You've heard it again and again- Nebraska's 2011 schedule is tough. But just how much tougher is the 2011 schedule than the 2010 schedule? With a new conference and an entirely new set of opponents on the schedule, (minus Washington), it's pretty hard to tell. I decided to look a little deeper, compare the 2010 & 2011 schedule side by side and see if the 2011 schedule is actually as tough as we've been told.
Since we don't know for sure yet if Nebraska makes it to the Big 10 championship and who Nebraska get's in a bowl game, for this comparison I could only use the regular season schedule. Here we go:
Nebraska finished the regular season in 2010 at 10-2 with a very close loss to a 9-4 Texas A&M team on the road and a somewhat close but inexplicable loss to a 5-7 Texas team at home. Not bad. Of course, we know what happened in the two games after the regular season ended, but let's not talk about those :)
The total record of all the opponents Nebraska played in the regular season in 2010 was 75-68. That averages to a record of 6.30-5.67 per opponent. The record of Nebraska's regular season opponents on the 2011 schedule (from 2010 finish) was 90-62. That averages to a record of 7.5 - 5.16 per opponent.
In 2010, Nebraska played 6 bowl teams and went 5-1 against those teams. Three teams on Nebraska's 2010 schedule (Texas, Iowa State, Colorado) were on the verge of a bowl game and finished 5-7. In 2011, Nebraska will play 9 bowl teams. However, 4 of those teams were on the verge of not going to a bowl game and finished 7-6.
Nebraska's opponents with the worst records in 2010 were Western Kentucky (2-10) and Kansas (3-9). Nebraska's opponents in 2011 with the worst records from 2010 are Wyoming (3-9) and Minnesota (3-9). Nebraska's best opponents in the 2010 regular season were Oklahoma State (11-2) and Missouri (10-3). Nebraska's best opponents in 2011 are Ohio State (12-1), Wisconsin (11-2), and Michigan State (11-2).
Only three teams that Nebraska played in 2010 finished ranked- Oklahoma State (13th), Missouri (18th), Texas A&M (19th). Three teams Nebraska will play in 2011 finished ranked- Ohio State (5th), Wisconsin (7th), Michigan State (14th) finished 2010 ranked. Iowa also finished as "other's receiving votes" whereas none of Nebraska's 2010 opponents finished in that category. The average ranking of Nebraska's 2010 ranked opponents at the end of the season is 16.67. The average for 2011 opponents is 8.67
(This last part is just my opinion) Of Nebraska's 2011 opponents, I am expecting Ohio State and Michigan State to have a worse record in 2011 than they did in 2010. I am predicting Washington, Penn State, and Michigan to all have a better record in 2011. My guess is that Wyoming, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa will finish about the same as last season. I'm don't know enough about Fresno State or Chattanooga to make an educated guess about them.
I think the numbers don't lie and it's pretty obvious that Nebraska's 2011 schedule is tougher. You could argue that Ohio State and Michigan State might not be as good this year, you could also argue that Michigan and Penn State will be better. However, I strongly believe that our defense is going to be really good this season, good enough to keep us in every game. There are also a lot of tough road games on this schedule that will give teams like Penn State and Michigan a better shot. One thing is for sure, the 2011 cornhuskers need to be a very disciplined and focussed unit because this schedule doesn't afford an off-game (except maybe Minnesota and Wyoming...but even those are on the road).
When it comes down to it, we are moving to a new conference and I'm really comparing apples with oranges and just speculating like everyone else. We can't be sure about anything until the dust settles at the end of the season. But, from this analysis, what do you guys think? Will we tear right through the Big 10 and contend for the national championship? Or will the difficulty of the schedule cause an 8-5 type season?