CFT Predicts: the Big Ten

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As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the Big Ten.  

While we’re at it, be sure to check out our other conference predictions: SEC, Pac-12

Leaders Division

1. Ohio State (Last year: 12-0)
What happened last season?
Urban Meyer‘s first year with the Buckeyes was flawless, at least as far as things go in the win-loss column. Though Ohio State had no postseason to look forward to thanks to NCAA sanctions, it went undefeated during the regular season. That’s propelled OSU to become one of the preseason favorites to appear in the final BCS championship.

So why are they ranked here?
The more appropriate question would be why wouldn’t the Buckeyes be ranked here? Meyer is easily one of the best in the game and quarterback Braxton Miller is now the betting favorite to win the Heisman. There are some concerns along the defensive front for this team, but it doesn’t have the appearance of something that will be an insurmountable problem.

Anything else?
The Game against Michigan can go either way, but there’s really only one spot I can potentially see Ohio State slipping. That would be an Oct. 5 game at Northwestern. The Wildcats enter 2013 with some hype (there’s something you don’t type everyday) after winning 10 games last year.

2. Wisconsin (Last year: 8-6; lost to Stanford in Rose Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Badgers can thank the NCAA for getting to the Big Ten title game as both Ohio State and Penn State watched from home. The Badgers struggled with offensive consistency throughout the year even though Montee Ball was among the leading rushers in the country. 

So why are they ranked here?
Gary Andersen takes over for the departed Bret Bielema. Though Ball is gone and the quarterback situation needs to be figured out, this is a veteran team with some recognizable names still around like running back James White and receiver Jared Abbrederis. The bigger concern lies on defense, which will be moving to more of a 3-4 this year.

Anything else?
The Badgers avoid Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska this season. It may not help Andersen win the Leaders Division in his first year, but it should help with a few more W’s. Also, QB Tanner McEvoy has started getting some looks at receiver and should help in that department.

3. Penn State (Last year: 8-4)
What happened last season?
Bill O'Brien took over what felt like an impossible situation and won eight games with the Nittany Lions. The crowning achievement of a season that surpassed many expectations was the development of quarterback Matt McGloin, who is now getting some buzz in the pros with the Oakland Raiders.

So why are they ranked here?
Penn State is a little bit of a wildcard this year. Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson are battling it out for the starting quarterback job, and this defense loses some key leaders from a year ago including linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald HodgesWhat we’re banking on is some more O’Brien magic with a quarterback who was not on last year’s roster.

Anything else?
There are some young defenders that Penn State fans should be excited about. Defensive end Deion Barnes was the conference’s Freshman of the Year in 2012.

4. Purdue (Last year: 6-7; lost to Oklahoma State in Heart of Dallas Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Getting to the postseason wasn’t enough for Danny Hope, who was let go last November [“Hope-less” pun goes here] [hates self for it]. Alas, the mustache just wasn’t good enough.

So why are they ranked here?
Darrell Hazell was considered a good hire for the Boilermakers, but he has a lot of work ahead of him in 2013. Rob Henrya veteran guy, has been named the starting quarterback, but he last played meaningful snaps in 2010. The rest of the offense should feature a lot of newer faces, though there is talent there.

Anything else?
Things could get off to a rocky start for Hazell. Looking at the schedule, there are only a couple games the Boilermakers figure to have a chance to win. Things ease up at the end of the season, which could pave the way for some momentum heading into 2014.

5. Indiana (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Kevin Wilson got the Hoosiers to four wins. The offense showed consistent ability to score points and Indiana almost knocked off Ohio State in a shootout. 

So why are they ranked here?
It doesn’t appear offense is going to be a concern for IU, and Wilson has three capable quarterbacks from which to choose in Cameron Coffman, Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld. The defense returns many of its starters from a year ago. The problem is that unit finished among the worst in rushing defense and scoring defense last year. The Hoosiers can score with most, so if they can make some stops and force some turnovers they’ll be in a position for an outside shot at a bowl game.

