Will Weak Non-Conference Schedule Hurt Nebraska?

| by Alex Groberman

Chattanooga, Fresno State and Wyoming – oh, my.

On paper, the Nebraska Cornhuskers' non-conference schedule leaves a lot to be desired. You have the Chattanooga Mocs, who they systematically dismantled -- as everyone figured they would -- this past Saturday in a 40-7 romp that shouldn’t have even been that close.

Then there is Fresno State, a team that fell in unfortunate fashion to Cal 36-21 during the first week of college football. And, of course, you have Wyoming, a squad that just squeaked past Weber State 35-32 – which pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

Heck, even Washington -- a group originally dubbed a viable contender to give Nebraska its first real taste of trouble on September 17 -- nearly gave a game away to Eastern Washington this past weekend.

Given how precarious (read: stupid) the BCS polling system is, can the Cornhuskers really afford to step up to the table, come year’s end, with that grouping of schools as their non-Big Ten competition?

Barring some unfortunate circumstances – yes.

As out-of-place as Chattanooga looked this past Saturday, the patsy game to start a season is a generally accepted, widely-recognized college football tradition. Obviously nobody in their right mind gave the Mocs a shot versus their vastly superior counterparts, and clearly this very well could have been a shutout if not for an unfortunate slip in the secondary – but that’s all moot. Chattanooga was just a real-time, in-game opportunity for Bo Pelini and Co. to practice their schemes and work out the kinks and, theoretically, the powers that be should realize that.

Fresno State, as many have alluded to, is very particular type of team. They’re never legitimate challengers for anything major themselves, but they also seem to have it in them to throw a wrench in another squad’s championship hopes. Even playing them after they’ve lost is frightening, especially considering the fact that they haven’t lost back-to-back games to start the year since 2000.

Wyoming is dealing with some quarterback concerns, so you have to give them a pass for their unimpressive start to 2011. Brett Smith essentially beat out another freshman and a walk-on junior to earn his gig, so expectations have to be tempered for the Cowboys this year. How the BCS gods will view the situation, however, is anyone’s guess.

Washington surrendering 473 yards and three scores to Bo Levi Mitchell is actually kind of indefensible, but for now, we’ll have to chalk it up to beginning of the year jitters for the Huskies defensive unit. Hopefully (for them), they’ll be able to get their you-know-whats into gear and not save their finest moment of the game for when there are only 29 seconds remaining on the clock.

Fortunately for Nebraska, their absolutely gruesome Big Ten schedule should ease any and all apprehensions about whether or not their schedule is “tough enough.” Keep in mind, the Huskers have to play their biggest in-conference rivals, Wisconsin on October 1 – only to follow that up with a night game at home against Ohio State right afterwards. Then, the Big Ten newbies get a steady dosage of Minnesota, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State, Michigan and Iowa in an assortment of home and away outings.

Coupling that schedule with the fact that Nebraska is new to the conference -- and thus, still needs time to acclimate to its surroundings -- you can see why the program’s overall schedule is a lot more difficult than it may originally appear to be if you gauge it strictly by the out of conference games.

Nevertheless, the BCS notoriously awful in every sense, so come year’s end, don’t be shocked if it opts to punish the Huskers for some arbitrary non-reason like games against Chattanooga, Fresno State, Wyoming and Washington – just because it can.