Nebraska makes its first-ever trip to the Big House in Ann Arbor this weekend, and ALDLAND will be there. Grantland has named this meeting its Big Ole Game of the week, and why not. Their feature recalls this clip from the last play of the last game in which these two teams met:
They also place this game in the context of setting up the first-ever Big Ten championship game:
The Big Ten is primed for an interesting finish, and the result of this game will dictate whether there’s any drama in the Legends Division going into the final weekend. Here’s how it stands now, with the winner moving forward to face Penn State or (more likely) Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game:
1. Michigan State 5-1
2. Nebraska 4-2
3. Michigan 4-2
Michigan State plays host to Indiana this weekend, a game the Spartans are almost sure to win. That’s bad news for Nebraska, which has to win its final two games and hope that Michigan State will lose at Northwestern in Week 13. If the two teams finish tied in the standings, Nebraska owns the tiebreaker with a head-to-head win. But it’s really bad news for Michigan, which lost to the Spartans and is reduced to hoping that lowly Indiana (0-6 in the Big Ten) pulls off an unthinkable upset.
If Nebraska wins, though, the outlook is a bit brighter. The Huskers will finish at home against Iowa, and it’s not unreasonable to think Northwestern could beat the Spartans.
But first, they’ve got to survive the Big House. The Cornhuskers might be the most confusing team in the FBS this year. Things made sense back when they lost to Wisconsin, but became confusing when they reeled off wins against Ohio State and Michigan State. It stood to reason that they were improving, but that theory was thrown on its head with a loss to Northwestern. Last week’s close win at Penn State made a little more sense, but not much.
Here’s what we do know:
- Both teams have high-powered offenses, averaging more than 32 points and 400 yards per game.
- Michigan is marginally better on defense, and is particularly adept at defending the pass.
- Nebraska runs about twice as often it throws, and Rex Burkhead is the team’s leading rusher with 5.1 yards per carry and 14 touchdowns. Considering Michigan’s strength in the secondary, expect to see a lot of Burkhead and very little of QB Taylor Martinez.
- Michigan also calls its share of runs, but many of those come from quarterback Denard Robinson, who averages almost six yards per carry. He can be a dynamic passer, but he’s struggled this season with as many picks (13) as touchdowns. Again, all signs point to the Wolverines favoring the run.
If you read between the lines, we’re on the path to another Big Ten war of attrition, with few points and many punts. But Michigan is rarely deprived of touchdowns, even in losing efforts, and the fact that the Wolverines are at home and boasting a slightly superior run defense should be enough. They’re favored by 3.5, but if Robinson can cut down on the costly interceptions, the final margin should be wider.
The rest of their college football preview for this weekend is here.
Historically, this weekend has been reserved for the Michigan-Ohio State game and the final game of the regular season for Big Ten teams. By moving to twelve teams with the addition of Nebraska, the Big Ten was set to have two divisions (call them whatever you like– if the Big Ten Network employees weren’t contractually obligated to memorize them, nobody would know the division names or membership) and a conference championship game. As a Michigan grad explained to me this week, the conference also added a bye week that had not previously existed in conference play, thereby shifting the final game of the season to Thanksgiving weekend instead of this weekend.