Nebraska has its football schedule, and the opening four weeks are a doozy.
Not that the whole thing in its entirety is exactly a cakewalk.
The Huskers will open the 2020 season Oct. 24 at Ohio State, followed by a home game against Wisconsin, a road trip to Northwestern and a home game against Penn State in the first half of the Big Ten's reworked slate, which was announced Saturday morning.
We know Nebraska's 2020 football schedule now. The fun just ramped up a notch. Here are some quick thoughts from Steven M. Sipple.
Nebraska is a program that prides itself on its ability to innovate. With the Big Ten not allowing fans, the Athletic Department looks forward to the challenge.
Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos says he understands the rationale used to build the schedule. That doesn't mean he has to like his team playing three preseason Associated Press top 25 teams in the first four weeks, and five preseason top 25 teams overall.
"I thought, and continue to think, in unique circumstances, we could have disassembled it and rebuilt (the schedule)," Moos told the Journal Star on Saturday. "My job is to provide my school with the very best opportunity, in a great conference, to have success. And this one's going to be tough."
The second half of the season features games at home against Illinois, at Iowa and Purdue in back-to-back weeks, and a home game against Minnesota on Dec. 12 to close the eight-game lineup. Nebraska will then play a to-be-determined East Division opponent the week of Dec. 19, based on how teams finish in the league standings.
While the order of the games is up for debate, the actual opponents are not. Those eight teams were always going to be Nebraska's opponents.
Six of the games, of course, come against Nebraska's West Division cohorts.
A formula based on each team's original schedule — the 12-game slate each team had before the COVID-19 pandemic threw an enormous wrench into everything — accounted for the two crossover games against Ohio State, which was No. 2 in the Associated Press preseason top 25, and Penn State, which was No. 7.
Ohio State is Nebraska's protected crossover game during the current six-year scheduling period. That game was never leaving the schedule.
That meant NU needed a home game against an East Division team. On the Huskers' original schedule, the only East game that was a home game was Penn State. The Rutgers game was on the road.
So while the schedule may have some fans gritting their teeth, it was a case of bad schedule luck rather than a grand conspiracy from the Big Ten to try and stick it to a league troublemaker.
"You just look at it, and if you don't know the rationale, it looks like we're getting the shaft," Moos said. "Now, the thing that could have been helpful is the placement of the games. To take a third-year coach and a young team to open up at the No. 2 team in the nation, and then come home and play No. 12 here?
"Where's your momentum without your nonconference schedule?"
Nebraska's opener at Ohio State will be shown nationally on Fox, though a start time wasn't announced. Game times and television information will be announced at a later date, according to a news release from Nebraska, as well as any "Friday or 'special date games'."
That second part would be of particular interest to Nebraska fans for the Iowa game, which is currently scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 28, or two days after Thanksgiving. If that game were to get moved to Black Friday, it would be announced in the coming weeks.
Five of Nebraska's eight games will come against teams ranked in the AP preseason top 25, with three of them at home: at No. 2 Ohio State, home against No. 7 Penn State, home against No. 12 Wisconsin on Halloween, at No. 24 Iowa during Thanksgiving week, and home against No. 19 Minnesota on Dec. 12.
The other three games are: at Northwestern on Nov. 7, home against Illinois on Nov. 21, and at Purdue on Dec. 5.
"At the end of the day, I'm going to do what's best for Nebraska," Moos said of tearing up the schedule and starting over. "And so I was persistent in my concern about playing five preseason top 25 teams. Which, we would have had to do that (anyway) if we were in the original 12-game schedule.
"But again, this being unique circumstances, I felt that we could build a new schedule."
The issue of who Nebraska is playing and when aside, Moos said he was happy to have a schedule to look forward to. Now, he said, it's time to prepare to be ready to go right out of the gate.
"This football team's got a chance to be really good. But it doesn't look like we're getting a lot of breaks here," Moos said. "And confidence and morale are big in any walk of life. We're just going to have to put it together and go into Columbus and get after them.
"We sure as hell aren't gonna forfeit."
A few other schedule notes:
* The Penn State game will mark the Nittany Lions' first trip to Lincoln since 2012, which was also the first time the teams met in Memorial Stadium as members of the Big Ten. The teams haven't played each other since 2017, a 56-44 Penn State win in State College, Pennsylvania.
* Nebraska will get the chance to exorcise some demons on the Northwestern trip. In 2018, the Wildcats went 99 yards in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game before winning in overtime to drop the Huskers to 0-6 in head coach Scott Frost's first season.
* Wan'Dale Robinson is probably licking his chops at the Illinois game. As a freshman in 2019, Robinson had a breakout performance against the Illini, rushing for 95 yards, catching eight passes for 79 yards and scoring three touchdowns in a 42-38 Nebraska win.