Big Ten

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#80 Purdue Boilermakers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#80

Big Ten West Division PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Darrell Hazell, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Shoop | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Hudson

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 80 Purdue.

Previewing Purdue’s Offense for 2014: 

As goes Danny Etling, so goes Purdue. That’s not much of an overstatement. Etling took over as the starting quarterback midway through last season as a true freshman, and coach Darrell Hazell and his staff know his improvement likely will mirror the Boilermakers’ improvement as well. Austin Appleby is a good backup, but Etling is the man.

Raheem Mostert won the 60- and 200-meter titles at the Big Ten indoor track meet, and the coaches hope he can provide a much-needed big-play threat. Incumbent running back Akeem Hunt will also see time at slot receiver. The coaches are looking to get him and Mostert on the field at the same time. The Boilermakers averaged 6.1 yards per passing attempt, worst in the Big Ten, and had no one who could stretch the field most of the season. DeAngelo Yancey came on as his freshman season progressed. He provide Etling with an inviting target the next three years.

Center Robert Kugler is solid, but the rest of the offensive line is a concern. Some incoming junior college transfers need to contribute in a major way. No one expects this line to blow away the opposition, but Purdue has to do better than 67.1 yards rushing per game — its average last season.

Previewing Purdue’s Defense for 2014:

Purdue has a tradition of strong defensive ends, and Ryan Russell may be the guy to continue it. Hazell says he challenged Russell after a mildly disappointing junior year and was pleased with the way he responded during spring practice. Sophomore Jake Replogle is a likely starter at the other end spot, but Kentucky transfer Langston Newton also is in the mix.

The improved defensive line should lead to a better defense overall, but questions still abound. Seniors Sean Robinson and Joe Gilliam provide experience at linebacker, but youth might also be served. Gelen Robinson, the son of Purdue basketball legend Glenn Robinson, one of the top recruits in the incoming freshman class. It would not be a surprise to see him crack the starting lineup at some point in the season.

Reliable Frankie Williams returns at one corner and Taylor Richards returns at one safety spot. Fellow safety Landon Feichter was Purdue’s defensive MVP in 2012, but had an injury-plagued 2013. His return to form would be a nice boost.

Previewing Purdue’s Specialists for 2014: 

It’s generally not a good sign if a team’s best player is its punter, but that is what Purdue had last year in Cody Webster, a first-team All-Big Ten performer and a finalist for the Ray Guy Award. Thomas Meadows is his likely replacement. Returning kicker Paul Griggs showed a strong leg at times, but not much consistency, going only 6-for-12 on field-goal attempts. Meadows may get a shot there as well. The return game should be a strength. Mostert and Hunt each returned kickoffs for touchdowns last year. Purdue returned only nine punts last fall, a testament to how much it struggled. Williams was effective in limited opportunities, averaging 16.8 yards on five returns.

Final Analysis

Most Purdue fans realized Hazell was inheriting a rebuilding situation, but last season still ended up being a nightmare. The lone victory was over FCS foe Indiana State, and the season ended with the Boilermakers getting thumped by archrival Indiana.

The non-conference schedule is more forgiving this year, and Purdue gets a break in conference play. It doesn’t play Michigan or Ohio State. Wisconsin and defending Big Ten champion Michigan State visit Ross-Ade Stadium. Still, it’s hard to envision this team making a move in the Big Ten in 2014. The talent level simply isn’t good enough at this point.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#73 Rutgers Scarlet Knights

NATIONAL FORECAST

#73

Big Ten East Division PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Kyle Flood, 15-11 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ralph Friedgen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Joe Rossi

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 73 Rutgers.

Previewing Rutgers’ Offense for 2014:

New offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen — the former Maryland head coach — inherits a wealth of experience and one major decision: Should inconsistent senior Gary Nova be the quarterback to lead Rutgers into the Big Ten or should it be an unproven newcomer? Nova made 23 consecutive starts before being benched for the final three games last season. Redshirt freshman Chris Laviano will challenge Nova for the position through the summer and into preseason camp.

Beyond that, the offense is set. All five offensive line starters return, with four-year starter Kaleb Johnson anchoring the unit at left guard after briefly considering entering the NFL Draft.

