CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 21 Nebraska

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2013 record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 in Big Ten (2nd in Legends Division)
2013 postseason: Gator Bowl vs. Georgia (24-19 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: Unranked/No. 25
Head coach: Bo Pelini (82-58 overall; 82-58 in 7 years at Nebraska)
Offensive coordinator: Tim Beck (7th season, 4th as offensive coordinator)
2013 offensive rankings: 19th rushing offense ( 215.69 ypg); 97th passing offense (196.7 ypg); 59th total offense (412.4 ypg); 48th scoring offense (31.9 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 8
Defensive coordinator: John Papuchis (7th season, 4th as defensive coordinator)
2013 defensive rankings: 54th rushing defense (156.08 ypg); 32nd passing defense (214.6 ypg); 39th total defense (370.7 ypg); 49th scoring defense (24.8 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 7 
Location: Lincoln, Nebraska
Stadium: Memorial Stadium (92,000; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 1999

THE GOOD
Nebraska is going to run the ball, perhaps better than any team in the Big Ten. Not only do the Huskers return Ameer Abdullah, but they also have Imani Cross and Terrell Newby. The three combined for over 2,400 rushing yards in 2013. When Nebraska does want to take to the air though, having Kenny Bell on the verge of rewriting the school record books is a nice luxury to have.

THE BAD
The ball control concerns have plagued Nebraska each of the past two seasons. Nebraska has lost 38 fumbles the last two seasons, which is incredible when you consider Nebraska has played 27 games in that span. That is almost one and a half fumbles lost per game, nevermind how many fumbles Nebraska has had but recovered.

THE UNKOWN
Nebraska may have position players on offense in pretty good shape, but the offensive line is hitting a reset button this fall. That does not mean it will be shaky, but it does suggest there is going to be some time needed before the unit really starts to gel. How much time will that take? The line will have some upperclassmen on the line but the experience is thin at best. It is worth having some concern about for Nebraska fans, but the Huskers have a pretty good track record when it comes to linemen. The faster the line can come together, the better for Nebraska, obviously. Games against Miami and Michigan State will be difficult hurdles if the offensive line is not together.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Michigan State
Nebraska is going to get what could be an entertaining home game against Miami form the ACC in September, but the true measuring stick for the Huskers will come in the first weekend of October. That is when Nebraska heads to East Lansing to take on the defending Big Ten champions, Michigan State. The Huskers may very well return home with a loss in that game, but how they perform against that caliber of defense could be an indicator for what to expect for the rest of the season. After Michigan State the Huskers get a bye week to spend some time learning and reviewing what has worked and what has not to that point. The Michigan State game could give some positive signs for the second half of the season or it could set up what could be a rough two months ahead in Lincoln.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: RB Ameer Abdullah
This one is easy. Running back Ameer Abdullah is considered one of the best in the Big Ten (along with Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin) and the nation. Last year Abdullah led the Big Ten in rushing with 1,690 rushing yards but he entered the endzone just nine times. That could very well change a bit in 2014 as Abdullah takes on even more of a workload, if you can believe that. With the quarterback situation in a bit of a transition, Abdullah should be counted on time and time again to lead the offense. Fortunately, this is something he should be able to handle more often than not.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson frowns upon Group of Five playoff idea

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The chances a team from the Group of Five ever gets selected to play in the College Football Playoff range from slim to none. As such, talk from within the Group of Five has kicked up from time to time, especially over the last year, about a possible Group of Five-only version of the College Football Playoff. The reactions to that idea has been mixed, but add Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson to the group of people who thinks that idea should be tossed aside.

While attending meetings for the College Football Playoff, Benson told reporters he would prefer to see conference champions from the Group of Five (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) receive better bowl bids instead of playing in a minor version of the College Football Playoff.

It’s time to have a realistic conversation about creating a playoff for the Group of 5,” NIU athletic director Sean Frazier told Brett McMurphy, then of ESPN.com, back in December. “Why not?”

Well, there are a number of reasons. First, not everybody seems to be on board with playing the college football version equivalent of the NIT. Sure, it would be on TV and would get ratings, but the reward at the end of the JV playoff would mean little. Nobody would consider it a national championship. That’s what the FCS is for.

