Why Week 12 matters to Nebraska

Week 12 might be a snoozer in many parts of the country, but in the Cornhusker State, they're wide awake.

Their beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers still have plenty at stake, beginning Saturday at No. 18 Michigan.

After surviving an awkward week as "Penn State's opponent," the 16th-rated Huskers have reclaimed the spotlight all for themselves. There's no need to downplay what's on the table for coach Bo Pelini and his team Saturday at the Big House.

1. Legends division livelihood

Nebraska can prolong the Legends division race to the final weekend of the regular-season if it knocks off Michigan. A Huskers win would prevent No. 15 Michigan State from clinching the division title even if it takes care of Indiana at Spartan Stadium. If the Huskers lose to Michigan and Michigan State beats Indiana, it's all over. The Spartans would go to Indy.

By beating Michigan, Nebraska would put itself in position to turn up the heat on Michigan State in Week 13 even if the Spartans also win Saturday. Nebraska's regular-season finale takes place on Black Friday against Iowa. A Huskers win would force Michigan State to beat Northwestern the following day in Evanston to win the division. As Nebraska found out Nov. 5, Northwestern is playing much better as of late.

"We have a lot to play for," Pelini said Monday.

2. BCS at-large livelihood

Even if Nebraska falls short in the division, it can stay alive for a possible BCS at-large berth by beating Michigan. If the Huskers sweep Michigan and Iowa to finish the season at 10-2, they would be in the running for an at-large berth. While Big Red didn't have the season some expected, it would finish on a three-game win streak that includes wins in both State College and Ann Arbor.

A third loss likely would remove Nebraska from both the division race and from the BCS bowl picture entirely.

Beating Michigan takes on added importance because the Wolverines are in a similar position, needing help in the division but eying a possible BCS at-large berth. Michigan also can finish the regular season at 10-2 if it knocks off both Nebraska and archrival Ohio State, a team it hasn't beaten since 2003. Wolverines fans are itching to travel to one of the big bowls, and Michigan would be an enticing option. Nebraska can make that dream go away Saturday.

3. Big Ten respect

Nebraska might not win the Big Ten title in its first year as a league member. But after a very shaky start in its new league, the Huskers can finish on a strong note.

Much was made about Nebraska's first Big Ten schedule, which featured division crossover games against Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State, and road trips to Madison, State College and Ann Arbor. Most teams that must visit Camp Randall Stadium, Beaver Stadium and Michigan Stadium in the same season would gladly take a 2-1 mark.

If the Huskers win Saturday, they'll finish the stretch at 2-1 and show they can perform on the Big Ten's biggest stages.

"When our schedule came out these were the two games I was most excited for," safety Austin Cassidy said of the trips to both Penn State and to Michigan. "To have these two back-to-back, it's definitely a challenge. I think this team, coach Bo, is all about taking a challenge in stride and really pushing and testing yourself.

"It's going to be fun."

Week 12 will be a fun week for Nebraska. And a very meaningful one.