Purdue v Wisconsin

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Big Ten Predictions

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As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the Big Ten. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

BIG TEN EAST

1. Michigan State (Last year: 13-1; beat Stanford in Rose Bowl)
Michigan State will have the best defense in the Big Ten, despite losing some key players from 2013. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will figure out how to get the most out of his defense and players like defensive end Shilque Calhoun and safety Kurtis Drummond will help make that task easier. The defending champs will be unlikely to start so slow on offense this season, as they did in 2013, with quarterback Connor Cook back and seasoned (and most importantly, confident). Michigan State’s offense should be balanced and reliant on the run with Jeremy Langford coming off 1,422 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Getting Ohio State at home is key as far as Big Ten play is concerned, but a week two trip to Oregon could keep the Spartans playing catch-up in the playoff discussion from the start.

2. Ohio State (Last year: 12-2; lost to Clemson in Orange Bowl)
Here’s the thing with Ohio State. With or without quarterback Braxton Miller, Ohio State may still be the best team in the Big Ten this season, but with Miller lost for the entire season the idea of Ohio State running through the regular season unscathed becomes much less likely. In a season that was expected to be layoff or bust, the Buckeyes may have already gone bust, but this is still a talented team that could be favored in every game of the season, with the likely exception of a road trip to East Lansing in early November. JT Barrett will take over under center, lacking much experience and with a fraction of the potential of a healthy Miller, but the Buckeyes will find some ways to make it work. Afterall it is not as though the rest of the roster is lacking for players ready to leave their mark. Look for Ohio State to get a bit tougher on defense this season, with Michael Bennett anchoring the defensive line and Noah Spence on the edge after serving a suspension.

3. Michigan (Last year: 7-6; lost to Kansas State in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
Is this the year Brady Hoke turns the Michigan trends back in his favor? Only a handful of players on the roster now were not recruited by his staff, so his stamp is officially on this Michigan football program. The addition of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier comes with high expectations for improving the offense, which was dismal at times in protecting quarterback Devin Gardner and protecting the football. This was a team on the brink of losing at home to Akron but a play away from taking out Ohio State. You try figuring this Michigan team out. Moving tight end Devin Funchess to wide receiver was needed to improve the receiving position and should work well, and the running backs look to improve as well. Michigan’s defense is in the most in need of improving, cutting down on big plays allowed being the biggest concern. Adding star recruit Jabrill Peppers at defensive back could give a boost in that area.

4. Penn State (Last year: 7-5)
The James Franklin era gets underway with great enthusiasm but lingering concerns over roster depth. Penn State will have the talent at positions to do some good things and win a game they probably shouldn’t along the way (Ohio State and Michigan State at home?), but the depth concerns to lose a game they probably should not (Indiana in Bloomington, again?). The light at the end of the tunnel is there for Penn State, which is good news. Penn State also has one of the best young quarterbacks in the nation with sophomore Christian Hackenberg. Offensive line concerns are legitimate of course, as they have been for years, but if Hackenberg stays healthy the offense can be effective. The defense on the other hand, could use some playmakers and some more brute force up front to bring pressure on opposing QBs and close down running lanes.

5. Maryland (Last year: 7-6; lost to Marshall in Military Bowl as ACC member)
Maryland receives no favors on the schedule in their debut season as a member of the Big Ten, but the Terrapins join the new conference with possibly the best wide receiver unit in the conference. Stefon Diggs has the ability to break open a big play at any moment, and he plays in a division that sees some weaknesses in secondaries all over (except Michigan State). And do not forget about Levern Jacobs and Deon Long. Maryland’s biggest concern is keeping quarterback C.J. Brown upright to be able to get those receivers the football. The defense hit walls against explosive offenses in 2013 but returns a good number of upperclassmen, which is usually nice. A fourth-place finish is not all that unrealistic, but probably a reach for Maryland in 2014.

