Well, normally in this spot we would give you the questionnaire of this week's opponent for the Nebraska Cornhuskers this Saturday. However, considering this week's opponent, the Idaho St. Bengals won't keep you up at night (at least it shouldn't), we decided to go with another view this week.
So, instead of a Idaho St. preview, we would rather talk about the upcoming B1G conference slate that starts next weekend. And for that, we talked to Ted Glover, manager of SBNation's B1G football blog Off Tackle Empire.
I asked Ted about how the Big 10 Conference has been perceived nationally in comparison to the rest of the country, the maturation of Taylor Martinez, who may or may not be over rated in the conference, and why Nebraska should hold out hope for a B1G championship this season instead of next year...
Nebraska looked fantastically awful against UCLA, but so has basically everyone in the upper half of the B1G against one non-conference opponent. Is this more of a thing where the Big 10 isn’t that good this year, other teams being better that most people thought? Or a combination of both?
I think UCLA is better than we thought going in to the season, as they've looked pretty good under the Jim Mora, Jr regime so far--their 36 points against Nebraska was the lowest output for them so far this year, so that really needs to be taken into consideration when trying to answer this. But that said, the B1G has been dramatically underwhelming to this point. I thought that the conference would be better than they have been, yet no one has really jumped out and impressed me. Every contender for the conference championship is a flawed team in some way, and it's going to be interesting to see what teams cover up their flaws better. But every conference is dealing with this--Stanford beat USC, Louisiana Monroe beat Arkansas and took Auburn to OT, Virginia Tech lost to a bad Pitt team, the list goes on.
Phil Steele decided to update his predictions Thursday, and the Big 10 one kinda made people’s heads snap, especially in the Leaders. Thoughts?
Well, let's talk Legends first. For full disclosure, I'm an OSU partisan, but even without my Scarlet and Gray goggles on, I never liked Nebraska's match up in Columbus. You could make an argument that the only reason Nebraska came back and beat OSU in Lincoln last year was because Joe Bauserman took the field, and now you make this a road game, add another year of experience to Braxton Miller, and Urban Meyer is coaching the offense, not Jim Bollman. 7-1 for Nebraska in conference play is very doable, though, and if everything else works out like he thinks, Nebrasksa is still going to the conference championship game. And yeah, I can buy that--as long as Rex Burkhead isn't out for an extended time. MSU can be had, Michigan's defense isn't that good, and you're better than Northwestern, Minnesota, and Iowa. I don't see the Gophers going 0-8 in conference play, but they're not challenging for a conference title, either. And I can buy Purdue in the Leaders. I'll explain below.
Based on what you thought of all these teams before the season, are their any teams you over or under ranked?
I'm thinking I really overshot Wisconsin, but maybe everyone did. I didn't see the coaching turnover on offense being this disruptive, nor did I think Danny O'Brien would be Danny O'Bauserman. I expected a dropoff in production from the play of Russell Wilson, but O'Brien has been the worst QB in the conference this year. And right now it looks like I underestimated Purdue. To me, Purdue is always just kind of there, but they played a great game in South Bend, and if you're going to make me pick a Leaders division winner, I think it's them, at least right now.
Nebraska’s schedule is rough this year, but in the next 2 seasons looks pretty easy, especially in conference (Legends plus Purdue and Illinois). Is it fair to say that if Nebraska gets better on defense, they should be in the B1G title game those 2 years?
They have a very realistic shot, but MSU and Michigan are building great programs. I really like what Brady Hoke is doing on the recruiting trail, and Mark Dantonio just takes average players and gets them to play very well. They are going to be your main competition for the next two years, and I don't know that I'd even give you a scheduling advantage. Michigan gets Indiana and the ever burgeoning tire fire that is Penn State both year. MSU also gets Indiana both years. If ever there was a scheduling advantage, it is the Indiana Football Hoosiers.
Has the numbers and play of Taylor Martinez this year so far shown you he has become a better Quarterback?
Yeah, I think he has. His throwing motion and mechanics look a lot better over the early part of the season, though I still don't think it's ideal. His passing numbers are way up...I mean really, I never thought I'd write "Taylor Martinez has a 70% completion rate" ever in my life, but there it is. I really like the kid, and the knock on him was always his throwing ability, or lack thereof. I think he also has a pretty good receiving corps--I really like Kenny Bell--so he has a fair amount of weapons to work with as well. I'm still not sold on him handling on the field adversity as well as he could. Other than the OSU game last year, I can't think of a time when Nebraska was in a tight spot on the field that he just put the team on his shoulders and willed them back. I'm not saying he can't do it, I'm just saying that I can't remember him doing it. And at some point, he'll need to if Nebraska wants to be a championship team.
Next week, Nebraska hosts Wisconsin in the "Adidas Unrivaled Game". Which uni are you looking forward to seeing more on the field?
I don't mean to go all 'Get Off My Lawn' on you, but I think both those uniforms are hideous. I get that alternate uniforms are all the rage, but I haven't been a fan of any B1G alternate uniform. There's something classic about the Nebraska (and most of the old school B1G) uniforms I really like--straight forward, no nonsense, classic. Just a good looking uniform. You look at Nebraska's uniform, it evokes memories of college football history--Mike Rozier, Johnny Rodgers, Turner Gill and Dean Steinkuhler and the Fumblerooski--those guys all wore largely the same style uniform. Why mess with a classic? Wisconsin's is just as bad. Terrible, just comically bad.
Finally, give Nebraska fan one reason to hope they can win the B1G championship this season.
Well, like I briefly mentioned earlier, every contending team in the B1G this year is flawed. In the Legends division, Michigan has no offense outside of Denard Robinson, and both their lines look like they can be pushed around. Michigan State's defense is good, but maybe not as stout as we thought going in to the season, and Andrew Maxwell might not be ready for primetime. Stop Le'Veon Bell, get a couple big plays on the Sparty defense, and you can beat them, like Notre Dame did. Yeah, you lost to Northwestern last year, but I'm still not sold on their defense, and their offense, which has been explosive in recent seasons, doesn't look as good or as efficient early on as it has in the past. Over in the Leaders, OSU is on probation. Wisconsin just isn't a good football team right now, and they look like they're one game away from a bro killing death spiral. Is there anyone else over there that you should be worried about? You could talk me into Purdue, but let's see how things shake out in conference play. If Martinez can continue his maturation and the defense solves their problems, then there's no reason why Nebraska can't win the conference.