The running back tandem of Paul James (881 rushing yards in nine games) and Justin Goodwin (521 rushing yards as a true freshman last year) also returns, along with fullback Michael Burton.

Tight end Tyler Kroft, who caught a team-leading 43 passes last season, has All-Big Ten potential. The wide receiver spots will have a new look, but Leonte Carroo (nine TD catches and a team-leading 17.1-yard average) flashed star potential before being injured at the end of last year. Slot receiver Ruhann Peele (28 catches) will concentrate strictly on offense this season after also being forced to start at cornerback a year ago. Andre Patton, a sophomore, has offered hints of being a No. 1 receiver.

Previewing Rutgers’ Defense for 2014:

A year after the team set school records for total yards allowed (5,366) and passing yards allowed (4,056), there’s a new defensive coordinator, Joe Rossi. Philosophically, there won’t be a noticeable change, but Rossi has already left his imprint on the unit with a bold personnel move. Steve Longa, a Freshman All-American last season, and senior Kevin Snyder will switch positions. Longa’s speed is better suited for the weak side, while Snyder’s size makes him an ideal fit at middle linebacker.

The secondary, which was roughed up a year ago, offers Rossi his biggest challenge after seven different players started at corner — including two true freshmen in the same game — during the 2013 season. Most of the young players now have experience after their trial by fire. Chief among them are Anthony Cioffi, expected to handle one starting corner spot, Delon Stephenson and Nadir Barnwell. All three were forced to play as true freshmen last year. Three-year starter Lorenzo Waters will lead the unit from his strong safety spot.

The defensive line will undergo some change, though tackle Darius Hamilton and end Djwany Mera are returning starters. A key to the line will be the play at nose tackle, where senior Kenneth Kirksey will share time with promising redshirt freshman Sebastian Joseph. Julian Pinnix-Odrick is being counted on to provide a pass-rushing presence at the other end spot.

Previewing Rutgers’ Specialists for 2014:

Kyle Federico overcame inconsistency and injuries to establish himself as the starting placekicker, a role the junior will handle again after going 12-of-18 on field goals last season. But there’s uncertainty at punter, where junior Joe Roth appears to have the advantage despite never appearing in a game. The return game is in game-breaking hands once again after Janarion Grant dazzled as a true freshman last year on both punts and kickoffs.

Final Analysis

Rutgers welcomes back a solid group of returning starters, but there is uncertainty at the all-important quarterback position, and the schedule is the most difficult in school history. The defense, torched by teams from the American Athletic Conference in 2013, must show significant improvement. There is a chance Rutgers will be better in 2014 but fail to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2010 and only the second time since ’04.




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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#58 Indiana Hoosiers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#58

Big Ten West Division PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Kevin Wilson, 10-26 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Johns | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Knorr

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 58 Indiana.

Previewing Indiana’s Offense for 2014:

Indiana plays eight-win offense. The Hoosiers have done that for several seasons. They also play two-win defense. That has needed to change for many seasons. But offense is what gives coach Kevin Wilson the optimism that Indiana can finish a season in a bowl game for the first time since 2007.

Wilson is comfortable playing multiple quarterbacks. He’s done that all three years in Bloomington. Tre Roberson started four games last season. Nate Sudfeld started eight. The plan was for them to split time again this fall, but Roberson transferred in June. Sudfeld won’t run much, but he throws a better deep ball. Indiana will miss Roberson's mobility and won't have a proven backup for Sudfeld.

The Hoosiers lost their top two receivers and tight end, but Wilson always has plenty of replacement parts. Speedy veteran Shane Wynn was the star of the spring game, catching five passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Dominique Booth, a decommit from Tennessee, enrolled early and had a solid spring.

After leading the Hoosiers with 958 yards in 2013, halfback Tevin Coleman returned from knee surgery to carry three times in the spring game and show that he’s ready to contribute again. With five experienced players returning and sophomore Dan Feeney back from a knee injury, the offensive line should be the strength of this unit. Tackle Jason Spriggs has NFL ability.

