CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 9 Wisconsin

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2011 record: 11-3 overall, 6-2 in Big Ten (1st-tie in Leaders)

2011 postseason: Big Ten championship game (42-39 win over Michigan State); Rose Bowl (45-38 loss to Oregon)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 10/No. 11

Head coach: Bret Bielema (60-19 in six seasons at Wisconsin)

Offensive coordinator: Matt Canada (first season at Wisconsin)

2011 offensive rankings: 11th rushing offense (235.6 ppg); 61st passing offense (234.3 ypg); 14th total offense (469.9 ypg);  6th scoring offense (44.1 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: four

Defensive coordinator: Chris Ash (third season at Wisconsin, second as DC); Charlie Partridge (fifth season at Wisconsin, second as co-DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 60th rushing defense (152.8 ypg); 4th passing defense (163.6 ypg); 15th total defense (316.4 ypg); 13th scoring defense (19 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: six

Location: Madison, Wis.

Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium (80,321; FieldTurf)

Last league title: 2011

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Having Montee Ball back for another season certainly falls under the category of good, especially in a conference like the Big Ten.  Not only is Ball back, but two of the teams in the Leaders Division — Ohio State and Penn State — are ineligible for the conference title this season, which means the Badgers will merely have to “stave off” challenges from the likes of Illinois, Indiana and Purdue — combined 2011 Big Ten wins: six, the same number as Wisconsin — in order to punch its ticket to Indianapolis for a second consecutive conference title game appearance.

The Bad
Of the nine assistants on Bielema’s 2011 staff, just three will be on the sidelines in 2012.  Such turnover is almost unheard of in one offseason, especially for a program as successful as Wisconsin’s.  Also on the returning front, just four 2011 starters are back for another season.  Among the personnel departures are one-year quarterback rental Russell Wilson and two All-American offensive linemen, although the latter is not much of a worry as the Badgers churns out linemen like the state does cheese.

The Unknown
Which model Danny O’Brien will the Badgers get this season, the 2010 Hummer or 2011 Edsel?  During his true freshman season under Ralph Friedgen, O’Brien was a freshman All-American for Maryland.  Last season, under first-year Terps coach Randy Edsall, O’Brien regressed considerably as he threw more interceptions (10) than he did touchdowns (seven) just a year after throwing eight and 22, respectively.  Thanks to Ball and a plethora of returning backfield talent, O’Brien, as was the case with Wilson to an extent last season, will be asked to merely manage the offense.  Less on-field pressure, plus being free of the burden that led to his transfer from Maryland to Wisconsin earlier this year, has me believing the 2012 O’Brien will be much, much closer to the 2010 model.

Make-or-break game: at Nebraska, Sept. 29
The Badgers took the Cornhuskers to the woodshed in Nebraska’s first-ever game as a Big Ten school, waxing the ‘Huskers to the tune of 48-17 in Madison.  This season, Wisconsin will travel to Lincoln and the ‘Huskers will be eyeing revenge.  Thanks to the Leaders Division circumstances listed above, the Badgers will have a little buffer when it comes to the conference even if they drop this game.  If they entertain any hope of making a run at a national title, however, this game is absolutely critical, as is a matchup with Michigan State a month later.

Heisman hopeful: running back Montee Ball
A 2011 finalist for the award, Ball finished fourth in the voting and was rewarded with a trip to New York City.  Anything less than that in 2012 would be surprising and, on some level, disappointing as well.  While his name will likely litter every preseason Heisman projection, he did enter summer camp under a cloud of uncertainty.  Ball suffered a concussion in what was described as an “unprovoked attack” by multiple assailants and will be held out of at least the early portion of camp.  If the head injury would happen to linger into the regular season and force Ball to miss a game or games, his Heisman hopes would, obviously, take a significant hit.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Michigan offers 8th grader who led varsity team in tackles

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MarMichigan has offered a scholarship to eighth-grade linebacker Tyler Martin, according to a post on Martin’s Twitter account on Thursday.

That would be the class of 2022, for those scoring at home.

Martin is not any ordinary eighth grader, though. A native of Cambridge, Mass., Martin led Buckingham Browne & Nichols with over 100 tackles and also started every game at tight end. Not Browne & Nichols’s eighth grade team, mind you. The varsity.

“He’s a tremendous kid that happens to be a tremendous athlete,” Browne & Nichols head coach Mike Willey told USA Today. “He’s worked exceptionally hard and put himself in a good position, that’s why I think Michigan says, yeah, this is the kind of guy they want.

