Bret Bielema

CFT predicts: the Big Ten


It’s an unsettling time for a conference steeped in tradition. It’s difficult if not downright impossible not to mention the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State — an institution regarded for so long as the epitome of excellence with integrity. Both the Nittany Lions and the Ohio State Buckeyes will be absent from this year’s postseason — and are ineligible for the conference title — because of NCAA sanctions. That’s not something anyone should be used to typing.

Who sits atop the league has shifted as well. Michigan State and Wisconsin are both coming off terrific seasons and should be ready to compete for another conference championship. Joining the favorites is Michigan after a brief trough during the Rich Rodriguez years.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the Big Ten should shake out:

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

Leaders Division

1. Wisconsin (last season: 11-3; lost Rose Bowl) 
The Badgers had this division locked up before Ohio State and Penn State received postseason bans, so the Badgers are a big favorite to make a second straight Big Ten championship game appearance. Think about it: three programs, including the aforementioned two, are breaking in new coaches (Illinois is the other). Kevin Wilson is only entering his second year with Indiana and Danny Hope hasn’t done anything threatening at Purdue.

Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball — excuse me, Mon-tay Ball — is back and once again Bret Bielema went the free agent route at quarterback with Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien. When a program has a solid identity like Wisconsin, it’s more likely success isn’t a flash in the pan.

2. Ohio State (last season: 6-7; lost Gator Bowl) 
This will be Urban Meyer‘s inaugural season with the Buckeyes, but there’s no shortage of talent in Columbus. Part of the reason I have Ohio State at No. 2 is because the Leaders Division is a jumbled mess, but I actually like Meyer to win a big game or two this year — perhaps against Nebraska — and the Michigan game can almost always go either way. Meyer’s offense caters toward Braxton Miller‘s athletic ability and the defense still has Luke Fickell as defensive coordinator along with former interim UNC coach Everett Withers. Also, interesting scheduling note: the Buckeyes will play two other teams with postseason bans: Penn State, obviously, and Central Florida.

3. Illinois (last season: 6-6; won Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) 
The Illini are also breaking in a new coach in Tim Beckman, who currently may or may not be in and around State College recruiting Penn State, but definitely not on campus. Anyway, Illinois does return some key guys on offense and a couple All-Big Ten defensive players from a year ago. But y’all know Illinois’ standard operating procedure by now: they’ll beat some heavily favored team by an obscure score, like 15-9, before turning around and losing to Purdue.

4. Penn State (last season: 9-4; lost TicketCity Bowl) 
The players deciding to stay at Penn State this season deserve a lot of credit; those who stick it out past the 2012 season should and will get more kudos, as there will be another round of departures next offseason. The immediate loss of running back Silas Redd hurts the Nittany Lions, though. Redd was Penn State’s offense last season. Now, he’s gone to USC, leaving Bill O’Brien with little to work with on that side of the ball. And things don’t start off easy for PSU, either. The non-conference slate is filled with winnable games, but it’s nothing to scoff at, either. Most of the conference games are a coin flip too. The nice part for O’Brien’s team is that it won’t have to face Michigan or Michigan State this year.

5. Purdue (last season: 7-6; won Little Caesers Bowl) 
If Danny Hope can’t improve on last year’s 7-5 regular season record, he’s likely out of West Lafayette. Hope has a sub-.500 record overall since taking over for Joe Tiller in 2009 and Purdue isn’t the quarterback factory it used to be. That said, there are options at QB with Caleb TerBush Robert Marve and Rob Henry. Heading into preseason practices, the depth chart at that position should be as listed, but injuries have shaken up that spot before.

6. Indiana (last season: 1-11)
Things aren’t going to turn around for Indiana any time soon. The Hoosiers didn’t have a single win against an FBS opponent last year and the schedule this season is tough. On top of it all, the wide receiver unit has been hit hard with suspensions and departures. The defense was one of the worst in college football in 2011 too. Overall, just way too much to tackle in one season for IU to even think about bowl eligibility.