Previewing Indiana’s Defense for 2014:

The numbers never lie. You’re not going beat any good teams when your defense allows 527.9 yards per game. Somebody had to take the hit after the Hoosiers were pounded for 38.8 points per game in 2013, so Brian Knorr arrives from Wake Forest to fix a defense that cost coordinator Doug Mallory his job. Knorr is transitioning the scheme to a 3-4 because it fits the Hoosiers’ personnel and because that is the alignment Knorr ran at Wake.

Expect Ralph Green to plug the nose guard spot. The pass rush needs to bring more heat. IU delivered 20 sacks last season. Nick Mangieri returns on one edge. Sophomore David Kenney had a productive spring game, and the Hoosiers could use his speed and athleticism.

Indiana suffered with three freshman linebackers last season, but Wilson believes the suffering will end this fall because T.J. Simmons Marcus Oliver and Clyde Newton played through their mistakes. Indiana has not had a linebacker drafted by the NFL since 1979.

When a defense allows 5.4 yards per rush, the passing defense is not always severely tested. Cornerbacks Tim Bennett and Michael Hunter improved their coverage skills but contributed only two interceptions. Antonio Allen has the ability to be a star at safety but is recovering from knee surgery.

Previewing Indiana’s Specialists for 2014:

Aaron Del Grosso inherits the formidable task of replacing the dependable leg of Mitch Ewald for field goals and extra points. Punter Erich Toth averaged 40.6 yards per kick. Wynn returned a punt for a touchdown and also averaged better than 23 yards per kickoff return.

Final Analysis

The Indiana football story needs to break the endless loop of great offense, awful defense. A shift should begin this season. The defense looked faster, stronger and more determined during the spring game. The offense has more questions than usual after losing three of its top four receivers. But Indiana can rely on Sudfeld's arm, one of the Big Ten’s best runners in Coleman and IU’s best offensive line in a decade. A shift from eight home games to six will hurt. And the non-conference schedule, which includes trips to MAC-favorite Bowling Green and Missouri, is far from easy. Finding six wins will be a challenge.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#52 Minnesota Golden Gophers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#52

Big Ten West Division PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Jerry Kill, 17-21 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Limegrover | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tracy Claeys

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 52 Minnesota.

Previewing Minnesota’s Offense for 2014: 

Three weeks after Minnesota’s loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl, the Gophers’ most experienced quarterback, Philip Nelson, announced he was transferring. He said he was seeking a more pass-oriented offense and quickly landed at Rutgers before his dismissal from the team this summer. Nelson’s departure leaves Mitch Leidner in charge of Minnesota’s offense. Leidner battled Nelson for playing time last season, starting four games and completing 55.1 percent of his passes.

Beyond Nelson, most of the offense returns, including 1,200-yard rusher David Cobb. With the offensive line returning almost fully intact, the Gophers will rely heavily on their running game again, especially with redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards flashing loads of promise during spring practice.

Tight ends have become a major part of Minnesota’s passing game, especially Maxx Williams, but wide receiver is still the team’s biggest concern. Derrick Engel, who led the team in receiving last year before tearing his ACL, has graduated. Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones both had productive freshman seasons, and junior KJ Maye is back from a sports hernia injury. But the Gophers probably need some of their incoming freshmen to emerge.

Previewing Minnesota’s Defense for 2014:

A defense that ranked 25th in the nation in points allowed (22.2 ppg) needs to replace two All-Big Ten selections — defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman and defensive back Brock Vereen. The defensive line still has Theiren Cockran, who led the team with 7.5 sacks last year, but depth looked like an issue for that unit this spring.

The linebacker corps took a hit this spring when Cody Poock suffered a torn ACL. Poock, who looked ready to start at outside linebacker, didn’t rule out a return this fall, but the Gophers wasted little time moving Jack Lynn into the strong-side role. Lynn was stuck at middle linebacker, behind Damien Wilson, who made 78 tackles as a junior. The Gophers believe weak-side linebacker De’Vondre Campbell will be an eventual star, and as much as they’ll miss Vereen’s leadership, they still believe the secondary is the strength of the defense.

