CFT Predicts: the Big Ten

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As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the Big Ten.  

While we’re at it, be sure to check out our other conference predictions: SEC, Pac-12

Leaders Division

1. Ohio State (Last year: 12-0)
What happened last season?
Urban Meyer‘s first year with the Buckeyes was flawless, at least as far as things go in the win-loss column. Though Ohio State had no postseason to look forward to thanks to NCAA sanctions, it went undefeated during the regular season. That’s propelled OSU to become one of the preseason favorites to appear in the final BCS championship.

So why are they ranked here?
The more appropriate question would be why wouldn’t the Buckeyes be ranked here? Meyer is easily one of the best in the game and quarterback Braxton Miller is now the betting favorite to win the Heisman. There are some concerns along the defensive front for this team, but it doesn’t have the appearance of something that will be an insurmountable problem.

Anything else?
The Game against Michigan can go either way, but there’s really only one spot I can potentially see Ohio State slipping. That would be an Oct. 5 game at Northwestern. The Wildcats enter 2013 with some hype (there’s something you don’t type everyday) after winning 10 games last year.

2. Wisconsin (Last year: 8-6; lost to Stanford in Rose Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Badgers can thank the NCAA for getting to the Big Ten title game as both Ohio State and Penn State watched from home. The Badgers struggled with offensive consistency throughout the year even though Montee Ball was among the leading rushers in the country. 

So why are they ranked here?
Gary Andersen takes over for the departed Bret Bielema. Though Ball is gone and the quarterback situation needs to be figured out, this is a veteran team with some recognizable names still around like running back James White and receiver Jared Abbrederis. The bigger concern lies on defense, which will be moving to more of a 3-4 this year.

Anything else?
The Badgers avoid Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska this season. It may not help Andersen win the Leaders Division in his first year, but it should help with a few more W’s. Also, QB Tanner McEvoy has started getting some looks at receiver and should help in that department.

3. Penn State (Last year: 8-4)
What happened last season?
Bill O’Brien took over what felt like an impossible situation and won eight games with the Nittany Lions. The crowning achievement of a season that surpassed many expectations was the development of quarterback Matt McGloin, who is now getting some buzz in the pros with the Oakland Raiders.

So why are they ranked here?
Penn State is a little bit of a wildcard this year. Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson are battling it out for the starting quarterback job, and this defense loses some key leaders from a year ago including linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. What we’re banking on is some more O’Brien magic with a quarterback who was not on last year’s roster.

Anything else?
There are some young defenders that Penn State fans should be excited about. Defensive end Deion Barnes was the conference’s Freshman of the Year in 2012.

4. Purdue (Last year: 6-7; lost to Oklahoma State in Heart of Dallas Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Getting to the postseason wasn’t enough for Danny Hope, who was let go last November [“Hope-less” pun goes here] [hates self for it]. Alas, the mustache just wasn’t good enough.

So why are they ranked here?
Darrell Hazell was considered a good hire for the Boilermakers, but he has a lot of work ahead of him in 2013. Rob Henry, a veteran guy, has been named the starting quarterback, but he last played meaningful snaps in 2010. The rest of the offense should feature a lot of newer faces, though there is talent there.

Anything else?
Things could get off to a rocky start for Hazell. Looking at the schedule, there are only a couple games the Boilermakers figure to have a chance to win. Things ease up at the end of the season, which could pave the way for some momentum heading into 2014.

5. Indiana (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Kevin Wilson got the Hoosiers to four wins. The offense showed consistent ability to score points and Indiana almost knocked off Ohio State in a shootout. 

So why are they ranked here?
It doesn’t appear offense is going to be a concern for IU, and Wilson has three capable quarterbacks from which to choose in Cameron Coffman, Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld. The defense returns many of its starters from a year ago. The problem is that unit finished among the worst in rushing defense and scoring defense last year. The Hoosiers can score with most, so if they can make some stops and force some turnovers they’ll be in a position for an outside shot at a bowl game.

