Urban Meyer

CFT Predicts: the Big Ten


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.


John Taylor‘s prediction:

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

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 

QB Thomas Sirk probable for Duke vs. Wake

DURHAM, NC - SEPTEMBER 19:  C.J. Robbins #90 of the Northwestern Wildcats tackles Thomas Sirk #1 of the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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In the midst of a four-game losing streak, it appears Duke will have its starting quarterback at its disposable in the final regular season attempt to end the skein –if that’s the direction the coaching staff wants to go, of course.

On Duke’s official injury report, Thomas Sirk is listed as probable for the Wake Forest game with an unspecified upper-body injury.  Sirk sustained the injury in the Week 10 loss to North Carolina and didn’t play in the loss to Pitt the following weekend.

He returned last Saturday for the loss to Virginia.

Not only is Sirk the Blue Devils’ leading passer, but he also leads the team in rushing with 593 yards on the ground.  Sirk is one of four Power Five quarterbacks who leads their team in rushing and passing, joining Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Oregon State’s Seth Collins.

Even as it has looked like Sirk will be healthy enough to go this weekend, head coach David Cutcliffe has declined to name a starter.  Parker Boehme is Sirk’s backup and started the Week 11 loss to Pitt.  In his first collegiate start, the sophomore completed 23-of-42 passes for 248 yards and an interception.

Wintry weather could have an impact on Bedlam

AMES, IA - OCTOBER 26: Head coach Mike Gundy of the Oklahoma State Cowboys signals a play from the sidelines during the second half of play against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium on October 26, 2013 in Ames, Iowa. The Oklahoma State Cowboys defeated the Iowa State Cyclones 58-27. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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One of the most important games on the holiday docket this weekend is Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, with the Sooners looking to maintain their No. 3 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings and the Cowboys looking to get back into the playoff mix following their first loss of the season.

As it’s late November, though, Mother Nature may be looking to have a say in the outcome.

With Bedlam scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. ET in Stillwater on Saturday, the weather forecast bears watching. “There is 40-percent chance for precipitation Saturday night and a low temperature around 30 degrees with the potential for rain or freezing rain,” the Oklahoman‘s Kyle Fredrickson wrote, citing National Weather Service data.

In the old days when playing surfaces were mainly grass, wet weather wreaked havoc on field. With the advent of advanced fake turf, that concern has been somewhat mitigated. At least, that’s what OSU’s offensive boss is telling himself.

“I think you have to have contingency plans based on the weather,” coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “But nowadays, you’re playing on the turf so it can’t be that bad. Back in the day when we were playing on grass, it would affect you because there would be mud on the ball and you would only use two balls in the game.”

OU, OSU and Baylor all currently have one Big 12 loss, with the latter having two regular season games remaining while Bedlam is the last for the in-state rivals. The Sooners would be declared the conference champion with a win this weekend — they would’ve beaten both the Bears and Cowboys — while the Bears stake their claim as the league champ with wins in the last two games (TCU, Texas) combined with a Sooners loss. Because of its loss to the Bears last weekend, the Cowboys can be Big 12 champs only if they beat the Sooners and the Bears lose at least one of their last two.

If OU can win Bedlam and hold the crown of Big 12 champ, they’ll have to wait another week to see if the playoff committee will keep them in the top four or, as was the case with TCU last year, they get bumped out in favor of teams that played in and won conference championship games while they sat at home.

Injury issues continue to plague Gators’ defensive line

during the game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida.
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Looking to put an embarrassing overtime win over two-win FAU in the rearview mirror, Florida is look at some significant defensive line issues heading into its annual in-state showdown with Florida State.

First and foremost on the injury report is Jon Bullard, who is listed as doubtful for Saturday night’s game against the Seminoles.  Bullard, who has been dealing with an arm issue the past couple of weeks, suffered a knee injury on the first possession of the FAU game.  While the defensive tackle returned to that game, he’s been limited in practice this week leading to his doubtful designation.

Bullard’s 13.5 tackles for loss are tops on the team and fourth in the SEC.  He has started 33 games during his Gator career, including a streak of 23 straight.

In addition to Bullard’s injury issue, defensive ends Alex McCalister (foot) and defensive tackle Taven Bryan (ankle) are also listed as doubtful as well. McCalister currently leads the Gators in sacks with 6.5, one more than Bullard’s 5.5.

But wait, there’s more: three other defensive linemen are listed as questionable — Joey Ivie (knee), Jordan Sherit (hamstring) and Thomas Holley (hip).

Chris Petersen gets two-year extension from Washington

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 26: Washington Huskies head coach Chris Petersen celebrates a goal line stand against the California Golden Bears during the first half of a college football game at Husky Stadium on September 25, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. California went on to win 30-24. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Chris Petersen
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Still needing another win to secure bowl eligibility, Chris Petersen has been rewarded by his Washington bosses for the work he’s done with the Huskies thus far.

First reported by SI.com‘s Pete Thamel and subsequently confirmed by ESPN.com‘s Joe Schad, Petersen has signed a two-year contract extension with UW.  The new deal would keep Petersen with the Huskies through the 2020 season.

Thamel adds that Petersen will earn $4 million in the extension years of 2019 and 2020; in 2015, Petersen earned $3.4 million.  Petersen had already been scheduled to earn $4 million in 2018 under the terms of his original five-year deal.

Following an eight-year tenure at Boise State in which the Broncos won 88 percent of their games, Petersen left to take over the Huskies for the 2014 season after Steve Sarkisian exited for the USC job.  In his first season, Petersen went 8-5 and ended the year with a Cactus Bowl loss.  This season, the Huskies are 5-6 and need a win over No. 20 Washington State this weekend to extend their bowl streak to six straight seasons.

In Petersen’s first seven seasons as a head coach, he went 84-8; in his last three seasons, he’s gone a combined 21-16 — 8-4 in his last season in Boise, 13-12 in his first two years at UW.

UPDATED 12:04 p.m. ET: Within a minute of this being posted, UW sent out a press release confirming that Petersen has indeed agreed to a contract extension.

“Coach Petersen has demonstrated tremendous integrity and is building a program that Husky fans can be proud of, both on and off the field,” athletic director Scott Woodward said in a statement. “This extension is well-deserved and we hope Coach Petersen is a Husky for a long time to come.”