Nebraska continues to be a popular pick to win the Big Ten West Division this offseason. The latest projection for the Huskers to end up in Indianapolis, playing for the conference title, comes courtesy of Phil Steele. His annual preview hits newsstands this month.
"When you look at the Big Ten West right now it is a crap shoot," Steele told Chris Schmidt in an interview for Hail Varsity Radio. Steele has the Huskers topping that group followed by, in order, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois.
This is the seventh time Steele has picked Nebraska to win its division in the last 14 seasons, dating to 2006. He projected the Huskers to play for a conference title in 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Nebraska did make it to the conference championship game in four of those seasons.
But wait, there's more. Nebraska is also Steele's pick for the "most improved" team in 2019.
"When I look at Nebraska, they're a team that opened 0-6 last year for the first time ever, 0-5 for the first time since 1945," Steele said. "I thought they were better than their 0-6 record would indicate. We saw it down the stretch when they went 4-2.
"It's the second year for Scott Frost. He was drastically changing the offense from more of a pass offense to one that runs the football more. We've seen Nebraska struggle on defense the last couple of years, but I'm bullish on the players they have coming back on D."
Steele picked Florida as his most-improved team in 2018. The Gators, in Year 1 under Dan Mullen, went from 4-7 to 10-3, and they're net points per play jump of 0.320 was the fourth-biggest since 2014, one spot behind 2017 UCF (0.383).
Notre Dame was Steele's most-improved pick in 2017. Coming off a 4-8 2016 season, the Irish rebounded to go 10-3, setting the stage for last year's 12-0 run to the College Football Playoff where Notre Dame lost to eventual national champion Clemson.
Texas earned the nod in 2016, but the Longhorns put up the same 5-7 record in Tom Herman's first season as they had the previous year. Nebraska was number two on the list that year, going from 6-7 in Mike Riley's first season to 9-4.
To hear the full interview with Steele, including his picks for the Big Ten East and College Football Playoff, tune in to Hail Varsity Radio today from 4 to 6 p.m. on 1480AM in Lincoln or stream the show at espnlincoln.com.