Urban Meyer

CFT Predicts: the Big Ten

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As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the Big Ten.  

While we’re at it, be sure to check out our other conference predictions: SEC, Pac-12

Leaders Division

1. Ohio State (Last year: 12-0)
What happened last season?
Urban Meyer‘s first year with the Buckeyes was flawless, at least as far as things go in the win-loss column. Though Ohio State had no postseason to look forward to thanks to NCAA sanctions, it went undefeated during the regular season. That’s propelled OSU to become one of the preseason favorites to appear in the final BCS championship.

So why are they ranked here?
The more appropriate question would be why wouldn’t the Buckeyes be ranked here? Meyer is easily one of the best in the game and quarterback Braxton Miller is now the betting favorite to win the Heisman. There are some concerns along the defensive front for this team, but it doesn’t have the appearance of something that will be an insurmountable problem.

Anything else?
The Game against Michigan can go either way, but there’s really only one spot I can potentially see Ohio State slipping. That would be an Oct. 5 game at Northwestern. The Wildcats enter 2013 with some hype (there’s something you don’t type everyday) after winning 10 games last year.

2. Wisconsin (Last year: 8-6; lost to Stanford in Rose Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Badgers can thank the NCAA for getting to the Big Ten title game as both Ohio State and Penn State watched from home. The Badgers struggled with offensive consistency throughout the year even though Montee Ball was among the leading rushers in the country. 

So why are they ranked here?
Gary Andersen takes over for the departed Bret Bielema. Though Ball is gone and the quarterback situation needs to be figured out, this is a veteran team with some recognizable names still around like running back James White and receiver Jared Abbrederis. The bigger concern lies on defense, which will be moving to more of a 3-4 this year.

Anything else?
The Badgers avoid Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska this season. It may not help Andersen win the Leaders Division in his first year, but it should help with a few more W’s. Also, QB Tanner McEvoy has started getting some looks at receiver and should help in that department.

3. Penn State (Last year: 8-4)
What happened last season?
Bill O’Brien took over what felt like an impossible situation and won eight games with the Nittany Lions. The crowning achievement of a season that surpassed many expectations was the development of quarterback Matt McGloin, who is now getting some buzz in the pros with the Oakland Raiders.

So why are they ranked here?
Penn State is a little bit of a wildcard this year. Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson are battling it out for the starting quarterback job, and this defense loses some key leaders from a year ago including linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. What we’re banking on is some more O’Brien magic with a quarterback who was not on last year’s roster.

Anything else?
There are some young defenders that Penn State fans should be excited about. Defensive end Deion Barnes was the conference’s Freshman of the Year in 2012.

4. Purdue (Last year: 6-7; lost to Oklahoma State in Heart of Dallas Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Getting to the postseason wasn’t enough for Danny Hope, who was let go last November [“Hope-less” pun goes here] [hates self for it]. Alas, the mustache just wasn’t good enough.

So why are they ranked here?
Darrell Hazell was considered a good hire for the Boilermakers, but he has a lot of work ahead of him in 2013. Rob Henry, a veteran guy, has been named the starting quarterback, but he last played meaningful snaps in 2010. The rest of the offense should feature a lot of newer faces, though there is talent there.

Anything else?
Things could get off to a rocky start for Hazell. Looking at the schedule, there are only a couple games the Boilermakers figure to have a chance to win. Things ease up at the end of the season, which could pave the way for some momentum heading into 2014.

5. Indiana (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Kevin Wilson got the Hoosiers to four wins. The offense showed consistent ability to score points and Indiana almost knocked off Ohio State in a shootout. 

So why are they ranked here?
It doesn’t appear offense is going to be a concern for IU, and Wilson has three capable quarterbacks from which to choose in Cameron Coffman, Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld. The defense returns many of its starters from a year ago. The problem is that unit finished among the worst in rushing defense and scoring defense last year. The Hoosiers can score with most, so if they can make some stops and force some turnovers they’ll be in a position for an outside shot at a bowl game.

