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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 21 Nebraska

Ameer Abdullah, Ryan Keiser

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)

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Wisconsin new home for former Clemson/Oklahoma/Michigan LB

South Carolina State v Clemson Getty Images

Kellen Jones began his collegiate career in the Big Ten… continued it in the Big 12… continued it further in the ACC… and will now, reportedly, finish it in the conference in which he started.

247Sports.com reported late this past week that Jones has decided to transfer out of the Clemson football program and transfer into the one at Wisconsin.  Jones made his decision after taking an official visit to Madison earlier in the week.

Because the linebacker has already graduated from Clemson, he will be eligible to play immediately in 2015 as long as he enrolls in a grad program not offered at his now-former school.

And, speaking of now-former schools, Jones has a boatload of them.

In February of 2011, Jones signed on as a three-star member of Michigan’s recruiting class that year.  Six months later, Jones announced that he was transferring to Oklahoma before ever stepping foot on the field at UM.  Seven months later, Jones decided to leave OU and, one month after that, he reunited with defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

Jones did manage to play 12 games for the Sooners before transferring to the Tigers.  At Clemson, he played in a total of 16 games, including 13 in 2014.  He was credited with 29 tackles, one forced fumble and a half of a tackle for loss.

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JUCO WR Jarvis Baxter gets release from LOI at USF, walking on at Oklahoma

NCAA Football - Oklahoma vs Missouri - October 28, 2006

Junior college wide receiver Jarvis Baxter set his sights on joining the South Florida Bulls this fall, but academic concerns forced him to try and back out of a letter of intent. USF’s loss will be Oklahoma’s gain. Baxter will reportedly walk-on with the Sooners and report to fall camp this coming week.

According to a report from Scout.com, Baxter will meet the academic requirements to enroll at Oklahoma and intends to join the program on Tuesday when players report to camp in Norman. The academic hang-up with USF stemmed from having too many summer credits to count toward his GPA in Tampa. Those extra credits do count at Oklahoma.

“I talked with [Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley], and he said they have a walk-on spot at wide receiver open,” Baxter said to Scout.com. “I talked to my family about it and decided this would be the best thing for me to do.”

Baxter said he expects to have a chance to receive a scholarship this season. He will arrive at Oklahoma with three years to play two seasons for the Sooners.

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Jim Tressel predicts Terrelle Pryor will drop first pass in Browns practice in Ohio Stadium

Navy v Ohio State Getty Images

Former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is currently hard at work learning a new position in an attempt to land a roster spot with the Cleveland Browns. It is somewhat similar to the experience of Braxton Miller right now at Ohio State, although Miller is guaranteed a roster spot in the fall. The same is not true for Pryor in the NFL. On Saturday, Pryor’s former Ohio State coach, Jim Tressel, paid a visit to Browns training camp.

As it just so happens, the Browns will be holding a training camp practice inside Ohio Stadium this month, which means Pryor will take the field in Columbus for the first time since unceremoniously being suspended by the program and deciding to enter the NFL supplemental draft following the infamous tattoo-gate scandal of 2011. That scandal ultimately cost Tressel a job as head coach as well and led to a postseason ban for Ohio State, served by Urban Meyer in his first year on the job rather than in the 2011 season. Asked about Pryor’s upcoming Ohio Stadium homecoming, Tressel said it was going to be a cool moment for him, although he also served up a not-so-flattering prediction (in good humor).

“You know that’s got to be thrilling to him. He loved that place and has carried a burden with him that didn’t end the way he wanted to,” Tressel said. “He’ll probably drop three passes in a row.”

In related Browns-Buckeyes news, current Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones stopped by practice on Saturday, sporting his 12-gauge t-shirt. Jones was there to support his friend and former high school teammate Shane Wynn (a former Indiana Hoosier).

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If you thought Auburn’s new scoreboard was impressive before…

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The largest video scoreboard in the nation could be even more impressive from behind. While nothing is officially planned just yet, the construction of the new video scoreboard at Auburn has some envisioning even more video goodness to be enjoyed in the years to come. This time the video entertainment could be for the benefit of fans outside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“In the future what we may end up doing is we may end up putting LED video boards back there so it’s not static signage,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said in a story published by Al.com. “So that we can do things like ‘Graduation today at a certain time’ or ‘congratulations to professor Smith for winning the Leischuck award,’ things like that because it’s such a big board and massive space. I didn’t want it just to be solid, I want it to be something that we can actually utilize.”

Yeah, sure you could do all sorts of cool things with that extra video space. You could also sell advertising. You will definitely sell extra advertising. In this day and age you have to utilize every square inch you possibly can to squeeze as much revenue out of a football program you can. While the murals of former players like Bo Jackson, Cam Newton and Pat Sullivan would be cool, they don’t provide nearly the amount of cash Dr. Pepper or Chick-fil-A would.

