Its recent history against No. 22 Wisconsin notwithstanding, Nebraska’s biggest hurdle in Saturday’s road clash with the Badgers may be the uncertain status of its best player. The 11th-ranked Cornhuskers lost running back Ameer Abdullah due to a MCL sprain early in their 35-14 win over Purdue on Nov. 1 and remain uncertain about his status for this week despite coming off a bye week. The injury comes at a poor time for Nebraska, which is tied atop the Big Ten West with Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Abdullah entered the Purdue game as the nation’s leading rusher and, if healthy enough to play, will have his shot to outshine the player that currently leads the country in rushing. Melvin Gordon ran for 216 yards as part of a 539-yard team effort that allowed Wisconsin to dismantle Nebraska 70-31 in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game, and he has already set career highs with 1,501 rushing yards and 21 total touchdowns this season. The junior is averaging 157.5 yards and 2.75 scores during the Badgers’ four-game winning streak. Wisconsin has yielded only 23 points over its last three games, which will make it that much more difficult for the Cornhuskers to get their first win in Camp Randall since 1966.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: Wisconsin -6.
ABOUT NEBRASKA (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten): Although coach Bo Pelini has publicly stated that he expects Abdullah to play, Imani Cross may be in line to carry the rushing load again after running for 66 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue. Nebraska was held to a season-low 297 yards in the victory, but helped itself immensely by blocking two punts in the same game for the first time since 2003 and forcing the Boilermakers to go 2-of-16 on third down. Kenny Bell, who already holds the Cornhuskers’ record with 168 career receptions, needs two more receiving yards to break Johnny Rodgers’ all-time school mark.
ABOUT WISCONSIN (7-2, 4-1): Gordon has rushed for at least 100 yards in eight of the nine games thus far – including seven in a row – while his 21 touchdowns this season ties him with Ron Dayne (1996) for the fourth-highest single-season total in school history. The Heisman candidate has 10 of the Badgers’ FBS-high 16 runs of 40-plus yards, contributing to the nation’s fifth-ranked rushing attack. Wisconsin leads the country in total defense (251.1 yards) and the nation’s fifth-ranked run defense has been particularly stingy over its last three games, holding opponents to an average of 49.3 yards.
1. Saturday will mark the debut of the “Freedom Trophy” – an award that pays homage to the nation’s war veterans and will be given to the winner of this game each season.
2. In eight games against FBS opponents, Gordon is averaging 182.9 rushing yards – 30 more than any other player. Abdullah ranks third on the list with 149.5.
3. The Cornhuskers are one of only two schools (Marshall is the other) in the country scoring at least 40 points per game while also holding opponents below 20.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 31, Nebraska 29