CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 22 Nebraska

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2011 record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 in Big Ten (3rd in Legends)

2011 postseason: Capital One Bowl (30-13 loss to South Carolina)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 24/No. 24

Head coach: Bo Pelini (39-16 in five-plus seasons at Nebraska)

Offensive coordinator: Tim Beck (third season at Nebraska, second as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 15th rushing offense (217.2 ypg); 104th passing offense (162.7 ypg); 66th total offense (379.9 ypg); 50th scoring offense (29.1 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinator: John Papuchis (fifth season at Nebraska, second as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 64th rushing defense (158.5 ypg); 18th passing defense (192.2 ypg); 37th total defense (350.7 ypg); 42nd scoring defense (23.4 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: seven

Location: Lincoln, Neb.

Stadium: Memorial Stadium (81,067; FieldTurf)

Last league title: 1999 (Big 12)

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
The Cornhuskers return a total of 16 starters — two on special teams — which ties it with 11 other teams for 29th most in the country. The schedule sets up relatively favorably, with the ‘Huskers getting both Wisconsin (Sept. 29) and Michigan (Oct. 27) in Lincoln, although they do have to travel to Ohio State (Oct. 6 night game) and Michigan State (Nov. 3). After a solid debut season in the Big Ten, Pelini’s charges will be looking to make their mark on the conference race sooner rather than later.

The Bad
While the Cornhuskers return seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, they lost three of the best Blackshirts to the NFL. And that was on a defense that was fair-to-middlin’ in the first place; the Huskers nearly gave up as many points per game in 2011 (23.4) as it did in 2009 and 2010 combined (27.8). For a program used to defensive prowess — and for one looking to get itself back to national prominence — that’s unacceptable, although the odds that was merely an aberration are fairly good.

The Unknown
Taylor Martinez.  Entering his third season as Nebraska’s starting quarterback, one would think that there would be a fairly good handle on what Martinez will bring to the table.  One would obviously be wrong, although, based on the reports coming out of Lincoln this offseason, the light bulb may have gone on for Martinez.  All Husker Nation has to worry about is whether it dims before the start of the regular season.

Make-or-break game: vs. Wisconsin, Sept. 29
Last season in Madison, the Badgers laid a 48-17 woodshedding on the ‘Huskers in the program’s first Big Ten game. Nebraska will get Wisconsin first out of the conference gate again this season, although, as mentioned, this time the Badgers will be on the road. As was the case last year, the league opener will serve as a barometer for where the ‘Huskers are headed in 2012 — or how far they (still) have to go to catch the heavyweights in the Big Ten.

Heisman hopeful: running back Rex Burkhead
As one of the most unheralded backs in the country, Burkhead rushed for a team-leading 1,357 yards (16th in the country) and 15 touchdowns as a junior.  With uncertainty, at least early on in the season, over how big of an offensive load Martinez will be capable of handling, Burkhead will once again be looked upon to shoulder much of the heavy lifting on that side of the ball.  A long shot for a trip to New York City in December, let alone a Heisman win, Burkhead could sneak into the conversation with a solid start to the season, including a breakout performance in the nationally-televised primetime affair vs. Wisconsin.

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WATCH: trailer for Joe Paterno movie starring Al Pacino released

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If you’re wondering what a legendary college football head coach who fell from grace looks like (very briefly) through the prism of Hollywood, you’re in luck.

It was confirmed in the summer of last year that Oscar-winning actor Al Pacino was set to star as former Penn State coach Joe Paterno in an HBO-produced film, with the movie focusing on the immediate aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child-sex scandal that erupted in November of 2011 and Paterno’s subsequent dismissal nearly two weeks later.  “Paterno,” directed by Barry Levinson and also starring Emmy Award-winning actress Kathy Baker, is set to premiere at some point this spring.

Ahead of that, a trailer for the highly-anticipated flick was released Friday.

The film is expected to center on how much Paterno, the unquestioned king of Happy Valley during his half-century reign, knew about Sandusky’s crimes, when he learned about them and whether he did enough with the information he had.

“He did act upon it,” Pacino said by way of pennlive.com. “He did say he thought someone should look into this. But a guy like Paterno, he’s like an emperor, he’s like a king. He didn’t take up with it because it was out of his control, and I think this is a character who’s used to control.”

