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Two Pitt players dismissed following arrest last week

Pittsburgh v Notre Dame Getty Images

On Friday, three Pitt players — linebacker Eric Williams (pictured, No. 49), tight end Andrew Carswell and defensive linemen Khanyin Moslesy-Smith — were suspended after they were allegedly detained in a drug bust last Thursday night involving a SWAT team.

On Tuesday, Panthers coach Paul Chryst took another step and kicked Carswell and Williams off the team. Moslesy-Smith was not mentioned specifically in the release, but it’s assumed he’s still serving an indefinite suspension. Additionally, Chryst announced that freshman quarterback Tra’Von Chapman has been suspended for “a weekend incident away from campus.”

Williams finished fifth on the team in tackles last season with 52. He also had 4.5 tackles for loss, an interception and two fumble recoveries. Carswell had 13 receptions for 163 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 10 games.

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UM’s Jake Ryan, three others added to Lott watch list

Jake Ryan AP

Just when you think you’re done with these watch lists for another year, they pull you back in.

Back in May, the Lott IMPACT Trophy released its initial watch list consisting of 42 players.  Tuesday, the award that’s given annually to the defensive player who has the biggest IMPACT — Integrity, Maturity, Performance,Academics, Community and Tenacity – on their teams both on and off the field added four names to that group, including one player each from the ACC, Big Ten, Conference USA and Pac-12.

Below are those players:

Xavier Cooper, Washington State, DL
Christian Covington, Rice, DL
Anthony Harris, Virginia, S
Jake Ryan, Michigan, LB

The most interesting names in that quartet are the last two.

Ryan suffered a torn ACL during spring practice last year and was limited to just eight games in 2013, including five starts. The year before, however, he was one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten as he started all 13 games and led the Wolverines in tackles as well as tackles for loss. In 2011 as a redshirt freshman, he started 11 games.

UVa’s Harris, meanwhile, led the nation in interceptions last season with eight.

Good to see the Lott people realized they made an oops in not including Ryan and Harris on their initial watch list.

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Okla. St. transfer Wes Lunt officially named Illini’s starting QB

Wes Lunt

Earlier this month, as part of CFT’s preseason previewpalooza, Wes Lunt was named as one of the key transfers entering the 2014 season.

With the news today, the quarterback will officially get the chance to prove just how key he is.

In a move that’s been expected since spring practice, head coach Tim Beckman announced today that Lunt has been named as the Illini’s starting quarterback. Lunt had been involved in a nominal competition with Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey, although his experience and big arm gave him a decided edge over the competition.

On the whole, the experience may have been the biggest factor.

Lunt was named Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback after spring practice in 2012 as an early enrollee true freshman and started the first three games of the season before being sidelined with an injury.  He came back to start two more games before another injury sidelined him again.

Following a spring practice last year in which he had apparently slipped down the depth chart, Lunt decided to transfer from the Cowboys.  He moved on to the Illini in June of 2013 and sat out the season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

Illinois opens the season Aug. 30 at home against Youngstown State.

(Photo credit: Illinois athletics)

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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 9 Baylor

Bryce Petty

2013 record: 11-2 overall, 8-1 in Big 12 (1st in conference)
2013 postseason: Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF (52-42 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 13/No. 13
Head coach: Art Briles (78-60 overall; 44-32 in six years at Baylor)
Offensive coordinator: Philip Montgomery (6th season at Baylor)
2013 offensive rankings: 13th rushing offense (259.7 ypg); 5th passing offense (359.1 ypg); 1st total offense (618.8 ypg); 1st scoring offense (52.4 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Defensive coordinator: Phil Bennett (3rd season at Baylor)
2013 defensive rankings: 38th rushing defense (145.4 ypg); 34th passing defense (214.9 ypg);  28th total defense (360.3 ypg); 36th scoring defense (23.5 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: four
Location: Waco, Texas
Stadium: McLane Stadium (45,000; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
The Baylor Bears are the Lamborghini of college football offenses. Last season, the Bears’ offense was ranked No. 1 overall and averaged 618.8 yards per game. To put that number in perspective, the Oregon Ducks finished 2nd overall in total offense and they averaged 53.8 less yards per contest. That is truly an astonishing number. It’s possible the Bears’ offense will be better in 2014. Quarterback Bryce Petty enters his third year as a starter. Five of the team’s top six receivers also return. Three offensive linemen are back, with a near 400-pound monster replacing one of the departing starters. And running back Shock Linwood was nearly as good as Lache Seastrunk when given the opportunity to carry the load. In the two games Linwood carried the ball more than 20 times, he rushed for at least 182 yards. To top it all off, the Bears added a pair of four-star recruits at wide receiver with K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall. The Bears’ offense is simply a well-oiled machine that will be nearly impossible to slow down this season.

