Big 10 Championship Game - Wisconsin v Michigan State

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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Jim Grobe to be paid $1.25 million for ’16 season, per report

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 02:  Head coach Jim Grobe of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons looks on from the sidelines against the Louisville Cardinals during the 2007 FedEx Orange Bowl at Dolphin Stadium on January 2, 2007 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
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In an odd way, here’s the best way to show just how far Art Briles took Baylor’s football program: his interim replacement will make more money for eight months of work than the full-time head coaches at Iowa State and Kansas.

Jim Grobe will earn $1.25 million for his work from late May through the end of the upcoming football season, according to a report from Brett McMurphy of ESPN on Monday. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell will earn $1.2 million in an incentive-laden contract this year, while KU’s David Beaty will net $800,000.

Grobe’s $1.25 million deal is also the richest for any interim head coach on record. Arkansas paid John L. Smith $850,000 for 10 months of work back in 2012.

Baylor opens its season Friday, Sept. 2 against Northwestern State.

Six Wazzu players targeted in fireworks brawl investigation

PULLMAN, WA - OCTOBER 17:  The Washington State Cougars take the field against the Oregon State Beavers at Martin Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Pullman, Washington.  Washington State defeated Oregon State 52-31.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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Six Washington State football players have been named persons of interest in a brawl that left two students hospitalized and even more injured over the weekend.

According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, a group of students that included Cougars players started threw fireworks at attendees of a Pullman, Wash., party early Saturday morning. That led to a verbal altercation that soon became physical, where one suffered a bloody wound on the back of his neck and another was forced to undergo facial reconstruction surgery after suffering a broken jaw.

“We’re looking at this as a very serious felony assault level based on the injuries to two victims,” Pullman police commander Chris Tennant told the paper. “I would like to make arrests later in the week. I don’t know if that’s a realistic timeline. I expect this to be a lengthy investigation. A lot of people have to be interviewed.”

Wazzu AD Bill Moos released the following statement Monday afternoon:

“In regards to the events that took place over the past weekend, the university was made aware of the situation shortly after the incident occurred. It is our understanding there is a thorough investigation underway by local law enforcement and we will cooperate fully as we take these matters seriously. In addition, facts are being gathered within the athletic department in order to provide assistance. We have high expectations for the conduct of WSU student-athletes, and treat any alleged allegations with the utmost transparency. The WSU athletic staff is in constant communication with the Office of the President and the Office of Student Life to ensure that university leadership is aware of the continuing investigation by local law enforcement. We will refrain from further comment until the findings of the investigation are complete.”

Florida QB-turned-WR Treon Harris to transfer

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 4: Treon Harris #3 of the Florida Gators runs with the ball in the second half of the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium on October 4, 2014 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Florida defeated Tennessee 10-9. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Last week Florida head coach Jim McElwain confirmed Treon Harris will move from quarterback to wide receiver.

“Everybody has freedom, he doesn’t have to stay there,” McElwain said, via SEC Country. “But at the end of the day, look, we’re in this not here to hurt anybody’s feelings. But at the same time, it is what it is and we’ve got four guys who I’m really proud of. The room is really good and I’m excited about it.”

McElwain may not have wanted to hurt Harris’s feelings, but he may not have minded Harris taking a hint.

As first reported by Ryan Bartow of Gator Bait and later confirmed by the program, Harris has picked up what McElwain put down.

Harris, rated the No. 9 athlete nationally coming out of powerhouse Booker T. Washington High School in Miami, would have a myriad of options should he be open to playing a position other than quarterback. But, then again, if he wanted to play somewhere other than under center, one assumes he’d have stayed at Florida in the first place.

Florida’s leading returning passer — he completed 119-of-235 throws for 1,676 yards and nine touchdowns with six interceptions, good for a quarterback rating that placed 92nd nationally — Harris would have two years of eligibility remaining should he opt to remain at the FBS level.

Jim Delany releases statement on passing of Foltz, Sadler

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 26:  Commissioner of The Big Ten Conference Jim Delany speaks at The Big Ten Network Kick Off Party at Cipriani 42nd Street on June 26, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Wink Public Relations)
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Big Ten media days begin today — nominally a time of celebration, optimism and free food in the conference.

This year’s gathering will take on the direct opposite feel, at least at the start, as the conference continues to reel from the tragic passing of Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler.

Ahead of the event’s official opening, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany released this statement:

“We join the Nebraska and Michigan State communities in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families, teammates, coaches, administrators and friends who have been impacted by the tragic loss of Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler. While we are deeply saddened by their untimely loss, we also recognize the impact they had and the success they achieved as students, athletes, citizens and representatives of their respective communities and institutions. On behalf of the Big Ten, we greatly appreciate the enduring contributions made by these two young men, and our hearts go out to their families during this difficult time.”

Sadler concluded his Big Ten career in 2014 and was set to begin at Stanford Law School this fall. Foltz was still an active Husker.

Nebraska will skip this week’s festivities as it recovers from the beloved Foltz’s passing.