Big Ten

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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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#32 Michigan Wolverines

NATIONAL FORECAST

#32

Big Ten East PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Brady Hoke , 26-13 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Doug Nussmeier | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Mattison

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. 32 Michigan. 

Previewing Michigan’s Offense for 2014:

Al Borges is out. Doug Nussmeier is in. And Michigan is hoping that its program under Brady Hoke can be turned around because of it. After the Wolverines finished the 2013 season No. 86 nationally in total offense, Hoke fired Borges and hired Nussmeier away from Alabama. Nussmeier’s job? Fix a leaky offensive line, an up-and-down quarterback and two inexperienced running backs.

The biggest on-field concern for the Wolverines this season is on the offensive line. Michigan allowed a national-worst 114 tackles for a loss a year ago and averaged just 3.28 yards per carry as a team on the season. Michigan loses starting tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield but does return four players (guards Kyle Kalis and Kyle Bosch, tackle Erik Magnuson and center Graham Glasgow) with starting experience from a year ago.

Elsewhere, the Wolverines will rely on sophomore running backs Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith to handle the workload on the ground, while Justice Hayes will likely be the team’s third-down back. Combined, all three rushed for just 393 yards on 111 carries a year ago.

After throwing for 2,960 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2013, senior quarterback Devin Gardner is back for his final season — with his third offensive coordinator. Gardner overcame a broken bone in his foot last December and practiced at full speed during the spring, putting himself ahead of sophomore Shane Morris in the quarterback race. 

Previewing Michigan’s Defense for 2014:

Michigan’s defense began 2013 where it left off in ’12 — as a unit that found a way to keep a struggling offense in games. But as the season progressed, the defense began to slip, ultimately finishing No. 41 nationally in yards allowed per game, the worst mark of coordinator Greg Mattison’s current tenure with the Wolverines. 

The good news? Michigan brings back a ton of experience and a ton of depth from that group. All three starting linebackers return (Jake Ryan, James Ross and Desmond Morgan). Ryan, who missed half of last year with a knee injury, will move to middle linebacker this season and will likely be flanked by Ross and Morgan.

Up front, Michigan brings back Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer, as well as 2013 contributors Chris Wormley, Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. In the defensive backfield, starting corners Blake Countess and Ray Taylor are back, as is starting free safety Jarrod Wilson.

The biggest boost here, though, might not arrive until August, when five-star cornerback Jabrill Peppers joins the program. Arguably the most anticipated recruit in Michigan history, Peppers is expected to have an impact right away in the defensive backfield, whether it’s at corner or safety. 

Previewing Michigan’s Specialists for 2014:

Michigan adds the 2012 Big Ten Punter of the Year, Will Hagerup, back to its roster this season. Hagerup missed the entire 2013 season due to a team-enforced suspension. The Wolverines will also have a new kicker this season; look for senior Matt Wile, who served as Brendan Gibbons’ backup over the past three years, to step into that role. 

Final Analysis

After Michigan went 8–5 and 7–6 over the past two seasons, the shine from Hoke’s 11–2 debut campaign is officially gone. The 2014 season is clearly the most important of Hoke’s tenure at Michigan. This is the youngest team Hoke has had during his time in Ann Arbor, but there is plenty of talent on the roster.

Michigan’s defense should be strong enough to keep it in games early in the season, but if the offense doesn’t show significant improvement, it’s hard to envision this team posing too much of a threat in the new Big Ten East Division. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#29 Nebraska Cornhuskers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#29

Big Ten West PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Bo Pelini, 58-24 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Beck | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Papuchis

The Big Ten’s West Division is up for grabs, and Nebraska has the talent and personnel to finish ahead of Wisconsin and Iowa. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong should be better in his second year under center, and he will have the luxury of working with two of the Big Ten’s top skill players in running back Ameer Abdullah and receiver Kenny Bell. Only three starters return on defense, but one of the players is All-America defensive end Randy Gregory. The Cornhuskers have a tough road schedule, which includes trips to Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Bo Pelini’s team has a difficult path to a division title, but this program is positioned for another solid year.

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. 29, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. 

Previewing Nebraska’s Offense for 2014:

All-Big Ten running back Ameer Abdullah is back after considering an early exit by way of the NFL Draft. Abdullah rushed for 1,690 yards, fourth-most in Husker history, with 100 or more yards in 11 games. There’s depth at I-back, including big back Imani Cross, who scored 10 touchdowns on just 85 carries. Ball security has been an emphasis for Abdullah and the rest of the offense.

