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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.

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.”

Michigan QB Shea Patterson drafted by Texas Rangers in MLB Draft

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Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray wasn’t the only football player to be drafted by a team in the MLB draft. Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson just had his name go off the board.

Patterson was drafted by the Texas Rangers with the 1,169th pick overall in the 39th round of the MLB Amateur Draft. Considering his placement in the draft, it would be unlikely Patterson will have to make such a high-profile decision to choose between baseball and football the way Murray did this week.

Patterson has fought hard to get a chance to play quarterback for Michigan, and his future outlook appears to be more promising as a quarterback than a third baseman. Patterson has transferred from Ole Miss to Michigan, and after a bit of a tussle to get his eligibility cleared for the upcoming season, Patterson is expected to be a favorite for the starting job at quarterback for the Wolverines this fall.

It is not at all uncommon for baseball teams to draft some notable football players late in the draft, especially if they feel there is a slim chance that player will ever actually play baseball. Johnny Manziel was once drafted by the San Diego Padres, and Russell Wilson was once in the Colorado Rockies farm system before transferring to play football for Wisconsin (football has worked out well for him, by the way).

At Oklahoma, Murray has already made it clear he will be playing football for the Sooners this season despite being picked ninth overall by the Oakland A’s.

Shea Patterson says transfer to Michigan was business decision

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New Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson says his decision to transfer from Ole Miss to Michigan was nothing more than a smart business move for himself. Reflecting on his offseason transfer over the weekend at a quarterback camp, Patterson maintained his stance that Ole Miss misled him in the recruiting process and blamed his old program for not holding up their end of the bargain.

“Some things were left unsaid [about the NCAA investigation] that we didn’t know about,” Patterson said in an interview with ESPN. “They didn’t think we were going to get the two-year bowl ban. At the end of the day, I wanted to do what was best for me and my career.”

Ole Miss issued a self-imposed bowl ban for the 2017 season as an investigation from the NCAA was ongoing for potential violations occurring under former head coach Hugh Freeze. The NCAA tacked on an additional year for the 2018 season with its list of sanctions against the football program that included a reduction in scholarships and three years of probation. Patterson and other Ole Miss players recruited by the Rebels subsequently looked to transfer to new programs in an effort to find a better chance to compete or play in the postseason.

For Patterson, the opportunity to transfer to Michigan was an opportunity to compete for a national title. Of course, Patterson has also learned another lesson about the reality of the sport of college football.

“I’ve learned that this is a business, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Patterson had a grueling transfer process that was recently resolved in his favor. Patterson has been ruled eligible to play for the Wolverines immediately this fall, and it is suspected he will be the team’s top quarterback. Having Patterson as the starting quarterback is expected to give Michigan’s stale offense a lift. Whether that is enough to lift Michigan into Big Ten title contention remains to be seen, but the offense should benefit by having a potential upgrade at the quarterback position this season.