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)

Coastal Carolina struggling to acquire funding for stadium improvements

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 23:  Alex Ross #4 of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers drops back to pass during their game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Coastal Carolina joins the Sun Belt’s football roster in 2017 (every other sport makes the jump this fall), and the Chanticleers would like to make some upgrades to 12-year old Brooks Stadium in advance of their move to college football’s top division.

Only, the school can’t receive approval to acquire the funding necessary to do so.

On Thursday, South Carolina’s Commission on Higher Education rejected by a 9-4 vote the Coastal’s request for $29.9 million to upgrade the stadium. This week’s rejection marked the fourth in three months, as the school has been unable to assuage the CHE’s concerns over how accurately Coastal’s projections forecast the true cost of the project.

The university has dropped its initial request by 21 percent, down from an original $38 million ask.

“We take the responsibility very seriously. This is not an easy decision. We champion everything that you’re about as an institution,” CHE chairman Tim Hofferth said prior to the vote, via Myrtle Beach Online. “ … At the end of the day, I’ve talked to a lot of athletic directors, a lot of presidents throughout the country, to bring it without significant private funding in today’s environment [is risky]. The question is what’s significant? I don’t know. There’s 13 [different] significant answers here. The fact of the matter is it’s very relevant and the thing that I’m afraid of, the costs on the operating side are nowhere near what you anticipate them to be. …

“That’s my greatest concern in this environment. I want to get there. I’m just not there yet.”

The CHE also said it would like to see Coastal raise more private money to fund the project.

“I would ask if it’s within a point of order, can we get some very specific direction as to what is going to be a comfort level for those that are on the commission?” Coastal president Dave DeCenzo said. “You probably can’t do it right now, but I respectfully request that something be given to us because I know there have been some comments at times of ‘Well, why is this new?’ We’ve been playing this ‘Guess what’s on our mind?’ as we get some feedback saying, ‘Well, you’re going to have to lower this, you’re going to have to do that.’ We need some very specific direction.

“Our definition of private money, if that’s unacceptable to you, if your definition of private money is this is a donor writing a check, is it 20 percent, is it 25 percent? Give us some guideline.”

Coastal has stripped down its original blueprint, down from a planned 22,000 capacity to 19,000, while abandoning plans to improve the stadium’s sound system and construct plazas and facades to make the structure more functional.

The NCAA requires FBS programs meet an average attendance of 15,000, which is not currently possible in the 9,214-seat Brooks Stadium.

Coastal Carolina has the opportunity to make a fifth proposal before the CHE next month.

Jay Paterno pens passionate Facebook post defending late father

STATE COLLEGE, PA - JANUARY 26: Jay Paterno, son of Joe Paterno, pauses during his speech during a public memorial for former Penn State Football coach Joe Paterno at the Bryce Jordan Center on the campus of Penn State, January 26, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania. Paterno, who was 85, died due to complications from lung cancer on January 22, 2012. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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It’s become crystal clear at this point there is nothing anyone can do, no arranging of words, no stacking of facts, witnesses and testimony, that can change the mind of Joe Paterno‘s supporters. Perhaps a video recording of Paterno admitting he knew of Jerry Sandusky‘s crimes and did nothing to stop them, but maybe not even then.

Leading that pack is the late coach’s family, and chief among them his son and former assistant coach Jay Paterno.

Following new allegations against Penn State uncovered in an insurance suite that came to light on Thursday, the younger Paterno issued a blistering defense of his father. (Hat tip to our own Kevin McGuire for capturing it.)

It’s unclear as of yet how the testimony will affect the insurance suit against Penn State, but one thing that is apparent is the arguing over Paterno’s involvement in the affair and the subsequent affect on his legacy will continue for years to come.

Depositions to begin soon in John Chavis-LSU suit

SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 5:  Defensive coordinator John Chavis of the LSU Tigers looks on during pre-game warm-up against the Washington Huskies on September 5, 2009 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. The LSU Tigers defeated the Washington Huskies 31-23. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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LSU got the best of John Chavis on the field in November, but the former Tigers defensive coordinator could gain revenge in the court room.

According to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate, Chavis has turned over phone records from November 2014 through Feb. 13, 2015, the key period in detailing whether Chavis violated his contract agreement with LSU in leaving for a lateral position with Texas A&M. At stake is a $400,000 buyout the school says it is owed.

LSU contends Chavis started working for the Aggies before his contract expired on Jan. 31, 2015, a stance seemingly buoyed by the fact Chavis was photographed in Aggie gear while on recruiting trips with A&M coaches.

Chavis filed a countersuit in Texas alleging the school owes him more than $200,000 in unpaid vacation wages and $400,000 in bonuses. Chavis also accused LSU of altering his contract after he signed it — which the school admitted, though in a “nominal” way.

Should the case go to trial, LSU administrators and coaches could be deposed, which every media member in the country should actively root for. Considering the last such suit led to Charlie Strong forgetting his own quarterback’s name and Texas assistants contradicting each other on the stand during Oklahoma State’s similar suit with its former offensive line coach Joe Wickline, LSU coaches and Chavis hitting the stand could lead to absolute gold.

Ex-Vandy RB Brian Kimbrow now an ex-MTSU RB, too

Brian Kimbrow
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Maybe the third time will be the charm for Brian Kimbrow? Or maybe there’ll be no third time, period?

That appears to be the case Kimbrow confirmed to Rivals.com earlier this week that he has walked away from the Middle Tennessee State football team. Not only that, but the running back has walked away from the sport, period.

“I just didn’t love football like I used to and wanted to focus on school and my forensics career,” Kimbrow told the recruiting website. “Just burned out for real.”

Kimbrow began his collegiate career at Vanderbilt as a four-star recruit in 2012. He ran for 748 yards and six touchdowns his first two seasons with the Commodores before he was indefinitely suspended early on in the 2014 season for conduct detrimental to the team. A month later, the then-junior was dismissed from the Vandy football program.

Kimbrow joined MTSU as a graduate transfer earlier this year and participated in spring practice with his new Blue Raiders teammates.