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Ole Miss OL Laremy Tunsil and stepfather agree to drop charges against each other

tunsil Getty Images

Temperatures may have reached  a boiling point between Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and his stepfather, but it seems the two have agreed to keep their family business in house instead of pursue legal action against one another. Domestic violence charges against each other are expected to be formally dropped on Monday, according to a report from Riley Blevins of  The Clarion-Ledger.

Per the information in the report out of Oxford, Mississippi, lawyers for both have mutually agreed to have their clients sign a dismissal from earlier this week, thereby requesting to a local judge to review and drop the charges previously filed. Tunsil reportedly punched his stepfather in defense of his mother. Tunsil’s stepfather, Lindsey Miller, claimed tensions rose when an argument over Tunsil’s connection to sports agents flared up. The NCAA has since opened an investigation into Tunsil’s alleged connection to agents.

Whatever happened is now behind both men, and hopefully things have been smoothed over. Ole Miss suspended Tunsil from the team while the legal process played out, but head coach Hugh Freeze has seemed understanding of the situation from the jump and should be expected to find it appropriate to welcome Tunsil back to the program as quickly as possible.

That is, of course, as long as the NCAA investigation does not yield any rules violations. For that to happen, the NCAA will have to find incriminating evidence through testimony from witnesses. Miller would seem to be the first person the NCAA would wish to speak to, but now that he and Tunsil have agreed to drop charges who knows how cooperative he would want to be with the NCAA.

Don’t expect much to come out of this mildly twisted saga.

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Michigan LB Joe Bolden has no regrets for Michigan State tent-spike

Gary Nova, Joe Bolden, Jake Ryan

It was all blown out of proportion, Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden says of his pregame driving of a tent spike into the field at Michigan State last fall. The pregame act did not go unnoticed by Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, who took issue with it after the Spartans’ blowout victory over the Wolverines, for which former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke apologized.

“Simply motivation that backfired, got blown out of proportion in a way, so it is what it is,” Bolden said when asked about the incident during Big Ten media days this week.

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said Michigan State felt disrespected and he played with a bit of an extra chip on his shoulder as a result. Bolden understands that, but seemed to shrug it aside this week.

“Things were said, and somebody said they ran the ball when they wanted to take a knee, well, I’m a competitor, it’s a rivalry football game, I”m running the ball, too,” Bolden said. “If I’m a head coach I”m running the football. I have the utmost respect for coach Dantonio and his staff.”

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Mountain West Conference moves to 8-man officiating crews in 2015

Catherine Conti

There will be one more body on the field when you watch a Mountain West Conference game this season, and neither team will be flagged for too many men on the field. This week the Mountain West Conference confirmed the officiating crew will now consist of eight officials instead of seven. The conference experimented with the 8-man crew at times last season, and apparently it was deemed a successful trial run.

Love it. Absolutely love it,” Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun said, per The Denver Post. “I think there are certain expenditures you carry out that are prudent, that make sense, that make for a more quality game. That’s one of them. That’s a good investment.”

Coaches are not the only one applauded having more eyes on the field to monitor the game. The officials are on board as well.

“The last two years I was on a crew of eight officials and what it allowed me to do as a referee is as soon as the play ended go right to the offense and look for substitutions,” Greg Burks, an active official and Mountain West Conference coordinator of officials said this week (via The Herald Journal) said. “And what we found out — without naming the schools — is some of them every time they would go to the sidelines, they were substituting and gaining an advantage because the (opposing) defense wasn’t able to match up.”

It will be the job of the center judge to spot the football. The umpire will retrieve the football from the sideline. Meanwhile, the referee will be able to look at the offensive sideline to monitor substitutions. It should make for a smoother process for officials, with less scrambling around and juggling multiple procedures at once. Refs still need to work on getting everything to run smoothly though, but at least the Mountain West Conference will have a potentially seamless process.

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Penn State, Pitt ADs will discuss potential future of in-state series

Pitt Panthers Bill Fralic

New leadership and conference scheduling requirements and commitments may leave the door wide open for a long-term future for a Keystone State rivalry. Penn State and Pittsburgh have not played since 2000, but a four-game series will begin next season. Penn State Athletics Director Sandy Barbour said this week at Big Ten media days she is scheduled to discuss the future of the series with her counterpart at Pittsburgh, Scott Barnes, in the coming months.

“Scott Barnes, [Pitt’s] new AD, I’ve known for a long time,” Barbour said Friday, according to Audrey Snyder of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We’ve had a brief conversation. I think we’re scheduled here in the next month or so to talk about it. We’ve got a big puzzle in looking at our non-conference schedule, so we’ll see where that fits in.”

