Nebraska enters must-win territory this Saturday against Purdue
If you were to tell someone back at B1G Media Days in July that Nebraska would find itself in a must-win situation in the first weekend in November, that individual would’ve assumed the Huskers were fighting to stay in the B1G West race. Concerns over bowl eligibility wouldn’t have crossed their mind.
Here we are, though, heading into the first weekend of November and Nebraska’s postseason plans are anything but a guarantee, sitting at 4-4. Mathematically, the Huskers have four chances to capture two wins and earn a 13th game. Realistically, one of those two victories has to come on Saturday against Purdue (2-6) in West Lafayette.
Lose to the Boilermakers, and getting to that all-important six-win mark becomes a pretty tall obstacle to hurdle. It’s not just the remaining schedule that would potentially prevent the one-time B1G West favorite from reaching the postseason for a third consecutive year.
From a distance, Nebraska looks like a team on the verge of crumbling. It’s almost as if a lumberjack is taking a swing of the axe at the Huskers’ confidence with each loss this season. In each of those four games, Nebraska learned a hard truth about itself.
Nebraska learned it’s not good enough to just roll its helmets onto the field and expect to win in the Week 2 loss to rival Colorado. The Huskers learned they’re nowhere close to sharing the “elite” title with the top of the college football world after a blowout loss to Ohio State. Scott Frost learned that, right now, Minnesota and Indiana are better programs than his alma mater.
Frost’s frustration hit a boiling point after Saturday’s 38-31 loss to Indiana, spilling over into the postgame press conference, where he criticized players for wearing hoodies during pregame warmups. It was a strange complaint for a head coach in his second year with a program, almost an “us vs. them” mentality among the players on his roster.
Imagine the kind of backlash that could transpire with a loss to a two-win Purdue team, dropping Nebraska below the .500 mark for the first time this season. Not only has a division title been denied, but bowl eligibility begins to slip through Nebraska’s fingers.
Based on what we’ve witnessed over the last two weeks, you’d begin to wonder what attitude and mentality would be like inside the walls of Memorial Stadium. Things could get ugly.
Then there’s the fact that Nebraska would have to win two of its final three games of the season in order to firmly plant itself into the postseason soil. The remaining matchups? No. 18 Wisconsin, Maryland and No. 19 Iowa.
Would it be impossible to see the Huskers snag that sixth win against one of the better teams in the West? Absolutely not. But it would feel like a longshot based on the recent performance of what would be a three-game losing streak (if Purdue takes down the Huskers).
Beating two of the best teams in the division seems extremely taxing considering Nebraska has yet to defeat a team this season that owns a winning record. South Alabama (1-7), Northern Illinois (3-5), Northwestern (1-6) and Illinois (4-4) are all .500 or below through the first nine weeks.
I’m not of the belief that Nebraska has to beat Purdue on Saturday to secure the well-being of the program. When you look at what Frost and his staff inherited in 2018, it was a bit naïve to believe he’d have a championship-caliber team by his second season. Those were lofty expectations.
However, beating Purdue does seem like a make-or-break situation for the 2019 version of the Huskers. And while I still believe it’s too early to know what direction the program is headed, it’s fair to say that missing a bowl game this season would be a disappointment. There’s too much talent to not hit the six-win mark.
Nebraska is facing the reality that it could be celebrating the holidays early again for a third straight season, though. And in order to put an end to that streak, Frost and company need to take the “W” out of West Lafayette, and bring it back to Lincoln this weekend.
If Nebraska returns empty handed, things could really fall apart in the final three-week stretch of the season.