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CFT Previews: The Big Ten

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If there was ever a season the Big Ten looked like the Big Two and the Little Ten, this was it. Michigan State is reloading, while the rest of the conference scraps for space amongst themselves as Ohio State and Michigan take off into their own stratosphere.

Here’s a quick glance at how we think the Big Ten shakes out.

EAST
1. Ohio State (12-1 overall in 2015, 7-1 Big Ten): Losing all but six of your 22 starters would be a problem for anyone but Ohio State. If the 2014 team played like a pack of lions, the 2015 bunch was a pack of lions playing with a belly full of antelope: the ability was there, the desire wasn’t. This year’s group is just as talented, they just haven’t had the chance to prove it yet.

2. Michigan (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Many think next year will be The Year for Michigan. Jim Harbaugh doesn’t like working on other people’s timelines. I like this year’s team to lose to Ohio State but still reach the College Football Playoff.

3. Michigan State (12-2, 7-1 Big Ten): Seemingly every year Michigan State reaches a height previously thought to be unattainable, but last year’s second-in-three-years Big Ten championship and CFP appearance feels like the farthest Mark Dantonio can take this team now that Michigan is no longer out to a decade-long lunch.

4. Penn State (7-6, 4-4 Big Ten): With college football’s most miserable marriage of James Franklin and Christian Hackenberg at long last over, this should be the year Penn State starts to look like the Penn State Franklin wants it to be, especially with Joe Moorhead running the offense. The residual effects of the sanctions, though, say 2017 may be more like it.

5. Maryland (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten): Might as well place a giant “Under Construction” sign out side the program as D.J. Durkin works to build Maryland into a program after Jim Harbaugh‘s image.

6. Rutgers (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten): Ditto as above, but with an even larger “Under Construction” sign and Harbaugh’s mug crossed out from it and Urban Meyer‘s pasted crudely on top.

7. Indiana (6-7, 2-7 Big Ten): Kevin Wilson has done some nice things in Bloomington. He’s run the ball as well as anyone in the conference, he put a scare into Ohio State last season and he took the Hooisers to a bowl game. The rest of the Big Ten East is getting better, though, and Indiana is, well, Indiana.

WEST (A.K.A.: THE BIGGEST TOSS-UP IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL)
1. Nebraska (6-7, 3-5 Big Ten): In a division that will largely come down to who gets lucky at the right time, go with a team whose luck is due to flip after losing six one-score games in 2015.

2. Northwestern (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Normally Northwestern takes a tumble after Pat Fitzgerald‘s bunch builds to a 10-win peak, needing to reload after losing the bulk of a senior-laden team. The 2016 Wildcats bring back enough to contend again.

3. Iowa (12-2, 8-0 Big Ten): Kirk Ferentz‘s teams zig when they’re supposed to zag, and zag when they’re supposed to zig. Last year’s undefeated regular season, coming one stop shy of an improbable Cotton Bowl run, was a zig. Most expect the Hawkeyes to zig again this year. We know better.

4. Wisconsin (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Feels like Paul Chryst, while a solid coach, will only take the Badgers to heights seen previously under Gary Andersen and Bret Bielema, but not above them.

5. Illinois (5-7, 2-6 Big Ten): New AD Josh Whitman made a bold move in hiring longtime NFL coach Lovie Smith to head a program to which he had no prior connection. Building the Illini to a contender will take time, but keeping Wes Lunt healthy may be all Illinois needs to reach a bowl game this fall.

6. Minnesota (6-7, 2-6 Big Ten): ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit has the Gophers winning the Big Ten West. I’m willing to be wrong in saying he’ll be way, way wrong.

7. Purdue (2-10, 1-7 Big Ten): Make no mistake: this is a make or break year for Darrell Hazell, especially with new AD Mike Bobinski now in place. I think he’ll break.

Louisville to be without leading receiver vs. Kent State

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The reigning Heisman Trophy winner won’t have his favorite target in the passing game as his ongoing attempt at back-to-back stiff-armed hardware continues.

Bobby Petrino announced Saturday morning that Jaylen Smith will not play in today’s game against Kent State, set for a noon ET kickoff.  The wide receiver is dealing with an injury to his left wrist; it’s unclear when he sustained the injury.

The Louisville Courier-Journal writes that “[m]ore information on Smith’s injury should be available after the game.”

