First off, it's understood every time the Huskers step on a football field it's an important game.
Lose to a McNeese State, or say, a South Alabama, and suddenly that's the worst game on the schedule for a Husker coach.
They all matter. But for the sake of discussion in May, and based off a good question asked on the "Sharp and Benning" radio show on 1620 this morning, here's how I'd rank games on the importance meter for Nebraska in 2015. (Note: Divisional games are always going to carry more weight with me, and frankly, you could reasonably rank every conference game ahead of a non-con game ... but that's no fun to do it that way.)
1. Wisconsin: Move past the simple fact the Badgers have humiliated the Huskers on the big stage in two of the past three years. That's only part of it. If Nebraska is going to win the West, it quite probably needs to win this home game on Oct. 10. Look at Wisconsin's conference schedule: Iowa, @Nebraska, Purdue, @Illinois, Rutgers, @Maryland, Northwestern, @Minnesota.
Going to Maryland may not be a picnic for a Badger team without Melvin Gordon and trying to replace three O-line starters, but there's no Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State in its crossover games. If the Badgers walk out of Lincoln 2-0 in league play, having won over Iowa and NU, it's could be real tricky for the Huskers to get to Indy without holding that tiebreaker. Nebraska would probably have no room for error moving forward.
2. at Minnesota: The Huskers need to put an end to the Gophers' uprising. It's not only that Minnesota has beaten NU the past two years. It's the way Minnesota has out-toughed Nebraska. Consider that the Huskers blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown against Minnesota last season -- a 10-point swing -- and still lost at home. Because it's a divisional game, and because of the recent history in this series, and because it comes a week after what figures to be an emotional game against Wisconsin, this one deserves to be rated very high on the list.
3. Michigan State: The Spartans will start the year in the Top 10. Whether they'll be there on Nov. 7 is impossible to say, but if you're looking at the type of games you need to start winning to make that jump back into the elite tier, this could be that type of deal under the lights. It'd rank higher if not for the fact Michigan State isn't in Nebraska's division. A loss wouldn't kill NU's league hopes if the Huskers take care of their West brethren.
4. BYU: Sticking to the opinion that this is Nebraska's most intriguing home opener since 1986 when Florida State came to Lincoln. Nobody really knows what to expect. And ask Oklahoma or Texas about playing the Cougars in September. It's assumed most fans around here will carry reasonable opinions about some of the early-season outcomes with NU adjusting to a new staff. But still, a loss here might put some added pressure on the Huskers two weeks later when they're traveling to Miami.
5. at Miami: The first road test for a Husker team under Mike Riley. Better believe they'll get Miami's best shot after the fireworks from last season's game. The Canes should be 2-0 when NU shows up, and this is the type of game Al Golden needs to win early in the season to keep some of the critics away from the megaphones. Afternoon game. Should be some sweat stinging the eyes in this one.
6. Iowa: The Hawkeyes again have a friendly conference schedule, but need to prove they won't waste it. That's what they did last year. It's not beyond reason this game against Nebraska could mean more than people would guess here in May. Iowa won in Lincoln on its last visit. A bunch of Hawkeyes sprinting across a field to grab a trophy is not a sight Husker fans want to see again anytime soon.
7. Northwestern: Have played Nebraska tough in Lincoln each time, winning one and losing another on a Hail Mary. The Huskers will be playing the Wildcats after games against Wisconsin and Minnesota. Some will call this a trap. But also factor in Northwestern will be playing this one after games against Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa.
8. at Illinois: First conference game for NU, and the first Husker trip to Champaign since joining the Big Ten. The Illini did beat Minnesota there a year ago. Tim Beckman may have other off-the-field issues to deal with right now, but it's still game you can sleepwalk through.
9. at Rutgers: I agree with Damon Benning, who said on the show this is one of those games you could easily fall down a hole if not prepared. The game comes a week after Michigan State and a week before the Huskers finally get a bye week. It's NU's first trip out to New Jersey. Could be some November weather to deal with, too. Would be a touch higher on this list if it were a division game.
10. at Purdue: Darrell Hazell did a nice job getting that team to fight last year. The Boilermakers made it sort of an ugly afternoon in Lincoln for the Huskers last fall, though NU still won 35-14 while seeming a little dazed from an Ameer Abdullah injury. But the Boilers did push Michigan State in West Lafayette and they get a bye week to get ready for the Huskers this year.
11. South Alabama: Sort of sneaky dangerous in the way McNeese State was. Enough athletes that if you're not dialed in, things could get a little dicey. It's also sandwiched between BYU and Miami for the Huskers. We won't overbuild the Jaguars. They went 6-7 a year ago. But they did go to a bowl game. They've got some guys who can ball. Perhaps just not enough of them to win in a place like Lincoln.
12. Southern Miss: You wouldn't have guessed the Golden Eagles would be face-planting the way they have when Nebraska scheduled these games. This was a program that went 12-2 and ended the year ranked in the Top 20 in 2011. But it's been rough stuff a late, including a 23-game losing streak at one point. A year ago, Southern Miss was 3-9. And the Golden Eagles will get a jolt right away this year when they play at Mississippi State. This program could get back again to having the kind of fearless players that go toe-to-toe with bigger programs. But you wonder if it's going to take another couple years until that happens