CFT predicts: the Big Ten

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It’s an unsettling time for a conference steeped in tradition. It’s difficult if not downright impossible not to mention the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State — an institution regarded for so long as the epitome of excellence with integrity. Both the Nittany Lions and the Ohio State Buckeyes will be absent from this year’s postseason — and are ineligible for the conference title — because of NCAA sanctions. That’s not something anyone should be used to typing.

Who sits atop the league has shifted as well. Michigan State and Wisconsin are both coming off terrific seasons and should be ready to compete for another conference championship. Joining the favorites is Michigan after a brief trough during the Rich Rodriguez years.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the Big Ten should shake out:

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

Leaders Division

1. Wisconsin (last season: 11-3; lost Rose Bowl) 
The Badgers had this division locked up before Ohio State and Penn State received postseason bans, so the Badgers are a big favorite to make a second straight Big Ten championship game appearance. Think about it: three programs, including the aforementioned two, are breaking in new coaches (Illinois is the other). Kevin Wilson is only entering his second year with Indiana and Danny Hope hasn’t done anything threatening at Purdue.

Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball — excuse me, Mon-tay Ball — is back and once again Bret Bielema went the free agent route at quarterback with Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien. When a program has a solid identity like Wisconsin, it’s more likely success isn’t a flash in the pan.

2. Ohio State (last season: 6-7; lost Gator Bowl) 
This will be Urban Meyer‘s inaugural season with the Buckeyes, but there’s no shortage of talent in Columbus. Part of the reason I have Ohio State at No. 2 is because the Leaders Division is a jumbled mess, but I actually like Meyer to win a big game or two this year — perhaps against Nebraska — and the Michigan game can almost always go either way. Meyer’s offense caters toward Braxton Miller‘s athletic ability and the defense still has Luke Fickell as defensive coordinator along with former interim UNC coach Everett Withers. Also, interesting scheduling note: the Buckeyes will play two other teams with postseason bans: Penn State, obviously, and Central Florida.

3. Illinois (last season: 6-6; won Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) 
The Illini are also breaking in a new coach in Tim Beckman, who currently may or may not be in and around State College recruiting Penn State, but definitely not on campus. Anyway, Illinois does return some key guys on offense and a couple All-Big Ten defensive players from a year ago. But y’all know Illinois’ standard operating procedure by now: they’ll beat some heavily favored team by an obscure score, like 15-9, before turning around and losing to Purdue.

4. Penn State (last season: 9-4; lost TicketCity Bowl) 
The players deciding to stay at Penn State this season deserve a lot of credit; those who stick it out past the 2012 season should and will get more kudos, as there will be another round of departures next offseason. The immediate loss of running back Silas Redd hurts the Nittany Lions, though. Redd was Penn State’s offense last season. Now, he’s gone to USC, leaving Bill O’Brien with little to work with on that side of the ball. And things don’t start off easy for PSU, either. The non-conference slate is filled with winnable games, but it’s nothing to scoff at, either. Most of the conference games are a coin flip too. The nice part for O’Brien’s team is that it won’t have to face Michigan or Michigan State this year.

5. Purdue (last season: 7-6; won Little Caesers Bowl) 
If Danny Hope can’t improve on last year’s 7-5 regular season record, he’s likely out of West Lafayette. Hope has a sub-.500 record overall since taking over for Joe Tiller in 2009 and Purdue isn’t the quarterback factory it used to be. That said, there are options at QB with Caleb TerBush Robert Marve and Rob Henry. Heading into preseason practices, the depth chart at that position should be as listed, but injuries have shaken up that spot before.

6. Indiana (last season: 1-11)
Things aren’t going to turn around for Indiana any time soon. The Hoosiers didn’t have a single win against an FBS opponent last year and the schedule this season is tough. On top of it all, the wide receiver unit has been hit hard with suspensions and departures. The defense was one of the worst in college football in 2011 too. Overall, just way too much to tackle in one season for IU to even think about bowl eligibility.

