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 

SEC remains atop NFL draft’s first-round perch

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The ACC may have knocked the SEC off its postseason perch this past season, but the latter conference remains the go-to first-round conference for the NFL.

With the first round of the draft officially in the books, the SEC easily led all leagues in selections with a record-tying 12.  The only conferences even remotely within shouting distance of the SEC were the Big Ten (seven) and the Pac-12 (six).  The ACC finished the first day with four players picked.

And what of the remaining Power Five conference not previously mentioned?  The Big 12 had as many picks, one, as the AAC and MAC.   Wrap your head around that.

Individually, there were six schools with two or more first-round picks, and three of those qualified for the College Football Playoffs last season –Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.  The others were LSU, Michigan and Wisconsin.

‘Bama had four players drafted, tying the program’s record for the first round.  LSU and Ohio State had three each, with two of the former’s coming in the first six picks.

Below are a handful of draft nuggets related to college football programs, followed by the complete first-round order of selections for those whom suddenly found themselves under a rock Thursday night.

  • Myles Garrett is the first-ever No. 1 overall pick Texas A&M has produced.  Luke Joeckel, picked No. 2 overall in the 2013 draft, had previously held the record for highest-drafted Aggie.
  • Clemson’s Mike Williams and Deshaun Watson are the first wide receiver-quarterback combination from the same school to be selected within the first 12 picks since the common draft began in 1967.
  • New #DBU? The three Ohio State defensive backs selected in the first round tied the record for that positional group set by Miami in 2002.  The four defensive backs in general and three cornerbacks specifically selected the past two years sets a draft record as well.
  • Stanford had two players, Solomon Thomas (No. 3) and Christian McCaffrey (No. 8), drafted in the Top 10 for the first time since Bob Whitfield and Tommy Vardell in 1992.  Thomas and McCaffrey became the 24th and 25th first-round picks in the program’s history, with six of those coming in the six seasons under head coach David Shaw. Five of those picks under Shaw came on the offensive side of the ball.
  • Michigan’s two first-round picks this year were as many as the football program had in the last 10 years combined.
  • Derek Barnett was Tennessee’s first draft pick in any round, let alone the first, since 2014.
  • The Miami Hurricanes have had a player chosen in every draft the last 43 years, dating back to 1972.
  • Wide receiver Corey Davis, selected fifth overall by the Tennessee Titans, is the second first-round selection from Western Michigan in the program’s history, joining 27th-overall pick Jason Babin in 2004.  He’s also the 17th player from the MAC to be drafted in the first round.
  • For the first time since 2009, a player who played his high school football in the state of Florida was not selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

1.) Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M (Cleveland Browns)
2.) Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina (Chicago Bears)
3.) Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford (San Francisco 49ers)
4.) Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (Jacksonville Jaguars)
5.) Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan (Tennessee Titans)
6.) Jamal Adams, DB, LSU (New York Jets)
7.) Mike Williams, WR, Clemson (Los Angeles Chargers)
8.) Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford (Carolina Panthers)
9.) John Ross, WR, Washington (Cincinnati Bengals)
10.) Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech (Kansas City Chiefs)
11.) Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State (New Orleans Saints)
12.) Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson (Houston Texans)
13.) Haason Reddick, LB, Temple (Arizona Cardinals)
14.) Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee (Philadelphia Eagles)
15.) Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State (Indianapolis Colts)
16.) Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama (Baltimore Ravens)
17.) Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama (Washington Redskins)
18.) Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC (Tennessee Titans)
19.) O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
20.) Garett Boles, OL, Utah (Denver Broncos)
21.) Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida (Detroit Lions)
22.) Charles Harris, DE, Missouri (Miami Dolphins)
23.) Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss (New York Giants)
24.) Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State (Oakland Raiders)
25.) Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan (Cleveland Browns)
26.) Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA (Atlanta Falcons)
27.) Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU (Buffalo Bills)
28.) Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan (Dallas Cowboys)
29.) David Njoku, TE, Miami (Cleveland Browns)
30.) T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin (Pittsburgh Steelers)
31.) Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama (San Francisco 49ers)
32.) Ryan Ramczyk, OL, Wisconsin (New Orleans Saints)

Michigan, UCLA to do combined football camp this summer

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A pair of teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12 have decided to combine forces for a little camping action this summer.

