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Late TD pushes No. 18 Wisconsin past upset-minded Iowa

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Iowa has a proud history of knocking off ranked teams in night games at Kinnick Stadium, and No. 18 Wisconsin’s visit on Saturday had a chance to be another, but a number of crucial mistakes and clutch plays by the Badgers allowed the visitors to escape with a 28-17 win.

In a game without many scoring opportunities, Iowa’s list of mistakes started when Kirk Ferentz made a very un-Ferentz like decision and it immediately came back to bite him.

After forcing a Wisconsin punt to open the game, Iowa marched from its own 15 to the Wisconsin 12 when Nate Stanley hit running back Ivory Kelly-Martin for a 7-yard completion on 3rd-and-8, taking the ball to the Badgers’ 5, setting up a 4th-and-1. The Iowa offense hurried to the line, but a pair of false starts by Iowa’s guards were wiped out when the replay official stopped play to review the spot. Given the chance to think it over, Ferentz chose to go for it again, and Stanley’s sneak was stuffed.

Wisconsin immediately took advantage, moving 95 yards in 11 plays, scoring on a 6-yard Alex Hornibrook pass to Jake Ferguson at the 14:31 mark of the second quarter.

The teams traded punts on their next possessions and Iowa seemed primed to punt again when Stanley loaded up to throw on a 3rd-and-9 from his own 34, but his rainbow found T.J. Hockenson for a 46-yard gain, which he hauled in despite defensive pass interference on the play. Stanley put Iowa on the board with a 20-yard scoring strike to Noah Fant on the next play, evening the game at the 5:15 mark of the first half.

Iowa forced another Wisconsin punt on the ensuing possession, but the Hawkeyes’ momentum was wiped out when Kyle Groeneweg‘s 23-yard punt return to midfield ended in a fumble forced and recovered by Wisconsin’s D’Cota Dixon.

Still, Iowa’s defense forced another punt, and the Hawkeyes expired the final minute to send the game to the half.

Iowa accepted the ball to open the second half and notched a 24-yard Miguel Recinos field goal to take its first lead of the game and forced another Wisconsin punt, but another special teams disaster cost the Hawkeyes a chance to take control of the game. As Anthony Lotti‘s punt spun to a stop on the Kinnick Stadium turf, an unaware Shaun Breyer touched the ball with his foot at his own 10-yard line, and Wisconsin’s Travian Blaylock hopped on the loose ball.

Three plays later, Hornibrook hit Danny Davis III to put Wisconsin back on top, 14-10.

Iowa answered immediately, moving 75 yards in eight plays and scoring on a 1-yard toss from Stanley to Fant at the 1:37 mark of the third quarter.

The score remained at 17-14 when Wisconsin took over at its own 12 with 5:40 remaining, and the Badgers consumed 4:43 of the available clock, taking a 21-17 lead on a 17-yard pass to A.J. Taylor with 57 seconds to play.

Needing a touchdown to win the game, Iowa (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) took over at its own 24, but Stanley was intercepted by T.J. Edwards, and Alec Ingold scored the capper on a 33-yard rush with 22 ticks to play.

Hornibrook was the star of the game, hitting 17-of-22 passes for 205 yards with three touchdowns and no picks, while Jonathan Taylor rushed 25 times for 113 yards.

Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) successfully bounced back from last week’s loss to BYU and won in Iowa City for the fifth straight time. Overall, Wisconsin has won six of the past seven Heartland Trophy meetings, and the winner of the Heartland Trophy game has gone on to win the Big Ten West in each of the past four seasons.

CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: Top 25

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Ready for yet another meaningless and useless preseason poll? Too bad, you’re getting one anyway.

As we have done each and every season around this time of the year, CFT has compiled its annual preseason Top 25 rankings. And, as has been the case each and every time, we’ve used the same tried and true formula: collect individual Top 25s from each of our esteemed staffers — this year it’s Zach Barnett, Bryan Fischer, Kevin McGuire and myself — as well as a couple of other individuals who prefer to remain anonymous and mash them all together to form an initial Top 25, at which point I manipulate the numbers to ensure that I piss off as many fan bases as humanly possible.

