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CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: The Big Ten

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For the first time in the brief history of the College Football Playoff, the Big Ten found itself without a playoff representative last season. But in 2018, the conference appears to be stocked with teams worthy of being on the playoff radar as the season begins and there are a handful of programs in the early stages of turning things around and growing with fresh new leadership over the past couple of seasons. Whoever comes out on top of the Big Ten will certainly have earned it given the road any school will have to travel to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game, but will it end up being enough to justify waving the Big Ten flag in the College Football Playoff?

Ohio State has made the most trips to the playoff among Big Ten programs, including winning the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship, but the season begins with a dark cloud flying above Ohio Stadium with head coach Urban Meyer serving a three-game suspension. Fortunately, Ohio State should be in good position to weather the storm thanks to young offensive stars like J.K. Dobbins running the ball and Dwayne Haskins anointed as the starting quarterback. But it will be the defense, led by Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones on the defensive line, that carries Ohio State early on, including a road trip to Arlington to play TCU. Ohio State’s playoff bubble could hinge on the September schedule with the TCU game and a road trip to Penn State at the end of September.

Penn State was maddeningly close to making the playoff last year, but losing two games by a combined four points in back-to-back weeks leaves the football program hungry for more. And with Ohio State and Michigan State each coming to Happy Valley early in Big Ten play, James Franklin‘s Nittany Lions have a chance to make some noise early on despite a significant amount of turnover on defense and key losses on the offense. Despite the changes, having the Big Ten’s top quarterback in Trace McSorley should allow for some smooth transition while the rest of the pieces come together. Miles Sanders will not be Saquon Barkley, but he may not have to be running the football. Penn State’s best offensive line depth in years should be noticeable and a home schedule that also brings Wisconsin to Beaver Stadium puts Penn State in position to make a playoff case of their own.

Elsewhere in a stacked East Division is, of course, Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. Harbaugh may have the Big Ten’s top defense with players like Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich on the ends of the line and Lavert Hill playing corner. and the hope is transfer quarterback Shea Patterson will be a dramatic improvement for the entire offense. An early trip to Notre Dame should be a good litmus test for what the Wolverines will do this season. Meanwhile, Michigan State will continue to chug along and be a factor in the East race with 19 starters back from last year’s team.

Wisconsin has become the easy pick in the West Division, and they are a popular pick once again this season as the most reliable program in the West. But they are not without some potential hurdles as well. A challenging road schedule (Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State… Purdue?) and just three returning starters on defense to go with questionable quarterback consistency from Alex Hornibrook is a lot to counter-balance the expected strong running game led by a monster offensive line paving the way for sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor, a popular preseason Heisman Trophy favorite. The West is littered with programs in rebuilding modes like Minnesota, Purdue and now Nebraska with Scott Frost, but Northwestern is always ready to pull an upset or two and this could just be one of those years where Iowa makes a run.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

BIG TEN EAST DIVISION

  1. Penn State
  2. Ohio State
  3. Michigan State
  4. Michigan
  5. Maryland
  6. Rutgers
  7. Indiana

BIG TEN WEST DIVISION

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Iowa
  3. Northwestern
  4. Minnesota
  5. Nebraska
  6. Purdue
  7. Illinois

IN SHORT:

NDSU promotes Matt Entz to replace new Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman

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North Dakota State is sticking with what works. Namely, that includes promoting from within.

The program announced on Thursday that defensive coordinator Matt Entz will indeed become the Bison’s next head coach in the coming weeks, taking over the job from new Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman after he was hired by the Big 12 school earlier this week.

“Having watched Matt as the defensive coordinator for the past five years, I knew he possessed the qualities to be the head football coach at North Dakota State: leadership, integrity, toughness, and a sincere appreciation for the history and tradition of Bison football,” ,” AD Matt Larsen said. “I’m eager to work with Coach Entz and his staff as they continue building upon the championship tradition of Bison football.”

