LINCOLN — Nebraska athletics just got a standing reservation at the hottest restaurant in town.
Adidas struck shoe oil in the last three years. The company revived itself after appointing Mark King to be president of its North American operations in 2014. Sales are up 26 percent this year in North America. Yahoo Finance named it 2016 sports business of the year. A collaboration with Kanye West helped, as has the “Boost” shoe line, which uses unique, light material in its soles.
When Adidas lost college apparel contracts with Michigan, Tennessee, Wisconsin and UCLA in the past three years, it set up Nebraska to get a good deal. Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst said NU never talked to any other company.
But 11 years and $128 million? With two look-in periods that could bump up the money? When the previous deal signed in 2013 was five years, $15.53 million?
Nebraska just got three times as much money and Adidas apparel per year at a time when the Big Ten’s full share is about to kick in. How did Eichorst pull that off?
Last fall, he invited King to Lincoln. They had what Eichorst called a “long conversation.”
“I talked at length about my vision, our vision, our mission, our plan, our people,” Eichorst said.
King talked about where Adidas was headed.
“He was a believer,” Eichorst said. “I was a believer. We said, let’s come together and do something very, very special. And this is.”
Rumors of the Adidas deal bounced around Nebraska walls for months. Perhaps fans expected NU to look at Nike and Under Armour, since the previous deal was so modest. Eichorst presented that extension to the Board of Regents in March 2013 right after he’d taken the full-time job, but he had nothing to do with negotiating the deal.
Nebraska was a different athletic department then. Adidas was a different company.
Now, with a massive agreement in hand and the full Big Ten share of money coming in — published reports suggest north of $50 million per team per year — Nebraska athletics has more money to spend. Asked what fan feedback he’s received on how NU will spend it, Eichorst said: “If I need a fan to come tell me what we need to be successful, I don’t know if I’m doing my job.”
He has a plan. He rattled off a list of to-do items. The new gymnastics training facility — approved by the Board of Regents on Friday — is the start.
» Finding a way to get Nebraska’s men’s and women’s golf teams to practice on campus. Currently, they practice at local courses. “They’re our only program now that trains off campus,” Eichorst said.
» A new natatorium. Nebraska’s swimming pool inside the Devaney Center is outdated and only 25 yards long. Woods Pool, a city-owned outdoor venue in central Lincoln, is longer. “That’s a big project and a big question,” Eichorst said. “Campus and I have talked about a collaboration over a period of time, so we’ll continue to explore that.”
» Finally, the big-ticket stuff inside Memorial Stadium — especially in the end zones, where more than half of Husker fans sit. The curved video boards, designed to serve North Stadium fans, is one step. Eichorst said more are to come. Easier access to seats in South Stadium. More concessions and bathrooms. More “seat comfort,” which translates to bigger seats. That’s the complaint I get from fans.
“We need to ‘right size’ our capacity a little bit relative to where we’re at,” Eichorst said.
Don’t overlook the $5 million annual scholarship fund — for non-athletes — that NU athletics is willing to provide. That announcement was a wow moment for the regents. Remember: The University of Nebraska system is facing a $49 million budget shortfall.
“The increase in the Big Ten money is phenomenal, and the commitment of the athletic department and the campus to put it to use beyond athletics is even more important to the people of the state,” Eichorst said.
Nebraska athletics was already giving $5 million per year to the academic side.
“Now we’re going to do 10,” Eichorst said.
Fans like to debate about the job Eichorst has done. The media do, too. But remember Friday when assessing his work. Eichorst said it was a “great day to be a Husker.” It was a pretty good day for him, too.
I see you
» Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle: I’ve heard good things about him in camp and saw a few good plays Thursday, too. Bootle has to be ready to roll, especially at Oregon.
» Defensive tackle Carlos Davis: Quick twitch, agile, strong.
» Guard Jerald Foster: Caught Caleb Lightbourn’s shanked punt on a dead sprint to end practice early Thursday. Foster appears to have been NU’s best offensive lineman in camp, too.
» Outside linebacker Luke Gifford: He’s found his spot and clearly loves the moment. Confidence, often hard to measure in recruiting rankings, matters so much in a player maximizing his potential.
» Tight end Tyler Hoppes: Hoppes has some hops. He’ll give some defenses trouble with his speed. I’ll be curious about his long-term durability.
