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)

Stanford grinds out win on the road over Arizona State to remain in the Pac-12 hunt

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Stanford’s offense was stuck in quicksand out in the desert early against Arizona State.

Eventually though, the Cardinal found their way out of a tricky situation on the road to embark on a string of scoring drives that helped them capture a 20-13 win over the Sun Devils in Tempe on Thursday night and keep their Pac-12 title hopes alive in the process.

With an ailing Bryce Love (21 yards on 11 carries) re-injuring his ankle early in the second half and the team unable to mount much consistency running the ball either way, Stanford put the game in the hands of their budding quarterback K.J. Costello by utilizing a ball-control version of the Air Raid. The young signal-caller went 22-of-29 for 231 yards and a touchdown while helping spark a run of four straight scoring drives surrounding halftime that essentially won them the game on a lackluster night when it came to offense.

Lengthy wideout JJ Arcega-Whiteside managed to find the end zone for a ninth time this season (on a non-jump ball, no less) and record 91 yards while Trent Irwin was not far behind with seven catches for 79 yards. Cameron Scarlett was the primary guy after Love in the backfield with 54 yards and a touchdown with Stanford winning the time of possession battle by nearly nine minutes.

Though the final score wound up close for the home team, the Sun Devils were doomed throughout the night by something extremely uncharacteristic: turnovers. ASU game into the game with just two giveaways all season but wound up with three total and could have had one more if not for a kind replay review operator for the Pac-12. QB Manny Wilkins was responsible for two of those turnovers, fumbling in the first half on a designed run and then throwing an awful arm punt-esque interception that Sean Barton easily picked off. The signal-caller finished with 353 yards passing all told but it was quite the up-and-down performance for the offense overall with only 13 points to show for it.

Sophomore tailback Eno Benjamin had one of his least productive games of the season at the wrong time with just 81 total yards just a few weeks removed from rushing for over 300 in another conference game. While his numbers (63 yards on seven catches) managed to look okay, star receiver N'Keal Harry had a fairly quiet game and didn’t do much as a punt returner either.

The loss, while far from the worst one suffered by a team in the valley of the sun on Thursday, was the fourth this season for Herm Edwards by one score or less and dropped the team to 1-3 in conference play. With trips to USC and Oregon upcoming and a home date with Utah still on the docket, rallying to make a bowl game will be no easy task going forward as the momentum from that big win over Michigan State has all but evaporated in Tempe.

As for David Shaw’s side, Stanford remains in the hunt in the Pac-12 North with just one loss and that key tie-breaker over the Ducks. If they truly want to contend in the conference though, the offense will need to step up in terms of rushing the football with Washington State and Washington posing serious challenges in the weeks ahead.

Those are concerns for another time however as the team will certainly celebrate a win that, while ugly at times, still counts all the same in the standings.

Bryce Love, N’Keal Harry bottled up in lackluster first half between Stanford and Arizona State

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If you asked any fan on the West Coast prior to the 2018 season who two of the most explosive playmakers were in the Pac-12, they would nearly all say it was a combination of Stanford’s Bryce Love and Arizona State’s N'Keal Harry.

Naturally when those two super exciting players got together in an actual football game, neither of their respective teams managed to do much at all offensively in a rather lackluster first half in Tempe on Thursday night. The Cardinal did manage to take a 6-3 lead going into the locker room after two quarters in a pivotal conference game for both teams but it wasn’t pretty — at all — in a game that was much more bad offense than it was good defense.

Love seemed to be hit in the backfield on just about every snap as Stanford once again struggled to run the ball consistently (2.7 yds/carry), with the one-time Heisman favorite recording just 13 yards on nine carries. That put a little extra pressure on quarterback K.J. Costello, who finished 13-of-19 for 123 yards in the first half while also dealing with a hand injury that was bleeding for most of the night.

Manny Wilkins did throw for 137 yards but fumbled on a designed run that was the team’s third turnover of the season. His running mate Eno Benjamin couldn’t get much going either with 19 yards on seven carries while Harry had three catches for only 16 yards and also threw an interception on a trick play.

Hopefully the halftime break is just what both sides need to breakout of their offensive slumps and get a little #Pac12AfterDark action going. Because as it stands, neither of these two teams have much to write home about after the first half.

Baylor-Texas Tech shifting from AT&T Stadium back to campus after moving off Thanksgiving date in 2019

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After several years of spending Thanksgiving in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Texas Tech and Baylor are returning to campus for their annual conference game and doing so much earlier than normal too.

As part of the Big 12’s release of the 2019 schedule on Thursday, the conference confirmed that the annual game will not be played on Thanksgiving weekend at AT&T Stadium — the site of the game since 2009, with one exception — and has instead been shifted to October 12 next season at the Bears home field of McLane Stadium in Waco. The return game will go back to Lubbock in 2020 at a future, unreleased date.

While some fans will delight in making the trip to the banks of the Brazos or heading out to West Texas for the first time in a while, it seems both schools would have preferred to remain at JerryWorld the week of Thanksgiving but scheduling at the stadium seemed to play an issue in the site not being available when the two teams needed it to be.

AT&T Stadium is quite busy that time of year between the Dallas Cowboys’ annual Thanksgiving game, Texas high school football playoffs at the venue and the Big 12 title game taking place in early December as well. It doesn’t sound like a return is being ruled out in the future but it will be 2021 at the earliest before that happens for the Bears and Red Raiders.

Bronco Mendenhall puts up $500,000 toward new Virginia football facility

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Ask any football coach what one of their top requests of their administration is and, outside of perhaps an increase in the staff salary pool, just about every one of them will reply with better facilities.

It seems Bronco Mendenhall is helping out his own cause on that front as the school announced that he and his wife Holly have pledged $500,000 that will go building the Cavaliers’ new football operations building.

“Holly and I are excited to be a part of the process that transforms Virginia football,” Mendenhall said in a statement. “We love developing young people through football and the new Football Operations Center will provide our young men a home where they can develop into exceptional football players, students and leaders.”

“I am very thankful that Bronco and Holly have further demonstrated their commitment to the University of Virginia with this gift,” added Virginia AD Carla Williams.” Bronco’s vision for the impact this facility will have on the football program is inspiring and I hope his and Holly’s gift will motivate others to invest in the future of Virginia student-athletes.”

The gift, the largest ever by a UVA head coach back to the school, is the first public pledge toward the Hoos’ $180 million master plan campaign that will see a complete revitalization of the campus’ athletic facilities. This includes a new football building located next to the team’s indoor practice facility/outdoor fields and will also include a full renovation to the existing McCue Center that the program currently calls home. Construction of the vast majority of the plan is expected to start in 2020.

The half-million dollar gift to the school won’t put a huge damper on Mendenhall’s wallet despite being a very nice gesture for the program. According to the USA Today salary database, the head coach will take home nearly $3.55 million in 2018 and seems firmly tied to the Cavs for the foreseeable future given his whopping $18 million buyout.