Anything else?
Roberson didn’t have much of a chance to showcase his athletic potential after going down with a season-ending leg injury early in the year. He’s a valuable weapon though, so it’ll be interesting to see if/how Wilson utilizes him if he doesn’t regain the starting job.

6. Illinois (Last year: 2-10) 
What happened last season?
Tim Beckman‘s first year with Illinois went poorly as the Illini won just two games and had a few brutal losses to Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern.

So why are they ranked here?
There are a lot of players returning on offense, including quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but this was also a group that barely scored more than two touchdowns a game last year. Beckman hopes that hiring former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit as offensive coordinator will help in that department. Still, a brutal schedule from start to finish may be too much for the Illini to see any real improvement in the win-loss column.

Anything else?
Beckman took a veiled shot at former Illini coach Ron Zook earlier this summer by suggesting he left the cupboard bare when he was fired two seasons ago. Still, there’s already mounting pressure to win in Beckman’s second year.

Legends Division

1. Nebraska (Last year: 10-4; lost to Georgia in Capital One Bowl)
What happened last season?
Like every other year under Bo Pelini, Nebraska was good. But, like most years, the Cornhuskers couldn’t get over the conference championship hump. Instead, Wisconsin founds its mojo and hung a cool 70 points on the blackshirts on their way to Pasadena.

So why are they ranked here?
Good question. There’s been no indication so far that Nebraska can take the next step under Pelini and get to a BCS bowl. Yet, somehow, here I am giving them another chance because I can’t quit ’em. The offense should be one of the best in the Big Ten with a core group of playmakers coming back, including Taylor Martinez, running back Ameer Abdullah, and receiver Kenny Bell. The defense will be young, but if it can just play well enough, Nebraska will be back in the Big Ten championship.

Anything else?
The Legends Division may not take form until November. Nebraska plays Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State in consecutive weeks.

2. Michigan (Last year: 8-5; lost to South Carolina in Outback Bowl)
What happened last season?
The Wolverines’ win total dipped and there were some cringeworthy losses to Alabama, Notre Dame and Nebraska. And, yes, to point it out again, Ohio State beat Michigan. Though Denard Robinson got hurt and finished the season as a running back, fans got a glimpse of what the Devin Gardner era may look like.

So why are they ranked here?
There are plenty of quality players for the Wolverines — Gardner, Fitz Toussaint, and Jeremy Gallon just to name a few. But depth is definitely a concern, especially at quarterback. Linebacker Jake Ryan is currently trying to make his way back from a knee injury and is projected to return around midseason.

Anything else?
Brady Hoke has yet to lose a home game in Ann Arbor, so conversely a majority of his seven losses have come on the road. And there will be some tough road games for the Wolverines: at Penn State and at Michigan State. Trips to Northwestern and Iowa could be tricky as well.

3. Michigan State (Last year: 7-6; beat TCU in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
What happened last season?
Sparty went 6-6 in the regular season, primarily because of the team’s inability to win close games.  Five of MSU’s six losses came in games decided by a touchdown or less.

So why are they ranked here?
While we certainly hope Mark Dantonio goes #B1G and plays four quarterbacks at the same time, Andrew Maxwell is likely the starter — for now, at least. The offense has some some good wide receivers returning, but tight end Dion Sims and running back Le'Veon Bell are gone. If it can’t find any sort of constancy, the defense will be relied upon once again to keep the Spartans in a position to win. That’s certainly possible, but Sparty’s O can’t be “Sparty No!” again and reasonably expect to win the division.

Anything else?
Like the other Legends Division favorites, November is an important month for the Sparans, who do not have to play Ohio State, Penn State or Wisconsin. If the offense can get going, this can be a dangerous team with one of the highest ceilings in the conference.

4. Northwestern (Last year: 10-3; beat Mississippi State in Gator Bowl) 
What happened last season?
As crazy as it may sound, Northwestern was three combined quarters away from being undefeated in the regular season. Still, 10-3 and a January Bowl win is always respectable. And it’s Northwestern. 

