It certainly has been years since I dug deep into the off season analysis of my favorite sports team, and it will certainly have to wait one more. I always love watching the Huskers on game day Saturdays (now with new and improved Fridays!). But this year, my excitement during the off season was spent looking forward to 2018 and beyond, not 2017. When facing both good and bad challenges in life, I set ,y mind to the worst possible and best possible expectations and use a mental range finder for what are the likeliest possibilities in between. I have not picked up the 2017 Phil Steele College Football Preview to bury myself in the statistics, because I did not need it to see this team has a very narrow band for what is likely to happen this season.
At the outset, it is important to eliminate what should not happen. Just by fielding a team, it is unlikely the Huskers lose every game this season. By the very nature of being slightly better than the middle of the road last year, they should not be far off from that this year. And on the flip side, it is very unlikely that a team of this caliber is able to drastically improve enough to run the table on the Big Ten competition.
And OK, I did look at a few stats on stats.ncaa.org and huskers.com, and some of my favorite predictors of success from Phil Steele have always been turnover margin/points off turnovers and close games won/lost. In 2015, the Huskers lost 5 close games (and won a close one), turning it over 27 times (tied for 116th in the NCAA and allowing 93 points). Then Nebraska followed it up with an improvement in record in 2016. Seeing as they won three close games last year and turned it over 14 times (tied for 12th in the NCAA and allowing only 32 points), it would make sense that their record in 2017 would decline slightly.
Considering the youth on offense, it is reasonable to expect more turnovers than last year. A 20 turnover team could be Penn State (11-3 last year) or Illinois (3-9 last year). But looking outside of the conference at teams who turned it over that much last year, and the average is about 7 wins for those teams. The tougher scheduled combined with the weight of the law of averages that take affect easily put this team at a 7-5 record this year. Obviously +/- 1 from 7 wins could happen with the bounce of a hail mary or rolling fumble, or +/- 2 for an injury that exposes a weakness or creates a new star from a backup. But what is most likely is that Mike Riley buys himself one more season with a recruiting class that has the Huskers on a map they have not seen in a while.