» Safety Joshua Kalu: As one of Nebraska’s quarterbacks on defense, he’s taken a natural leadership role. Will he be a captain?
» Quarterback Tanner Lee: Nebraska’s starter looked sharp in a red zone drill Thursday. Phil Savage, Senior Bowl executive director and former NFL general manager, was on hand, too. His praise is no small deal.
» Running back Devine Ozigbo: He has worked his way back into the starting running back race. He can catch and run, and he’s good in space for a big guy. Can he get the tough yard with traffic at his feet?
» Receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El: He looks like an all-around receiver now. He runs all the routes crisply, and he has the acceleration jets back.
» Linebacker Dedrick Young: Nebraska continues to lean on him as a nickel and dime linebacker. It’s his time, if he can take it.
» 43.88 percent: Nebraska’s third-down conversion rate last season, which ranked fourth in the Big Ten. Nebraska converted 51.8 percent of its running plays into first downs — second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State. NU converted 37.8 percent of its third-down passes into first downs. That was by no means the league’s worst ratio — Illinois converted 24.8! — but one figures it could improve in 2017 and be a notch above 40 percent.
The Huskers were a poor passing team on third-and-short under quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who completed 42.4 percent of his passes on third-and short (3 or fewer yards) in 2015 and 2016. If you’re looking for a comparison — and I know you are — Taylor Martinez completed 67.6 percent of his passes in those situations over 2011, 2012 and 2013.
» 37.43 percent: Opponents’ third-down conversion rate against Nebraska. That ranked seventh in the Big Ten.
Cut out the games against Fresno State and Wyoming, and the rate creeps to 38.96. In 2013 and 2014, the Huskers had national top 10 third-down defenses. It’s a bit of an offense-challenged league.
» 62.22 percent: Nebraska’s rate of scoring touchdowns inside the red zone. That ranked 59th in the nation last season; mediocre. That was NU’s worst touchdown conversion rate since 2009.
NU’s overall red zone scoring rate — 82.22 percent — was also the Huskers’ lowest since 2009. The Huskers ranked 15th in touchdown rate and 21st in scoring rate in 2015. In 2009, Mike Riley’s Oregon State offense was the nation’s best red zone attack, scoring on 96.43 percent of its possessions and scoring touchdowns on 73.21 percent.
» 64.71 percent: Nebraska’s opponents’ rate of scoring touchdowns in the red zone. These numbers got skewed pretty badly in the losses to Iowa and Ohio State — 10 combined opportunities, eight touchdowns — but it’s not like you wipe the games off the board, either.
NU finished 11th in the Big Ten in this category. Since joining the Big Ten, NU has never ranked higher than fifth in the league in this category — and never higher than 35th nationally. That’s something.
At Notre Dame, Bob Diaco’s defenses — 2010 through 2013 — were ranked seventh, 46th, third and 18th nationally in that category. That’s something, too.
» 11th: National attendance rank in men’s basketball. NU averaged 15,427 at Pinnacle Bank Arena last season. Better than Michigan State, Arizona, Iowa State, Purdue, UCLA and others. The women’s basketball team — arguably the weakest in school history — finished 17th nationally. When Nebraska administrators say the deal with Adidas was built in part because of the Husker fans, they’re right.
» Rutgers held its open fan practice Saturday and, according to reports from NJ.com, Louisville transfer Kyle Bolin may have the slight edge in a three-man quarterback race. And according to Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, Rutgers has moved away from a spread team and toward more of a physical, power style preferred by new offensive coordinator Jerry Kill. The best Rutgers can hope for this year is a 5-7 squad that loses some close games.
» There’s no quarterback controversy at Illinois, where Lovie Smith anointed Chayce Crouch — a run-first, oft-injured guy last season — the No. 1 man. Look for the Illini to run a lot and, like Rutgers, try to keep games close. Talking to Smith and Illinois players in Chicago, they think they should have beaten Nebraska last season. NU’s visit on that Friday night will be the game of Illinois’ season.
The grind will set in. Does NU squeeze in an extra day off?
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No. 1 Tanner Lee: The Tulane transfer has been given the keys to Nebraska’s offense, and much is expected as a result. His ability to make the one or two passes that most quarterbacks can’t should come in handy. You can read more here.
