Every team in the Big Ten faces a crucial stretch in its 2016 schedule. It may make the difference in a program’s bid to escape the division basement, reach bowl eligibility or contend for the College Football Playoff. But for all 14 Big Ten teams, a make-or-break stretch exists.
This week, we’re identifying and analyzing those pivotal points around the conference for each team.
Up next is Nebraska.
Toughest stretch: Weeks 9 and 10 (Oct. 29 at Wisconsin, Nov. 5 at Ohio State)
Why: In a way, the schedule-makers were kind to Nebraska. The Cornhuskers don't play three opponents in a four-week stretch in 2016 that finished last season with winning records.
A September visit from Oregon followed by the Big Ten opener at Northwestern poses a difficult test. But even that pales in comparison to consecutive road trips to Madison and Columbus.
Nebraska is 0-2 at Camp Randall Stadium since it joined the Big Ten, losing by an average of 28 points, and has dropped three straight to Wisconsin. The Huskers have also never won at Ohio Stadium (in three visits) and lost by 25 points in 2012, their most recent trip.
More notably, the Badgers, who play Nebraska amid their own extended brutal stretch of games, corralled quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. last season in a last-second win in Lincoln. And Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett is the type of quarterback who has given Nebraska loads of trouble in recent years.
The back-to-back road trips to Wisconsin and Ohio State are bracketed by home games against Purdue, which beat Nebraska last season, and Minnesota, which won two years ago in Lincoln. But clearly, the Badgers and Buckeyes represent the most significant hurdle on the Huskers’ schedule. If Nebraska can find a way to split these games, consider it a victory for Mike Riley’s team.