This is the second year I've written the opponent previews for the Cornhusker Kickoff Nebraska football yearbook. (It's the third year for the book, Matt Hinton, Dr Saturday, wrote them the first year but then moved into his current position and no longer had time.) The experience has been enlightening - I can tell you that it's incredibly hard to get a handle on opposing teams unless you have the time to watch them, and even then it can be very difficult.
It's not as difficult to write previews about teams you play every year. You know which key players are gone, and which are returning. Every team, though, has undiscovered players that are going to impact the upcoming season - those are the ones that are very difficult to pick out. They may be new, having just transferred, or inbound recruits that are making an early splash.
Most previews avoid those players. In order to discover them, you're going to have to talk to someone who knows the team very well.
Keep a watch on the Nebraska previews that have been released as well as those that will come over the next month or two. Most of them will point out Niles Paul and Curenski Gilleylen as our two top receivers since those are the guys with the highest returning receiving stats.
Looking at the upcoming season, I think most Husker fans know that our two top receivers are Niles Paul and Brandon Kinnie, yet Kinnie will be continually overlooked by previews. That's understandable - Kinnie's 2009 stats aren't that impressive - only 15 receptions for 141 yards and no touchdowns. Despite that, Kinnie got comfortable in the offense and Husker fans began to see how physical he could be (especially if you went to the spring game). You have to realize that this guy is going to have a huge impact on the 2010 season. (The argument could be made that someone still has to get him the ball, but I believe Kinnie to be one of those guys that'll get a ball thrown anywhere near him.)
Want some examples of previews I'm talking about? Let's start with the most prolific preseason guy of them all - Phil Steele. Kinnie isn't mentioned at all in Steele's section on Nebraska receivers, and his only mention is that of Kinnie as a projected starter. I'm not trying to knock Steele's offseason guide (although he could probably cut down 50 pages by removing all the times he tells us how many of his past predictions came true), but if he can't recognize Brandon Kinnie, then who else is going to?
Another one - I am the 12th Man's Beergut ranks Nebraska's offense as 10th best in the Big 12 this coming season. He, too, mentions Niles Paul, but along with Khiry Cooper (which is a better choice than Gilleylen). No mention of Kinnie, though, even though Beergut is one of the better football minds around. (I'll revisit that 10th-place ranking later.)
Like I said, keep watching the previews, and if you want to know what's going on with our opponents, frequent their blogs. Coaches aren't likely to say anything but positive things about their players, and most of the regular media follows their input. Fan sites like those at SB Nation might be homerific at times, but they're more likely than most to point out where the problems are on their own teams, so they're a good resource heading into the coming season.