CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 18 Wisconsin

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2013 record: 9-4 overall, 6-2 in Big Ten (2nd in Leaders Division)
2013 postseason: Capital One Bowl vs. South Carolina (34-24 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 22/No. 21
Head coach: Gary Andersen (39-35 overall; 9-4 in 1 year at Wisconsin)
Offensive coordinator: Andy Ludwig (1 year at Wisconsin)
2013 offensive rankings: 8th rushing offense (283.77 ypg); 94th passing offense (197.1 ypg); 18th total offense (480.8 ypg); 27th scoring offense (34.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 6
Defensive coordinator: Dave Aranda (1 year at Wisconsin)
2013 defensive rankings: 5th rushing defense (102.54 ypg); 17th passing defense (202.5 ypg); 7th total defense (305.1 ypg); 6th scoring defense (16.3 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 3
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium (80,321; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2012

THE GOOD
Wisconsin has a very favorable draw in the Big Ten scheduling this season, with no Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State. The Badgers also get Nebraska at home late in the season, but must travel to Iowa the following week, and I have already suggested how dangerous that can be for Wisconsin. The running game should be as strong as it ever is in Madison with Melvin Gordon set to carry the load behind four returning starters on the offensive line (Kyle Costigan, Rob Havenstein, Tyler Marz and Dan Voltz). Wisconsin’s season starts off with an early test against LSU in Houston, but the Badgers could be looking at a 10-win season and should be the favorite in the Big Ten west to reach the Big Ten championship game.

THE BAD
Wisconsin has had one of the more underrated defenses in recent years, but this is a bit of a rebuilding year for the Badgers on defense. Wisconsin returns just three starters from last season and must rebuild the entire front seven.  Having to replace so much in the first game of the season against LSU could make a difficult take slightly more challenging. Wisconsin may feel comfortable with Joel Stave at quarterback, but the Badgers also need to find their new go-to receiver after losing Jared Abbrederis. The top four receivers on the team have moved on since last season, leaving some uncertainty in the open field for now.

THE UNKOWN
Just how good can Wisconsin be? Is this a Badgers team that will challenge Ohio State or Michigan State for the Big Ten championship in Indianapolis, or will this be a team more likely to play in the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl? There is nothing wrong with Orlando or Tampa, but the Badgers will have a chance to prove themselves worthy of being in the same conversation as the Buckeyes and Spartans early on if they can show something against LSU.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Nebraska
The season opener against LSU will certainly be the highlight of the 2014 Wisconsin schedule, and for good reason, but the more realistic make-or-break game will come at the other end of the schedule. With back-to-back November games against Nebraska and Iowa, the Badgers will likely have to do no worst than spit the two in order to earn a trip back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game. Getting a win out of the way against Nebraska before heading to Iowa would be wise and could prove to be the deciding factor in the Big Ten West this fall.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Running back Melvin Gordon
We will be highlighting top players from each team in our preseason top 25, but Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, and that was while splitting time with James White (1,444 yards, 13 touchdowns). With White gone, Gordon’s production may actually increase and challenge the numbers put up by Montee Ball in 2012 or 2011. Of course, getting Gordon some rest when possible could be key for the success of Wisconsin this fall as well.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Five-star LB out for rest of Ohio State’s spring after shoulder surgery

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Some negative injury news comes with a bit of a silver lining for one of the highest-rated members of Ohio State’s 2017 recruiting class.

Urban Meyer confirmed Tuesday that true freshman linebacker Baron Browning will miss the remainder of spring practice because of an injury.  The early enrollee underwent surgery Tuesday morning to repair an unspecified issue in his shoulder.  The Buckeyes head coach declined to reveal the details surrounding the issue that led to the medical procedure, although one report indicated it’s a torn labrum.

The good news for OSU is that Browning should be able to return to football activities at some pint in June.  Barring a setback, he’s expected to be a full participant in summer camp at the start of August.

