Illinois

Michigan St, Baylor, Boise St highlight the Friday night menu

2 Comments

You know, college football on Thursday night was so much fun. We should do it all again tonight. Sound good? I knew I liked you.

Tonight’s Friday night line-up sees three teams that played in a New Years Six bowl in action tonight, and two of them are on the road. No. 4 Baylor will open the 2015 campaign in Dallas against SMU. The defending co-Big 12 champs will look to make a good first impression against the Mustangs, but will be without defensive lineman Shawn Oakman and defensive back Orion Stewart. Both players have been suspended for one game for a violation of team rules. This should be of little concern for the Bears, who should have more than enough offense to show off against a team it blanked last season (45-0).

At the same time Baylor is kicking off against SMU, the team it faced (and lost to) in the Cotton Bowl last season will be hoping to avoid an upset in Kalamazoo. No. 5 Michigan State is playing on the road against Western Michigan, a program seemingly trending upward in the MAC under the leadership of P.J. Fleck. Mark Dantonio‘s Spartans are once again a Big Ten contender with playoff aspirations, but now move forward without defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi calling the shots on defense. Michigan State should still be a defensive force for most programs this season, and having a steady quarterback like Connor Cook should bode well for Michigan State tonight and throughout the season.

The last New Years Six bowl participant on the schedule for tonight is good old Boise State. Once again the favorite for the Group of Five big bowl invitation, the Broncos look to get off to a good start with a victory over a Pac-12 program, Washington. The Huskies bring some youth and inexperience to the blue turf this evening, but they just so happen to be coached by a guy who knows all about this environment, Chris Petersen. Petersen returns to the place that made him a household name in the college football ranks, but he may not have the roster ready to grab victory from the Broncos. Boise State could very well go undefeated this season, especially if Thursday night’s showing by Utah State is an indication for what to expect from them this year, and having a win over a power conference opponent will be key down the line.

Illinois Goes Without Beckman

The Bill Cubit era gets underway as Illinois quickly moves past the Tim Beckman experience. Beckman was canned by the school last week, one week before the first game of the season against Kent State. Look for Illinois to get off to a good start on offense with Wes Lunt taking to the air early and often.

Hello Charlotte!

The Charlotte 49ers play their first FBS football game tonight, and they may even grab their first FBS win in school history. The 49ers are on the road taking on Georgia State. The Panthers have a long way to go but should still have an advantage against the upstart program at Charlotte.

FCS Upset Alert?

Weather got in the way of Stony Brook’s attempt to top Toledo. Southern Utah let one slip away against Utah State, and UConn avoided a loss at home to Villanova. Will we see an FCS program take down an FBS squad tonight? We could, and Fordham has a chance. The Rams take on Army, which should look to run the football and wear down the FCS program on the rise. Fordham is two years removed from taking down Temple, and they could do it again tonight.

Syracuse is hosting Rhode Island, which could get interesting if the Orange can’t create some separation in the first half.

CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: Big Ten Predictions

13 Comments

As the 2015 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 home of the defending national champion, the Big Ten. 

And while we’re at it, check out some of our other Power Five conference predictions HERE (ACC) and HERE (Big 12) as the CFT team continues to take its month-long glimpse of the upcoming season.

BIG TEN EAST

1. Ohio State (14-1 in 2014; beat Oregon in College Football Playoff title game)
For the forseeable future, you can pencil in Urban Meyer‘s Buckeyes as the class of the both the division and conference, as well as an annual contender for a playoff spot thanks to the one-two combination of the coaching staff and its recruiting prowess.  Last year, Meyer thought his Buckeyes were a year away from contention… and all they did was run through Wisconsin, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon in the postseason to claim the inaugural CFP championship.  What can OSU do for an encore?  Given the returning talent, they could very well be the eighth team since the Poll Era began (1936) to go back-to-back — provided they can get past, among others, the very stout, tremendously talented and extremely motivated team directly below this blurb.

2. Michigan State (11-2; beat Baylor in Cotton Bowl)
The Spartans have several positives going for them entering the 2015 season, from one of the best offensive and defensive lines in the conference to one of the best quarterbacks in the entire country in senior Connor Cook to one of the most underrated head coaches in Mark Dantonio.  There’s every reason to think that the Spartans, ranked fifth in the preseason, will remain in that neighborhood for a sizable chunk of the season.  Losing defensive mastermind Pat Narduzzi, now the head coach at Pittsburgh, could negatively impact the season, as could the schedule: three of MSU’s toughest games are on the road (Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan) while they also play host to a Top Ten in Week 2 in Oregon.