6. Indiana (Last year: 5-7)
The Hoosiers have an offense that is capable of giving every team in the Big Ten some fits. Credit head coach Kevin Wilson for making that happen since he arrived in Bloomington, but the defense is not a unit that will cause much fear on a weekly basis. The Hoosiers averaged 38.4 points per game last season, but the defense allowed 38.8 points per game. If the defense can just improve a little bit, then the Hoosiers should be seriously thinking about making plans for a postseason bowl game. It could be a rough start with the schedule though with road games at Bowling Green and Missouri. Getting to six wins may be a reach for Indiana unless they can get off to a good start. Running back Tevin Coleman could become one of the top running backs int he Big Ten.

7. Rutgers (Last year: 6-7; lost to Notre Dame in Pinstripe Bowl)
Rutgers is going to have a tall mountain to climb in year one in the Big Ten. Rutgers must go on the road to Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State and hosts Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Getting to six wins to return to the postseason is a reach for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers does add Ralph Friedgen as offensive coordinator, which should result in some better scheming and preparation, but Gary Nova is still the best option at quarterback and Rutgers has lost some key players over the last couple of years. Experience is thin. The defense could be picked apart by most teams n the schedule, which should be a constant area of focus for Rutgers.

BIG TEN WEST

1. Wisconsin (Last year: 9-4; lost to South Carolina in Capital One Bowl)
The Badgers fell shy of playing for yet another Big Ten championship last season, but now in a new division it looks as though Wisconsin has the easiest road to travel back to Indianapolis this fall. The Badgers will be led by one of the top running backs in the country, Melvin Gordon, and have a schedule worthy of legitimate playoff consideration if things go their way. A season-opening game against LSU in Cowboys Stadium is far from impossible and a home game against Bowling green should deserve more respect than it may get. Avoiding Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State in crossover games is nice too. On offense there is a need to see some players step up to support Gordon and quarterback Joel Stave needs to be a bit more consistent. The defense will be good, not great, but needs to find a way to create more turnovers in 2014.

2. Iowa (Last year: 8-5; lost to LSU in Outback Bowl)
The Hawkeyes may not dazzle with their style of play, but it should be effective enough to make a realistic run to an appearance in the Big Ten championship game. The Hawkeyes are anchored on the offensive line by left tackle Brandon Scherff and the rest of the line should do well in creating space for running back Mark Weisman. Iowa’s offense is designed to win some ugly games, and the defense should be capable of allowing for that to happen. Defensive tackle Carl Davis will lead the way up front along with defensive end Drew Ott. Iowa allowed just 18.9 points per game last season. The most challenging game on the schedule before late November may be a road game at Pittsburgh, but Iowa ends the regular season with Wisconsin and Nebraska at home on back-to-back weeks, with the division potentially on the line and Iowa in control of its own path.

3. Nebraska (Last year: 9-4; beat Georgia in Gator Bowl)
Nebraska will also have one of the top running backs in the Big Ten and the nation with Ameer Abdullah, but the Cornhuskers have some work to do in improving the supporting cast to become a top contender in the Big Ten. The Huskers will have some help on the defense with Randy Gregory entering the season as one of the top defensive ends in the conference, but Nebraska’s defense is a long time removed from the great defenses of the past. Bo Pelini‘s team has been consistent with the win total, but inconsistent on a game-to-game basis at times. With road games at Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa, it looks like Nebraska could be staring at another nine-win season.

4. Minnesota (Last year: 8-5; lost to Syracuse in Texas Bowl)
Head coach Jerry Kill has done a tremendous job with building something at Minnesota, but the bar may have been reached by the Gophers for now. Minnesota needs to see big leaps from multiple positions in order to make a run at a top three finish in the west division. Minnesota needs consistency out of the quarterback position from Mitch Leidner. Running back David Cobb should help take some pressure off Leidner, but there will be a time when Minnesota needs a big third-down completion. The schedule is a challenge as well, with a road game at TCU and back-to-back road games in conference play at Nebraska and Wisconsin to end the regular season.

5. Northwestern (Last year: 5-7)
The Wildcats were a trendy pick by many in the west division throughout the offseason, but the late departure of Venric Mark and the loss of wide receiver Christian Jones will take a big toll on Northwestern’s offense, which was to be the strength of the team for head coach Pat Fitzgerald. That is a lot of offensive production lost by the Wildcats, and that does not even account for a new full-time starting quarterback in Trevor Siemian. Fortunately, Siemian is not without some experience in this offense without Mark, with Treyvon Green playing a solid role last fall. On defense, linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo will rack up the tackle numbers but the rest of the defense can be exposed and the special teams break in a new kicker and punter.

6. Illinois (Last year: 4-8)
What will save head coach Tim Beckman? Three years in, Illinois needs to make a push for a postseason game if the heat is going to be turned down on Beckman’s job security. To get there, the Illini defense needs to improve in a hurry. The Illinois defense was shredded routinely last season and the offense was unable to keep up. Adding quarterback Wes Lunt after sitting out the 2013 season should help stabilize the offense, and should help the Illini keep up with the opposition, but the defense needs to find away to come up with some turnovers after not being able to last fall. re there six wins on the schedule? Yes, but it will be a battle to get there until the defense starts showing signs of improvement.

7. Purdue (Last year: 1-11)
There is nowhere to go but up for Purdue, hopefully. A trip to the postseason is a dream at this point, but the Boilermakers should make some improvements this fall. Head coach Darrell Hazell is in year two and the team should be starting to find its identity. On offense, Purdue managed just 14.9 points per game last season and the defense allowed 38.0 points per game. What should the realistic goal for Purdue be in 2014? Getting an extra touchdown per game and cutting one on defense would be a nice way to go. It still will not result in a winning season, but it would be a huge step in the right direction.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Michigan State over Wisconsin

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Iowa’s leading receiver out indefinitely after practice injury

IOWA CITY, IOWA- SEPTEMBER 10:  Wide receiver Matt VandeBerg #89 of the Iowa Hawkeyes  catches a pass during the third quarter in front of defensive back D'Andre Payne #1 of the Iowa State Cyclones on September 10, 2016 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.  (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
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As Iowa gets set to continue Big Ten play this weekend, the Hawkeyes now have an injury to one of its top offensive playmakers with which to deal.

In a press release Tuesday, Iowa announced that Matt VandeBerg will be sidelined indefinitely with a foot injury.  The wide receiver sustained the non-specified injury during a Monday practice.

“It is unfortunate that Matt will miss some time due to his injury,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said in a statement. “We know that Matt will work extremely hard to get back on the field as soon as possible. We feel confident that some of our younger receivers will step up in Matt’s absence.”

VandeBerg currently leads the Hawkeyes in receptions (19), receiving yards (284) and receiving touchdowns (284).  The senior led the team in receiving a year ago as well.

With 10 catches for 192 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the season, George Kittle is expected to shoulder more of the passing-game load with VandeBerg sidelined.  The senior’s 19.2 yards per catch leads the team.

Florida confirms hiring of Miss. St.’s Scot Stricklin as new AD

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2016, file photo, Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin congratulates Dominique Dillingham following the team's NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in Starkville, Miss. A person familiar with the search says Florida has hired Stricklin as its new athletic director. Stricklin replaces Jeremy Foley, one of the most tenured sports executives in the country. Foley is retiring Saturday after 40 years with the Gators, including the last 25 in charge of Florida's athletic program. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because Florida has an announcement and introductory news conference planned for Tuesday, Sept. 27. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle, File)
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Mississippi State’s loss is officially Florida’s gain.

Monday, reports surfaced that, after a longer-than-expected search, Florida had zeroed in on Scott Stricklin to be its new athletic director. Tuesday morning, UF confirmed in a press release that the MSU AD has left Starkville to take the same job in Gainesville.

Stricklin will replace Jeremy Foley, the long-time AD who announced in June that he would be leaving his post in October.

“I’m really excited about this opportunity at Florida,” Stricklin said in a statement. “I’m an SEC guy. I understand the position Florida holds in college athletics. I’m excited to come and be part of the department. It’s a great staff here to work with. I love college towns. The opportunity to come and get invested in another community, with my family, you start balancing all that and you understand at this point in my career, this is an opportunity you just can’t not do. …

“I couldn’t have left for any other place but Florida. It’s just a special place not only in the world of the SEC, but in college athletics because of the success they’ve had and the way they’ve had it with the integrity. Florida holds a leadership position in college athletics. And you look at the academic reputation, it’s one of the best universities in the country. That’s a pretty hard combination to not take the opportunity if it’s offered to you.”

Stricklin, who graduated from MSU in the early nineties, had been the Bulldogs’ AD since 2010.  That was the 46-year-old Stricklin’s first job as the head of any athletic department.

For the 2015-16 season, he claimed the Athletic Director of the Year Award from the National Association of College Directors of Athletics (NACDA).

“I’ve known Scott on a personal and professional level for a long, long time,” a statement from Foley, who is staying at the school as a “fundraiser,” began. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Scott and what he has accomplished at Mississippi State and the other institutions where he has worked. Scott is a wonderful leader, and a great person. He has passion for student-athletes and loves working with and supporting coaches. Those two qualities alone make him a great fit for Florida.

“Scott is about the right things and running the business the right way. I have the utmost confidence that Scott will help the Gators carry out our mission to provide a championship experience with integrity. We’ve sat in the room together at AD meetings for several years now, and I’ve seen firsthand that Scott brings a deep understanding and appreciation for what it takes to run a successful athletic program, particularly in the Southeastern Conference. I couldn’t be more excited to have Scott serve as the next athletic director at the University of Florida.”

Stricklin will be officially introduced as Florida’s new athletic director at a 1 p.m. ET press conference this afternoon.

LSU will reportedly ‘gauge interest’ of Nick Saban, Urban Meyer

Urban Meyer,Nick Saban
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LSU, as you may have heard, has a vacancy at head coach. While the university is in the very early stages of finding a permanent replacement as Ed Orgeron grabs his interim cap yet again and attempts to guide the Tigers through the remainder of the season, it appears the football program will take a swing at some of the biggest names in the college coaching business.

And no doubt colossally whiff on at least two of those prime targets.

From FootballScoop.com:

If Orgeron doesn’t earn the job, sources tell FootballScoop that LSU’s committee believes they can and should land a home run. “Their sights are on national championship caliber, proven head coaches,” a source with knowledge told FootballScoop this morning. During the initial, exploratory phase, we are told to expect LSU, through representatives, to gauge the interest of some of the top coaches in college football, including Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops, Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman. Right or wrong, sources tell FootballScoop that LSU believes they will be able to attract a coach of that caliber.

I guess it wouldn’t hurt to do your due diligence and make a gargantuan swing for fences out of your reach, especially when you have one of the Top 10 jobs (Top Five?) in the country to dangle. But Saban, even given his history with the program, and Meyer?

Stanford WR Francis Owusu to miss game against Washington with concussion

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Running back Francis Owusu #6 of the Stanford Cardinal carries the ball against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on November 28, 2014 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Stanford will be without one of their top weapons ahead of a Pac-12 showdown with Washington.

Cardinal head coach David Shaw announced on Monday that receiver Francis Owusu suffered a concussion last week against UCLA and he will miss the team’s upcoming game on Friday in Seattle.

“He’s doing much better,” Shaw told ESPN. “If it was up to him, he’d play next week, but that’s not up to him.”

Owusu took a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from defensive back Tahaan Goodman late in Saturday’s comeback win over UCLA. The play was reviewed but not considered targeting by Pac-12 referees, something that Shaw told reporters he would ask conference officials about.

“I know that Francis Owusu was not technically a ‘defenseless player,'” said Shaw. “But knowing the era we’re in — where we’re in the mode of trying to make this game safer, trying to take helmet hits out of the game, and trying to protect the players who play this wonderful, physical sport — in the spirit of where we are in the football world right now, you should throw a flag. It should be penalty. The initial contact was helmet-to-helmet.”

Owusu has just two catches for 15 yards on the season but the senior is one of the Cardinal’s veteran options at receiver. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who caught the game-winner at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, and Jay Tyler are expected to fill Owusu’s shoes in the offense.

No. 7 Stanford takes on No. 10 Washington in a battle of Pac-12 unbeatens that could be for a spot in the conference title game and the College Football Playoff. If nothing else, the game should determine who wins the Pac-12 North in 2016.