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Preseason magazine previews don’t offer much hope for Nebraska fans

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 30: Nebraska Cornhuskers added a "MOUNTAIN TOUGH" sticker to their helmets to honor victims of the recent Gatlinburg fires at the Music City Bowl on December 30, 2016 at Nissan Stadium . Tennessee defeated the Cornhuskers 38-24. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire)
Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire

Nebraska fans who are hoping for the Cornhuskers to match or better last season’s 9-4 record hopefully have skipped purchasing and reading the preseason magazines.

The four major magazines devoted to forecasting the sport don’t have high hopes for the Huskers. Phil Steele and Athlon peg Nebraska for a third-place finish in the Big Ten West while Street & Smith and Lindy’s predict a fourth-place finish.

SBNation’s Bill Connelly, an analyst in the Phil Steele mold, has Nebraska finishing 6-6. Here’s how he analyzes the team: “Biggest strength — NU should have one of the stronger secondary units in the conference, a ball-hawking group that will pounce on mistakes the way new coordinator Bob Diaco likes. Biggest question mark — The offense regressed significantly, then lost about two-thirds of its starters.”

Steele’s assessment of Nebraska, despite pegging the Huskers for third place in the seven-team division, is equal parts hopeful and honest.

”There are some factors clearly pointing down for Nebraska. They go from fifth most-experienced team in the Big Ten to third least-experienced and draw both top 10 teams out of the (Big Ten) East. Only Nebraska and Iowa draw two of the top three out of the East. Despite the inexperience and schedule, the Huskers have the talent and new QB Tanner Lee is an NFL prospect and a perfect fit in head coach Mike Riley’s system.

“They have my No. 5 rated offensive line, No. 4 rated defensive backs and are solid on special teams. Plus, they get two main contenders Wisconsin and Northwestern at home, where they were 7-0 last year. That makes them a legitimate contender in the West.”

Coach Mike Riley goes into his third season with Big Red fans still trying to figure out what they’ve got in a coach. Nebraska went 6-7 in his first season. In 2016, the Huskers started 7-0 before losing four of their last six.

The former Oregon State coach is remodeling the program to fit his style. A major offseason change was the hiring of Diaco. Here’s what Athlon had to say about Diaco joining the staff:

“Diaco … also made stops as a coordinator at Notre Dame and Cincinnati. His 2012 defense with the Fighting Irish limited opponents to 12.8 points per game and was a big reason why Notre Dame reached the national title game. Additionally, in five seasons as a coordinator, Diaco never had a defense allow more than 23.1 points per game on average at the end of a year. Transitioning to the 3-4 may take a season, but Diaco’s hire should pay dividends for the overall performance of Nebraska’s defense.”

Lindy’s sums up Nebraska this way: “The Huskers aren’t there yet, though their ceiling is definitely higher than fourth in the division.”

Athlon has the Huskers headed to Yankee Stadium for the Pinstripe Bowl with North Carolina from the Atlantic Coast Conference as the opponent. Street & Smith predicts that Nebraska is headed to the TaxsSlayer Bowl.

The magazines don’t give a lot of individual accolades to Nebraska players. Athlon lists senior defensive back Chris Jones on its first team. Lindy’s tabbed junior wide receiver Stanley Morgan as a first-teamer while Steele has his teammate and fellow receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El on his all-Big Ten first team.

Athlon anonymously quoted Big Ten assistants about league opponents. Here’s what one had to say about Nebraska:

“They’re not (recruiting) in Florida, Texas and California the way they did in their glory years. That’s the big secret why they’ve fallen off.”

Riley and his staff are working hard to reopen those pipelines, especially in California and Florida. As the preseason publications look ahead to this season, that recruiting strategy is also worth watching as Riley tries to get Nebraska back to contender status.

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