THE BAD
When a team’s offense throws the ball all over the yard while operating at a breakneck pace, opponents will try to keep pace. Baylor took a big step in the right direction on defense last season, but the lasting impression of that unit will be sacrificing 556 yards to the UCF Knights during a 52-42 loss in the Fiesta Bowl. Each time Baylor made a comeback, the defense let them down. And the team now has to replace all but two starters from that game, four of which are currently on NFL rosters. Maybe a complete overhaul was needed. But there is always something to say about continuity within one unit of a football team. Baylor isn’t starting from scratch. They’re talented up front with both starting defensive tackles back for another season and the enigma known as Shawn Oakman at defensive end. Two key players, middle linebacker Bryce Hager and defensive end Jamal Palmer, will be asked to assume leadership roles as the rest of the defense continues to grow and improve around them.

THE UNKNOWN
With strength of schedule once again being an emphasis for determining the top teams in college football, the Bears fall short. Baylor suffers from a weak non-conference schedule. The Buffalo Bulls, which finished 8-5 and second in the MAC East last year, is the best non-conference opponent on the Bears’ schedule. Even when the Big 12 conference schedule is factored into the equation, the Bears only face two teams ranked in the preseason polls. A single loss could spell doom for the Bears. An undefeated run through conference play may be Baylor’s only chance to be named one of college football’s final four in the first College Football Playoff. Would that even be enough for the committee to vote the Bears into the tournament over a one-loss SEC or Pac-12 team?

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Oklahoma
Baylor is still the new kid on the block with the shiny new toys. Whereas Oklahoma remains the Big 12’s neighborhood bully. As the two teams enter the season, the Sooners are considered national title contenders, while the Bears are still scratching and clawing to prove they can be an elite program over the long haul. This particular game is crucial for Baylor. The Bears have beaten the Sooners two years in a row. The Sooners, however, enter the season as the favorites to win the Big 12 and ranked in the Top 5 of both the AP and Coaches’ Polls. Another victory in Norman will clearly establish Baylor as the team to beat in the Big 12 this year and moving forward.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Bryce Petty
The thought of Baylor ever truly replacing quarterback Robert Griffin III was unimaginable. Yet, Petty quickly escaped RG3’s shadow and continues to build a legacy of his own. When RG3 won the Heisman Trophy in 2011, he threw for 4,293 yards, 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions. In 2013, Petty’s numbers were quite similar. The current Baylor quarterback passed for 4,200 yards, 32 and a microscopic three interceptions. While RG3 had decided advantages in overall accuracy and rushing yardage, Petty led Baylor to a better overall record (11-2) and a higher average per completion (16.8 yards). Due to the success of these two quarterbacks, Baylor is now considered a national contender. And in Briles’ explosive offense, the Bears’ starting quarterback has a chance to be in the Heisman conversation.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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Kent State’s Jason Bitsko found unresponsive, passes away

Jason Bitsko

Sadly, there’s some terrible and tragic news coming out of Kent, Oh., this afternoon.

In a release Wednesday, Kent State announced that offensive lineman Jason Bitsko died unexpectedly this morning.  According to the school, Bitsko was found unresponsive in the bedroom of his off-campus apartment shortly before 9 a.m.

Police believe he passed away from an undetermined medical issue.

Bitsko was just 21 years old.

