CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 9 Wisconsin

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2011 record: 11-3 overall, 6-2 in Big Ten (1st-tie in Leaders)

2011 postseason: Big Ten championship game (42-39 win over Michigan State); Rose Bowl (45-38 loss to Oregon)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 10/No. 11

Head coach: Bret Bielema (60-19 in six seasons at Wisconsin)

Offensive coordinator: Matt Canada (first season at Wisconsin)

2011 offensive rankings: 11th rushing offense (235.6 ppg); 61st passing offense (234.3 ypg); 14th total offense (469.9 ypg);  6th scoring offense (44.1 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: four

Defensive coordinator: Chris Ash (third season at Wisconsin, second as DC); Charlie Partridge (fifth season at Wisconsin, second as co-DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 60th rushing defense (152.8 ypg); 4th passing defense (163.6 ypg); 15th total defense (316.4 ypg); 13th scoring defense (19 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: six

Location: Madison, Wis.

Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium (80,321; FieldTurf)

Last league title: 2011

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Having Montee Ball back for another season certainly falls under the category of good, especially in a conference like the Big Ten.  Not only is Ball back, but two of the teams in the Leaders Division — Ohio State and Penn State — are ineligible for the conference title this season, which means the Badgers will merely have to “stave off” challenges from the likes of Illinois, Indiana and Purdue — combined 2011 Big Ten wins: six, the same number as Wisconsin — in order to punch its ticket to Indianapolis for a second consecutive conference title game appearance.

The Bad
Of the nine assistants on Bielema’s 2011 staff, just three will be on the sidelines in 2012.  Such turnover is almost unheard of in one offseason, especially for a program as successful as Wisconsin’s.  Also on the returning front, just four 2011 starters are back for another season.  Among the personnel departures are one-year quarterback rental Russell Wilson and two All-American offensive linemen, although the latter is not much of a worry as the Badgers churns out linemen like the state does cheese.

The Unknown
Which model Danny O’Brien will the Badgers get this season, the 2010 Hummer or 2011 Edsel?  During his true freshman season under Ralph Friedgen, O’Brien was a freshman All-American for Maryland.  Last season, under first-year Terps coach Randy Edsall, O’Brien regressed considerably as he threw more interceptions (10) than he did touchdowns (seven) just a year after throwing eight and 22, respectively.  Thanks to Ball and a plethora of returning backfield talent, O’Brien, as was the case with Wilson to an extent last season, will be asked to merely manage the offense.  Less on-field pressure, plus being free of the burden that led to his transfer from Maryland to Wisconsin earlier this year, has me believing the 2012 O’Brien will be much, much closer to the 2010 model.

Make-or-break game: at Nebraska, Sept. 29
The Badgers took the Cornhuskers to the woodshed in Nebraska’s first-ever game as a Big Ten school, waxing the ‘Huskers to the tune of 48-17 in Madison.  This season, Wisconsin will travel to Lincoln and the ‘Huskers will be eyeing revenge.  Thanks to the Leaders Division circumstances listed above, the Badgers will have a little buffer when it comes to the conference even if they drop this game.  If they entertain any hope of making a run at a national title, however, this game is absolutely critical, as is a matchup with Michigan State a month later.

Heisman hopeful: running back Montee Ball
A 2011 finalist for the award, Ball finished fourth in the voting and was rewarded with a trip to New York City.  Anything less than that in 2012 would be surprising and, on some level, disappointing as well.  While his name will likely litter every preseason Heisman projection, he did enter summer camp under a cloud of uncertainty.  Ball suffered a concussion in what was described as an “unprovoked attack” by multiple assailants and will be held out of at least the early portion of camp.  If the head injury would happen to linger into the regular season and force Ball to miss a game or games, his Heisman hopes would, obviously, take a significant hit.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Louisiana-Lafayette suspends 13 players arrested on felony charges

Louisiana-Lafayette athletics
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This’ll certainly leave a mark on the ol’ depth chart.

Louisiana-Lafayette announced Tuesday night that a total of 13 players have been indefinitely suspended by head coach Mark Hudspeth.  Those 13 are tight end Matthew Barnes, defensive end Joe Dillon, left guard Robert Hunt, defensive back Denarius Howard, defensive end Jarvis Jeffries, defensive tackle LaDarrius Kidd, linebacker Terik Miller, defensive back Damar’ren Mitchell, running back Trey Ragas, defensive back Simeon Thomas, defensive back Levarious Varnado, left tackle D’Aquin Withrow and running back Jordan Wright.

While the school attributed the suspensions to a violation of unspecified team rules, KATC-TV is reporting that all 13 of the players were arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy to commit felony theft stemming from an incident earlier this month.

