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McCUTCHEON: Huskers ripe for a Jackrabbit picking

If Nebraska was ever ripe for the picking to be upset at home by a lower division school, the time is now.

Taking stock of the current state of Cornhusker football, it is plain to see there are a number of encouraging signs for South Dakota State University fans heading into Saturday’s game in Lincoln, Neb.

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First, Nebraska’s once -daunting defense has looked more like Swiss cheese so far this season. The “Black Shirts” are allowing an alarming 463 yards per game in three contests, with all of those games being played at home.

In the season opener, Wyoming put up more than 500 yards and 34 points in a three-point loss to the Huskers. Wyoming, while a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision like Nebraska, is not an offensive juggernaut. Yet the Cowboys were able to go up and down the field in week one, causing angst for the Nebraska faithful.

In their loss to UCLA last weekend, the Huskers failed to hold an 18-point lead at home, showing that no lead is safe right now for Nebraska.

SDSU has the offensive weapons in the running and passing game to cause trouble for a deficient Husker defense, including running back Zach Zenner, who has gashed opposing defenses for 540 yards and eight touchdowns in three games so far this season.

In 2010, Nebraska got all it could handle from an upstart SDSU squad, as the Cornhuskers held on for a 17-3 victory in Lincoln. That was a No. 6-ranked Nebraska team, not the one coming off a demoralizing home loss and getting ready for the start of a Big Ten schedule.

Next on the list of troubles for Nebraska is the swirling storm of controversy surrounding coach Bo Pelini. In the fallout after the loss to UCLA, a recording was released to the media of Pelini unleashing a profanity-laced tirade toward Husker fans in 2011. The tape, which Pelini did not know existed, included him calling Nebraska fans — who have filled the stadium for every game since the Kennedy administration — “fair weather.”

To compound the trouble for Pelini, the coach told Tommie Frazier that Nebraska doesn’t need him, after the former Husker great criticized Nebraska’s coaching following the debacle against UCLA.

The powers that be in Lincoln have not dismissed Pelini, but the weight of that other shoe is getting heavy. With a cloud of uncertainty hanging over Lincoln now, trying to prepare a team for a game that was chalked up as a win the day the matchup was announced will be difficult.

Another point in favor of SDSU Saturday is the current trend of college football. Twenty years ago, the idea of the Jackrabbits traveling to Nebraska and coming away with an upset was far-fetched. But we’re living in a post-Appalachian State, Eastern Washington, North Dakota State world. Seeing a Football Championship Subdivision school pop up and beat one of the big boys is not shocking anymore; in fact, it’s expected to happen a few times each year.

Nebraska could rise from the ashes Saturday and obliterate the Jackrabbits without even a hint of alarm. But maybe, just maybe, SDSU could secure the biggest win in the program’s history.