The Big Ten will be moving to a new conference-wide scheduling philosophy that will see all 14 members committed to scheduling one game per season against a power conference opponent. While not technically a requirement, it is one aspect of the new scheduling direction the Big Ten is taking a firm stance. The ACC requires all conference members to schedule one game against a power conference opponent each season as well. This would seem to make Penn State and Pittsburgh ideal and logical scheduling partners for years to come. But college football scheduling is not always so easy.

Pittsburgh will host Penn State in the 2016 season to open up a four-game series between the in-state power programs. The original deal in place was for a brief home-and-home series with each side getting a home game. That was later expanded to a four-game deal, and it is likely to remain that way for the time being. With future schedules arranged years in advance, it may not be likely to see Penn State and Pittsburgh put together any long-term or even brief series for a number of years down the road, as it is not likely either school will be overenthusiastic to schedule multiple power conference opponents in any given year if possible, at least on a regular basis.

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Jim Mora prefers using one QB, but not ready to anoint starter

Jim Mora

UCLA head coach Jim Mora faced plenty of questions about his quarterback situation at UCLA during Pac-12 media days, but he is far from prepared to settle on a starting quarterback for the start of the 2015 season. He must have been prepared for that given Brett Hundley left the Bruins a year early to enter the NFL Draft and Asiantii Woulard is hoping to be ruled eligible to play elsewhere this fall. The spring game yielded far too little confidence in any candidate to grab the starting nod months ahead of the season, so Mora is going to hold off on making any concrete decisions until he can get a better sense of who is ready to lead UCLA’s offense. One thing Mora does not plan to do is use multiple quarterbacks.

“I’d rather use one. I think that is the most beneficial way to build your team and consistency is to use one,” Mora said Friday during Pac-12 media day. “But we’ll see. My gut instinct is to name a guy and support the hell out of him. That’s what I’ve tried to do.”

So, who will that be? The three quarterback race is down to Jerry Neuheisel, Mike Fafaul and freshman Josh Rosen. Despite the high expectations for Rosen, Mora is not getting caught up in the hype just yet.

“He hasn’t taken a snap at this level. So I don’t want to put too many expectations,” Mora suggested. “I’ll let others put expectations on them. I think if Josh reaches his potential every day at the end of his time at UCLA we’ll look back and say he was a success.”

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LSU reinstates three players, including QB Anthony Jennings

Anthony Jennings

LSU has reinstated three players just days before fall practices are scheduled to open in Baton Rouge. Quarterback Anthony Jennings, defensive lineman Maquedius Bain and defensive back Dwayne Thomas will all be available to practice after being indefinitely suspended from the program.

LSU head coach Les Miles made the decision Friday afternoon with the indication the three players will undergo further in-house discipline. All three were suspended in response to an incident involving alleged unauthorized entry of an inhabited building. The alleged victim in that incident has since asked for the charges against the LSU football players to be dropped. That is exactly what has happened, allowing the door for Miles to welcome back all three, which he suspected might be the case.

No formal charges were filed against the three LSU players.

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Fitzgerald: Big Ten coaches voted unanimously against 9-game conference schedule

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In 2016 the Big Ten will expand its conference schedule from eight games to nine in a league-wide effort to enhance the overall strength of schedule for the conference. Apparently this is being done without approval from the 14 Big Ten head coaches.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald says, per Stewart Mandel of FOX Sports, the coaches in the Big Ten were unanimous in voting for an eight-game conference schedule.

This is certainly a reminder just who makes the big decisions in the Big Ten, and it sure is not the head coaches.

A nine-game conference schedule does help improve the conference’s overall schedule, but it also has its drawbacks as well. For starters, it allows for one fewer non-conference game on the schedule, which means less flexibility for scheduling options. On another hand, it also leads the Big Ten beating up on itself just a little more, potentially keeping a Big Ten member from reaching bowl eligibility.

The Big 12 and Pac-12 also use a nine-game conference schedule. The ACC and SEC remain firm on an eight-game conference schedule. The ACC, SEC and now the Big Ten all have a scheduling requirement to include a power conference opponent each season in addition to the conference schedule. The Big 12 and Pac-12 do not have such a scheduling requirement. The Big Ten will also eliminate FCS opponents from the non-conference schedule across the conference.

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Oregon State’s Gary Andersen says speed separates Pac-12 from Big Ten

Gary Andersen

Earlier in the day in Chicago new Nebraska head coach Mike Riley was asked about the difference between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, to which the nicest coach in the world shrugged off the notion of the two conferences being too different. His replacement at Oregon State, former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen, has a different take on the subject.

“Well, the speed,” Andersen replied when asked the same question at the Pac-12 media day event Friday. “If you want to talk about something that is different. This is without question, and I’m looking from afar through a TV screen or a big jumbo screen we have in the offices that we watch film from and on the TV.

