Nebraska's new schedule presents one key challenge: Closing out tight games
Nebraska was going to be one of the most enigmatic teams in the B1G entering the 2020 season before the pandemic swept across the country. That really hasn’t changed much over the last six months, as Scott Frost embarks on his third season with the program.
The B1G’s revised schedule for the Huskers didn’t really affect how we perceive the Huskers entering this season, either.
After just a quick glance at Nebraska’s new schedule, it’s probably safe to pencil in a pair of wins and a pair of losses. The bookends to the slate should be chalked up as victories, opening the year with Rutgers and closing it out with Michigan State. Both teams are enduring coaching changes this year, and didn’t get much work done in the spring, putting both behind the 8-ball.
It’s probably also fair to add an “L” next to games against Ohio State and Penn State. Nebraska doesn’t quite stack up talent-wise with either of those teams, and the Huskers haven’t put up much of a fight against top-tier competition in Frost’s first two seasons.
Nebraska 2020 schedule
- Sept. 5: at Rutgers
- Sept. 12: vs. Illinois
- Sept. 19: vs. Wisconsin
- Sept. 26: at Iowa
- Oct. 3: vs. Minnesota
- Oct. 10: at Ohio State
- Oct. 24: at Northwestern
- Oct. 31: vs. Penn State
- Nov. 14: at Purdue
- Nov. 21: vs. Michigan State
That means the pressure is on Nebraska to begin registering more wins over division opponents in 2020. That would’ve been the case even with the original 12-game schedule for the season, but the Huskers now have a smaller margin for error if they want to prove the program is improving.
It’s fair to say that, even though the Huskers finished the 2019 campaign with a 5-7 record, they should match up well with each opponent in the B1G West. That was primarily the case last season, with the exception of blowout losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota.
What Nebraska must do this season is close out some of those tight games.
In Frost’s first two seasons in Lincoln, that’s been an issue for the Huskers. They’ve finished with a B1G West record of 2-4 each of the last two seasons, and if that mark is replicated this fall, it likely means Nebraska will end 4-6, posting a fourth-straight losing season.
Over the last two years, Nebraska has lost 12 B1G games, six of which have been single-possession games. Some improvement came last year, overcoming a huge deficit against Illinois on the road to post a 42-38 victory and closing out a 13-10 win over Northwestern at home. Still, the Huskers fell short in games against Indiana, Purdue and Iowa, dropping those three contests by a combined 14 points.
Failing to close out those tight games was the difference between an 8-4 record and missing the postseason for a third-straight season.
Nebraska may not be the favorite to win the B1G West in 2020, with too many questions still circulating about the defensive side of the football. But the Huskers are capable of beating any of the six teams in the division, especially with the offensive firepower returning.
Adrian Martinez is still under center and Wan’Dale Robinson could be a breakout player in the B1G. The Huskers are welcoming in a bevy of young, talented receivers and the offensive line should transition into a strength after being a hindrance.
Compare that to other teams in the West and it’s easy to see why Nebraska is capable of winning nearly any game on its schedule.
Wisconsin lost star running back Jonathan Taylor and top receiver Quintez Cephus. Iowa is replacing its starting quarterback. Minnesota is losing key receiver Rashod Bateman, who is opting out. Purdue has health concerns and issues defensively. Illinois and Northwestern are a step behind in the talent category.
On paper, there isn’t a game on the schedule in which the Huskers shouldn’t be competitive. The playing field is as level as its been in Frost’s three years in Lincoln.
The next major step for a program is winning the close ones. Nebraska will have plenty of chances to prove it’s cleared the next major hurdle in the rebuilding process and begin thinking about a division title in 2021.
Nebraska’s schedule may have changed for 2020, but the biggest challenge for the program remains the same.