the list quickly expands.

With the right coach and quarterback, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, UCLA and Nebraska could get there, too. Ideally, the expanded Playoff gives everyone a chance.

But for your question, I’m looking at programs invested in football and facilities, and as important, the NIL game.

9. Numbers

43. Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa’s numbers all decreased from 2021, in part because of Maryland’s struggles in pass protection.

The Terps gave up 43 sacks in 2022, a year after pass protection (26 sacks) benefited Tagovailoa’s Year 2 jump as the starter. Maryland needs 2 reliable starers at tackle, and DJ Glaze and Frostburg State transfer Gottlieb Ayedze are the likely candidates.

10. Quote to note

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker: “We really can’t manufacture any buzz. I’m not gonna do it. We’re just gonna focus on getting better every single day.”