Benson is not alone in his anti-Group of Five playoff stance. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher also has been on record saying he is not interested in such a plan, and he oversaw a member from his conference go undefeated last season and play in the Cotton Bowl (Western Michigan).

My initial reaction is that’s not something I’m interested in,” Steinbrecher said, according to MLive.com in December. “We’re part of the (College Football Playoff) system, and it’s done a lot of very good things for the Mid-American Conference.”

Without the support from two of the Group of Five commissioners (and you can almost be guaranteed you can add Mike Aresco of the American Athletic Conference to the list given the conference’s push to be considered a power conference), this idea is pretty much dead on arrival.

LSU’s Arden Key: I am not sitting out my junior year

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After taking a little time off from the LSU football program this spring, Arden Key calmed the nerves of Tigers fans on Wednesday with a simple message on his Twitter account.

Key announced to his Twitter followers he will be on the field for the Tigers this fall. Back in February, LSU released a statement saying Key would be stepping away from the program “for personal reasons.” What those personal reasons were is unknown, but he did so with the support of head coach Ed Orgeron and the entire football program at the time.

Key earned second-team All-SEC honors last season after leading LSU with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, a school record. With news, he would be stepping away from the program and the age of top NFL Draft prospects opting out of bowl games, the mere thought that Key might become the first potential NFL Draft pick the following season sitting out the entire football season was difficult to completely ignore. Fortunately, especially for LSU and not so much for LSU’s opponents, Key is choosing not to break that barrier at this time.

Texas A&M removes WR Kirk Merritt from roster

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After being charged for allegedly exposing himself to tutors at Texas A&M, wide receiver Kirk Merritt is no longer an Aggie. Merritt has been removed from the Texas A&M football program, according to a report from The Eagle. Though there has been no official statement confirming such news, Merritt’s name has been wiped off the team’s online roster.

Merritt pleaded not guilty to a pair of indecent exposure charges against him stemming from an incident last October. Merritt allegedly exposed himself to female academic tutors. Merritt was suspended by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin a few days after the alleged incidents. The suspension was expanded to indefinite status following Merritt’s arrest on November 8. The suspension has since been lifted after the university’s conduct process wrapped up in January.

It has been a bit of a bumpy year for Merritt. Merritt left Oregon for Texas A&M last summer due to family reasons. He participated in Texas A&M’s spring practices but did not play in the spring game.

Big 12 revenue eclipses $300 million mark

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When it comes to revenues, the SEC and Big Ten continue to set the pace and leave the rest of the competition in the dust. That said, the Big 12 saw a second straight sizable revenue bump, according to recent tax returns.

As reported by USA Today, the Big 12 recorded a revenue of $313 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 on its tax return. The figure is up roughly $40 million from last year’s revenue, and the conference has now doubled its revenue since the 2012 fiscal year amid conference realignment changes. As for the revenue shares for each Big 12 program, the numbers ranged from $28 million to West Virginia to $28.9 million for Oklahoma. This marked the first time West Virginia and TCU were eligible to receive their full conference revenue shares as Big 12 members.

The biggest reason for the big jump in revenue came from increased bowl revenue. The Big 12 pulled in $114.5 million in bowl revenue in 2016, which was just $74.5 million in 2015. The 2015 season, which was included in the fiscal year outlined by this tax return, saw Oklahoma advance to the College Football Playoff and Oklahoma State be selected to play in a New Years Six bowl game (Sugar Bowl), which led to a larger bowl game distribution for the Big 12. The previous year saw no Big 12 team in the College Football Playoff (TCU, Baylor).

The Big 12 still lags well behind the SEC. Most will, of course. The SEC announced a revenue of $584.2 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with each SEC member receiving a revenue share of $40.4 million. The SEC and Big 12 are the only conference revenue numbers currently on record for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, but expect the Big Ten to be a solid second in the pecking order, with the ACC likely to come in front of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 to be toward the bottom of the pack.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby had a pay increase as well. Bowlsby reportedly earned a little more than $2.6 million in 2015, earning more than $70,000 than the previous year.