During an interview Thursday, UCLA head coach Jim Mora revealed that his coaching staff as well as Michigan’s will work a football camp together in a couple of months. The camp will take place in June on the UCLA campus.

Mora’s counterpart at U-M, in case you were wondering, is expected to take part as well.

“We’re going to have a camp,” Mora told the Rich Eisen Show by way of mlive.com. “Michigan is going to send some of their coaches out, (Jim) Harbaugh is coming out – we’re going to do a combined camp with Michigan. It’s going to be fun.”

Interestingly, there is a very recent coaching connection between the two programs to add to the summer marriage.

The past two seasons, Jedd Fisch had served as the quarterbacks coach/wide receivers coach/passing-game coordinator for the Wolverines. In early January, it was announced that Fisch would be the Bruins’ new offensive coordinator. He’ll also serve as quarterbacks coach.

Football meets futbol as Texas A&M’s Kyle Field trying to host Manchester Derby friendly

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Football could turn into futbol at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field this summer.

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that the venue is on the short list to host English Premier League giants Manchester United and Manchester City for a stateside derby on July 20th this summer.

“We firmly believe Texas A&M is a world-class university, so you’re bringing world-class Premier League soccer teams to the campus,” Aggies senior associate athletic director Kevin Hurley told the paper.

For college football fans not aware, the two teams are some of the biggest soccer clubs in the world and annually stage a Manchester derby (think home-and-home series) several times a year for supremacy in the large, industrial English city. The upcoming game between the two in the United States is set to be part of the International Champions Cup, which has hosted several other major clubs from across Europe in matches at college football stadiums ranging from the Big House at Michigan to Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.

Perhaps most interestingly, the DMN notes that Texas’ Memorial Stadium was originally in the running to host the game but organizers had to look elsewhere because of scheduling issues. The Longhorns and Aggies used to have one of the best rivalries in all of college athletics so it just makes sense for the two to have a bit and a back-and-forth when it comes to hosting a rivalry of a different kind.

Houston’s NRG Stadium (home of the Texans) is also reportedly in the mix but playing a soccer game at one of college football’s loudest venues seems like the no-brainer choice on novelty alone. It would be worth going to alone to see A&M fans explain ‘Gig’em’ and the ’12 Man’ to those from across the pond.

Bear Bryant’s great-grandson picks up offer from SEC school not named Alabama

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When you think of legendary head coach Bear Bryant, the Alabama Crimson Tide typically comes to mind. After all, that’s where he solidified his status on the Mount Rushmore of college football and had the most success of any coach not named Nick Saban.

Some outside the South may not realize it though, but Bryant really developed his reputation running a football team at another SEC and only some fans would be able to guess that came during his eight seasons at Kentucky. During his tenure in Lexington, Bryant guided the Wildcats to their first SEC football title (in 1950) and saw unprecedented success (before or since) on the gridiron at the school that included several top 10 finishes. Now it appears that connection to UK could play a role in landing a budding 2019 recruit.

Per AL.comPaul Tyson was the latest player to receive a scholarship offer from Mark Stoops and his staff and, while that name might not ring a bell, it turns out that Tyson is the great-grandson of one Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pound signal-caller from Hewitt-Trussville High is not yet considered a blue-chip recruit but 247Sports is reporting that several power programs (including Alabama) are interested in him. Tyson didn’t even start for the varsity team last season but given his good size and good genes, it’s safe to say he could see his stock explode over the coming years.

The real question is though, if the Crimson Tide come along with an offer, would the quarterback be able to turn down a chance to play in Tuscaloosa? As with everything in recruiting, we’ll have to wait until pen meets paper on National Signing Day.