This is just a continuation of our earlier conversation. We make our picks at the end!
Andrew: Moving on from the team specifics, let's have a look around the conference. Right now, this matchup looks like a potential CCG preview, as these are certainly the least-flawed teams in each division. Wisconsin can't pass, Ohio State can't defend the pass, Iowa has Kirk Ferentz determined to play every game within a touchdown until the whistle. With what we've seen so far, who do you view as Nebraska's biggest obstacle in returning to Indy?
Jesse: I feel really good about this year's iteration of Nebraska football. For the first time in a very long time, we have mostly strengths covering up the weaknesses and flaws that exist. So-so passing game? That's okay because you run to establish the pass and that's what we'll keep doing. Just an okay LB corp with some misses in the rush defense? That's okay, that DLine should cover up mistakes and the safeties have played pretty great. Oh, and ST looks like a weapon again! If you would've asked me how I felt about any of these things before the season, I probably would have just told you I was happy that football was starting and tried to get off the subject because there were far more unknowns than knowns.
Five weeks later, we're undefeated and going into East Lansing and able to talk about this being an opportunity, win or lose, to still march towards Indy. It's just a very odd thing. But, that wasn't exactly your question. Your question was who is Nebraska's biggest obstacle in returning to Indy, and that would be pretty much everyone.
Being a Nebraska fan is a similar existence to most teams, except we have learned to pretty much expect disaster in the last decade. Sure, it's a bit fatalist and I think we're probably overreacting a bit, but the second you think things are going your way, you lose to Iowa State at home... or Northwestern... or Minnesota. This, however, does not speak to any of these team's abilities in a vacuum (each of those wins was well-deserved for the opponent sans Iowa State and the fublepocalypse game from hell), but it does speak to Nebraska's place in the table right now. This is not a dominant, beat everyone team yet. I wish it were, and maybe there is some real potential, but it's just not there yet. Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota terrify me because they play games that are so very constructed to make Nebraska fans sweat. Northwestern will always give Nebraska a tough game because of karma (the HB pass might of been much in the Alamo Bowl. I apologize to the football gods for that playcall). So outside of remaining home games against a injured Rutgers and Purdue - who will be a speed bump... sorry Boilers - I just don't think Nebraska can even start thinking about Indy.
Michigan State, on the other hand, seems to be in the driver's seat in the East AND there is a chance at the playoffs if they play their cards right. Tell me, what does that path to the B1G Championship Game look like for the Spartans?
Andrew: Well, by dint of the schedule lineup, it very much runs through Spartan Stadium. The tough cross-division game, Nebraska, is there. Ohio State is there. For Michigan and Rutgers it probably matters less that the matchups are in EL, but Rutgers at least seems kind of tough-ish. And of the road games, Indiana and Maryland are the most concerning due to their potent aerial attacks and the as-yet unresolved issues in MSU's secondary (raise your hands, Spartans out there, if you thought Isaiah Lewis would be the toughest of those seniors on defense to replace. Put your hand down, Dersh, you did not). I'll place Purdue in the Yeah, Not Scared category. Penn State at the end of the year is the wild card. Happy Valley is normally a tough place to win, especially late in the year, but Northwestern just made it look easy, and by the time Mark Dantonio's Bowling Trophy From The Garage is up for grabs who knows if Penn State will have enough healthy players to field a team. I guess what I'm saying there is I have no idea what Penn State actually is, but it's hard to be overly concerned about them, especially if MSU is looking to lock up a CCG berth or keep a shot at the playoff intact.
