Nebraska Cornhuskers football preview 2013: Best case, worst case, prediction

Photo: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

We are about a week away from the kickoff of the 2013 college football season so it is time to dust off the good ole’ Big Ten Best Case/Worst Case/Prediction column. This is where the schedule is broken down and we take a look at how the most extreme cases as well as the most likely can happen. The best part of these is when I examine where I went wrong at the end of the season.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at Nebraska, a program that enters yet another season facing lofty expectations – with good reason.

With Taylor Martinez back under center for Nebraska and teaming up with leading rusher Ameer Abdullah, the Cornhuskers’ No. 8-ranked rushing attack from a year ago looks to be strong yet again. Toss in leading receivers Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa and you have a downright scary mix offensively. Rocks on the offensive line in Spencer Long and Jeremiah Sirles also return. The Huskers were right at 35 points per game a year ago, a top 30 finish, but they also gave up almost 28 points, a middle of the nation finish.

Therein lies the problem for Nebraska. When the defense had a pulse, they won. When the defense laid an egg, it was ugly – 36 dropped on them by UCLA, 45 by Georgia, 63 by Ohio State and a whopping 70 by Wisconsin.

2013 Schedule:

Wyoming: 4-8 (3-5) – Mountain West (2012 record used for all opponents)

Best Case: Wyoming’s defense ranked 99th last year. Uh-oh. 1-0

Worst Case: The Pokes lost four games by a single possession each; perhaps this club will finally break through, but it won’t come in Lincoln in Week 1. 1-0

Prediction: Martinez, a Heisman hopeful, kicks off his campaign early with 175 passing yards, 100 rushing yards and four total touchdowns and rests almost the entire second half. W: 42-13, 1-0

Southern Miss: 0-12 (0-8) – C-USA

Best Case: It’s a winless team, I think we know the best case. 2-0

Worst Case: The proud USM program was a disaster last year after Larry Fedora went to UNC. They will be breaking in their second coach in as many years. 2-0

Prediction: USM isn’t going oh-fer again, but they aren’t winning this one either. W: 38-6, 2-0

UCLA: 9-5 (6-3) – Pac 12

Best Case: The Bruins ran their record to 9-2 before losing out. They also graduated record-setting running back Johnathan Franklin. Toss in home cooking and Nebraska will be 3-0 with no test until early November. 3-0

Worst Case: Brett Hundley put together a fantastic freshman campaign under center. If Nebraska still struggles defensively, this could be the first of several losses where the Huskers simply can’t score enough to win. 2-1

Prediction: These two clubs tied with the exact same PPG given up defensively (27.6, 58th) but I can’t shake the feeling that UCLA faced tougher offenses in the Pac-12 (even without playing Oregon) than Nebraska did last year. I think UCLA will keep this one tight and another one possession game is the result. This time however, Nebraska is the one to come out ahead thanks to some late game clutch drives … perhaps even some heroics? W: 35-31, 3-0

South Dakota State: 9-4 (6-2) – Missouri Valley (FCS)

Best Case: Put down a pesky FCS club early and no starters get injured. 4-0

Worst Case: I could talk myself into a potential trap game as they come off a dogfight with UCLA and look towards Big Ten play, but I don’t see it with a team as experienced as Nebraska. 3-1

Prediction: Give the Jackrabbits credit, they had a nice season last year, but they lost to Kansas in their lone FBS paycheck game from a year ago. That’s enough for me. W: 49-14, 4-0

Illinois: 2-10 (0-8) – Big Ten

Best Case: Illinois preformed poorly at home a year ago but were even worse on the road. Huskers feast. 5-0

Worst Case: No matter how improved Illinois is, this is their first road trip of the year. That doesn’t bode well against a talented and experienced team that plays in front of a very hostile crowd. 4-1

Prediction: There is very little chance Illinois can shut down Nebraska for sixty minutes, especially Nebraska’s rushing attack which looks lethal on paper. W: 38-7, 5-0 (1-0)

At Purdue: 6-7 (3-5) – Big Ten

Best Case: Purdue is in breaking a new coach in Darrell Hazell with a new system. We all saw how well that went at Illinois last year. 6-0

Worst Case: I have very low expectations for Purdue, so let’s say they are a surprise darling and somehow make a bowl and Nebraska fails to live up to the hype. Nebraska failing to live up to the hype is still probably 8-4 and Purdue’s magical everything goes their way is what? 7-5 at best? I don’t see this being one of Purdue’s absurd seven wins or one of Nebraska’s four losses. 5-1

Prediction: Purdue is filled with question marks and it all adds up to a stinker of a season. Three to four wins seems possible, but not today. I like Nebraska in a cakewalk. W: 38-10, 6-0 (2-0)

At Minnesota: 6-7 (2-6) – Big Ten

Best Case: Nebraska won this pretty easily last year with a 38-14 snoozer. 7-0

Worst Case: Much like Purdue, the Gophers have that mediocre (at best) feel about them. 6-1

Prediction: Minnesota overachieved to make a bowl last year, especially with seemingly a million injuries. As a result, even with improvements in Year 3 under Jerry Kill, I’m not sold on them, especially with their quarterback situation in Philip Nelson. W: 31-14. 7-0 (3-0)

Northwestern: 10-3 (5-3) – Big Ten

Best Case: Nebraska is fully healthy while Northwestern comes in a big dinged up and what has all the trappings of a classic in August turns out to be a dud by gameday. 8-0

