There's no beating around the bush on this when you look at Nebraska's remaining schedule. After a relatively favorable six-game stretch to start the season, NU's final six games will ultimately tell us everything we need to know about these 2013 Huskers.
Over the first six games, Nebraska played five home games and the only team considered elite in that stretch was UCLA. Over the final six games every team NU plays has a winning record and is considered a division contender. There will also be road trips to Minnesota, Michigan and Penn State.
"It's a six-week meat grinder is the way I look at it," senior offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said. "No more bye weeks, no more breaks, it's one after another -boom, boom, boom. I think it's really going to define who we are as a football team. I think we've grown leaps and bounds from week one to where we are now as a football team both offensively and defensively.
"This next week six weeks everything is out there for us. It's anyone's conference right now. If we run the table we have a chance to be sitting back in Indy where we want to be playing. That's the way we are looking at it. The next six weeks can define our entire season, but we have to look at it one week at a time."
When you size up this Legend's race really three teams jump out right now - Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State. However, Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota are not too far behind the pack.
The key is to survive and advance.
"It's Big Ten play now," Sirles said. "Every game counts and every time you walk on the field it's going to matter even more."
The positive with this team right now is we've seen growth each week since UCLA and the first half of the South Dakota State game.
Even without quarterback Taylor Martinez this offense is good for 500-plus yards and 40-plus points. The defense also continues to grow, as the Huskers lead the league in sacks at 17 and rank second in turnover margin at plus-four.
"Now that we have six games left in the conference, our goal right now is to win out," redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong said. "Our defense is starting to click at the right time and I think they are getting better and better each weekend. We've got a bunch of tough games here and we don't have another bye week. We are just looking forward to it."
Head coach Bo Pelini knows the importance of this final six week stretch, but he feels like the first eight weeks of the season has prepared them.
"Probably when I first saw the schedule with the two byes I wasn't thrilled with it, but then as you go through camp and you think about how the season is going to play out I thought it was a good thing for us," Pelini said. "I think it has been a good thing for us. I think it's helped prepare us for the six week stretch that we are about to face. We have to keep getting better each day and keep progressing regardless of who the opponent is."
Not a true road environment
For the second game in a row Nebraska won't really face a true road test this week. More than likely 15,000-plus Husker fans will make their way into TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Two weeks ago at Purdue it was a similar situation where that many Husker fans made their way into Ross-Ade Stadium.
It's a huge advantage that is hard to put a price tag on. In 2012 having that many Nebraska fans at Northwestern played a big factor in willing the Huskers to a fourth quarter comeback.
The plan for Martinez
As you look at the Martinez situation at quarterback this week, I think it makes the most sense to gradually bring him along.
If he plays at Minnesota I don't expect him to take every snap. I think it makes sense to work Armstrong in or even Kellogg for a few series to gradually work the rust off Martinez.
Not only will he need some time physically to get back up to speed, but also mentally.
Three and out
***Ever think about if Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M were still in the Big 12? Right now the old Big 12 would have seven teams in the current BCS top 25, while the old SEC would have just four teams ranked. Chew on that.
***There have been a lot of Nebraska fans upset with the lack of 2:30 pm and night games this year. The biggest person to blame is the Big Ten. They gave the Huskers probably one of the dullest October schedules in program history. None of NU's three October games warranted 2:30 or 7 pm kickoffs.
Where the Big Ten messed up was giving NU both Ohio State and Wisconsin the previous two seasons. The Big 12 used to divide Texas and Oklahoma up where Nebraska never had to play them both in the same season. The Big Ten on the other hand front loaded the schedule leaving 2013 with no good October cross-divisional games.
***If you are traveling to Minneapolis, make sure to stop at either the 5-8 Club or Matt's to get a world famous "Jucy Lucy" hamburger. Both places serve them, and Minnesotans debate which one makes the better "Juce Lucy."
Sean Callahan can be reached at [email protected] and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.