“Kent State University and the entire Kent community mourns his passing,” said athletic director Joel Nielsen in a statement. “We are heartbroken by the news of Jason’s death. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, teammates and everyone whose lives he touched.”

“Our players, coaches and everyone involved with our team are hurting because he was family,” head football coach Paul Haynes said. “As a team, we will come together and get through this one day at a time.”

The school added in its release that Bitsko would’ve been entering his fourth year with the Golden Flashes and that he would’ve been the starting center this coming season.

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to everyone impacted by Bitsko’s way-too-early death.

(Photo credit: Kent State athletics)

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Four-star 2015 QB: ‘being mentored by Braxton Miller, that’d be awesome’

Torrance Gibson

Could Braxton Miller‘s devastating season-ending injury actually have a positive impact on the recruiting trail for Ohio State? That could very well be the case.

As a fourth-year senior who had yet to use his redshirt season, 2014 was set to be Miller’s final year of eligibility. The shoulder injury — or reinjury as the case may be — changed all of that, with Miller vowing to come back from the non-contact injury and return to the Buckeyes in 2015.

In tandem with that, Torrance Gibson, a top 2015 quarterback recruit, currently has OSU as his top choice of myriad interested schools. The fact that Miller would likely be around if/when Gibson arrived in Columbus next year? That appears to have done nothing but further cement OSU’s positioning as Gibson’s leader.

“Being mentored by Braxton Miller, that’d be pretty awesome,” Gibson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s Ari Wasserman during a telephone interview shortly after the announcement on Miller’s injury. “Being mentored by one of the best quarterbacks that ever came to Ohio State, man that would be something. It would be great if I decided to go to Ohio State.”

Gibson is rated as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com and is the No. 6 quarterback in that class according to Scout.com.  He is expected to announce his verbal commitment Oct. 20.

In Late May, Gibson released a Top Seven ($ link) that consisted of Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Miami and UCF. Tennessee and Auburn were his two favorites at the time.

However, a visit to Columbus in July ($ link) flipped his order of preference, with Ohio State jumping to the lead. That’s where they’ve stayed the past couple of weeks — and where they’ve apparently solidified themselves on the strength of the Miller gloom and doom.

“Nothing has changed, Ohio State is still the leader,” the player told the paper.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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FAU to name field after Howard Schnellenberger

NCAA Football - Florida Atlantic vs Kansas - September 3, 2005

And it’s about damn time.

Nearly three years after retiring, the man who was largely (mainly) responsible for the creation of the FAU football program is finally being honored, with the university announcing that the field at FAU Stadium will henceforth be known as Howard Schnellenberger Field.  Schnellenberger coached the Owls for the first 11 years of their existence before announcing prior to the season that 2011 would be his final year in coaching.

A ceremony will be held prior to the Sept. 13 home opener against Tulsa to honor Schnellenberger.

“I am humbled beyond belief that the University would bestow this great honor on the Schnellenberger family, and me personally,” said Schnellenberger in a statement. “This is probably the highlight of my coaching career. Thanks to the FAU Board of Trustees, the University, the fans, the players and the coaches that were an integral part of this.”

With the Owls, Schnellenberger had a 58-74 overall record.  Schnellenberger’s finished with a career mark of 158-151-3 that included stops at Miami and Louisville.  Included in that total is the 1983 national title he won with the Hurricanes.

And, now that he’s been honored by the football program he built from scratch, it’s time for the College Football Hall of Fame to rid itself of the archaic and asinine rule that’s keeping a more-than-deserving coach from being honored.

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Louisville’s Lyn Clark transfers to FCS program

Lyn Clark

When it was reported over the weekend that Lyn Clark was leaving Louisville, the initial speculation was the linebacker would end up at Tulane. While the state turned out to be correct, the specific program and level of football weren’t.

Northwestern State, located in Natchitoches, La., announced Tuesday that Clark has transferred into the football program. Because the Demons play at the FCS level, the New Orleans native will be eligible to play immediately in 2014.

