Purdue v Wisconsin

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Big Ten Predictions


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.


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.


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.

Michigan State over Wisconsin

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

VIDEO: Harbaugh takes hammer to Buckeye nut at Bo’s grave

1 Jan 1987: Head coach Bo Schembechler of Michigan during their 22-15 loss to Arizona State at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart  /Allsport
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I’m very quickly closing in on the end of my seventh year being in charge of this place, and the beginning of my eighth. One thing I’ve been very honest and straightforward about from the very beginning is the fact that I grew up in a decidedly Ohio State household, and that The Game between OSU and Michigan is one of the greatest rivalries in not only college football but all of sports.

With the annual hate-fest on tap this weekend, and with Jim Harbaugh‘s first go-round as head coach in the rivalry adding to the build-up, this is easily one of the most anticipated in what’s been a rather one-sided rivalry of late — the Buckeyes have won, on the field, 10 of the last 11.

So, in accordance with the spirit of the rivalry, Harbaugh, of course, took a maize-colored hammer in hand and smashed a Buckeye nut at the grave of his former head coach, UM coaching great Bo Schembechler.

Harbaugh played for Schembechler in Ann Arbor, and it’s quite obvious, from an impromptu graveside speech, that his former coach had an indelible impact on the man who found his way back home to the maize & blue:

Bo was my coach,” Harbaugh said. “I first met him when I was nine years old when my dad coached here at Michigan. He was the secondary coach. He was larger than life to our family. Excited and enthusiasm beyond what anybody could imagine. He would let us come to practice. We were ball boys, my brother John and I.

“And getting to play for coach Schembechler, what I can tell you is this, everything I base my entire professional life on and my personal life was learned here at the University of Michigan. It’s rooted at the University of Michigan, it was experienced at the University of Michigan. And it’s the team, the team, the team. We win as a team. Everybody does a little, and it adds up to a lot. When it came to honor, integrity, doing things at the highest level, Bo Schembechler set the standard.

“I draw daily inspiration from coach Schembechler, like so many that knew him, anybody that knew him, anybody that was associated with him, anybody that played for him or anybody that coached with him, he set the standard at the very highest level. One of the greatest of all time, Bo Schembechler.

Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State last weekend may have taken some of the shine off of Harbaugh’s first go-round in The Game, but the presence of The Khaki One — and his obvious connection to the past — ensures that the rivalry is in good hands moving forward.

Gamecocks may be focusing coach search on Tide DC Kirby Smart

TUSCALOOSA, AL - APRIL 19:  Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart yells at Reuben Foster #10 of the Crimson team prior to the University of Alabama A-Day spring game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on April 19, 2014 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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A pair of signs that developed Wednesday are pointing to Nick Saban possibly needing to replace his long-time defensive boss this offseason.

According to Yahoo SportsPat Forde, current Houston head coach Tom Herman, who has a significant raise on the table from his current employer, is no longer a candidate for the same job at South Carolina as he’s withdrawn his name from consideration.  Forde writes that “Herman had been the school’s top choice to replace Steve Spurrier, sources said, and third-party discussions had been extensive.”

Nearly simultaneously, Bruce Feldman of FOXSports.com reported that ‘Bama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart “has emerged as the frontrunner for the South Carolina head coaching vacancy.”  Forde also mentioned that Smart could be the Gamecocks’ Plan B, while ESPN.com wrote that the 39-year-old “has emerged as one of the leading candidates” for the vacancy in Columbia.

Smart has had a handful of opportunities to leave Saban’s staff since joining it in 2007, but has thus far chosen to remain in Tuscaloosa.

If Smart is indeed USC’s top candidate, a fellow SEC East rival could throw a wrench in those plans. Should Georgia and Mark Richt decide to part ways, Smart, who played his college football at UGA, would be a likely candidate to replace the long-time head coach.  In addition to playing for the Bulldogs, Smart began his career as an administrative assistant at his alma mater and coached running backs there in 2005 before joining Saban with the Miami Dolphins and, ultimately, the Tide.

No charges filed in alleged rape at Nebraska players’ house

PISCATAWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 14:  Tommy Armstrong Jr. #4 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers congratulates teammate Jordan Westerkamp #1 after he scored a touchdown in the first quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights  on November 14, 2015 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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An investigation into an alleged sexual assault at the home of three current Nebraska football players will not result in charges, Lancaster County (Neb.) officials announced Wednesday.

An unidentified 20-year-old female claimed she was raped Nov. 15 at the residence of NU quarterback Tommy Armstrong (pictured, left), tight end Trey Foster and wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp (pictured, right). The subsequent investigation could not prove that any type of an assault had taken place.

“Filing charges would require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That simply is not there,” district attorney Joe Kelly stated in announcing the decision.  Armstrong had previously claimed that “[f]rom what we’re hearing, everything was consensual.”

The university’s athletic department released a statement in the wake of today’s announcement.

We are aware of this morning’s announcement by the Lincoln Police Department and the Lancaster County Attorney. There is no change in the status of any student-athletes. We will continue to follow University policies.

The school is in the midst of conducting its own investigation into the situation. As it stands now, all three players will be available for Friday’s game against No. 4 Iowa..

Baylor loses QB Jarrett Stidham to broken bone in ankle

Jarrett Stidham, Lemaefe Galea'i
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If Baylor’s designs on a national championship are to come to fruition, it appears the Big 12 school will be forced to go the Ohio State route and do it with their third-string quarterback.

The university has reportedly confirmed Wednesday that Jarrett Stidham sustained a broken bone in the back of his ankle in the second quarter of Saturday’s win over previously unbeaten Oklahoma State.  As a result, the true freshman will miss the remainder of the 2015 season.

Stidham had started the last three games in place of Seth Russell, who will miss the rest of 2015 as well because of a broken bone in his neck.

With Stidham and Russell sidelined, the Bears’ title hopes will fall in large part to Chris Johnson. The redshirt sophomore had been moved to wide receiver during summer camp before becoming Stidham’s backup a month ago.  In the win over OSU, Johnson completed five of his 10 passes for 138 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Should Johnson find himself injured, the only other player listed as a quarterback on Baylor’s roster is Zack Bennema. A true freshman, Bennema joined the Bears earlier this year as a walk-on.

Baylor will travel to TCU and host Texas to close out the season.  Because of a loss to Oklahoma earlier this month, the Bears will need a Sooners loss in Bedlam in addition to winning its last two in order to claim a Big 12 title and, potentially, a spot in the College Football Playoff.