CHICAGO – Scott Frost isn’t buying into the hype.
Not yet, anyway.
The second-year Nebraska football coach said Thursday at the Big Ten’s annual kickoff event that he knows he has a better team than the one which won four games a year ago.
But, Frost isn’t ready to anoint the Cornhuskers as preseason favorites in a Big Ten West Division race that has looks to feature plenty of balance.
“Nebraska was a blueblood in college football for a long time, but that wasn’t built overnight and it’s not going to happen again overnight,’’ Frost said.
He went out of his way to say that the situation he inherited at his alma mater is not like the one he took over at Central Florida which doubled its six-win total in Frost’s first season in his second year in Orlando.
“We had a lot of good kids and good players in Orlando and we have a lot of good kids and players in Lincoln, but those two teams have nothing to do with each other,’’ Frost said.
That hasn’t prevented Nebraska from being tagged as the preseason best in the West.
A poll of 34 Big Ten beat reporters conducted by Cleveland.com concluded that the Cornhuskers are the preseason favorite to win the division.
Nebraska and Iowa each received 14 first-place votes in the balloting, but the Cornhuskers were ranked ahead of the Hawkeyes on more ballots to earn the first-place position.
Three other teams – Wisconsin with four and Northwestern and Minnesota with one apiece – also received first-place votes in a poll that pointed toward parity in a division race Golden Gophers coach P.J. Fleck expects to be as scrambled as the ballots.
“It’s going to be a wild West,’’ Fleck said. “There are just a lot of good teams that could finish in a lot of positions.’’
While Michigan and Ohio State dominated balloting in the East, earning 20 and 14 first-place ballots to finish first and second, the poll also illustrated the parity potential in the West.
Nebraska was listed in spots ranging from first to fifth on the 34 ballots, while Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Minnesota all received votes ranging from first to sixth.
Coaches of the Hawkeyes, Badgers and Wildcats will get their chance to put a spin on things today, but Illinois coach Lovie Smith said the depth of strength in the division adds to the rebuilding challenge he faces in his fourth-year program.
“We’re a better football team now than we were a year ago, I see that every day, but if we want to move up we are going to have to a lot better than the rivals we play in our division,’’ Smith said.
“We’re at a point now where those young guys we played as freshmen two years ago, they’re not young anymore and they need to play that way. We need to put a better product on the field, win some games. We need to start to climb a bit, but that won’t be easy.’’
Frost said late-season success has motivated the Cornhuskers to work toward their own rise up the standings, something echoed by Nebraska linebacker Mohamed Barry.
He sees the strength gains that Frost took time to mention, saying that a full offseason of work has prepared the Cornhuskers to compete more favorably from a physical standpoint against the Big Ten’s top teams.
“I think we’re ready,’’ Barry said. “I think we’re ready to prove that we’re a better team, a better defense. We were embarrassed a few times last year and turning that around has been the motivation since the end of last season. We’re a much stronger team now than we were a year ago.’’
Frost doesn’t disagree with that either.
“We weren’t anywhere close to the team that we wanted to be a year ago, nowhere close,’’ Frost said. “But, by the end of the year we started to do some good things and compete. That’s given us a chance to take the next step and be a better team this season. Moving forward, one step at a time.’’