Steven M. Sipple: Greatness once again will elude Nebraska

2013-07-24T10:30:00Z 2013-07-24T10:34:04Z Steven M. Sipple: Greatness once again will elude NebraskaBy STEVEN M. SIPPLE / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Out of the summer haze, a few Big Ten football predictions:

Ohio State, even with its spate of arrests, again will finish the regular season undefeated. The Buckeyes will capture the Big Ten Championship to reach 13-0. All bets are off after that.

Michigan won't win the Legends Division. The Wolverines' offense is surprisingly ordinary at the skill positions. The front seven on defense is thin and lacks big-time playmakers. Plus, when Denard Robinson moved on, the dynamic quarterback took with him substantial swagger. The guy was flat-out fun to watch.

Northwestern, seemingly everybody's little darling these days, won't win the Legends Division. The Wildcats' schedule is relatively rugged, with road games at Wisconsin and Nebraska and a home game against Ohio State. I see at least two losses right there.

Michigan State looks like a nice 4-4 team in the Legends crowd. Granted, the Spartan defense again is nasty. It's hide-the-women-and-children nasty. But you saw what I saw from quarterback Andrew Maxwell last season, and bruiser Le'Veon Bell has vacated the premises.

So, yeah, pencil in Nebraska as the Legends Division champion. But do so haltingly. The Huskers, like their peers, have gaping holes.

In that regard, Nebraska sixth-year coach Bo Pelini no doubt is prepared for the narrative awaiting him Wednesday at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. It will be something along the lines of, "You have a big-time offense, coach. But how do you win the Big Ten with a startlingly inexperienced front seven and two new safeties?"

Nevertheless, lots of Nebraska fans seem confident a soft schedule will help the Huskers take an 8-0 record to Michigan. Exercise extreme caution with such a notion. The UCLA game feels like Washington in 2011, a hard-fought 51-38 Husker victory. Beating the Bruins will be even more difficult. Seat belts -- and perhaps calculators -- will be required.

Come to think of it, Husker faithful, remain buckled up. Gird for lots of points and close games. But you knew that.

Given Nebraska's tendency of late to throw clunkers against lesser opponents, a close game at Purdue wouldn't surprise, despite what figures to be a typically porous Boilermaker defense. NU will score 40-plus, Purdue 20-plus. If you're a Husker fan, you grab the "W" and get out of Dodge.

Minnesota should be rather tame. A win in Minneapolis could get Nebraska to 7-0 entering a Nov. 2 home game against Northwestern. The Wildcats have been a nasty thorn in the Huskers' side. They will be again. Their receivers are tall and talented. They will run the ball well with fleet and shifty Venric Mark and Kain Colter. They will be well-coached by the golden boy, Pat Fitzgerald.

Northwestern's defense took a sizable jump forward last season and should be OK this season. Just OK. Nebraska's offense should -- I repeat, should -- do a number on Mike Hankwitz's crew, which has struggled defending the pass.

But with Michigan looming the next week, will Nebraska give Northwestern full attention? This is where NU stumbles. This is when Pelini's office suddenly feels like a sauna.

Good thing Bo actually likes the heat. Thrives on it, he says. So, another surprise: Nebraska will rebound with a wild win in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines might be proficient enough to score 30 points. But NU's offense appears equipped to put 35-plus on the board against a UM squad that is a year away from big things.

I'm guessing a win against Michigan will get Nebraska to 4-1 in the league. Late in the season, however, you can count on some young players to buckle a bit physically and mentally. Don't underestimate that factor as it applies to the defense.

Nebraska coaches tell us of their fast and athletic defenders. But how well will the youngsters handle the the homestretch -- vs. Michigan State, at Penn State and vs. Iowa to close the regular season?

I think Nebraska will win two of the final three to get to 6-2 in the league, with the all-important tie-breaker win against Michigan. Northwestern also will be in the thick of the chase.

So, on to the league championship game in Indianapolis. Is Nebraska's defense equipped to slow Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and company? Even if you remain in a summer haze, you know the answer.

The Huskers' conference-title drought will stretch to 14 seasons. The usual grumbling will ensue.

Nebraska can be very good in 2013. Greatness, however, remains elusive.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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About the writer

Steven M. Sipple | Lincoln Journal Star

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.


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