LINCOLN — ABC and ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said Tuesday that the Big Ten Legends Division should be wide open, but spoke highly of Michigan and said Nebraska's hopes hinge on improving defensively and better ball security offensively.
“That division's going to be an absolutely interesting race,” Herbstreit said. “When you take Nebraska and Northwestern and Michigan and Michigan State, that's going to be a heck of a fight.”
The veteran broadcast team of Herbstreit and Brent Musburger took part in an ESPN teleconference Tuesday. Both said they like the Wolverines and their quarterback Devin Gardner, but Musburger called NU a preseason top 20 team and said the Huskers “could still become a major factor in the race for the Big Ten championship.”
Herbstreit, the former Buckeye quarterback who played with Nebraska coach Bo Pelini at Ohio State, offered some more direct Husker analysis:
Ľ “As we sit here right now before seeing this new defense, it's only fair to wonder: Are they going to be better? Even though there's going to be a lot of new faces on that side of the ball.
“I know that Bo is one of the better defensive minds in the game, and I know that it had to drive him crazy — not just last year but the year before — where some of the games just did not look like Nebraska defense.”
Ľ “Offensively, there's a lot to be excited about. Taylor Martinez and Ameer Abdullah and a lot of the receivers are back, but they've got to cut down on turnovers. That was a thing that really hurt them a year ago.”
Some other Big Ten-related comments from the hourlong call:
Ľ Of Gardner, who is stepping into a full-time role at Michigan, Musburger said: “He strikes me as a play-maker.”
Herbstreit on Gardner: “He fits perfectly into what (offensive coordinator) Al Borges wants to do. I think Al Borges, to his credit, did the best that he could in a very, very difficult set of circumstances with Denard Robinson, because Denard will always be hailed and revered by Michigan fans as being a hero, and yet when you're Al Borges and you're trying to run more of a West Coast, pro-style offense it's hard to try to make that spread, running-style quarterback work in your system. But they made good strides and did the best they could.”
Ľ Herbstreit on potential reaction if Ohio State and Michigan played on back-to-back Saturdays if both make the Big Ten championship game: “This has been a big issue ever since they went to the Legends-Leaders. I think it's a relevant concern for this year, because I think Michigan's offense has a chance to be really, really good.”
Ľ More from Herbstreit on Michigan: “I think the future of Michigan football with Brady Hoke as the head coach is more like Lloyd Carr and obviously Bo Schembechler and Gary Moeller: Win with defense, win by running the football and win with more of a Tom Brady-Elvis Grbac type of quarterback. I think that's really what Gardner can provide for them.”
Ľ Musburger on Gary Andersen taking over for Bret Bielema at Wisconsin: “I'm not expecting a big falloff on the part of the Badgers. I'm impressed with that hire.”