Week 9 - Michigan at Nebraska

Posted Oct 26, 2012

Week 9 Fearless Prediction & Game Preview – Michigan at Nebraska

Michigan (5-2) at Nebraska (5-2) Oct 27, 8:00, ESPN2

Here's The Deal: On a massive weekend of big games, and with the Ohio State-Penn State exhibition getting more of the spotlight, it's been completely and totally lost that this is almost certainly going to be the game for the Legends division title. If Michigan wins, it'll have a two game lead on everyone if Iowa loses to Northwestern, and while there will be still plenty of big battles to deal with, the two big boys from the division – Michigan State and Nebraska – will be out of the way with Northwestern and Iowa having to come to Ann Arbor. So, essentially, barring a miraculous collapse and several shockers, with a win, Michigan will almost certainly be playing Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship for a shot at the Rose Bowl.

Meanwhile, Nebraska, the flakiest of the flaky teams in a flaky conference, has the puck on its stick with a chance to make the race wide open. There are still road games at Michigan State and Iowa to deal with, but if the Huskers can pull off the win after a brilliant comeback to beat Northwestern, they'll have everything set up well to get to the Big Ten championship.

But beyond just the divisional ramifications of this really, really big game, it's MICHIGAN vs. NEBRASKA. It's a showdown of two of college football's greatest historical superpowers in Lincoln for the first time since 1911 – a 6-6 tie – and with roots going all the way back to 1905. Even so, these two giants have played each other a shockingly-low seven times, with the 1986 Fiesta Bowl – a 27-23 Michigan win – arguably the most important on the lot. In a dream world, a playoff or the BCS would've been in place in 1997, when Michigan and Nebraska each went unbeaten and claimed to be the national champion, but now the world will get these two on a yearly basis. Hopefully it'll be slightly better than last year's 45-17 Michigan win in the Big House.

Why Michigan Might Win: Nebraska isn't playing well. The Huskers needed to get the red hot momentum to overcome a disastrous start to beat Wisconsin, and then they got their doors blown off at Ohio State. They needed a late rally and the help of a missed field goal to slip by Northwestern, so while the record is the record, they could easily be 0-3 in Big Ten play right now. The offense has been hit-or-miss, not playing as efficiently or as effectively as it would if running back Rex Burkhead was healthy, with huge turnover problems losing 12 fumbles in the last five games and giving away three interceptions against Ohio State.

Defensively, the Husker linebackers have had a really, really hard time against the run. Johnathan Franklin went nuts helping UCLA rush for 344 yards, and Braxton Miller led Ohio State to 371 yards and six touchdowns in the blowout a few weeks ago. Wisconsin was stuffed, but it ran for three scores, while Northwestern didn't have many problems getting the ground game moving. Michigan should be able to blink and get to 200 yards.

Why Nebraska Might Win: Everyone plays well at home, but Nebraska seems to get a surge from its crowd like few other teams can. The way the team roared back against Wisconsin this year and Ohio State last season clearly came from the momentum of a few big plays and a palpable buzz. It even happened last week in Evanston, when the Big Red crowd invaded Northwestern and made the crowd noise a factor for the Wildcats. It's no coincidence that the two losses came on the road.

The Michigan run defense has gotten air-tight since the first two games of the year against the Tide and Falcons, giving up just one rushing touchdown over the last five games, but it's about to deal with a whole new world. The Wolverines held up well against the physical running games of Notre Dame and Michigan State, but it got blown away by Alabama and couldn't handle the speed and precision of the Air Force ground attack. Nebraska can do a little of both with the ability to blast away for the hard yards when needed, and the speed and quickness to make things happen on the outside from time to time with Taylor Martinez able to be used like an option quarterback.

What To Watch Out For: Ohio State's Braxton Miler ran for 186 yards and a score in the win over Nebraska – what will Denard Robinson do? The Michigan quarterback isn't in the Heisman chase, but he has been his typical brilliant self with 900 rushing yards and six scores. While interceptions were a problem early, he has only thrown one over the last three weeks as his passing duties have slowed down. He lit up the Huskers last year for 83 yards and two scores, while throwing for 180 yards with two scores and a pick, but he has been more of a one man gang this year and has to be Braxton Miller-like to get the win.

Burkhead is trying to get healthy, but his knee and ankle have been a problem all season long, making the Huskers scramble with the running game. Even so, they're still sixth in the nation and first in the Big Ten on the ground, helped by Ameer Abdullah picking up the slack. One of the nation's top kickoff returners, he has been terrific when utilized running 30 times for 167 yard and two scores in the win over Arkansas State, and taking off for 101 yards on 19 carries last week.

What Will Happen: Denard will get his yards and he'll come up with a few good drives, but Nebraska will win ugly once again. The Michigan offense can bog down at times, and there will be just enough lulls to allow Nebraska to take control. Martinez will outplay Robinson on the way to a huge victory to make the Legends wild and crazy the rest of the way.

CFN Prediction: Nebraska 31 … Michigan 27
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Nebraska -2.5 O/U: 57.5
Must Watch Rating (5 – The Girl, 1 – Don't Trust The B In Apt. 23): 4.5