CFT preseason No. 9: Nebraska

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2010 record: 10-4, 6-2 (T-1st Big 12 North)

2010 bowl: 19-7 loss to Washington in the Holiday Bowl

2010 final AP/coaches’ ranking: 20th/19th

Coach: Bo Pelini, fourth year; 30-12 overall, 17-7 conference

Offensive coordinator: Tim Beck, first year

2010 offensive rankings: 39th, scoring offense (30.9 ppg); 44th, total offense (398.1 ypg); ninth, rushing offense (247.6 ypg); 113th, passing offense (150.6 ypg)

Defensive coordinator: Carl Pelini, fourth year

2010 defensive rankings: ninth, scoring defense (17.4 ppg); 11th, total defense (306.8 ypg); 63rd, rushing defense (153.1 ypg); fifth, passing defense (153.6 ypg)

Returning offensive starters: 5

Returning defensive starters: 7

Location: Lincoln, Neb.

Stadium: Memorial Stadium (FieldTurf; 81,067)

Last league title: 2007

2011 schedule: [view]

2011 roster: [view]

2010 statistics: [view]

Snapshot: That angst that seemed to be in the air after the Cornhuskers lost three of their last four games — two of them by three points — at the end of the 2010 season? It appears to be gone, washed away for the clean slate that the move to the Big Ten has provided. Far beyond anything else, NU’s official bolt from the Big 12 to the Midwest conference will be the overriding theme throughout their first year in the league.

Of course, there will be games to play, and Nebraska appears to be stocked with the kind of talent that will propel the school on a serious run to a title during their virginal tour through the conference. A top-10 scoring defense in each of the past two years, there’s little to suggest that unit will slip much if any, especially as they return more than half the starting unit that allowed less than 18 points per game in a conference known for it’s high-flying scoring binges. The running game should also be solid as last year’s top rusher, Rex Burkhead, returns for at least one more season in Lincoln. The biggest question mark, in tandem with the first year after offensive coordinator Shawn Watson “parted ways” with the program, is Taylor Martinez. While Martinez showed flashes of brilliance in his first season as a starting quarterback at this level, he was also hampered by both nagging foot/ankle injuries as well as what some considered to be a suspect attitude.

If Martinez can be the player and, perhaps more importantly, the teammate/person those around him feel he can be, the Cornhuskers will be set for a run to Indianapolis. In fact, how Martinez goes could very well portend which direction the 2011 season heads, especially when the experience level of the personnel behind him at the position is taken into consideration.

Make-or-break game: Oct. 1 at Wisconsin

Simply put, there can be no other game underneath the above category. Not only will the ‘Huskers open Big Ten play against the Badgers, but it’s a matchup that could also serve as a juicy preview to the conference’s first title game in early December. The fact that it will be played in Madison — probably at night in that atmosphere — ratchets up what will already be an unbelievably hyped contest. While this may be the litmus test for the ‘Huskers for the 2011 season, the schedule makers did them no additional favors; yes, they get Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa at home, but, in addition to the Wisconsin trip, will have to travel to Penn State and Michigan in mid- to late November. The schedule’s certainly full of potential stumbling blocks, particularly in conference play, but it’s nothing the ‘Huskers can’t handle given the level of talent they will bring to the playing field.

Heisman hopeful: Martinez

In early October, and after a couple of fairly brilliant games, a case of premature speculation struck some across the collegiate landscape, placing the then-freshman into the Heisman discussion. Injuries, poor play and other “issues”, however, doused that talk almost as quickly as it ignited. This season, the Heisman talk will certainly resume, although Martinez putting himself seriously in the mix or simply becoming stiff-armed small talk will depend solely on Martinez and whether he can take his considerable talent and produce on the field on a consistent basis.

Postseason projection: Capital One Bowl

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Nebraska, Illinois to open 2021 season in Ireland

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Nebraska and Illinois will open their 2021 seasons in Dublin, Ireland, the programs jointly announced Monday.

“The University of Illinois, our football program, our alumni and fans, and the entire Fighting Illini family are in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience on the Emerald Isle,” Illini AD Josh Whitman said. “When first approached about this game almost two years ago, we had immediate interest. This game will provide an incredible educational opportunity for our football student-athletes who, because of their schedule, generally do not receive the same international experiences as many of our other student-athletes. For our fans, I hope they will journey with us across the Atlantic for a wonderful trip and a major football game, all set against the beauty of Ireland.”

