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November 14, 2011

Husker Buzz: Plenty to play for

The winner of Saturday's Nebraska vs. Michigan game may not necessarily make it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game, but one could argue they are playing for something potentially as big.

With Boise State and Stanford's losses this weekend, the Big Ten Conference has put itself in a great spot to get two BCS Bowl bids, assuming either NU or Michigan can finish 10-2.

The most likely scenario is Wisconsin and Michigan State are going to square off in Indianapolis as two 10-2 teams. The winner will go to the Rose Bowl and the loser will fall to 10-3 and be knocked out of contention for a BCS at-large bid.

Nebraska should be very familiar with that after losing back-to-back Big 12 championship games in 2009 and 2010. Unless you enter a conference championship game 12-0 or 11-1, earning a BCS at-large bid at 10-3 or 9-4 is next to impossible.

That's why loss to Northwestern or Iowa State or Texas A&M in the past were so big. It's these types of games that mean all the difference in getting invited to one of the BCS Bowl games as an at-large bid.

The minimum requirement to get in to the BCS as an at-large team is 9 wins and a top 14 ranking. Both the Huskers and the Wolverines would surely be ranked in the top 14 if they finished the year with a 10-2 record and would be an extremely attractive team to the BCS considering neither one of them has been to a major bowl for several years.

The other bowl game that sure seems to have an interest in the Big Red right now is the Capitol One Bowl in Orlando.

The Capitol One had a representative in State College this past weekend and they were in attendance at the post-game news conference to listen to head coach Bo Pelini. A potential match-up with a team like Arkansas or Georgia would certainly draw a lot of Husker fans to Orlando, but a spot in the BCS to the Fiesta Bowl or Sugar Bowl would be a home run.

This is not the Denard Robinson of September

There's going to be a lot of talk this week for Nebraska if they can slow down Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.

It's well documented that the Huskers have struggled against dual-threat passing quarterbacks this season, but the numbers speak for themselves over the last four games that Robinson isn't the same quarterback ever since injuring his arm in the Northwestern game on Oct. 8. In fact, Robinson has had to pull himself out of the last four games for various different injuries.

In those four games Robinson has only completed 41-of-85 passes for 576 yards for three touchdowns and four interceptions. Meanwhile on the ground Robinson has just 190 yards rushing on 57 carries for four touchdowns.

This past Saturday at Illinois Robinson was pulled after injuring his wrist, but according to head coach Brady Hoke he could've gone back in the game. Hoke said Robinson threw the football fine on Sunday night when the Wolverines got back to the practice field.

The bottom line is this is not the Robinson we saw in September that torched through Notre Dame and Northwestern. If you force Robinson to stay in the pocket and be a passer, the numbers speak for themselves. I expect Pelini to use a similar game plan to the one at Virginia Tech that limited Tyrod Taylor to -22 yards rushing on nine carries. His long run that day was just 4 yards.

Nebraska forced Taylor to stay in the pocket and be a passer. The defensive ends didn't rush up field and made Taylor stay in the pocket, which other than a busted coverage in the fourth quarter, forced Taylor into the worst performance of his career.

O-line depth is scary right now

You think Nebraska's depth at defensive tackle is scary, take a look at their guard position on the offensive line.

Pelini said on Monday that sophomore Andrew Rodriguez is out with a foot injury, and will be doubtful for Saturday's game at Michigan. Add that up with the injuries to Jake Cotton, Brandon Thompson and Brent Qvale, the Huskers have just walk-ons Spencer Long and Seung Hoon Choi to work with right now.

Pelini expects to have Qvale back this week, but his durability has been in question since the start of camp in August. If either Choi or Long went down with injury, Pelini would have to look to one of his tackles or back-up centers to move inside.

For the stat geeks

***Keep this in mind when putting together your all-Big Ten ballots. Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State boast three of the top four rushing defenses in the conference, but Rex Burkhead was able to average 123.3 yard per game against them. You'll be hard pressed to find any other back in the league to put up numbers like that against those defenses.

***How one-dimensional is Ohio State's offense? They rank last in the Big Ten in passing yards at 117.1 yards per game.

***Maybe the most impressive stat about Michigan's defense is they've forced 16 fumbles on the season. With that said the Huskers have to hold onto the football on Saturday.

***If you have Wisconsin running back Montee Ball on your fantasy team you are in good shape right now. Ball has an incredible 27 touchdowns through 10 games this season.

***Kicker Brett Maher is pulling away in the punting statistical category leading the league with a 45.4 yard average and 15 punts of over 50 yards. Maher has also placed 18 punts inside the 20, which ranks second in the conference.

***With his sack on Saturday, defensive end Cameron Meredith ranks sixth in the Big Ten with five sacks.

Around the state

***Lincoln Southeast and Nebraska tight end commit Sam Cotton continues to play strong down the stretch. In a semifinal win over Papio, Cotton had a touchdown reception and continues to be a force at defensive end.

***I will be really intrigued to watch Burke and Lincoln Southeast play on Tuesday night next week in the Class A state championship game. Burke has a ton of playmakers at the wide receiver and the running back position, along with a very solid offensive line. They have several players that are border line Division I prospects, but nobody has pulled the trigger on any of them. With a big performance next week, that could change.

***Keep your eyes on Crete quarterback Derek McGinnis in the Class B state title game. More than likely McGinnis will end up at North Dakota State. He's put together a great senior season and ranks right up there with Ryker Fyfe as the best quarterback prospect in the state.


Sean Callahan can be reached at sean@huskeronline.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.


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