Nebraska is in the top 20. Football, that is. For 2019. Technically.
Athlon was the earliest with its way-too-early top 25, beating the other outlets to the punch by at least five days. Typically there's some sort of unofficial embargo that usually keeps these things from showing up until the moments after the College Football Playoff championship game –– to do it any earlier would be "dangerously early" I guess? –– but not this year. Alabama and Clemson fans are the only ones who don't have to think about next year already.
Everyone else? On to the next.
That's why these rankings will always draw some attention. I'm interested in seeing each and every one of them. Even if they're just a curiosity –– in most ways at least –– I'm interested in how teams are perceived so I'll check in on every one of these way-too-early rankings and every version that's still to come.
In this ranking, Nebraska came in at No. 19. After a quick breakdown of what the Huskers return on offense and defense, Steve Lassan wrote the following: "Nebraska might have the most favorable path to a Big Ten West Division title. The Cornhuskers host Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern and Ohio State next fall. Additionally, they won’t have to play Michigan, Penn State or Michigan State in crossover action."
While you could certainly argue that it is the most favorable path, Nebraska's not the favorite in the West based on these rankings, though it's not far behind. Iowa led the way for the West at No. 17, Wisconsin ranked 18th and Northwestern ranked 24th. Add in Minnesota as an (unranked) "team to watch" and you have a nod of respect to the Big Ten West, but no hints as to how it might all play out. (It would be way-way-too-early for that, I suppose.)
As our first data point for 2019 rankings, I'll be very interested to see if this quantity of quality view of the West Division is one person's opinion or if it's shared by others because that hasn't often been the case. Or ever.
In the five seasons of East-West football in the Big Ten, the West has only had more than one team ranked in the preseason consensus top 25 compiled at Stassen.com twice Wisconsin at No. 6 in the 2018 preseason consensus is the best ranking for a West team over that stretch, but it was the only ranking that year. The No. 9 Badgers were the only ranked West team again in 2017, Iowa (18) and Nebraska (25) made it in 2016, Wisconsin (20) was alone again in 2015 and the Badgers (15) and Huskers (24) both made it in 2014.
While way-too-early rankings are mostly harmless fun, when you get to the actual preseason rankings I think they can unfairly shape perception early, particularly with this sport's tendency to overreact to small sample sizes. The West is always in particular danger here as its teams, minus the recent Wisconsin run, always seem to start the season in the back half of the rankings. Lose a game early, and it's easy to drop a team out of the rankings. Drop out of the rankings and those division games have less value for moving up in those same rankings. No. 17 Iowa versus No. 24 Northwestern looks a heckuva lot better to the general observer than No. 24 Iowa versus unranked Northwestern, but those teams are only one early-season loss away from that difference and that always has been a danger for the West Division.
Maybe placing more teams in the rankings at the start can help with that, but only if the division teams hold the line early in the year. For now, however, it's better than nothing.
The Grab Bag
- Nebraska basketball fell late to Maryland to drop to 11-3. Derek Peterson has three takeaways from the loss.
- Greg Smith caught up with Huskers commit Wandale Robinson after his Wednesday practice for the Under Armour All-America Game.
- Greg also put out his new Greg’s Guys list. It’s a must-read for resetting the recruiting board before February’s signing day.
- Recapping the 2018 bowl season for the Big Ten.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.