It’s more than a battle of brawn vs. brawn, cheese vs. corn. It’s a question of style vs. substance.
As in, Wisconsin doesn’t need style from Saturday’s massive showdown in Madison so much as Nebraska really, really, really needs substance.
“I don’t have faith in Nebraska yet because they haven’t beaten anybody yet,” longtime CBS Sports postseason projection guru Jerry Palm told Land of 10. “If they beat Wisconsin, then we’ve got something to talk about.”
In order for the conversations outside of Lincoln to become more favorable toward the Big Red, the No. 7 Huskers probably “are going to have to be 11-1,” minimum, before the Big Ten championship game to be considered for a New Year’s Six bowl, Palm said. Which means taking at least two of the three upcoming meetings at No. 11 Wisconsin (Saturday), at No. 6 Ohio State (Nov. 5) and at Iowa (Nov. 25).
“If they lose to the only two really good teams they play (the Badgers and Buckeyes) and maybe don’t post another win over a ranked team,” Palm mused, the College Football Playoff selection committee will probably take a pass. “I think a 10-2 Nebraska team, right now, is not going to get high enough in the rankings to get New Year’s Six considerations.
“A 10-3 Wisconsin team is a better candidate than a 10-2 Nebraska, for sure. I don’t think there’s any way that the committee puts 10-2 Nebraska ahead of 10-3 Wisconsin.
“If you’ve got Wisconsin sitting there with a loss to Michigan and two losses to Ohio State and you’ve got Nebraska sitting there with a loss to Ohio State and to Wisconsin, that’s a no-brainer to me. So Nebraska’s time to prove itself has come.”
“I don’t have faith in Nebraska yet because they haven’t beaten anybody yet.”
— Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com
The Huskers (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) will be the fifth top-10 team the Badgers (5-2, 2-2) have played over the past eight weeks, having already beaten two of the first four with a neutral-site win against LSU and a victory at Michigan State. The Cornhuskers topped then-No. 22 Oregon in Lincoln, 35-32, back on Sept. 17.
“It’s funny, because with Wisconsin already having two conference losses because the schedule makers were brutal,” Palm chuckled, “they actually need somebody else to beat Nebraska.
“They’ve got to do it themselves … otherwise, Nebraska is totally in charge of this division right now.”
The Badgers have the selection committee’s respect, Palm said, after narrow losses to No. 2 Michigan and No. 6 Ohio State. What they need is head-to-head wins over the rest of their intradivision dance partners and a return crack at the Wolverines or Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game.
The West division winner will most likely to draw Michigan or Ohio State in Indianapolis the first weekend of December. But a loss to either heavyweight at Lucas Oil Stadium wouldn’t necessarily prove fatal to the New Year’s Six hopes in Lincoln or Mad City.
“We saw that last year, when the teams … were not punished by the committee for losing that 13th game,” Palm said. “Especially when losing as an underdog,”
As of Monday, the veteran bracketologist tapped Wisconsin as joining Michigan and Ohio State among his projected teams in New Year’s Six bowls, predicting the Buckeyes to nip the Wolverines for the division crown and notch the fourth and final playoff spot. Palm slotted the Wolverines to the Rose Bowl against Utah, and Wisconsin to the Orange Bowl — where a Big Ten non-champion can be selected as an at-large if that non-champion is ranked higher than a non-champion option from the SEC and Notre Dame.
The Huskers are currently ranked ahead of every SEC team except No. 1 Alabama (8-0); Wisconsin trails only the Tide and No. 9 Texas A&M (6-1).
Palm projected the Big Red to the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2 against Florida. By rule, the Big Ten forfeits its highest non-New Year’s Six slot in the Citrus Bowl if a member school is picked for the Orange Bowl.
“If Nebraska wins, they beat Wisconsin, they’re in charge of the division,” Palm continued. “You would think they’re certainly in the mix for one of those (New Year’s Six) games, then, if they don’t tank the rest of the year.”
The Huskers’ November slate: at Ohio State; home to Minnesota and Maryland; then at Iowa on Black Friday. A year ago, the Huskers — then 5-6 — had a chance to play spoilers at home to an 11-0, playoff-chasing Hawkeyes team in the regular season finale for both programs.
Next month, don’t be surprised if the cleat is on the other foot.