The 6-foot-3, 227-pound linebacker is not the first junior high player to draw a maize and blue offer this year. Michigan offered Martin, Tenn., quarterback Ty Simpson in March.

Two Illinois players charged with theft for relocating deer sculpture

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A pair of Illinois players have been charged with theft between $500 and $10,000 after taking a sculpture from a Champaign park and relocating it to the top of their apartment building.

Jimmy Marchese, a junior linebacker, and Drew Murtaugh, a sophomore linebacker, told police they were walking home on the night of April 29 and saw a sculpture of a running deer, titled “Startled,” lying on the ground and took it home, placing the sculpture on the roof of their apartment. The Champaign Park District pleaded for the sculpture’s return on Facebook, and an anonymous tip led the authorities to Marchese and Murtaugh.

“Startled” has since been reinstalled at Champaign’s Scott Park, where the $5,000 sculpture will require touch-up work by the artist who created it.

“We had to have the artist come and do some work on it. We think we got it worked out to where it would be a lot harder for anyone to take it out again,” Champaign Park District director Joe DeLuce told the Champaign News Gazette.

The Illini pair has already appeared in court for a probable-cause hearing, and are due back on June 12. They face penalties ranging from probation to five years in prison.

Illinois spokesman Kent Brown told the News Gazette that head coach Lovie Smith is aware of the incident but has taken no action.

Marchese, a native of Vernon Hills, Ill., played in all 12 games in 2017 with two starts, and was named to the Academic All-Big Ten team. Murtaugh, hailing from Crystal Lake, Ill., did not letter as a redshirt freshman in 2017, but joined his partner in petty crime as an Academic All-Big Ten honoree.

 

Georgia DB Tray Bishop arrested on felony charge for alleged recording of sexual act

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Georgia freshman defensive back DetravionTray” Bishop was arrested on Wednesday on charges of felony eavesdropping/surveillance. The charges stem from an incident from this past fall, according to a report from Chip Towers of DawgNation.com. Bishop, who promptly turned himself over to the authorities after a warrant for his arrest was issued, has already been released from a county jail on a $5,700 bond.

The arrest follows an investigation by University of Georgia police responded to a complaint filed by a woman in April. The woman claimed Bishop recorded a sexual act between the two without her consent back in November.

“The complainant wished to report that there was a student going around showing people a sex tape of her … without her consent,” the police report said, according to the DawgNation report. “… A subsequent investigation into this incident led us into determining that the crime of unlawful eavesdropping occurred on [Nov. 5]. The investigation showed that Detravion Bishop had recorded [victim’s name] inside his dorm room without her permission and without her knowledge.”

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has responded to the situation, expressing concern over the circumstances Bishop is caught up in.

“We are investigating the matter and it’s important that we gather all information relevant to the situation before we determine what policies may come into play,” Smart said in his statement. “Then we can take appropriate action if necessary.”

Bishop was a three-star recruit in Georgia’s Class of 2017, according to his Rivals profile. Bishop red-shirted last season.

Broker offers free Nebraska tickets if Huskers win Big Ten

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Nebraska fans now have an extra incentive for hoping their beloved Cornhuskers win the Big Ten this season, if they buy their tickets from the right ticket broker.

Ticket Express is offering a promotion to Nebraska fans that will refund all ticket purchases made before June 1 if Nebraska wins the Big Ten this upcoming season. The refund promo is good for single-game tickets as well as season packages.

Nebraska has played for the Big Ten championship once since joining the Big Ten in 2011, and it did not go well. Nebraska was blown out by Wisconsin in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis, 70-31. Nebraska’s last conference championship was won in 1999 under current Ohio head coach Frank Solich, when the Huskers were still at the top of the Big 12. Solich, by the way, will be welcomed back to Nebraska for an event next January for a service award from the Football Writers Association of America.

Nebraska is coming off a 4-8 season and faces a difficult schedule in the first season with new head coach Scott Frost. Nebraska’s schedule is arguably the toughest in the Big Ten this season with road games at Ohio State, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan, and Iowa and a home crossover game with Michigan State. Just getting to the Big Ten championship game out of the West Division would be a pleasant surprise this fall, let alone topping the East Division champion in Indy.

Ticket Express liekly has an insurance policy to recoup the losses should things go Nebraska’s way, but this feels like a solid promotion with little risk for the broker.