Nebraska is back in the top 25, joining both major polls at No. 20 after a 3-0 started punctuated with a home win against Oregon last weekend. Northwestern's had roughly the opposite kind of start, losing its first two games against non-power programs before netting a 24-13 win against Duke. The result is that the Huskers are comfortable road favorites this week.
The Huskers have had a great start. They needed some shoddy two-point conversion efforts to beat Oregon, but they did beat Oregon. They previously turned in strong efforts to beat Fresno State and Wyoming, and all of their wins have come in the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium. Now their show's heading on the road to Ryan Field. Nebraska went 3-2 on the road last year, in Mike Riley's first season, and 3-5 at home. To win the Big Ten West, the Huskers have to be better away from Lincoln this season, and this is the first chance at that.
Northwestern's 0-2 start was disastrous, and a home loss here would push the Wildcats further down a path toward irrelevance in 2016. But a win would leave them with an advantage against what's looked like a contender, and maybe it could be a springboard to a salvaged season. We'll see how it goes.
How to watch, stream, and listen
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network. The broadcasters are Eric Collins, Glen Mason, and Michelle McMahon.
Online streaming: BTN2Go
Spread: The Huskers opened as 6.5-point favorites.
Three big things to know
1. Maybe Clayton Thorson's making progress? The true sophomore Northwestern QB wasn't much good in his freshman season, even as the Wildcats got to 10 wins. He wasn't great in this year's opening losses, either, but he threw for a career-high 320 yards against Duke. It's hard to see Northwestern's offense making strides without Thorson leading the way, and a second good game would instill lots of confidence.
2. Maybe Tommy Armstrong Jr.'s making progress, too? The Nebraska senior led a remarkably inconsistent career for a few seasons, but he's got talent and has harnessed it lately. He enters his 37th career start coming off a three-game run of one interception against seven touchdowns, with almost 700 pass yards. Armstrong could be great, and if he is, watch out for the Huskers.
3. Northwestern's sacrificed a lot to prevent the big play. And that's notable against a Huskers offense that's thrived on biting off big chunks of yardage through the air. The Wildcats are allowing successful plays (by yardage picked up, relative to the down and distance) on a lousy 44 percent of all opponent pass plays, but they haven't given up the big ones. The Huskers have had one of the most explosive passing games in the country so far, with seven completions of more than 30 yards in three games. We'll see if Northwestern can keep that rabbit in the Huskers' hat.