Prior to a scrimmage this past Saturday, UofL head coach Bobby Petrino confirmed that Clark had asked for and been granted a release from his scholarship.

Clark, a two-star member of the Cardinals’ 2013 recruiting class, took a redshirt as a true freshman last season. He had been working as a No. 2 linebacker throughout spring practice and on into summer camp.

Counting 2014, he’ll have four years of eligibility remaining.

As it turns out, Clark wasn’t the only former FBS player added by NSU. Former Navy quarterback Nick Fabrizio was added to the roster as well. Fabrizio is a legacy addition, being the son of former Demon quarterback Rob Fabrizio (1984-86) and brother of junior linebacker Robert Fabrizio.

Unlike Clark, Fabrizio will be forced to sit out the 2014 season. He’ll have three years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2015.

(Photo credit: Northwestern State athletics)

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Syracuse’s starting TE set for surgery

Boston College v Syracuse

Whether or not Syracuse has a starting skill player on offense for all, some or none of the 2014 season remains to be seen.

Josh Parris, the school announced Tuesday, suffered what was described as a lower-body injury during a recent practice session. As a result, the tight end will be forced to undergo surgery to repair the unspecified injury Wednesday.

How long and the number of games Parris will — or won’t — miss is still to be determined.

Head coach Scott Shafer did say the team was hopeful Parris would make a speedy recovery, although there are no guarantees.

“He’s got a little clicking in his knee, so we got it checked out, had a little cartilage thing,” Shafer said. “Hopefully it’s something (doctors) can just go in and clean up and get him back quickly.”

Parris caught 13 passes for 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The 6-2, 252-pound redshirt sophomore would’ve will enter the 2014 season as the Orange’s starting tight end.

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Optimistic Urban Meyer opens up on Braxton Miller injury, impact

Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller

If you were expecting a sullen and despondent Urban Meyer in the wake of the Braxton Miller injury, you will be sorely disappointed.

Wednesday morning, the Ohio State head coach, during an interview on the Mike & Mike Show, made his first public comments since yesterday’s announcement.  While acknowledging “your gut starts to hurt” when ” a member of your family [goes] down,”  Meyer was optimistic about the future of his squad, which, prior to Miller’s season-ending injury, was viewed by many as the Big Ten favorite and potential playoff qualifier.

I think we’re going to be a very good team,” the coach said in quotes transcribed by the Columbus Dispatch. “Has my thought changed? Not at all. …

“Our guys have responded [positively to the injury news].”

Meyer also praised Miller for his attitude since the injury, which has seemed to have an impact — a positive one — on the entire team.

“The best thing is Braxton’s reaction,” Meyer said. “Braxton has a big smile on his face, is out at practice, is talking to our quarterbacks. I’m telling you, he’s a grown man. That’s credit to him, his family and his high-school coach, Jay Minton.”

The quarterback who’ll likely lean on Miller, the quasi-coach, the most is T.J. Barrett.  The redshirt freshman has never played a down at the collegiate level let alone attempted a pass.  He’s expected to get the start, at least in the opener against Navy,  ahead of Cardale Jones.

Miller will be looked upon to provide a veteran presence for Barrett, one who can be both a mentor and a coach all in the same package.  Meyer’s going to do his part as well, scaling back the offense and tailoring it to Barrett’s skillset.

“We’re not at this point going to ask him to throw that post corner on the field a 35-yard route on a seven-step drop,” Meyer said as an example of tailoring the offense for Barrett. “He’s not made for that yet.”

The Dispatch pointed out that “the offense under Barrett is likely to resemble what it looked like when Kenny Guiton took over when Miller was injured early last year.”

Miller suffered a knee injury in the first quarter of the Week 2 win over San Diego State and was replaced for the remainder of that game as well as the next two by Guiton.  Guiton totaled 13 touchdowns — 12 passing — in those three games before Miller returned for the win over Wisconsin.

The difference between Barrett and Guiton?  Guiton was a senior with at least some playing experience before being tossed into the fray.  Neither Barrett nor OSU has that luxury this time around, with Barrett’s acclimation to the game at this level likely going a long way in determining whether or not, as Meyer stated, the Buckeyes are a very good team at season’s end.

