No. 20 Nebraska looks to cement ranking against Northwestern
EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) Welcome back to the Top 25, Cornhuskers. Now, it's time to see if they can stay there.
No. 20 Nebraska opens Big Ten play at Northwestern on Saturday, looking to build on a win that vaulted them into the AP poll for the first time in nearly two years.
A 35-32 victory over coach Mike Riley's old rival Oregon gave Nebraska (3-0) its first ranking since December 2014.
''There's lots of stuff that we have to improve on to be a good team consistently,'' said Riley, the longtime Oregon State coach in his second year at Nebraska. ''So there's plenty of teachable moments from that game that we can use.
''Right now, it was a great win at that point of the year. It was obviously our biggest non-league game, and we managed to win the first two games to set that up into a big game for us. Winning it is a really good thing.''
Nebraska can boast five national championships, 46 conference titles, three Heisman Trophy winners and an 883-368-40 record that makes it the fourth-winningest program. But the Cornhuskers had to rally last year to finish 6-7, winning three of their last four, and wound up fourth in the Big Ten West with a 3-5 conference record.
Northwestern (1-2, 0-0), a 10-game winner last season, beat Duke last week after opening with losses to Western Michigan and FCS power Illinois State. A victory this week would no doubt be a big boost for the Wildcats after a shaky start.
''I think we're far from where we need to be,'' coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ''It's a byproduct of guys preparing the right way. I'll be a broken record. I'll say that until I retire. You have to prepare, and part of that is mental. A big part of that is mental. How you're talking to yourself. How you're preparing and visualizing. The amount of time you spend really, truly studying what we're doing. What your opponent's doing, his strengths, the areas they try to attack you.''
Here are some things to know as the Cornhuskers and Wildcats meet:
Four of the last five meetings have been decided by three points or fewer, with Northwestern winning 30-28 in Lincoln last year. The Huskers rallied from fourth-quarter deficits to win two of those games, including the 2013 game in Lincoln on a Hail Mary. Nebraska won 38-17 in Evanston two years ago.
Last in scoring and total offense in the Big Ten and with a league-worst 11 sacks allowed, it sure has not been a good start for Northwestern's offense.
There have been issues on the line, which Fitzgerald called ''a work in progress.'' And that certainly has not made things easy on quarterback Clayton Thorson and running back Justin Jackson. Thorson has just a 49-percent completion rate and Jackson is averaging about 87 yards, though he is going against a team that gave up 336 yards on the ground last week.
HUSKERS' NEW WARDROBE
Nebraska will wear an alternate Adidas white uniform. The ''Husker Chrome'' outfit features red numbering with metallic chrome outlining on the jersey accented with metallic chrome stripes on both the jersey and pants. The helmet has a metallic red ''N'' logo on both sides and is accented with numbers in metallic red and metallic chrome outlining on the back of the helmet.
Nebraska was last in the Big Ten last year with 12 more turnovers than takeaways, and the Huskers have had a positive turnover margin just once in the past 12 seasons. So far, the Huskers are plus-six in turnover margin, ranking fifth in the country. Northwestern is plus-one in turnover margin.
Northwestern's Austin Carr is off to a good start, with a Big Ten-leading 283 yards receiving. The senior is second with six receptions per game and third with 94.3 receiving yards per game. He is also coming off a huge performance against Duke, with six catches for a personal-best 135 yards - including a career-long 58-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
AP college football website: http://collegefootball.ap.org