This was a great weekend to have off if you are Nebraska. With Ohio State and Michigan State doing battle in the big Ten East, Minnesota and Iowa colliding in the west and Wisconsin on the road, this was a good weekend to sit back, relax and check out the rest of the conference. A bye week in November is always nice to have, especially when in the midst of a division race that has certainly heated up. For the Huskers, giving Heisman Trophy candidate running back Ameer Abdullah some extra time to heal up could not have come at a better time either.
Abdullah sprained his knee in Nebraska’s last game against Purdue. Bo Pelini said at the time there was no reason to believe he would have to sit his top offensive player for the big game this week against Wisconsin, and that was clearly some good news. Giving Abdullah an extra week not to worry about missing playing time can only help him and Nebraska as the Huskers look to make a run toward a return to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game. Nebraska has had a rash of bad luck in conference championship games under Pelini, but if Abdullah is healthy for the final games of the season this year could be different.
Nebraska’s only loss this season came on the road against Michigan State, but Nebraska has pretty much been a solid from September through mid-November in Big Ten play. The Huskers have won four conference games by double digits, and Abdullah has piled up big numbers to boost his Heisman profile. At 8-1 coming out of the bye week, these Huskers are looking to shrug aside a recent history of reaching nine wins as a ceiling all too often. With Nebraska currently in a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten West, the pressure is officially on for Nebraska to prove capable of reaching double-digit wins and making a case for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Though there is plenty of competition for the four playoff spots, the odds are still pretty decent a one–loss Big Ten champion would at least be in the conversation. Ohio State and Nebraska are the only two one-loss teams in the conference, and if things go well for Nebraska, the Huskers could have a chance to hand Ohio State a second straight conference championship game loss and make a case for the playoff in the process. There are three critical weeks before this can even become a realistic conversation worth having.
Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota are all tied for first place in the division, which makes the next few weeks especially intriguing. Nebraska travels to Wisconsin this week and hosts Minnesota next week before closing out the regular season at Iowa. Nebraska is going to need to be at full strength to go toe-to-toe in Madison against the Badgers in what should be a terrific showdown of the Big Ten’s top two running backs (Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and Abdullah).
There is no question Nebraska is much more of a threat with Abdullah healthy. The extra week of rest could prove to be extremely valuable.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)