CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Big Ten Predictions

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As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the Big Ten. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

BIG TEN EAST

1. Michigan State (Last year: 13-1; beat Stanford in Rose Bowl)
Michigan State will have the best defense in the Big Ten, despite losing some key players from 2013. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will figure out how to get the most out of his defense and players like defensive end Shilque Calhoun and safety Kurtis Drummond will help make that task easier. The defending champs will be unlikely to start so slow on offense this season, as they did in 2013, with quarterback Connor Cook back and seasoned (and most importantly, confident). Michigan State’s offense should be balanced and reliant on the run with Jeremy Langford coming off 1,422 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Getting Ohio State at home is key as far as Big Ten play is concerned, but a week two trip to Oregon could keep the Spartans playing catch-up in the playoff discussion from the start.

2. Ohio State (Last year: 12-2; lost to Clemson in Orange Bowl)
Here’s the thing with Ohio State. With or without quarterback Braxton Miller, Ohio State may still be the best team in the Big Ten this season, but with Miller lost for the entire season the idea of Ohio State running through the regular season unscathed becomes much less likely. In a season that was expected to be layoff or bust, the Buckeyes may have already gone bust, but this is still a talented team that could be favored in every game of the season, with the likely exception of a road trip to East Lansing in early November. JT Barrett will take over under center, lacking much experience and with a fraction of the potential of a healthy Miller, but the Buckeyes will find some ways to make it work. Afterall it is not as though the rest of the roster is lacking for players ready to leave their mark. Look for Ohio State to get a bit tougher on defense this season, with Michael Bennett anchoring the defensive line and Noah Spence on the edge after serving a suspension.

3. Michigan (Last year: 7-6; lost to Kansas State in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
Is this the year Brady Hoke turns the Michigan trends back in his favor? Only a handful of players on the roster now were not recruited by his staff, so his stamp is officially on this Michigan football program. The addition of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier comes with high expectations for improving the offense, which was dismal at times in protecting quarterback Devin Gardner and protecting the football. This was a team on the brink of losing at home to Akron but a play away from taking out Ohio State. You try figuring this Michigan team out. Moving tight end Devin Funchess to wide receiver was needed to improve the receiving position and should work well, and the running backs look to improve as well. Michigan’s defense is in the most in need of improving, cutting down on big plays allowed being the biggest concern. Adding star recruit Jabrill Peppers at defensive back could give a boost in that area.

4. Penn State (Last year: 7-5)
The James Franklin era gets underway with great enthusiasm but lingering concerns over roster depth. Penn State will have the talent at positions to do some good things and win a game they probably shouldn’t along the way (Ohio State and Michigan State at home?), but the depth concerns to lose a game they probably should not (Indiana in Bloomington, again?). The light at the end of the tunnel is there for Penn State, which is good news. Penn State also has one of the best young quarterbacks in the nation with sophomore Christian Hackenberg. Offensive line concerns are legitimate of course, as they have been for years, but if Hackenberg stays healthy the offense can be effective. The defense on the other hand, could use some playmakers and some more brute force up front to bring pressure on opposing QBs and close down running lanes.

5. Maryland (Last year: 7-6; lost to Marshall in Military Bowl as ACC member)
Maryland receives no favors on the schedule in their debut season as a member of the Big Ten, but the Terrapins join the new conference with possibly the best wide receiver unit in the conference. Stefon Diggs has the ability to break open a big play at any moment, and he plays in a division that sees some weaknesses in secondaries all over (except Michigan State). And do not forget about Levern Jacobs and Deon Long. Maryland’s biggest concern is keeping quarterback C.J. Brown upright to be able to get those receivers the football. The defense hit walls against explosive offenses in 2013 but returns a good number of upperclassmen, which is usually nice. A fourth-place finish is not all that unrealistic, but probably a reach for Maryland in 2014.