“[T]his league has what we like to call juice,” Andersen explained. “It is fast. There are a lot of guys that make one mistake and you’re going to pay the price quickly. On the defensive side it is the same way. There are elite pass rushers that are fast and quick. There are linebackers that can run on the back end that I believe can make up for a lot of problems that — it’s hard to solve with a pen in your hand, but genetics take over and make you some special plays.”

Prior to taking the Wisconsin head coaching job in 2013, Andersen was the head coach of Utah State. During his tenure at Utah State he coached against one Pac-12 team, in which he emerged victorious over Utah in 2012.  In his two seasons with the Badgers in Madison, Anderson lost on the road against Arizona State (in bizarre fashion). So he does have some first-hand experience coaching against the Pac-12 to compare with his brief experience in the Big Ten (which did not end well). Andersen also thinks the Pac-12 lacks credit as a tough conference, physically.

“I never hear people talking about this league is tough-minded. I know it’s not the class, flashy thing to talk about, right, anyway, with the offensive and defensive lines,” Andersen said. “But the fact of the matter is they’re well coached. They’re tough kids. They play with leverage and play with great technique. That is something that jumped out on me on film because I look for that stuff.”

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USC coach Sarkisian takes jab at Oregon’s uniforms

Steve Sarkisian

You have to imagine that being tabbed the preseason media favorite has USC head coach Steve Sarkisian feeling a little extra confident this week. On Friday he may have allowed his confidence to go slightly far in taking a mild-tempered shot at the Oregon Ducks. More specifically, Sarkisian took aim at Oregon’s multiple uniform combinations.

This is just a guess he is not referring to Appalachian State and their 21 new uniform combinations for the 2015 season. No, this was a direct shot at the Oregon Ducks, who have made suiting up ina  different uniform every week something any school looking to generate buzz or gain an edge in recruiting seeks to emulate.

Sarkisian has yet to defeat the Ducks since being named a head coach in 2009 at Washington. In fact, he has not really come close. Since 2009, Sarkisian has lost to Oregon all six times by an average of 25.8 points per defeat. USC seems to have things going in the right direction, and the preseason media poll in the conference certainly gives the Trojans a little extra boost. But until Oregon is dethroned, USC has something to prove on the field.

USC still must get out of a tough Pac-12 South, which saw Arizona State, Utah and UCLA all hand USC a loss in conference play last season. USC will visit Oregon on November 21 this season, in what could potentially be a PAc-12 Championship Game preview. That game will be played two weeks later.

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Pac-12 not looking to expand, if you were curious

Larry Scott

If you had any hopes the Pac-12 might be looking to expand in the future, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has some bad news.

“I do not see us expanding in the foreseeable future,” Scott said Thursday during Pac-12 media days. “We are delighted with 12 schools. It’s worked exceedingly well for us.”

There has not been much discussion about the conference contemplating expansion projects to grow beyond the current 12-school membership. Much of the hypothetical expansion conversation has centered on the Big 12, with 10 members. So forget about resurrecting those Pac-16 scenarios if you were holding out hope for such a thing. This may also be somewhat discouraging news for BYU fans as well, although getting the Cougars and Utah back in the same room would be entertaining.

The Pac-12 rebranded itself following the 2011 additions of Colorado and Utah. That was the same season Nebraska joined the Big Ten and BYU went independent. Texas A&M and Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC the following year as well. For now, the Pac-12 is just keeping the focus on improving from within, starting with conference scheduling.

“As a 12-team conference playing nine conference games, this is an interesting distinction between us and some other conferences,” Scott said. “This is why I’m confident standing up and saying no one has got a tougher schedule than the Pac-12, and the Pac-12 champion has got the toughest road, because there aren’t many misses that you can have within your conference.”

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Ohio State obtains trademark for Urban Meyer’s name

Urban Meyer

When Ohio State hired Urban Meyer to be the next head coach of the Buckeyes in the final stretch of the 2011 season, the Buckeyes knew expectations would be high. Meyer guided Ohio State to an undefeated season in his first fall in Columbus, led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten championship game and Orange Bowl in year two and to a Big Ten title and national championship in year three. Naturally, Ohio State is out to assure Meyer’s contract is protected so he does not go anywhere, and now it is looking to protect his likeness.

The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday the university has obtained a trademark for the name “Urban Meyer” from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Per the report, half of the royalties in trademark cases will go to the university and the other half will go to Meyer. Life is good for Meyer, even if he did have to suspend a few players for the 2015 season opener this week.

“It’s not uncommon for celebrities and people in the public to seek protection of their name and likeness,” said Rick Van Brimmer, director of trademark and licensing services at Ohio State. It is, however, the first time n Ohio State coach has had his name trademarked.

“Based on his celebrity status, there are people who have used it on product without permission and (we) have had to approach them,” he said. “This just affords us another level of legal protection.”

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