Nebraska Football

Hot Reads: Early Polls Have Huskers Fifth in Big Ten West

May 31, 2018
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The preseason football magazines are finding their way to newsstands now and the majority of them have Purdue projected for third in the Big Ten West. Read that again.

The team that won 3-of-33 Big Ten games between 2013 and 2016, but won four on its way to a 7-6 overall record last year, is picked third in its division. Purdue under Darrell Hazell wasn't an afterthought, it was a neverthought during those years. What a difference a year of Jeff Brohm makes.

I use the term "majority" somewhat jokingly. Stassen.com's 2018 preseason consensus was just born over the weekend and only includes three magazines –– Athlon, Street & Smith, Lindy's –– at this point. That means two of those have the Boilermakers third (Lindy's does not), and my guess is that won't hold as more outlets release their full conference projections. It's probably a little bit of an overreaction to Purdue's big first year –– the Boilermakers do have to replace a lot on defense –– but it's not totally out of whack. Brohm is, in my opinion, a really strong offensive mind and most of the major pieces on offense return.

But enough about Purdue. If you're doing the math here and know where the early polls have the Boilermakers, that must have the the Huskers . . . fourth or fifth?

The "majority" so far say fifth, which, when I got my copy of Athlon, came as a bit of a surprise. The Huskers are a big question mark, as most teams are under a new coach, but given what we know about that new coach –– worth noting here that 19-of-20 outlets picked UCF last in the division in 2016 –– it's hard for me to see Nebraska finishing behind both Purdue and Northwestern in the West in 2018. Wisconsin and Iowa? Sure. Deserving division favorites in that order.

But Vegas sees a much more cloudy picture outside of the top two in the West. South Point Hotel and Casino released its win totals for all teams on Sunday. Wisconsin lead the way in the division at 10 wins, Iowa was next at 7.5.

Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue? Those schools all got an over-under of six wins. Season win totals are of course different than conference projections, but in terms of power relative to schedule Vegas is seeing little difference. In such instances it's usually wise to go with the program that has the most well defined identity.

That's Northwestern right now. The Wildcats know who they are and how they'll win. Purdue and Minnesota both have a one-year head start on the Huskers in terms of culture building, but when it came time for me to create my own West Division power rankings for our own preseason magazine (which will be on newsstands shortly) I put Nebraska third.

Why? Mostly because the Huskers overall ceiling is the highest, and I'm confident Nebraska will make consistent progress towards whatever its Year 1 ceiling will be as the year progresses. Purdue's visit to Lincoln in Week 5 will be a key checkpoint for that progress. Minnesota's trip on Oct. 20 –– the Huskers' only home game in October –– will be, too. The trip to Northwestern falls between those two.

There are "bigger" games on the schedule, of course, and I expect Nebraska to hang in most of those, too. But the real barometer for this program in 2018 might be what happens against the division's middle. That's Nebraska's neighborhood for now. Those are the tossups. Winning those games doesn't make the nation sit up and take notice, but they do represent progress in Year 1.

And I think Nebraska will pass those tests just fine in 2018.

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