Legends Division

1. Michigan (last season: 11-2; won Sugar Bowl) 
It took Brady Hoke one season and one BCS bowl victory to get the Wolverines back to where they’re accustomed to being: at the top of the Big Ten preseason standings (and even a couple preseason Top 25 lists). Denard Robinson will have a chance to finish out his career in style — sweet, ridiculously athletic, arm punting style.

2. Michigan State (last season: 11-3; won Outback Bowl) 
Mark Dantonio has done an outstanding job in East Lansing. If the Spartans didn’t have so much turnover at the quarterback and wide receiver units, I’d say they have just as good a chance of making it to the Big Ten championship game as Michigan. But that defense? It returns a bunch of starters from a group ranked 10th in scoring D last year. The two toughest games for Michigan State will be back-to-back in late October at Michigan and at Wisconsin.

3. Nebraska (last season: 9-4; lost Capital One Bowl) 
Bo Pelini might set the record for consecutive 9-4/10-4 seasons. That’s not a bad thing, but Nebraska also needs to take the next step under Pelini and win a conference championship. The Cornhuskers tried (and tried again), but couldn’t bring home the hardware in the Big 12. The longer Nebraska goes without a conference championship, the more restless the fans in Lincoln will become. I don’t see it happening this year, but keep an eye on running back Rex Burkhead. He’s the ultimate workhorse for Nebraska and embodies everything that program and the Big Ten stand for on the field.

4. Iowa (last season: 7-6; lost Insight Bowl) 
Kirk Ferentz is trending down a bit. The Hawkeyes should have a good defense as usual and James Vandenberg is an underrated, bear-killing quarterback. But I’ll be damned if there isn’t an Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God, and He is unforgiving. Every once in a while, Iowa ends up surpassing expectations. I don’t think it happens this year.

5. Northwestern (last season: 6-7; lost Meineke Car Care Bowl) 
Yes, quarterback Dan Persa is gone, but he was so banged up for his final year that Kain Colter takes over without a problem. The bigger loss for Northwestern’s offense is leading receiver Jeremy Ebert, now with the NFL’s Patriots. The good news for the Wildcats is they don’t have to face Wisconsin or Ohio State, but the final five games could take a toll on this team.

6. Minnesota (last season: 3-9)
Jerry Kill is going to get things turned around at Minnesota eventually and there were signs of improvement last year for the Gophers. Getting Marqueis Gray back is huge as the quarterback accounted for most of the team’s offense last year. The team returns 13 starters. Minnesota should be able to get some early momentum with a soft non-conference schedule, but the Big Ten slate is a different beast.

CFT’s Big Ten champion: Wisconsin

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Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ’em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

ACC
Big East
Big 12
Conference USA
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

Ex-Western Michigan WR reportedly holding up payouts in $208 million lawsuit with NCAA

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It’s been well over a year since the NCAA reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit over grant-in-aid/cost of attendance and yet the $208 million the organization is still just sitting in a bank account waiting to be doled out. While you might first think that this is the result of the usual dragging of their feet from those in Indianapolis, it turns out that is not the case at all.

USA Today is reporting that it’s actually former Western Michigan wide receiver Darrin Duncan who is the one holding things up. He withdrew from the class-action case but his attorney, Caroline Tucker, “attempted to obtain $200,000 from the plaintiffs’ lawyers in exchange for dropping the objection.” The lawyers on the plaintiffs’ side have naturally responded in force, asking either of the two to post a five-figure bond to cover their own legal fees resulting from this delay. The judge in the case, Claudia Wilken, knocked that down to $5,000 last Friday by calling Tucker/Duncan’s objection to the case “meritless and thus his appeal is unlikely to succeed.”

At this point, Duncan/Tucker can either put up the money and risk losing it to continue their objection or drop things and let the payments — which could go as high as $6,000 per athlete — begin. While this is naturally focused on money, there’s a bit more to what the former Broncos receiver is going through:

All of this is occurring against the backdrop of Duncan dealing with personal hardship.

