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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Purdue retains head coach Darrell Hazell, fires both coordinators

Markell Jones
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It’s never a good thing when a head coach has to fire both of his coordinators on the same day. Of course, it’s never a good thing to be 6-30, either.

Both are realities at Purdue, as the Boilers announced Sunday head coach Darrell Hazell will return for a fourth season in 2016, but offensive coordinator John Shoop, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson and defensive line coach Rubin Carter will not.

“I appreciate the efforts of each of those guys over the last three years,” Hazell said in a statement. “They are quality men who are well respected by their players and their peers, and I am disappointed that things didn’t work out better. But I believe that in order to turn around this program, we need to make some significant changes and move in a different direction at those positions.”

Purdue, 2-10 in 2015, ranked 115th nationally in yards per play and 112th in yards per play allowed.

Virginia Tech announces Justin Fuente as head coach; Bud Foster to stay on as DC

Associated Press

Justin Fuente is officially Virginia Tech’s new head coach. A day after reports linked the two parties, the Hokies made the match official by announcing the 39-year-old as their new head coach on Sunday afternoon.

“Justin is a very impressive individual who also happens to be one of the brightest offensive minds in college football,” Virginia Tech AD Whit Babcock said in a statement. “He elevated Memphis to unprecedented heights. His recruiting philosophy is progressive and comprehensive. Coach Fuente has displayed tremendous talent in evaluating players and developing young men as they strive to reach their full potential. Simply put, Coach Fuente exudes all the qualities that Hokies hold near and dear. We are excited to officially welcome Justin Fuente as the leader of the Virginia Tech football program.”

Fuente went 26-23 in four years as Memphis’s head coach, but his success runs far beyond a simple won-loss record. After going 7-17 in his first two seasons, Fuente guided the Tigers to a 19-6 mark in 2014-15, which included a 15-game winning streak, a No. 13 national ranking and a win over rival Ole Miss within that run.

Simply put, it was the absolute peak of modern Memphis football.

And now Fuente is tasked with taking Virginia Tech to new heights. The Hokies dominated the ACC throughout much of the 2000’s, taking conference crowns in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010. But as Florida State and Clemson have risen, Virginia Tech has fallen.

After posting 13 top-25 finishes in 14 seasons, the Hokies are set to conclude their fourth straight campaign outside the national rankings, going just 16-16 in ACC play over that span.

The offensive numbers state exactly why Fuente was hired, and what he must do in Blacksburg; Memphis ranks seventh nationally in scoring offense and eighth in passing efficiency, while Virginia Tech sits at 64th and 59th, respectively.

The cupboard is not bare, though. Virginia Tech is in the midst of a 23-year bowl streak, and Fuente has already secured one key commitment — longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster has agreed to stay on staff.

“I’ve been privileged to work for a legendary coach who always did it the right way,” Foster said. “I enjoyed that chapter and the success we’ve had, however, I am equally excited for the next chapter and working for Justin. Justin and I share a vision for the future of our program. After spending time together, I’m convinced he’s the right person to continue building on the standard we’ve established at Virginia Tech. I’m truly looking forward to working with him and supporting him.”

Clearly, Babcock and the VT brass believe, a Fuente offense and a Foster defense are what the Hokies need to catch Clemson and Florida State.

Now it’s Fuente’s job to make that happen.

Rutgers taps Chris Christie aide to serve as new AD

Patrick Hobbs
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The chair in Julie Hermann‘s office hasn’t even cooled yet, but Rutgers has already found her replacement.

The Scarlet Knights have hired Seton Hall emeritus dean of law Patrick Hobbs as its new full-time athletics director. Hobbs served as the Pirates’ interim AD in 2010-11 but has no athletics experience outside of that.

He does, however, have significant experience managing scandal-ridden institutions.

In the same letter announcing the firings of Hermann and head football coach Kyle Flood, Rutgers president Robert Barchi detailed Hobbs’s hiring.

When I made the decision last week that we needed a change in leadership, I set out to find an interim Director of Athletics who could stabilize the Department before launching a national search.  On a strong referral, I met with Patrick Hobbs, Dean Emeritus of the Seton Hall University School of Law, who previously led the athletics program at Seton Hall University during a period of major change.

In addition to these assignments, Pat has served on various state legal and ethics boards and commissions and most recently was appointed by Governor Christie to serve as an independent ethics ombudsman to the Office of the Governor.

In my meetings and conversations with Pat, and also with Board Members Greg Brown and Ken Schmidt, it was clear to all of us that Pat had the attributes required for our next Director of Athletics.  We offered Pat the permanent job on Friday and we are proud to welcome him as our new Director of Athletics.

Hobbs left his full-time post at Seton Hall in 2014 to serve as the ombudsman to New Jersey governor Chris Christie‘s office in the wake of the George Washington Bridge scandal, where his job was to police the ethics and policies among Christie’s staff members. In addition to that, Hobbs served on the New Jersey Commission of Investigation from 2004-14, chairing the commission the final four years.

Hobbs joined Seton Hall’s law faculty and was named dean of law in 1999.

Hobbs arrives at an athletics department plagued with scandal and dysfunction. He’ll have to replace a football coach fired in part for attempting to violate the church-state relationship between football and academics in an attempt to influence a players’ grade. Hermann, a storm of controversy in her own right, was hired after the school cleaned house when it was discovered men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was abusing players, and his replacement Eddie Jordan came under fire for not owning a college degree.

And, by the way, Rutgers has won just six of 34 football and men’s basketball games in Big Ten play.

Iowa State announces Matt Campbell as head coach

Matt Campbell
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Twenty-four hours after the news first broke, Iowa State has announced Matt Campbell as its new head coach.

Campbell, who turns 35 today, went 35-15 in four seasons in the same capacity at Toledo.

“Matt’s coaching and playing achievements are extraordinary, but we were even more impressed by his character, leadership and commitment to his family,” Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard said in a statement. “I could not be more excited to welcome Matt, Erica and their children to the Cyclone Family.  We are truly blessed to have one of the industry’s rising stars leading our football program.”

Iowa State represents the first time Campbell will leave the state of Ohio on a permanent basis — save for a brief stint as a player at Pittsburgh. A native of Massillon, Ohio, he played at Division III power Mount Union and deposited coaching stints at Bowling Green, Mount Union and Toledo.

“I couldn’t be more excited to receive the opportunity to coach at Iowa State,” Campbell said. “Two years ago after we played the Cyclones in Ames, I called my wife (Erica) and said you simply would not believe this place. Their fans, the game-day environment and facilities are all incredible.  I could see us living in Ames and me coaching the Cyclones some day. My family and I are truly humbled.”

Campbell signed a six-year contract with the Cyclones worth $2 million a year.