Nebraska football finds itself at a crossroads this season. The Cornhuskers were improved in coach Bo Pelini's first season. In his second, they're primed to reclaim the Big 12 North from Missouri and Kansas, a big step toward becoming a super power again.
Six other marquee programs are entering pivotal seasons, too.
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Michigan - Rich Rodriguez's first season in Ann Arbor was one of the worst in the history of college football winningest program. It's unrealistic to think Michigan will be back in the thick of the Big Ten race after going 3-9 with a very inexperienced squad in 2008. But significant progress must be made this season, because when your competition is Ohio State, slow and steady doesn't cut it.
UCLA - Another team in Year 2 of a coaching regime. Rick Nueheisel has already won some recruiting battles with crosstown rival Southern California. That's a good step. Now the Bruins have to start moving quickly toward being a Pac-10 contender.
ormed into Boulder in 2006, spreading Hawk Love and hope for a program trying to emerge from a scandal. Three years later, the Buffaloes have won 13 games. It's time for the Buffs to be relevant again, even if the fans in Boulder tend to be a patient bunch.
Tennessee - Normally, a coach in his first season gets some time to put his stamp on the team. Lane Kiffin has been throwing haymakers since he landed in Knoxville, making it clear he expects the Volunteers to be going toe-to-toe with Florida and Georgia in the SEC East sooner rather than later. So much for the honeymoon.
Miami - For the past two years Randy Shannon has been restocking the shelves at Miami with blue chip recruits, and dealing with the frustration that comes with fielding an inexperienced lineup. The Hurricanes are still a bit green, but it's time to get out of the middle of the Atlantic Coast Conference pack.
M was languishing through an ugly 4-8 season under first-year coach Mike Sherman. It looks as if it'll be at least a couple of years before the Aggies can even hope to contend in the Big 12 South. But that's what makes this season so important. In their neighborhood, the Aggies can't afford to fall further behind.

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