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Phil Steele - #1 Oklahoma.... #5 Nebraska

Yesterday, Pat Forde tweeted Phil Steele's Top Ten, and Steele has Nebraska listed at #5: 

Phil's Top 10: 1. Oklahoma; 2. Ohio State; 3. Alabama; 4. TCU; 5. Nebraska; 6. Boise State; 7. Florida; 8. USC; 9. Miami; 10. Oregon.

Call me cautiously optimistic, as I am this time of year. I'm putting together the last stages of the Nebraska Yearbook - Cornhusker Kickoff 2010 - and through the process, I talk to a lot of other people about their teams and about Nebraska. Most are skeptical because of Nebraska's offensive performance last season.

To be perfectly honest, I can't blame them. Most acknowledge that under Bo Pelini, the Huskers have become a defensive juggernaut, but until we show offensive improvement on the field, opposing fans aren't going to be sold on the high rankings. I wonder how many Husker fans see the team as a top five team, despite what the preseason magazines are saying.

Obviously, Steele is picking us to get to the Big 12 title game, which isn't that big a shock considering the state of the Big 12 North. As it looks right now, only Missouri has a really good shot at contending with us for the North. He's also picking Oklahoma as the other team that'll make it to the title game, and then he has Oklahoma beating us for the title, but probably winning a BCS bowl game.

Oklahoma brings nine starters back on offense, including Landry Jones, the quarterback who took over after Sam Bradford was injured. 2009 was a rough season for the Sooners, Steele has Jones listed as his third team All-Big 12 quarterback after Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. He also has DeMarco Murray and Ryan Broyles on his All-Big 12first team (Broyles as a wide receiver and punt returner).

Oklahoma only returns four starters on defense, losing Gerald McCoy, amongst a host of others. Like Pelini, Stoops can be trusted to reload his defense. Steele has three Sooners on his first team All-Big 12 defense, defensive end Jeremy Beal, defensive tackle Adrian Taylor, and linebacker Travis Lewis.

The Sooners don't have as far to climb with regards to proving their offensive firepower. Last season they were 24th nationally in total offense, 11th in passing, and 77th in rushing. (For comparison, Nebraska was 99th, 101st, and 62nd, respectively).

How much can Nebraska improve offensively next season? (After writing the opponent previews for the yearbook, I can tell you that the Huskers will be facing a number of teams that are pretty darned good offensively, but nearly all of them except Texas will have big question marks on defense.) It should be obvious that Steele expects us to improve to maybe a little bit above average, that the 2010 season will once again be defined by great defense and an offense that will score enough to earn us a high rank, but not high enough to win a championship.

Question is - do you agree with that assessment?

BTW, you can preorder Cornhusker Kickoff 2010, but it won't be available until about mid-July. I like what we've got this season, and I trust if you're a Husker fan you'll like it as well.