Jared Abbrederis

East Carolina WR Justin Hardy wins Burlsworth Trophy as nation’s top former walk-on

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East Carolina wide receiver Justin Hardy was famously – and ridiculously – left off the Biletnikoff Award semifinalist list back in November, but he took home a nice consolation prize on Monday. Hardy was named the winner of the Burlsworth Trophy as the nation’s top former walk-on.

He received the honor at a ceremony in Springdale, Ark., on Monday night. The ECU play-maker beat out Mississippi State offensive lineman Ben Beckwith and Iowa running back Mark Weisman.

Last month Hardy surpassed Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles as FBS’s all-time leader in receptions.

Hardy leads the nation in receptions per game (9.17), ranks sixth in receiving yards per game (111.2) and places 20th with nine touchdown grabs.

Hardy is the fifth Burlsworth Trophy winner, joining Sean Benford (Georgia Tech, 2010), Austin Davis (Southern Miss, 2011), Matt McGloin (Penn State, 2012) and Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin, 2013).

The trophy is named in honor of former Arkansas walk-on Brandon Burlsworth, who earned All-America honors in 1998 was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1999 but slain in a car accident before his NFL career began.

Hardy will conclude his collegiate career in the Birmingham Bowl against Florida on Jan. 3.

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 18 Wisconsin

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2013 record: 9-4 overall, 6-2 in Big Ten (2nd in Leaders Division)
2013 postseason: Capital One Bowl vs. South Carolina (34-24 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 22/No. 21
Head coach: Gary Andersen (39-35 overall; 9-4 in 1 year at Wisconsin)
Offensive coordinator: Andy Ludwig (1 year at Wisconsin)
2013 offensive rankings: 8th rushing offense (283.77 ypg); 94th passing offense (197.1 ypg); 18th total offense (480.8 ypg); 27th scoring offense (34.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 6
Defensive coordinator: Dave Aranda (1 year at Wisconsin)
2013 defensive rankings: 5th rushing defense (102.54 ypg); 17th passing defense (202.5 ypg); 7th total defense (305.1 ypg); 6th scoring defense (16.3 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 3
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Stadium: Camp Randall Stadium (80,321; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2012

THE GOOD
Wisconsin has a very favorable draw in the Big Ten scheduling this season, with no Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State. The Badgers also get Nebraska at home late in the season, but must travel to Iowa the following week, and I have already suggested how dangerous that can be for Wisconsin. The running game should be as strong as it ever is in Madison with Melvin Gordon set to carry the load behind four returning starters on the offensive line (Kyle Costigan, Rob Havenstein, Tyler Marz and Dan Voltz). Wisconsin’s season starts off with an early test against LSU in Houston, but the Badgers could be looking at a 10-win season and should be the favorite in the Big Ten west to reach the Big Ten championship game.

THE BAD
Wisconsin has had one of the more underrated defenses in recent years, but this is a bit of a rebuilding year for the Badgers on defense. Wisconsin returns just three starters from last season and must rebuild the entire front seven.  Having to replace so much in the first game of the season against LSU could make a difficult take slightly more challenging. Wisconsin may feel comfortable with Joel Stave at quarterback, but the Badgers also need to find their new go-to receiver after losing Jared Abbrederis. The top four receivers on the team have moved on since last season, leaving some uncertainty in the open field for now.

THE UNKOWN
Just how good can Wisconsin be? Is this a Badgers team that will challenge Ohio State or Michigan State for the Big Ten championship in Indianapolis, or will this be a team more likely to play in the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl? There is nothing wrong with Orlando or Tampa, but the Badgers will have a chance to prove themselves worthy of being in the same conversation as the Buckeyes and Spartans early on if they can show something against LSU.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Nebraska
The season opener against LSU will certainly be the highlight of the 2014 Wisconsin schedule, and for good reason, but the more realistic make-or-break game will come at the other end of the schedule. With back-to-back November games against Nebraska and Iowa, the Badgers will likely have to do no worst than spit the two in order to earn a trip back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game. Getting a win out of the way against Nebraska before heading to Iowa would be wise and could prove to be the deciding factor in the Big Ten West this fall.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Running back Melvin Gordon
We will be highlighting top players from each team in our preseason top 25, but Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, and that was while splitting time with James White (1,444 yards, 13 touchdowns). With White gone, Gordon’s production may actually increase and challenge the numbers put up by Montee Ball in 2012 or 2011. Of course, getting Gordon some rest when possible could be key for the success of Wisconsin this fall as well.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

NFL Draft: SEC owns 23 percent of the first 100 picks

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Three rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft are in the books, and once again the SEC is leading the pack in sending talent to the draft. After 100 picks through three rounds, the SEC has accounted for 23 draft picks, including the top pick overall with South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney to the Houston Texans. The SEC has more players than any other conference in college football drafted so far.