So why are they ranked here?
For the first time since the invention of the forward pass, the Wildcats have some legitimate preseason hype. That can only be attributed to what an incredible Job Pat Fitzgerald has done at not only building the program, but maintaining continuity among staff and players. Offensive line is a concern this year, but Kain Colter returns as the centerpiece of the Wildcats offense.

Anything else?
Northwestern gets Ohio State and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks in October. As mentioned above, this is a team that could knock off the Buckeyes. The divisional schedule is difficult too and there’s some question as to whether Northwestern can take the next step as a program. This would be the year to do it though.

5. Iowa (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Kirk Ferentz suffered his first losing season since 2006 and the Hawkeyes dropped their last six in a row.

So why are they ranked here?
Scoring points has been difficult for Iowa recently and keeping a healthy running back has been even harder. Quarterback James Vandenberg is gone and there are questions at that position. Defense should be fine with a solid linebacker unit returning. The most important objective (besides win) is for offensive coordinator Greg Davis to get more out of this offense, which ranked among the worst scoring units in the country a year ago.

Anything else?
Kirk Ferentz has an enormous buyout, but another losing season — and Iowa’s schedule isn’t very forgiving — could have the program thinking harder about a change anyway.

6. Minnesota (Last year: 6-7; lost to Texas Tech in Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas) 
What happened last season?
Jerry Kill‘s team saw a three-game turnaround that got the Gophers back to a bowl game — and Minnesota almost won. But Texas Tech came from behind to beat UM in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

So why are they ranked this year?
The Gophers went through three quarterbacks last year and still won six games. The last one to starting time, sophomore Phillip Nelson, should take the field first for Minnesota this season. Chemistry in the passing game could be a question with A.J. Barker gone and Andre McDonald missing part of preseason camp due to suspension.

Anything else?
Getting back to a bowl isn’t out of the question for Minnesota, especially with a favorable out of conference schedule. Climbing up the Legends Division ladder is another story, but there are a few opportunities late in the year to steal a win at home from what Will Likely be a favored opponent when Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin come to Minneapolis.

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John Taylor‘s prediction:

Leaders
1. Ohio State
2. Wisconsin
3. Penn State
4. Indiana
5. Purdue
6. Illinois

Legends
1. Michigan
2. Nebraska
3. Northwestern
4. Michigan State
5. Iowa
6. Minnesota

Ben’s Big Ten champ: Ohio State
John’s Big Ten champ: Ohio State 

Wisconsin fires Paul Chryst; names DC Leonhard interim coach

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Wisconsin fired head coach Paul Chryst on Sunday after a 2-3 start to his eighth season leading the school where he played, in the city where he grew up.

The surprising move comes a day after Wisconsin lost at home 34-10 to Illinois and former Badgers coach Bret Bielema.

Chryst is 67-26 since taking over as coach of the Badgers in 2015 after being hired away from Pittsburgh.

But the program has been backsliding. Chryst had double-digit win seasons in four of his first five years at Wisconsin and had gone 15-10 since.

Chryst, the 56-year-old Madison native, has four years left on his contract. He was set to make $5.25 million this season.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, another former Badgers player, was named interim coach. The 39-year-old former NFL defensive back has been part of Chryst’s staff for seven seasons and is considered one of the top assistant coaches in the country.

The in-season coaching move was the fifth already this season, and second of the day. Earlier Sunday, Colorado dismissed Karl Dorrell.

But none of the changes have been as unexpected as Wisconsin’s.

The program has been built on stability for more than three decades since Barry Alvarez turned it around in the 1990s.

Chryst, who played quarterback for the Badgers in the late 1980s, was an assistant and offensive coordinator under Alvarez and Bielema.

The Badgers’ offense, built on a powerful running game and efficient passing, has often looked stale over the last three years and struggled against better competition. Wisconsin managed only 2 yards rushing against Illinois, the program’s lowest total since 2015.

After losing to Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium for the first time in 20 years, Chryst said he was undeterred and looked forward to getting a chance to fix the problems.