As for the playoff...I'm putting it out of my mind for now. MSU isn't going unless we run the table from here on out, and I'm not going to call that shot until the defensive errors are cleaned up a bit. But even if we do, thanks to our friends at TFFL, the playoff ship may have sailed the moment the result in Eugene went final. This week, MSU dropped a spot in the polls despite winning by 40. Because of the conference we're in, the story is how weak the opponent is. When Auburn can't reach the same margin against La Tech, it's because La Tech is "sneaky good." A team with Skip Holtz as its coach was used to give props to Auburn. /throws hands up
I'd like to think if we continue rolling the way we have the last two weeks, it'll be enough to push us into the top 5 discussion we need to be in come CCG time. But then I remember the academic discussions we heard about OSU in 2012, and how they wouldn't have deserved to go if they had been eligible, despite their 12-0 record, because the ease with which they got that record just proves how weak their schedule is. And of course, if they had won those games by less, it would have shown they weren't really that good of a team because they couldn't even roll through that schedule. /facedesk
It remains to be seen if the playoff committee will be swayed by hearing, 24/7/365, how bad the B1G is but oh who are we kidding of course they will be. Right now, our best-case scenario is to beat Nebraska and OSU soundly, have those two teams go otherwise unbeaten, bludgeon everyone else by 3+ touchdowns, and then get a 1-loss Nebraska or Wisconsin team in the CCG and decapitate them, as well. At that point, unless there are 4 unbeaten teams (LOL), I have to think MSU gets a berth. /soyouresayingtheresachance.gif
Putting aside whether it's fair or not for the moment, let's say Nebraska wins the CCG, but drops another game or two along the way and is thus almost certainly out of the playoff. Do you think it's still possible to be satisfied with that? Would Husker fans be sated by breaking the conference championship drought, or would it just sharpen your appetite for a return to the true glory of the SIXTH NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, making any other accomplishment seem like a cheap consolation?
Jesse: Everything sans NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP is consolation to a certain sect of Nebraska fans, and for those who only know Nebraska as good, that makes sense more or less. The reality, however, is that much of Nebraska's history is littered with mostly okay seasons. Without going into too much detail, I think that the fanbase would go bananas for any sort of championship available to them. If that's the Big Ten Championship, then it's a start. We have not had any hardware from the football team in a while, and a shiny football trophy would be nice to see. It would also hopefully give this team some much needed confidence going into next year where we always thought we'd be most competitive anyways. Between the schedule and the system, it should be a much cleaner route.
Of course, this is all conjecture at this point. Let's get to the game at hand. There are a couple of very interesting aspects to this game, one of which is who this matters more to. In theory, both teams can take the loss and win the conference. At this point in the season, who do you think this matters more to?
Andrew: Hard to say, really. Both teams still have an outside shot at the playoff, and both need to run the table to keep that alive. From that perspective, it means a lot to both. Narrowing the view to the conference race, Nebraska has a harder schedule, which I believe involves trips to both Wisconsin and Iowa. Nebraska looks to be the best of those three by a considerable margin, but it still feels like there are more potential upsets lurking on the Huskers' schedule than on the Spartans'. So I guess I'd say it maybe means a little more to Nebraska? But probably not by enough to show up on the field as a motivation differential or anything like that. There's also the fact that the national disregard for the B1G means that there aren't many chances to get people's attention; other than the incandescent beacon that was once Ann Arbor, this conference really only has 4 teams that get any sort of positive attention- MSU, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and OSU. Games involving two of them are a big opportunity for the winner to wave the flag a bit.
Let's bring this home. Score prediction? I'll note that Nebraska's mischievous zone blocky-option thing-based offense gives MSU's not-yet-galaxy-class defense fits in the best of times, but I still think MSU is the better team and the Spartan crowd has been waiting for an interesting home game. I'll say MSU 38, Nebraska 28.
Jesse: Yeah, I think Nebraska will score some points on MSU this year. We've been less turnover prone (in that we're just dropping fewer footballs in general) and hopefully we won't see another Turnoverpocalypse that results in giving a cushion that was not an option when playing a really good Spartan team. That said, I think MSU is currently a more cohesive unit. I'd feel better about this game with each team hitting its stride as I honestly believe Nebraska has as good - if not better - athletes as the Spartans on both sides of the ball, but we're still feeling things out and the MSU offense vs. Nebraska defense will be the difference. I'm sadly picking it MSU 34 - Nebraska 28