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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Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

CFP expansion talks head toward October after 7-hour meeting

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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ROSEMONT, Ill. — The conference commissioners who manage the College Football Playoff met for almost seven hours Tuesday to work on expanding the postseason system from four to 12 teams as soon as the 2024 season.

There is still much work to be done.

“We will not wrap up this week,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

The CFP management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is scheduled to convene again at the Big Ten offices for a few hours Wednesday morning. They are set to meet again in person in Dallas on Oct. 20.

“That’ll be important,” Hancock said.

Expansion talks were revived by the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the College Football Playoff last month.

By adopting a 12-team plan that had been on the table since the spring of 2021, the presidents pushed the commissioners to try to implement a new format before the end of the CFP’s current contract with ESPN. That deal ends after the 2025 season.

Expanding from four to 12 in 2024 and ’25 will require rescheduling semifinals and championship games that already have dates and sites set, plus adding four new first-round games in mid-December to be played on campus sites.

Squeezing it all into about a month and working around the NFL for television will be challenging.

Hancock said the idea of moving up the start of the college football season to the week before Labor Day to create more room at the end for the playoff has been discussed, but more for beyond the 2025 season.

“I think most people view that as a future item. As long-term item and not an immediacy item,” Hancock said. “Remember, there’s so many details.”

Hancock said CFP officials have spoken to bowl partners and hosts cities that are set to hold semifinals and championship games after the 2024 and ’25 seasons, but they have not been presented definitive new dates.

Atlanta already has been chosen as the host city for the championship game to be played following the 2024 season, on Jan. 6, 2025. The game would have to be pushed back about two weeks if the playoff grows from four teams to 12.

“(Atlanta organizers) have some work to do because of other businesses in the community,” Hancock said. “Other meeting-type business, hotel business and Convention Center business there. They’ve been great to work with.”