Two weeks into the season, Nebraska has shown plenty of holes. They will look to plug those up this week at home as Mike Riley and company welcome Northern Illinois to Lincoln for the first meeting between the Huskers and Huskies since 1990. Nebraska may not be close to the high bar the program was setting in the days of the old Big Eight, but the Huskers will try to put together their first no-doubt-about-it win of the season to head into Big Ten play with a winning record and some confidence.
Northern Illinois at Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX Sports 1
Spread: Nebraska -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Nebraska looks to get on track
Maybe it was the travel to the west coast and the difficult Autzen Stadium environment, but Nebraska was stuck in the mud trying to get started last weekend at Oregon. The Ducks racked up a dominating 21-7 lead after one quarter of play and a 42-14 lead at halftime, The good news for Nebraska is that NIU’s offense is not quite built to explode the way Oregon is. But the Huskers offense still needs to start strong, as it did against Arkansas State in Week 1.
2. NIU has allowed half as much offensive yardage as Nebraska
Say what you will about small sample sizes and the level of competition faced by each team, but the defensive numbers still stand out going into Week 3. NIU has allowed an average of 263.0 yards per game, compared to Nebraska’s defense being gashed for 531.5 yards per game in the first two weeks of the season. But keep in mind that NIU has faced Boston College and Eastern Illinois, while Nebraska has played Arkansas State and Oregon. Can NIU keep its promising defensive trend going in Lincoln?
3. Nebraska hasn’t lost back-to-back non-conference games in 60 years
You have to go all the way back to the 1957 season to find the last time the Huskers took a loss in back-to-back non-conference games (not including bowl losses followed the next season by a non-conference loss in the opener). As a member of the Big 7, Nebraska took consecutive losses against Washington State of the Pacific Coast Conference and Army to start the season and then lost back-to-back games against Pitt and Syracuse a week after beating Kansas State. Since then, Nebraska has not lost back-to-back non-conference games in regular-season play.
Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee is in need of a quick turnaround this week. After a rough outing at Oregon — he threw four interceptions — Lee will look to regain his composure and regain the confidence of Mike Riley and the fans. NIU may play some stingy defense, but Nebraska should still have the advantage when on offense. Look for Tre Bryant to have another strong day running the ball and to make some of the pivotal plays in a Nebraska victory.
Prediction: Nebraska 42, Northern Illinois 28
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.