Call me sensationalist. Call me hyperbolistic. (Did I just invent that word? It has a red squiggly under it.) Call me whatever you want, but in my view, the road that is the season for our 2010 Wildcats diverges right here, in a three-pronged fork.
This game, against the hated Huskers holds the key that unlocks what the rest of our season becomes. I see three realistic outcomes for this season's Cats: 6-6 (2-6), 8-4 (4-4), or 10-2 (6-2). After the jump, I'll discuss the outcome of this game that would lead to the Cats down the path ending in the results above, as well as what I see to be the probability of each scenario.
First, let me be clear: I think that the Cats lose this game. The first two "paths" (6-6 and 8-4) are based upon that assumption. In all honesty, my 6-6 (2-6) assumption could well be 5-7 (1-7), since I'm basing it off the possibility (which is much greater than zero) that Nebraska "runs us out of the gym" so-to-speak. Let's say that Taylor Martinez runs for 150 yards and 2 TDs, and passes for 200+ yards and another 2 or 3 TDs, while Nebraska's Blackshirts pile 8 and 9 men in the box, holding Daniel Thomas to, say, 80 yards on 25 carries. This scenario absolutely demands that Carson Coffman throw for more than his typical 10-20 for 160 with a TD and an interception. Should he have this sort of average game, while DT is bottled up, and our defense is unable to contain Martinez and company, things will get ugly.
We're talking 40- or 50-something to MAYBE 20-something ugly. If that happens, and the team's confidence is devastated in that way, it will take quite the coaching job to avoid my 6-6 (2-6) prediction. Can Coach Snyder do it?
Certainly. There are winnable games after the Huskers roll through, but every one is also very lose-able as well, save the North Texas game. Now, on to the more exciting possibilities.
The second path — 8-4 (4-4) — is also predicated on a loss, but on a loss that bloodies the Huskers, and swells the confidence of the Cats. In this scenario, our defense contains Martinez on the passing side of things, sacking him a few times, and picking him off once or twice. The Huskers still manage to run the ball, breaking off a few long ones, but the KSU defense holds them to a few field goals, to go along with 2-3 TDs, leading to a final score of something like 26-17 or 30-23 or something like that. The Cats leave the game disappointed, but not crushed, nip KU in Lawrence, and proceed to win 3 or 4 more conference games. In this scenario, I see us beating Kansas (as I mentioned), and then losing at least one of the 3-game stretch that includes (at) Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Texas. I see it as very possible that we go on the road and lose two straight to Missouri and Colorado, before finishing up with a win against North Texas at home, leaving us at a respectable 8-4 (4-4), and probably about 3rd in the North.
The third path — 10-2 (6-2) — is the least likely, but most fun to think about. In it, Coach Snyder has the boys so ready to go, with an offensive and defensive game plan that is hard to fathom right now, and we beat Nebraska.
This would require that our secondary pick off Martinez a couple of times, while our front seven keeps him under constant pressure, with 3 or 4 sacks, and at least as many hurries. Frankly, I don't think we have the defensive team speed to pull it off, but I will never put anything past a Bill Snyder-coached team. This scenario requires that DT shake loose for a couple of big TD runs, and that Coffman keep the Blackshirts off-balance by completing, say, 14 of 20 passes, for 200+ yards and at least a couple of TDs. If all of these stars align, the Cats win something like 31-24, and our season is off to the races. I think we run through KU like a knife through warm butter, and navigate the rest of schedule losing only to Missouri on the road, and one other game we shouldn't lose. We win the North, as Missouri finds a way to lose 3 games, and face OU in the final Big 12 championship game. (In my football fantasies, OU is 12-0, ranked #2 in the land, and we crush them. I've read that script somewhere before.)
I see a tough loss (by 2 TDs or less) as being the most likely scenario. Placing percentages is hard, but I'll say that we "lose close" maybe 60% of the time. I would put the likelihood of our being blown out as slightly greater than the likelihood that we upset them by, say, a 25% to 15% margin or so. With all of that said, I will be rooting hard to see the Cats shuck the Huskers, and send Herbie Husker out of BSFS bloodied and beaten.
What say you all? Do you see our season hanging on this one game, as I do?