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

Family of the first Black football player in University of Texas history suing the NCAA

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A racial pioneer in the Texas football program is back in the news.

As we have noted previously, dozens of Texas student-athletes, including football players, are demanding change at the university.  One of those demands is naming a part of Royal-Memorial Stadium in honor of Julius Whittier, the first-ever Black player in University of Texas football history.

Coincidentally or not, the family of Whittier this week filed a lawsuit against NCAA.  In the suit, which is seeking damages in excess of a million dollars, the Whittier family is accusing the NCAA of negligence and wrongful death in connection to the pioneer’s passing in September of 2018.  Whittier had been battling Alzheimer’s for several years prior to his death.

According to the Houston Chronicle, “[p]ostmortem examination of his brain at Boston University… revealed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease associated with head trauma.” The suit, filed by Whittier’s sister on behalf of her brother’s estate and three surviving children, alleges the Whittier’s death at the age of 68 was the direct result of football-related head trauma.

“Julius Whittier was a pioneer who became a lawyer and a member of the district attorney’s staff in Dallas County, and his life was about justice,” the family’s attorney told the Chronicle. “His family wants to carry on in his name and hope that we can make changes.

“We don’t want to end football. We just want to make it as safe as possible and make sure that everybody is informed about what can happen. That has not been the case historically, and we want to change that.”

The sister, Mildred Whittier, had previously filed a lawsuit against the NCAA on behalf of college players who suffered brain injuries from 1960 to 2014.

In 1970, Whittier became the first black player to letter in football at Texas.  He first joined the Longhorns in 1969.  At the time, though, the NCAA did not allow freshmen to play.  Whittier lettered every year from 1970-72, first as an offensive guard and then as a tight end his senior season.

Memphis to wear ‘BLM’ decals on their helmets this season

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Memphis will take its off-field social activism onto the football field this fall.

Across the country, student-athletes, football players especially, have seen their collective voices grow louder in protesting for racial equality and against social injustices. And flags.  Several members of the Memphis football program took to the streets of their city last month to do just that.

This week, on his personal Twitter account, first-year Memphis head coach Ryan Silverfield announced that his players will wear “BLM” decals on their helmets throughout the 2020 college football season.  “BLM,” of course, stands for the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

“The use of the BLM logo on a helmet decal was an idea from our student-athletes,” Silverfield told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal in a text message. “It doesn’t mean we support any anti-American, violent organization or hate group or any specific political party. In fact, I love this country and I love our players. Rather the decal is a show of support to our team.”

And what of a backlash against wearing the decals?  It was subsequently reported by The Athletic that “[a] prominent University of Memphis booster has informed the school that he will match, and then double, whatever donations the school might lose as a result of the Black Lives Matter helmet decal.”

The name of the booster was not revealed.

Memphis is coming off a school-record 12-win football campaign.  They claimed the program’s first-ever win in the AAC championship game after two straight losses.

Head coach Mike Norvell left the school for the same job at Florida State in mid-December.  Memphis stayed in-house for its next head coach, with Silverfield, the offensive line coach, promoted three days later.

College Football in Coronavirus Quarantine: On this day in CFT history, including experts holding out hope that the famed oaks on Toomer’s Corner could survive being Updyked

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The sports world, including college football, has essentially screeched to a halt as countries around the world battle the coronavirus pandemic. As such, there’s a dearth of college football news as spring practices have all but been canceled at every level of the sport. And there’s even some concern that the health issue could have an impact on the 2020 college football campaign.

In that vein, we thought it might be fun to go back through the CollegeFootballTalk archives that stretch back to 2009 and take a peek at what transpired in the sport on this date.

So, without further ado — ok, one further ado — here’s what happened in college football on July 4, by way of our team of CFT writers both past and present.

(P.S.: If any of our readers have ideas on posts they’d like to read during this college football hiatus, leave your suggestions in the comments section.  Mailbag, maybe?)

2019

THE HEADLINE: Five-star 2020 LSU commit probably would’ve committed to Ohio State if Urban Meyer hadn’t left
THE SYNOPSIS: Elias Ricks is the recruit in question.  The cornerback ended up signing with LSU earlier this year.  Ricks, expected to contribute to the defending national champs immediately, underwent offseason surgery for a torn labrum.

2018

THE HEADLINE: Fox, BTN reportedly among those making run at Paul Finebaum
THE SYNOPSIS: Yeah, that didn’t work out as the SEC mouthpiece remains at ESPN.

2017

THE HEADLINE: Penn State suing Tennessee DC Bob Shoop for breach of contract
THE SYNOPSIS: Nittany Lions were seeking $900,000 the university said Shoop owed after he left as the defensive coordinator at Penn State for the same job at Tennessee in January of 2016.  In February of 2018, the two sides settled their dispute.  Terms of the settlement weren’t divulged.

2015

THE HEADLINE: Alabama self-reports multiple secondary violations
THE SYNOPSIS: “Alabama” and “NCAA violations” always bring out the commenters.  This was no exception.

2013

THE HEADLINE: Tragic: new Ole Miss OL killed in car accident
THE SYNOPSISPark Stevens’ truck collided with the back of a semi-truck attempting to cross a four-lane highway.  The lineman was a 20-year-old junior college transfer.

2011

THE HEADLINE: Experts not ready to say Toomer’s oaks are ‘definitely not going to make it’
THE SYNOPSIS: Thanks to Alabama “fan” Harvey Updyke, the iconic trees at Auburn definitely didn’t make it.

2011

THE HEADLINE: Purdue player missing; last seen swimming in Indiana lake
THE SYNOPSIS: Sadly, 22-year-old running back Sean Matti‘s body was found a day later.

Pandemic-related restrictions force Western Michigan to schedule a new season-opening opponent

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The coronavirus pandemic has already impacted the 2020 season for Western Michigan football.

Western Michigan was scheduled to open the upcoming football season against Colgate on Sept. 4.  However, the Patriot League, Colgate’s conference, mandated late last month that all of its member schools not be permitted to travel by air or stay overnight in another locale.  As the distance between Hamilton, NY, to Kalamazoo, Mich., is nine-plus hours, that opener was certainly in jeopardy.

This week, Western Michigan confirmed that it will now open the 2020 college football season against Stony Brook.  The game will still be played Sept. 4 at Waldo Stadium, the football home of the Broncos.

“We are looking forward to opening the 2020 season with Stony Brook,” WMU head coach Tim Lester said in a statement. “We know coronavirus has changed, and will keep changing, how we operate this season. We will continue to operate with an abundance of caution for the safety and well-being of our student-athletes, staff members, fans and WMU community.”

It should be noted that Syracuse is also supposed to open its home schedule Sept. 19 against Colgate.  It’s unclear if that game will be played, although distance certainly isn’t as much of an issue as it was for Western Michigan.

WMU is coming off a second consecutive 7-6 season under Lester, who will be entering his fourth season with the Broncos.  That 2019 campaign also included narrowly missing out on a berth in the MAC championship game.