3. Michigan (5-7)
Yes, I’m drinking the Jim Harbaugh-flavored Kool-Aid already, and there are two good reasons as to why.  One, and look no further than what he did at Stanford, he is one of the best coaches at any level of football.  In the five years prior to his arrival on The Farm, the Cardinal won just 16 games; in Harbaugh’s four years heading the program, and taking over a one-win squad, the win total jumped to 29.  Secondly, he and his staff aren’t exactly coming into the kitchen with a bare cupboard.  In 2013 and 2012, UM’s recruiting classes were ranked fifth and seventh nationally and second in the Big Ten, respectively, according to Rivals.com. Even in 2014, amidst much speculation that Brady Hoke was as good as done, he still pulled in a class that ranked 31st in the country and fourth in the conference.  The talent is there, the coaching there, so there’s no reason to think that an immediate improvement won’t be there as well.

4. Penn State (7-6; beat Boston College in Pinstripe Bowl)
The biggest thing the Nittany Lions have going for them this season, the thing that could have them too low in this East prediction?  Their schedule.  They will be heavily favored in all six games — three conference, three non-conference — before traveling to Ohio State in mid-October, plus the scheduling gods gave them Illinois and Northwestern as their cross-divisional games this season.  Should the defense, as expected, remain one of the best in the conference, and Christian Hackenberg can overcome any crisis of confidence caused by a subpar offensive line — he was sacked 44 times in 2014, a season in which he tossed more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (12) — the Nittany Lions could very well increase their win total from a year ago.

5. Maryland (7-6; lost to Stanford in Foster Farms Bowl)
Relatively speaking, and compared to much of Randy Edsall‘s first four seasons in College Park, the Terps got off to a rousing start in 2014, winning five of their first seven games.  They then limped home with a 2-4 finish, punctuated by a 24-point loss to Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl.  Like it or not, The Terps could very well be back in rebuilding mode, what with just 10 returning starters on both sides of the ball and a schedule that includes road trips to West Virginia, Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State as well as a home game against West power Wisconsin.  Given that combination, getting back to a bowl game would serve as a huge plus for Edsall’s program.

6. Indiana (4-8)
It’s very simple for the Hoosiers: either win and make a bowl game, or the program will be looking for a new head coach following the upcoming season.  In four years thus far, the Kevin Wilson experiment has netted just 14 wins, with seven of those coming against Power Five teams and six against conference members.  For IU to get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2007 — and just the second time since 1993 — they’ll need to take advantage of a slate that includes five very winnable games; if they can squeeze out an upset along the way, they could very well go bowling — and save Wilson’s job in the process.

7. Rutgers (8-5; beat North Carolina in Quick Lane Bowl)
If this particular prediction were to ultimately come to fruition, Rutgers would be the next Big Ten school looking for a new head coach.  Normally a coach that went 8-5 in the program’s first season in a Power Five conference wouldn’t even be remotely close to the hot seat, but Kyle Flood‘s recent off-field issue will place even more pressure on the fourth-year coach to win and win bigger than last season’s surprise total.  That, though, could prove to be an impossible row to hoe.  Not only do the Scarlet Knights return just 10 starters, they also lost 28 lettermen with varied amounts of experience and playing time, further exposing a glaring lack of depth compared to just one season ago.  Adding to the potential 2015 angst is that, in addition to the East heavyweights, RU also drew West stalwarts Nebraska and Wisconsin.  In fact, it’s conceivable and not even remotely out of the question that the Scarlet Knights could go winless in conference play.

BIG TEN WEST

1. Nebraska (9-4; lost to USC in Holiday Bowl)
The first season post-Bo Pelini in Lincoln is expected to be a breath of fresh air both on and off the field.  Mike Riley is a big reason for that, although how quickly the Cornhuskers adapt to his style of offense will likely determine whether or not this first-year prediction of success is overly optimistic.  NU was on the cusp of grabbing a divisional talent last season before dropping back-to-back November games against Wisconsin and Minnesota.  This season, the ‘Huskers get the Badgers at home, although they’ll have to make a mid-October trip to the Gophers.  One other question mark?  Replacing a handful of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.

2. Wisconsin (11-3; beat Auburn in Outback Bowl)
Whether it was Barry Alvarez or Bret Bielema or Gary Andersen, the Badgers merely locked and reloaded at running back, along the offensive line and on defense from year to year to year with great success.  Can they do the same under first-year head coach and former UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst?  The Badgers should again have one of the best defenses in the conference as well as one of the top running games in college football, although, again, the team will likely struggle to make gains through the air.  If they flip the script on the latter, though, they could be one of the most dangerous teams in the country and very well make it back to yet another conference championship game.  Another plus?  They avoid both Ohio State and Michigan State in the regular season, although they do have to travel to both Lincoln and Minneapolis.