Legends Division

1. Michigan (last season: 11-2; won Sugar Bowl) 
It took Brady Hoke one season and one BCS bowl victory to get the Wolverines back to where they’re accustomed to being: at the top of the Big Ten preseason standings (and even a couple preseason Top 25 lists). Denard Robinson will have a chance to finish out his career in style — sweet, ridiculously athletic, arm punting style.

2. Michigan State (last season: 11-3; won Outback Bowl) 
Mark Dantonio has done an outstanding job in East Lansing. If the Spartans didn’t have so much turnover at the quarterback and wide receiver units, I’d say they have just as good a chance of making it to the Big Ten championship game as Michigan. But that defense? It returns a bunch of starters from a group ranked 10th in scoring D last year. The two toughest games for Michigan State will be back-to-back in late October at Michigan and at Wisconsin.

3. Nebraska (last season: 9-4; lost Capital One Bowl) 
Bo Pelini might set the record for consecutive 9-4/10-4 seasons. That’s not a bad thing, but Nebraska also needs to take the next step under Pelini and win a conference championship. The Cornhuskers tried (and tried again), but couldn’t bring home the hardware in the Big 12. The longer Nebraska goes without a conference championship, the more restless the fans in Lincoln will become. I don’t see it happening this year, but keep an eye on running back Rex Burkhead. He’s the ultimate workhorse for Nebraska and embodies everything that program and the Big Ten stand for on the field.

4. Iowa (last season: 7-6; lost Insight Bowl) 
Kirk Ferentz is trending down a bit. The Hawkeyes should have a good defense as usual and James Vandenberg is an underrated, bear-killing quarterback. But I’ll be damned if there isn’t an Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God, and He is unforgiving. Every once in a while, Iowa ends up surpassing expectations. I don’t think it happens this year.

5. Northwestern (last season: 6-7; lost Meineke Car Care Bowl) 
Yes, quarterback Dan Persa is gone, but he was so banged up for his final year that Kain Colter takes over without a problem. The bigger loss for Northwestern’s offense is leading receiver Jeremy Ebert, now with the NFL’s Patriots. The good news for the Wildcats is they don’t have to face Wisconsin or Ohio State, but the final five games could take a toll on this team.

6. Minnesota (last season: 3-9)
Jerry Kill is going to get things turned around at Minnesota eventually and there were signs of improvement last year for the Gophers. Getting Marqueis Gray back is huge as the quarterback accounted for most of the team’s offense last year. The team returns 13 starters. Minnesota should be able to get some early momentum with a soft non-conference schedule, but the Big Ten slate is a different beast.

CFT’s Big Ten champion: Wisconsin


Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ’em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

Big East
Big 12
Conference USA
Mountain West
Sun Belt

‘Canes down three starters for Thursday night game vs. Hokies

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 17: Brenden Motley #9 of the Virginia Tech Hokies escapes a tackle from Chad Thomas #9 of the Miami Hurricanes during a game  at Sun Life Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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When Miami takes the field Thursday night against Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes will do so with a significantly depleted defense.

On The U’s official injury report, starting defensive end Chad Thomas is listed as questionable with an upper extremity injury.  However, both Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald and Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post are reporting that Thomas did not travel to Blacksburg with the team and will not play in the prime-time game against the Hokies.

Thomas suffered the injury in last Saturday’s loss to North Carolina.

Additionally, fellow starting end Demetrius Jackson and starting cornerback Sheldrick Redwine have been ruled out as well.  Jackson is nursing an injured knee, while Redwine was not listed on The U’s injury report and the reason for his absence — he didn’t make the trip, either — is unknown.

Thomas, who has started all six games this season, currently leads the ‘Canes in tackles for loss with eight, while Jackson is tied for second with 5.5.  Jackson has started five of the six games.

Redwine has started the last five games for the Hurricanes, the first starts of his collegiate career.

Two UConn football players arrested on weed, ‘weapons’ charges

PROVO, UT - OCTOBER 2: Head coach Bob Diaco of the Connecticut Huskies talks to his team on the bench during their game against the Brigham Young Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium on October 2, 2015 in Provo Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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Two UConn football players were arrested Wednesday evening following a traffic stop, multiple media outlets are reporting.

