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Will Nebraska Make a Bowl Game in 2017?

Mike Riley, Nebraska Cornhuskers Football

Mike Riley, Nebraska Cornhuskers Football

Nebraska heads into the final five games of the season with plenty at stake. The Cornhuskers are 3-4 overall and just 2-2 in Big Ten play through Week 8, but the stretch run could decide whether or not coach Mike Riley returns in 2018. Riley is 18-15 since taking over in 2015 and finished 9-4 last year. However, Nebraska has a new athletic director in Bill Moos and uncertainty surrounds a coaching staff that lost to Northern Illinois in mid-September and was defeated by Wisconsin and Ohio State by a combined score of 94-31 over the last two games.

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In order to reach a bowl, the Cornhuskers need to win three out of their last five or get to five wins and hope an APR selection is needed. With road games at Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State, along with home matchups against Iowa and Northwestern, the path to six wins is challenging.

Can Nebraska reach six wins and get back to the postseason? Or will Riley and his staff fall short of six victories? Athlon’s roundtable of experts debates this topic:

Will Nebraska Make a Bowl Game in 2017?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

With five games left and a trip to Penn State looming on Nov. 18, Nebraska obviously has no margin for error in order to get to a bowl. However, the path is there for the Cornhuskers to finish with six wins. Purdue has been dealing with some key injuries recently and lost to Rutgers in Week 8. If Nebraska wins in West Lafayette next week, that leaves home dates against Northwestern and Iowa, along with a road trip to Minnesota as possibilities for victories. The Golden Gophers have been up-and-down in coach P.J. Fleck’s first year, while the Hawkeyes and Wildcats are both 4-3 after seven games. While it’s a tough road, it’s not out of the question for coach Mike Riley’s team, especially if quarterback Tanner Lee can play mistake-free ball, and the rushing attack is able to have more success than it did against Wisconsin or Ohio State. While I might be a little more optimistic about the Cornhuskers' chances than some of the others in this article, I still think Nebraska is going to fall short of six wins. 

Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
With five chances to win three games, I am not sure I can find enough confidence in me to say Nebraska will be going to a bowl game this season. Not when one of those games will be played on the road against Penn State and most certainly not when Nebraska has lacked the ability to prove to anyone watching why these Cornhuskers should be considered an easy favorite against Purdue on the road or Minnesota. This is where Nebraska has fallen as a program.

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Eric Sorenson (@Stitch_Head)
Oy vey. This ain’t fun.

Being a Nebraska fan since the days of I.M. Hipp, it pains me to see the demise of this once-great program over the last 10-15 years. This will be the second time in three years the Big Red sees itself with a 3-4 mark after seven games. This time, however, the Cornhuskers are deemed as underdogs in each of the remaining five contests. According to the FPI their best chance for wins will come in road games against Purdue and Minnesota (a projected 41 percent chance to win for both games) and at home vs. Northwestern (40 percent chance). Other than that they’ll lose badly at Penn State and get beat Thanksgiving weekend vs. Iowa.

Oh sure, they can probably pull an upset or two in the remaining five games, but I have a severe lack of confidence that they’ll win three games to get them to a 6-6 record and a bowl bid. Then again, two more wins gets them to 5-7, which was “good” enough to get a bowl game in 2015. Yuck.

J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
The Huskers need to win three of their last five games. The problem is that all five teams remaining on Nebraska's schedule are more aggressive, more physical and better coached.

They'll head into those games with a lame duck coach, a mid-major quarterback, an offensive line that simply does not know how to be physical and a defense full of guys that quite literally have no idea how to play in their own scheme. I'll be stunned if Nebraska wins two more, forget three.

Chip Minnich (@ChipMinnich)

At the risk of angering Nebraska fans, looking at the Cornhuskers' remaining schedule, I am finding it difficult to see how this team will become bowl eligible in 2017. Currently sitting with a 3-4 record, Nebraska has to go on the road to a surprisingly competitive Purdue on Oct. 28. The road game at Purdue may be the game that determines Nebraska’s bowl fate.

If Nebraska loses to Purdue, which is what I am predicting, the Huskers would need to win three out of four against Northwestern (Nebraska should be favored at home), at Minnesota, at Penn State and Iowa, just to wind up at 6-6 and a trip to Detroit for the Quick Lane Bowl. The schedule does not appear to be favorable to Nebraska’s bowl chances.