No Trouble Turtles

Saturday’s game had a strange feel to it. No drama, no tension, no agonizing over the outcome. This one was long decided. It was just a cool, breezy afternoon watching the Huskers wrap up their home campaign for the season. It was a drastic departure from the rest of the season. In games against Oregon, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Wisconsin, the mood was tense. So much of the season hung in the balance. Those games were really tight. Hell, even Wyoming and Purdue had some uneasy moments. Those were miles away Saturday as the Big Red easily dispatched of a woeful Maryland team. Watching that team Saturday its hard to imagine them winning 5 games. More perplexing still is how they beat Michigan State by double figures. I know Michigan State is bad this year, but they are still Sparty and Maryland is, well Maryland. The Terrapins have now lost 4 in a row. The last 3 by a combined 149-13. Owch. So lets not heap too much praise on the Big Red.

I have to tell you, I was nervous about Ryker Fyfe starting this game. His resume isnt exactly sterling at this point. Additionally, so much of the offense has run through Tommy, I wondered how much trouble Danny Langsdorf might have altering the game plan. Those fears were alleviated early. Fyfe was solid. He wasn’t great, we don’t now have a QB controversy on our hands. But he wasn’t at all bad. He looked like he knew where to go with the ball, which was incredibly encouraging. He often found the open receiver and kept the chains moving.  Fyfe was 23/37 for 220 and a TD on the day. Again, nothing earth shattering, but it was effective. Most importantly he never made the big mistake that could have made this thing interesting. That is most important. The offense wasn’t always smooth, things came a bit unraveled through the course of the game, but the train never came off the tracks. That is a credit to Fyfe. Who knows, maybe Armstrong won’t be healthy enough to play on Black Friday. Perhaps there are bigger moments still. But for today lets simply appreciate a decent performance by QB2 for what it was.

I have to eat some crow once and for all. In my season preview I called Terrell Newby “mediocre at best.” Holy hell, was I wrong and he has been making me eat those words for the better part of the season. Newby looks like a different player. Decisive, elusive, and a bear to bring down. He puts his foot in the ground, gets up field and then looks to punish safeties. It is absolutely gorgeous to watch him run right now. The offensive line is getting better but is very hit and miss. #34 is making the most of the openings afforded to him. When Ozigbo went down halfway through the year I was really nervous for this group. Terrell Newby has put on his superman cape and carried this offense at times. Good for him. I am happy to eat my words. It was great to see him have a terrific senior day running for 3 Tds and nearly 100 yards.

If football had mulligans I am sure the defense would want one on that 92 yard TD screen pass. Goodness gracious that was sloppy. There were several NU defenders that should have been able to bring him down. Alas, they didn’t and D.J Moore scored Maryland’s only TD in 3 games. However, if you take that play out the defense played a stellar game. Without that one play, Maryland has just 115 yards of total offense. They just couldn’t get anything going. Part of that is a dismal offense manned by a backup QB, but part of that is genuinely good defense. The Husker D allowed just 11 rushing yards. 11!  That is complete domination at the line of scrimmage. LBs Michael Rose-Ivey and Josh Banderas were all over the place, sideline to sideline. Up the middle Kevin Maurice, Carlos Davis and Mick Stoltenberg were unmovable. It was another really good performance by a unit that seems to get better and better. That’s a credit to the coaching staff. Mark Banker is doing a really solid job with this unit. Iowa is next and they are playing their best ball of the season. This defense will have to pull their own weight, and then some, on Black Friday. Personally, I think they are up for it.

Its time I say it. This special teams is terrible. I have been overly patient. When your punter, and team leader, dies in an auto accident just weeks before camp, the leash tends to be pretty long. Caleb Lightbourne has been very up and down. That is to be expected. Saturday we saw NU get a FG blocked, a fake punt converted and general sloppiness in the other special teams areas. Furthermore, NU hasn’t been able to get Demornay Pierson-El going in the punt return game. That is not acceptable. Mike Riley is going to have to make some changes in that area. I don’t know if that means Bruce Read gets fired or not. But the inadequate special teams are turning into a real Achilles heel for this squad. It hasn’t yet cost NU a game, but it may soon enough.