The game will take place Aug. 28, 2021 at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, the same site that hosted Notre Dame vs. Navy in 2012 and will host the Irish and Midshipmen again in 2020. College GameDay will broadcast from the Notre Dame-Navy game in 2020. Penn State and UCF played in Ireland in 2014, and Georgia Tech and Boston College did the same in 2016.

“It is a privilege to be here at the University of Illinois for the announcement of the teams for the 2021 Aer Lingus College Football Classic,” Dublin mayor Paul McAuliffe said. “I welcome the news that both the University of Illinois and University of Nebraska teams and fans will travel to Dublin in 2021 and I look forward to seeing the colour and energy that they will bring to the city of Dublin. Dublin and Ireland are ready to welcome you! This fixture is an important date in our calendar and showcases Dublin as a destination for hosting major international sporting events.”

The game was originally scheduled to be played Nov. 13, 2021 in Champaign, and likely will not be the last in Ireland, as the nation works to make Dublin the European capital of American college football.

Clemson moving forward with $70 million renovation for Death Valley

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Clemson’s building spree around campus for the football program isn’t slowing down anytime soon thanks to the Tigers winning two of the last three national titles.

The school’s Board of Trustees on Friday approved a massive $68.7 million renovation of Frank Howard Field at Clemson Memorial Stadium — better known as Death Valley — and a further $7 million devoted to expanding the already impressive football operations building.

“We haven’t had a major redo of the west end since 2006 so it’s time to pay some attention to that side [after] we redid the suites on the north side and created the south club on the south side,” Athletic Director Dan Radakovich told WNCT.

The stadium renovations are pretty typical of schools nowadays as it will add premium seating (i.e. suites), a new video board and upgraded LED lighting that peers like Georgia and Alabama have used to rave reviews in recent years.

New locker rooms at the stadium are also set to be the first thing accomplished in the project, which officials hope will be completely wrapped up prior to the 2021 season.

Given everything the school is doing for the program lately, ‘If you win it, they will build it’ might just be the unofficial motto at Clemson nowadays. Sure seems more accurate in 2019 than ‘BYOG.’

Thanks to alcohol sales, UNC made over $1 million from concessions in just three home games

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The state of North Carolina opening up beer and alcohol sales at sporting events has had a big impact on the flagship university’s bottom line so far this year.

According to WTVD ABC 11, UNC sold over 43,000 “units” of alcohol (beer/wine/hard seltzers) in the Tar Heels’ first three home games of the year. The end result to all those purchases? The team took in over $1 million in concessions in games against Miami, Appalachian State and Clemson, with all three contests selling more alcohol than soda (and nearly as much booze as water).

The school confirmed a number of figures, including roughly $325,000 in concession sales for the home opener against the Hurricanes and $393,000 against the in-state rival Mountaineers. The defending national champions’ visit on Sept. 28 was the high point however, with $416,000 worth of goods sold and some 15,737 units of alcohol bought.

WRAL reports that all three games exceeded the previous record amount UNC took in from concessions, set back in November 2016 against local rival N.C. State.

Kenan Stadium will host three more home games in 2019 against Duke, Virginia and FCS Mercer. Safe to say all three can already get counted as wins for the bottom line regardless of the result on the field for Mack Brown’s team.

Baylor LB Clay Johnston to miss rest of the season with knee injury

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If No. 18 Baylor is going to continue their remarkable pursuit of a Big 12 title in 2019, they’re going to have to do it without their best defensive player.

A school official confirmed to the Dallas Morning News on Sunday that senior linebacker Clay Johnston will miss the rest of the season after injuring his knee in the Bears’ double overtime victory over Texas Tech on Saturday.

The news is a huge blow to Matt Rhule’s defense, which was tops in the Big 12 in a number of statistical categories and the No. 17 scoring defense nationally. Johnston was all over the field against the Red Raiders, racking up 10 tackles (1.5 TFL) and an interception to help edge their conference rivals and remain undefeated.

For the season, which will sadly be Johnston’s last as a senior, he had 58 tackles, 2.5 sacks and that lone pick from Saturday. Freshman Matt Jones is listed as the next man up on the depth chart though given his youth and inexperience, it’s possible the Bears coaching staff will shift over a more veteran option to man the middle of the defense going forward.

Baylor doesn’t ease into the second half of the schedule either as they’ll hit the road to face a dangerous Oklahoma State offense in their first game without Johnston on Saturday.