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Steven M. Sipple: NU's 'easy game' is bear; B1G's suspect leadership; and Moos rates hot dogs
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Steven M. Sipple: NU's 'easy game' is bear; B1G's suspect leadership; and Moos rates hot dogs

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Northwestern vs. Nebraska, 10.5

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost (left) talks with Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald prior to last season's game at Memorial Stadium. 

Things I know, and things I think I know: 

There exists at least one key statistic for Nebraska football fans to keep in mind this week.

Third-year Husker coach Scott Frost is 3-9 at NU in games decided by a touchdown or less. In two games against Northwestern — this week's opponent — Frost has a three-point victory and a three-point loss.

This sets up to be another close game.

Along those lines, Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos had an interesting conversation with Frost late last week.

They talked football, specifically about Northwestern. 

Moos' respect for the Wildcats is evident.

"They're an awfully tough team, and they're going to be tough on the road," said Moos, referring to the Huskers' 11 a.m. game Saturday in Evanston, Illinois. 

Northwestern is 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2014 following Saturday's 21-20 win at Iowa, in which the Wildcats erased an early 17-point deficit. Pat Fitzgerald's team showed its characteristic rough-hewn relentlessness in digging out of the hole. Even trailing big, they stuck patiently to the ground game. Meanwhile, their defense dug in hard, allowing only 104 yards after halftime while forcing three turnovers.

They're just a rugged outfit.

Keep in mind, Northwestern was 3-9 last year (1-8, Big Ten). But the Wildcats, who hammered Maryland 43-3 in their season opener, look determined to prove 2019 was an aberration. Fitzgerald, 101-79 in 14-plus years at the school, pumped his fist and exhorted his players even when they were down 17-0. The energy on their sideline was excellent. It was an inspiring scene.

Northwestern's strengths — for instance, perimeter blocking and the team's overall physicality — often don't show up in a box score. You have to watch the Wildcats closely to appreciate them. They were impressive in their own understated way Saturday. 

Which brings us to this week. When the Big Ten released its 2020 schedule in September, plenty of Nebraska fans gasped at the sight of the first four games. Northwestern was supposed to be something of a break in the gauntlet. Based on what I saw from the Wildcats in Iowa City, it will be all the Huskers can do to come away with a win. 

Moos, though, thinks Nebraska might have gained an advantage by not playing Saturday.

"That's a fistfight, black-and-blue game," Moos said of Northwestern versus Iowa. "Now everybody's got to take Tuesday off for the election. So we've got an advantage right now on Northwestern. We've had more time to prepare. Our kids are healing up from a tough, physical game (Oct. 24 at Ohio State). 

"Hey, let's get healed up, have the right mental approach, and get after the Wildcats." 

"I'm trying to make lemonade again out of lemons," he acknowledged. "But we're going to be rested, and we have more days to prepare for them than they have to prepare for us." 

Northwestern opened as a three-point favorite, according to oddsmakers. It's about what I expected.

Fitzgerald is an excellent coach, and it appears his team's on a mission. 

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Don't underestimate the importance of graduate transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey, the former Indiana starter. He's a significant upgrade.  

Maybe Moos is right. Perhaps Nebraska's off week will turn out to be an advantage.

The Huskers could use one. 

Huskers land verbal pledge from coveted DE Jailen Weaver, a 'freak athlete in a big body'

* As you channel surf through college football games, the scenes in the cavernous Big Ten stadiums stand in stark contrast to much more normal scenes at places such as Clemson and Oklahoma State, where a limited number of fans are allowed. 

Top-ranked Clemson of the ACC drew an announced crowd of 18,690 for its narrow win against Boston College, while No. 6 Oklahoma State of the Big 12 had a turnout of 14,672 for its overtime loss to Texas. Those crowds looked bigger than that. They were enthusiastic and helped the atmospheres significantly. 

The Big Ten's leadership — which is suspect, at best — is allowing only family members of players and staff to attend games. It creates an eerie atmosphere in giant stadiums. Meanwhile, the Big Ten's fake crowd noise is disorienting, as it often reaches a crescendo well after a big play. It's just weird. 

Even so, I've been extremely impressed with the enthusiasm of Big Ten players. You see their joy and love for their sport, and the importance they place on winning. There doesn't seem to be a major drop-off in on-field intensity. It's beautiful to watch. 

Think how awful it'd be right now if there was no Big Ten football, as the conference once planned. 

Yes, it's suspect leadership, at best. 

* Given all the pandemic weirdness, Moos and his chief security man, retired New York City cop Patrick Kelly, likely won't be able to visit their favorite hot dog stop in the Big Ten. That would be Mustard's Last Stand in Evanston, where they devoured Chicago-style dogs in 2018.

They take this stuff seriously. At the end of each season, they rank the best hot dog at each conference road game. In 2019, the winner — "hands down," according to Moos — was a hot dog stand at Maryland. 

"Best brat in town," the stand worker told Moos. 

But it's hard to top Mustard's Last Stand.

"One more thing I'm missing this season!" Moos said last week. 

* Perhaps you noticed Clemson freshman defensive lineman Bryan Bresee make the game-clinching sack in Saturday's win. The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder was the nation's top-ranked recruit regardless of position in the class of 2020. 

A native of Damascus, Maryland, he'll be a household name in this country at some point soon.

Yes, that good. 

* Be careful with my predictions, especially the ones I say with a certain arrogance. For instance, I said Michigan would "roll up a big number in trouncing Michigan State."

Final: Michigan State 27, Michigan 24.

Cue up the face palm emoji.

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

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