Last year at this time, Ohio State sat at No. 1, followed by No. 2 USC, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Penn State.  Just one of those teams, the 2017 national champion Crimson Tide, qualified for the playoffs, while the others in our Top Five, the Buckeyes, Nittany Lions, Trojans and Seminoles, finished fifth, eighth, 12th and unranked, respectively.  And the other three teams that actually qualified for the playoffs?  National runner-up Georgia was No. 14 in our 2017 preseason Top 25, while Clemson was No. 9 and Oklahoma was right behind them at No. 10.

In 2016, we had Oklahoma as our preseason No. 1; the Sooners went on to finish 11-2 and third in the country, although they ended the regular season just shy of another berth in the College Football Playoff.  The four teams that did earn playoff berths, national champion Clemson, national runner-up Alabama and semifinalists Ohio State and Washington, began the 2016 season ranked fourth, second, 11th and seventh, respectively, in our preseason Top 25 two years ago.

The year before that, we had Ohio State, TCU, Oregon, Auburn and Michigan State Nos. 1-5; only playoff semifinalist MSU finished the regular season in the Top Five. 2015 national champion Alabama was No. 7 in our preseason rankings — just behind Arizona State, incidentally — while the team the Crimson Tide beat for the title, Clemson, was 14th. Oklahoma, the other of the four College Football Playoff semifinalists in 2015, came in at No. 16 in our friendly neighborhood poll.

All that said, below is CFT’s 2018 preseason poll.  Below that is a poll in which you can vote as to which team you feel should start the season No. 1 — or if there should even be a preseason No. 1. Below that is where you may complain and/or whine and/or moan and/or bitch about how disrespected your team and/or conference is.

Enjoy. And complain/whine/moan/bitch away at your leisure.

NO. 1 CLEMSON
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 12-2/NO. 4

You could put Clemson or Alabama in the top spot and wouldn’t get a real argument from the vast majority of the country, or at least you shouldn’t.  The nod (barely) goes to the Tigers as not only do they return their starting quarterback — Kelly Bryant will have to hold off heralded five-star 2018 signee Trevor Lawrence — their top two running backs and a bevy of talent in the receiving corps, but also a defensive line that, at least on paper, could go down as one of the most dominant in the history of the sport.  While the schedule could prove at least a little worrisome — at Texas A&M, at rival Florida State and at an improved Boston College — Clemson seems very likely ticketed for a fourth straight College Football Playoff appearance at season’s end.

NO. 2 ALABAMA
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 13-1/NO. 1

The defending national champions return just two starters from a defense that finished in the Top Five in nearly every major statistical category.  Nick Saban, take it away. “Because you all don’t, you just think we just, whatever happens, we just s**t another player and everything is going to be perfect,” the head coach said earlier this month when it comes to replacing players on the defensive side of the ball.  The thing is, with the top-ranked recruiting class seven of the last eight years, and a player pool that has included 41 five-star recruits and another 146 who were four-stars in that span, Saban can indeed s**t talented players at his leisure.  The Crimson Tide, as has become an annual thing, will be national players all season long because of said talent, although whether it’s two-year starter Jalen Hurts or title game hero Tua Tagovailoa directing the offense remains the biggest unanswered question for Saban & Company.

NO. 3 GEORGIA
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 13-2/NO. 2

In his second season in Athens, Kirby Smart guided Georgia to its first SEC championship since 2005 and its first-ever College Football Playoff appearance.  While the defense, which was arguably second to Alabama’s in the SEC, brings back just four starters of its own, that inexperience could be balanced by the expected second-year jump from true sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm as well as a schedule — toughest road game: at LSU in mid-October — that is seemingly set up for a second straight run to the conference championship game.  A mid-November date with Auburn Between the Hedges, too, could determine UGA’s league fate in the weaker of the two SEC divisions.