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Ex-Tide RB Dee Hart injures ankle, could miss CSU’s opener

Mississippi v Alabama Getty Images

Despite a different location nearly 1,500 miles across the country, Dee Hart still can’t shake the injury bug.

During Colorado State’s scrimmage Tuesday, the running back went down with an ankle injury. While it’s not believed to be serious, it could keep Hart out of the Rams’ season opener Aug. 28 against in-state rival Colorado.

Hart, a transfer from Alabama, is expected to be a significant contributor and perhaps a starter despite his brief period of time with the team. That is, if he can shake the health curse he’s dealt with the past couple of years.

In July of 2011, Hart suffered a torn ACL that forced him to miss his true freshman season.  After rehabbing that injury, Hart tore the ACLin the same knee during an October win over Ole Miss last year and, obviously, missed the remainder of the season.  While Hart is returning yet again from injury, he’ll be doing so on the other side of the ball.

Because of the combination of injuries and the talent at the position, the former five-star recruit finished the Tide portion of his career with just 43 carries for 166 yards and a touchdown.

In February of this year, Hart was arrested and charged with giving false information and possession of marijuana. It was revealed at that time that Hart hadn’t been a part of the team since shortly after the Tide’s Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma.

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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Big Ten

Purdue v Wisconsin

As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the Big Ten. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

BIG TEN EAST

1. Michigan State (Last year: 13-1; beat Stanford in Rose Bowl)
Michigan State will have the best defense in the Big Ten, despite losing some key players from 2013. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will figure out how to get the most out of his defense and players like defensive end Shilque Calhoun and safety Kurtis Drummond will help make that task easier. The defending champs will be unlikely to start so slow on offense this season, as they did in 2013, with quarterback Connor Cook back and seasoned (and most importantly, confident). Michigan State’s offense should be balanced and reliant on the run with Jeremy Langford coming off 1,422 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Getting Ohio State at home is key as far as Big Ten play is concerned, but a week two trip to Oregon could keep the Spartans playing catch-up in the playoff discussion from the start.

2. Ohio State (Last year: 12-2; lost to Clemson in Orange Bowl)
Here’s the thing with Ohio State. With or without quarterback Braxton Miller, Ohio State may still be the best team in the Big Ten this season, but with Miller lost for the entire season the idea of Ohio State running through the regular season unscathed becomes much less likely. In a season that was expected to be layoff or bust, the Buckeyes may have already gone bust, but this is still a talented team that could be favored in every game of the season, with the likely exception of a road trip to East Lansing in early November. JT Barrett will take over under center, lacking much experience and with a fraction of the potential of a healthy Miller, but the Buckeyes will find some ways to make it work. Afterall it is not as though the rest of the roster is lacking for players ready to leave their mark. Look for Ohio State to get a bit tougher on defense this season, with Michael Bennett anchoring the defensive line and Noah Spence on the edge after serving a suspension.

3. Michigan (Last year: 7-6; lost to Kansas State in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
Is this the year Brady Hoke turns the Michigan trends back in his favor? Only a handful of players on the roster now were not recruited by his staff, so his stamp is officially on this Michigan football program. The addition of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier comes with high expectations for improving the offense, which was dismal at times in protecting quarterback Devin Gardner and protecting the football. This was a team on the brink of losing at home to Akron but a play away from taking out Ohio State. You try figuring this Michigan team out. Moving tight end Devin Funchess to wide receiver was needed to improve the receiving position and should work well, and the running backs look to improve as well. Michigan’s defense is in the most in need of improving, cutting down on big plays allowed being the biggest concern. Adding star recruit Jabrill Peppers at defensive back could give a boost in that area.