6. Indiana (Last year: 5-7)
The Hoosiers have an offense that is capable of giving every team in the Big Ten some fits. Credit head coach Kevin Wilson for making that happen since he arrived in Bloomington, but the defense is not a unit that will cause much fear on a weekly basis. The Hoosiers averaged 38.4 points per game last season, but the defense allowed 38.8 points per game. If the defense can just improve a little bit, then the Hoosiers should be seriously thinking about making plans for a postseason bowl game. It could be a rough start with the schedule though with road games at Bowling Green and Missouri. Getting to six wins may be a reach for Indiana unless they can get off to a good start. Running back Tevin Coleman could become one of the top running backs int he Big Ten.

7. Rutgers (Last year: 6-7; lost to Notre Dame in Pinstripe Bowl)
Rutgers is going to have a tall mountain to climb in year one in the Big Ten. Rutgers must go on the road to Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State and hosts Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Getting to six wins to return to the postseason is a reach for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers does add Ralph Friedgen as offensive coordinator, which should result in some better scheming and preparation, but Gary Nova is still the best option at quarterback and Rutgers has lost some key players over the last couple of years. Experience is thin. The defense could be picked apart by most teams n the schedule, which should be a constant area of focus for Rutgers.

BIG TEN WEST

1. Wisconsin (Last year: 9-4; lost to South Carolina in Capital One Bowl)
The Badgers fell shy of playing for yet another Big Ten championship last season, but now in a new division it looks as though Wisconsin has the easiest road to travel back to Indianapolis this fall. The Badgers will be led by one of the top running backs in the country, Melvin Gordon, and have a schedule worthy of legitimate playoff consideration if things go their way. A season-opening game against LSU in Cowboys Stadium is far from impossible and a home game against Bowling green should deserve more respect than it may get. Avoiding Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State in crossover games is nice too. On offense there is a need to see some players step up to support Gordon and quarterback Joel Stave needs to be a bit more consistent. The defense will be good, not great, but needs to find a way to create more turnovers in 2014.

2. Iowa (Last year: 8-5; lost to LSU in Outback Bowl)
The Hawkeyes may not dazzle with their style of play, but it should be effective enough to make a realistic run to an appearance in the Big Ten championship game. The Hawkeyes are anchored on the offensive line by left tackle Brandon Scherff and the rest of the line should do well in creating space for running back Mark Weisman. Iowa’s offense is designed to win some ugly games, and the defense should be capable of allowing for that to happen. Defensive tackle Carl Davis will lead the way up front along with defensive end Drew Ott. Iowa allowed just 18.9 points per game last season. The most challenging game on the schedule before late November may be a road game at Pittsburgh, but Iowa ends the regular season with Wisconsin and Nebraska at home on back-to-back weeks, with the division potentially on the line and Iowa in control of its own path.

3. Nebraska (Last year: 9-4; beat Georgia in Gator Bowl)
Nebraska will also have one of the top running backs in the Big Ten and the nation with Ameer Abdullah, but the Cornhuskers have some work to do in improving the supporting cast to become a top contender in the Big Ten. The Huskers will have some help on the defense with Randy Gregory entering the season as one of the top defensive ends in the conference, but Nebraska’s defense is a long time removed from the great defenses of the past. Bo Pelini‘s team has been consistent with the win total, but inconsistent on a game-to-game basis at times. With road games at Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa, it looks like Nebraska could be staring at another nine-win season.

4. Minnesota (Last year: 8-5; lost to Syracuse in Texas Bowl)
Head coach Jerry Kill has done a tremendous job with building something at Minnesota, but the bar may have been reached by the Gophers for now. Minnesota needs to see big leaps from multiple positions in order to make a run at a top three finish in the west division. Minnesota needs consistency out of the quarterback position from Mitch Leidner. Running back David Cobb should help take some pressure off Leidner, but there will be a time when Minnesota needs a big third-down completion. The schedule is a challenge as well, with a road game at TCU and back-to-back road games in conference play at Nebraska and Wisconsin to end the regular season.