So here we are. 11 down 1 to go. A 9-2 record that is quite satisfying. Just one more date left and it is with the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City on Black Friday.It is going to be terrific. The Hawks are fresh off a revitalizing win over #2 Michigan and they just beat Illinois in Champaign. They are playing their best ball of the year. Just in time. Its going to be a lot of fun. Should NU win it would be their first 10 win regular season since 2010. That is certainly worthwhile. It wont be easy. The Hawks aren’t going to roll over and die for you. Whatever, that is fine. This team has earned everything to this point. I’m confident this group can come out and compete with a very game Hawkeye team. I guess we will see Friday. For now, lets soak in and relish the 9-2 record this team has given us after an easy breezy game Saturday.

 

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Offensively Challenged

I knew it. It was too good to be true. I just knew it. As Chris Jones took the ball into the endzone in the first quarter to give Nebraska a 17-0 lead, I knew that what I was seeing was not reality. I would have loved nothing more than to watch my beloved Huskers steamroll a quality conference opponent. To really stick it to someone for all to see. It looked promising. But I knew it was not to be. From that point forth the Huskers offense collapsed, while the special teams wilted and the defense fought its ass off to stay alive. Don’t get me wrong, a win is a win. I’m very happy with being 6-0 and really enjoy the resolve this team shows. This team has a lot of intangibles you really can’t teach.  That’s the good news. The bad news is this was an extremely uneven performance that should not have resulted in a W.

I’m just going to say it. The Husker offense was utter garbage for a large chunk of this game. It was absolutely putrid. But don’t take my word for it. Lets look at the drive chart. Between the Terrell Newby TD in the first quarter and the outrageously lucky Stanley Morgan TD in the 4th, the drive chart goes as follows: punt, safety, punt, interception, end of half, punt, punt, punt, interception. In case you weren’t counting that is 5 punts, 2 Ints, and a safety. 4 of those punts were the result of drives that lasted less than 5 plays.  Good grief. It was some of the worst NU offense I have seen in a very long time. The Huskers had no answer for the Hoosiers swarming defense. None. Short passes didn’t work. Neither did long passes, nor screens. The run game was all but abandoned for the better part of the afternoon. Nothing worked and the line is largely to blame. The patchwork line was awful for the better part of Saturday afternoon. There were no holes for runners and the pass protection was just as poor. Time after time Tommy Armstrong was running for his life. But lets not let him off the hook either.

Tommy was bad. Really, really bad. His numbers appear fairly pedestrian. 10/26 for 208 yards 1 TD and 2 INTs. Typically, mediocre numbers like that don’t warrant a skewering. This was not a typical performance. The 2 Ints were both completely unacceptable. One of which was a total jackpot, toss up that you might see at your local elementary school. Thats not hyperbole, check it out yourself. I expect better decision making from my senior 4 year starter. Much better. The yardage is also deceiving. 72 yards came on a total keystone cop moment by the IU defense. 3 defenders collided while Stanley Morgan caught the ball and went to the house. 45 more came on a miracle catch by Brandon Reilly that should have been a pick. Take those 117 yards out and you get 91 yards on 8/24 passing. Awful. One particular time Alonzo Moore got free deep. A TD would have went a long way toward securing the W. Tom missed him, badly. I don’t know if Tommy isn’t healthy or if the Hoosier defense rattled him. Frankly, it’s irrelevant. QB play that poor gets you beat. It’s that simple. Armstrong has to be better. I’m sure he would be the first to tell you that.  He is a major cog in this offense. If he plays like that the rest of this season could have several long afternoons.

Well, that feels better. I needed to vent about the offense. They were infuriating. By all rights this unit should have cost NU the game. But there is a silver lining.

The beleaguered and much maligned Nebraska offense took the field with 8:26 to go and nursing a very tenuous 2 point lead. Somehow, NU found a way to run the ball. For the 2nd straight game Terrell Newby was a stud. He avoided a near fumble that was as close as it gets and churned out yards to salt this thing away. Along the way Mike Riley went for it on 4th and short near mid field. The NU offense had no consistent push, but Riley made the call. That call took considerable onions. Riley deserves credit for such a bold call. After that conversion the Nebraska offense gets a FG and milks the clock to under a minute. The drive may go down as a season definer. Despite the monumental struggles of the Husker offense, when the chips were down this unit came up with a 15 play, 60 yard drive that burned an astonishing 7:41 off the clock and all but assured a Husker victory. That deserves kudos, even if the rest of the day was largely hot garbage.

