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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:

As expected, Shea Patterson named Michigan starting QB

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From the moment Shea Patterson was officially cleared to play college football at No. 14 Michigan this season, he was the most likely candidate to win the starting job at quarterback for the Wolverines. With the season opener coming up next week, head coach Jim Harbaugh has made that official. Patterson is Michigan’s starting quarterback.

Speaking to a group of Michigan supporters at a luncheon on Monday, Harbaugh provided the confirmation about his quarterback decision. Media members following the Michigan program followed up to confirm that decision was final. Harbaugh reportedly informed the team of the decision earlier in the day.

Patterson is expected to be a solid upgrade that could improve the entire offense as a whole. Last season at Ole Miss, Patterson played in seven games and passed for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns with nine interceptions. Michigan’s three quarterbacks last season (John O’Korn, Brandon Peters, Wilton Speight) combined for 2,226 yards and nine touchdowns with 10 interceptions.

Improving the Michigan offense will be essential if Michigan is going to make a run in the Big Ten this season. The defense is expected to be among the best in the Big Ten, and arguably the nation, so if the offense can get just a small bit of improvement across the field, Michigan could be a team to keep an eye on if all goes according to plan for Harbaugh and the Wolverines.

Patterson will make his Michigan debut on the road in South Bend against No. 12 Notre Dame on September 1.

Florida State holds practice at IMG Academy

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Not too long ago, Michigan spent some time over spring break working out at IMG Academy. The move was scrutinized and criticized by some who took exception to a college football program moving its practices to one of the top high school programs in the country. Today, Florida State is doing the exact same thing.

Like Michigan, Florida State has plenty of incentive to setup shop on the fields of one of the top high schools in the nation. Bringing the Florida State program to the high school is an absolute recruiting tool for the Seminoles, who are always going to be competing to keep some of the IMG recruits close to home. But, as noted by Tampa Bay Times, there are some differences between the camp Michigan held at IMG and the one currently going on with Florida State.

The biggest difference is the timing. Michigan’s trip to IMG Academy was a clear recruiting stunt that netted Michigan a pair of recruits in the following recruiting cycle. Florida State is on IMG’s campus during a recruiting dead period, which means there is no chance for any direct contact with IMG recruits by members of the Florida State program. It is likely because of that, Florida State’s IMG visit is barely causing any negative reaction from potential critics who took exception to Michigan’s trip.

It is also worth noting Florida State head coach Willie Taggart previously coached as an assistant under Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and played for his father, Jack Harbaugh, at Western Kentucky (where Taggart later was employed as a head coach).

Asked about Michigan’s previous trip to IMG Academy, Taggert came to the defense of Harbaugh.

Maybe because he thought of it first and no one else did it,” Taggart said. “No reason to get upset. He brought his team to practice. So what?”

So what, indeed. It shouldn’t have been a big deal when Harbaugh did it, and it does not seem to be a big deal now that Taggert is.

Jim Harbaugh says nothing about starting QB decision, stumps for 16-team College Football Playoff

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When the Michigan Wolverines show up to South Bend, Indiana to take on Notre Dame in a primetime season opener (on NBC!), Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson will very likely be the team’s starting quarterback. There is no guessing game considering the potential Patterson brings with him from Ole Miss and the state of the Michigan offense last season. Of course, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is not going to address who will sit atop his depth chart until he is forced to do so.

“I have no announcements to make on the quarterback position today,” Harbaugh said at the podium at Big Ten media day in Chicago. This was to be expected, as most coaches will take this opportunity to provide no insight into the starting quarterback decisions to be made for the fall. Harbaugh was no different from Alabama’s Nick Saban or Clemson’s Dabo Swinney in this regard, and he may be no different from Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer when the head coach of the Buckeyes gets to the microphone on Tuesday as Big Ten media day continues.

Harbaugh did go on to suggest the state of the quarterback position in 2018 will be improved over last year’s situation.

Harbaugh also stumped for an expanded College Football Playoff system that first goes to eight teams and later to as many as 16 teams while also noting the problem with playing an expanded playoff schedule. Harbaugh suggested the possibility of eliminating conference championship games to relieve the stress of a longer season with an expanded playoff.

The head coach of the Wolverines also fielded a question about the Big Ten’s proposal to implement an NFL-style injury report. Considering Harbaugh’s program rarely revealed much of any information on a weekly depth chart, Harbaugh’s response was pretty much what you would expect from Harbaugh.

“If we want to do an injury report, we’ll do an injury report.”

Jim Harbaugh invites Chris Webber to be honorary captain; Webber accepts

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Former Michigan basketball star Chris Webber wasted no time accepting an invitation from Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh to be an honorary captain. During a radio interview on Friday, Harbaugh extended the invite to Webber and Webber quickly accepted.

“I definitely am honored,” Webber said to Harbaugh on Friday during a segment on WTKA (as quoted and reported by The Detroit News). “As you know, and getting to speak to you over the years, I love what you’ve done with the program. Good luck, and yeah, I’m definitely going to be a part of it.”

Webber was an in-studio guest on the radio station Friday. Harbaugh reportedly called in specifically to extend the invitation to Webber during a radio marathon event. For Harbaugh, this is once again striking at an opportunity to generate some buzz for the football program, but including Webber in such a role is worth noting. Webber was required to have a 10-year separation from the University of Michigan due to his connection to a booster scandal associated with the basketball program. Webber continues to rebuild his relationship with the school and other members of Michigan’s famed Fab Five.

What game Webber will attend as an honorary captain will be decided at a later time.