LINCOLN — Before each of the previous six seasons, Nebraska rarely sat among the titans of college football. But the program emitted notable, successful-enough vibes to be ranked in the AP’s preseason Top 25. Think of it as a small piece of relevancy that at some time in August, some portion of the media kept NU on their brain.

A preseason ranking had practically been a birthright during the Tom Osborne and Frank Solich eras. But the streak ended after Solich’s 2002 team went 7-7. NU wasn’t in the preseason AP poll in 2003, 2004 or 2005. The Huskers went unranked nearly two years under Bill Callahan before an upset in the 2005 Alamo Bowl got them to No. 24. After being ranked in the 2006 and 2007 preseason AP polls, Callahan’s final 5-7 season in 2007 locked the Huskers out of the 2008 preseason Top 25. But Nebraska has been in that poll since 2009 — and was in the top 10 before the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

If preseason magazines are any gauge, though, that streak ends this year.

None of the five magazines reviewed by The World-Herald had the Huskers in the Top 25. The closest was Phil Steele’s giant book, which ranked NU 26th. None of the five picked Nebraska to win the Big Ten West, the weaker of the league’s two divisions.

The prognosticators who sell their summer books and make a living off telling fans about the sport’s top teams aren’t predicting the Huskers will play championship football this season.

Chalk it up to the sameness of the program under Bo Pelini since joining the Big Ten. NU was more or less as good coming out of 2014, when it lost by 35 at Wisconsin, as it was five games into 2011, when it lost by 31 at Wisconsin.

Chalk it up to a tougher-than-usual nonconference schedule, courtesy of a season opener vs. BYU.

Chalk it up to a new coaching staff with little practical experience against the Big Ten. It won’t be an easy adjustment, learning 13 new opponents. It wasn’t for Pelini’s staff in 2011, and those Huskers were more talented than this bunch.

And, yes, chalk it up to talent that, at many spots, must still prove itself.

The preseason magazines agree: Nebraska’s two best players are defensive tackle Maliek Collins and all-purpose player De’Mornay Pierson-El. In this age, a dominant defensive lineman and a guy who can catch, run and return the ball are good foundations. But it’s hard to see those two matching the production of the three NFL draftees who just left — Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell and Randy Gregory. Collins and Pierson-El need a third player — perhaps safety Nate Gerry or wideout Jordan Westerkamp — to join them at that level. And the team will need better quarterbacking.

The magazines aren’t sure the Huskers will get it.

Steele didn’t rate Tommy Armstrong among his top 30 NFL draft-eligible players. Since a fraction of 30 actually get drafted, the listing eventually becomes a basic rating of collegiate signal-callers at some point. And an anonymous coach in Athlon’s Big Ten magazine called Armstrong “just a guy.”

Then the coach went a little further.

“They may have to get creative and mix in some zone-read stuff to keep him comfortable unless they want to start over at quarterback, but I don’t see that happening to a guy who’s started two years there,” the coach said. “It’s going to be a square peg in a round hole until they can bring in the guys who fit their offense.”

That quote plays a little unfair given Armstrong’s tenacity to the craft, but it’s a sentiment some Nebraska fans share.

Those questions and concerns make it likely that Nebraska doesn’t get much love this preseason. Which may be just as well.

NU didn’t win any conference titles with that love in the last six years.

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The basics: An annual that comes in national and Big Ten-specific versions. It succeeds at blending analytics with traditional readable narrative for college football fans who don’t have time to study Phil Steele’s guide but want to know the teams, too.

Cost: $7.99

Cover: Nate Gerry is on the Big Ten cover in the Nebraska region.

NU rank: 29th (second in the Big Ten West)

Iowa rank: 53rd (fourth in the Big Ten West)

Four playoff teams: Ohio State, Alabama, Baylor and Auburn

Risky rankings: Not many. Auburn at No. 4. Mississippi State at No. 21.

NU All-Americans: De’Mornay Pierson-El (first-team punt returner); Maliek Collins (third-team defensive tackle)

NU recruiting class rank: Athlon uses 247Sports Composite service, so NU is 31st

NU national unit rankings: None inside the top 10

NU bowl prediction: Outback vs. Arkansas

Mistakes: David Santos, Glenn Irons and LeRoy Alexander are listed on the roster. They are no longer Huskers.

