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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:

Following pregame speeches from President Trump, Navy leads Army at halftime

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For the second consecutive year, President Donald Trump is taking in the annual Army-Navy Game in person in Philadelphia. And, as is typically the case in this storied rivalry, it’s been a tight contest after 30 minutes of play in Lincoln Financial Field with Navy leading Army 14-7 at halftime.

Army quarterback Christian Anderson became the first quarterback to make his first career start for Army in the Army-Navy Game since T.D. Baker did so in 1979. It sure didn’t take long for the freshman to have an impact. After going three-and-out to open the game, Anderson rattled off a 21-yard gain on the ground on the first play of Army’s second possession. 17 plays later (yes, 17 plays later), Anderson finished off the drive with a five-yard run to the right edge of the field for a touchdown, the first score of the game.

Malcolm Perry provided a jolt to the Navy offense on the second offensive series for the Midshipmen, although in much quicker fashion compared to the lengthy Army drive. Perry took off to the right side and juked a defender en route to a 55-yard touchdown that tied the game up early in the second quarter. The 55-yard touchdown run also moved Perry into first place in the Navy record books for most single-season total offensive yards. He later became Navy’s all-time single-season rushing leader as he continued to rewrite the record books in Annapolis.

Perry provided another juke move in a very similar play on a 44-yard run late in the first half. That run setup the go-ahead score. Naturally, a play similar to the Philly Special run by the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl two seasons ago, Navy took the lead with a fake play that saw receiver Chance Warren complete a pass to fullback Jamale Carothers. It wasn’t exactly a Philly Special, but this gam,e being played in the home of the Philadelphia Eagles, it felt appropriate.

President Trump took a few minutes to address each team in the locker room prior to walking on the field for the national anthem and coin flip. A video message from Trump was also played in the stadium during the pregame routine.

Army has won each of the last three meetings and is looking for a long-awaited four-game winning streak.

Florida State RB Cam Akers declares for NFL draft, will skip bowl game

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One of college football’s most talented running backs is moving on to the NFL. Florida State running back Cam Akers has declared for the NFL draft. As most players do, Akers announced his decision with a statement released on his Twitter account on Saturday afternoon.

“I have decided to enter the 2020 NFL Draft and will not play in the Sun Bowl, ” Akers confirmed, ruling himself out of the bowl game for the Seminoles coming up. “Even though I won’t be playing in the bowl game I will be at practice and in El Paso supporting my teammates.”

Akers rushed for 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns for Florida State this season, both more than good enough to lead the team. It was the second time Akers rushed for over 1,000 yards for the Seminoles, having done so in 2017 while rushing for 706 yards in 2018. Akers also caught 30 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns this season.

Florida State will face Arizona State in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl on Dec. 31.

Georgia RB James Cook arrested on pair of misdemeanor charges

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If Ye Olde Arrest Tracker were still around, it’d be time to set the ticker back to double zeroes.

The latest FBS program with an off-field issue with which to deal is Georgia, with multiple media outlets reporting that running back James Cook was arrested early Saturday morning following a traffic stop in Athens.  According to the Athens Banner-Herald, Cook, the brother of former Florida State star Dalvin Cook, was charged with driving without a valid license and possession of an open container of alcohol in a passenger area.

Both of those charges are misdemeanors.

At this point, the football program has not publicly commented on the development.  It’s unclear if the incident will impact Cook’s availability for the Sugar Bowl vs. Baylor on New Year’s Day.

Cook was a four-star member of UGA’s 2018 recruiting class, rated as the No. 3 all-purpose back in the country; the No. 8 player at any position in the state of Florida; and the No. 41 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  He has rushed for 460 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons, including 176 and two in 2019.

New USF head coach Jeff Scott lands second Power Five transfer RB

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It’s been quite the productive first few days on the Power Five personnel front for Jeff Scott.

Monday, it was confirmed that the Clemson co-offensive coordinator had been named as the next head football coach at South Florida.  Two days later, former South Carolina running back Lavonte Valentine announced that he would be continuing his collegiate playing career at USF.

Friday, yet another running back decided to transfer into Scott’s program, with Darrian Felix announcing via Twitter that he will transfer to USF and continue his collegiate p[laying career with the Bulls.  Felix, who decided to transfer from Oregon following the Pac-12 championship game, will be eligible to play immediately for the AAC school in 2020.

A three-star member of the Ducks’ 2017 recruiting class, Felix ran for 426 yards and three touchdowns on 78 carries during his three years in Eugene.  This past season, the redshirt sophomore totaled 197 yards and a pair of touchdowns on his 34 carries.