NO. 4 OHIO STATE
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 12-2/NO. 5

The obvious, overriding question facing Ohio State is how the Buckeyes, winners of 11 or more games each of the last six seasons, handle the tempest that was the Urban Meyer imbroglio, one that dominated headlines throughout the summer.  With Meyer suspended for the first three games this season, OSU will have to navigate a schedule that includes Oregon State, Rutgers and nationally-ranked TCU as their sideline leader serves out his punishment.  Almost forgotten amidst the Meyer mess is the fact that the Buckeyes will be replacing record-setting quarterback J.T. BarrettDwayne Haskins will be tasked with filling Barrett’s shoes, although Haskins’ insertion into the lineup should automatically upgrade OSU’s passing attack.  A defense that includes a line with talent just a notch below Clemson’s will help headline a Buckeye squad that, even with all of the off-field coaching drama, will be expected to make a playoff push yet again.

NO. 5 WISCONSIN
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 13-1/NO. 7

If someone outside of Ohio State in the Big Ten is positioned for a legitimate run at a playoff berth, it’s Wisconsin.  The offense is absolutely loaded, from returning its starting quarterback in Alex Hornibrook to a running back who ran for nearly 2,000 yards as a true freshman in Jonathan Taylor to its entire offensive line.  One negative, and a relatively big one, is that their wide receiving corps took a significant hit, with one starter, Quintez Cephus, out on an extended leave of absence and another, Danny Davis, suspended for the first two games.  Defensively, experience could be an issue as UW returns just four starters on that side of the ball.  And then there’s this: road trips to Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State.  It won’t be easy, but the Badgers have the look of a team that will be a part of the playoff conversation throughout the season.

NO. 6 WASHINGTON
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 10-3/NO. 16

Washington will get a good feel for the type of team they’ll field in 2018 as the Pac-12 favorites open the season with what’s essentially a home game for Associated Press No. 9 Auburn in Atlanta.  The schedule doesn’t get much easier from there as they have road games at Utah, UCLA, Oregon and Washington State as well as a home date with Stanford to navigate.  Jake Browning will conclude his illustrious career as UW’s leader in nearly every major statistical passing category, while Myles Gaskin will, very early on, become the Huskies’ all-time leading rusher.  While they lost the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in Vita Vea, they still return nine starters from a defense that was fifth in the country in points allowed.  Add it all up, and just like he did in 2016, Chris Petersen is seemingly poised to take the Huskies back to the playoffs

NO. 7 MIAMI
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 10-3/NO. 13

Turnover Chain Mania swept through South Florida last season, and Mark Richt hopes to continue riding that wave on into the 2018 season.  The waters got a little choppy for the Hurricanes at the end of last year, however, as, after starting 2017 10-0, they stumbled to three straight losses.  Included in that skein was a 35-point beatdown at the hands of Clemson in The U’s first-ever ACC championship game appearance.  They return seven starters on each side of the ball, and the schedule appears to set up well — they get rival Florida State at home, but do have to travel to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech in mid-November — for a run at a second consecutive conference title game appearance.

NO. 8 OKLAHOMA
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 12-2/NO. 3

Kyler Murray might have the most difficult job in college football.  Not only is he a one-and-done this year before heading off to commence a career in professional baseball, and whatever distraction that future brings, but he also has to at least attempt to fill the shoes of three-year starter and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield.  The bad news for OU is that Mayfield wasn’t the only significant personnel loss as the Sooners are eighth in the Big 12 and 98th nationally in returning experience according to Phil Steele‘s formula.  The good news?  OU’s schedule is only the 47th toughest according to the same preview magazine guru.  The Nov. 23 matchup with West Virginia in Morgantown could very well prove to be a play-in game for a spot in the Big 12 championship game.

NO. 9 MICHIGAN STATE
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 10-3/NO. 15

Michigan State has won 10 or more games eight times in its history, with six of those coming during Mark Dantonio‘s time in East Lansing.  One of those six came in 2017 as the Spartans bounced back from a three-win 2016 season to go 10-3 last year.  Even better, they return 19 starters — 10 on offense, nine on defense — which is the most of any team in the Big Ten.  That experienced team will also get to play host to two of its biggest hurdles in the Big Ten East — Michigan on Oct. 20, Ohio State Nov. 10.  A trip to Penn State in mid-October, however, looms large for a Spartans team that has won two of its last three games in Happy Valley.

