Second Time’s the Charm?
Believe it or not, the original Rocky won the best picture Oscar back in 1976. Among the more memorable lines is when the champion who escaped with a victory said, "Ain't gonna be no rematch" to which Rocky Balboa responded "Don't want one". Rocky II provided the rematch though and the second time the Italian Stallion was triumphant. The Rocky metaphor for Nebraska in a rematch with Northwestern doesn't quite fit though. After all, the Huskers were the favorites and playing at home. Apollo Creed by contrast fought Balboa in his hometown of Philadelphia. A road game. Putting aside the movie then, what should we expect in a rematch for the Huskers?
There have been eight games that Nebraska has played under head coach Bo Pelini where the Huskers lost but then got to play the same team a year later. NU went 5-3 in those games. In 2008, the Huskers were a touchdown favorite at home over Virginia Tech. They lost the game by 5 and appeared headed to victory in Blacksburg a year later before a blown coverage allowed the Hokies to complete an 81-yard pass play to set up a touchdown with 21 seconds remaining to win by a point. NU were underdogs to Missouri in Lincoln and lost badly in 2008, but rebounded with an explosive fourth quarter to prevail 27-12 at Mizzou a year later. The Big Red were underdogs on the road when they lost in overtime to Texas Tech. A year later, they lost at home despite being a double-digit favorite. Nebraska got embarrassed at Oklahoma in 2008, but a year later they pulled an upset over the Sooners in Lincoln.
In 2009, the Huskers turned the ball over eight times in a narrow home loss to underdog Iowa State. NU still needed overtime to win in Ames the following year. The Huskers lost a heartbreaker as double-digit underdogs to Texas in the Big 12 championship game in 2009. They were favored at home the following year but a sloppy offensive performance led to a 20-13 defeat in 2010. Later that year, Nebraska lost a same season rematch with a Washington team that they'd trounced in Seattle. In 2011, the Huskers scored a victory over the Huskies in Lincoln.
So far, the only chance to avenge a loss from 2011 was against Wisconsin. A bad loss in Madison was avenged with a comeback victory at home. Northwestern came into Lincoln a year ago as a major underdog. Now the opportunity comes for Nebraska to repay that loss in Evanston. If we compare this to the Iowa State or Washington games (where NU lost despite being heavy favorites), then we might expect victory this time around. The Huskers are not prohibitive favorites, given just a five point edge by oddsmakers. That's in line with what took place in Ames in 2011 and reflects a fairly competitive game against the Huskies a year ago.
It's encouraging to note that while Pelini's teams have fallen down, they generally haven't stayed down. This week provides another opportunity for his team to show resiliency to shake off both the Ohio State defeat and compensate at least somewhat for dropping a game to Northwestern in Lincoln that they shouldn't have. But history tells us it may still be a tense four-quarter battle, with Nebraska prevailing in the end.