The SEC set a record for total draft picks in the 2013 NFL Draft with 63 players chosen by NFL franchises. With four rounds to go, the SEC will have to average 10 players per round to match that number. The SEC could see the pace pick up after seeing the total number of players drafted dip in rounds two (seven) and three (five) after sending 11 players in the first round Thursday night.

The Big Ten added some depth to NFL rosters on Friday night with six picks each in the second and third rounds. With four picks in the first round, the Big Ten has a total of 16 players chosen in this year’s draft. The Big Ten had just 22 players drafted in 2013, so the conference should be on pace to avoid another repeat performance of a conference-low total since 1994.

It was the ACC that provided the most picks in the third round of the NFL draft, with seven players being chosen by NFL teams. The third round also saw non-FBS programs leave their marks as well. After Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo got things started with a late second round draft pick by the New England Patriots, there were four players from non-FBS programs selected in the third round. North Dakota State offensive tackle Billy Turner was selected early in the third round by the Miami Dolphins with the 67th overall pick. Division 2 Pittsburg State celebrated wide receiver John Brown being drafted 91st overall by the Arizona Cardinals. Towson running back Terrance West was later picked up by the Cleveland Browns with the 94th pick and Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon was nabbed by the Minnesota Vikings with the 96th pick. Georgia Southern will be moving up to the FBS level as a member of the Sun Belt Conference this fall.

There are plenty of good players still to be had by NFL teams as the draft wraps up with the final four rounds on Saturday. Some names to keep an eye on include Stanford offensive tackle Cameron Fleming, Baylor offensive lineman Cyril Richardson, Boston College running back Andre Johnson, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey and Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. Teams in need of an extra quarterback have some options left on the board as well. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage and Alabama’s AJ McCarron are all among those still waiting for a phone call on the final day of the draft.

Indiana WR Cody Latimer turning pro, Big Ten losing top seven receivers to NFL

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The Big Ten’s third-leading receiver, Cody Latimer, is leaving the Indiana Hoosiers behind to become eligible for the NFL Draft. Latimer made his decision official Wednesday.

Latimer led the Hoosiers with 1,096 receiving yards, just the third Big Ten player to record a 1,000-yard season in 2013. According to Rotoworld, Latimer has an agent and is training in Florida for upcoming workouts ahead of the draft.

The Big Ten is now officially losing the top seven receivers from 2013 to the NFL. Penn State’s Allen Robinson declared a year early for the NFL Draft after leading the conference in receiving for a second straight season. Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon is graduating. So is Illinois receiver Steven Hull, Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis, Indiana’s Kofi Hughes and Nebraska’s Quincy Enunwa.

Needless to say, there will be some big shoes to fill around the Big Ten in 2014.

Ohio State’s Braxton Miller highlights All-Big-Ten team

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Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller earned his second-straight Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award to highlight the release of this year’s All-Big-Ten team.

Chris Borland of Wisconsin was the Defensive Player of the Year, Penn State’s Christian Hackenburg was the Freshman of the Year and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio was selected by both media and coaches as the Coach of the Year.

Michigan State and Ohio State both led the way with five first-team selections each.

The link to all the honors are here.

Here are the first-team selections:

OFFENSE

QB — Braxton Miller, Ohio State
RB — Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
RB — Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
WR — Allen Robinson, Penn State
WR — Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
OC — Corey Linsley, Ohio State
OG — John Urschel, Penn State
OG — Ryan Groy, Wisconsin
OT — Brandon Scherff, Iowa
OT — Taylor Lewan, Michigan
TE — C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
PK — Jeff Budzien, Northwestern

DEFENSE

DL — Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
DL — Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
DL — Randy Gregory, Nebraska
DL — DaQuan Jones, Penn State
LB — Max Bullough, Michigan State
LB — Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
LB — Chris Borland, Wisconsin
DB — Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
DB — Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
DB — Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
DB — Brock Vereen, Minnesota
DB — Ciante Evans, Nebraska
DB — Bradley Roby, Ohio State
P — Mike Sadler, Michigan State
P — Cody Webster, Purdue