Abdullah caught 26 passes, third-most on the team. But the Huskers ranked next-to-last in the conference in passing. Sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. is a threat on the option but threw almost as many interceptions, eight, as touchdown passes, nine. That has to change.

Kenny Bell, who has more career receptions than the rest of the wide receivers combined, is in position to become the leading receiver, statistically, in school history. Jamal Turner is a game-breaker but has never become the consistent threat expected when he was moved from quarterback as a freshman. He was limited by injury last season.

A key to success will be the development of a rebuilt offensive line. Left guard Jake Cotton is among the team’s emotional leaders. Left tackle Alex Lewis, a transfer from Colorado, is a potential star.

Previewing Nebraska’s Defense for 2014:

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big Ten Preview, which includes an in-depth look at every team, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
Even though the Huskers are young on defense, this side of the ball should be the strength of the team, with end Randy Gregory, an All-America candidate, leading the way. He led the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks, nine of them in conference play. The Huskers’ marked defensive improvement over the course of last season coincided with his development following a transfer from Arizona Western Community College. Sophomore tackles Vincent Valentine and Maliek Collins will anchor the middle of the line. They need to stay healthy, unless some young players develop quickly.

Depth isn’t a problem at linebacker, which has a wealth of returning players, including Trevor Roach, who missed last season because of injury. David Santos was second on the team in tackles but will have to compete for playing time. Sophomores Michael Rose and Josh Banderas are also important pieces.

Safety Corey Cooper and cornerback Josh Mitchell are the most experienced players on defense, with a combined 32 starts. Mitchell is among the team’s vocal leaders.

Previewing Nebraska’s Specialists for 2014:

The Huskers ranked 121st nationally in punt returns; their longest was 19 yards. Incoming freshmen should help, Glenn Irons prominent among them with nine return touchdowns as a high school senior. Bell tied for the Big Ten lead in kickoff-return average. The senior wide receiver returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against Penn State. Punter Sam Foltz, a walk-on, is back, but placekicker Pat Smith must be replaced. Mauro Bondi, who had 48 touchbacks on kickoffs, will be challenged by freshman Drew Brown. 

Final Analysis

Bo Pelini’s record is 58–24, with at least nine victories in each of his six seasons. But he has yet to coach a conference champion. In fact, Nebraska hasn’t won a conference title since 1999, much too long for a program with three national titles in the five years prior to that.

In the aftermath of a 38–17 regular-season-ending loss to Iowa, speculation spread that Pelini’s tenure as coach might be over. But he has since received a contract extension through the 2018 season. Extension or not, however, there’s pressure to win a championship and return to national relevance. The Huskers should have the defense for that. The question is whether the offense can be balanced enough to get the job done against a schedule that sets up very well in a restructured division of the expanded Big Ten.

The Debate

Nebraska or Iowa: Who Finishes Higher in the Big Ten in 2014?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#26 Iowa Hawkeyes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#26

Big Ten West PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Kirk Ferentz, 120-100 (18 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Greg Davis | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Parker

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. 26 Iowa. 

Previewing Iowa’s Offense for 2014:

Unlike this time last season, there is reason to be optimistic about the Iowa offense. Six starters return, including quarterback Jake Rudock, leading rusher Mark Weisman, leading receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and potential All-America left tackle Brandon Scherff.

Rudock passed for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, helping Iowa double its win total from the disastrous 2012 season with an 8–5 record. Hardly a dual-threat quarterback, Rudock showed surprising mobility before being hobbled by a knee injury down the stretch. His biggest flaw was the tendency to force passes into coverage, which resulted in 13 interceptions.

Iowa is loaded at running back, and Scherff is among three starters returning on the offensive line, which is traditionally a strength for the Hawkeyes under veteran coach Kirk Ferentz. The 236-pound Weisman led the team with 975 rushing yards last season, using a bruising style that fits nicely in Iowa’s power running scheme. Junior Jordan Canzeri and senior Damon Bullock rushed for 481 and 467 yards, respectively, last season. Both are more elusive than Weisman, while Bullock is also a threat as a receiver. LeShun Daniels, a 6'0", 230-pound sophomore, is also an intriguing option.

