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 

NCAA considering changing transfer rules

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The NCAA’s Division I Council Transfer Working Group on Wednesday unleashed a set of suggestions that could either radically change or slightly tweak the way transfers are handled in college sports’ highest level.

Let’s start with the (possible) radical changes. The working group is considering a suggestion that would make all transfers immediately eligible, provided they hit certain academic benchmarks:

Establishing uniform transfer rules — which would require everyone to follow the same rules regardless of the sport they play — was a topic that the group agrees will likely take longer to resolve. While most members agreed the concept of uniformity would be positive, what the specific rules would be is less clear.

Members discussed two models: One model would require every transfer student to sit out a year to acclimate to a new school; the other would allow all transfers to play immediately provided they present academic credentials that predict graduation at the new institution.

Walking back from that, the working group did recommend changing the transfer process to where players seeking new destinations would no longer need their former school’s approval. Considering the NCAA formally argues its athletes are merely students, and there is no limit on normal students receiving financial aid upon transferring to a new institution, this change should pass without a word to the contrary. But, you know, the NCAA is the NCAA.

Group members believe financial aid should not be tied to whether a school grants permission to contact. They want to know if others in the membership feel the same way. The group also agreed that enhancements should be made to the formal process students use to notify a school of their desire to transfer. The group will seek input from the membership on appropriate enhancements.

To curb a possible spike in transfers, the working group suggested upping penalties for coaches caught tampering with scholarship athletes at other schools.

The group expressed interest in increasing the consequences for coaches who break recruiting rules to seek out undergraduate and potential graduate students. The working group will ask the Committee on Infractions and enforcement staff to review the concept and provide feedback.

Finally, the working group suggested adding academic accountability to the graduate transfer market by either making graduate transfers count against the 85-man scholarship limit for two years or tweaking the APR formula to up the impact graduate transfers’ academic progress has in the system.

One potential approach could be to require that the financial aid provided to graduate students count against a team’s scholarship limit for two years, regardless of whether the graduate student stays for two years or leaves when their eligibility is complete.

Another concept for increasing that accountability is through the Academic Progress Rate calculation, specifically the eligibility and retention points for which a student would be held accountable as they pursue a graduate degree. The Committee on Academics discussed the calculation and the working group plans to continue conversations on the topic.

“I am thrilled with the great progress made this week, and I’m confident we can move forward with some initial concepts for consideration in this year’s legislative cycle,” South Dakota State AD and working group chair Justin Sell said in a statement. “We are working toward academics-based, data-driven decisions that benefit student-athletes, teams and schools.”

Any changes proposed by the working group are merely suggestions. The earliest any proposals could be voted on would be April 2018.

Michigan WR Grant Perry pleads guilty to felony resisting of a police officer

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Michigan wide receiver Grant Perry on Wednesday pleaded guilty to resisting of a police officer in a Lansing, Mich., court, according to the Lansing State Journal. The charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

Perry also pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of assault and battery, but did so to avoid two counts of fourth-degree sexual assault and one alcohol charge.

The case stemmed from an October incident in which Perry was accused of groping a female outside an East Lansing bar. (The Wolverines were off that weekend.) A Michigan State student said Perry “started licking his lips and smiling and pushing his chest up against her chest” before groping her.

Police were called to the scene, and Perry attempted to escape.

“When (police) arrived on scene, we tried to grab onto him, and we had to chase him,” East Lansing P.D. spokesman Lt. Scott Wriggelsworth said at the time. “In the midst of that fracas, one of our officers suffered a minor hand injury.”

Prosecutor Christina Johnson said Wednesday she has not ruled out sentencing Perry under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, which, pending Perry’s completion of certain requirements, would wipe Wednesday’s conviction from his record by his 24th birthday.

In the meantime, Perry has been suspended by Michigan but has since resumed practicing with the team. Jim Harbaugh has said Perry will not play for the Wolverines until his case is resolved, which it will be by the time Michigan opens the season against Florida on Sept. 2. Sentencing for the case is set for Aug. 2.

Eastern Michigan extends Chris Creighton through 2022

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Eastern Michigan has extended head coach Chris Creighton through 2022, the school has announced.

“I feel as though we have made progress all the way through,” Creighton said in a statement. “The vision of making the football program a real source of pride for the department, the university, the alumni, we are making progress, but that vision has not been realized yet.

“So I’m really excited about our program and the Championship Building Plan. There is a lot of momentum going on right now.”

Creighton is 10-27 in three seasons as the Eagles’ head coach, but that mark obscures the progress EMU made in his third season. After starting 3-21, Eastern Michigan rocketed to a 7-6 mark in 2016 with a Bahamas Bowl trip, the school’s first postseason appearance since 1987.

The new deal raises Creighton’s base salary by 2.5 percent, according to MLive. He made a total of $434,840 in 2016, according to the USA Today coaching salary database.

Beer sales approved for Marshall home football games

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Let the beer taps start flowing at the next home Marshall football game. The University announced today that beer sales at Joan C. Edwards Stadium have been approved by the Board of Governors starting this fall.

This is the latest decision in an evolving stance on alcohol sales at Marshall. Last year, the school began expanding the sale of alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine from the Big Green Room to chairback seating. Now, the majority of fans attending a football game in Huntington will be able to purchase alcohol. The expanded alcohol sales plan will help to build the infrastructure of Marshall’s facilities moving forward.

“This is a continuation of our goal to provide more amenities for our fan base that makes attending Marshall Football games a more enjoyable experience,” Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick said in a released statement. “We have played a lot of winning football in our stadium over the past five years and we have great opponents such as Pittsburgh, Boise State, North Carolina State, and Navy just to name a few over the next five years, and it is imperative that the investment in our fan experience matches our football brand.”

Marshall will keep some sections of the football stadium free of alcohol for those fans who wish not to be near the booze-loaded fans.

The announcement was coupled with some other stadium news regarding the future renovation plans for the football stadium. Construction on the west side of the stadium should be completed by August, in time for the start of the 2017 college football season. The southwest side of the stadium will have a new retail location for fans.