5. Northwestern (Last year: 5-7)
The Wildcats were a trendy pick by many in the west division throughout the offseason, but the late departure of Venric Mark and the loss of wide receiver Christian Jones will take a big toll on Northwestern’s offense, which was to be the strength of the team for head coach Pat Fitzgerald. That is a lot of offensive production lost by the Wildcats, and that does not even account for a new full-time starting quarterback in Trevor Siemian. Fortunately, Siemian is not without some experience in this offense without Mark, with Treyvon Green playing a solid role last fall. On defense, linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo will rack up the tackle numbers but the rest of the defense can be exposed and the special teams break in a new kicker and punter.

6. Illinois (Last year: 4-8)
What will save head coach Tim Beckman? Three years in, Illinois needs to make a push for a postseason game if the heat is going to be turned down on Beckman’s job security. To get there, the Illini defense needs to improve in a hurry. The Illinois defense was shredded routinely last season and the offense was unable to keep up. Adding quarterback Wes Lunt after sitting out the 2013 season should help stabilize the offense, and should help the Illini keep up with the opposition, but the defense needs to find away to come up with some turnovers after not being able to last fall. re there six wins on the schedule? Yes, but it will be a battle to get there until the defense starts showing signs of improvement.

7. Purdue (Last year: 1-11)
There is nowhere to go but up for Purdue, hopefully. A trip to the postseason is a dream at this point, but the Boilermakers should make some improvements this fall. Head coach Darrell Hazell is in year two and the team should be starting to find its identity. On offense, Purdue managed just 14.9 points per game last season and the defense allowed 38.0 points per game. What should the realistic goal for Purdue be in 2014? Getting an extra touchdown per game and cutting one on defense would be a nice way to go. It still will not result in a winning season, but it would be a huge step in the right direction.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Michigan State over Wisconsin

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Randy Edsall had an oopsie moment on Twitter

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Being a head football coach that is connected on Twitter can lead to some unfortunate moments you’d like to have back. In the case of UConn head coach Randy Edsall on Monday evening, a possible quick retweet of a link definitely came at the wrong time.

In a flurry of retweets showing off the recently renovated locker rooms the UConn Huskies will be using, it seems Edsall may have accidentally retweeted a link to a story that essentially suggests UConn is passing on its chance to be a big-time college football program. A tweet briefly retweeted by Edsall linked to a column by Mark Blaudschun of College Sports Maven. In his column, Blaudschun wrote about the recent headlines about UConn leaving the AAC to join the Big East in basketball and leave the football program stranded in uncharted waters.

“But the issue of football remains and there is really no answer that can make UConn a major player in the wide world of big time college football,” Blaudschun writes. “The dye has been cast. Big time football at UConn, RIP.”

Certainly, had Edsall read the story, then he would have refrained from retweeting the story. It didn’t take long for Edsall to remove the retweet from his Twitter timeline either.

Edsall has been busy on Twitter over the last couple of days following the reports the school was setting up to rejoin the Big East for basketball without a concrete plan for what will happen with the football program.

When you are tweeting as often as Edsall has been while trying to keep the spirits up for the Huskies football program and their fans, an accidental retweet is easy to let slip by. Mistakes happen. Edsall corrected this one and moved on doing what he needs to do to keep UConn football moving forward regardless of where “forward” actually leads for the program.

The last time the Minnesota Golden Gophers won the national championship…

1960 Minnesota
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Things could be trending in a positive direction for Minnesota under the energetic leadership of P.J. Fleck. After a long string of years of up-and-down seasons ranging from poor to mediocre to the high of a nine-win season in 2016, Fleck and the Gophers surprised a few people in 2018 by pulling together a seven-win season highlighted by a long-awaited victory over Wisconsin and capped by a season-ending bowl victory in the Quick Lane Bowl. The bar is being raised a bit for the boat-rowing Gophers in 2019. The chance to compete for a national championship is still at the end of a great journey for the program, but that doesn’t mean those in the program can’t dream about being the ones to capture the first football national title for the school since 1960.

