Nebraska Football Team

The Nebraska football team enters Memorial Stadium before the game against Wisconsin on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

We are quickly approaching one of the best periods of the year: feast week. There is non-stop basketball and football for over a week straight, and Nebraska will have a significant role in both sports. Before we get there though, here’s what I’m thinking after an up-and-down week in Lincoln.

1. I stumbled across an interesting statistic that seems to sum up Nebraska football’s 2019 season.

After Nebraska’s 37-21 loss, I was curious about when the last time Nebraska lost three consecutive games by two possessions or less was. Nebraska’s lost three or more straight games plenty of times in recent years, but there has always been at least one blowout in the mix. 

As it turns out, this hasn’t happened since 1959. 

It seems to be a fitting description of this season, as it shows that the Huskers are still competing and have shown plenty of fight, but they just haven’t been able to do enough right to pull out a win.

Injuries likely won’t be talked about much when people look back on this season, but I do believe they had a significant impact on many of this season’s games. The loss of starting quarterback Adrian Martinez for the Minnesota and Indiana games was costly, even if the backups were serviceable.

Starting safety Deontai Williams has been missed in the secondary all season, although that position group has had plenty of depth to continue playing all right. The key losses in recent weeks have been starting defensive tackle Darrion Daniels and freshman all-around weapon Wan’Dale Robinson. 

Both of those players could have been of great use against the Badgers on Saturday, but their backups performed admirably. 

Wisconsin is always the big ‘measuring stick’ game for programs in the Big Ten West to find out how good they are. Nebraska showed Saturday that even shorthanded, it can move the ball against Wisconsin’s defense.

A lot will be said about Wisconsin rushing for over 300 yards once again, but Jonathan Taylor is truly a special player in college football that only comes around programs like Wisconsin once every 5-10 years or so. 

Wisconsin will always have elite running backs, but I’m curious to see how it fares against Nebraska in the post-Taylor era. Keep in mind that in the first two years of this series during the Paul Chryst era, pre-Jonathan Taylor, the Badgers needed a last-second field goal and overtime to win. 

Much like many other parts of Scott Frost’s rebuild, the Wisconsin conundrum may just require patience.

2. A quick update on Nebraska’s chances of going bowling with five wins.

With two weeks left in the season, there are 63 teams that are bowl eligible, leaving just 15 spots left. There is one game between five-win teams, Oregon State and Washington State, next week, so there are really just 14 spots.

There also will likely be a matchup of two five-win teams in two weeks when North Carolina State plays North Carolina, which makes it 13 spots.

Currently, there are 15 teams with five wins. Five of them will play either FCS schools or teams with three or less wins over the next two weeks. The other 10 are basically toss-ups. 

After that, there are 27 teams currently sitting at 4-6. Most of these teams will likely lose at least one more game this season. In my opinion, the only surefire locks from the four-win category are the winner of North Carolina-North Carolina State and Michigan State, who ends the season against Rutgers and Maryland. 

Technically, there is a path to multiple five-win teams earning bowl berths but it is still too early to tell. 

The other important piece of the puzzle is on the APR side, which determines which five-win teams get bowl invites. Nebraska is tied for 41st on this scale this season. Of the 40 teams ahead, all but eight have already either secured bowl eligibility or lost eight or more games. 

Of those eight teams, three currently have five wins and two already have seven losses. Technically, there is a chance that Nebraska could squeak in one of the last invites, but again, it’s too early to tell. This picture will be much clearer after next weekend. 

It’d still be in Nebraska’s best interest to simply win its next two games and not have to worry about this.

3. Friday night showed the positive side of Nebraska basketball’s volatility this season.

For one half, against a decent mid-major, Nebraska basketball looked like a competent basketball team. I think a lot of that had to do with South Dakota State being worn down from playing on the road for over a week, but Nebraska’s offense once again looked better than it did in the previous game.

Nights like Friday should remind fans to truly enjoy this season. If the Huskers lose, it really doesn’t matter this season. There is no pressure or expectations for this team, which is something that hasn’t been the case around here for a while and is something that likely won’t be the case around here in the future. 

When executed well, the Huskers play a style of basketball that is very fun to watch. Sophomore guard Cam Mack and junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. are also fun to watch. Both will likely have some nights like Friday where they simply don’t miss. When that happens, they can play with almost any team in the country. If it doesn’t, well, remember the first two games of the season.

The Huskers should be able to get back to .500 on Friday night against Southern. After that comes a fascinating three days in the Cayman Islands against some very good mid-majors and very bad Power Five conference teams.

 4. After Nebraska-Wisconsin ended, I got a kick out of the Wisconsin media closely watching Minnesota-Iowa in the press box.

Most of them likely had early December travel plans hinging on the outcome of that game, which Iowa won. Must be nice.

5. On a personal note…

Saturday was the last real game at Memorial Stadium that I will cover for The Daily Nebraskan. Over the course of three years on the football beat, I covered eight home losses. 

Looking at next year’s schedule and where this program is going, I have a feeling that the next DN reporters may not see eight home losses over the next few years combined.