The Huskers are a top 10 team again, but Indiana looks like a program on the rise
For the first time since 2011, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are a top 10 team in college football. After a 2015 season where very little went right for Mike Riley's bunch, the Huskers have stuck to the process, taken it one game at a time, rode a balanced offensive attack and come out of the early portion of the season unblemished.
Are they ready for their biggest challenge to date?
The Indiana Hoosiers are 3-2 and have grown into a competitive football team and a tough out for most opponents. They bring an improved defense to the table to back up a bold, attacking offensive scheme that we have come to know every year recently in Bloomington.
This series is historically much closer than many might assume, favoring Nebraska 9-7. That said, it will be the first meeting between the two programs since 1978, when Tom Osborne's Huskers defeated Lee Corso's Hoosiers 69-17.
Nebraska at Indiana
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 15, 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Nebraska -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Which team gets off to a fast start?
The Huskers were banged up heading into their bye last week. You'd like to think they are healthier and rested, which should lead to a little pep in their step early on. On the other hand, the week off could mean it may take a little extra time to get back into the swing of things. They might need to get punched in the mouth to wake up and realize what kind of fight they are in. The problem for Nebraska in that scenario is that Indiana can score and do so quickly. If the Hoosiers smell blood and see any haze in Nebraska's eyes, it's very possible Indiana could lead by two scores before Tommy Armstrong is finished lacing up his cleats.
2. Which offense establishes the run early?
Both of these teams can hang points on the scoreboard, but at some point, one of them will need to take control of this shootout with a consistent run game — especially to preserve a lead. Devine Redding is Indiana's workhorse back, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Nebraska's rush defense is among the worst in the country, allowing opponents 4.8 yards per carry. On the other side of the ball, the Huskers roll largely with a "running back by committee" setup, pounding the ball between the tackles with Devine Ozigbo and changing the pace with Terrell Newby and a couple of underclassmen. Additionally, the designed quarterback run has been extremely effective for Nebraska this season. All told, the Husker rushing attack is well within the top third of the nation in terms of effectiveness, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and punching it into the end zone 14 times. The Hoosiers have been slightly better than Nebraska against the run, limiting opponents to 4.2 yards per carry.
3. Which defense can create turnovers?
You get the sense that this could end up being a one-possession game. If that is to be the case, taking care of the football will be critical. Nebraska has done a better job than Indiana in that department this season. Indiana's passing attack lends itself to giving the Nebraska secondary plenty of chances to make a game-changing interception. On the flip side, the Huskers have had some difficulties securing the ball near the goal line. Some miscues similar to what we saw out of Nebraska against Northwestern could prove costly in this one.
This should be a highly entertaining football game from a spectator standpoint. You'll see two of the most exciting offenses in the Big Ten trading blows all afternoon. The biggest difference in this one is likely going to be Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong's playmaking ability. He carries the Husker offense, which lives and dies based on his decision-making. Thus far, he has taken care of the football while simultaneously taking the initiative to make things happen. I expect a big day on the ground from Armstrong and perhaps one big play through the air — made possible with his elite mobility — that puts the game away for Nebraska.
Prediction: Nebraska 27, Indiana 23
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.