LINCOLN, Neb. — After two straight heartbreaking losses, one because it had hope and the other because it had none, Nebraska finds itself at a crossroads.
Behind the Huskers is a 7-0 start and all the hype in the world. Ahead of them, the potential to finish the season with three, or even four, losses.
Minnesota is on a four game win-streak and has an identical record as Nebraska. Could this be a sneaky tough game for Nebraska? Here are five key things to watch.
1. Who is the staring quarterback?
This will dominate the discussion for the rest of the week, primarily because it’s uncommon for a quarterback to play a week after being concussed the way Tommy Armstrong was. So far, coach Mike Riley has said nothing but positive things about Armstrong’s recovery. Things are “going well,” Riley said on Tuesday.
But senior backup Ryker Fyfe is still the starting quarterback as of now. Fyfe has very little experience, and the one time he did start in 2015, Nebraska lost at Purdue, 55-45.
If Armstrong is cleared, will Riley still run his starting quarterback out there? And if Armstrong isn’t cleared, can Fyfe lead this team to a victory?
2. Will Nebraska be able to run?
The past few weeks have been miserable for the Nebraska rushing attack. Coaches remain steadfast on running the ball despite having a dilapidated offense line and a short list of running backs.
Senior running back Terrell Newby hasn’t been given many holes to run through, and sophomore Devine Ozigbo has been struggling with an ankle injury and hasn’t made it back on the field.
Minnesota’s strength on defense is its defensive front. Will Nebraska still insist on trying to run the ball?
3. Nebraska could actually lose this game
Not sure many Nebraska fans circled this game on their calendars as a game to worry about, but this is a scary one.
Minnesota is on a roll, tied with Nebraska in the Big Ten West and with the same shot to make Indianapolis as Nebraska, believe it or not.
There’s nothing particularly special about Minnesota. But, then again, nothing about Nebraska that looked special against Ohio State.
Is there a real shot of Minnesota upsetting Nebraska at home, and handing the Huskers their third straight loss?
4. What’s going on with the defense?
The Blackshirts did not force Ohio State into a single punt on Saturday. Nebraska was billed as a top defense in the Big Ten a few weeks ago. Now? They look average at best. What went wrong? Can they turn it around? Is the mantra of “Lockdown U” gone?
5. How the Big Ten West is won
The race is wide open for the Big Ten West.
Nebraska is tied with Minnesota and Wisconsin with 7-2 records, with Wisconsin holding the tiebreaker with a better division record. It is now the Badgers’ crown to lose.
Nebraska needs to beat Minnesota and Iowa to make it to Indianapolis. This Minnesota game looms larger than the season finale in a sense, because a loss to the Gophers means the Huskers would have no hope of making the Big Ten title game. And it would also mean Nebraska hasn’t taken many steps forward from last year.