Minnesota, coached by the coach of the year Murray Warmath and led in the trenches by Outland Trophy winner Tom Brown, split the Big Ten championship with Iowa, although a 27-10 victory over the No. 1 Hawkeyes on Nov. 5, 1960 catapulted the No. 3 Gophers to the top spot in the AP poll. But the very next week, Minnesota was upset by Purdue, 23-14, and Minnesota dropped to No. 4 in the AP poll as a result heading into their final game of the regular season. Minnesota moved back up in the polls with a win against the rival Badgers and No. 1 Missouri being upset at home by Kansas, 23-7. As Big Ten champion, Minnesota traveled west to the play in the Rose Bowl, and they arrived in Pasadena as the No. 1 team in the AP poll as they prepared to face No. 6 Washington, champion of the Athletic Association of Western Universities (which would, of course, later evolve to the Pac-12 we know and love today). Despite already being declared the national champion for the 1960 season, Minnesota was upended by the Huskies, 17-7. Ole Miss would stake their claim to the national title following a 14-6 victory for the No. 2 Rebels over Rice in the Sugar Bowl (Ole Miss would be crowned national champion by the Football Writers Association of America).

Last National Title Season: 1960 (58 years and counting)

Who was President?

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President of the United States the last time Minnesota claimed a national championship season, although 1960 was a time for change in the country in the United States. Perhaps one of the most famous presidential elections of all-time went down in the fall of 1960. Richard Nixon was taken down by Democrat John F. Kennedy.

As for the current Commander-In-Chief, Donald J. Trump was fresh into his teenage years in 1960 and was enrolled at New York Military Academy.

What was on TV?

1960 brought some classic television shows to the TV sets in a growing number of homes. Classics such as “Lassie,” “Dennis the Menace,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Jack Benny Show,” “Candid Camera,” “My Three Sons,” were among the programs across the three networks at the time (NBC, ABC, and CBS). “The Price is Right” was airing on NBC, although the show would later evolve a bit to become the game show you are more likely familiar with today.

Long before “The Simpsons,” it was “The Flinstones” ruling the ratings as a primetime animated show. Bugs Bunny also made a primetime appearance before making the move to Saturday mornings for the next four decades. And Shirley Temple and Glenn Miler had their own television shows at the time as well.

One show that finished its historic run on the airwaves was “I Love Lucy,” as stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz divorced after the final episode of the season in 1960.

What movies were hot?

Ben-Hur was an international winner as the top box office leader in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. But this was a year after the movie was released in the United States. State-side, it was Spartacus dominating the box office as the top movie of the year. Kirk Douglas had everyone shouting “I’m Spartacus!”

But this was also the year for the horror genre with the release of Psycho, directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. The Rat Pack also took to the big screen in the original Ocean’s 11, with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy David Jr., Joey Bishop and more.

What else happened in 1960?

Navy running back Joe Bellino is named the Heisman Trophy winner for the 1960 season. Bellino rushed for 834 yards and caught 17 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns for the Midshipmen in the 1960 season, leading Navy to a 9-2 record and No. 4 in the final AP poll of the season.

Aside from Minnesota and Iowa splitting the Big Ten crown, other conference winners in 1960 included Ole Miss (SEC), Arkansas (Southwest), Missouri (Big Eight), Utah State and Wyoming (Skyline Conference), New Mexico State (Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association), Yale (Ivy League) and Duke (ACC).

Current Minnesota head coach Fleck wasn’t born for another 20 years. Michigan coaching legend Bo Schembechler was an assistant coach for Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was an assistant coach with the Nittany Lions, still five years from becoming the head coach of the program. Nick Saban was seven years old.

The Minnesota Twins were still a year away from playing their first baseball game in franchise history and the Lakers were just moving west to Los Angeles from Minneapolis.

The AFL launched its league in 1960, with the Houston Oilers capturing the first league championship with a 24-16 victory in the AFL championship against the Los Angeles Chargers. In the NFL, it was the Philadelphia Eagles taking down Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers in the NFL championship game.

Bill Mazeroski clinches the World Series championship for the Pittsburgh Pirates with a walk-off home-run in Game 7 against the New York Yankees. The Boston Celtics won the NBA title against the St. Louis Hawks, and the Montreal Canadiens hoisted the Stanley Cup above their heads after a sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Young rising boxer Cassius Clay wins the gold medal in boxing at the Olympics in Rome, and Arnold Palmer won the Masters and U.S. Open for a couple of major tournament victories.