3. Minnesota (8-5; lost to Missouri in Citrus Bowl)
How close were the Gophers to an absolutely epic 2014 season?  They held a four-point third-quarter lead in the regular-season finale against Wisconsin in a game that, with a win, would’ve meant a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship.  They lost that lead, then proceeded to lose both their bowl game (by double digits to Mizzou) and 12 starters, including leading rusher David Cobb, leading receiver Maxx Williams and their two most productive players on the defensive side of the ball.  Perhaps the best news?  They get both Nebraska and Wisconsin at home.

4. Northwestern (5-7)
Call this slotting a hunch.  Or a significant reach.  One of the two.  After going bowling for five straight seasons from 2008-12, the Wildcats have back-to-back postseason-less years from which they’re attempting to bounce back.  Returning 14 starters is a good start to the rebound; the schedule makers didn’t do the Evanston bunch many favors, though, as they’ll tackle Stanford in the opener, Duke and Michigan on the road as well as a home date against Penn State — and that’s in addition to the divisional games against Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.  While it won’t be easy, look for the Wildcats to get back to at least six wins and into a bowl game.

5. Iowa (7-6; lost to Tennessee in Taxslayer Bowl)
From 2002 through 2009, the Hawkeyes averaged nearly nine wins per season; in the five years since, they’ve averaged less than seven, and finished fourth or worse in the Big Ten in four of those seasons.  Last year, they didn’t beat a single FBS program that ended the year with a winning record.  Entering his 17th season at the school, and despite the lack of recent success, Kirk Ferentz has the benefit of a very loyal athletic department — and a hefty buyout that, in essence, handcuffs said department.  The 2015 season should serve up more of the same style of play on the field: running game-centric offense, brutish defense and just hanging around in games long enough and often enough to qualify for another third-tier bowl game.  How long the fair-to-middlin’ results will continue to be acceptable to the Hawkeye faithful — and boosters — remains to be seen.

6. Illinois (6-7; lost to Louisiana Tech in Heart of Dallas Bowl)
A two-game winning streak at the end of last season put the Illini into a bowl game and saved Tim Beckman‘s job; his alleged treatment of players, though, forced the athletic department’s hand and resulted in Beckman being dismissed exactly one week before the season opener.  Enter offensive coordinator Bill Cubit as the interim coach, although, from a projection standpoint, not much should really change. The Illini actually returns 15 starters — that’s in the top third of the Big Ten — including a starting quarterback in Wes Lunt who has the talent to be productive and thrive in this offensive system if he can only stay healthy.  Looking at the schedule, though, four wins seem to be a reasonable projection while five wins appears to be the best to which the Illini can aspire.  Should they get to 6-8 wins?  There may be no need to conduct a coaching search after all.

7. Purdue (3-9)
Let’s just get straight to the point.  Darrell Hazell has won a mere four games in his first two seasons in West Lafayette, including one lone win in Big Ten play.  His non-conference schedule this season includes Virginia Tech and a road trip to defending Conference USA champion Marshall, while there’s a better-than-average chance he will go winless in conference play for the second time in three years.  If the 15 returning starters can improve enough, there’s a chance the Boilermakers could, akin to a fat man shimmying into a pair of skinny jeans, squeeze its way into a postseason bid, which is likely the only way this branch of the Jim Tressel coaching tree gets another season.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Ohio State over Nebraska

Big Ten latest P5 to announce media days attendees

Leave a comment

The SEC has done it this week.  So has the ACC.  Now, it’s the Big Ten’s turn to do it.

The “it,” of course, is a Power Five conference releasing its list of player who will represent their respective schools at the annual preseason media event.  And that’s just what the Big Ten did, with the Midwestern conference revealing the 42 players who’ll represent the league’s 14 member institutions at the B1G Football Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago July 30-31.

From the conference’s press release:

The list of students scheduled to attend features 27 returning all-conference selections, including first-team honorees in Maryland’s Brad Craddock and William Likely, Michigan State’s Jack Allen and Shilique Calhoun, Minnesota’s Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Penn State’s Anthony Zettel and Rutgers’ Leonte Carroo.

Just five of the 14 teams in attendance will send quarterbacks, with none of those being QB-rich Ohio State: Indiana (Nate Sudfeld), Michigan State (Connor Cook), Minnesota (Mitch Leidner), Nebraska (Tommy Armstrong Jr.) and Wisconsin (Joel Stave).

