Talk about a turn of events. First a loud portion of Nebraska football fans didn’t see the Huskers winning another game and ending the season with a horrifying 2-10 record. But now the Big Red finds itself fresh off toppling then-No. 7 Michigan State and tainting its perfect 8-0 record.
Not only did Mike Riley’s Huskers take down a top-10 team, they also snapped one of the longest winning streaks in the country and dealt the Spartans their first Big Ten road loss since 2012.
The atmosphere was electric, fans that left early have been rightfully shamed and suddenly Nebraska finds itself sitting at 4-6 with a chance to head to a bowl game and end the season on a winning note.
However to do that, Riley’s going to have to take Tommy Armstrong, Jordan Westerkamp, Maliek Collins and this band of mentally weary Cornhuskers through a tough stretch.
Rutgers shouldn’t be viewed as an easy win. Even if the Big Red have more quality depth, coming off of a major victory sets them up for a trap game nestled in New Jersey.
Should Nebraska slip out of Piscataway winners, it’s possible that an undefeated, top-10 Iowa squad comes into Lincoln with College Football Playoff hopes. The Hawkeyes will be doing so after Nebraska finally sees its only bye week after playing 11 straight games.
If Riley’s squad wins such a contest, he’ll have tied the number of top-10 teams his predecessor Bo Pelini conquered during his seven-year tenure.
More importantly, Nebraska will get invaluable practices that come with any bowl game. Should the Huskers rattle off a three-game winning streak, fans may flock to the East Coast if the Big Red wind up playing in Yankee Stadium for this year’s Pinstripe Bowl.
It would’ve been easy for Riley and crew to lie down after the loss to Purdue, for public opinion to fry them over the course of an offseason. That clearly won’t be tolerated. Not by Riley, not from his staff and certainly not from his players.
If (and it’s still a big if) the Big Red goes bowling, it may not redeem losses to Illinois or the Boilermakers, but the opportunity should speak volumes regarding Riley’s ability to teach his kids about battling severe adversity.
Speaking of the loss to Purdue, following the game Riley said, “We're just going to keep coaching them. That's what we need to do. You'd be naive to know that this is not a good thing. We've got to just keep going with them. I think that's what they need the most right now, is more coaching.”
That sounds cliché, but you saw the results Saturday night. Nebraska won’t win the Big Ten this year, but this team can do something no one saw even a couple of weeks ago: go to a bowl, have a winning record and take down two highly-ranked teams in the process.
In the meantime, it’s time to focus on Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights will surely be happy to knock the Huskers back down into the depths of depression if they don’t give their all as the Big Red did against Sparty.