“The film lays out the elements of the story and leaves you to make your own judgment,” said Levinson. “There are times when you may feel one way, and times when you may feel a totally different way, and I think that’s what makes the piece so compelling.”

Gus Malzahn’s new contract includes over $24 million in guaranteed money, increased buyout for Auburn

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Auburn head coach Gus Malzhan is a rich man. He’s set to become even richer.

It’s no secret that the Tigers’ head coach agreed to a new deal back in December that was worth a reported seven years at roughly $7 million a season. While the overall value of that would work out to around $49 million if Malzahn stays on the Plains until 2025, that’s not quite the amount that the school is committing to the coach if they decided to make a change down the road.

Speaking at a news conference for new athletic director Allen Greene on Friday, Auburn president Steven Leath told the Montgomery Advertiser that just over half of the money in the deal is fully guaranteed (so roughly $24.5 million) and that while there is an increased buyout on the Tigers side, it is not close to the reported $49 million mark that some thought it would be when figures were flying around at the end of 2017.

“I’m still a trust guy,” Leath told the paper. “Gus and I are functioning well together. We know the basic tenets, we’ve drawn things up and sent it to his attorney. So we’ll get that cleaned up pretty soon.”

He also confirmed the deal has not been signed by either side.

While Malzahn does seem like he’s on solid footing after guiding the team to an Iron Bowl victory, a SEC West title and a New Year’s Six bowl berth last season, he’s certainly no stranger to the hot seat given the fan base he works with and the sky-high expectations for the school. Either way, he’ll enter 2018 as one of the highest paid coaches in the country and a very rich man going forward, even if it wasn’t quite the security that some thought he was getting after a rumored flirtation with Arkansas several weeks ago.

Auburn checks in at No. 16 in CFT’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 for next season.

Wisconsin renews Paul Chryst’s contract again, keeps him in Madison until 2023

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It’s becoming a regular occurrence around Madison this time of year but Wisconsin has renewed head coach Paul Chryst’s contract once again.

The UW Athletic Board approved the deal on Friday and keeps Chryst around with a five-year contract that runs through January 31, 2023. Other terms of the contract were not announced but this is pretty standard operating procedure for the school after the board did the same back in 2017 and 2016 to keep the coach on what amounts to a rolling five-year deal.

Based on his upgraded deal that agreed to last winter, Chryst is set to set make $3.3 million in 2018 with additional annual raises of $100,000 each year through 2023.

Chryst is 34–7 at his alma mater (53-26 overall as a head coach) and is coming off the team’s best season several years after going 13-1 in 2017 and capping things off with a victory over Miami in the Orange Bowl. The Badgers could be even better in 2018 given what returns to the starting lineup and were slotted in at No. 5 in CFT’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 for next season as a result.

Colorado State officially announces hire of John Jancek as Rams’ new defensive coordinator

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Mike Bobo finally has his defensive coordinator as Colorado State announced on Friday that long time coaching veteran John Jancek was hired to run the Rams’ defense.

“I’ve had the opportunity to coach on the same staff with John at Georgia, and I’ve coordinated offenses that have gone up against his defenses,” Bobo said in a statement. “He has a great deal of experience coaching and winning at the highest levels of college football, and I’m very excited he is part of the Ram Family.”

The hire of Jancek comes a little over a week after the program nearly brought in former Alabama assistant Derrick Ansleywho was set to head to Fort Collins to take the DC job before getting hired by the Oakland Raiders and their new coach Jon Gruden. The team had an opening at the position after Marty English retired following the 2017 season.

Jancek most recently was a defensive consultant at Kentucky this past season but spent the three years prior as the coordinator at SEC rival Tennessee. All told, this is his fifth stop as a defensive coordinator at the FBS level — including a stint at Georgia that overlapped with Bobo’s tenure in Athens from 2005-2009. He also spent one season as the safeties coach at South Florida in 2016 in his last full-time on the field role as a coach.

Jancek’s move west caps off a busy week for Colorado State’s staff after Dave Johnson was hired as run game coordinator and offensive line coach on Tuesday.