Previewing Minnesota’s Specialists for 2014:

Junior punter Peter Mortell averaged 43.3 yards per punt last season — the third-best mark in Gophers history. Redshirt freshman Ryan Santoso, an Under Armour All-American in 2012, is the leading candidate to take over at kicker for departing senior Chris Hawthorne. Marcus Jones is back after scoring touchdowns on a punt return and kick return within the first two weeks last year.

Final Analysis

Coming off its best season since 2003, Minnesota has the talent to improve again this year, if the Gophers can survive a more difficult schedule. Coach Jerry Kill’s teams have gone 3–9, 6–7 and 8–5 in his first three seasons. He sees parallels to the way his programs progressed at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. “We built it on defense, and now you’ve got to bring the offense (along),” he says. “That’s what we’ve done everywhere we’ve been.”

Kill, who turns 53 in August, faced more questions about his health last season after an in-game seizure against Western Illinois and another that kept him from traveling to Michigan.

He was the lowest-paid coach in the Big Ten last year, at $1.1 million, but the university more than doubled his salary with a new deal that will pay him an average of $2.3 million through 2018.
“I think it shows our commitment to football,” Gophers AD Norwood Teague says. “It shows our commitment to Jerry, and it’s the right thing to do at this time.”

Now, Kill will seek to justify his big payday, as the Gophers move into the Big Ten West. They have a non-conference matchup against TCU and two tough draws from the Big Ten East — Michigan and Ohio State.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#51 Northwestern Wildcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#51

Big Ten West Division PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Pat Fitzgerald, 55-46 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mick McCall | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Hankwitz

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 51 Northwestern.

Previewing Northwestern’s Offense for 2014: 

After two years with a two-quarterback system and a run-oriented attack, Northwestern likely will return to its pass-first roots under coordinator Mick McCall. Trevor Siemian put to rest any questions about a quarterback competition with an impressive spring. He boasts a plus arm and has been productive when healthy.

If protected, Siemian should capitalize on Northwestern’s depth at the wide receiver and superback (tight end/H-back) positions. Veterans Tony Jones and Christian Jones return at wideout, and Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler is a prototype slot receiver who can stretch defenses with his speed. Kyle Prater is finally healthy and provides size on the perimeter, and top superback Dan Vitale has star potential after recording 62 receptions in his first two seasons.

Although the offense should have a passing lean, it also looks strong at running back, especially with Venric Mark returning after an injury-plagued 2013 season. Mark eclipsed 1,300 rushing yards in 2012, and despite his size provides a between-the-tackles threat. Treyvon Green is a solid backup, and Warren Long and Stephen Buckley both will push for carries.

The depth at the skill positions won’t matter if the line doesn’t dramatically improve. Competition ramped up at several positions in the spring. Other than center Brandon Vitabile and tackle Paul Jorgensen, no spot is safe. Northwestern had its lowest third-down conversion percentage (39.9) since 2006 and must get back to moving the chains.

Previewing Northwestern’s Defense for 2014: 

Seven starters return on a unit that repeatedly put Northwestern in position to win last season. “We were five plays away from winning five more games,” coordinator Mike Hankwitz says. “We’ve just got to make those plays.” Takeaways could be a hallmark for the defense, especially a secondary featuring more depth than any in coach Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure. Senior safety Ibraheim Campbell is the headliner of the secondary, but Northwestern will be able to go two or three deep at every position as several redshirt freshmen, including safeties Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro, enter the mix.

Two veteran playmakers return at linebacker in Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis, who has moved from the strong side to the middle. They combined for seven interceptions and 184 tackles last season.

Offseason surgeries hit the defensive line hard, creating some question marks entering the fall. The pass rush should be strong with ends Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo. Defensive tackle was a weak point a year ago, and Northwestern needs Sean McEvilly to stay healthy and C.J. Robbins to build on his strong finish. Opponents ran at the middle of the Wildcats’ defense too easily in 2013.

Previewing Northwestern’s Specialists for 2014:

The Wildcats lose a huge piece in the kicking game in Jeff Budzien, the Big Ten’s top placekicker each of the past two years, but they also regain a weapon in Mark, an All-America punt returner in 2012. Northwestern needs Arthur Omilian or Hunter Niswander to show poise and Chris Gradone to stabilize a shaky punting situation. 

