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Nebraska Football

Hot Reads: Early Consensus Is Kind to 2019 Huskers

July 8, 2019
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Welcome back from a hopefully long holiday weekend, there is good news to share: We have crossed another important offseason milestone. 

At some point each summer, enough of the college football preview magazines are out for the "preseason consensus" to pop up on stassen.com. If you're not familiar with stassen.com, it's one of those now increasingly rare examples where you can still say to yourself, "man, isn't the internet great?" It's just data compiled by someone who has an interest in college football. It arose out of a Usenet group. It looks like the 1990s. Everything about it is perfect.

Stassen.com has preseason consensus tallies starting in 1993. What was once just a roundup of the preseason magazines has now grown to include websites and online predictors, and as the number of prognosticators has grown I've found the consensus view becomes more valuable. It allows you to ask and answer: How did most people feel about Minnesota entering the 2003 season? Simple question, but hard to answer without someone keeping score.

The first tally for 2019 was just recently released. It only includes four predictors at this point–-Lindy's, Street & Smith, Athlon and Phil Steele––but that number will continue to grow. Even at this early stage, I still find value in having the uniformity of Stassen's scoring method now available. The consensus at this point might be preliminary and guaranteed to change, but at least it's forming using the same method this site has used for 25-plus seasons. (A note on that: The national top 25 rankings are scored similarly to the AP poll and a higher score is better. The conference/division rankings are simply a tally of the predicted order of finish and the low score wins.)

So, where is Nebraska coming in right now? High. The Huskers are coming in high.

Right now Nebraska sits at No. 17 in the consensus top 25. Probably not much of a surprise if you've been following where the Huskers have been landing, but in a larger context it feels significant. Right now, that's the highest preseason consensus ranking for Nebraska since 2011 (13th) and the third-best ranking this decade. (Ninth in 2010 is the top mark.) The Huskers have been 17th or better just six times this century (2000, 2001, 2002, 2010, 2011 and 2019). 

I'm guessing that ranking won't quite hold as more predictors are added. The computers, based on what we've seen already, won't be quite as kind to Nebraska from a national-rankings perspective. Even if the Huskers drop a couple of spots, it would still be notably high for a team coming off a 4-8 season. It's hard to prove on paper that Nebraska is close to being the 17th-best team in college football right now, and only slightly easier to claim that the Huskers will be close to that by season's end.

But what this preliminary consensus does reveal is a bit of faith in Nebraska football again (or maybe just faith in Scott Frost). You probably have to go back to 2011, the first Big Ten season, to find the last time that professional observers of college football really believed Nebraska was on its way to being good again. At least in numbers. There were two Bo Pelini seasons after that, 2012 and 2013, when the Huskers were a preseason consensus top 20 team, but at that point my memory is that the questions around Nebraska football were starting to outweigh the answers. That 2013 team may have started the season in about the same spot the current team is now in terms of the preseason consensus, but the context was completely different. You couldn't disregard Nebraska teams of that era because, well, they kept winning nine games a year. For a team coming off an eight-loss season to be in the same range highlights the difference here.

Nebraska is also currently the consensus pick in its division for the first time since 2011. That one could hold. In what looks like a noisy year for the West, Nebraska has the perceived schedule edge over Iowa and Wisconsin, currently tied for No. 2 in the division.  That might be enough to keep the Huskers with a slight edge in the division when it's all said and done. Even with only four data points right now, you can see how wild this could get. Street & Smith, for example, has Iowa at No. 6 in the West and Purdue at No. 2. 

As we get more predictions, those outlier rankings will be smoothed out a bit. That's why it's great to have a preseason consensus.

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