CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 18 Wisconsin

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2013 record: 9-4 overall, 6-2 in Big Ten (2nd in Leaders Division)
2013 postseason: Capital One Bowl vs. South Carolina (34-24 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 22/No. 21
Head coach: Gary Andersen (39-35 overall; 9-4 in 1 year at Wisconsin)
Offensive coordinator: Andy Ludwig (1 year at Wisconsin)
2013 offensive rankings: 8th rushing offense (283.77 ypg); 94th passing offense (197.1 ypg); 18th total offense (480.8 ypg); 27th scoring offense (34.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 6
Defensive coordinator: Dave Aranda (1 year at Wisconsin)
2013 defensive rankings: 5th rushing defense (102.54 ypg); 17th passing defense (202.5 ypg); 7th total defense (305.1 ypg); 6th scoring defense (16.3 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 3
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium (80,321; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2012

THE GOOD
Wisconsin has a very favorable draw in the Big Ten scheduling this season, with no Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State. The Badgers also get Nebraska at home late in the season, but must travel to Iowa the following week, and I have already suggested how dangerous that can be for Wisconsin. The running game should be as strong as it ever is in Madison with Melvin Gordon set to carry the load behind four returning starters on the offensive line (Kyle Costigan, Rob Havenstein, Tyler Marz and Dan Voltz). Wisconsin’s season starts off with an early test against LSU in Houston, but the Badgers could be looking at a 10-win season and should be the favorite in the Big Ten west to reach the Big Ten championship game.

THE BAD
Wisconsin has had one of the more underrated defenses in recent years, but this is a bit of a rebuilding year for the Badgers on defense. Wisconsin returns just three starters from last season and must rebuild the entire front seven.  Having to replace so much in the first game of the season against LSU could make a difficult take slightly more challenging. Wisconsin may feel comfortable with Joel Stave at quarterback, but the Badgers also need to find their new go-to receiver after losing Jared Abbrederis. The top four receivers on the team have moved on since last season, leaving some uncertainty in the open field for now.

THE UNKOWN
Just how good can Wisconsin be? Is this a Badgers team that will challenge Ohio State or Michigan State for the Big Ten championship in Indianapolis, or will this be a team more likely to play in the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl? There is nothing wrong with Orlando or Tampa, but the Badgers will have a chance to prove themselves worthy of being in the same conversation as the Buckeyes and Spartans early on if they can show something against LSU.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Nebraska
The season opener against LSU will certainly be the highlight of the 2014 Wisconsin schedule, and for good reason, but the more realistic make-or-break game will come at the other end of the schedule. With back-to-back November games against Nebraska and Iowa, the Badgers will likely have to do no worst than spit the two in order to earn a trip back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game. Getting a win out of the way against Nebraska before heading to Iowa would be wise and could prove to be the deciding factor in the Big Ten West this fall.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Running back Melvin Gordon
We will be highlighting top players from each team in our preseason top 25, but Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, and that was while splitting time with James White (1,444 yards, 13 touchdowns). With White gone, Gordon’s production may actually increase and challenge the numbers put up by Montee Ball in 2012 or 2011. Of course, getting Gordon some rest when possible could be key for the success of Wisconsin this fall as well.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Amidst reports of transfers, including QB Josh Jackson, Virginia Tech issues statement

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This is certainly an odd development that, given the plethora of transfers that only continues to rise, could actually become the norm.

Tuesday night, a pair of Virginia Tech football players, including second-leading receiver Eric Kumah, took to Twitter to announce that they had decided to transfer/enter their name into the NCAA transfer database.  A day later, it’s being reported that Josh Jackson, who, after going through a tumultuous offseason, began 2018 as the Hokies’ starting quarterback only to suffer a season-ending injury, has placed his name in the transfer database as well.

Given all of the abrupt roster upheaval, Tech head coach Justin Fuente issued a statement Wednesday afternoon somewhat addressing the developments over the last 24 hours or so.

Pitt announces hiring of ex-Maryland WRs coach Chris Beatty

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Nearly three weeks after clearing out a pair of spots on his offensive coaching staff, Pat Narduzzi has filled in those self-created holes.

Jan. 4, Shawn Watson was fired as Pitt’s offensive coordinator, replaced a little over a week later by former UMass head coach Mark Whipple.  The same day Watson was fired, Kevin Sherman was dismissed as wide receivers coach; Wednesday, Pitt confirmed that Chris Beatty has been hired as Sherman’s replacement.

Sherman spent the past three seasons at Maryland as receivers coach.  He also served as co-offensive coordinator and held the title of associate head coach while with the Terrapins.

“Chris is an absolutely outstanding addition to our staff,” Narduzzi said in a statement. “His expertise goes well beyond one position on the offensive side of the ball. That diverse experience is going to be an incredible asset for our players and entire coaching staff. He is also a highly driven recruiter with valuable contacts in so many key areas. We are looking forward to welcoming Chris, his wife Kris and his son Aaron to both Pitt and Pittsburgh.”

Prior to Maryland, Beatty spent time on Power Five coaching staffs at Virginia (2015), Wisconsin (2013-14), Illinois (2012), Vanderbilt (2011) and West Virginia (2008-10).  In addition to receivers, he’s also coaching quarterbacks and running backs.

Cadillac Williams returning to Auburn as RBs coach

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A legend is coming home to The Plains.  Reportedly.

According to  Scout.com and FootballScoop.com among others, Cadillac Williams is set to be named as the next running backs coach at Auburn.  Williams would replace Tim Horton, who moved into an off-field role earlier this month.

An official announcement on Williams’ hiring could come as early as today.

Williams played running back for the Tigers from 2001-04, finishing with 3,831 yards and 45 touchdowns on 741 attempts.  The carries were the most in AU history at the time of his departure, while the yards and touchdowns were second to Bo Jackson.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Williams the fifth pick of the 2005 NFL Draft, and he went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.  H ended up playing seven years in the NFL before retiring following the end of the 2011 season.

The 36-year-old Williams’ coaching career began in 2016 as an offensive graduate assistant at Div. II West Georgia.  He went to IMG Academy in Florida as running backs coach before moving on to the same position the Birmingham franchise in the newly-created Alliance of American Football.

UPDATED 2:36 p.m. ET: Based on a tweet from Auburn football’s official Twitter account, Williams’ return to the Tigers is official.

Police investigating death of FCS player as a suicide

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Sadly, there’s more tragic news involving a college football player on which to report.

According to multiple media outlets, University of Montana Grizzly football player Andrew Harris was found dead at his residence in Missoula Tuesday.  The Missoulian writes that “police are investigating the scene as a suicide.”

Harris was just 22 years old.

“We extend our deepest sympathies to Andrew’s family and friends at this difficult time,” university president Seth Bodnar said in a statement sent out to the Missoulian. “The entire UM family mourns his loss and our hearts go out to all who knew him.”

A redshirt junior, Harris was a defensive lineman who played in 11 games during his time with the Griz.  Our thoughts, prayers and condolences going out to all of those impacted by Harris’ passing.

And for those in the reading audience: The phone number for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.  Please, pick up the phone and call that number if you ever get to the point where you feel like you just can’t go on.  Or call somebody, anybody.