The two largest football stadiums in America are separated by 400 miles in the Rust Belt.
On November road trips, before a combined 200,000 fans, Nebraska rallied from two fourth-quarter deficits with two backup quarterbacks, winning in both venues.
How many teams in the past 20 years had won at Michigan and at Penn State in the same season?
Three. Iowa 2002. Ohio State 2007. Ohio State 2009. All won the league and finished the season in the Top 10 nationally.
If that information was all you knew about Nebraska's 2013 season, you'd have no doubts about Bo Pelini's job performance as he enters the regular-season finale. If you can beat Michigan and Penn State on the road, surely you're on the right track.
But we also know that Michigan nearly lost to Akron and Indiana at home — and that the Wolverines have one of the worst offenses in the country. We also know that Illinois pushed Penn State to overtime — and that the Nittany Lions are playing with about 60 scholarship players.
We also know that, barring huge upsets Saturday, Michigan and Penn State will finish a combined 13-11.
So were those great victories? Or teams Nebraska should beat, even with backup quarterbacks? Your answer says a lot about the way you evaluate Pelini.
In assessing the state of the program, Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst has much to weigh: the conference-title and Top-10 droughts, the Huskers' poise and resilience in close games, the blowout losses in big games, the injury epidemic, the turnover epidemic, the financial impact of another pink slip, the tight-knit relationship between coaches and players. We could go on and on.
But perhaps the biggest wild card is the Big Ten.
The league's bland, old-school style is a punch line for critics around the country. Is perception accurate? Or overstated? How can Bo's bosses know where Nebraska stands nationally when its best win is over 7-5 Michigan? How can they evaluate Pelini if the win total doesn't match the eye test?
Those are critical questions.
Don't blame Pelini for the Big Ten schedule — he can only play the opponents in front of him. But considering Nebraska's only two games against ranked teams ended with double-digit home losses, it's no stretch to predict NU would be 6-5 if it played in the Pac-12 or SEC. Or if it had drawn Ohio State and Wisconsin rather than Illinois and Purdue.
Dodging the Buckeyes and Badgers when both are Top-15 teams was a major break for Nebraska and a primary reason for optimism entering the season.
NU's schedule looks even easier now than it did in August. Northwestern and Michigan have crumbled. And while Michigan State and Minnesota have picked up the slack, they haven't impressed many folks outside the Big Ten.
Anderson & Hester, one of the computer models used for the BCS standings, rates Nebraska's strength of schedule 63rd in the country. Stat guru Jeff Sagarin says it's 64th.
Those numbers aren't terrible — in fact, they're pretty much in line with Florida State's and Alabama's strength of schedule. But I have a hard time believing 7-4 Michigan could compete right now with 7-4 Washington. I have a hard time believing 8-3 Minnesota could compete with 8-3 LSU.
Look at it another way: Nebraska and UCLA are both 8-3. And the gap between them, as the Bruins proved in September, is significant.
Will Muschamp's free fall at Florida is one of the most stunning stories of the year. But look at the man's schedule. In consecutive games starting Oct. 12, the Gators played at LSU, at Missouri, Georgia in Jacksonville, Vanderbilt at home, then at South Carolina. That'll expose any cracks in confidence.
Nebraska has shown remarkable fortitude responding from disappointing losses. But it's easier to rebound at Penn State than it would be at Missouri.
How much easier? Nobody knows for sure, including Eichorst. As someone with deep roots in the Big Ten, he likely looks at Pelini's 17 conference wins the past three years — tied with Michigan State and one behind Ohio State and Wisconsin — and nods with approval.
But I suspect he also realizes the Big Ten Legends is one of the weakest divisions in major-conference football. Moreover, in games decided by six points or less, the Huskers have won eight straight, dating back to last September. They're closer to 7-5 than 11-1. And their ceiling isn't nearly as high as the 10-4 Pelini teams of 2009 and 2010.
I don't know how an athletic director can fire a coach who — with a “W” Friday — has won at least nine games every year. I also don't know how you can look at Husker football the past two seasons and say it's close to a Top-10 breakthrough.
Silencing the nation's two largest stadiums is a ton of fun. But Nebraska shouldn't lose sight of the bigger picture.
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Video: Bo Pelini after practice, Nov. 27:
Video: The Big Red Today Show, Nov. 26: