Indiana vs Nebraska

Nebraska's Terrell Newby (34) and Dylan Utter (66) celebrate a first-quarter touchdown against Indiana on Oct. 15.

This life fills me with wonder.

This Maryland-Nebraska football game does the same. Go ahead and snicker. But there is plenty on the line. And, yes, plenty to wonder about:

* Do Nebraska players fully recognize all the ramifications of the 11 a.m. contest (ESPNews, TWC channel 302)?

Granted, Maryland (5-5, 2-5 Big Ten) is a mess. It might be human nature to look past the Terrapins, who are coming off losses to Michigan (59-3) and Ohio State (62-3) and have dropped five of their last six games overall. The Huskers, though, must fight human nature and be mindful of maintaining momentum in the program. It's there. Yes, even after their own 62-3 disaster Nov. 5 at Ohio State, momentum is evident.

Nebraska (8-2, 5-2) regained solid footing with last week's hard-fought 24-17 win against Minnesota. But momentum can be fragile. The Huskers must handle it with care. In other words, this game is about NU players caring deeply about the program's trajectory. The Huskers have 30 seniors, including 17 on the two-deep, who should acutely understand that a strong finish to the season is of paramount importance in Year 2 of Mike Riley's program.

Let's be real, Nebraska losing to Maryland on Senior Day at Memorial Stadium would be a buzz-kill of significant proportions. A loss would suck much of the life out of what's been a largely productive and redemptive year for the Huskers. Riley still has his share of detractors forever waiting to pounce. He and his staff want nothing to do with that sort of negative energy, especially with crucial recruiting battles on the horizon.

Oh, and a loss basically would squash any hopes of winning the Big Ten West Division.

There's also bowl season to think about. Nebraska stands in excellent position to reach the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2 in Tampa, Florida, where it would face an SEC team along the lines of Arkansas, Florida, Auburn or even LSU. Any of those teams would be a manageable matchup.

With a loss, the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tennessee, becomes a more likely destination.

Riley, a music aficionado, might enjoy that trip. But I'm guessing he has bigger prizes in mind.

Of course, first things first ...

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* Is Maryland in a winning frame of mind? The Terrapins will be without suspended running back Lorenzo Harrison, the team's second-leading rusher with 633 yards (7.2 per carry). Harrison and wide receiver DJ Turner, both freshmen, were charged with assault Wednesday for their roles in a BB gun incident on campus earlier this month.

Maryland has averaged 40.2 points in its five wins and 13.2 in its five losses.

"We have to get our team back to where we were at the beginning of the year," Terrapin senior defensive end Roman Braglio said in a Washington Post story, referring to their 4-0 start. "We've hit a low spot, obviously."

Like Nebraska, Maryland first-year head coach DJ Durkin's squad has had uncertainty at quarterback, with senior starter Perry Hills' playing status a game-time decision. With the Terrapins chasing bowl eligibility, a question arises: Would Durkin consider holding out Hills to preserve his ailing shoulders for a much more manageable game against Rutgers in the season finale?

Will Maryland be caught looking ahead?

* How often does Nebraska backup quarterback Ryker Fyfe think about his performance last Oct. 31 at Purdue? I wonder, because he might get another crack at leading the offense, with senior starter Tommy Armstrong battling a hamstring injury.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Fyfe, also a senior, threw four interceptions and lost a fumble in the 55-45 loss to the Boilermakers. But he threw for 407 yards and completed several difficult passes in a game in which the Huskers trailed 42-16 after three quarters. He maintained his poise. If you're a Husker fan, you hope he learned to better value the ball.

By the way, in evaluating Fyfe, toss out his 5-for-18 performance this season at Ohio State. The Buckeyes possess arguably the nation's best secondary, and the Huskers were in passing mode. Under those circumstances, Tom Brady wouldn't have completed 50 percent of his throws.

* Is Nebraska's offensive line, which now has most of its primary pieces intact, ready to finish the season with a flourish? It seems that way.

* Is NU senior running back Terrell Newby champing at the bit, knowing his team needs him badly right now? He's just one of several possible intriguing Senior Day storylines. Those guys have had quite a ride. I'm guessing they'll answer the early wake-up call ready to shine. They should be ready. Sam Foltz would've been ready. There's plenty on the line.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

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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