Anything else?
Roberson didn’t have much of a chance to showcase his athletic potential after going down with a season-ending leg injury early in the year. He’s a valuable weapon though, so it’ll be interesting to see if/how Wilson utilizes him if he doesn’t regain the starting job.

6. Illinois (Last year: 2-10) 
What happened last season?
Tim Beckman‘s first year with Illinois went poorly as the Illini won just two games and had a few brutal losses to Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern.

So why are they ranked here?
There are a lot of players returning on offense, including quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but this was also a group that barely scored more than two touchdowns a game last year. Beckman hopes that hiring former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit as offensive coordinator will help in that department. Still, a brutal schedule from start to finish may be too much for the Illini to see any real improvement in the win-loss column.

Anything else?
Beckman took a veiled shot at former Illini coach Ron Zook earlier this summer by suggesting he left the cupboard bare when he was fired two seasons ago. Still, there’s already mounting pressure to win in Beckman’s second year.

Legends Division

1. Nebraska (Last year: 10-4; lost to Georgia in Capital One Bowl)
What happened last season?
Like every other year under Bo Pelini, Nebraska was good. But, like most years, the Cornhuskers couldn’t get over the conference championship hump. Instead, Wisconsin founds its mojo and hung a cool 70 points on the blackshirts on their way to Pasadena.

So why are they ranked here?
Good question. There’s been no indication so far that Nebraska can take the next step under Pelini and get to a BCS bowl. Yet, somehow, here I am giving them another chance because I can’t quit ’em. The offense should be one of the best in the Big Ten with a core group of playmakers coming back, including Taylor Martinez, running back Ameer Abdullah, and receiver Kenny Bell. The defense will be young, but if it can just play well enough, Nebraska will be back in the Big Ten championship.

Anything else?
The Legends Division may not take form until November. Nebraska plays Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State in consecutive weeks.

2. Michigan (Last year: 8-5; lost to South Carolina in Outback Bowl)
What happened last season?
The Wolverines’ win total dipped and there were some cringeworthy losses to Alabama, Notre Dame and Nebraska. And, yes, to point it out again, Ohio State beat Michigan. Though Denard Robinson got hurt and finished the season as a running back, fans got a glimpse of what the Devin Gardner era may look like.

So why are they ranked here?
There are plenty of quality players for the Wolverines — Gardner, Fitz Toussaint, and Jeremy Gallon just to name a few. But depth is definitely a concern, especially at quarterback. Linebacker Jake Ryan is currently trying to make his way back from a knee injury and is projected to return around midseason.

Anything else?
Brady Hoke has yet to lose a home game in Ann Arbor, so conversely a majority of his seven losses have come on the road. And there will be some tough road games for the Wolverines: at Penn State and at Michigan State. Trips to Northwestern and Iowa could be tricky as well.

3. Michigan State (Last year: 7-6; beat TCU in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
What happened last season?
Sparty went 6-6 in the regular season, primarily because of the team’s inability to win close games.  Five of MSU’s six losses came in games decided by a touchdown or less.

So why are they ranked here?
While we certainly hope Mark Dantonio goes #B1G and plays four quarterbacks at the same time, Andrew Maxwell is likely the starter — for now, at least. The offense has some some good wide receivers returning, but tight end Dion Sims and running back Le’Veon Bell are gone. If it can’t find any sort of constancy, the defense will be relied upon once again to keep the Spartans in a position to win. That’s certainly possible, but Sparty’s O can’t be “Sparty No!” again and reasonably expect to win the division.

Anything else?
Like the other Legends Division favorites, November is an important month for the Sparans, who do not have to play Ohio State, Penn State or Wisconsin. If the offense can get going, this can be a dangerous team with one of the highest ceilings in the conference.

4. Northwestern (Last year: 10-3; beat Mississippi State in Gator Bowl) 
What happened last season?
As crazy as it may sound, Northwestern was three combined quarters away from being undefeated in the regular season. Still, 10-3 and a January Bowl win is always respectable. And it’s Northwestern. 