Special features: “Extra points” section goes over various offseason national stories. Further, Athlon has really dived into football analytics in an understandable way, using the “five factors” — which includes field position, explosive plays and finishing drives — to illustrate where teams did well. Athlon also calls an opposing coach and has him dish anonymously in the Big Ten version. Some of the quotes are juicy.

Strengths: Each year, Athlon makes a tweak or two, and gets a little better. It’s well written, clean in its layout and offers a full roster. The analytics touch is good.

Weaknesses: Not a ton for what Athlon aims to do. The conference version is more comprehensive than the national version. Now that Athlon is with 247Sports, it might as well start integrating the site’s recruiting rankings into the roster.

Stats guru Chris Stassen accuracy factor: Athlon is the third most-accurate magazine in the last three years. The magazine missed pretty badly on the Big 12 last year, but wasn’t too bad on the Big Ten.

Notable NU quote: “Tommy Armstrong is just a guy. He’s probably better than Taylor Martinez, but I don’t think he’s great. His skill set doesn’t really fit the system they want to run because he’s so limited throwing the ball.” — an anonymous opposing coach on Nebraska’s quarterback

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The basics: Steele is still Steele. He trumpets accuracy, depth and insight for the folks who like to watch — and perhaps gamble on — hours and hours of college football. Over the years, it has become clear that Steele has stronger relationships with some coaches than others, which tends to bear out in his rankings, unobjective as they generally can be.

Cost: $12.99

Cover: The Big Ten cover has three league players and Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire, who’s thrown all of 35 passes in his career.

NU rank: 26th (second in the Big Ten West)

Iowa rank: Not ranked in Steele’s top 55 (tied for third in the Big Ten West)

Four playoff teams: Ohio State, TCU, Alabama and USC

Risky rankings: No. 7 Stanford, No. 10 LSU, No. 19 Penn State, No. 21 Miami

NU All-Americans: De’Mornay Pierson-El (first-team punt returner)

NU recruiting class rank: No. 36

NU national unit rankings: No 19 defensive line, No. 21 defensive backs, No. 24 special teams, No. 34 offensive line, No. 40 linebackers and No. 42 wide receivers. Maliek Collins is the No. 9 defensive tackle.

NU bowl prediction: Citrus Bowl vs. Auburn

Mistakes: David Santos, Glenn Irons and LeRoy Alexander are listed as still being on the roster. They aren’t.

Special features: Steele proclaims the four-team College Football Playoff “perfect” and spends two pages arguing against “bracket creep” up to eight teams. Outside of that, Steele has charts and rankings no other preview guide bothers to research and develop. Whether it makes any sense is up the reader.

Strengths: Steele’s “team pages” are still excellent for looking at trends, old stats, depth charts and recruiting rankings. Only in Steele’s guide do you get a sense of how talented backups might be. Further, Steele explains through schedule and experience chart analysis why certain teams might get better while others may get worse. It’s still the definitive guide for college football wonks.

Weaknesses: The layout of the guide never really has improved; data just sort of cascades at the reader page after page, without a cumulative understanding of how Steele arrives at his predictions.

Stats guru Chris Stassen accuracy factor: Steele is the most accurate prognosticator in the last three, five and 10 years. He picks ties in conference races, which helps guard against whiffs. But still, Steele does well. In Big Ten picks last year, Steele finished behind Athlon, Lindy’s and the Sporting News.

Notable NU quote: “Nebraska is only No. 34 in my Power Poll but gets into my top 26 as they take on my No. 53 schedule and have enough talent to be a contender in the Big Ten West.”

* * *


The basics: Another annual that comes in national and Big Ten-specific versions, with lower production values than Athlon but a slightly heavier emphasis on recruiting.

Cost: $7.99

Cover: Tommy Armstrong is on the Big Ten cover — with a smaller picture of Mike Riley — in the Nebraska area. Maliek Collins is on the local version of the national cover.

NU rank: 30th (second in the Big Ten West)

Iowa rank: 48th (third in the Big Ten West)

Four playoff teams: Ohio State, TCU, Alabama and Oregon

Risky rankings: No. 7 Notre Dame, No. 17 Tennessee, No. 19 Arizona, No. 25 Missouri

NU All-Americans: None

NU recruiting class rank: uses 247Sports Composite service, so NU is 31st

NU national unit rankings: Nate Gerry is the nation’s No. 10 safety

NU bowl prediction: None because Lindy’s projects only the top bowls

Mistakes: David Santos, Jariah Tolbert and LeRoy Alexander are listed on the roster. They aren’t. Givens Price’s name is spelled “Given Price.”

