Friday, October 26, 2012

Is Michigan A "Must Win" Game for Bo Pelini?

CornNation's Jon Johnston calls this year's Nebraska vs. Michigan game the biggest of Bo Pelini's career.  It reminds me of an past conversation with AJ the Huskerh8r and whether this is a "must win" game.  In 2006, Nebraska was muddling through year three of the Bill Callahan experiment; was beating Missouri a "must"?  I didn't think so at that time...though it was getting pretty close.  (And for what it's worth, Nebraska and Callahan did just that in 2006.)

Is this the case in 2012 with Michigan?  I tend to lean towards the same answer, but the circumstances are different.  2012 Michigan is much better than 2006 Missouri.   2012 Nebraska is much better than 2006 Nebraska as well.  But the circumstances do parallel.  The Big XII North wasn't terribly strong in 2006...just like the Big Ten's West division in 2012.  And you do have a fan base that isn't completely sold on the head coach.

Bill Callahan was able to skate through his first few years by merely showing progress each year from his inept first season.  Bo Pelini's fourth season wasn't an improvement on his third, and if Nebraska loses to the Weasels at home, it's going to be impossible to show improvement from 2009 and 2010.  Nevermind that every one of Pelini's teams has been better than any of Bill Callahan's teams; Husker fans aren't satisfied with the current level of the program.  "Better than Bill Callahan" is not necessarily an achievement.

Win this game, and Nebraska is 6-2.  Bowl eligible, and in the driver's seat for a trip to the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.  That's a clear sign of progress IMHO.

Lose, and Nebraska is 5-3.  Almost no chance to make it to Indianapolis, and needing to win out just to have a nine-win season.  Nine wins almost seems like the bare minimum for Husker football; heck, nine wins wasn't enough to save Frank Solich's job.

Can Nebraska beat Michigan?  Absolutely, but the maddening mistakes need to be cleaned up first.  Last week, many of them were, but new ones sprung up in special teams.  Nebraska has the best offense in the Big Ten, and the defense has shown signs of being closer to what Nebraska needs.  (Second half against Wisconsin, first quarter against Ohio State, and most of the Northwestern game.)  Meanwhile, Michigan has been blasted by the good teams they've played and overwhelmed the bad ones.
It's not a guaranteed win.  Nothing is for sure with this Nebraska team.  But it's a game they can win.  More importantly, it's a game they really need to win.  Not quite a must win....but really a need to win game.

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