Anything else?
Roberson didn’t have much of a chance to showcase his athletic potential after going down with a season-ending leg injury early in the year. He’s a valuable weapon though, so it’ll be interesting to see if/how Wilson utilizes him if he doesn’t regain the starting job.

6. Illinois (Last year: 2-10) 
What happened last season?
Tim Beckman‘s first year with Illinois went poorly as the Illini won just two games and had a few brutal losses to Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern.

So why are they ranked here?
There are a lot of players returning on offense, including quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but this was also a group that barely scored more than two touchdowns a game last year. Beckman hopes that hiring former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit as offensive coordinator will help in that department. Still, a brutal schedule from start to finish may be too much for the Illini to see any real improvement in the win-loss column.

Anything else?
Beckman took a veiled shot at former Illini coach Ron Zook earlier this summer by suggesting he left the cupboard bare when he was fired two seasons ago. Still, there’s already mounting pressure to win in Beckman’s second year.

Legends Division

1. Nebraska (Last year: 10-4; lost to Georgia in Capital One Bowl)
What happened last season?
Like every other year under Bo Pelini, Nebraska was good. But, like most years, the Cornhuskers couldn’t get over the conference championship hump. Instead, Wisconsin founds its mojo and hung a cool 70 points on the blackshirts on their way to Pasadena.

So why are they ranked here?
Good question. There’s been no indication so far that Nebraska can take the next step under Pelini and get to a BCS bowl. Yet, somehow, here I am giving them another chance because I can’t quit ’em. The offense should be one of the best in the Big Ten with a core group of playmakers coming back, including Taylor Martinez, running back Ameer Abdullah, and receiver Kenny Bell. The defense will be young, but if it can just play well enough, Nebraska will be back in the Big Ten championship.

Anything else?
The Legends Division may not take form until November. Nebraska plays Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State in consecutive weeks.

2. Michigan (Last year: 8-5; lost to South Carolina in Outback Bowl)
What happened last season?
The Wolverines’ win total dipped and there were some cringeworthy losses to Alabama, Notre Dame and Nebraska. And, yes, to point it out again, Ohio State beat Michigan. Though Denard Robinson got hurt and finished the season as a running back, fans got a glimpse of what the Devin Gardner era may look like.

So why are they ranked here?
There are plenty of quality players for the Wolverines — Gardner, Fitz Toussaint, and Jeremy Gallon just to name a few. But depth is definitely a concern, especially at quarterback. Linebacker Jake Ryan is currently trying to make his way back from a knee injury and is projected to return around midseason.

Anything else?
Brady Hoke has yet to lose a home game in Ann Arbor, so conversely a majority of his seven losses have come on the road. And there will be some tough road games for the Wolverines: at Penn State and at Michigan State. Trips to Northwestern and Iowa could be tricky as well.

3. Michigan State (Last year: 7-6; beat TCU in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
What happened last season?
Sparty went 6-6 in the regular season, primarily because of the team’s inability to win close games.  Five of MSU’s six losses came in games decided by a touchdown or less.

So why are they ranked here?
While we certainly hope Mark Dantonio goes #B1G and plays four quarterbacks at the same time, Andrew Maxwell is likely the starter — for now, at least. The offense has some some good wide receivers returning, but tight end Dion Sims and running back Le’Veon Bell are gone. If it can’t find any sort of constancy, the defense will be relied upon once again to keep the Spartans in a position to win. That’s certainly possible, but Sparty’s O can’t be “Sparty No!” again and reasonably expect to win the division.

Anything else?
Like the other Legends Division favorites, November is an important month for the Sparans, who do not have to play Ohio State, Penn State or Wisconsin. If the offense can get going, this can be a dangerous team with one of the highest ceilings in the conference.

4. Northwestern (Last year: 10-3; beat Mississippi State in Gator Bowl) 
What happened last season?
As crazy as it may sound, Northwestern was three combined quarters away from being undefeated in the regular season. Still, 10-3 and a January Bowl win is always respectable. And it’s Northwestern. 