“Do you want to be better? Absolutely. And you just want to focus on the things that you can do to help move the needle, help our players and assistant coaches,” he said. “So I didn’t think it’s going to be easy, and yet I believe in this group and I like this group. I appreciate where they’re coming from and how they go about it. I look forward to each day I get to be with them.

“We get to be together again, and we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and continue to go to work.”

Dorrell out as coach at Colorado after 0-5 start to season

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BOULDER, Colo. – Colorado fired football coach Karl Dorrell after an 0-5 start in which the Buffaloes have been blown out by more than 20 points in each game.

The school announced the decision Sunday, a day after a 43-20 loss at Arizona. It’s only the fourth 0-5 start in the history of Colorado (1980, 1984 and 2006).

Dorrell, 58, was brought in as a replacement when Mel Tucker bolted for Michigan State out of the blue in February 2020.

The hiring of Dorrell was met with surprise because he had been out of college coaching for a while. He was an assistant with the Miami Dolphins at the time, but had been UCLA’s head coach from 2003-07.

Dorrell, who had built a house in the Boulder area, agreed to a five-year, $18 million contract that ran through 2024. The buyout is approximately $8.7 million, but could be reduced pending his next job. His termination was first reported by ESPN.

Colorado waited to announce the news until after Dorrell had a chance to inform his staff and players in a meeting. Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson was also let go.

Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford will serve as interim coach. Defensive line coach Gerald Chatman will serve as the team’s defensive coordinator, while passing game coordinator/tight ends coach Clay Patterson takes over as offensive coordinator.

The Buffaloes are idle this week before hosting California.

Dorrell didn’t have much of an offseason program due to coronavirus restrictions his inaugural season, but led the Buffaloes to a 4-2 mark – they started 4-0 – and an appearance in the Alamo Bowl. Dorrell was named Pac-12 coach of the year.

It was downhill from there. Colorado went 4-8 last season and saw several key starters leave through the transfer portal. This season, Colorado has rotated through three quarterbacks in trying to ignite an offense that ranks near the bottom of the FBS ranks. The Buffaloes and rival Colorado State, who have a new coach in Jay Norvell, are the only two teams left in the FBS without a win.

“The results on the field just did not measure up to our expectations and standards, which made it necessary for us to make this change at this time,” Colorado director of athletics Rick George said in a statement. “It was an extremely difficult decision and I wish Karl all of the best in his future endeavors.”

This is what it’s come to in Boulder: George issued a statement last month to pacify fans after a 49-7 loss at Minnesota. He said he recognized and understood the disappointment as the team has not “come close to meeting our expectations.” He urged the fans to stick with the program and support the team.

The loss to Arizona became the final blow for Dorrell, whose team has been outscored by a 216-67 margin. The Wildcats were a team predicted to finish 11th in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, with Colorado last. The Buffaloes’ defense surrendered 673 total yards Saturday – the most since allowing 616 to Arizona in 2015.

Dorrell weathered some rocky moments over his time in Boulder. A year ago, he apologized after losing his cool and pushing a photojournalist’s camera on his way off the field following a 37-14 loss to Southern California.

He also came under fire last season for skipping his customary postgame radio show after a 30-0 loss to the Gophers. In addition, Dorrell drew scrutiny when players weren’t made available after a 55-23 loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Buffaloes have turned to coaches such as Jon Embree, Mike MacIntyre, Tucker and Dorrell to try to turn the Buffaloes around. MacIntyre led the Buffaloes to the conference championship game in 2016, but it was his only winning season out of six.

Tucker seemed to have the Buffaloes on the right path, bringing in several top prospects, before leaving for Michigan State after on season. That opened the door for Dorrell, who served as a receivers coach and later as offensive coordinator for Colorado in the 1990s.

A national search for a coach is expected to start soon.

“I fully support Rick in making this difficult decision to dismiss Coach Dorrell,” Chancellor Philip DiStefano said. “The football team is an important part of the university and I know our students, alumni, and fans have high expectations for a winning product on the field.”