NO. 10 STANFORD
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 9-5/NO. 20

Bryce Love, he of the 2,000-yard rushing season last year, surprised most observers by eschewing early entry into the 2018 NFL draft and returning to The Farm instead, setting the stage for a potential return to the Pac-12 championship game.   Of the five losses the Cardinal suffered last season, four were dropped by a combined total of 11 points.  Stanford returns the third-most experience in the Pac-12.  The first?  Preseason favorite Washington, which will play host to the Cardinal in an early November matchup that could very well determine the Pac-12 North champion.  Stanford will also have to travel Oregon, another squad that could be in the mix for a division title.

NO. 11: Penn State — Replacing Saquon Barkley could mean more reliance on the right arm of one of the preseason Heisman Trophy favorites, Trace McSorely.
NO. 12: Auburn — The last three times the Tigers began a year in the AP Top 10, they finished unranked (2015), 19th (2014) and unranked (2008). They head into 2018 ranked ninth.
NO. 13: West Virginia — Here you go, Mr. Jefferson Gregory.  Don’t say I never did anything for you, even as the Mountaineers’ defense frightens me — and not in a good way.
NO. 14: Michigan — Is this the year Jim Harbaugh gets out of the B1G East mid-pack rut the Wolverines have been mired in since he came back to Ann Arbor three seasons ago?
NO. 15: Notre Dame — The last five times the Irish had a chance for back-to-back 10-win seasons, they won four (2016), nine (2013), three (2007), five (2003) and six (1994) games.
NO. 16: Boise State — The highest-ranked Group of Five program could actually finish even higher by season’s end as the odds-on favorite to land the G5’s New Year’s Six bid.
NO. 17: TCU — A Week 3 date with Ohio State in Arlington could offer a glimpse as to how much of a threat the Horned Frogs are to the Sooners in the Big 12.
NO. 18: USC — Replacing Sam Darnold won’t be easy, but the Trojans have a defense that can help the school get through some offensive rough patches early on.
NO. 19: Oregon — With Justin Herbert healthy last season, the Ducks averaged nearly 50 points per game and went 6-2.  Without him, they barely averaged 15 ppg in going 1-4.
NO. 20: UCF — Coming off an undefeated season, the Knights’ 2018 fate will be determined by how fast first-year coach Josh Heupel assimilates Scott Frost‘s players into his system.
NO. 21: Mississippi State — The esteemed Phil Steele has MSU returning the second-most experienced team in the SEC behind Florida. That’s huge for first-year coach Joe Moorhead.
NO. 22: Texas — I have this sneaking suspicion that, when reviewing the 2018 season, we’re going to regret having the Longhorns starting out this low.
NO. 23: Utah — Per Mr. Steele yet again, the Utes’ 2018 schedule is the second-toughest in the Pac-12 (behind UCLA) and 10th in the nation overall.
NO. 24: Boston College — With their defense and running game, the Eagles could join the Longhorns as teams that should’ve started 2018 higher in the polls.
NO. 25: Virginia Tech — The Hokies’ schedule is the 103rd-hardest (out of 130 schools) in the country, and the easiest any ACC team will face heading into the new season.

Wisconsin WR Quintez Cephus files motion to dismiss sexual assault charge

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It only took Quintez Cephus five minutes to go through his first hearing in court but the suspended Wisconsin wideout and his lawyers still managed to do plenty of legal wrangling the past two days as they face two sexual assault charges from an alleged incident this past spring.

According to the Associated Press, those charges are for second-and third-degree sexual assault and Cephus has already moved to ask a judge to dismiss the more serious of the two. If the Badgers junior is ultimately convicted of a second-degree sexual assault, he could be facing as much as 40 years behind bars but his attorneys have argued, and we will quote the report here, “that the woman linked to that count wasn’t drunk and parted with Cephus on good terms.”

