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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:

Report: Dan Lanning receives nod as Georgia’s next defensive coordinator

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When Mel Tucker left Georgia to be the head coach at Colorado, it was clear Kirby Smart‘s next defensive coordinator was already on his staff. It would either be Glenn Schumann or Dan Lanning, two 30-something whiz kids who split linebacker duties for the Bulldogs (Schumann inside, Lanning outside).

We got a window into Smart’s thinking during the Sugar Bowl, when Lanning was chosen to lead the defensive huddles and represent the defense in press conference setting. Georgia lost that game to Texas, but it was apparently enough for Smart to know his original hunch was correct as Seth Emerson reported Friday for The Athletic that Lanning will be Georgia’s next defensive coordinator.

While Schumann did not win the rose, he’s not going home (or, in this case, staying put) empty handed. According to Emerson, Schumann will be Georgia’s co-defensive coordinator, and both will net massive raises. After both made $325,000 in 2018, Lanning will make $750,000 in 2019 while Schumann will earn $550,000. The 2018 season was Lanning’s first at Georgia, while Schumann followed Smart over from Alabama. Lanning spent 2016-17 as the inside linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator at Memphis. The 32-year-old was a high school assistant coach in Missouri as recently as 2010.

All eight returning assistants will net raises, per Emerson, but the overall staff pool will go down after losing Tucker’s $1.5 million salary. (Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and his $950,000 salary also left for Tennessee, but previously-announced promotion James Coley will also make $950,000, a $100,000 increase from 2018.)

Coley, Lanning and Schumann aren’t the only coaches being rewarded for sticking around — in title as well as salary. Offensive line coach Sam Pittman will be Smart’s new associate head coach, running backs coach Dell McGee will be the running game coordinator and wide receivers coach Cortez Hankton will be the passing game coordinator.

Seven new assistants highlight Alabama’s 2019 coaching staff

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It’s become an annual thing at this point: Nick Saban‘s assistants, ready to see the sun again after life on Planet Saban, hop aboard the first spaceship that flies by, so Alabama simply reloads and hires essentially a new staff.

While many of the hires had trickled out over the past six weeks or so, Alabama on Friday announced Saban’s full 2019 on-field coaching staff:

Steve Sarkisian — Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Charles Huff — Associate head coach/running backs
Holmon Wiggins — Wide receivers
Kyle Flood — Offensive line
Jeff Banks — Tight ends/special teams coordinator

Pete Golding — Defensive coordinator/inside linebackers
Brian Baker — Associate head coach/defensive line
Charles Kelly — Associate defensive coordinator/safeties
Sal Sunseri — Outside linebackers
Karl Scott — Cornerbacks

“We are excited to be able to assemble such a talented group of coaches to develop our players both on and off the field,” Saban said. “These coaches have a great mix of energy, enthusiasm and experience that will be a tremendous asset to our program. They are all excellent teachers of the game and fantastic recruiters who bring a wealth of experience to our staff.”

Only Golding, Banks and Scott were on Alabama’s staff for the title game beat down the Tide suffered at Clemson’s hand last month.

Sarkisian, of course, called plays for Alabama’s first title game loss to Clemson before leaving to become the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator, where he was scapegoated for the club’s failure to make the playoffs last season. Flood, the former Rutgers head coach, was Atlanta’s assistant offensive line coach for the past two seasons. He was also under a show-cause that did not expire until September.

Huff and Baker worked together at Mississippi State, while Sunseri was the defensive line coach at Florida and Wiggins the wideouts coach at Virginia Tech. Kelly spent 2018 as the safeties coach and special teams coordinator at Tennessee but is best remembered for his run as the defensive coordinator at Florida State.

Not among the names announced Friday: Butch Jones. The former Tennessee head coach spent 2018 as an analyst for Saban but did not get promoted to the varsity for 2019.

BYU taps Texas State’s Eric Mateos as new OL coach

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Kalani Sitake‘s coaching staff is whole again.

In mid-January, Troy announced that it had hired BYU offensive line coach Ryan Pugh as the Sun Belt Conference program’s offensive coordinator.  A month later, Sitake filled that hole by announcing the hiring of Eric Mateos as the Cougars’ new line coach.

Mateos has a connection to Sitake’s BYU staff as he worked in 2016 as an offensive line graduate assistant under Jeff Grimes, who is now the Cougars’ offensive coordinator.  That same season, Mateos was promoted to tight ends coach following the dismissal of Les Miles as head coach.

“Eric is a great person with quality character that will fit in phenomenally with our players and staff,” Grimes said in a statement. “He will take our young group a step further and is a master at building confidence and group cohesiveness. I know our players will really respond well to him.”

The past two seasons, Mateos has worked at Texas State as the Bobcats’ line coach.

North Texas turns to FCS Eastern Washington for new OC

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Nearly three weeks after losing its offensive coordinator to a Pac-12 school, Seth Littrell has filled that void on his North Texas coaching staff by dipping down to a lower level of football.

UNT has confirmed via a press release that Littrell has tapped Bodie Reeder as his new offensive coordinator.  Reeder replaces Graham Harrell, who left late last month to take the same job at USC.

The 32-year-old Reeder has spent the past two seasons as the coordinator at FCS Eastern Washington.  Prior to that, Reeder served as an offensive quality control coach working with quarterbacks at Oklahoma State for three seasons.

“Coach Reeder is one of the brightest young offensive minds in the country and we are happy to have the opportunity to bring him to Denton,” the head coach said in a statement. “He has been successful at all of his career stops at several levels of college football, most recently at Eastern Washington and Oklahoma State. I can’t wait to bring him into our family and culture and give him the opportunity to leave a great mark on our program.”

Reeder began his coaching career at Wisconsin-Stout after graduating from Eastern Illinois in 2010, spending his time at the Div. III program as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.