CFT predicts: the Big Ten

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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

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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.

ACC
Big East
Big 12
Conference USA
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

Lamar Jackson given key to city of Florida hometown

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Before he was a Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson was still the greatest football player to come out of Pompano Beach, Fla.

Jackson played for Boynton Beach High School, where he was a 4-year starter, but became the first player ever from the city of 99,000 people just north of Fort Lauderdale to win the Lou Groza Award High School Player of the Year in 2014.

He then matriculated to Louisville where he, of course, won the most prestigious individual award in sports just two years later.

Over the weekend, Jackson was given the key to his hometown.

Thank you to the city of pompano beach key to the city🔑🔑🙏🏾🙏🏾

A post shared by Lamar Jackson (@new_era8) on

Jackson completed 230-of-409 passes for 3,543 yards with 30 touchdowns against nine interceptions while rushing 250 times for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore for Louisville in 2016.

Former Michigan AD Jim Hackett named Ford CEO

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Both of Michigan’s two most recent athletics directors traded their maize and blue for the suits of corporate America. Dave Brandon left Ann Arbor for Toys ‘R’ Us in relative disgrace. Jim Hackett left Michigan a hero and has now taken the reins of another Michigan institution.

The former Michigan interim AD on Monday was named the CEO of Ford Motor Company.

“We’re moving from a position of strength to transform Ford for the future,” executive chairman Bill Ford said in a statement. “Jim Hackett is the right CEO to lead Ford during this transformative period for the auto industry and the broader mobility space. He’s a true visionary who brings a unique, human-centered leadership approach to our culture, products and services that will unlock the potential of our people and our business.”

After successfully completing the coup to bring Jim Harbaugh home, Hackett will now be in charge of leading a company of 202,000 employees from its Dearborn, Mich., headquarters.

The man whom Hackett hired thinks Ford made a great move.

“I absolutely think (it’s a good fit),” Harbaugh told MLive. “He brings a tremendous wealth of experience and he has tremendous leadership skills. He believes in — the way I put it — in building a ball team. And he does it with a really high intellect. He cares about people, he listens.”

This is not Hackett’s first foray as a business CEO. He previously served as CEO of Steelcase in Grand Rapids, Mich., from 1994-2014.

Rimington watch list details list of returning centers

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It’s the dead time of the college football calendar, which means it’s time for this sport’s oldest, most antiquated tradition: watch lists.

First one in line is the Rimington Trophy, given to the best center in college football. And to help voters narrow down their choice for when voting picks up six months from now, the Rimington has helpfully provided this watch list of essentially every returning starting center in college football.

The 2017 list includes (deep breath):

– Aaron Mitchell, Fresno State
– Alan Knott, South Carolina
– Alac Eberle, Florida State
– Antonyo Woods, Florida Atlantic
– Asotui Eli, Hawaii
– Austin Doan, Central Michigan
– Austin Golson, Auburn
– Austin Schlottmann, TCU
– Billy Price, Ohio State
– Blaise Fountain, New Mexico
– Brad Lundblade, Oklahoma State
– Brad North, Northwestern
– Bradley Bozeman, Alabama
– Brendan Moore, Maryland
– Brian Allen, Michigan State
– Bryce Holland, Army
– Cameron Ruff, South Florida
– Chandler Miller, Tulsa
– Coleman Shelton, Washington
– Colton Prater, Texas A&M
– Danny Godloveske, Miami (Ohio)
– Dennis Edwards, Western Kentucky
– Drew Keyser, Memphis
– Erick Wren, Oklahoma
– Evan Brown, SMU
– Frank Ragnow, Arkansas
– Gabe Mobley, Georgia State
– Garrett McGhin, East Carolina
– Jake Bennett, Colorado State
– Jake Hanson, Oregon
– Jake Pruehs, Ohio
– James Daniels, Iowa
– James O’Hagan, Buffalo
– Jesse Burkett, Stanford
– John Keenoy, Western Michigan
– Jon Baker, Boston College
– Julian Good-Jones, Iowa State
– Keoni Taylor, San Jose State
– LaVonne Gauthney, Akron
– Levi Brown, Marshall
– Luke Shively, Northern Illinois
– Mason Hampton, Boise State
– Matt Hennessy, Temple
– Mesa Ribordy, Kansas
– Michael Deiter, Wisconsin
– Nathan Puthoff, Kent State
– Nick Allegretti, Illinois
– Nick Clarke, Old Dominion
– Reid Najvar, Kansas State
– Ryan Anderson, Wake Forest
– Sam Mustipher, Notre Dame
– Scott Quessenberry, UCLA
– Sean Krepsz, Nevada
– Sean Rawlings, Ole Miss
– Sumner Houston, Oregon State
– T.J. McCoy, Florida
– Tanner Thrift, Baylor
– Tejan Koroma, BYU
– Tim McAullife, Bowling Green
– Trey Martin, Rice
– Will Clapp, LSU
– Will Noble, Houston
– Zach Shackelford, Texas

Exhale.

Got all that?

Ohio State’s Pat Elflein claimed the honor last season.

Miami OT Sunny Odogwu leaving The U as graduate transfer

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Miami’s offensive line is losing a key piece up front this coming season. On Monday, the Miami program announced the departure of offensive tackle Sunny Odogwu, a starter at right tackle.

Despite having started 14 games for the Hurricanes, it seems Odogwu is looking for a better opportunity to start with another FBS program.

“Sunny and I had a good conversation, and he informed me that he feels his best opportunity to get the most playing time would be at another school,” Miami head coach Mark Richt said in a released statement. “Sunny has been a great teammate and leader for this program, and we will miss him.”

Odogwu is coming off surgery for a right knee injury late last season. After starting 12 games for the Hurricanes, Odogwu was forced to miss Miami’s bowl game and later was limited in spring practice drills. Odogwu had to undergo surgery for a right knee injury late in the 2015 season as well.

Odogwu has already graduated from Miami, so he will be eligible to play immediately next fall with another FBS program as a graduate transfer. Tyree St. Louis appears to have a stranglehold on the starting job at right tackle for the Hurricanes moving forward after a good showing in the spring.