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ECU passing duo among 11 players accepting Senior Bowl invite

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With the 2014 college football season heading down the final stretch the Senior Bowl is beginning to put together its roster for 2015 game. The Senior Bowl is the top all-star game for senior college football players heading to the NFL, and it serves as one of the premier offseason events leading up to the NFL Draft. On Monday the Senior Bowl announced 11 players have already accepted invites to play in the 2015 game in Mobile, Alabama.

East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy were among the first players to accept their invites. Penn State safety Adrian Amos and linebacker Mike Hull, Navy long snapper Joseph Cardona, Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis, Michigan State free safety Kurtis Drummond, Oklahoma linebacker Geneo Grissom, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard also accepted invitations to play in the Senior Bowl.

The Senior Bowl also announced two players from the FCS has accepted his invite. Northern Iowa running back David Johnson and Samford free safety Jaquiski Tartt will look to show what they can do against some of college football’s best.

“We are so pleased that these invited players have responded so quickly in accepting to play in our 2015 game,” Reese’s Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage said. “The importance of this event in the timeline of the NFL Draft cannot be understated and these prospects really understand the opportunity here.”

The Senior Bowl will be played Saturday, January 24, 2015 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.

Iowa DT Darian Cooper undergoes season-ending surgery

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The Iowa Hawkeyes have one of the top defensive tackle tandems in college football with seniors Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat. However, the team’s depth along the defensive interior is now in question after junior Darian Cooper required season-ending surgery.

The exact nature of the injury has yet to be divulged, but Cooper announced he will miss the entire season on Facebook.

Cooper played in all 25 games the past two seasons as a backup defensive lineman. In 2013, Cooper recorded 18 tackles and a sack.

With Cooper out of the lineup, the Hawkeyes will have to rely heavily on sophomore Jaleel Johnson as the team’s third defensive tackle.

“Coop has got some good skills,” defensive line coach Reese Morgan told The Gazette’s Marc Morehouse prior to fall camp. “We would like to have some guys inside that have some girth that can stand up against the run.”

Cooper is listed at 282 pounds, while Johnson is 6-4 and 310 pounds. Redshirt freshman Nathan Bazata will likely serve as the Hawkeyes’ fourth defensive tackle with Cooper out of the lineup. But Bazata is much closer in size to Cooper than he is Johnson.

The team’s depth up front is crucial for Iowa’s defense. First, the ability to keep Davis and Trinca-Pasat fresh is important for both seniors to play at a high level. Plus, Iowa’s relies heavily on the play of its linebackers for the defensive scheme to work properly. If Johnson and Bazata can’t hold the point of attack and allow blockers to get to the linebackers, Iowa’s defense will be gashed when the backup defensive tackles are on the field.

Cooper was an important piece to the puzzle for the Hawkeyes this season. Unfortunately, his role now will be to recover, rehabilitate and prepare to replace either Davis or Trinca-Pasat as a starter next season.

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)

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 25 Iowa

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2013 record: 8-5 overall, 5-3 in Big Ten (3rd in Legends division)
2013 postseason: Outback Bowl vs. LSU (21-14 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked
Head coach: Kirk Ferentz (108-79 overall; 108-79 in 16 years at Iowa)
Offensive coordinator: Greg Davis (3rd year at Iowa)
2013 offensive rankings: 51st rushing offense (179.85 ypg); 95th passing offense (197.1 ypg); 85th total offense (376.9 ypg); 79th scoring offense (26.3 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 8
Defensive coordinator: Phil Parker (16th year at Iowa)
2013 defensive rankings: 19th rushing defense (128.38 ypg); 9th passing defense (174.7 ypg); 6th total defense (303.1 ypg); 9th scoring defense (18.9 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 5
Location: Iowa City, Iowa
Stadium: Kinnick Stadium (70,585; Field Turf)
Last conference title: 2004 (split with Michigan)

THE GOOD
Iowa returns eight starters on offense, including quarterback Jake Rudock, leading rusher Mark Weisman, leading receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and three offensive linemen.The schedule is also favorable by avoiding conference games against Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State. In addition, Iowa gets Wisconsin and Nebraska at home in what could turn out to be two crucial games in the Big Ten West at the end fo the season.

THE BAD
Although Iowa generally has a solid defensive unit, there are some holes to fill on that side of the football in 2014. Iowa loses six starters from last year’s team, including all three linebackers and a pair of defensive backs. Three of those lost defensive leaders accounted for 322 tackles last season. Four of the top five tacklers from last year’s team are gone, which means there is room for new players to step up into big roles this fall at Iowa. It is a considerable amount of turnover for the Hawkeyes defense, but Iowa will have some time to figure it all out before Big Ten play.

