LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Bill Callahan’s first season at Nebraska was the Cornhuskers’ worst season since 1961, and he has no illusions about where his team fits into the Big 12 pecking order as it goes into preseason practice Thursday.

“We are starting at the bottom of the heap right now, all of us, in this conference,” Callahan said. “But we are very encouraged about where we are at as a football team.”

The Huskers were 5-6 last season and missed going to a bowl for the first time since 1968. They return six starters on offense and five on defense.

The media picked the Huskers to finish third in the North Division behind Colorado and Iowa State.

Nebraska’s season opener is Sept. 3 against Division I-AA Maine – the first of five straight home games. Maine also posted a 5-6 record last season and was picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10 Football Conference North Division in the league’s preseason poll.

Much of the preseason attention in Nebraska will be focused on quarterback Zac Taylor. Callahan said the junior college transfer from Norman, Okla., has the upper hand in the competition for the starter’s job.

Incoming freshman Harrison Beck of Clearwater, Fla., will join Joe Ganz, Beau Davis and Jordan Adams in trying to beat out Taylor.

The Huskers return their top two running backs, 1,100-yard rusher Cory Ross and Brandon Jackson, and welcome heralded freshmen Marlon Lucky, Leon Jackson and Cody Glenn. Jackson is coming off offseason shoulder surgery.

Defensively, Nebraska returns the core of its defensive line with tackles Titus Adams, Le Kevin Smith and end Adam Carriker.

Linebacker Stewart Bradley and strong safety Daniel Bullocks also are back.

The Huskers will practice once a day through Aug. 12, then have five days of two-a-days from Aug. 13 through Aug. 20.

Maine players had 15 practice sessions in the spring and will begin their fall practice schedule on Monday on the Alfond Stadium field in Orono.

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