All eyes will be on Scott Frost and company this fall as the Nebraska football team looks to rebound from its worst season in over 50 years. With a challenging schedule featuring nine games against teams that played in a bowl game last year, as well as a revamped roster under a new coaching staff, it’s hard to gauge expectations going into fall camp. Here is a look at the teams the Huskers will face this upcoming season:
Week 1: Akron
2017 record: 7-7
Postseason: Lost Mid-American Conference Championship to Toledo 45-28
2017 stat to know: 205.4 rushing yards allowed per game
The rundown: The Huskers will begin the Scott Frost era under the lights of Memorial Stadium on Sept. 1 as they face the defending MAC runner-up Akron. The Zips struggled defensively all season, especially in non-conference blowout losses against Penn State, Iowa State and Florida International. After last year’s scare in the season-opener against Arkansas State, Nebraska’s new rushing attack should make sure this game is not nearly as close.
Week 2: Colorado
2017 record: 5-7
2017 stat to know: 450.6 offensive yards allowed per game
The rundown: The Buffaloes underwent a rebuilding year last season after winning the Pac-12 South in 2016. With nearly all of their starters back, expectations are raised once again for Colorado. Junior quarterback Steven Montez completed 60 percent of his passes last season and should give the Huskers’ secondary a stiff challenge in week two. This should be another high-scoring affair, similar to many battles between these two in years past, with the Huskers as a likely favorite.
Week 3: Troy
2017 record: 11-2
Postseason: Won New Orleans Bowl 50-30 vs. North Texas
2017 stat to know: 26 turnovers forced
The rundown: The Trojans managed to pull off a major coup when other programs with coaching vacancies passed on head coach Neal Brown for a second consecutive offseason despite his impressive 2017 season. Troy has high expectations for 2018, and a win at Nebraska could very well put the team the conversation for making a New Year’s Six bowl game. Like Frost’s former team at the University of Central Florida, Troy runs a balanced and potent offensive attack with an opportunistic defense that capitalizes on turnovers. They also are not afraid of the big stage, having already upset LSU in Death Valley last season. This may end up being Nebraska’s most challenging non-conference game this year.
Week 4: At Michigan
2017 record: 8-5
Postseason: Lost Outback Bowl 26-19 to South Carolina
2017 stat to know: 63.8 percent, Shea Patterson’s completion percentage last season
The rundown: The hype surrounding Michigan has subsided after a disappointing 2017 season, but the Wolverines may become the best team in the Big Ten this year. With most of their defense back and the addition of former Ole Miss standout Patterson on offense, the Wolverines have all the pieces in place to navigate a brutal schedule and compete for a national championship. Frost’s first loss at UCF came at the Big House back in 2016, and his first loss at Nebraska could very well occur there too.
Week 5: Purdue
2017 record: 7-6
Postseason: Won Foster Farms Bowl 38-35 vs. Arizona
2017 stat to know: +16 TD/INT ratio last season
The rundown: Purdue stunned the college football world with its sudden resurgence last year, capping off the season with its first postseason win in six years. Expectations are higher for head coach Jeff Brohm in his second year, and Purdue will be looking to avenge the one-point loss they suffered against Nebraska last season. While their flashy play calling turned heads all year, the Boilermakers still finished 53 in total offense last season. The matchup will cap a tricky September schedule for Purdue that features games against Northwestern, Missouri and Boston College. For Nebraska, it could be a game that swings momentum one way or another moving into October.
Week 6: At Wisconsin
2017 record: 13-1
Postseason: Lost Big Ten Championship 27-21 to Ohio State
2017 stat to know: 262.1 total yards allowed per game (2nd in NCAA)
The rundown: For Nebraska to return to prominence, they will have to get through Wisconsin, which is no easy task. The Huskers’ struggles against the Badgers since joining the Big Ten have been frequently noted, and is something Frost has already discussed his frustrations over. This will be an important game in Nebraska’s season as it gives the coaching staff a chance to see just how big of a gap there is between them and the West’s top dog. With the Badgers’ returning talent, expectations could be low for this game but it still will be an interesting litmus test for where the Huskers currently stand as a program.
