Phil Steele Ranks the Huskers #17 for 2012; Maher Third-Team All-American

Phil Steele named Brett Maher to his third team preseason all-America team as kicker. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Phil Steele has been gradually releasing his top 30 as the release of his college football preview magazine approaches. Saturday, he unveiled Nebraska at #17, which seems to be in line with the general thought for 2012. The SB Nation BlogPoll has the Huskers #18, for example. Even more importantly, Steele seems to favor the Huskers to win the Big Ten's West division.

Seven of my 9 sets of PR's call for a DD win ssn and the Huskers have a great shot at getting to the B10 Title game.

If you've ever read Steele's magazine, you recognize his abbreviations for trying to cram as much information onto as few pages as possible. But it's clear that he thinks Nebraska will win at least 10 games and considers the Huskers a tentative favorite to make it to the Big Ten's championship game. Michigan is ranked #22 in his rankings and Michigan State is #19. I suppose it's technically possible for Iowa, Northwestern, or Minnesota to suddenly appear in his top 15...but the odds of that are pretty low.

So what's driving Steele? He really likes Nebraska's receivers; Kenny Bell is on his second team all-conference predictions, and he looks for more from Jamal Turner. On the offensive line, while Nebraska loses three starters from the Capital One Bowl, four players return who have combined for 44 career starts. That's some experience to work with.

On defense, he sees seven of the top ten defensive linemen returning and sees this as a position that improves. He points out that he was skeptical of the Blackshirts being better in 2010, and he was correct in that assessment. He also isn't as concerned about replacing Lavonte David; he's seen this story before from a Pelini defense, and pencils in Zaire Anderson into the lineup. Anderson is #17 on his list of incoming players from junior college, and with Will Compton back along with a (finally) healthy Sean Fisher, he expects more production from the linebackers in 2012.

In the secondary, he adds in cornerback Mohammed Seisay to a group with returning experience and thinks the secondary could actually be better, even though Alfonzo Dennard is heading for the NFL. And you can't forget about Brett Maher, who was named as the kicker on the third team of his All-American selections.

Steele doesn't talk much about the changes in coaches, though improvement on the defensive line and the secondary could be attributed to new coaches Rich Kaczenski (line) and Terry Joseph (secondary). He does point out that Bo Pelini is the only head coach to win a share of a Big XII division title in his first three years. And while Nebraska fans wanted more last season, Pelini is still only the 6th BCS head football coach to win nine or more games his first four years.

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