Outside of sports, 1960 was a significant year for the United States with the signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Eisenhower.

Elvis Presley was killing the music charts with the two top singles of 1960 with “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” Chubby Checker came in at No. 3 with “The Twist.”

Has time passed Minnesota by?

time has certainly flown by since Minnesota’s glory days. Since the 1960 season, the Gophers have managed to win eight games or more in a season just a handful of times. One came in the 1961 season, which ended with a Rose Bowl victory. the most recent one came in 2016, with three eight-win seasons in a four-year stretch. It is the best stretch of seasons over a four-year period for the Gophers since winning it all in 1960. The question is if it is possible for Minnesota to climb back to the top of that mountain ever again. While nothing should ever be considered truly impossible, the history and trends would seem to suggest it will be a very steep climb for the program.

The Big Ten has grown, literally, over the years by adding members and some members have created some buffer in how money is brought in and spent to improve their various programs. For Minnesota, keeping up with programs like Ohio State and Michigan is far more difficult to do today than it used to be even with resources like the Big Ten Network. But could Minnesota capture a Big Ten title and get back to the Rose Bowl? If the Big Ten sticks to a division structure and fields a conference championship game the way it is currently constructed, of course, it remains a possibility for Minnesota. It may not happen in 2019, although the Big Ten West could be up for grabs, but the Gophers could become a program that could strike lightning every now and then to reach the Big Ten championship game at the end of the season.

Minnesota hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1961, so Gopher fans have been waiting quite some time to book that trip to Pasadena again.

Former Auburn RB and current Miami RB Asa Martin steps back in transfer portal

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Asa Martin is back in the transfer portal just months after leaving Auburn for Miami. The former Auburn running back reportedly is re-evaluating his options for the upcoming season, as reported by Matt Zenitz of Al.com, via Twitter.

By entering the transfer portal, Martin is free to have contact with any college football coach and program interested in adding him to their program. Martin is also free to withdraw his name form the portal at any time should he choose to stay at Miami.

Martin announced his intention to transfer out of Auburn in early December 2018, shortly after the conclusion of the regular season. Within the next two weeks, Martin was officially heading to Miami for the spring semester. Martin spent one season with the Tigers and appeared in five games, which disqualifies him from preserving a redshirt season under NCAA rules. Martin will still have to sit out the upcoming 2019 season per NCAA transfer rules.

Martin was a member of Auburn’s Class of 2018 as the No. 9 running back in the nation and the No. 6 player overall from the state of Alabama. Martin carried the football 13 times for 57 yards and caught two passes for 36 yards in a Tigers uniform last fall.

Where Martin goes from here remains anyone’s guess. Whether or not Auburn remains a possibility for a return is unknown as well. We’ll keep an eye out on the running back to see where his latest journey into the transfer portal sends him.

Former Florida LB Rayshad Jackson headed to UNLV

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Former Florida linebacker Rayshad Jackson will graduate transfer to UNLV, the player has announced.

“I would like to announce that I am finishing my last year of eligibility as a grad transfer at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas,” he wrote in an iPhone note posted to his Twitter account on Saturday. “Go REBELS!”

A former 3-star recruit out of Miami, Jackson redshirted in 2015, then saw his playing time steadily increase in his three seasons on the active roster: nine games as a special teamer and reserve linebacker in 2016, 11 games with 14 tackles in ’17, and then a perfect 13 appearances with three starts as a redshirt junior last fall. Jackson collected 36 tackles, one pass breakup, three quarterback hurries and 0.5 tackles for loss.

Rather than see if he can climb the mountain to becoming a full-time starter as a fifth-year senior, Jackson elected to move on last month.

As a graduate transfer, Jackson will be eligible to play immediately, and Tony Sanchez‘s bunch will expect him to do just that. UNLV finished No. 118 nationally in yards per play and No. 120 in scoring defense en route to a 4-8 season in 2018.