Saturday, September 08, 2012

A Must Win Game for the Huskers? Or a Must Not Lose Game?

I didn't have the opportunity to watch UCLA's game last week at Rice; we don't get CBS Sports Network on our cable and I wasn't home anyway. I can only base my opinions on the stat sheet and my summer preview of UCLA posted to CornNation.  Needless to say, I was surprised when the betting line for tonight's game opened at just five points.  I was even more surprised by the number of national prognosticators picking UCLA to win outright tonight at the Rose Bowl.

At face level, I don't see it.  Sure, Rex Burkhead is questionable to play, and doubtful to contribute.  I could see Burkhead playing just the opening play to keep his consecutive games streak alive and see how it actually goes.  But even without Burkhead, I still think Nebraska should be favored.  But many disagree.

I'm not going to try to refute that argument.  They very well might be right; UCLA isn't so out-manned that they cannot win. But I think part of the argument for the UCLA upset is past Nebraska failings:  the Capital One Bowl and Wisconsin last season.  Texas A&M and the Big XII Championship game in 2010.

Oh, and the "Pelini Hairballs" where Nebraska inexplicably lost:  Iowa State and Texas Tech in 2009, Washington (Holiday Bowl) in 2010.  Northwestern in 2011.

I think Nebraska should win today, and win fairly comfortably. My CornNation game prediction is NU 38, UCLA 14.  I think I'm alone in thinking that the Blackshirts can hold UCLA to just two scores; I'm on an island here.  But that's what I see.  Rice wasn't much of an opponent; note that Kansas is a 10 point favorite over the Owls today.  They had one of the worst defenses in college football last season, and probably aren't going to be much better this year.

This isn't a game Nebraska must win so much as it is a game that Nebraska must not lose. Tom Osborne once noted that any game you lost suddenly became a big game after the fact. A victory over UCLA won't impress most college football experts (unless the score gets out of hand, which I don't expect)...but a loss to UCLA adds even more traction that the Huskers are not anywhere near the upper echelon of the football world.  Remember that summertime talk that Nebraska might only win eight games this season?  This comes from that perception.

If Nebraska is to break that perception, Nebraska cannot afford a loss tonight in the Rose Bowl. It's a game Nebraska must find a way to win, because failure to win becomes just yet another example of Nebraska's not back.

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