Future Non-Conference Opponents Added
While every Big Ten school must still wait to see what the addition of Maryland and Rutgers will mean for conference scheduling, Nebraska fans at least got learned more about future non-conference schedules this week. The 2014 non-conference slate now appears complete with the addition of McNeese State in the second game of the year in Lincoln. The 2015 schedule was already complete, but now Northern Illinois is pencilled in for games in 2016, 2017, and 2019.
As an FCS school, McNeese State is the kind of team you might ideally either schedule as an opener, as a get-well game after a tough outing or perhaps as a semi-bye week leading up to a tough game. Unfortunately, this game doesn't seem to meet any of those criteria. The Huskers open the 2014 season with Carl Pelini's Florida Atlantic team. While that could be a tough outing potentially, it's not quite the same as taking on Notre Dame or USC. After the McNeese layup, the Huskers travel to take on Fresno State. The Bulldogs have been known to be sneaky-good. They finished this year at 9-3 and now head to the Hawaii Bowl under first-year head coach Tim DeRuyter. Still, you'd imagine the Huskers will go in as favorites, even on the road. Assuming the game isn't cancelled, the Huskers would then host Miami before a bye week. You never relish facing an FCS school, but that game in particular doesn't really seem to provide any particular advantage.
By contrast, Northern Illinois is a much more intriguing matchup. The school is headed to the Orange Bowl following a 12-1 season. The Huskies have put together three 11-win seasons in a row. The first was under current Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill and the last two under the now-departed Dave Doeren who was just hired at North Carolina State. The 2016 game is set to be played at Soldier Field in Chicago (the other two in Lincoln). You wonder if the great turnout by Husker fans against Northwestern played into the scheduling here. What's odd however is that the original conference schedule (prior to the addition of the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights) would have the Big Red playing in Evanston (a Chicago suburb) the very next week. If the new conference alignment keeps Nebraska and Northwestern in the same division, then you'd imagine that the Huskers will still play in Evanston in 2016. That's probably not great news for the ticket office for the Wildcats or Soldier field. It might make it that much easier to recruit in Illinois though, where the Huskers have signed four recruits in the last three classes.
These opponents certainly don't have the splash of an Oklahoma. Still, locking in three home games and a neutral-siter is usually good news for the Athletic Department.