Week 7: At Northwestern
2017 record: 10-3
Postseason: Won Music City Bowl 24-23 vs. Kentucky
2017 stat to know: 2-6 record of Big Ten teams in their games following Wisconsin last season
The rundown: The Wildcats’ impressive season was overshadowed by Wisconsin’s last season, but they still emerged as a legitimate contender in the West. Running back Jeremy Larkin is primed for a breakout season after gaining over 600 yards as a freshman backup, and their defense appears to be as stingy as ever. What will control Northwestern’s fate this year will be the health of senior quarterback Clayton Thorson, who tore his ACL in their December bowl game. If he is unable to return by the start of the season, they may have some early tribulations thanks to their schedule. Northwestern and Nebraska always play a close and exciting game, and this year should be no different.
Week 8: Minnesota
2017 record: 5-7
2017 stat to know: 122, Minnesota’s rank in total offense in 2017
The rundown: Year one of the P.J. Fleck era in Minnesota was an ugly one, and they are not showing signs of improvement moving forward. The Gophers struggled to find a legitimate quarterback in 2017, which stifled their offense. The only quarterback on their roster with game experience is now sophomore Seth Green, who failed to throw a single pass last season. Returning Husker players likely will not have forgotten last year’s 54-21 beatdown they suffered in Minneapolis and will be looking to run up the score in this one.
Week 9: Bye week
Week 10: At Ohio State
2017 record: 12-2
Postseason: Won Big Ten Championship Game 27-21 vs. Wisconsin
2017 stat to know: 60.3 points per game average against Nebraska under Urban Meyer
The rundown: There’s no sugarcoating it, Ohio State has dominated Nebraska since Urban Meyer took over in Columbus. Still, this year’s matchup should be a lot closer than years past. In all three previous meetings, Nebraska came into the game having just faced Wisconsin. As previously noted, teams have struggled in games following the physical Badgers. This year, the Huskers get a bye week going into the game. Nebraska also has an offensive scheme that plays into Ohio State’s weaknesses well, using both speed and power to spread the field out. If the Huskers can get enough pressure on first-year starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins, they could pull off a program-changing upset in Columbus this year.
Week 11: Illinois
2017 record: 2-10
2017 stat to know: 15.4 points per game average
The rundown: Even amidst last season’s tribulations, Nebraska dominated Illinois on the road. The Illini are still trying to build depth and find a quarterback, and given how injuries deplete rosters as the season goes on, this one could get ugly quickly for Illinois.
Week 12: Michigan State
2017 record: 10-3
Postseason: Won Holiday Bowl 42-17 vs. Washington State
2017 stat to know: Eight games decided by one or two scores.
The rundown: The Spartans bounced back from a 3-9 record in 2016 in an impressive fashion, picking up wins over Michigan and Penn State. This season could go either way for the Spartans, as most of their potential rests on the hopes of improved quarterback play from junior Brian Lewerke. Nebraska and Michigan State have already played some classics, and this one should be another.
Week 13: At Iowa
2017 record: 8-5
Postseason: Won Pinstripe Bowl 27-20 vs. Boston College
2017 stat to know: 4-1 record vs. Nebraska in last five meetings
The rundown: Iowa has not been brought up much by Frost since he arrived in Lincoln, but there will be plenty of buzz around this game. The Hawkeyes have the potential for a good season thanks to a favorable schedule and junior quarterback Nate Stanley, but it is hard to gauge their ceiling yet. Mike Riley went 0-3 against Iowa, and fans won’t tolerate more of the same from Frost. The Hawkeyes ran for 313 yards in last year’s blowout win, and it will be interesting to see how much success they have on the ground this time around.
This article was originally published in the August 2018 edition of The DN.