No. 2 Chris Jones: Jones tore the meniscus in his left knee over the summer and will likely miss at least half the season. Could he miss all of it? Possibly — he has a redshirt season left. You can read more here.
No. 3 Nick Gates: He started every game in 2016, but Gates was much more effective before an ankle injury at Indiana. You can read more here.
No. 4 Joshua Kalu: A competent corner for most of his career, Kalu’s smarts and tackling talents should serve him well at safety, where coaches plan to keep him despite the injury to Chris Jones. You can read more here.
No. 5 Stanley Morgan: It’s Morgan’s turn and his time to be NU’s No. 1 receiver. The stats from first two seasons combined — 58 catches, 757 yards, five touchdowns — would be a good year in 2017. You can read more here.
No. 6 Aaron Williams: He has been a jack of all trades the last two seasons, finding the field in nickel and dime packages as well as on special teams. Now the Atlanta native appears to have parlayed that work and experience into a starting spot at safety. You can read more here.
No. 7 De'Mornay Pierson-El: Coach Mike Riley was openly excited about Pierson-El when he took over after the 2014 season, but injuries before and during the 2015 campaign have kept Riley from getting the best of what he envisioned. You can read more here.
No. 8 Carlos Davis: Voted the Huskers’ most improved player after the 2016 season, Davis gets the chance to take a bigger — and more important — step with a starting job at defensive end in the new three-man front. You can read more here.
No. 9 Jerald Foster: It’s not a reach to trace some of last season’s offensive line issues back to last August, when Foster injured a knee midway through fall camp and Nebraska had to scramble. Foster recovered in time to start the last four games, and that experience will be big heading into his junior season. You can read more here.
No. 10 Chris Weber: It’s an important season for Weber. It’s his first stint as a full-time starter and the defense wants a smooth transition for Bob Diaco. You can read more here.
No. 11 Tanner Farmer: The former state champion wrestler from Highland, Illinois, offers a strong and agile blocking presence, and that versatility will be tested along with that of his line mates this fall while protecting a pro-style quarterback for the first time. You can read more here.
No. 12 Tre Bryant: Nebraska still hasn’t settled on a starting running back, but Bryant might be the closest to the do-everything feature back coaches are looking for. He ran for 172 yards and one touchdown on 43 attempts last year and showed his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. You can read more here.
No. 13 Dedrick Young: Young already proved himself to be one of Nebraska’s best tacklers at outside linebacker the past two seasons, when he started 20 games and made 121 stops along with four quarterback hurries. You can read more here.
No. 14 Lamar Jackson: How confident is Nebraska that the sophomore from California can be a standout cornerback? Enough so that coaches tried accomplished senior Joshua Kalu at safety this spring in an effort to get Jackson on the field. You can read more here.
No. 15 Mick Stoltenberg: He showed up for spring practice with nearly 20 additional pounds of muscle in preparation for his new role as the starting nose tackle on Nebraska’s three-man front. And his positive impressions that first day were just the beginning as he settled in and stood out at his new position. You can read more here.
16. Freedom Akinmoladun: Few players expressed more excitement about their potential in the new 3-4 defense than Akinmoladun, whose four sacks were second on the team last year. You can read more here.
No. 17 Drew Brown: Brown connected from 35 and 33 yards in the spring game and was 12 of 14 last fall while hitting all 38 of his PATs. His consistency should give the Huskers a little more flexibility and margin for error as their schedule toughens and tight games abound. You can read more here.
No. 18 Cole Conrad: Nebraska felt strongly enough about Conrad to award the former walk-on from Fremont Bergan a scholarship in January and — in a surprise development — move him into the mix at center this spring to get him on the field. You can read more here.
No. 19 David Knevel: Knevel and Husker coaches were ready to see what he could do over the course of a full slate of games at right tackle last season before an ankle injury against Oregon hampered his play in multiple contests, forcing him to miss three games late in the year. You can read more here.
20. Khalil Davis: The redshirt sophomore might not be a starter as he learns a new position at nose tackle, but he’ll provide valuable depth behind Mick Stoltenberg and be a big body who can clog running lanes and get after the quarterback when necessary. You can read more here.
No. 21 Mikale Wilbon: This spring — kind of a put-up-or-shut-up period for Wilbon — he made strides as a pass blocker and in learning Nebraska’s pro-style playbook. You can read more here.