Final Analysis

The good vibes accompanying Northwestern for much of Fitzgerald’s tenure vanished after the program’s first bowl-less season since 2007, but Northwestern returns a roster strong enough to return to the postseason and play spoiler in a wide-open Big Ten West. The offense finally has a quarterback and an identity, but questions remain up front. The defense is still reliant on takeaways but boasts good depth throughout the unit.

Northwestern plays Notre Dame, Northern Illinois and Cal in non-league play but misses both Ohio State and Michigan State in the Big Ten. The Wildcats should return to the postseason in 2014.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#48 Maryland Terrapins

NATIONAL FORECAST

#48

Big Ten East PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Randy Edsall, 13-24 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Locksley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Stewart

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 48 Maryland.

Previewing Maryland’s Offense for 2014:

The Big Ten’s new kid on the block has the potential to be potent offensively if it can get healthy. Senior quarterback C.J. Brown became the first Terrapin to ever pass for 2,000 yards and rush for more than 500 in a single season, but his physical style makes him prone to injury, particularly behind an unproven offensive line still hoping to add pieces this summer.

But what Brown can do for you, besides make chunk-yardage plays on the ground, is get the ball to two talented targets, speedsters Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both back from broken legs. Their return should make the Terps better on third down — where they converted just 32 percent of the time (114th nationally) in 2013 — and make Maryland a quick-strike team in a pound-on-the-ground league.

The return of sophomore tailback Wes Brown from suspension improves a running back-by-committee that boasts Brandon Ross and his 776 rushing yards last year. C.J. Brown and Diggs, who will get the ball in a variety of ways in multiple receiver formations, are the main threats, though.

Previewing Maryland’s Defense for 2014:

The Terrapins should be stout on the defensive line with nose tackle Darius Kilgo flanked by sack-machine Andre Monroe and quick Quinton Jefferson. There’s some depth, too, behind them, particularly in the middle with Keith Bowers and Nate Clarke.

Seniors Cole Farrand and L.A. Goree both return at inside linebacker, and they can locate and discombobulate runners with the best of them. Farrand was honorable mention All-ACC and second on the team with 84 tackles (7.6 per game) despite an array of nagging injuries. On the outside, Matt Robinson is a stud in pass coverage just like a former safety should be. Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil was on his way to a monster year terrorizing quarterbacks when a pectoral injury knocked him out of the last seven games.

Jeremiah Johnson is back from a toe injury that took him out of all but two games, and he’s a lockdown corner. Fearless 5'7" sophomore William Likely returns at the field corner. Better play from veteran safeties Sean Davis and Anthony Nixon will help, too.

Previewing Maryland’s Specialists for 2014: 

The special teams were markedly improved last year under coordinator Andre Powell. When Diggs went down and the Terps lost his 23.4 yards per kickoff return, Likely stepped in and averaged 26.0 yards. He had a punt return TD at Virginia Tech. Brad Craddock bounced back from an erratic freshman year to hit 21-of-25 field goals, 20-of-22 inside 50 yards. His 1.62 field goals per game led the ACC. Punter Nathan Renfro had a 40.8-yard average but has been inconsistent and had a rocky spring.

Final Analysis

There’s some talent in tow as Maryland makes the big move to the Big Ten, but there are also questions. After winning seven games last season, fourth-year coach Randy Edsall is still trying to get some traction while he continues to get players out of traction. The team’s top three receivers all return from injuries, and several defensive stalwarts are coming back from offseason surgery. If everyone’s healthy, Edsall has a team that could be explosive on offense (pending the play of the team’s biggest question mark, a makeshift offensive line). And the defense, with nine starters back, should be solid.

But how will a middlin’ (7–6 overall, 3–5 in conference) ACC team fare in the Big Ten? It’s one of this season’s most intriguing questions and one that Edsall’s most veteran Terrapin team — 87 percent of last year’s late-season two-deep returns — is anxious to answer.

“We’ll be ready,” C.J. Brown says.




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