This defense turned in a performance Husker fans can be proud of. Despite the offense consistently laying a steaming pile in their lap, this unit answered the call time and again. Coming in I was concerned that the NU rush defense would allow Indiana RB Devine Redding and his powerful frame to run wild. That never materialized. The NU rush defense held the Hoosiers to below 3 yards per carry despite a 33 yard TD run in the 3rd quarter. The pass defense was also largely terrific. Chris Jones Josh Kalu and company were all over the place. Did they allow some yardage?  Sure. But this is a pretty crafty offense. They will distribute more than their share of headaches before this season is over. Still, Indiana was held to less than 6.5 yards per attempt passing. That is pretty damn good. The defense had a ton of looks thrown at them and they adjusted nicely. Of Indiana’s 4 scoring drives, 2 were started deep in Husker territory due to turnover or special teams play. Otherwise Indiana had difficulty putting points on the board. Another bright spot was the pass rush which created pressure without the blitz. That was super encouraging to see. Lets hope that continues as the season progresses. In general my aggravation with the Husker performance had little to do with the defense. This group hung tough in difficult circumstances for the majority of the afternoon. They earned their stripes Saturday. They are the reason that NU wins a tough game on the road and improves to 6-0.

There is no doubt that 6-0 feels great. It’s been a long time coming. This team has managed to navigate the various potholes of the schedule to this point. That fact should not be overlooked. There is a certain team directly to the East of NU that wishes it could say the same. But they can’t. Still, one cannot disregard the various shortcomings of this squad. Today it would have been great to absolutely squash Indiana. The Big Red had the chance. Up 17-0 early, the opportunity to break their spirit with another score presented itself. Unfortunately, the Huskers could not capitalize. That is a problem. Great teams bury their opposition in situations like that. Let’s make no mistake, there are a couple great teams forthcoming. If Nebraska plays like it did Saturday, they will get absolutely curb stomped. Indiana is a good team, this might be NU’s best win to date, but the likes of Wisconsin and Ohio State will trailer park slap the Huskers with a performance like that. Those dates should loom over this team like a dark cloud. Get better or else.

Another Saturday, Another Battle

My wife ran in an Oktoberfest run early Saturday morning. Naturally, I was there in red. I struck up a conversation with a Michigan fan. As it concluded, I wished him luck. He did the same. I confidently replied “I don’t think we are going to need it today.” I was that sure the Huskers would roll. In my preview I said that the Huskers would “grind Illinois into a fine powder.” I was eating those words, and my lower lip, as the Huskers trailed early in the 4th quarter. For the better part of the afternoon it seemed that Nebraska was hell bent on giving this one away. If it wasn’t penalties, it was a redzone fumble, or shotty defense. For the 3rd straight week the Big Red were in an absolute battle deep into this game. True to form, this club owned the 4th quarter and came away victorious. Give credit to the Illini. They did not play like a 1-2 team. They had this fella sweating bullets all afternoon.

Through 5 games it is now apparent that Nebraska has a few holes on defense. Specifically, the defensive line. Illinois, who had previously been listless running the ball, averaged nearly 6 yards per rush Saturday. The holes were gaping. The LBs can only do so much. We all knew that this DL would be under manned, but that is becoming painfully evident. The pass rush is poor also. If Mark Banker wants to get to opposing QBs, he has to blitz and expose the secondary. That is not a good spot to be in as a playcaller. As poor as the defense was at times Saturday, they answered the bell and made a few key stops. After Nebraska took the lead on an 11 minute drive, the defense stepped up with a 3 and out. Then after NU extended the lead to 8, the defense again forced a 3 and out. Those 2 series went a long way toward winning this game. Ultimately for all the blunders, missed assignments and poor play this unit made plays when it had to.  That deserves some kudos. This defense is far from perfect. It has a long way to go. Frankly I have serious doubts if it can be a dominating unit with the talent on hand. These problems aren’t going away.  But for today this defense played well enough. Not great, not by a mile, but well enough in key situations for this team to improve to 5-0.

The offense Saturday was not playing with a full deck. Wide Receiver Alonzo Moore and Guard Tanner Farmer did not play. Cethan Carter, Jordan Westercamp, David Knevel and Devine Ozigbo all left the game with injuries. Those are major cogs in the offensive wheel. That left the offense undermanned and it showed. The offensive line sorely missed Farmer  and then Knevel as it was unable to push Illinois around the way I thought it would. Tommy Armstrong’s safety blanket Cethan Carter would have come in handy as he escaped oncoming defenders all afternoon. Give the Illinois defense credit for confounding the NU offense for the better part of the afternoon with blitzes and other pressures. They had NU on their heels. But also give the Huskers credit for a gritty 2nd half. Down 16-10 the offense embarked on an 18 play, 75 yard TD drive that took nearly 11 minutes off the clock. That’s right, 11 minutes. Along the way Nebraska was twice bailed out by penalties on 3rd down and got an ultra favorable spot on 4th down inside the 10 yard line. Still, that is a big boy drive that completely flipped the momentum of the game. After a 3 and out, NU did it again this time with a 6 minute drive. That took the wind out of the sails of the Illini and secured the win.

During those 2 game winning, perhaps season saving drives Nebraska leaned heavily on Terrell Newby.  He wasn’t Walter Payton or anything, but the dude was durable and gutsy. This was his best game in scarlet and cream. Good for him. I’ve been tough on Newby. His performance does not change my ultimate opinion of him, but he did show incredible grit. Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf put this one on his shoulders. Newby ran 16 times for 113 yards in the 4th quarter alone!! I’ll admit, I did not think he had that kind of performance in him. With Ozigbo hurt, and Mikale Wilbon in the dog house after a red zone fumble, Newby ran 29 times for 140 yards and 2 Tds. He also caught 2 passes for 26 yards including a pivotal 3rd down reception on the go ahead drive. Newby’s biggest play was a 63 yard run that salted the game away for good. I’ve gained a new respect for Newby after this ballsy performance. On a tough day for this offense, Newby stepped up and was the difference.

Make no mistake, this was not a good performance. The defense was generally shotty, there was missed tackles, and assignments. The offense sputtered as well and there were a slew of missed opportunities. A performance like this will get you beat, especially against good teams. Illinois does not qualify. But, like last week, a win is a win. This team dug deep and collectively made plays when it had to. This is a game the 2015 Huskers lose. That is a good sign. When a team consistently plays close games they are able to draw from that experience.  This team is used to being in tough games after the last month. That experience is invaluable. It pays off. Next up is a bye. This team needs to get healthy first and foremost. There is also plenty of work to be done to improve. The race for the Big 10 west will no doubt get more and more interesting. Currently, the Huskers are in the drivers seat after Wisconsin and Iowa both lost Saturday. But performances like the one Saturday will not be good enough to earn a trip to Indy. I hope Mike Riley is pounding that point home this week.

2016 Nebraska Football Season Preview

The only thing that saves the month of August from being a complete crotch kick is the excitement of the upcoming football season. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. This particular season is completely unique from any I’ve ever experienced. There is very real optimism and excitement for this upcoming campaign. This is odd for a fan base, accustomed to nine or ten win seasons, coming off a six win season. Mike Riley has managed, through his own personal charm and off-field successes, to create a real buzz without winning a single game. It’s really quite remarkable. It’s as though folks have forgotten the numerous blown games last fall. There will be no hiding once the season kicks off in a couple weeks. There will be weekly reminders of exactly how the Mike Riley era is progressing. There is plenty of reason to be optimistic. Holes may exist on this roster but so does a solid core of experienced players set to make their mark on Husker lore. From Tommy Armstrong, to Jordan Westerkamp, to Michael Rose-Ivey, and Nate Gerry, these guys seem intent on breaking through and making 2016 one to remember. There is a hungry fan base that would absolutely love to see that happen. In just two weeks’ time, we will release the red balloons and we will be underway. I’m absolutely stoked, as I imagine you are. Here is one man’s guide to the 2016 Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Five Keys to Success in 2016

Vastly superior turnover margin
A young, yet ferocious, pass rush
A solid, go-to, Running Back emerging from the committee
Better game management from the coaching staff
A difference-making LB corps and their mark on this defense

Five Breakout Players

Josh Banderas
Kevin Maurice
Tanner Farmer
Cethan Carter
Chris Jones

Defensive Backfield

This group is looking to bounce back after an extremely rough 2015. The defensive backfield certainly took it on the chin, ranking 121st nationally in pass defense. That experience has folks feeling oddly optimistic about this group going forward. Cornerbacks Josh Kalu and Chris Jones both showed promise despite their struggles. Sophomore Aaron Williams will man one Safety spot. Williams has a nose for the ball that you just can’t teach. 3rd year starter Nate Gerry will continue to occupy the other safety spot. Gerry also struggled in 2015 and must return to form for this unit to be a strength. There is a lot of talk about being in year two of Mark Banker’s scheme and how the experience gained from their struggles will pay off in spades. Maybe there is truth in that, but I don’t buy it as enthusiastically as they are selling it. I look for this unit to improve dramatically. I simply don’t believe the defensive backs are as bad as the stats from last year indicate. I see plenty of athleticism as well. Look for the defensive backs to surprise some people with their play this fall.