No. 22 Tyler Hoppes: Lincoln Southwest graduate, Wayne State transfer and Husker walk-on Hoppes picked the perfect time to be a senior tight end at Nebraska: He’s No. 1. You can read more here.
Husker Camp Countdown: No. 20 Khalil Davis
23. Luke Gifford: He has gone from safety in high school to playing close to the line of scrimmage. Between defense and special teams, Gifford is in line for a breakthrough season. You can read more here.
24. Marcus Newby: The fifth-year senior from Maryland has done a little bit of everything in his NU career, and this season he’ll be in a natural outside linebacker role that will generally suit him. You can read more here.
No. 25 Eric Lee: The top-rated prospect from Nebraska’s 2015 recruiting class, found his footing — in a big way — this spring under new cornerbacks coach Donte Williams. You can read more here.
No. 26 JD Spielman: He ostensibly will be a slot receiver for the Huskers, but he’s capable of many things. He can be a jet sweep guy. He could even run the ball out of the backfield. You can read more here.
27. Keyan Williams: He’ll be an immediate factor in the slot, where he’s shown the ability to get open and run good routes. He can catch the ball, too. You can read more here.
No. 28 Alex Davis: He has a real shot to be NU’s starting boundary outside linebacker, but that role requires run-stopping and pass-rushing skill sets that Davis hasn’t quite shown yet. You can read more here.
No. 29 Kieron Williams: NU’s No. 3 safety in spring after Joshua Kalu moved from cornerback to be paired with Aaron Williams. You can read more here.
30. Devine Ozigbo: He is a bit of an enigma — a big back with nimble feet who may be No. 3 headed into training camp. You can read more here.
31. Mohamed Barry: He’s now in position to play behind Chris Weber and Dedrick Young at inside linebacker as the Huskers launch their 3-4 scheme under Bob Diaco. You can read more here.
32. Antonio Reed: It appears he will start the season as a backup safety again — with Aaron Williams and Joshua Kalu emerging as the No. 1s after spring practice — but Reed offers important value on special teams. You can read more here.
33. Avery Roberts: Nebraska appears to be stockpiling some good youth and talent at linebacker, and Roberts is among those at the forefront. You can read more here.
34. Bryan Reimers: He has proven to the coaches that he can go up and get it, so his size and length are tools that can help the Huskers at receiver. You can read more here.
No. 35 Tyjon Lindsey: Lindsey isn’t very big but comes in with the kind of explosiveness and open-field danger that concerns opposing defensive coordinators. What NU won’t know until August, however, is how the former Ohio State commit handles the grind and demands when fall camp starts. You can read more here.
36. Michael Decker, C: Decker is smart and athletic, and he added needed size through his first two years in the program. It has been awhile since Nebraska has featured a multiyear starter at center. Can the Omaha North graduate with a winning background become that player? You can read more here.
37. Luke McNitt, FB: Nebraska again will utilize McNitt in power sets, and he will continue to be a physical, hard-nosed and versatile force on special teams. You can read more here.
38. DaiShon Neal, DE: Is Neal somebody who benefits from the move to a 3-4 scheme? The next few months will start telling the story. You can read more here.
39. Tyrin Ferguson, LB: He was ultimately believed to be a best fit at outside linebacker. He is considered versatile enough to play either spot, however, and should push for some playing time as the Huskers go forward. You can read more here.
40. Matt Snyder, TE: Opportunity won’t be a problem for Snyder, who now just has to make the most of one. Nebraska lost three four-year lettermen at tight end, and former walk-on Tyler Hoppes is the only returnee with any sure inroads to playing time. You can read more here.
41. Patrick O’Brien, QB: The redshirt freshman competed for the starting quarterback job with junior Tanner Lee all the way through spring practices before coaches named O’Brien the backup. You can read more here.
No. 42 Caleb Lightbourn, P: Lightbourn moved past his infamous punt last November against Minnesota that traveled -2 yards with a strong spring and is tracking to again start as a sophomore. Thrust into duty last season after the death of Sam Foltz, Lightbourn averaged 39.7 yards per punt on 65 kicks, 21 of which settled inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. You can read more here.
