Football Comparison

Scott Frost leads the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team onto the field during the game against Northwestern at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

After reversing the decision to postpone the 2020 football season to the spring, the Big Ten released a new schedule once again on Saturday

Starting on October 24, each team will play nine total games. For the Huskers, there are plenty of intriguing matchups to watch. 

Here are three takeaways from the schedule.

The first four games will be brutal

The difficulty of the first four games is the most obvious takeaway from the schedule release. Three of Nebraska’s first four opponents were ranked in the top 12 of the AP preseason Top 25 Poll.

The Huskers will open the season against Ohio State and Wisconsin, which were ranked No. 2 and No. 12, respectively, in the preseason poll. Nebraska faced both teams at home last season, losing by a combined 57 points between the two. Most of that margin came in a 48-7 loss to Ohio State.

This year, the Huskers will travel to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes. However, they’ll face Wisconsin at home for the second year in a row. 

A glimmer of hope for the Wisconsin matchup may come in the fact that the Badgers will be without both their leading running back and wide receiver from 2019. Those two players, running back Jonathan Taylor and wide receiver Quintez Cephus, have since graduated and gone off to the NFL. Last season, Taylor pummelled the Nebraska defense, racking up 204 yards and two touchdowns in the 37-21 win. Cephus only had 23 yards, but the receivers responsible for the other two Wisconsin touchdowns in the game, Aron Cruikshank and A.J. Taylor, are also no longer with the team.

The other standout matchup among the first four games is a home matchup against Penn State, the No. 7 team in the preseason poll, at home. The Nittany Lions finished second in the Big Ten East last year, and will look to repeat that level of success. Penn State will look even stronger in 2020 if it can convince one of the top players in the Big Ten, junior linebacker Micah Parsons, to opt back into the season after he opted out in early August. 

On paper, Northwestern will be the worst opponent that the Huskers will take on in this span. That being said, Nebraska’s last three matchups with the Wildcats have all been decided by a single score, two of those being in overtime. Last season, backup quarterback Noah Vedral filled in for junior quarterback Adrian Martinez and led Nebraska to a 13-10 win on a last-second field goal. 

On top of that, the game will be played at Northwestern, which does not bode well for the Huskers. Nebraska is 2-8 on the road in the Scott Frost era, including an overtime loss to the Wildcats in 2018. 

Iowa will once again be a key matchup

Before the schedule was altered, the streak of Nebraska and Iowa playing on the weekend following Thanksgiving was set to be broken. Now, the two will match up again in week six. 

Unlike past years, this matchup isn’t necessarily going to be on Black Friday. As of now, the game is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 28, but the Big Ten will announce any Friday games at a later date. 

No matter which day the matchup falls on, the game is sure to be entertaining. Nebraska hasn’t beaten the Hawkeyes since 2014, and Nebraska lost on a last-second field goal in each of the last two games. 

A win on the road this year against Iowa could be an important step for Frost and the Huskers. The Hawkeyes will not be returning some key players from 2019, such as three-year starter Nate Stanley and team sack leader A.J. Epenesa. 

Nebraska has been very close to downing Iowa recently, but this might be a better chance than any in the past couple of years to finally break through.

Week nine will be fun

With the unveiling of the new schedule came a new feature: an extra game for every team on conference championship weekend. While the top team from each division will still compete for the Big Ten crown, each team will play an additional crossover game with the team in the opposite division with the same standing. 

It’s worth wondering the likelihood that every ninth game happens at the same time, if some happen at all. So far, a significant number of college football games have been postponed or canceled due to COVID-19. The Big Ten doesn’t plan on having any bye weeks, so one postponement could throw a lot of things out of order.

However, this extra game could create some fun matchups. Using last year’s standings, Penn State and Minnesota would’ve met up in that final week. Last year, the game between the two was one of the best of the 2019 season in the conference. Both teams headed into the matchup undefeated at 8-0, but the No. 10 Gophers were still considered to be unproven with a relatively easy schedule up to that point.

The Gophers pulled off the upset, which made them nationally relevant for about a week until they lost two of their last three games against Iowa and Wisconsin. A rematch between the Nittany Lions and Minnesota surely would have been entertaining. 

Under Frost, the Huskers have finished fifth in the division for the last two years. This would have set up a conference championship week game against Maryland in 2018, and Michigan State in 2019. Although Nebraska didn’t play those teams in those respective years, they beat the Spartans 9-6 in 2018 and blew out the Terrapins 54-7 last season. 

It’s hard to make an estimate on where Nebraska will finish in 2020, but a rematch of the Huskers’ 2019 matchup against Indiana could be an intriguing option. 

sports@dailynebraskan.com