4. Penn State (Last year: 7-5)
The James Franklin era gets underway with great enthusiasm but lingering concerns over roster depth. Penn State will have the talent at positions to do some good things and win a game they probably shouldn’t along the way (Ohio State and Michigan State at home?), but the depth concerns to lose a game they probably should not (Indiana in Bloomington, again?). The light at the end of the tunnel is there for Penn State, which is good news. Penn State also has one of the best young quarterbacks in the nation with sophomore Christian Hackenberg. Offensive line concerns are legitimate of course, as they have been for years, but if Hackenberg stays healthy the offense can be effective. The defense on the other hand, could use some playmakers and some more brute force up front to bring pressure on opposing QBs and close down running lanes.

5. Maryland (Last year: 7-6; lost to Marshall in Military Bowl as ACC member)
Maryland receives no favors on the schedule in their debut season as a member of the Big Ten, but the Terrapins join the new conference with possibly the best wide receiver unit in the conference. Stefon Diggs has the ability to break open a big play at any moment, and he plays in a division that sees some weaknesses in secondaries all over (except Michigan State). And do not forget about Levern Jacobs and Deon Long. Maryland’s biggest concern is keeping quarterback C.J. Brown upright to be able to get those receivers the football. The defense hit walls against explosive offenses in 2013 but returns a good number of upperclassmen, which is usually nice. A fourth-place finish is not all that unrealistic, but probably a reach for Maryland in 2014.

6. Indiana (Last year: 5-7)
The Hoosiers have an offense that is capable of giving every team in the Big Ten some fits. Credit head coach Kevin Wilson for making that happen since he arrived in Bloomington, but the defense is not a unit that will cause much fear on a weekly basis. The Hoosiers averaged 38.4 points per game last season, but the defense allowed 38.8 points per game. If the defense can just improve a little bit, then the Hoosiers should be seriously thinking about making plans for a postseason bowl game. It could be a rough start with the schedule though with road games at Bowling Green and Missouri. Getting to six wins may be a reach for Indiana unless they can get off to a good start. Running back Tevin Coleman could become one of the top running backs int he Big Ten.

7. Rutgers (Last year: 6-7; lost to Notre Dame in Pinstripe Bowl)
Rutgers is going to have a tall mountain to climb in year one in the Big Ten. Rutgers must go on the road to Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State and hosts Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Getting to six wins to return to the postseason is a reach for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers does add Ralph Friedgen as offensive coordinator, which should result in some better scheming and preparation, but Gary Nova is still the best option at quarterback and Rutgers has lost some key players over the last couple of years. Experience is thin. The defense could be picked apart by most teams n the schedule, which should be a constant area of focus for Rutgers.

BIG TEN WEST

1. Wisconsin (Last year: 9-4; lost to South Carolina in Capital One Bowl)
The Badgers fell shy of playing for yet another Big Ten championship last season, but now in a new division it looks as though Wisconsin has the easiest road to travel back to Indianapolis this fall. The Badgers will be led by one of the top running backs in the country, Melvin Gordon, and have a schedule worthy of legitimate playoff consideration if things go their way. A season-opening game against LSU in Cowboys Stadium is far from impossible and a home game against Bowling green should deserve more respect than it may get. Avoiding Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State in crossover games is nice too. On offense there is a need to see some players step up to support Gordon and quarterback Joel Stave needs to be a bit more consistent. The defense will be good, not great, but needs to find a way to create more turnovers in 2014.

2. Iowa (Last year: 8-5; lost to LSU in Outback Bowl)
The Hawkeyes may not dazzle with their style of play, but it should be effective enough to make a realistic run to an appearance in the Big Ten championship game. The Hawkeyes are anchored on the offensive line by left tackle Brandon Scherff and the rest of the line should do well in creating space for running back Mark Weisman. Iowa’s offense is designed to win some ugly games, and the defense should be capable of allowing for that to happen. Defensive tackle Carl Davis will lead the way up front along with defensive end Drew Ott. Iowa allowed just 18.9 points per game last season. The most challenging game on the schedule before late November may be a road game at Pittsburgh, but Iowa ends the regular season with Wisconsin and Nebraska at home on back-to-back weeks, with the division potentially on the line and Iowa in control of its own path.

