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Phil Steele Talks Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota Football in the Big Ten

College football writer Phil Steele joined Jeff Thurn on Monday’s edition of Overtime. 

Steele (@philsteele042) publishes an annual College Football Preview, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.

Thurn and Steele discuss the criticisms of Nebraska head football coach Bo Pelini: 

“Keep in mind there would be a lot of programs that would be extremely happy with winning nine or more games for six years. But I think Nebraska fans do expect a little bit more than that and this year’s schedule is going to make it difficult to improve on those totals the last couple of years. I think Bo is trying to lighten it up a little bit more and become fan-friendly and media friendly. Frankly, he needs that. He can’t be the same standish bull all the time unless the production level goes up a little bit.”

Nebraska opens the season in Lincoln on August 30 against Florida Atlantic. At home, the Cornhuskers face McNeese State, Miami (Fla.), Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue and Minnesota. On the road, Nebraska travels to Fresno State, Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

Steele shares what he likes about the Iowa Hawkeyes football team heading into this season:

“Well, I think their best attribute is what we just talked about, their schedule. Another place where they are really strong is the line of scrimmage. They have the No. 21 rated offensive line, and the No. 25 rated defensive line. If you are strong at the line of scrimmage, you can win a lot of games. If you look at their running back core with (Mark) Weisman and (Damon) Bullock, I am surprised that Jordan Canzeri didn’t see the field more than he did last year. He was really a factor late in the year. I think he gives them the speed back with a couple of power guys like that. Jake Rudock should be improved as a quarterback, but he is being pressed by C.J. Beathard, who he battled last year when Beathard got injured. So, much more experience at QB. I guess my biggest question mark on this Iowa team this year is the linebacking core. They lose three veteran, longtime starters (James Morris, Christian Kirksey, and Anthony Hitchens). How they replace them is going to be the key how much Iowa improves. Now, when I look at that schedule I have them at an underdog in maybe one game this year. In all the other games, they are probably going to be a favorite in. It will interesting to see how that plays out.”

Iowa opens the season at home against Northern Iowa on August 30. At Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes face Ball State, Iowa State, Indiana, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. On the road, Iowa goes to Pittsburgh, Purdue, Maryland, Minnesota, and Illinois.

How will Jerry Kill and the Minnesota Gophers follow up an 8-5 season, and a bowl appearance (4-4 in the Big Ten)? 

“Well, they got 15 returning starters this year. Might be one of those times, though when a team might be stronger than they were last year, but they do play a pretty tough schedule. They have to play TCU on the road, and if you are Gopher fan listening in, and you say wait a minute, well, TCU was 4-8 last year. Just a little side bit, TCU is my No. 1 most improved team in the country and I’ve got them in my top 15 at the start of year.  So, that’s not an easy game, despite TCU’s record from this past year. They have to play Michigan on the road, and they have to play Illinois, and I know Illinois has that offense and an improved defense. That’s going to be a dangerous team. They play Nebraska on the road, Wisconsin on the road, and home teams like Ohio State, Iowa, and even Northwestern once again is a team that didn’t win a lot of games last year, but is a much stronger team. It is tough schedule, but then again, look at last year’s team of Minnesota. They actually won a total of three games that they were an underdog in last year. So, they’ve proven they can beat some teams, including Nebraska at home. Jerry Kill, constantly, and this goes back to his days at Northern Illinois, and his days before that, he always gets the most out of the talent on hand. So, you stack up their talent on paper against their schedule, they are looking like maybe a five or six win team, but I am not going to bet against Kill doing better than that. I think that Minnesota is a legitimate bowl contender and I have them playing in a bowl game this year.”

Minnesota is at home against Eastern Illinois on August 26. At TCF Bank Stadium, the Gophers host Middle Tennessee State, San Jose State, Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa, and Ohio State. On the road, they travel to TCU, Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.

To hear more of Steele’s interview with Thurn, listen below:

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Thurn can be heard daily on ESPN 99.1 from 3 to 6 p.m.

*For comments, or story ideas, email Sam at tastadsam@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @samtastad.

Bo Pelini, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Eric Francis/Getty Images

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