Nebraska faces rough schedule

OMAHA, Neb. -- The Big Ten's welcome gift to Nebraska looks more like a booby prize.

The football schedule for 2011-12, the Cornhuskers' first two seasons in the Big Ten, pits Nebraska against a lineup no sane coach would envy.

The Cornhuskers open the 2011 conference schedule at Wisconsin. They come home to play Ohio State, then it's off to Minnesota and home games against Michigan State and Northwestern.

Here comes the big finish: at Penn State, at Michigan and home against new border rival Iowa.

Conspicuously absent: Indiana, Illinois and Purdue, aka three of the four Big Ten teams that did not make a bowl last season.

"The schedule will be challenging but also interesting for our players, coaches and fans," athletic director Tom Osborne said.

Osborne pointed out that Nebraska is not a voting member of the Big Ten until next July, so he was not able to vote on the schedule.

He said he was allowed to give input.

Osborne surely couldn't have asked for this.

"The scheduling process was difficult because the Big Ten is attempting to preserve a large number of rivalry games and have as many of those games as possible fall at approximately the same point in the season as they have in the past," Osborne said.

Nebraska was placed in a division with Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern.

The Huskers' annual crossover game will be against Penn State.

How tough is the schedule?

Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, like Nebraska, are among the six programs that have won 800-plus games all-time.

Seven of the eight teams on the conference schedule appeared in a bowl game in the 2009 season. The only team that didn't go to a bowl was Michigan, the winningest program in college football history.

Three of the 2011-12 opponents -- Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State -- were ranked in the final Associated Press top 10 last year, with Wisconsin 16th.

This year Ohio State is No. 2, Iowa No. 9, Wisconsin No. 12 and Penn State No. 19 in the preseason.

"I know the Big Ten Conference has made a great effort to create divisions that are competitive and fair, while protecting rivalries, and I am confident they have done that," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "I know it is exciting for our fans to think about, but that is a year away. Our focus is completely on the task at hand, which is Western Kentucky on Saturday night."

For the sake of the volatile Pelini's blood pressure, it's definitely better that he think about Western Kentucky rather than what awaits a year from now.