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Each week, we’ll talk to our reporters on the ground to get their thoughts on the biggest happenings during the college football season. This week brings a bounce-back opportunity for Scott Frost and Nebraska and another chance for the college football world to debate the merits of Jim Harbaugh. Meanwhile, Auburn looks to continue its historic start and announce itself as a serious threat in the SEC.
Scott Frost looks to restore optimism
Nebraska was buzzed about as a darkhorse Big 10 title contender before the start of the season. The program was supposed to put last year's 4-8 finish in the rearview and begin an upward trajectory that would define the Scott Frost Era.
Then, last week, 48-7 happened.
And while the lopsided home loss to Ohio State won’t define Frost’s tenure or even the Huskers’ season, it has made this weekend’s contest with 1-3 Northwestern intriguing to say the least. A loss to the struggling Wildcats will bring on groans from the fan base and could go a long way to killing, butchering and burying the optimism that once surrounded the 2019 season in Lincoln.
“Really this next two weeks is going to write the script for the rest of the way,” said Sean Callahan, who covers Nebraska at HuskerOnline.com. “Nebraska plays almost two toss-up type games against Northwestern and Minnesota before their first bye week. Northwestern is going to come into this game pretty desperate as well, because after Nebraska they have games with Iowa and Ohio State, so they could be staring at a 1-6 start pretty easily.”
A loss to the Wildcats could also end the honeymoon phase between Frost and a fan base that wants to see tangible results from a program that has failed to qualify for a bowl game in back-to-back years and hasn’t finished the season ranked in the Top 25 since 2012. So while nobody is anywhere near ready to run Frost out of town, it’s clear that the rebuilding job at hand may take a bit longer than people in Lincoln had hoped.
“There were no doubt concerns [after last week’s blowout loss], but if anything I think it showed people that there is a lot more work here to get things fixed than anyone initially expected,” Callahan said. “This is not the AAC. In the Big Ten you are going against so many long-time established programs and cultures and in order to make ground on them you have to build and establish your culture.”
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Auburn’s time to shine
The SEC game of the week features No. 7 Auburn traveling to No. 10 Florida for a meeting that will say a lot about both teams. Auburn will arrive in Gainesville 5-0 with wins over both Texas A&M and Oregon, so a victory over top-10 Gators team would likely vault the Tigers into the top five and announce Gus Mahzahn and company a legit threat to crash the SEC title picture.
“The Tigers appear more formidable than expected,” said Jay Tate, who covers the team at AuburnSports.com. “That freshman quarterback, Bo Nix, has improved significantly during the past month and the offensive line, through improvement and altered strategic emphases, has become something of a weapon lately. What was expected to be an eight-win team suddenly has the look of a contender in the Western Division.”
A contender, indeed. The Tigers last started 6-0 in 2010, a year that ended with a 14-0 record and a national title. So while Auburn hasn’t always looked dominant this season, a victory on Saturday would make the program the toast of the college football world as it heads into the meat of its SEC schedule.
“This tilt in Gainesville represents just one of Auburn’s four remaining games against teams currently ranked in the top 10,” Tate said. “There are many challenges ahead, but a win over upstart Florida would set the table for what could become one of the most memorable stretch drives in recent SEC history.”
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More Harbaugh content incoming
Everyone loves to talk about Jim Harbaugh. It’s why Michigan’s shaky start is a story and also why he’s being written about in this space. Polarizing figures tend to move the needle and Harbaugh slides further into that role with each passing week.
Adding fuel to the conversation is the fact the 2019 season seems to be taking on Harbaugh’s reputation for being a bit unpredictable. It’s why all interested parties are chomping at the bit to dissect whatever takes place when the No. 19 Wolverines host No. 14 Iowa and a defense capable of causing problems in the Big House.
John Borton, who covers Harbaugh’s program at TheWolverine.com, says even he has little idea what to expect come Saturday. He doesn’t, however, know the implications of whatever takes place will be massive.
“Michigan absorbed a gut punch at Wisconsin, the sort a 52-0 win over Rutgers can’t fully undo,” Borton said. “That’s why knocking off Iowa on Homecoming at Michigan Stadium would be so huge for Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverines. They still have many questions to answer about taking on a tough, physical crew, like the Hawkeyes prove to be on an annual basis. Win this one, and the Wolverines will feel like they are building some momentum. Lose it, and they’re shockingly in trouble in the Big Ten East race early following huge preseason hopes.”
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