Special features: A brief breakdown of each team’s NFL draft prospects from Rob Rang. Analysis from the Big Ten Network’s Gerry DiNardo. In the “Scoping The Nation” roundup, the top 12 nonconference and top 12 conference games are ranked. Nebraska makes both lists.

Strengths: If you’re a big DiNardo fan — and some Husker followers are — you’ll find him in the Big Ten guide. Fairly good picture of recruiting through its embrace of 247Sports.

Weaknesses: It’s not quite as polished as last year’s guide.

Stats guru Chris Stassen accuracy factor: Lindy’s is the second-most accurate magazine the last three and five years.

Notable NU quote: “I don’t think this is going to be as talented of a Nebraska team as it’s had the last couple years.” — DiNardo.

* * *


The basics: National annual that probably hit its peak in the 1990s, but still puts out a skin-deep guide for more casual fans.

Cost: $7.99

Cover: The national cover had Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine on it locally. Just what Nebraska fans want to see — a Sooner.

NU rank: Second in the Big Ten West (outside top 25)

Iowa rank: Fourth in the Big Ten West (outside top 25)

Four playoff teams: Ohio State, Auburn, Oregon and TCU

Risky rankings: No. 2 Auburn, No. 12 Georgia Tech, No. 17 Arizona, No. 25 Missouri

NU All-Americans: De’Mornay Pierson-El (first-team punt returner)

NU recruiting class rank: Uses 247Sports Composite service, so NU is 31st

NU national unit rankings: None

NU bowl prediction: Holiday Bowl vs. Stanford

Mistakes: David Santos and LeRoy Alexander are listed on the roster. Marcus Newby is listed as the starting middle linebacker ahead of Josh Banderas — he won’t be. Johnny Stanton is listed as the No. 2 quarterback coming out of spring. Stanton is gone, for one thing. For another, he wasn’t No. 2, which is why he’s gone.

Special features: The focus is on where all the transferring players landed, including all the UAB players who had to go somewhere else after the program was disbanded for a year. There’s a “Tailgate U” feature.

Strengths: It looks good. The writing is solid.

Weaknesses: Some errors, not a ton of depth. It’s a toe in the pool, not a plunge.

Stats guru Chris Stassen accuracy factor: The Sporting News was the least accurate among print magazines last year.

Notable NU quote: “With the preemptive bar set at nine wins, Riley has his work cut out in Year One.”

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The basics: ESPN’s idea of a college football preview. ESPN needs better ideas.

Cost: $7.99

Cover: Four national covers, with the Big Ten cover featuring Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones.

NU rank: Outside the top 25 (second in the Big Ten West)

Iowa rank: Outside the top 25 (fourth in the Big Ten West)

Four playoff teams: Ohio State, Auburn, Oklahoma State and USC

Risky rankings: The rankings make no sense. (More on this in weaknesses section.)

NU All-Americans: None

NU recruiting class rank: Not in the top 25

NU national unit rankings: None

NU bowl prediction: None

Mistakes: David Santos is still listed on the roster.

Special features: There’s a story on quarterback battles, focused on Ohio State’s three-way competition.

Strengths: It features all 128 teams in the FBS. That can be said.

Weaknesses: ESPN has Oklahoma State in the College Football Playoff ... but it’s not in its Top 25. TCU is the No. 2 team in the country, but not in the playoff. Michigan is in the Rose Bowl, but also unranked. This is a copy-editing error, or different people put together the list. Either way, it makes no sense and is surprising for a magazine of ESPN’s pedigree.

Stats guru Chris Stassen accuracy factor: ESPN doesn’t make official league predictions — it merely predicts which teams have the best chance to win a division by percentage via its Football Power Index. Which also isn’t very well explained. And also has different rankings from the original Top 25.

Notable NU quote: “(Mike) Riley brought a large chunk of his staff to Lincoln, calmly shifting the culture from the rocky Bo Pelini era. Still, it’s a big gamble for a program with seven straight seasons of nine or more wins.”

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