The glossy covers have intercepted the mission for milk — 2 percent naturally, because you grew up with it in the fridge and some things just can’t be changed.
You also grew up buying summer college football preview magazines before those summer road trips to the cabin. And somehow, even now, their allure is enough to stop you in a grocery store for a half hour, lost to a tradition of your youth even if an overflow of words about the season ahead is just one mouse click away.
First noticed is the Lindy’s Sports college football preview. Husker defensive end Randy Gregory is on its regional cover.
That doesn’t seem so remarkable unless you stop to remind yourself that a year ago at this time Gregory had not played a football game in 18 months and was still another month from making it to campus.
Now No. 44 is staring back through a helmet visor from the shelf, next to four other college football preview magazines.
After flipping through all of them and continuing the journey to the dairy aisle, there is one clear takeaway: There is nothing close to a consensus opinion regarding the local team. Good, bad, or in-between, people have no idea what Nebraska football will be in 2014.
Here’s a sampling about what some of those people are saying.
* Athlon Sports
Nebraska prediction: 29th nationally, third in Big Ten West, 9-3 overall.
Athlon says … “There’s pressure to win a championship and return to national relevance. The Huskers should have the defense for that. The question is whether the offense can be balanced enough to get the job done against a schedule that sets up very well in a restructured division of the expanded Big Ten.”
Top 25 Big Ten teams: Ohio State third, Michigan State 11th, Wisconsin 15th, Penn State 22nd.
Top five: Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Auburn
Worth mentioning: Nebraska’s lone FCS foe of 2014, McNeese State, found its way into the magazine. After going 10-3 a year ago, the program out of Lake Charles, La., is ranked No. 9 by Athlon among FCS teams. Craig Bohl’s former team North Dakota State is No. 2, behind Eastern Washington. South Dakota State, which lost 59-20 to Nebraska last season, is picked 11th.
Disagree with … Penn State at No. 22. New head coach James Franklin may be rocking it on the recruiting trail and sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg should only get better. But this is not a roster full of talent and just flat lacks depth. The NCAA sanctions should show itself this year more than ever. Frankly, seven wins could be the ceiling for this team.
* Lindy’s Sports
Nebraska prediction: 21st nationally, second in Big Ten West.
Lindy’s says … “What is most troubling is the offensive line, which lost five players who combined for 120 career starts. Coaches believe the line’s depth is as good as it’s been since Pelini took over, a notion that will be put to the test as the line builds around Jake Cotton.”
Top 25 Big Ten teams: Ohio State fifth, Michigan State seventh, Wisconsin 14th, Michigan 20th, Nebraska 21st.
Top five: Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon, Ohio State
Worth mentioning: Georgia’s bowl loss to Nebraska on New Year’s Day is hardly hurting the Bulldogs from getting preseason love. Georgia is ranked No. 8 according to Athlon and USA Today. And Lindy, which has UGA 12th, writes: “With 18 returning starters, and fingers crossed for better health, this season’s team portrait could be a beauty.”
Disagree with … the idea that Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory “are two of the Big 12’s best players.” That was a line found in Lindy’s breakdown of the Huskers. We can confirm Nebraska is not going back to the Big 12. Unfortunately, we can also confirm Maryland and Rutgers are really, truly joining the Big Ten.
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* Phil Steele’s College Football Preview
Nebraska prediction: 33rd nationally, third in the Big Ten West.
Phil Steele says … “Despite the record last year, the Huskers benefited from five net close wins and draw Michigan State out of the East (Division). They were minus-11 in turnovers last year, but keep in mind they haven’t won a conference championship since 1999 and could be a dog in all four Big Ten road games.”
Top 25 Big Ten teams: Steele is in the process of revealing his Top 25 online, but it will include Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Top five: Not published yet.
Worth mentioning: According to Steele’s calculations, Nebraska’s upcoming schedule ranks 51st nationally. Anyone who has ever read Steele’s magazine knows it’s heavy on statistics, with plenty of numbers aimed at those who like to make the occasional wager. According to Steele, Nebraska was 7-6 against the spread last year. In the last 10 years, NU is 61-64-2 against the oddsmakers’ lines.
Disagree with … Steele thinks higher of Northwestern than most, ranking the Wildcats 27th nationally. It’s not completely out of the question, considering that four of Northwestern’s seven losses last year came by eight points or less (and the Ohio State loss would have been if not for a meaningless touchdown as time ran out). The Wildcats return all five starters on the O-line and running back Venrick Mark is back from injury. But it’s still a leap of faith to see this team threatening the Top 25 by season’s end. Pat Fitzgerald is a good coach and a great quote, but Northwestern’s 10-3 record in 2012 seems more of an outlier than last year’s results. In four of Fitzgerald’s eight years at Northwestern, the Wildcats have finished .500 or worse.
* Sporting News
Nebraska prediction: 17th nationally, first in the Big Ten West, 10-2.
Sporting News says … “The Huskers have talent all over the roster, but the development of the line and (Tommy) Armstrong’s effectiveness will determine whether they can take the West. Nebraska has had trouble getting defenses to respect its passing game, and another season of inconsistency by Armstrong will make the Huskers one-dimensional. The defensive front seven is strong and deep, but the secondary has to coalesce for Nebraska to have a great unit.”
Top 25 Big Ten teams: Ohio State ninth, Michigan State 12th, Nebraska 17th, Wisconsin 19th.
Top five: Oklahoma, Oregon, Florida State, Alabama, Auburn.
Worth mentioning: Sporting News lists defensive end Randy Gregory on its first-team All-America team and ranks running back Ameer Abdullah No. 10 among Heisman candidates. It also lists former Nebraska RB Braylon Heard as one of its transfers to watch at Kentucky, writing: “Heard is a dynamic pile-moving back who fits perfectly with what UK coach Mark Stoops is trying to establish in Lexington.”
Disagree with … It’s understandable why publications like SN cite the secondary as Nebraska’s biggest concern on defense. If taking a drive-by view of the Husker roster, yes, you might mention the DBs as the big question mark given the losses of Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans. But for those who got an up-close look at Nebraska this spring, it’s clear Bo Pelini feels quite good about his secondary. His safeties, as important as any piece on his defense, seem prepped to be a strength behind the leadership of senior Corey Cooper. It’s the linebacker position where NU, though fine on depth, needs some players to take their play from good to great. Pelini said as much in the moments after the spring game. Those weren’t just words to fill the air.
* USA Today Sports
Nebraska prediction:14th nationally, first in Big Ten West, 10-2.
USA Today says … “Randy Gregory is a serious problem for opposing quarterbacks. He can change games single-handedly. He tallied 10½ of the team’s 39 total sacks. Still, certain games got away from the Huskers: 41 points to UCLA, 34 to Minnesota, 41 to Michigan State, 38 to Iowa. All losses. More bend, less break and they can do good things.”
Top 25 Big Ten teams: Ohio State second, Michigan State sixth, Nebraska 14th, Wisconsin 15th.
Top five: Florida State, Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon, Auburn.
Worth mentioning: USA Today tried to pump up a Husker quarterback debate more than any of the other publications, writing: “How long until redshirt freshman QB (Johnny) Stanton forces his way onto the field?” No mention of walk-on Ryker Fyfe, however, who left spring ball as a co-No. 2 with Stanton, according to Pelini.
Disagree with … If you’re going to put Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon on your short list of players who could challenge Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston for the Heisman, you should maybe include the name of Abdullah, who had more rushing yards a season ago. That Nov. 15 game in Madison will feature a fascinating game within the game.