Now 28, he has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to his mother and a GoFundMe page established on his behalf about a year ago. He has received death threats because of his objection to the settlement, his mother, Arleen Pollard, said in an interview with USA TODAY Sports.

It does appear as though a solution to this long-running saga is in the cards somewhat soon but until then, the wait continues before the checks can start hitting the mail.

Pitt reportedly poaches Mississippi State staffer to be new director of recruiting

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Could we have the start of a budding rivalry between Pitt and Mississippi State? No, but the two programs did see one poach a staffer from the other.

A source told FootballScoop that Mississippi State assistant director of football operations Reed Case has taken the director of recruiting position at Pitt. Both positions are off-the-field roles but as anybody who has worked in a football office will tell you, each is crucial to the day-to-day success of a program.

Per the folks over at FootballScoop, this is one of the first big jobs that Case has had at an ACC program in the Northeast but he’s got a diverse background from stops at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and East Carolina among others.

The move by Pat Narduzzi fills the vacancy left behind by long-time staffer Mark Diethorn, who previously served as the Panthers’ director of recruiting for six years before heading to a new job at his alma mater of Virginia Tech last week.

Recruit who reportedly didn’t have offer still commits to Virginia, Hoos pick up actual pledge from Danish recruit instead

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Ahh ‘crootin.

The lifeblood of every college football program, recruiting can sometimes give us some awkward moments and it appears we have another courtesy of Virginia. Let us first bring up this tweet from Philadelphia (Pa.) Imhotep Class of 2019 wide receiver Anthony Gordon, who seemingly committed to the Cavaliers last Thursday.

Great for the kid, right? Well, there’s just one problem, 247Sports says that Gordon is not actually a commitment for the program for a rather big reason:

There was an issue though, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound wide receiver never had the scholarship offer from UVA he reported in March. According to multiple sources, Virginia had not been in contact since March and no call was made to the Virginia staff before the post on social media.

So… yeah. This immediately brings Kevin Hart (no, not that one) to mind after the former offensive lineman staged a ceremony to commit to Cal even though the Golden Bears never recruited him nearly a decade ago. It does seem like there is at least some contact between Virginia and Gordon in this case though, as that report makes clear, it has been a while since the two have talked.

All is not lost for Cavs fans though, as the program did add a commitment from Emil Bo Andersen at their summer camp. Why would we mention this? Well, Anderson is not only a 6-foot-5, 280-pount defensive tackle that comes at a position of need, but he’s actually Danish and is apparently ticketed to a full-ride across the pond thanks to what he showcased at the UVA camp. Very cool and not the first ACC player to come from overseas either should his pledge hold up.

It’s never dull in the ‘crootin world.

Syracuse QB Rex Culpepper on beating cancer: It felt like beating Clemson

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There’s been a lot of cool moments across college football this past spring but one of the best came in one of the most unlikely of places: Syracuse. At the Orange’s spring game in mid-April, backup quarterback Rex Culpepper suited up in between chemotherapy treatments and managed to throw a (tear-jerking) touchdown pass in the final drive of the afternoon.

Fast forward a few months and Culpepper, after undergoing over 100 hours of treatment, was declared cancer-free in early June. Fully healthy and finally cleared to return to regular football activities, the signal-caller recently went through an offseason workout with his teammates and later spoke to the media about everything that has happened throughout the process.

And how did he describe beating cancer? Well, naturally he brought an a very special on-the-field victory from last season.

“The closest thing I can say is it felt like beating Clemson,” Culpepper said, according to Syracuse.com. “You just feel so incredibly ecstatic that nothing in your life could ever go wrong.”

We’re pretty confident that even Tigers fans won’t mind hearing that given what the quarterback has been through and what a joyful moment that it was for the program back in October.

Next up for Culpepper and the team? Fall camp later this year as he competes with senior Eric Dungey in one of the more impressive quarterback rooms in the ACC for a variety of reasons.