This will be Entz’ first head coaching gig and comes after serving the past five years as NDSU’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Prior to joining Klieman’s staff, he found plenty of success as a DC at previous stops with FCS Western Illinois and Northern Iowa.

“Great things happen to great people, and I am so happy for the Entz family,” Klieman added. “Matt is the right guy for the job. I know the Bison will have unbelievable success. The program is in great hands.”

Both Klieman and Entz will remain in their current roles with NDSU until the conclusion of their FCS playoff run before moving on to their new gigs. The former had been promoted once Craig Bohl left for Wyoming a few years ago and that’s worked out just fine for the Bison so it appears the school has no qualms at going back to the well and doing the same thing with the latter. Entz certainly understands expectations around the ol’ Fargo Dome going forward, which includes this weekend’s upcoming semifinal game against South Dakota State.

Texas Tech regents approve $20 million football facility renovation, may expand alcohol sales at stadium too

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Seemingly like clockwork, when a Power Five school hires a new head coach they typically will wind up improving facilities in some fashion shortly thereafter. Consider that the case at Texas Tech following the ouster of Kliff Kingsbury and the recent hire of Matt Wells to lead the football program.

The school’s board of regents met on Thursday down in Lubbock and among the agenda items was approving a $20 million renovation to the team’s football facilities. As is nearly always the case in the state, the project was naturally approved and will move forward, per the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, as soon as Wells is able to sign off on any changes he wants to the plans:

That wasn’t the only football-related move on the agenda for the Red Raiders however, as athletic director Kirby Hocutt put in his pitch to open up beer and wine sales at Jones AT&T Stadium as soon as the upcoming season.

As noted above, there are numerous Big 12 schools who have opened the taps in general seating areas over the years. Oklahoma State was the most recent to do so in 2018 but it’s been brought back at Texas and West Virginia, among others, to great success (i.e. $$$) the past few years.

Holy Cross AD reportedly set to take same position at Air Force after lengthy search

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Air Force appears to finally have their man to lead the Falcons’ athletic department.

Some eight months after former AD Jim Knowlton departed for California, it appears the program is on the verge of plucking Holy Cross AD Nathan Pine to fill the same position in Colorado Springs. The Worcester Telegram & Gazette first reported the news.

Col. Jennifer Block has served as interim athletic director in the wake of Knowlton’s departure but it’s clear that the Air Force has always wanted to keep a civilian in the top post long term. To that end, this will be the first time the Falcons’ AD will be hired and paid under the umbrella athletics corporation at the school, per the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Pine has a lengthy background out West despite spending the past five years leading the Crusaders. An Oregon State alum, he has worked for the Beavers and fellow Pac-12 program California as well. In addition, he’s made stops at Maryland and, funny enough, academy rival Army too.

New Temple head coach Manny Diaz will coach Miami in Pinstripe Bowl, Hurricanes keep Turnover Chain too

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Temple introduced new head coach Manny Diaz on Thursday afternoon in Philadelphia but it appears their latest hire will be splitting his duties for the next month or so with both his new program and his old one.

Speaking to reporters on campus, Diaz confirmed that he would stick around Miami over the coming month in order to coach the Hurricanes in their Pinstripe Bowl matchup against Wisconsin. That will mean he’ll be recruiting and hiring his Owls staff in parallel to his old duties as defensive coordinator under Mark Richt.

Also notable from the introductory press conference was a topic of great importance to some: the Turnover Chain. One of the most eye-opening displays of ‘The U’ returning to national prominence last season, the Diaz-created item led to numerous copycats across college football. It appears as though the chain won’t be headed north with the coach though and will remain a tradition in Coral Gables going forward.

Interestingly, Temple opted to use a dry erase board on the sidelines as their prop under former coach Geoff Collins. While players could write a message or their Twitter handle on it after a turnover, something says that won’t be the only aspect of the program that Diaz puts his stamp on over the coming months in Philly.