Nebraska vs. Ohio State, 11/5

Nebraska head coach Mike Riley and Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer meet after a game in 2016.

Understand, Mike Riley wouldn't be too keen on ranking upcoming Husker games in any fashion. He knows they all matter.

Lose to Purdue and that game becomes every bit as significant as one against Wisconsin.

"I'm excited for every game. Our goal is to be undefeated, but in order to do that we have to win the first game," Nebraska's head football coach reminded a crowd on his tour through the state last week. "I've always talked about that. I've been fairly conservative in doing that. I love the idea of winning the first game and then getting better from there. That's our goal."

That's the proper way to view it inside the program walls. Outside the walls, however, we need something to talk about to get through May.

Like a Vegas sportsbook on Friday setting the over-under on Husker wins during the 2017 regular season at six. WhoCares, WhoCares, WhoCares, right? You could say that. Or you could embrace such a trivial thing as a topic of conversation in the state to get you one day closer to what actually matters.

Let's be honest: That's how this works.

What comes next might fall under the same category. If that's the case, so be it. Here's just one man's opinion on May 19 on how the games on the Husker schedule stack up in difficulty, from easiest to most difficult.

12. Rutgers (Sept. 23): You should get a $10 haircut coupon if you can make it through a replay of every snap of the Scarlet Knights' 78-0 loss at home to Michigan last year. That was a week after Ohio State beat them 58-zip. They were 128th in total offense last year. On the bright side, they did almost win at Minnesota. And Jerry Kill has joined Chris Ash's staff — a good hire. He'll do his part to add toughness. But it seems unlikely to think Rutgers is going to catch Nebraska sleeping for its Big Ten opener.

11. Northern Illinois (Sept. 16): This program was rolling along until last year. The Huskies were riddled with QB injuries and finished 5-7. Don't be surprised if they climb a rung this year, though they'll have to do it with an inexperienced front seven on defense. They come to Lincoln a week after Nebraska's big trip to Oregon. And the Huskers, who led by only 11 over Fresno State and seven over Wyoming heading to the fourth quarter last year, have to prove they can handle teams like this for an entire game.

10. Arkansas State (Sept. 2): Not exactly Idaho State (worst team I've ever seen in Lincoln, and yes, I know all about you, Pacific from the '90s) coming to town. The Red Wolves finished 8-5 last year and whipped Scott Frost's Central Florida team in the bowl game. No overhype here, but it's a team NU has to take seriously on opening day. The Huskers also better be ready to block defensive end Ja'von Rolland Jones. He had 13½ sacks last season and was the Sun Belt Player of the Year.

9. Illinois (Sept. 29 in Champaign): No reminders needed about Nebraska's last trip here, are there? This game comes on a Friday night. The Illini have a bye the week before, but Nebraska is coming off a home game against Rutgers. The Illini QB situation isn't settled. The starter might be Chayce Crouch, but he couldn't throw in the spring from a shoulder injury. The familiar name of Jeff George Jr. is also in the hunt. Real young team. There are only eight scholarship seniors on roster.

8. Purdue (Oct. 28 in West Lafayette): Jeff Brohm felt like a really good hire by Purdue. His QB at Western Kentucky last year threw for more than 4,300 yards and the team had two receivers with more than 1,000 yards. It'll still take some time for him to make things entertaining again at Purdue. How quickly QB David Blough takes to his new coach's ways will be a big tell-all this fall. DeAngelo Yancey, one of the better receivers in the Big Ten last year, is now in the NFL.

7. Minnesota (Nov. 11 in Minneapolis):The Gophers always fight Nebraska like heck and this will probably be one of those games played in weather where you can see your breath. New coach P.J. Fleck will have a lot of attention on him, but I suspect it will take time, and you hear rumblings they'll have some depth issues in 2017. Also, don't sell short the toughness Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys brought to that program. It's not just assumed here Minnesota is all of a sudden going to be better coached.

6. Northwestern (Nov. 4): The game is in Lincoln, but the Wildcats have not yet flinched on any visit this way. Quarterback Clayton Thorson and running back Justin Jackson (in Year 15 in the program, I believe) are solid weapons. But Northwestern will miss maybe its two best players from last year: wide receiver Austin Carr and linebacker Anthony Walker. Having finished 7-6 after a bowl win over Pitt last year, Northwestern was arguably Nebraska's best win of 2016.

5. Iowa (Nov. 24): Maybe it's a notch too low for a team that beat Nebraska 40-10 last year, but the Hawkeyes will have traveled a pretty tough gantlet with a new quarterback by the time they finally meet the Huskers. Iowa's three crossover games are Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State. It helps that Iowa returns four starting O-lineman and Arkum Wadley at running back. But it's largely a mystery team, much like Nebraska, with a new coordinator of its own as Brian Ferentz takes charge of the offense.

4. Oregon (Sept. 9 in Eugene): I don't know how good the Ducks will be, you don't know, Willie Taggart doesn't know. But one train-wreck season didn't take away all the talent or speed. Autzen Stadium is one of the loudest in college football for big games, and this will be a very big game to Ducks fans hoping it's a trampoline jump into the Taggart era.

3. Wisconsin (Oct. 7): Not many words need be spent here. Husker fans know the thorn in the side the Badgers have been. The Badgers are now 5-1 against NU since Nebraska joined the league. At this point, it feels like not just a physical hurdle, but also a mental one, the Huskers must leap over. Nebraska most likely needs this game if it's going to win the West.

2. Penn State (Nov. 18 in State College): As if a mid-November trip trying to get to Beaver Stadium (easier to get to Narnia, I swear) isn't daunting enough, the Nittany Lions are still loaded up with elusive quarterback Trace McSorely and Heisman running back candidate Saquon Barkley. One good thing for Nebraska: This game won't be at night. Another good thing: Gifted wide receiver Chris Godwin, who dominated the Rose Bowl, went pro early.

1. Ohio State (Oct. 14): Because, come on, everyone saw 62-3 last year. Even with Jim Harbaugh's ability to steal headlines and Penn State's ownership of the Big Ten belt, the Buckeyes are still that team to measure yourself against in this league. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.


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