No more bye weeks for Nebraska.
The Huskers, who've played only twice in the last four weeks because of two idle weekends, now prepare themselves for a six-week grind to finish the regular season.
Nebraska (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten Conference) is the only team in the Big Ten's Legends Division without a remaining bye, and coach Bo Pelini says he's OK with that.
"When I first saw the schedule, I wasn't thrilled with it," Pelini said of having two bye weeks before November. "Then, when you go through fall camp and you think about how the season is going to play out, I think it's a good thing for us. I think it has helped prepare us for the six-week stretch we're about to face."
That begins Saturday at Minnesota, a team coming off a road upset of a depleted Northwestern team. It's Nebraska's first game against a divisional foe, and the first of four straight games against Legends Division teams.
"The first thing you say is 'strap it on tight' because it's going to be a bumpy road," junior wide receiver Kenny Bell said. "There's no doubt about it. When you're playing great teams week after week, it's tough. Look at Northwestern. They're a great football team, but their schedule is a tough schedule. The number one way you get through it is how you prepare during the week."
One player who may have benefitted the most from two early bye weeks is senior quarterback Taylor Martinez, who's been battling a turf foe injury he initially suffered in Nebraska's season opener against Wyoming. Martinez played in Nebraska's next two games, a victory over Southern Miss and a loss to UCLA, but hasn't played since the Sept. 14 loss to the Bruins.
Martinez returned to practice on Sunday, and Pelini seemed hopeful his veteran quarterback would play in Saturday's game at Minnesota, but wasn't ready to make any proclamations. He still classifies Martinez's status as day-to-day.
"He's got some rust in some areas that he's got to get cleaned up," Pelini said. "It's going to be getting back footwork-wise and how comfortable he feels doing all of the different movements -- play actions, footwork and the things that he has to do throwing the football -- and, obviously, feeling comfortable being able to put his foot in the ground."
Martinez, unlike his backups, senior walk-on Ron Kellogg and freshman Tommy Armstrong, has experience in enduring the conference grind of November. Last season, he led comebacks in victories over Northwestern, Michigan State and Penn State, as the Huskers won six straight games to win the Legends Division.
Nebraska is aiming for a similar surge this season.
"We continue to progress, and there's a lot more development that needs to happen," Pelini said, "but if we keep getting better as the year goes on, we'll like the results. If we get comfortable, we're not going to like the results. I think our guys understand that."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--OL Mike Moudy is the likely replacement at right guard in place of veteran Spencer Long, a senior captain and All-American who is out for the remainder of the season because of a knee injury. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Moudy is a junior who's in his fourth year in the program, but hasn't seen extensive snaps -- that is, until Long went down in the first quarter of Nebraska's Oct. 12 game at Purdue. Moudy had impressed offensive line coach John Garrison with his improvement since spring ball, earning his way to split reps at left guard with Jake Cotton before Long's injury.
--WR Kenny Bell will like to see Minnesota on the schedule. As a sophomore, he had a career-high nine receptions for 136 yards in last year's victory over the Gophers, including touchdown receptions of 36 yards and 30 yards. As a freshman in 2011, Bell had four catches for 25 yards and took a reverse 82 yards for a touchdown against Minnesota, the longest run in school history by a freshman.
--QB Taylor Martinez is expected to play in his first game since Sept. 14. The senior has been resting a turf toe that hindered his ability to push off and accelerate in the running game. Coaches aren't worried about his conditioning level, but there is some general concern about rust, particularly with this being Martinez's first road game of the season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a six-week meat-grinder is how I look at it. No more bye weeks, no more breaks." -- Nebraska senior tackle Jeremiah Sirles.