The college football regular season is the most meaningful one in all of sports. Every game matters in its own way, and losing at any point can be absolutely lethal to a given program’s National Championship hopes. Pitfalls and mines lay around every corner, and a week after beating the No. 1 team in the country you can fall to a second-tier program that hasn’t been relevant in a decade.
Thatsaid, although every game is vital to the big picture that is a complete season, all games are not created equal. Some undoubtedly mean more, and below, Opposing Views will break down the three toughest games that the Nebraska Cornhuskers will play in 2011.
3. Michigan State Spartans – The Spartans are still riding high from their 2010 campaign, all the while probably selectively blocking out the merciless beating they took from the Alabama Crimson Tide in the subsequent bowl game.
Offensively, the Spartans are sufficiently stacked at the skill positions. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is a reliable passer who can get the ball where he wants, both tailbacks (Edwin Baker and Leveon Bell) are satisfactorily talented, and the Spartan wide receiving core is the deepest in the Big Ten. The problem is, though, that Michigan State lost three starters on their offensive line and is more or less starting from scratch in the protection department. That reconfiguration will prove to be the squad’s Achilles heel when they square off against Nebraska’s fierce defense. This means that Jerel Worthy and rest of the Spartan defense will need to do their part to get after the Huskers’ inconsistent offense if they want to have any shot of beating the top-ranked team in the Big Ten.
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2. Ohio State Buckeyes – Say what you will about their offseason woes, but Ohio State still boasts a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Being a traditional conference power has its perks, and one of those perks is that the Buckeyes have been able to stockpile on talent every year for the last decade.
Look for a surprisingly seamless transition as Luke Fickell will run his team in largely identical fashion as his old boss, Jim Tressel (on the field, not off of it). That consistency will be key as the Buckeyes attempt to figure out their quarterback situation over the course of the season – trying to patch up the hole left behind by Terrelle Pryor with what is essentially a collection of spare parts. Still with the likes of DeVier Posey and Dan Herron due to return by the October 8 showdown, Ohio State should have enough offensively to at least compete. And defensively, of course, the Buckeyes are still as dangerous as ever with six starters returning to a group that ranked No. 4 in total defense and No. 5 in scoring defense in 2010.
The good news is that this game will be played at home. The bad news, however, is that this game comes a mere week after Nebraska’s biggest game of the year versus their biggest conference foes.
1. Wisconsin Badgers – The Badgers are undoubtedly the biggest threat the Huskers will face all year long. Built in the eerily same fashion with a particular emphasis on defense and running the ball, this Badgers squad will pose a real test for the Huskers in their October 1 night game – essentially a battle for rule of the Big Ten in 2011.
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Last year’s Big Ten Rose Bowl representative, Wisconsin, lost a huge piece of their puzzle in quarterback Scott Tolzien. While Tolzien was never the marquee, glitzy, must-see type player that you will often encounter at that position, he did precisely what was needed from him at all times – and he did so with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency. Now, with the Badgers’ new signee Russell Wilson at the helm, it remains to be seen whether he’ll prove to be the type of game-changer that can take Wisconsin to that National Championship level. Wilson coupled with the likes of Montee Ball, James White and Nick Toon give Wisconsin more than enough talent to rival Nebraska, though, and this game will no doubt prove to be the biggest test of the year for the Huskers.
Look for the winner of this outing to eventually walk away with the conference crown.