According to the Daily Campus, the school’s student newspaper, linebacker Nazir Williams and defensive lineman Felton Blackwell were both charged with one count each of weapons in a motor vehicle.  The weapon, it turned out, was an unmarked, loaded BB gun “that initially appeared to be a real gun,” the paper wrote.

Williams, the driver of the vehicle, was also charged with possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana and possession of alcohol by a minor.

The traffic stop that led to the arrests was triggered by Williams’ vehicle having a headlight out.  The incident report detailed that, in a search of the vehicle, four grams of marijuana, an open container of vodka and the BB gun were found.

Neither Williams nor Blackwell are listed on the two-deep depth chart released ahead of Saturday’s game against UCF.  Both players took redshirts as true freshmen last season.

Florida’s banged-up front seven trying to get healthy ahead of Georgia

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 5: Quarterback Jake Coker #14 of the Alabama Crimson Tide scrambles under pressure from linebacker Jarrad Davis #40 of the Florida Gators in the first quarter during the SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome on December 5, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Tennessee’s not the only SEC East team dealing with an inordinate number of injuries.

As Florida continues prepping for its annual cocktail party with Georgia in Week 9, the Gainesville Sun notes that the Gators’ “defensive front seven could be missing as many as four starters.” Even as the rivalry game is still a little over a week away — UF’s on a bye this weekend — it appears somewhat unlikely that Jarrad Davis will be available.

The starting middle linebacker sustained a severely sprained ankle in the Week 7 win over Missouri, and is thought to be a longshot to play. Jim McElwain, however, hasn’t shut the door.

“Jarrad Davis obviously hurt that ankle real good,” the head coach said. “But, if there is a guy I would bet, or know, that he’s going to do everything he can to get back. Obviously, he’s not practicing this week, but he’s been doing a great job rehab-wise. We’ll see where that is.

“I don’t know (if there’s a chance he could play next week). That’s him. That’s the medical staff. It’s making sure it’s right. If they’re mentally right to go, he’ll go.”

Three other front seven starters’ statuses are up in the air thanks to injuries. From the Sun:

The status of three other starters on the defensive front — ends Bryan Cox Jr. (thumb) and Jordan Sherit (knee) and tackle Joey Ivie (thumb) — also is uncertain for Georgia.

Sherit had his knee scoped two weeks ago. Ivie’s thumb remains in a cast after undergoing surgery three weeks ago. Cox injured his thumb during warmups for the Missouri game when his hand got caught in the jersey of a teammate during a drill.

Cox, per McElwain, could be lost for the season. The paper did note that “[t]news appears a little more positive on Sherit and Ivie.” Those two have practiced on a limited basis and their statuses will be reevaluated next week.

Davis currently leads the Gators in tackles with 48 and is tied for second on the team with 3.5 tackles for loss. Sherit is one of the players with which Davis is tied in tackles for loss.

Corey Dauphine, Texas Tech’s top 2015 offensive recruit, takes to Twitter to announce transfer

TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10:  Running back Corey Dauphine #21 and wide receiver Jonathan Giles #9 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders huddle up before the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on September 10, 2015 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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A key piece of Texas Tech’s 2015 recruiting class has decided to call it a day in Lubbock.

On his personal Twitter account Wednesday afternoon, Corey Dauphine (pictured, No. 21) has decided to transfer from Tech to an undetermined school.  The running back, who said his decision to transfer came “after talking with my family,” did not provide a reason for the departure.

A four-star 2015 recruit, Dauphine was rated as the No. 18 running back in the country and the No. 31 player at any position in the state of Texas. He was the highest-rated Red Raider recruit on the offensive side of the ball.

Dauphine chose Tech over offers from, among others, Baylor, Florida, Michigan, TCU, Tennessee and Texas A&M.

After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Dauphine had two carries for 25 yards and a touchdown this season.  he appeared in a total of three games.