Worst Case: Nebraska was fortunate to win this a year ago. Maybe this time around it’s Northwestern that makes enough plays late in the day to steal a road win. 6-2

Prediction: Considering this was basically a road game last year with so many Huskers fans traveling to Northwestern, they won’t mind doing it again. I kid, I kid. But seriously, that was a lot of red in Ryan Field in Evanston last season. This game looks like a toss-up if it were played on a neutral site but I am giving Nebraska a slight edge for two reasons: First, the ‘Cats have some offseason questions surrounding their offensive and defensive lines. This isn’t a good thing when taking on Nebraska, a team we know will be able to run the ball. The second is home field advantage for the Huskers. I hope this lives up to the hype I’m giving it because this has a shot to be the game of the year in the league. W: 44-42 (Nebraska misses a PAT early, hits a late FG to win), 8-0 (4-0)

At Michigan: 8-5 (6-2) – Big Ten

Best Case: Nebraska stoned them a year ago in what was their best performance of the year, 23-9. T-Magic strikes twice (oh goodness, that was a horrible pun). 9-0

Worst Case: A stunning home loss to the Wildcats seems to hang over them like a cloud and they put in a flat game in the Big House, seemingly knocking them out of the title race. 6-3

Prediction: I like this Michigan team … on paper … and with qualifiers. If quarterback Devin Gardner stays healthy for the Wolverines, I like them. If their new faces on the line and returning beast on the OL Taylor Lewan stays healthy, I like them. If their new receivers can replicate what Roundtree and that core did a year ago, I like them. If the lack of depth doesn’t become an issue by Week 9, I like them. Those are a lot of qualifiers. I’ll go with what I know and that is Nebraska. Chalk up a huge road win and suddenly what is their BCS ranking looking like? W: 28-24, 9-0 (5-0)

Michigan State: 7-6 (3-5) – Big Ten

Best Case: MSU’s offense remains a weak point and simply can’t score enough to keep up with the high-powered Huskers. Big Ten title talk has turned into national title talk. 10-0

Worst Case: MSU lost this one, 28-24, last year. What if Nebraska’s defense lays an egg against an improved MSU offense and that classic Dantonio defense comes up big on the road? In that what-if, Spartans get a big win. 6-4

Prediction: After huge wins over Northwestern and Michigan this could easily be the let down game, but I’ll save that for next week’s tough road trip and say Nebraska stays in the BCS hunt very late with another tight victory. W: 24-21, 10-0 (6-0)

At Penn State: 8-5 (6-2) – Big Ten

Best Case: All the uncertainty for PSU, especially at QB, leads to a backslide in Bill O’Brien’s second season and Nebraska is smelling the national title. For extra measure, Martinez is the Heisman front runner by now. 11-0

Worst Case: Happy Valley is never a good place to go, especially if you are reeling. Another loss and another notch hotter on Pelini’s coaching seat. 6-5

Prediction: Lots of new faces for Penn State this year on both sides of the ball but they have the incredible Allen Robinson split out wide and a nice running back in Zach Zwinak returning. Its defense is also going to have to re-tool – look for players like DaQuan Jones to step it up. Here’s the thing that makes this dangerous for Big Red: this is the second to last game of the year. Plenty of time for Penn State to get rolling and finish strong like they did last season. I also think Beaver Stadium is one of the best night game environments in the nation. All night games make stadiums a little better, but there are a few that just turn magical in the dark. Beaver and LSU’s Death Valley immediately jump to mind. If Penn State has a halfway decent record and Nebraska is undefeated entering this one, it’ll be a prime time start easily. I think in that environment with that crowd, the Lions up their game and pull off a stunning upset, ending Nebraska’s national title aspirations. L: 21-17, 10-1 (6-1)

Iowa: 4-8 (2-6)

Best Case: With everything to play for Nebraska takes care of business and sets its sights for Indy. After that, who knows? 12-0

Worst Case: Iowa’s nightmare of a year ago has blossomed into a surprisingly good season. With a shot at a New Year’s bowl on the line and Nebraska locked into someplace they don’t give two hoots about, Iowa is the one with something to play for and notches their first win in this awful, totally forced “rivalry” game. 6-6

Prediction: Seriously, Iowa should play Minnesota the final week like it has always been and Nebraska should play Wisconsin. Anyway, Iowa should be improved but this still seems like a big reach for predicting an Iowa road win even for the most die-hard Hawkeye lovers out there (and this humble blogger happens to count himself among that group). Nebraska fends off Northwestern and Michigan (and possibly MSU) to wrap up the division thanks to one last solid performance by that backfield behind that solid line. W: 24-17, 11-1 (7-1)*

*Legends Division Champs*

Final Thoughts:

If the defense takes even a baby step forward and drops its average points allowed from 27.6 to just 24 points, they’ll win a ton of games – the scoring side of the team is really that good. As you can tell from the worst case of things, the opening seven weeks are so easy that even in a year where everything goes wrong, the Huskers will still make a bowl. Really this team is about how high that ceiling will be. With the offense performing to par and the defense making strides, said ceiling will be really really high. With a little luck and things going better than expected … who knows, maybe the final BCS will feature the Huskers, a team that shared the 1997 title. What’s special about 1997? It was the final crown awarded before the BCS mess got started.

Best Case/Worst Case/Predictions: Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Northwestern Wildcats