So why are they ranked here?
For the first time since the invention of the forward pass, the Wildcats have some legitimate preseason hype. That can only be attributed to what an incredible Job Pat Fitzgerald has done at not only building the program, but maintaining continuity among staff and players. Offensive line is a concern this year, but Kain Colter returns as the centerpiece of the Wildcats offense.

Anything else?
Northwestern gets Ohio State and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks in October. As mentioned above, this is a team that could knock off the Buckeyes. The divisional schedule is difficult too and there’s some question as to whether Northwestern can take the next step as a program. This would be the year to do it though.

5. Iowa (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Kirk Ferentz suffered his first losing season since 2006 and the Hawkeyes dropped their last six in a row.

So why are they ranked here?
Scoring points has been difficult for Iowa recently and keeping a healthy running back has been even harder. Quarterback James Vandenberg is gone and there are questions at that position. Defense should be fine with a solid linebacker unit returning. The most important objective (besides win) is for offensive coordinator Greg Davis to get more out of this offense, which ranked among the worst scoring units in the country a year ago.

Anything else?
Kirk Ferentz has an enormous buyout, but another losing season — and Iowa’s schedule isn’t very forgiving — could have the program thinking harder about a change anyway.

6. Minnesota (Last year: 6-7; lost to Texas Tech in Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas) 
What happened last season?
Jerry Kill‘s team saw a three-game turnaround that got the Gophers back to a bowl game — and Minnesota almost won. But Texas Tech came from behind to beat UM in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

So why are they ranked this year?
The Gophers went through three quarterbacks last year and still won six games. The last one to starting time, sophomore Phillip Nelson, should take the field first for Minnesota this season. Chemistry in the passing game could be a question with A.J. Barker gone and Andre McDonald missing part of preseason camp due to suspension.

Anything else?
Getting back to a bowl isn’t out of the question for Minnesota, especially with a favorable out of conference schedule. Climbing up the Legends Division ladder is another story, but there are a few opportunities late in the year to steal a win at home from what will likely be a favored opponent when Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin come to Minneapolis.

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John Taylor‘s prediction:

Leaders
1. Ohio State
2. Wisconsin
3. Penn State
4. Indiana
5. Purdue
6. Illinois

Legends
1. Michigan
2. Nebraska
3. Northwestern
4. Michigan State
5. Iowa
6. Minnesota

Ben’s Big Ten champ: Ohio State
John’s Big Ten champ: Ohio State 

Jim Harbaugh, on rap video criticisms: ‘It’s only uptight white people that didn’t like it’

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh plays shirtless with participants during the Coach Jim Harbaugh's Elite Summer Football Camp, Friday, June 5, 2015, at Prattville High School in Prattville, Ala. (Albert Cesare/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)  NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
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What, did you expect Jim Harbaugh to not make some noise at the Big Ten Media Days?

Earlier this month, the Michigan head coach appeared in the video for a rap song titled “Who’s Got It Better Than Us?” If you were a Wolverines fan, you liked it; if you were not a fan of the program, you more than likely abhorred it. And you were probably a stick-up-the-keister caucasian for that matter.

At least, that’s Harbaugh’s take on the criticism, as he relayed during his time with the media Monday.

There you have it, white people, from, ironically enough, the Pasty Khaki King himself.

And, not surprisingly, Harbaugh’s off-field antics aren’t likely in the past.

“My default is usually yes,” Harbaugh said, from transcripts provided by the conference, when asked about how the video came to fruition and why he did it. “Action, why not? And the reaction has been very good. I’ve gotten multiple texts, phone calls, comments from people that really liked it and I think the cool people liked it.”

Take that, uncool white folk.

Jarrett Stidham granted release by Baylor, just not to other Big 12 teams

Jarrett Stidham, Lemaefe Galea'i
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Unlike some recent 2016 signee defections, Jarrett Stidham won’t be afforded the opportunity to haunt Baylor — at least not in conference play.