So why are they ranked here?
For the first time since the invention of the forward pass, the Wildcats have some legitimate preseason hype. That can only be attributed to what an incredible Job Pat Fitzgerald has done at not only building the program, but maintaining continuity among staff and players. Offensive line is a concern this year, but Kain Colter returns as the centerpiece of the Wildcats offense.

Anything else?
Northwestern gets Ohio State and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks in October. As mentioned above, this is a team that could knock off the Buckeyes. The divisional schedule is difficult too and there’s some question as to whether Northwestern can take the next step as a program. This would be the year to do it though.

5. Iowa (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Kirk Ferentz suffered his first losing season since 2006 and the Hawkeyes dropped their last six in a row.

So why are they ranked here?
Scoring points has been difficult for Iowa recently and keeping a healthy running back has been even harder. Quarterback James Vandenberg is gone and there are questions at that position. Defense should be fine with a solid linebacker unit returning. The most important objective (besides win) is for offensive coordinator Greg Davis to get more out of this offense, which ranked among the worst scoring units in the country a year ago.

Anything else?
Kirk Ferentz has an enormous buyout, but another losing season — and Iowa’s schedule isn’t very forgiving — could have the program thinking harder about a change anyway.

6. Minnesota (Last year: 6-7; lost to Texas Tech in Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas) 
What happened last season?
Jerry Kill‘s team saw a three-game turnaround that got the Gophers back to a bowl game — and Minnesota almost won. But Texas Tech came from behind to beat UM in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

So why are they ranked this year?
The Gophers went through three quarterbacks last year and still won six games. The last one to starting time, sophomore Phillip Nelson, should take the field first for Minnesota this season. Chemistry in the passing game could be a question with A.J. Barker gone and Andre McDonald missing part of preseason camp due to suspension.

Anything else?
Getting back to a bowl isn’t out of the question for Minnesota, especially with a favorable out of conference schedule. Climbing up the Legends Division ladder is another story, but there are a few opportunities late in the year to steal a win at home from what will likely be a favored opponent when Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin come to Minneapolis.

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John Taylor‘s prediction:

Leaders
1. Ohio State
2. Wisconsin
3. Penn State
4. Indiana
5. Purdue
6. Illinois

Legends
1. Michigan
2. Nebraska
3. Northwestern
4. Michigan State
5. Iowa
6. Minnesota

Ben’s Big Ten champ: Ohio State
John’s Big Ten champ: Ohio State 

WWE “scout” showed up at Penn State Pro Day for second straight year

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‘We are’ is really channelling their ‘Woooo’ now a days.

If you’re too young to get that reference or never did follow wrestling back in the day, don’t worry. Just know that some sort of pipeline is being apparently developed at Penn State by the WWE.

At least it seems that way judging by the organization’s Pro Day attendance.

You will notice that the school separates out the WWE from the WWE-backed XFL spring football league that is being launched next year. That’s a notable distinction given that the wrestling company has shown up to Happy Valley two years in a row now for Pro Day. While one wouldn’t have had a big issue with them turning up to see the Saquon Barkley freak show last year, it seems that this is now becoming a bit of a trend with James Franklin’s program.

While you can bet that this will be a nice recruiting tool for the Nittany Lions to connect with a few recruits down the road, things might get a little strange if the WWE decides to recreate a ‘White Out’ for the next Wrestlemania or plucks a few lineman from the school to form the next tag team at the event.

Mizzou reportedly tore less than 25,000 tickets per game in 2018

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The SEC is the home of the most fanatical college football fans in the sport, they tell us. It’s the place where they’d draw 80,000 fans to watch walk-ons practice catching punts. It really does just mean more.

So what does it say about the conference, and the sport as a whole, when one of its members tore less than 25,000 tickets per game?

That’s the case at Missouri, where, according to a report Tuesday from Columbia Missourian, the Tigers scanned an average of 24,377 tickets over the course of the team’s seven-game home schedule.

