It’s an ugly streak: 19 straight losses to AP-ranked teams dating to 2016. Nebraska hopes to end it this Saturday as it plays host to No. 17 Illinois at Memorial Stadium.

It’s an opportunity for the Huskers to nab a statement win. And a chance for interim head coach Mickey Joseph to vault his name to the top of Nebraska’s coaching search.

The Huskers’ last win over a ranked team came Sept. 17, 2016, a 35-32 triumph over No. 22 Oregon. Mike Riley was Nebraska’s coach. Yes, that Mike Riley. The guy who was fired the next year following a 4-8 season.

Since then? A laundry list of losses. Some close. Some ugly. Some very ugly.

It’s hard (maybe impossible) to fathom a program of Nebraska’s stature going this long without beating a ranked foe. Scott Frost couldn’t do it. This is Joseph’s 2nd shot. Can his Huskers seize the moment?

Perfect environment for an upset

Illinois enters as a 6.5-point favorite. The Illini are riding high and are now in the driver’s seat in the B1G West. We know where that’s gotten teams the past few weeks. … Looking at you, Minnesota and Purdue.

Memorial Stadium will be sold out for the record 387th straight time Saturday. The fans will be into it. So many near-misses these past few years in Lincoln. Michigan escaped a year ago with a 32-29 win. Ohio State narrowly won 26-17.

At some point, Nebraska has to get over the hump. Right? What better time than under Joseph’s leadership.

Saturday’s game provides the most potent offense the top-ranked Illini defense will have faced. Nebraska has weapons in receiver Trey Palmer and running back Anthony Grant. If they find room to operate, it puts Illinois’ defense in an uncomfortable spot. Ryan Walters’ defensive unit is good. Really good.

But a closer look at who they’ve faced tells a more nuanced tale. Minnesota is the highest ranked offense (No. 44) they’ve faced, followed by Indiana (No. 72) and Virginia (No. 92). The rest fall in the 100s. The Huskers are ranked 48th in total offense, but they have put up 35 and 37 points their past 2 outings.

Saturday will test Illinois’ mettle in a hostile setting. How the Illini respond to giving up yards and points will be something to watch. And if the Huskers grab an early lead, the home folks will ramp up the volume. Players will feed off the energy.

Joseph has shown himself to be a fiery sideline leader. During his weekly press conference, he asked Huskers fans to bring the energy and noise.

Illinois is favored for a reason. But don’t discount the advantage of momentum and a rowdy home crowd. If Nebraska can seize Uncle Mo early, the pressure on the ranked team gets ramped up.

Joseph’s time is now

Last week we took a look at the candidates on Trev Alberts’ radar to replace Scott Frost. Joseph is clearly in the mix. Finish strong and he’s a top contender.

You hate to place too much emphasis on a single game, but Saturday is a biggie. If Joseph can push the right buttons and pull the upset, momentum builds for his candidacy.

Easier said than done, however. Nebraska must deal with Illinois’ top-ranked defense. Getting points against this Illini unit has proved futile.

Joseph and Whipple will have to scheme to protect Casey Thompson in the pocket. He needs time to make plays. Illinois will bring pressure with Jer’Zhan Newton, Keith Randolph Jr. and Gabe Jacas. It’ll be an interesting chess match.

The Huskers will be shorthanded on defense as well. Linebacker Nick Henrich is out for the year after an injury suffered against Purdue. Luke Reimer is also dinged up. Slowing down the nation’s leading rusher in Chase Brown looks like a tall order for the Blackshirts. Run blitzes and improved play from the D-line will be imperative.

It’s now or never

With all that said, things feel different this time.

Nebraska is due, make that overdue for a win like this. Get some breaks. A turnover. Big play. Doesn’t matter.

They have a clutch playmaker in Trey Palmer. Palmer put up video game-like numbers against Purdue. Joseph called him the fastest player he’s ever coached this week. That list includes Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase. High praise indeed. If Whipple can get him loose deep, Thompson will find him. Something, anything to put the crowd into a frenzy.

Fans in Lincoln are begging for something good to happen. Just once. To prove NU didn’t use up all its good karma during the 1990s. Lincoln was once a place where ranked foes came to perish. Hasn’t happened in 6 years.

All that could change in an afternoon. And what an afternoon it’d be for Nebraska and its fans. To just once again feel that excitement. That jubilation.

Once a dark horse in the head coaching search, Joseph finds himself moving into favorable position entering the back stretch.

And with the way he has his players believing, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against him.