Published Monday, September 9, 2013 AT 12:21 PM / Updated at 12:22 PM
Mad Chatter, Sept. 9
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

When we think back on Nebraska’s 2013 season, there is a almost zero chance we’ll think immediately of the UCLA game. It probably won’t be even one No. 2 or No. 3 on the list.

It’s mid-September, it’s non-conference, we’re still a long way from Ann Arbor.

But it feels like a critical game for the program. Win Saturday and Nebraska very likely waltzes into November 7-0, ranked among the nation’s top 5. The next six weeks will resemble the good ole days, when NU beat up the Big Eight’s little sisters while keeping one eye on the real target — Oklahoma. Bo Pelini will have time to continue molding his defense, without the worry of a big game anytime soon. It’ll be glorious.

But if the Huskers lose, well, the mood around in Lincoln will sour faster than milk left in the trunk. All the folks who hoped and hoped that 70-31 was a fluke will suddenly think otherwise. And the soft October schedule will actually work against the Huskers, because they won’t have a chance to redeem themselves until November. It’ll be nasty.

It’s a strange syllabus this semester. There’s a test in week three, then nothing but homework assignments until week 10, when the big exams begin. Which means — depending on that first test score — the 42 days in between will either be happy, happy, joy, joy … or lots of teeth-gnashing.

Nebraska is playing to stay undefeated Saturday. It’s also playing for the October happiness of its fan base.

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>> The most glaring weakness in Nebraska’s program since it joined the Big Ten is the defensive line. No doubt.

I’ll always be baffled that Pelini didn’t take greater advantage of Ndamukong Suh on the recruiting trail — Did you see how I developed this guy? I could do the same with you. Three years after Suh dominated Texas’ O-line in Dallas, the Big Uglies from Wisconsin made Nebraska’s D-line look like a junior varsity.

Nebraska’s failure to stop the run has many facets, I realize. Safety help in the box. Linebacker mobility. But first and foremost, the Huskers haven’t had enough bulk at the line of scrimmage.

It’s still the No. 1 concern for 2013, I think, but Saturday night was the first time in a long time the D-line shined a light at the end of the tunnel.

Southern Miss isn’t UCLA or Wisconsin or Ohio State. But Randy Gregory, Maliek Collins, Vincent Valentine, Kevin Maurice and others demonstrated notable strength and athleticism. If Bo can develop those guys over the next two years, Nebraska will finally turn D-line into a strength again.

Only then can NU go toe-to-toe with Ohio State.

>> Two high-profile ex-Huskers made very bad decisions Sunday. Suh cost his team a touchdown. Lavonte David likely cost his team the game. That’s about the only thing the two have in common.

Suh’s act is so old, it’s hard to defend him anymore. He used to be the shining star of Nebraska alumni. Now he’s a more talented Richie Incognito. Lavonte, meanwhile, looked on the sideline like his dog had died. I don’t question his discipline for a second. He’s simply a great young player who made a mistake. Hopefully he doesn’t let it linger.

>> Remember when Texas and USC waged one of the greatest college football battles ever? Apparently, BYU and Washington State aren’t impressed by tradition. Mack Brown and Lane Kiffin probably won’t be around in 2014, opening two of the marquee jobs in the country. It could be a very interesting offseason in the coaching ranks.

>> Is Michigan for real? I was high on the Wolverines this summer, picking them to win the Legends. But even with a win over Notre Dame, Michigan has a long way to go. Road trips to Penn State, Michigan State and Northwestern. Home against Nebraska and Ohio State. Beating the Irish is nice. But Michigan’s work is just starting.

>> Bill Barnwell and Peter King give you the goods on the first NFL Sunday.

>> KLIN in Lincoln is my new favorite radio station. Why? Because it’s broadcasting Redskins games all season! Niles Paul and Roy Helu aren’t starting. DeJon Gomes got cut. Will Compton is on the practice squad. But KLIN will have at least one ‘Skins fan listening — when they’re not on TV, of course.

>> Hate to downplay the Chiefs’ blowout victory in Andy Reid’s debut, but the Jaguars have to be one of the worst NFL teams I’ve ever seen. Blaine Gabbert won’t have a job much longer.

>> Email from Josh: “I think the biggest indicator that fantasy football is ridiculous is that Eli (Manning)’s performance last night was the second best fantasy total of the week.”

Actually, the bigger indicator is that Danny Trevathan, the Denver linebacker who placed the ball at the 1-yard line Thursday (because, apparently, it was too heavy to carry across the goal line) might cost me a fantasy game. Oops. See what I did there? I vented my fantasy frustrations on this blog. Week one and I’m already breaking my own rules!

>> Wrestling is back on the Olympic schedule. A big day for the sport everywhere, but especially in Iowa City.

>> Pay for play is a big issue in NCAA circles. But the more pressing matter is all these transfer waivers. When should a kid get a hardship? Andy Glockner examines the NCAA’s inconsistency.

>> The AL wild card scramble should be one of the best ever. Question is, is Kansas City a contender? The Royals, who took two of three from Detroit over the weekend, start a three-game series tonight in Cleveland. Basically they have to win every series the rest of the way.

>> Jeff Passan’s columns are always worth reading. Here he profiles the rare American-born black player — why aren’t there more? And here is his annual 32 things you didn’t know about baseball.

>> Rafa-Novak. New York City. Under the lights. Hard to ask for a better conclusion in the year’s final Grand Slam. Nadal has played so well on hard courts, it’s hard not to pick him. But I’ll take Djokovic, who lost the men’s final in five sets last year.

About Dirk Chatelain

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments. You can follow Dirk on Twitter (@dirkchatelain) or email him at dchatelain@owh.com