3. Nebraska (Last year: 9-4; beat Georgia in Gator Bowl)
Nebraska will also have one of the top running backs in the Big Ten and the nation with Ameer Abdullah, but the Cornhuskers have some work to do in improving the supporting cast to become a top contender in the Big Ten. The Huskers will have some help on the defense with Randy Gregory entering the season as one of the top defensive ends in the conference, but Nebraska’s defense is a long time removed from the great defenses of the past. Bo Pelini‘s team has been consistent with the win total, but inconsistent on a game-to-game basis at times. With road games at Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa, it looks like Nebraska could be staring at another nine-win season.

4. Minnesota (Last year: 8-5; lost to Syracuse in Texas Bowl)
Head coach Jerry Kill has done a tremendous job with building something at Minnesota, but the bar may have been reached by the Gophers for now. Minnesota needs to see big leaps from multiple positions in order to make a run at a top three finish in the west division. Minnesota needs consistency out of the quarterback position from Mitch Leidner. Running back David Cobb should help take some pressure off Leidner, but there will be a time when Minnesota needs a big third-down completion. The schedule is a challenge as well, with a road game at TCU and back-to-back road games in conference play at Nebraska and Wisconsin to end the regular season.

5. Northwestern (Last year: 5-7)
The Wildcats were a trendy pick by many in the west division throughout the offseason, but the late departure of Venric Mark and the loss of wide receiver Christian Jones will take a big toll on Northwestern’s offense, which was to be the strength of the team for head coach Pat Fitzgerald. That is a lot of offensive production lost by the Wildcats, and that does not even account for a new full-time starting quarterback in Trevor Siemian. Fortunately, Siemian is not without some experience in this offense without Mark, with Treyvon Green playing a solid role last fall. On defense, linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo will rack up the tackle numbers but the rest of the defense can be exposed and the special teams break in a new kicker and punter.

6. Illinois (Last year: 4-8)
What will save head coach Tim Beckman? Three years in, Illinois needs to make a push for a postseason game if the heat is going to be turned down on Beckman’s job security. To get there, the Illini defense needs to improve in a hurry. The Illinois defense was shredded routinely last season and the offense was unable to keep up. Adding quarterback Wes Lunt after sitting out the 2013 season should help stabilize the offense, and should help the Illini keep up with the opposition, but the defense needs to find away to come up with some turnovers after not being able to last fall. re there six wins on the schedule? Yes, but it will be a battle to get there until the defense starts showing signs of improvement.

7. Purdue (Last year: 1-11)
There is nowhere to go but up for Purdue, hopefully. A trip to the postseason is a dream at this point, but the Boilermakers should make some improvements this fall. Head coach Darrell Hazell is in year two and the team should be starting to find its identity. On offense, Purdue managed just 14.9 points per game last season and the defense allowed 38.0 points per game. What should the realistic goal for Purdue be in 2014? Getting an extra touchdown per game and cutting one on defense would be a nice way to go. It still will not result in a winning season, but it would be a huge step in the right direction.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Michigan State over Wisconsin

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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USC could be without starting guard for opener

Khaliel Rodgers

With the season opener exactly 10 days away, USC could be at less than full strength along the offensive line.

Starting guard Khaliel Rodgers, the school confirmed late Tuesday night, suffered a sprained knee during practice this week. He is expected to be sidelined for a period of 10-14 days.

With the opener against Fresno State set for Aug. 30, Rodgers’ availability for the game is, obviously, very much up in the air.

A four-star member of the Trojans, Rodgers’ was rated as the No. 1 guard in the country by Rivals.com and the No. 51 player at any position in the country. The 6-2, 295-pound Rodgers took a redshirt as a true freshman, but has been working with the first-team offense at right guard throughout summer camp.

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Texas Tech walk-on, D-II schools the options for Venric Mark

Ohio State v Northwestern Getty Images

As far as options go, it doesn’t appear Venric Mark has very many.

In the middle of last week, it was announced that Mark had abruptly and surprisingly decided to withdraw from classes and transfer from Northwestern for “personal reasons”. That decision came a handful of days after it was announced the running back had been suspended for the first two games of the 2014 season for an unspecified violation of team rules.