This season, Smith is far and away the Cardinals’ leading receiver, totaling 22 catches for 379 yards through the first three games of the season.  Seth Dawkins is next with 11 receptions, while Dez Fitzpatrick‘s 211 yards are second on the team.

Last season, Smith led the Cards in averaging 22.2 yards per catch.  This season, he was at 17.2 ypc.

Buckeyes backup QB has pointed words on Ohio State’s $1.5 billion valuation

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The archaic to some (most?) NCAA rules still won’t allow student-athletes to be compensated for the millions of dollars they make for the university nor do they allow them to profit off their likenesses or images — even as the universities do just that. One member of the Ohio State Buckeyes merely serves as the latest in a long line of players past and present to point out the hypocrisy of the current system.

Citing a study undertaken by Ryan Brewer, an associate professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the OSU football program is worth slightly north of $1.5 billion (with a “b”), making it the most valuable program in college football. Texas and Oklahoma were also part of the exclusive Billionaires Club.

Those financial numbers weren’t lost at all on Joe Burrow, a backup quarterback for the Buckeyes who took to social media to point out the how the current rules are severely tilted away from the student-athletes.

After getting some blowback from the “you’re on scholarship, you’re lucky you get an education for free, you whining, sniveling millennial” crowd, Burrow signed off for the night with another shot at the current system.

Somewhere, 2012 Cardale Jones applauds that latter effort. Also somewhere else, modern-day Jones no doubt applauds Burrow pointing out the NCAA’s ongoing exploitation of collegiate athletes.

17-year-old gets start at QB for Old Dominion vs. Virginia Tech… in Blacksburg

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Talk about being thrown straight into the fire. At least it’s not “Enter Sandman” at night, though, right?

Regardless, Old Dominion will travel to Blacksburg for an afternoon game at Lane Stadium in Week 4 later on today. Thanks to first-half struggles in ODU’s Week 3 loss to North Carolina, Bobby Wilder inserted Steven Williams at quarterback in the second half and he performed admirably in his first collegiate action — 139 yards passing, two passing touchdowns in two quarters of relief work.

Williams, it was confirmed earlier this week, will remain under center this weekend against Tech and will be tackling his first career start against the Bud Foster-led Hokies defense. The true freshman, though, is no ordinary first-time starter as he is just 17 years, 11 months (almost) old.

Based on our research, the 6-4, 196-pound Williams would become just the fourth FBS player in the last four-plus decades to start at quarterback before the age of 18. The others are Khalil Tate (Arizona, 2016), Nick Isham (Arizona, 2012) and David Walker (Texas A&M, 1973).

It’s believed that Walker, at 17 years, nine months, is the youngest ever to start at quarterback at the highest level of college football.

Despite his youth, Williams, a two-star 2017 signee, has the confidence of both his head coach and teammates.

“At 17 years old, he has to become the defined leader of this organization,” Wilder said according to the Virginian-Pilot. “I personally think he has the ability to do it. … He’s very dynamic. There’s a lot of things he does well.”

“I’ve been thinking about it over the past week, and I can’t imagine myself as a starting quarterback at 17,” redshirt junior wide receiver Travis Fulgham said. “But I think he can do it. That’s what’s crazy about it.”

Wyoming QB Josh Allen deleted Twitter off his phone following loss to Oregon

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Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen was one of the most heavily discussed signal-callers in the country this offseason and labeled by many as a potential No. 1 overall draft pick. Some thought he has the physical tools to transition effortlessly from the Mountain West to the NFL just like Carson Wentz.

By late September though, people are starting to hit the brakes on the hype train for the Cowboys QB and so, too, is the player himself it appears. The Associated Press published a long profile of Allen this week and one nugget seemed to jump out: following a 49-13 loss to Oregon last Saturday in which he completed just nine passes for 64 yards and an interception, the quarterback promptly deleted Twitter of his phone.

“Those guys on Twitter aren’t making draft picks and putting together teams in the NFL,” Allen said. “All I really care about is respect from my teammates and my coaches here.”

We’ve seen players delete apps or jump off social media when they face a little adversity on the field and it seems that the Wyoming star is the latest to join the bandwagon and swear off tweeting in the foreseeable future. We’ll see if it makes any difference on Saturday as his team takes on Hawaii at home to open Mountain West conference play.