Linebackers

Its funny how a year changes things. A year ago this linebacker group was considered a weakness with barely enough bodies to run a base defense. Now, depth abounds. I project Josh Banderas, Dedrick Young and Michael Rose-Ivey (providing he can stay healthy) to be the starters. They all return from a year ago and have substantial experience. They all have shown talent at some point in their careers. Backing them up are Marcus Newby, Luke Gifford, and Chris Weber who all played a lot in 2015. Then there are young, supposedly talented players waiting in the wings. In just one year’s time the linebacking corps has gone from a liability to the best unit on the defense. Mark Banker has a problem you want to have with all these talented bodies at his disposal. It’s his job to find a role for all of them and get this unit to lead the defense. There are countless ways to use them creatively. Look for this unit to break out in 2016. If they do not, and the LBs struggle, this defense is dead in the water. I don’t see that happening. The LBs will be awesome in 2016.

Defensive Line

Conversely, the last 12 months have not been kind to the defensive line. The Huskers lost five big time contributors from last year’s unit. That hurts a team that does not have a boat load of experience in the depth chart. There is loads and loads of youth within this group. Projected starters Kevin Maurice and Ross Dzuris are both Seniors. Freedom Akinmoladun started four games in 2015 and picked up 4.5 sacks. The experience drops off considerably from there. Carlos and Khalil Davis are both highly touted Redshirt Freshmen, who both pass the eyeball test, but have no playing experience. Daishon Neal is another Redshirt Freshman who figures to be in the mix. Mick Stoltenberg and Peyton Newell are both Sophmores that will likely see the field. You get the point. There is plenty of potential with this group but they are extremely short on experience.  First year defensive line coach John Parella has his work cut out for him. If this unit can be productive against both the run and pass, then this defense will have a substantial leg up. Taking up blocks and keeping the linebackers free to make plays is a winning recipe as well. There are a few ways to skin that cat. The success of this young group will go a very long way toward determining how successful this defense is.

Quarterback

Tommy Armstrong comes into 2016 as a four year starter. He has been largely above average but has struggled mightily at times. I like Tommy, I think he does a lot of positive things. The turnovers are as maddening as they are unacceptable. In no year has Armstrong posted a 2-1 TD-Int ratio. That ratio is the mark of any good QB. His counterpart to the East, C.J Bethard was more than 3-1 in 2015. This ratio has to improve. Tommy has a wonderful lively arm, you can’t teach that, but he simply has to make better decisions. Accuracy also factors into those turnovers. Tommy can be erratic as a passer. He has gotten better each year and I look to see him make the next step. I also look for Danny Langsdorf and Mike Riley to use him more outside the pocket. Armstrong is terrific on roll outs and bootlegs. I don’t think we saw that enough last year. Calls like that use Armstrong’s best attributes and put this offense in the best possible position. That’s good for everyone.

Running Back

Husker fans have been spoiled over the last 7 years or so. The Running Back position has seen some marvelous players in scarlet and cream. From Roy Helu, to Rex Burkhead and the unforgettable Ameer Abdulah, this position has been filled with wonderful, terrific talents. There is nobody like that currently on this roster. I view this group very negatively. The RB position is up for grabs during this camp, largely due to the fact that none of them are good enough to take the bull by the balls. Terrell Newby and Devine Ozigbo are both taking first team reps, but I don’t consider either to be outstanding. Perhaps Ozigbo will get there, he is just a sophomore, but after three years we know what Newby is. Unfortunately, he is mediocre. The fact that fresh out of high school Tre Bryant is getting reps with the top unit tells you all you need to know about the quality that exists at RB. This unit needs either a solid workhorse or a dynamic playmaker. As of today, I can safely say they have neither. I hope I am wrong about this position group, but at this point this is the weakest unit on the team. I’m not sure it’s even close.

