Update the preseason consensus, we have a third-place vote for Nebraska. Third-place in the Big Ten West, that is. It may not seem like much, but it's the most bullish prediction for the Huskers listed at stassen.com so far.
That predicted finish comes from The Sporting News, which released a nice Big Ten season preview, written by Bill Bender, this week. It lists Scott Frost as the "Big Ten's X-Factor".
We’re not asking for a Big Ten West championship in Year 1, but we’re openly wondering how long until before Frost has the Huskers competing in a division that is wide open behind Wisconsin. The Big Ten schedule is brutal, but we know Frost won’t make excuses.
Everyone in Nebraska is wondering that as well. This 2018 season offers a rare bit of alignment between local and national perception. If anyone is apprehensive about the Frost hire, I haven't really seen it. Combine that with last year's 4-8 record and you have modest expectations in the short term –– say, fifth-ish in the division –– but the long-term prognosis is positive. Nebraska fan or not, most people expect the Huskers to be good again eventually, it's just a question of when.
Making that alignment between local and national perception last is sort of an indirect way to measure progress because it typically doesn't last if a team is merely decent. For example, people in Columbus, Ohio, aren't really notorious for overvaluing the Buckeyes because the Buckeyes are just good. Everybody sees it. You could say the same for Wisconsin. Would you say the same about Iowa? Or Big Ten-era Nebraska?
I wouldn't. When a team falls somewhere closer to the middle of the division or conference you usually get a disparity in perception. Those closest to the program, i.e. those who probably know the most about it but are also the most likely to view it in the best light possible, can often come out more bullish than those who may not know all the ins-and-outs but aren't incentivized to feel any kind of way about any specific team.
In other words: Be good enough that any such cognitive biases are an afterthought for all involved. Alabama fans can be as irrational about their team as any other fan base can be about theirs, but how could you prove it when the Tide keeps being the best?
There was an interesting number in that Sporting News preview which noted that six Big Ten teams have finished in the top six of the final CFP ratings. I hadn't realized that but given that we're talking about just four seasons in the playoff era, that's a pretty nice résumé item for a conference that is probably even deeper than it was two years ago thanks to the addition of promising young coaches like Frost, Jeff Brohm and P.J. Fleck.
So considering that Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin have all already been in or on the cusp of the playoff over the last four seasons, which Big Ten team is most likely to have a top-six finish next?
If you polled people across the country I'm guessing you'd get pretty good alignment there, too. The pick would be Nebraska.
A few other random notes from some recent preview reading/thinking:
>>Arena Fanatic –– the most accurate predictor tracked by Stassen over the last three seasons –– released its predicted order of finish for the Big Ten and it's not your standard fare. How about a tie at the top of the East Division between Michigan and Ohio State? How about Purdue second in the West? Indiana last in the East?
The consensus on teams tends to be pretty strong every offseason, so I always enjoy those predictions that shake things up a bit.
>>I noted that the Huskers fell in "Tier 3" in Bill Connelly's Big Ten power rankings yesterday, but there's more going on with that preview. If you scroll down you'll see a list of the best offensive and defensive players for each team.
There's no context for these lists so I don't know if they're a gut reaction or based on some level of statistical analysis (Connelly's bread-and-butter), but the Nebraska picks are . . . well . . . probably not the first names that would come to mind.
What if I told you the pick for Nebraska's best offensive player was Tanner Farmer? And what if I then told you the selection for best defensive player was Ben Stille?
Not the names most people probably would've landed on first, but I like that Stille pick.
The Grab Bag
- In honor of reaching the "50 days until football" mark, ESPN asked 50 coaches and players what they're looking forward to this season.
- CBSSports.com's annual hot-seat rankings are out.
- Jim Harbaugh loves the new redshirt rule.
- ICYMI: How many 500-yard receivers will Nebraska have in 2018? We tackled that question and more in the latest mailbag, plus Greg Smith looks at the recruiting impact of Nebraska losing Willie Canty.
Today's Song of Today