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 

Report: Gus Malzahn hands play-calling reins to OC

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn reacts to a play during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Arkansas on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
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Following yet another pedestrian performance last Saturday, Gus Malzahn took his play-calling to task.

“Hadn’t been very good,” the Auburn head coach said Wednesday. “It’s gotta be better. It’s gotta be better and it will get better.”

To get better, and avoid the further heating of his coaching seat, Malzahn has elected to fire himself.

Citing a source with knowledge of the situation, al.com is reporting that offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will call plays in place of Malzahn in what’s almost a must-win game for the coach and the team tonight against LSU.  The website writes that “[t]his isn’t the first time Lashlee has called plays in a pivotal game for Auburn… [as] Lashlee called the plays in Auburn’s 26-10 win at Texas A&M last season, the last SEC win for the Tigers.”

Since that game, the Tigers have lost three in a row in conference play.

Lashlee will be orchestrating an offense that, thus far this season, is tied for 86th in scoring offense (26.7 ppg).  Take out the 51 points AU scored against Arkansas State in Week 2, and the Tigers averaging 16 points per game against Power Five teams.

WATCH: Like his team, Mark Dantonio disappeared during blowout loss

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans looks on during warm ups against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Who knew that Mark Dantonio was into prestidigitation?

As you already know by now, No. 8 Michigan State was overwhelmed and embarrassed by No. 11 Wisconsin Saturday afternoon, then taken to the woodshed for good measure in a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 30-6 loss in East Lansing.  The Spartans’ running game was practically non-existent on the afternoon (2.8 yards per carry), and its special teams weren’t much better.

Those two phases of the game essentially disappeared for the whole of the blowout, as did their head coach at one point in the contest.

Take that, Houdini. Or Whodini, if you were a Sparty fan wondering when your team was going to get to the good part…

Ken Starr describes Art Briles as ‘an honorable man who conducted an honorable program’

WACO, TX - OCTOBER 17:  Head coach Art Briles of the Baylor Bears looks on as the Bears take on the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second half at McLane Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Oh boy.

Earlier this year, Art Briles was dismissed as the head coach at Baylor in the midst of the sexual assault scandal that rocked both the football program and the Baptist university.  Not long after, president Ken Starr followed the head coach out the door.

Briles embarrassingly began his redemption tour earlier this year with a tone-deaf interview that was overwhelmingly panned.  Starr, in an interview during something called the Texas Tribune Festival Saturday, likely trumped that level of embarrassment in the eyes of many as the former president vociferously defended his former coach.

“I believe that Coach Briles is an honorable man who conducted an honorable program,” Starr said by way of the Austin American-Statesman.

At least two of Briles’ players were convicted of sexual assault committed while they were Bears football players.  Several other players were accused of committing either sexual assault or violence — or both — while playing for Briles.

An outside review, the details of which have never been made public, accused the school of mishandling rape allegations and alleged that the football program, Briles and his coaching staff included, felt it was above the law.

In one of the lawsuits filed that stem from the rape allegations, one woman claimed that the school and the program were deliberately indifferent to her claims of rape.  Despite the appearance of a cultural issue that was pervasive at the Waco school, Starr declined to concur.

“I disagree with the sense that there was a fundamental failure,” said Starr. “I love Title IX. It has been an instrument of great, great reform … [but] the pendulum has swung much too far in one direction. …

“I’m going to resist the issue, or the characterization, that there was an endemic problem. Is there in fact a cultural insensitivity to issues of interpersonal violence? That was not the case at Baylor and is still not the case at Baylor.”

You know that feeling when you’re absolutely positive you should stop talking but simply can’t? When you have the right to remain silent but not the ability?  Yeah, that.

Rocky Slop: Tennessee comes up empty twice inside 10-yard line, Florida leads 21-3

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 10: Joshua Dobbs #11 of the Tennessee Volunteers carries the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs on October 10, 2015 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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If this was supposed to be the year Tennessee finally came out on top in the SEC East, the Florida Gators did not get the memo. Florida is up 21-3 on Tennessee in Knoxville at the half, thanks in part to a Vols offense that has imploded inside the 10-yard line twice in the first half. Tennessee was booed off the field, while on offense, as the final seconds ticked away in the first half. It has been 11 long years since experiencing a win over Florida, so you can imagine the pent-up frustration the home crowd has.

The tempers flared right from the opening kickoff, with Tennessee being called for an unsportsmanlike penalty on the opening kickoff, giving Florida 15 free yards without running a play. Two plays later, Florida starting quarterback Austin Appleby completed a 51-yard pass to Antonio Callaway to the Tennessee four-yard line. Three plays later, the Gators jumped on the Vols with a short pass from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby for a 7-0 lead right out of the gates.

Tennessee looked to catch a huge break on special teams when Callaway failed to hold on to a punt. Tennessee recovered at the Gators’ two-yard line but was unable to punch it in from the door step on four straight plays. Marcus Maye broke up a pass from Joshua Dobbs intended for Alvin Kamara on fourth down. Down 14-0 in the second quarter, thanks to a touchdown pass from Appleby to Jordan Cronkrite to finish off a 93-yard drive, the Vols worked their way back to inside the 10-yard line and seeing a chance to build some momentum. That hope was dashed when Quincy Wilson picked off a pass from Dobbs to the back of the end zone on third and goal.

Florida turned what could have been three or seven points for Tennessee into a 21-point lead. On the first play of the ensuing possession following the turnover in the end zone, Apply picked up 20 yards through the air with Callaway hauling in a pass.Later, on 2nd and 3, Appleby completed a 36-yard pass to Tyrie Cleveland, and a few plays later it was 21-0 after a video review to confirm Jordan Scarlett had punched one in from the one-yard line.

Nothing has gone well for the Vols, but credit Florida for making the plays they have bene making. The Gators have made plays on both sides of the football and avoided letting a special teams hiccup burn them.