This is, though, a conference that greatly respects veteran leadership as 36 of the 42 players are classified as seniors. The other six players are juniors.

Below is the complete list of Big Ten players attending football media days.

EAST DIVISION

INDIANA
Adarius Rayner, Sr., DL
Jason Spriggs, Sr., OL*
Nate Sudfeld, Sr., QB

MARYLAND
Brad Craddock, Sr., PK*
William Likely, Jr., DB*
Andrew Zeller, Sr., OL

MICHIGAN
Joe Bolden, Sr., LB
Jehu Chesson, Sr., WR
James Ross III, Sr., LB

MICHIGAN STATE
Jack Allen, Sr., C*
Shilique Calhoun, Sr., DE*
Connor Cook, Sr., QB*

OHIO STATE
Taylor Decker, Sr., OT*
Joshua Perry, Sr., LB*
Adolphus Washington, Sr., DT*

PENN STATE
Jordan Lucas, Sr., S*
Angelo Mangiro, Sr., C/G*
Anthony Zettel, Sr., DT*

RUTGERS
Leonte Carroo, Sr., WR*
Darius Hamilton, Sr., DT*
Keith Lumpkin, Sr., OL

WEST DIVISION

ILLINOIS
Josh Ferguson, Sr., RB
Ted Karras, Sr., OG*
Mason Monheim, Sr., LB*

IOWA
Austin Blythe, Sr., C*
Jordan Lomax, Sr., DB*
Drew Ott, Sr., DE*

MINNESOTA
Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Sr., DB*
Theiren Cockran, Sr., DE*
Mitch Leidner, Jr., QB

NEBRASKA
Tommy Armstrong Jr., Jr., QB
Nate Gerry, Jr., S*
Jordan Westerkamp, Jr., WR

NORTHWESTERN
Traveon Henry, Sr., S
Christian Jones, Sr., WR
Dan Vitale, Sr., SB*

PURDUE
Danny Anthrop, Sr., WR
Robert Kugler, Sr., C*
Frankie Williams, Sr., CB*

WISCONSIN
Michael Caputo, Sr., S*
Corey Clement, Jr., RB
Joel Stave, Sr., QB*

* indicates previous all-conference selection

Former Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase rejoins program as assistant DFO

1 Comment

It’s becoming something of a tradition in the Illinois football program. Start at quarterback, then come back a few years down the road and get your feet wet in the coaching business.

Earlier this week, Illinois announced the hiring of former quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase as the program’s assistant director of football operations. The man he replaces? None other than former Illinois quarterback Juice Williams.

Williams, who also preceded Scheelhaase as the Illini’s signal-caller, left for a job on the athletic development staff at Georgetown.

“I am honored to be working for the university I call home,” Scheelhaase said in a statement. “The memories I made as a player were special, and I can’t wait to be a part of creating more memories for the players and fans. As the Assistant Director of Football Operations I am excited about supporting the coaching staff and players in every way possible. I am confident that my experience as a student-athlete and as a leader both domestically and internationally will be a valuable source in helping the football program achieve greater success. I can’t wait to get to home and get to work.”

Scheelhaase started at quarterback from 2010-13 and remains the program’s all-time total offense leader with 10,634 yards. He stands as one of just two players in Big Ten history with 8,000 career passing yards and 2,000 career rushing yards, and is the only quarterback in school history to lead the club to bowl wins in back-to-back seasons.

Elsehwere in the program, Patrick Embleton has been hired as director of student-athlete development.

Here’s another story Tim Beckman probably doesn’t want you to hear

21 Comments

The stories Illinois coach Tim Beckman does not want you to hear continue to pile up. Enter former Illini wide receiver Darius Milliness, who claims Beckman and the coaching staff made him feel like he was letting down his team when he left to visit his father battling cancer.

Milliness shared his story over a series of tweets on his Twitter account. Milliness says his father was not supposed to live to see the age of 50, so when he did celebrate his 50th birthday Milliness wanted to leave the team to join the celebration with his family. Judging by the timeline of Milliness, Beckman was not pleased about the situation.

Millines committed to Illinois in 2010 as a three-star prospect out of the state of Florida, when the Illini were coached by Ron Zook. Millines was suspended by Beckman in the spring of 2013 for what was only ever explained as a violation of team rules. Two months later Milliness was reportedly dismissed from the program. Millines wrapped up his college football career with D2 Colorado State-Pueblo. Millines still holds Illinois close to his heart, despite the alleged friction with current head coach Beckman.