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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James Franklin: I am not Keegan-Michael Key

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College GameDay was in Times Square on Saturday and decided to do the most New York thing possible: respond to a Mike Francessa rant.

Francessa ripped Penn State head coach James Franklin, calling him a “horses’s ass,” for trying to prevent a field goal to preserve the Nittany Lions’ 56-0 blanking of Georgia State last week. To respond, ESPN didn’t talk to Franklin, but instead asked comedian (and Penn State graduate) Keegan-Michael Key to speak for him.

This is not the first time Key has leverages his resemblance to Franklin for comedic purposes.

Nevertheless, Franklin addressed the bit to close his post-game press conference following Penn State’s 21-19 escape of Iowa in an answer that toed the line between seriousness and wry sarcasm.

Boston College loses WR Charlie Callinan for ‘an extended period of time’

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Boston College will be without wide receiver Charlie Callinan for “an extended period of time,” the program announced just before the Eagles’ date with Clemson on Saturday.

Callinan suffered a foot injury. The nature of the injury was not disclosed.

A senior from Westfield, N.J., Callinan was one of the most experienced players on the roster with 41 career appearances and 31 starts under his belt. He is the third BC player with at least 30 career games to be lost for an extended period of time this season.

Callinan posted the best game of his career in what may go down as the final game of his career, hauling in seven catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-20 loss to Notre Dame a week ago.

Without him in the lineup, BC passed for 141 yards on 34 attempts in a 34-7 loss to the second-ranked Tigers.

Don’t let Saquon Barkley distract you from the season Stanford’s Bryce Love is having

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Saquon Barkley is incredible. The Penn State running back is every bit a deserving Heisman front-runner, what with his 66 carries for 518 yards and four touchdowns, his team-leading 23 grabs for 335 yards and two touchdowns, and his 22.86-yard average on seven kickoff returns. This isn’t a criticism of him.

But I want to introduce an idea to you right now, and I want you to take a deep breath first: it’s possible Barkley is not having the best season of any running back in college football. At least not to this point.

Take a look at Stanford’s Bryce Love‘s first four games:

  • 13 carries for 180 yards and a touchdown in a 62-7 destruction of Rice
  • 17 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown in a 42-24 loss to USC
  • 13 carries for 184 yards and two scores in a 20-17 loss to San Diego State
  • 30 carries for 263 yards and a touchdown in last night’s 58-34 defeat of UCLA

Add it all up and you get 73 carries for 787 yards and five touchdowns, which not only means Love leads the nation in rushing yards per game — he leads the nation in rushing while averaging 10.78 yards per carry.

Love not only leads the nation in total rushing yards, he not only leads the nation in rushing yards per game, he leads the nation in yards per carry for all players anywhere in the neighborhood his carry total. Four players rank ahead of Love in yards per carry thus far, and those three players have toted the rock 76 times — combined.

The next closest player on the yards per carry rankings with at least 70 rushes is San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, who averages 7.87 yards on 91 carries. That’s an incredible number, and still 27 percent lower than Love’s average.

Stanford may not win enough for Love to join Barkley in the Heisman conversation, but right now it appears the two running back spots on every All-American team are locked up until further notice.

Georgia, TCU replace Ohio State and OK State in top 10 of latest AP poll

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Big wins over ranked opponents pushed Georgia and TCU into the top 10 of the latest Associated Press poll, released Sunday. Voters were apparently more impressed with Georgia’s 31-3 whipping of then-No. 17 Mississippi State in Athens than they were of TCU’s 44-31 upset of then-No. 6 Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Georgia moved up four spots while TCU jumped seven, but the Bulldogs remained ahead of the Frogs by two spots, No. 7 to No. 9.

Elsewhere, Washington creeped forward one spot, Washington State and Louisville nudged forward two, and South Florida, San Diego State and Utah leaped three spots forward. Notre Dame and West Virginia returned to this week’s poll at Nos. 22 and 23, replacing upset losers Florida State and Oregon. Unlike the Coaches’ Poll, voters remembered that Mississippi State hammered LSU by 30 points just eight days ago, keeping the Bulldogs one spot ahead of the Bayou Bengals.

The full poll:

  1. Alabama — 1,515 total points (52 first-place votes)
  2. Clemson — 1,458 (2)
  3. Oklahoma — 1,397 (1)
  4. Penn State — 1,304
  5. USC — 1,247
  6. Washington — 1,188
  7. Georgia — 1,136
  8. Michigan — 1,088
  9. TCU — 1,028
  10. Wisconsin — 1,023
  11. Ohio State — 1,016
  12. Virginia Tech — 828
  13. Auburn — 701
  14. Miami — 693
  15. Oklahoma State — 665
  16. Washington State — 551
  17. Louisville — 502
  18. South Florida — 406
  19. San Diego State — 365
  20. Utah — 356
  21. Florida — 342
  22. Notre Dame — 246
  23. West Virginia — 212
  24. Mississippi State — 148
  25. LSU — 92