No. 43 Peyton Newell: Newell is still looking for his first official college tackle entering his fourth year in the program, but it could be on the horizon. A former top recruit from Hiawatha, Kansas, he has gone from defensive end to tackle and back to end in the Huskers’ new 3-4 defense. You can read more here.
44. Deontre Thomas, DE: If Thomas ends up redshirting his true freshman season, it won’t be for lack of ability. His frame and speed (he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds) are ideally suited for Nebraska’s new 3-4 scheme. You can read more here.
45. Boe Wilson, OG: Nebraska coaches felt good enough about Wilson in fall camp last year that they worked him out at first-team left guard following an injury to starter Jerald Foster. You can read more here.
No. 46 Matt Farniok, OT: Farniok will have his chance to alleviate concerns about the offensive line’s depth in the coming months. The redshirt freshman from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is plenty valuable if he does nothing more than serve as a quality backup to returning starters Nick Gates (left tackle) and David Knevel (right tackle). You can read more here.
47. Wyatt Mazour, RB: Mazour earned a spot on Nebraska’s travel squad to Indiana last year and may have taken off with the opportunity if not for a concussion suffered during practice. But the walk-on, who coach Mike Riley calls “our Danny Woodhead” showcased his skills with a dominant spring game that featured quick bursts and broken tackles. You can read more here.
48. Ben Miles, FB: An Andy Janovich-style breakout would be a lot to ask from the son of former LSU coach Les Miles as he enters his freshman season as a rare scholarship fullback. But it isn’t out of the question, either. Read more here.
49. Jack Stoll, TE: The redshirt freshman hasn’t done anything to take himself out of consideration for the leading role at tight end, and that alone is encouraging for a redshirt freshman competing at one of Nebraska’s most unresolved positions heading into fall camp. Read more here.
50. Collin Miller, LB: The redshirt freshman was named defensive MVP of the scout team last fall while lining up as a defensive end. Coach Mike Riley said Miller had been playing inside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme, but then the product of Fishers, Indiana, missed the entire spring with a toe injury. Read more here.
DiCaprio Bootle, honorable mention: A redshirt freshman, Bootle is probably one injury away from playing a lot. He’s the No. 2/No. 3 field corner, he could play some nickel, and he’ll definitely appear on special teams.
Damion Daniels, honorable mention: The precocious, explosive defensive tackle is a trendy pick to be one of Nebraska’s best recruits from its 2017 class. Daniels has great potential; he’s also 17 years old until just days before the season kicks off.
Boaz Joseph, honorable mention: Backup corner and special teams guy for his fifth-year senior season, Joseph should make his share of tackles and play in a few games.
The 4th tight end, honorable mention: Nebraska may very well need four tight ends for their offense, and the No. 4 guy last season – Tyler Hoppes – is likely to be the No. 1 guy this year. That means a whole slew of guys have a shot at playing time. One is senior walk-on Connor Ketter (pictured), who didn’t practice in spring because of an injury but might have been the No. 2 guy heading into spring camp. Others to watch are redshirt freshman David Engelhaupt and true freshmen Austin Allen (pictured) and Kurt Rafdal. Engelhaupt, at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, is more of a H-back type while the taller Ketter, Allen and Rafdal are downfield receiving threats.
Sedrick King, honorable mention: An outside linebacker competing for playing time, King is roughly in the same spot he was last season: Trying to put all the pieces together. He’s at that boundary linebacker spot, which is more of a pass rushing spot, competing against Alex Davis and a few other guys.
Jordan Ober, honorable mention: Nebraska’s starting long snapper for a third straight season, Ober’s job is make clean snaps on field goals, extra points and punts. He’s done a good job in his first two years.
John Raridon, honorable mention: After redshirting last season, Raridon, No. 50, appeared ready to take a shot at the starting center job in the spring. Since NU’s starting guards are Jerald Foster and Tanner Farmer, and Boe Wilson is at guard, too, Raridon is perhaps a year away from significant playing time.
Austin Rose, honorable mention: A walk-on running back from Lincoln North Star, Rose flashed some power and some good cuts in spring camp. He looked every bit as spry as scholarship back Devine Ozigbo.
Deiontae Watts, honorable mention: Another 2017 recruit, Watts is on the other end of the age spectrum from Daniels; he’ll turn 20 this year. His academic eligibility is still a bit up in the air; he hasn’t arrived on campus yet.
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