“A criminal complaint, and this criminal complaint, is a slanted, one-sided version of the events,” attorney Kathleen Stilling told the AP. “We look forward to getting out all of the facts and clearing Quintez’s name.”

Cephus has denied any wrongdoing publicly in a Tweet he sent out shortly before the team suspended him indefinitely earlier this week. The criminal complaint says that he allegedly “sexually assaulted two drunken women at once in the bedroom of his apartment in April” but his attorneys produced surveillance camera footage and text messages for the court that they claim dispute this version of events.

Also involved is fellow Wisconsin receiver Danny Davis, who is Cephus’ roommate and allegedly witnessed and took pictures of the incident at the time. The school has already suspended Davis for two games though he has not been charged at the moment.

Cephus was released on a $5,000 bond but perhaps more notable for many is the date of the next preliminary hearing in the case, which is set for Sept. 6. That comes two days before Wisconsin’s second game of the season (home against New Mexico) and could signal that the Badgers’ leading wideout from last season will not come anywhere close to the field anytime soon even if he is able to eventually get the charges dismissed.

Wisconsin suspends starting WR Danny Davis for first two games

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Wisconsin’s receiving corps has officially taken a one-two punch to the gut.

Wednesday afternoon, Wisconsin announced that wide receiver Danny Davis has been suspended for the first two games of the 2018 season.  The suspension means Davis will miss the opener against Western Kentucky as well as the Week 2 matchup with New Mexico before returning for the Sept. 15 game against BYU.

All three of those games will be played in Madison.

“Based on the information I have available to me at this time, I have decided to suspend Danny Davis for the first two games of the season,” head coach Paul Chryst said in a statement. “Should further information become available that warrants a reevaluation of the length of the suspension, I will assess that information. We have a high standard of conduct within our football program and we cannot accept behavior that is not consistent with that standard.”

Davis will be permitted to practice with the team during the course of his suspension.

The suspension stems from Davis being named in a criminal complaint filed against fellow Badgers wide receiver Quintez Cephus.  Cephus, who has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the team, was charged Monday with felony sexual assault of an intoxicated victim and felony assault after very loudly proclaiming his innocence over the weekend.

In the complaint, it’s alleged that Davis took at least one photo of one of the women involved in the alleged assaults.

Last season, Davis was fourth on the team in receptions (26) and receiving yards (418). He was tied for second with five receiving touchdowns. Cephus led the run-centric Badgers in receiving touchdowns with six and yards per catch at 16.7. His 501 receiving yards were good for second, while his 30 receptions were third on the team.

Both Cephus and Davis entered summer camp as the Badgers’ starting wide receivers.

Wisconsin suspends WR Quintez Cephus following charges of sexual assault

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Oen of Wisconsin’s top offensive players may miss some playing time when the new college football season begins next week in Madison. Wide receiver Quintez Cephus has been suspended by the football program for a violation of the university’s student-athlete discipline policy.

“Cephus is suspended from competition and practice pending the availability of further information relating to this case,” a statement from Wisconsin read Monday afternoon. The exact nature of the violation being reviewed was not disclosed. This also does not confirm Cephus will be forced to miss any actual playing time, as it leaves the door open for possible reinstatement prior to the start of the new season for Wisconsin next week. A confirmed status for Cephus may come at a later time for Wisconsin’s first game.

On Saturday, Cephus announced on Twitter he was taking a leave of absence to deal with a pending legal issue. Cephus states he was wrongfully accused of unlawful conduct from an incident that occurred in April.

Cephus is Wisconsin’s top receiver returning this season after catching 30 passes for 51 yards and a team-high six touchdowns last year in just nine games.

Wisconsin opens the new season on Friday, August 31 at home against Western Kentucky.

UPDATE: According to a report from Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com, Cephus has been charged with felony sexual assault of an intoxicated victim and felony assault. Cephus is accused of assaulting two different women. He will appear in court on Thursday.