According to Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com, one tack Mark may take is to become a walk-on at Texas Tech. The issues, though, that Mark is running into are twofold: one, he has yet to graduate — one class short of his degree — so he would have to appeal for a hardship waiver that would grant him immediate eligibility.

Fowler writes that “because Mark’s mother lives in Lubbock, [it] could facilitate a waiver.”  That’s far from a guarantee, however.

And the second issue Mark is running into is teams are up against the limit scholarship-wise. Additionally, Fowler notes, “Texas also said no because Charlie Strong is cleaning house and isn’t taking on new players at the moment.”

If the Texas native had graduated, “he’d likely be attending Houston in the fall,” Fowler stated.

The back has also spoken to Div. II programs West Texas A&M and Northwest Missouri State. He could play at any level other than the FBS and be eligible immediately without a waiver.

Mark, a redshirt senior, missed all but three games in 2013 due to injury and received a medical hardship waiver for the 2014 season. This will be his final season of eligibility.

In 2012, he led the Wildcats in rushing with 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns.

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Saban still waiting for a QB to ‘take the bull by the horns’

As has been the case since the spring, and especially since the Florida State transfer arrived, Alabama remains the most high-profile FBS team with an open and undecided quarterback competition. And, it appears, that will remain the case for the foreseeable future.

Just 10 days before the opener, neither Jacob Coker, the presumptive favorite, nor Blake Sims, AJ McCarron‘s backup in 2013, have pulled away from the other. Head coach Nick Saban, new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and the rest of the offensive staff are awaiting for it to go down, but it simply hasn’t happened yet.

And, seeing as we’re rapidly approaching opening weekend, it appears the formerly bristly Saban is getting a little anxious for someone to do just that — but not anxious enough for a premature trigger pull

“I would like to see somebody take the bull by the horns from a leadership standpoint, a consistency standpoint and win the job here sometime,” the coach said following practice Tuesday. “But we’re not going to make a decision until somebody does that.”

So, what if neither Coker nor Sims grabs the bull by the, uh, throat, before the opener against West Virginia? The Tide could very well be prepared to party like its 2011 under center. From al.com:

If that doesn’t happen, Alabama could very well play both Sims and Coker against West Virginia much like it did in 2011, when AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims split time in the season opener.

McCarron, of course, went on to grab hold of — eventually — the starting job for not only the 2011 season but the next two years as well. Saban can only hope that, eventually, either Coker or Sims does the same.

“One day one guy plays really well and you say, ‘Well, that looks like that might be it.’ And the next day the other guy plays really well,” Saban said. “I think the good news is we have two guys that I would feel very comfortable playing.”

Perhaps, comfortable enough to even play both in the same game depending on how the next week and a half goes.

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Irish OC missed start of camp as he battled prostate cancer

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And now we know the rest of what was, unbeknownst to most, a very serious story.

Earlier this month it was announced that Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock would “miss the first few weeks of preseason camp” due to what was described at the time as an undisclosed medical procedure. Tuesday, Denbrock spoke to the media and revealed the exact nature of his health scare: prostate cancer.

According to our own J.J. Stankevitz as part of his other gig at CSNChicago.com, Denbrock underwent routine medical testing for a life insurance policy. It was at that point it was discovered he had cancer.

All subsequent tests performed since the surgery have been positive, and the coordinator has returned to work. He isn’t though, back to 100 percent.

“I think it’ll be a little while,” Denbrock said when asked when he’ll be back to full strength. “I’m not going to say how much I’ve been involved with what’s been going on because my wife and doctor will probably hunt me down and get after me, but I’ve more than I anticipated I would up until this point. I haven’t tried to stress it or push it. Coach Kelly has been great about it, (as has athletic director) Jack Swarbrick and everybody here about letting me heal and get what I needed.”

Denbrock is in his first season as the Irish’s play-caller. During Danbrock’s absence, head coach Brian Kelly has taken over that responsibility.

In addition to coordinating duties, Denbrock serves as ND’s wide receivers coach. He’ll continue that part of his job description as well.

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