Wide Receiver

The best term to describe the wide receiver corps at Nebraska is loaded. This group is fantastically stacked. For starters there is Jordan Westerkamp, who will hold many of the school’s receiving records by Thanksgiving. Westy is an awesome speedster with terrific hands. We will be watching him on Sundays for a long time. Brandon Reilly is a very good big-bodied receiver with good speed and hands. Reilly, himself, had over 750 yards in 2015. Stanley Morgan is a sophomore with loads of upside. He might have the highest ceiling of all, with his combination of youth, physicality and hands. Alonzo Moore is somehow lost in this mix, despite six TDs in 2015. That says nothing about Cethan Carter and Demornay Pierson-El, who are both outstanding talents. This is far and away the best position group on the team. The one negative is the DUI from WR coach Keith Williams. Williams will be suspended through the end of the month and not allowed to coach the first 4 games. Perhaps that turmoil could disrupt what is sure to be a very good fall for this group. Otherwise, the sky is the limit with this embarrassment of riches on the outside.

Offensive Line

I don’t think I am alone when I say that last year’s offensive line was mostly underwhelming. NU was middle of the pack in both yards per game and yards per carry in Big 10 play.  It seemed like Tommy Armstrong was always getting flushed out of the pocket and running for his life. So forgive me when I don’t sob over the departure of four contributors from last years OL. It’s time for some new blood up front. I really like the way this line looks on paper. Nick Gates will man the left tackle spot after gaining a year’s experience on the other side. I expect Gates to make a big jump this fall. Papillion product, Dylan Utter, moves to center from Guard, where he started every game a year ago. I think that is an upgrade over Ryne Reeves who seemed slow off the ball and consistently high on his snaps. David Knevel  is a ridiculous 6-9 315 lbs. OL Coach Mike Cavanaugh is banking that he can turn that frame into an effective right tackle. I’ll bet he is right. The two that I was the most excited about were guards Tanner Farmer and Jerald Foster. Farmer is said to be extremely strong and has trimmed down. Unfortunately, Foster is lost for the year with a knee injury. That is a big loss as I had big hopes for him. In his absence freshman Jalin Barnett looks to make his mark. Like Foster, Barnett has a big upside. Perhaps I am being especially bullish on this group for no particular reason. There is no track record nor experience to speak of. I look at the bodies occupying these spots, as well as the depth being built behind them, and feel that productive Saturdays are in store for this unit. It may take a while for this unit to gel, but I think this unit will be a strength by seasons end.

Schedule Analysis/Season Prediction

Overall, this schedule is tough, but not rough. There are several challenging games along the way, including several on the road. But if you want to be a good team in this league, these are games you can’t be afraid of. Let’s start with the one unwinnable game. November 5th, our beloved Big Red go to Columbus, Ohio to take on the mighty Buckeyes. I don’t see any way this team comes out of Columbus with a W. That team is on a different level at this particular point. September 24th, the Oregon Ducks come to town. Oregon is stumbling off its worst season in 8 years, just lost its offensive coordinator, and is unsettled at QB. That does not mean that they can’t come into Lincoln and win. If the NU defense is not clicking Oregon’s skill players will take the Blackshirts apart. Still, this is a winnable game. Beyond those 2 games there are several tough, but manageable road games. A trip to Northwestern is always a test, but one I feel this team should pass. Another to Madison comes at the tail end of murderers row for the Badgers.  In a 6 week period, UW plays at Michigan State, at Michigan, Ohio State, at Iowa, and then Nebraska. There is a good chance the Badgers will be totally destroyed by the time NU comes to town. Then of course there is a Black Friday trip to Iowa City. The road team has won the last 4 in this series including an awesome comeback from down 24-7 the last time this game was played here. This game is a total toss up.

There are no shortage of potholes on this schedule, but is largely manageable. If this team wants to contend for a division and conference title the door is wide open. The schedule maker has all but eliminated both Wisconsin and Northwestern, leaving Nebraska and Iowa.  Once again the schedule looks relatively easy for the Iowa Hawkeyes. They draw a trip to Penn State and a visit from Michigan from the east, as well as home games against the other West contenders.  The door is in no way closed for NU.  They will certainly need a win on Black Friday or a win in Madison, but I feel like that is realistic. If this defense can gel much earlier than it did a year ago and NU can effectively run the ball, everything is possible. I’ll play the Husker homeboy and call for that to happen and for the Huskers to be playing on Black Friday for the Big 10 west title. I’ll go a step further and say NU wins that game, winning the west and finishing 9-3.