LINCOLN, Neb. -- About all that is left for Nebraska is to make a bowl, and even that looks like a long shot now.
"It's one of the carrots," coach Mike Riley said Monday.
The Cornhuskers' overtime loss to Northwestern mathematically eliminated them from contention for a spot in the Big Ten championship game. It also left the Huskers (4-5, 3-3 Big Ten) needing to win two of their last three to achieve the six victories that, with rare exception, are necessary for a bowl bid.
Nebraska probably will not be favored in any of the three. The Huskers began the week as 2.5-point underdogs for their game at Minnesota (4-5, 1-5) on Saturday. They finish on the road against No. 16 Penn State and at home against Iowa.
Riley said Minnesota is his team's primary focus, with a bowl being the big-picture goal.
"To not still have that out there as something would be kind of denying what's on everybody's mind," Riley said. "It would be great for our team and seniors in particular to fight and get some wins to get bowl eligible."
Bowl appearances once were taken for granted at Nebraska. The Huskers played in 35 straight from 1969-2003, an NCAA record. The streak ended when Bill Callahan's 2004 team went 5-6. Callahan's 2007 team, his last, also failed to make a bowl. Bo Pelini never failed to get to a bowl in his seven years.
The Huskers have gone to nine straight, sneaking into a bowl in 2015 with a 5-7 record because there weren't enough six-win teams to fill all the bowl slots.
Riley said in addition to being a reward for the players, a bowl would leave fans with a more positive feeling about the season and give the team valuable extra practices.
The loss to Northwestern intensified the heat on Riley, who has lost nine of his last 15 games and is 19-16 in three seasons. Nebraska has four losses at home this season, the most since 1961. The program hasn't lost five at home since 1957.
Commenting on the state of his team, Riley said, "I expect we'll have a great week of practice. This is a great time for all of us to not be controlled by our circumstances but be controlled by the moment of what we do. We have responsible older guys who will lead the way and our younger players are tuned in."
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