A Cleveland.com poll of Big Ten sportswriters released Friday predicted Nebraska would finish fourth in the Big Ten West for new coach Scott Frost’s first year. That’s an improvement over its fifth-place divisional finish in 2017.
The preseason poll — commissioned by a newspaper because the league itself doesn’t conduct one — received responses from 28 sportswriters. All 28 picked Wisconsin to win the West, with 13 picking the Badgers to win the Big Ten title. Ohio State was picked by 14 writers to win the Big Ten title and 23 of 28 writers selected the Buckeyes to win the Big Ten East. One writer picked Michigan and Ohio State to share the title, while Penn State (1) and Michigan State (2) also received votes.
Since the poll’s inception in 2011, Ohio State has been the overall league favorite in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Nebraska was the slight favorite in 2011. Michigan was the slight favorite in 2012, while Michigan State was the favorite in 2014 — when OSU won the College Football Playoff.
OSU defensive end Nick Bosa and PSU quarterback Trace McSorley were selected as the poll’s preseason offensive and defensive players of the year. Zero Nebraska players received votes for either honor, but former Omaha South and current Iowa tight end Noah Fant received two votes.
According to the poll, Nebraska produced the widest range of predicted finishes – from second to sixth.
The poll numbers:
BIG TEN EAST
1. Ohio State, 191.5 points (23.5 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State, 142 points (2)
3. Penn State, 141.5 points (1)
4. Michigan, 140.5 points (1.5)
5. Maryland, 75.5 points
6. Indiana, 60 points
7. Rutgers, 33 points
BIG TEN WEST
1. Wisconsin, 196 points (28)
2. Iowa, 155 points
3. Northwestern, 138 points
4. Nebraska, 104 points
5. Purdue, 98.5 points
6. Minnesota, 64.5 points
7. Illinois, 28 points
Husker receivers Stanley Morgan, JD Spielman make Biletnikoff Award watch list
Two of Nebraska’s key returning weapons on offense are on the preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the best receiver in college football.
Senior Stanley Morgan and sophomore JD Spielman were among the 50 players announced Thursday. No Huskers has won the award, which was first handed out in 1994. Offensive coordinator Troy Walters took home the honor in 1999 with Stanford.
Morgan had a school-record 986 receiving yards last season, breaking 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers’ previous record of 942. Morgan finished second in the Big Ten in receiving yards and touchdowns and chose to return after considering leaving for the NFL.
The first time Spielman touched the ball in 2017, he returned a kick 99 yards for a touchdown. He hasn’t slowed down since.
Spielman caught 55 passes for 830 yards, including 200 against Ohio State to set a single-game school record. He ranked 13th in the country in all-purpose yards and second among freshmen.
Morgan and Spielman accounted for 54 percent of Nebraska’s receiving yards in 2017 and 43 percent of the team’s receptions.
Both Morgan and Spielman will be critical in Scott Frost’s new offensive system. Walters has said Morgan will be a “beast” in the scheme they’re bringing from Central Florida.
Morgan will speak at Big Ten media days next week.
Nebraska tight end Jack Stoll named to Mackey Award watch list
Nebraska’s presumed starter at tight end — Jack Stoll — was named to the Mackey Award watch list Friday morning. The honor is given to the top tight end in college football.
Stoll is a 6-foot-4, 245-pound Colorado native who caught eight passes for 89 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2017. Stoll’s best game came against Northwestern, when he had three catches for 41 yards.
Nebraska will need to replace Tyler Hoppes in 2018. Hoppes caught 34 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. Entering the spring, tight ends coach Sean Beckton wasn’t sure what he had with Stoll — or the rest of the tight ends — who were recruited and coached to a more pro-style tight end position. The tight end position is critical in Scott Frost’s offense, often used in the place of a fullback, while also asked to be a dynamic receiver. Beckton was surprised by Stoll, the coach said in the spring, and told the sophomore to take care of tight end drills this summer. He’s at the top of the depth chart now.
Stoll is the third Husker to be named to a watch list in the last two days. Senior Stanley Morgan Jr. and sophomore JD Spielman were named to the Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch list on Thursday.