LINCOLN — If you thought Nebraska got dealt a tough hand to start Big Ten play back in 2011, take a look at the Huskers' schedule for 2018.
NU not only will play five of nine league games on the road that season — as it will every other year when the nine-game schedule goes into effect in 2016 — the road trips in 2018 will be to Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State and Iowa.
The first will come with the Sept. 22 trip to Ann Arbor to play the Wolverines. The Wisconsin and Northwestern games then will be on consecutive Saturdays on Oct. 6 and Oct. 13 as NU plays three of its first four Big Ten games on the road in 2018.
The home games in '18 will be against Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan State.
The Big Ten released conference schedules for 2018 and '19 on Wednesday. That announcement confirmed that the Nebraska-Iowa game will remain on the Friday after Thanksgiving until at least 2020.
In 2019, NU has home games against Ohio State, Northwestern, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa. The Huskers' road games that season will be at Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue and Maryland.
Martinez 'really close' to return
NU head coach Bo Pelini said Wednesday he was optimistic that quarterback Taylor Martinez (turf toe) would return to the Husker lineup for the Oct. 26 game at Minnesota.
“I think he's really close,” Pelini said.
Pelini also said he thought the senior would be ready physically despite not playing since the UCLA game on Sept. 14. Martinez has regularly been spotted since then with his left foot in a walking boot.
“His conditioning's good,” Pelini said. “He's been doing what he has to do. Conditioning's never been an issue with him. So he'll be ready to roll.”
Pensick another option at guard
Pelini said the reason for optimism with guard Spencer Long is that the damage to his left knee was to his MCL but not his PCL. It initially was feared that it was both.
After saying Tuesday that the senior was “probably” done for the year, Pelini said Wednesday that there was no chance for a December return or possibility of playing in a bowl game. Long will have surgery Thursday.
“We'll just get him back healthy and hopefully it won't affect his chances or his shot at the NFL,” Pelini said.
As NU assesses what to do after losing a three-year starter at right guard, Pelini said one candidate to move is starting center Cole Pensick, who played guard last season. The staff will study this week's practices first.
“He can do that, if need be,” Pelini said.
Junior Mike Moudy, who had been backing up Jake Cotton at left guard, finished the Purdue game at right guard after Long went out on the Huskers' first offensive series.
As with the Huskers' last bye week, the NU staff is balancing practices with some recruiting work. Pelini said Nebraska will have eight assistants out later this week.
“We'll get a lot done,” he said. “We'll get a lot of areas covered.”
More on targeting
Pelini said officials have a difficult job trying to implement a much-discussed targeting rule that even the sixth-year Husker coach is still learning more about.
Senior Stanley Jean-Baptiste was flagged for targeting in the second quarter against Purdue Saturday. In accordance with a new NCAA rule, he was ejected after a video review did not overturn the officials' decision.
Pelini said after practice that he's replayed the hit several times and he plans to reach out to the Big Ten office for future clarification. The league had not contacted Nebraska as of Wednesday, Pelini said.
He plans to use the play as a chance to educate his players — though he elaborated on the rule's ambiguity during his radio show later that night, saying he was surprised that the replay review didn't overturn the Jean-Baptiste call.
Pelini characterized it as a “no-win situation” for officials who are trying to instantaneously determine the difference between a “dirty” play and a “football” play. He said he understands the rule's purpose, but worries about its application.
“You just hope it doesn't cost you a football game down the line,” Pelini said during his hour-long call-in show on “Sports Nightly” on the Husker Radio Network.
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Video: Coach Bo Pelini speaks after Wednesday's practice
Video: Defensive coordinator John Papuchis speaks after Wednesday's practice
Video: The Big Ten Preview Show, Oct. 16