Now, there are some mitigating factors here. The school says the number is a far cry from the actual paid attendance because the stadium’s electronic ticket scanners did not work on a number of occasions, thereby allowing untold thousands of paying customers to enter the stadium without being counted. And, no doubt, that was a factor — though how big a factor, no one can say.

But it’s still a far cry from the 51,865 fans Missouri says attended each game, which itself is a far cry from Faurot Field’s listed capacity of 71,168.

Another mitigating factor: the home schedule. Tiger fans did get to see Georgia come to Faurot Field. Their other opponents, though: UT-Martin, Wyoming, Memphis, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. Not exactly a murderer’s row of opponents Mizzou fans grew up learning to hate. And as the article says, weather and timing didn’t help the Arkansas gate.

However, it’s not as if a poor attendance number can be blamed on poor performance. Mizzou went 5-2 at home in 2018.

And then there’s this: the 2018 schedule is more or less Mizzou’s home schedule every year. In 2019, Missouri plays host to West Virginia, Southeast Missouri State, South Carolina, Troy, Ole Miss, Florida and Tennessee.

Let’s see if Missouri can tear more than 25,000 tickets per game this time around.

Report: American signs $1 billion TV deal with ESPN

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The American has signed a new TV deal with ESPN that will represent a massive raise for the conference, according to a report Tuesday from Sports Business Journal.

The new deal will pay the conference a sum of $1 billion over the next 12 years, a split of $83.3 million per year, or around $7 million per year per school. That’s pennies compared to the $50 million-plus doled out by the Big Ten, but it’s a windfall compared to the league’s current contract that pays less than $2 million per year per school.

The contract will run from the 2020 football season through 2031, according to the report.

It’s good news for the conference insofar that rates are still going up in light of the cord-cutting shift affecting the entire TV business, but it does come with some caveats.

First, AAC fans must now pony up for ESPN+ subscriptions if they’d like to see many of their school’s games. Marquee games will remain on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU, but the rest will go to the paid, online streaming service — which, obviously, ESPN hopes will help recoup much of the money they’re giving the AAC in the first place. More games should make TV airwaves moving forward, depending on how you define TV airwaves.

The other bit of mixed-bag news is that, according to the report, ESPN did not require a Grant of Rights agreement to fork over the $1 billion contract. That’s good if you’re a UCF or a Connecticut; it allows you to hang on to your free agent status should the Big 12 or ever come calling. But it’s bad if you’re a Tulsa or an East Carolina fan, because it means your conference’s most valuable members — thus, your ticket to continued $1 billion deals — are (still) only in the AAC until they get a better offer and not one moment longer.

NCAA grants immediate eligibility to Miami QB Tate Martell

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The NCAA has granted immediate eligibility to transfer quarterback Tate Martell, Miami announced on Tuesday.

“We are pleased with this ruling and appreciate the NCAA recognizing that this waiver met the criteria under the membership established guidelines,” Miami AD Blake James said in a statement. “We would like to thank the NCAA, as well as Ohio State University, for their assistance and support throughout the waiver process. We look forward to seeing Tate compete for the Hurricanes this season.”

Miami head coach Manny Diaz offered his own restrained comment as well.

Martell transferred after Justin Fields executed his own transfer from Georgia to Ohio State. Fields used a documented case of a then-Georgia baseball player using the N-word to refer to him during a September football game as evidence why he should be eligible for a waiver, which has since been granted.

Martell had no such incident, but he was granted a waiver anyway, leading many (yours truly included) to argue his case would bring along full-fledged free agency in major college football.

The NCAA has since announced it will take a look at the loosened waiver guidelines, which were only approved last April. So it appears Martell may use the loophole, then get it closed behind him.

But those are matters for another day. For now, Martell is officially a Miami Hurricane for the 2019 season. The redshirt sophomore will join a quarterback derby pitting him against returning starter N’Kosi Perry and redshirt freshman Jarren Williams for the open job.