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Nebraska's high-powered offense has shot to win Big Ten crown

There are Nebraska naysayers out there who point to coach Bo Pelini’s eerily similar seasons at the helm as evidence that the program is doomed. He has lost four games in each of his five full seasons.

Don’t let Pelini’s history be the reason to ignore the Cornhuskers this year. They are a serious contender to win the Big Ten championship.

The Huskers’ only loss came at Michigan State, which was thought to be destined for the playoffs before losing to Ohio State on Saturday. Now the Buckeyes are carrying the Big Ten banner.

Considering the Huskers are ranked 16th by the College Football Playoff committee, they need some help to make the four-team field.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t every bit as good as Ohio State.

With the exception of the loss to the Spartans, Nebraska has scored at least 31 points in every game. The Huskers have scored in the 40s three times and the 50s twice. The biggest test for this high-powered offense comes Saturday at Wisconsin. The Badgers rank first in total defense (251.1 yards per game) and third in scoring defense (14.3 points per game) in the country.

“It’s well-thought out schematically, and they’re aggressive on the outside playing coverage,” Pelini said. “They give you a mix of different styles of coverages.”

Nation’s MVP

He won’t win the Heisman Trophy this year, but there isn’t a player in the country more valuable to his team than Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah.

The nation’s fifth-leading rusher (1,250 yards with 17 touchdowns) drives the offense, making his status for Saturday crucial. He sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in a victory over Purdue on Nov. 1.

Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. has struggled with accuracy and has relied heavily on play-action. Removing Abdullah would allow Wisconsin to commit fewer players to the run. Pelini said he expects Abduallah to play.

McCall’s message

Northwestern could run any offense it wants, and it still would have the same problem.

Wildcats offensive coordinator Mick McCall, who has come under criticism for the unit’s poor play, had one message for his players: Execute.

“Everybody on offense needs to execute, and so the O-line needs to block and we’ve got to do a good job of that,” McCall said.

“We just need to go out and execute. Have we changed that much? I don’t know if we’ve changed that much. The guys in position need to do the things they need to do and go make plays.”

They’ll need to bring offensive fire power Saturday. Northwestern visits Notre Dame, which has scored fewer than 30 points just once this season.


Twitter: @SethGruen