Earlier this month, Stidham confirmed rampant speculation via Twitter that he would be transferring from the Bears and continuing his playing career elsewhere. Fastforward nearly four weeks, and the quarterback confirmed to ESPN.com that he has been granted a release from his BU scholarship, albeit with restrictions.

Specifically, Stidham will not permitted to transfer to any current member of the Big 12. Texas Tech, which had received a verbal commitment from Stidham before he flipped to BU two months before Signing Day 2015, had been mentioned as a potential landing spot for the transfer.

Other than other members of the league, Stidham is free to transfer anywhere he desires, including schools already on BU’s future schedules during his remaining eligibility. Those would include SMU (2016), Rice (2016-2019), Duke (2017/2018) and UT-San Antonio (2017-2018).

If Stidham goes the FBS route for 2016, he would be forced to satisfy NCAA transfer bylaws by sitting out the upcoming season, and would then have three season of eligibility remaining beginning in 2017. There’s also speculation that Stidham could take the junior college path for a season and then move back to the FBS for his final three seasons, although his next step is currently unknown.

A four-star member of the Bears’ 2015 recruiting class, Stidham was rated as the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the country and the No. 7 player at any position in the state of Texas.

Last season, Stidham started three games as a true freshman in place of the injured Seth Russell before going down with a broken ankle that ended his own season.  He had been penciled in as the Bears’ quarterback of the future when the senior Russell departed after the 2016 season.

LB Christian Bell becomes latest ‘Bama player to transfer

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 15: The flag girls of the Alabama Crimson Tide marching band perform before the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 15, 2008 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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For the third time this offseason — a number that could ultimately turn into four — Alabama has seen a player depart Nick Saban‘s football program.

On Twitter over the weekend, Christian Bell announced that, “[a]fter a lot of thoughts and prayers,” he has decided to transfer from the Crimson Tide. The linebacker gave no reason for his departure less than two weeks before the start of summer camp, although al.com has an idea:

Alabama is very deep at outside linebacker and has several other young outside linebackers who were higher-rated recruits than Bell and were ahead of Bell on the depth chart.

Bell took a “grayshirt” for the 2015 season, ultimately enrolling in classes at UA this past January. The Birmingham, Ala., native participated in spring practice with the Tide this year.

A three-star recruit according to 247Sports.com, Bell was rated as the No. 19 weakside defensive end in the country and the No. 17 player at any position in the state of Alabama.

In January, it was reported that Shawn Burgess-Becker had decided to transfer, with the defensive back ultimately moving on to UCF. A month after Burgess-Becker’s departure surfaced, reports emerged that linebacker Adonis Thomas was leaving ‘Bama for a junior college.

Senior defensive back Maurice Smith has also been granted permission to transfer, although Smith’s family at one time indicated that the door was open for a return. Earlier this month, it was reported that UA had thus far denied Smith a release from his scholarship.

Florida’s Geoff Collins could become next million dollar coordinator

GAINESVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 18: The Florida Gators run onto the field before the game against the Missouri Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Heading into his second season in Gainesville, Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins just received a significant raise.

Collins, who signed a three-year contract paying him $600,000 annually after leaving Mississippi State to join Jim McElwain‘s staff last winter, netted a bump to $890,000 with a $150,000 retention bonus according to contract details obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.

Nine assistants earned at least $1 million in 2015 according to USA Today, with six of those hailing from the SEC.

Additionally, defensive line coach Chris Rumph‘s salary moved to $500,000 with a one-year extension through the 2017 season, offensive line coach Mike Summers will earn $498,500, linebackers coach Randy Shannon‘s $400,000 salary grew by just under $10,000, and new defensive backs coach Torrian Gray signed a two-year deal paying him $335,000 annually.

Florida’s defense ranked eighth nationally in yards per play allowed in 2015, helping the Gators win an unexpected SEC East championship.