From the television station’s report:

According to investigators, surveillance video shows the 13 players going to a room on the fourth floor of the Huger Hall dormitory and stealing around $2,400 worth of items from the room. Police say the students surrendered after warrants for their arrests were issued.

Seven of those suspended started games last season — Hunt (13), Withrow (13), Mitchell (11), Dillon (eight), Jeffries (seven), Thomas (seven) and Howard (two).  Dillon was named a Freshman All-American by several organizations after leading the Ragin’ Cajuns with 12.5 tackles for losses and seven sacks in 2016.

Wright (pictured, No. 27) wasn’t a starter, but he was fourth on the team last season with 192 yards rushing.  With the departure of leading rusher Elijah McGuire (1,127 yards), Wright, Ragas and Darius Hoggins (281 yards last season) are expected to compete or the starting running back job this season.

UL-L is scheduled to open the 2017 season Sept. 2 against Southeastern Louisiana.

Louisville grad transfer QB Kyle Bolin tweets transfer to Rutgers

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Following Louisville’s spring game earlier this month, Kyle Bolin confirmed that he would be transferring from the football program.  A little over a week later, the quarterback already has a new team lined up.

Per a tweet posted to his personal Twitter account, Bolin wrote he’s “proud to say my next home will be at Rutgers University.” The football program has thus far declined to confirm Bolin’s addition to Chris Ash‘s roster.

Bolin is scheduled to graduate from the U of L next month, meaning he’ll be eligible to play for the Scarlet Knights this coming season.

Texas, Cincinnati, Northern Illinois, Southern Miss and Western Michigan were also considered potential destinations for Bolin.

Bolin started five games in 2015 as he and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson shared quarterbacking duties that season.  Jackson replaced Bolin after a pair of picks in the regular-season finale against rival Kentucky that year and, coming off his four-touchdown performance in the Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M, the former was firmly entrenched as the starter heading into the spring of 2016.

The arrival of Bolin couldn’t come soon enough for the quarterback-depleted Knights.

In mid-November, Rutgers had six scholarship quarterbacks on its roster.  By the beginning of December, that number had been cut in half as two of them, Hayden Rettig and Chris Laviano, left the program as graduate transfers while another, Mike Dare, left as a run-of-the-mill transfer.  The group was further pared earlier this month when Tylin Oden was dismissed for violating team rules and TCU transfer Zach Allen suffered a torn ACL.

With Allen’s injury, it leaves the Scarlet Knights with just one healthy signal-caller on scholarship at the moment — Giovanni Rescigno, the starter to close out the 2016 season and presumptive front-runner to maintain the job.  Another will be added when 2017 signee Johnathan Lewis comes to campus this summer.

Rescigno, Lewis and Bolin will commence a battle for the starting job when summer camp opens in early August.

Nick Saban, on QB controversy: ‘there isn’t one’

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Consider The Nicktator perturbed.  Again.

Jalen Hurts (pictured, right) helped lead Alabama to the national championship game as a true freshman last season and is seemingly the Crimson Tide’s unquestioned starter as we trudge toward summer.  Five-star 2017 signee Tua Tagovailoa (pictured, left), however, had an impressive first spring in Tuscaloosa, capped off with an excellent showing in the annual A-Day game this past weekend.

The true freshman passed for 315 yards and three touchdowns in what amounted to a glorified scrimmage, while the incumbent threw for 301 yards and a pair of scores.

Tagovailoa’s showing throughout the 15 spring practice sessions had led some to wonder whether there could be a quarterback controversy brewing at ‘Bama.  According to Nick Saban, that’s just the media being the media.

“Jalen Hurts played a lot of good football for us last year, and he’s certainly made a lot of progress this spring,” the head coach said by way of al.com. “Even though all of you in the press are trying to make a quarterback controversy out of nothing, which is what you’re doing right now, there isn’t one.”

LOOK: Jim Harbaugh hooks Pope Francis up with Michigan helmet, pair of Jordans

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There’s a series of words I’d never imagined I’d string together in a headline.

As you may have heard, Jim Harbaugh has taken his Michigan football team to Italy for an offseason European vacation.  As part of the trip, the team is in the Vatican City today and took in the Pope’s Wednesday address to the masses in St. Peter’s Square — the players and athletic director Warde Manuel sat amongst the crowd while the head coach and his wife were seated on the same stage as Pope Francis.

Following the address, and after a wait of nearly a half-hour, Harbaugh was able to meet with and speak to His Holiness.  The coach didn’t come empty-handed, either, as Pope Francis was gifted with a Michigan football helmet and a pair of Air Jordans.  Michigan-themed, of course.

“This is as good as it gets,” Harbaugh said according to mlive.com after his meeting with the pope. “This has been the experience of my lifetime.”