THE UNKNOWN
Is this an Iowa team that resurfaces every few years to make a Big Ten run when few are paying attention, or will this be another year of mediocre to slightly above average play? Health stability is always a concern for Iowa it seems and it could quickly derail any high hopes Iowa may have for this season. The schedule sets things up nicely for Iowa, but the Hawkeyes still have to prove they can grab a hold of things. Ball State may not be a pushover but they will not be Northern Illinois (which beat Iowa last season). Iowa State can always be a toss-up it seems, and a road game at Pittsburgh should be a good test before Big Ten play. Can Iowa get out of that early stretch without a blemish or will they be limping into Big Ten play already?

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Minnesota
Iowa’s schedule is very favorable when it comes to Big Ten play. As long as the Hawkeyes can avoid slipping up before November, the final two games of the season at home against Wisconsin and Nebraska could leave the Hawkeyes in control of the West Division championship. But before Iowa can worry about that they will have to come out of Minnesota with a win on November 8. If all goes to plan before then, this will be Iowa’s last real road challenge before entering the final stretch of the season. Iowa has won each of the previous two meetings with the Gophers by double digits, but they will not be able to get too confident this season with so much possibly on the line. Win and the Big Ten West could be theirs to lose. Lose and they will likely lose ground to Wisconsin and/or Nebraska with time running out.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: RB Mark Weisman
Weisman for Heisman? That may be a reach, but his importance to Iowa team this year is not to be taken lightly.  After leading the Hawkeyes in rushing with 975 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago, Mark Weisman appears to be ready to lead the charge on the ground once again this fall. When Iowa succeeds it is often because they have a talented running back in the backfield. Weisman may not be as high-profile as Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon or Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, but he should be expected to pile up some good yardage this season for Iowa.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Bednarik Award watch list names 76 players

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Watchlist season continued Monday with the release of the 2014 Chuck Bednarik Award watch list by the Maxwell Football Club. A total of 76 players were named to the watch list.

The Chuck Bednarik Award is awarded to the nation’s top defensive player as determined by the Maxwell Football Club. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald was named the Bednarik Award winner each of the first two years the award was presented (1995 and 1996), and Penn State has had four Bednarik Award winners, the most of any school. Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald was the 2013 Bednarik Award winner.

This year’s watch list includes three of last year’s semifinalists, Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and USC defensive end Leonard Williams. Georgia has three linebackers on the watch list and Stanford continues to gain respect on defense with four players named to the watch list.

Here is the 2014 Bednarik Award watch list:

DE Henry Anderson, Stanford

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson

DT Michael Bennett, Ohio State

DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State

LB Kelby Brown, Duke

DT Malcom Brown, Texas

DE Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State

CB Alex Carter, Stanford

S Sam Carter, TCU

S Jeremy Cash, Duke

DE Frank Clark, Michigan

S Landon Collins, Alabama

DT Christian Covington, Rice

S Su’a Cravens, USC

DT Carl Davis, Iowa

LB Trey DePriest, Alabama

CB Quandre Diggs, Texas

CB Lorenzo Doss, Tulane

S Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State

DE Alvin Dupree, Kentucky

DE Mario Edwards, Florida State

CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon

LB Kyler Fackrell, Utah State

DE Devonte Fields, TCU

DE Try Flowers, Arkansas

LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia

DE Dante Fowler, Florida

CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech

DE Markus Golden, Missouri

DE Randy Gregory, Nebrska

LB Bryce Hager, Baylor

CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

DE Eli Harold, Virginia

S Anthony Harris, Virginia

LB Ben Heeney, Kansas

DT Chucky Hunter, TCU

DE Martin Ifedl, Memphis

LB Myles Jack, UCLA

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson

LB Jordan Jenkins, Georgia

LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee

S Karl Joseph, West Virginia

LB Eric Kendricks, UCLA

LB Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington

CB Jordan Lucas, Penn State

DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech

LB Tyler Matakevich, Temple

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville

LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State

DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State

DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor

DE Norkeithus Otis, North Carolina

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami

LB Terrance Plummer, UCF

S Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

LB Hayes Pullard, USC

DE Cedric Reed, Texas

S Jordan Richards, Stanford

DE A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama

DT James Rouse, Marshall

CB KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame

LB Jake Ryan, Michigan

LB Frank Shannon, Oklahoma

DT Danny Shelton, Washington

S Derron Smith, Fresno State

LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame

LB Eric Striker, Oklahoma

DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma

LB A.J. Tarpley, Stanford

S Robenseon Therezie, Auburn

LB Shaq Thompson, Washington

CB Trae Waynes, Michigan State

DE Leonard Williams, USC

CB P.J. Williams, Florida State

LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia

Earlier today the Paul Hornung Award watch list was released. The Maxwell Award watch list was released alongside the Bednarik Award watch list as well.