A five-star member of the Buckeyes’ 2017 recruiting class, Browning was rated as the No. 1 outside linebacker in the country; the No. 4 player at any position in the state of Texas; and the No. 11 player on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  Only two signees in an OSU class that ranked second nationally were rated higher than Browning (.9936) — cornerback Jeffrey Okudah (.9954) and defensive end Chase Young (.9953).

Browning is expected to contribute immediately as a true freshman this season.

Kentucky transfer WR Jeff Badet moves on to Oklahoma

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Jeff Badet may have left Kentucky, but he hasn’t climbed out from underneath the Stoops coaching umbrella.

On his personal Twitter account Tuesday morning, Badet revealed that he will continue his collegiate playing career at Oklahoma.  The Sooners, of course, are coached by Bob Stoops; the wide receiver’s former program, the Wildcats, are coached by Mark Stoops.

Badet chose OU over another Big 12 school, West Virginia.  The receiver had paid a visit to Morgantown late last month.

In mid-January, the Wildcats announced that Badet had decided to transfer out of the UK football program.  Badet is on schedule to graduate in May, meaning he’ll be eligible to play immediately in 2017 for the Sooners.

A three-star member of the Wildcats’ 2013 recruiting class, Badet was third on the team in receptions and receiving yards as a true freshman.  A leg injury in spring practice the following year — a tennis ball to the eye didn’t help either — led Badet to miss the 2014 season.  Returning in 2015, he was third in receiving (29-430); in 2016, he led the team in receiving yards (670) and yards per catch (21.6).

That latter number was tops in the SEC and sixth nationally.

Rutgers grad transfer tight end moves on to Pitt

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Matt Flanagan has officially moved on from one former Big East program to another.

In a missive posted to his personal Twitter account Monday, Flanagan revealed that he will enroll at Pittsburgh in short order and continue his collegiate playing career with the Panthers.  The tight end is expected to graduate in May from Rutgers, meaning he’ll be eligible to play immediately for his new team during the 2017 season.

This will be Flanagan’s final season of eligibility.

The past three seasons, Flanagan played in 33 games for the Scarlet Knights. In that time, he caught 18 passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns.

Flanagan also takes the student part of the student-athlete moniker very seriously. From nj.com:

The former Rutgers tight end told NJ Advance Media last November that his goal was to find a master’s program in a research-based science discipline. At the time, he called his decision “purely academic.”

At Rutgers, Flanagan is part of a select group of Rutgers students studying at the Aresty Research Center. A three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, Flanagan spent three years researching with the hopes of publishing findings on the effects of Creatine — the same supplement made famous by MLB sluggers like Mark McGwire — and how it impacts the cells that synthesize bone.

At his new program, he’ll join a squad that doesn’t return any tight ends who have caught a pass at the collegiate level.

Syracuse makes hiring of D-II Coach of the Year official

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Dino Babers‘ second coaching staff is whole once again.

Following up on reports that first surfaced late last week, Syracuse confirmed in a press release that Justin Lustig (pictured, left) has left his job as the head coach at Div. II Edinboro (Pa.) College to take over as Babers’ running backs coach.  Additionally, Lustig will serve as special teams coordinator for the Orange.

Lustig replaces Mike Hart, who left earlier this month to take the running backs coach job at Indiana.

“The job Justin did as a first-time head coach was fantastic,” Babers said in a statement. “He’s also been a highly-successful assistant coach. The running backs he has coached have performed extremely well, and his special teams units have consistently ranked among the nation’s best. We’re very excited to welcome Justin and his family to Syracuse.”

Hired in January of last year, Lustig took over an Edinboro team that finished 0-11 in 2015 and turned them into a 9-2 squad one year later.  For that turnaround, he was named the Div. II Coach of the Year.

Lustig’s last job at the FBS level came at Ball State, where he served as running backs coach/special teams coordinator from 2011-15.  He also earned the title of assistant head coach prior to the start of the 2015 season.

This will mark Lustig’s first job of any kind at a Power Five program.

“My family and I are excited, honored and grateful for the opportunity to come to Syracuse and join Coach Babers’ staff,” Lustig said. “He is building a championship program there. The future of Syracuse football is very bright and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”