Huskers return to action on Saturday, but fans of the Big Red could be in for a season like they've never seen
Autumn is in full swing in the midwest. The leaves are changing, the air is crisp, and the smell of wood smoke from fireplaces is everywhere — especially in Nebraska.
This weekend, the people of the Cornhusker State will now have the one thing that above all else defines Autumn in their eyes: Husker football.
Nebraska will travel to Columbus to face the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday. The Huskers are currently 26-point underdogs, and nobody — not even the most optimistic of the Big Red faithful — is expecting Nebraska to pull off the upset.
And that's fine and understandable for the vast majority of the fan base — for now.
Moving forward, however, the passionate Nebraska fans are expecting the 2020 team to win some games. How many? That's up for discussion, but wins — plural — are expected, even out of a program with only 13 total in the last three seasons.
The problem is, there's a very real possibility that this Nebraska football team doesn't win a single game in 2020.
The schedule is brutal, one may even say "menacing" to describe it. The Huskers are going to open with back-to-back games against Ohio State and Wisconsin. Those two teams are expected by many to face off in the Big Ten Championship Game.
After that, the Huskers travel to Northwestern. The Wildcats, more than any program since the Huskers joined the Big Ten a decade ago, have been Nebraska's most competitive rival. Northwestern returns more than a dozen starters from a season ago, and most outlets predicted the Wildcats to flirt with bowl eligibility (.500) when the 12-game schedules were released. Suffice to say, calling the Nebraska-Northwestern game a coin flip is not exactly an outrageous statement.
The next three games on the schedule are: home against Penn State, home vs. Illinois, and at Iowa. Penn State is widely considered the second-most talented team in the conference. The Nittany Lions figure to be heavy favorites — even in Lincoln.
Illinois is coming off of a season where the Fighting Illini qualified for a bowl game — something Nebraska hasn't done since 2016. Lovie Smith has changed the culture in Champaign, and his team will be looking for another postseason berth. Even in Lincoln, it's tough not to call that a coin flip game as well. On paper, this might be Nebraska's most winnable contest.
Iowa has defeated Nebraska five straight times. That last Nebraska coach to beat Iowa? Bo Pelini. He was fired two days later. The Huskers will likely be underdogs in that one as well.
Nebraska will close out the eight-game slate with a trip to Purdue and a home game against Minnesota. Purdue returns 15 starters from a season ago, including Rondale Moore — one of the most electric players in the country. Again, Nebraska isn't in any position to call this game anything but a coin flip.
As for the game against Minnesota, Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck has installed a winning culture in the Twin Cities. His "Row the Boat" mantra has been sold to the players and fans, and they are happy customers. Barring the wheels falling off the progress Fleck has made, Minnesota will be road favorites when the Gophers head to Lincoln.
As unfathomable as a winless Nebraska season may be — especially to Husker fans — it's not all that unrealistic of a premise when you go game-by-game and look at the talent and coaches Nebraska faces vs. what the Big Red have on their own roster.
Football is back in the Cornhusker State, and the Nebraska faithful will celebrate this weekend as a result. Those celebrations, however, may be few and far between — possibly even non-existent — as the 2020 college football season plays out.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.