It's too early for Stassen.com's preseason consensus––something I'll pull up approximately 50 times between now and the start of the season––to start forming, but we do have a new entry to add. Athlon's national college football preview, which is quite good in my opinion, is hitting newsstands now and its top 25 appeared online this week.
Nebraska is scheduled to face four teams ranked in Athlon's top 12, with three of those games on the road. Worth noting here that Athlon treats its top 25 as a projection of the end-of-season poll, not a preseason ranking.
The big surprise with this ranking is Michigan at No. 5. I doubt you'll find the team Nebraska faces in its Big Ten opener ranked higher anywhere else this offseason. It's still one spot behind Ohio State, so you can keep your "Harbaugh can't get over the hump" barbs handy (if that's your read on the situation), but there are legitimate reasons for such a ranking.
The Wolverines return their top two running backs, top receiver, top two tight ends and four-of-five starters on the offensive line. If Ole Miss transfer quarterback Shea Patterson is simply good in this new offensive scheme, that's an offense that should be more than capable of complementing Michigan's real strength––defense.
Athlon also released its All-Big Ten teams and six Wolverines––six!––earned first-team recognition on defense. The first team only includes Wolverines, Buckeyes (3) and Badgers (2). Michigan won't end up with six defenders on the actual all-conference list at the end of the season. Not because the defense, which returns 10 starters, won't be worthy, but because even if it is the voters will spread it around a bit. But that six players could land on even one early list is a good sign for the Wolverines in a year when other conference contenders have holes to fill on that side of the ball. That's a good way to be pretty good in this conference.
So is this: Wisconsin had the most first-team selections on offense with five. That includes running back Jonathan Taylor, of course, but it also includes four-of-five starters on the offensive line. That probably won't actually transpire at the end of the year either, but it's so classically Wisconsin that you can't help but tip your cap and mutter, "Well, they're set up to do it again."
So what does this all-conference team say about Nebraska? It feels mostly like a relic of the Riley era, as it should. Stanley Morgan Jr. and JD Spielman are both more than worthy selections on the first-team. Jerald Foster gets a third-team nod on the offensive line, which isn't an inaccurate commentary on what you can prove about the Huskers' o-line right now. Tre Bryant lands on the fourth team, which . . . well . . . that'd be great if that's possible this season.
Mick Stoltenberg is the only defensive player to grab one of the 44 spots available. Again, you have to look at this from the perspective of a national publication trying to compile all-conference teams (four teams deep!) for each conference. With that high-altitude view, which other Nebraska defender can you identify from the sky? Maybe Aaron Williams? I think he's a great player, but some of what he does remains hidden to those who aren't watching each and every Nebraska game. And the Huskers' best bet for defensive honors at the end of the season might be a guy that's even easier to miss if you're not following day by day. That's linebacker Luke Gifford. Despite playing just seven games in 2017, he still ranked eighth on the team in tackles and was very much the heart of the Huskers' defense when he was out there. If Gifford returns at full strength, 2018 should finally be the season he's worked so hard to have.
But the overall takeaway here for Nebraska feels pretty true, too. Based on what returns in a totally new scheme with new strengths, it's really hard outside of the obvious talent at receiver to actually know who Nebraska's best players will be in 2018.
That makes the Huskers hard to handicap, but I think it will also make this season a ton of fun.
The Grab Bag
- USA Today compiles a list of 10 transfer quarterbacks who worked out quite well.
- Speaking of Michigan, with the Wolverines short on big wins recruiting seems to have taken a hit.
- Richie Icognito was held for "involuntary mental evaluation" after allegedly throwing a dumbbell at a patron of a Boca Raton gym.
- ICYMI: This week's mailbag is here and we also took a look back at McKenzie Milton's up-and-down first start at UCF.
Today's Song of Today