Good news: the college football season begins five weeks from today. (Abilene Christian at Georgia State. Who's excited?) We can't wait, which is why we're peeking ahead and breaking down every Big Ten team's 2014 schedule in this new series.
Up first: the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Nonconference opponents (with 2013 records)
Aug. 30: Florida Atlantic (6-6)
Sept. 6: McNeese State (10-3)
Sept. 13: at Fresno State (11-2)
Sept. 20: Miami (Fla). (9-4)
West Division games
Sept. 27: Illinois
Oct. 18: at Northwestern
Nov. 1: Purdue
Nov. 15: at Wisconsin
Nov. 22: Minnesota
Nov. 28: at Iowa
Oct. 4: at Michigan State
Oct. 25: Rutgers
Gut-check game: at Wisconsin. Sure, the Michigan State game on the road is a big gut-check game, too, but the Spartans are in the other division. Nebraska could have a hard time getting to Indianapolis if it doesn't get past Wisconsin. And, of course, Big Red lost 48-17 the last time it went to Madison (and 70-31 the most recent time it played the Badgers away from home). Camp Randall can be an intimidating place for visitors to play, but Bo Pelini's team has to be ready to step up and stop the run.
Trap game: Fresno State. Coming a week before the more heavily-hyped showdown versus those Hurricanes, this one has all the makings of a trap. The Bulldogs have fielded a solid program for years, won 11 games last year and have been picked to win their division in the Mountain West. Plus, the game is on the road with a night kickoff before Fresno fans who will be foaming at the mouth. No overlooking allowed here.
Snoozer: McNeese State won 10 games last year and pummeled South Florida, so the Cowboys are not your typical FCS pushover. Still, the talent and size difference should be immense, and we'll be impatiently tapping our toes waiting for the next two nonconference games.
Non-con challenge: Miami. The Hurricanes are nowhere near as talented as they were the last time these teams met, when Miami trotted out scores of future pros in the 2001 Rose Bowl. Nebraska has had more cumulative success since then, though neither have reached the heights to which they aspire. Regardless, the 'Canes are always going to be loaded with speed and athletes, and running back Duke Johnson will present problems for any defense. The Huskers need to win this game at home to build their national credibility.
Analysis: Nebraska might end up as the best team in the West, but to win the division will require overcoming some schedule hurdles. Playing Michigan State in East Lansing is as tough a draw from the East as it gets, and neither Wisconsin nor Iowa face similar challenges in their crossover slate. Moreover, the Huskers have to play at both Wisconsin and Iowa in November, so Pelini's crew will have to become road warriors. Throw in at least two strong nonconference games, and this is a schedule that should give us an accurate read at just where this program is at the moment.