There is a void at tight end with C.J. Fiedorowicz having moved on. But much like the offensive line, tight end is traditionally a stable position for the Hawkeyes, and that’s the expectation for this season. Senior Ray Hamilton and junior Jake Duzey are among four tight ends with extensive game experience.

Previewing Iowa’s Defense for 2014:

Six starters have to be replaced, including all three linebackers and an All-Big Ten cornerback. It’ll be a daunting task, made easier by the presence of two standout tackles. Senior Carl Davis was one of the most improved players on the team last season, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors after being a reserve in 2012. Fellow senior tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat also progressed throughout last season, his first as a full-time starter.

However, he and Davis won’t have the luxury of playing with three senior standout linebackers, as was the case last season. Senior Quinton Alston has waited three seasons to replace James Morris at middle linebacker and now finally has that opportunity. Alston made an impact on special teams last season, in addition to being a key part to a new rush package that was installed in 2013.

Replacing All-Big Ten cornerback B.J. Lowery is a priority, but the Hawkeyes also might have a star in the making at that position in sophomore Desmond King. He started every game last season and finished sixth on the team with 69 tackles to go along with eight pass break-ups. Senior strong safety John Lowdermilk also returns after starting all 13 games last season.

Previewing Iowa’s Specialists for 2014:

Martin-Manley is a reliable punt returner, and there plenty of candidates to return kicks. The kicking game, however, is a concern. Mike Meyer has moved on after handling the placekicking duties the past four seasons. Walk-on Marshall Koehn was listed as the starter throughout spring practice, but incoming freshman Mick Ellis will be given a chance to win the job. Junior punter Connor Kornbrath is back, but he struggled with consistency, so the staff signed junior college prospect Dillon Kidd to compete with him. 

Final Analysis

Many of the pieces are in place for Iowa to continue this latest resurgence under Ferentz, especially on offense. Combine that with a schedule that doesn’t include Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State, and has Iowa State, Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Kinnick Stadium, and there is reason to believe Iowa can be a legitimate contender in the new Big Ten West Division.




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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#3 Ohio State Buckeyes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#3

Big Ten East Division PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Urban Meyer, 24-2 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tom Herman, Ed Warinner | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Ash, Luke Fickell

Ohio State opened Urban Meyer’s tenure 24-0, but the Buckeyes finished 2013 on a two-game losing streak. Despite the late-season losses, Ohio State is a slight favorite to win the Big Ten in 2014. Quarterback Braxton Miller returns after earning first-team All-Big Ten honors, and he will be surrounded by a talented group of skill players, including running back Ezekiel Elliott and receiver Devin Smith. The defense boasts the best line in college football, but the back seven is a concern. A trip to East Lansing in early November will play a huge role in determining the Big Ten’s East Division champion.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25.

Previewing Ohio State's Offense for 2014:  

The Buckeyes went 12–0 in Urban Meyer’s first season in Columbus in 2012 and repeated that mark through the 2013 regular season largely on the exploits of quarterback Braxton Miller, backup Kenny Guiton and running back Carlos Hyde, who rambled for more than 100 yards in all but one Big Ten game.

Even with the defense faltering in postseason losses to Michigan State and Clemson, Ohio State clearly displayed it could rack up yards (511.9 ypg) and points (school-record 637) with regularity. And the offense was especially sharp at the outset of games as the Buckeyes outscored foes 229–69 in the first quarter.

It’s hard to imagine this year’s unit being nearly as efficient, especially considering OSU has to replace Hyde, four starting offensive linemen (including Jack Mewhort) and leading receiver Corey “Philly” Brown.

Still, Miller is back to carry the day, and Meyer continues to surround him with speedsters with game-changing ability. True freshmen Curtis Samuel and Johnnie Dixon, for example, figure to mix in at the skill positions with the likes of Ezekiel Elliott, Dontre Wilson, and veteran wideouts Devin Smith and Evan Spencer.

Taylor Decker will have to anchor the line at left tackle, Mewhort’s old spot, while guard Pat Elflein, center  Chad Lindsay (a post-graduate transfer from Alabama) and others try to provide stability. Tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett are blocking and pass-catching assets.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Ohio State Buckeyes for 2014:


Previewing Ohio State's Defense for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big Ten Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
Meyer believes he has one of the premier defensive lines in the country, and a look at the returning personnel supports the theory. Senior Michael Bennett, ticketed to play an interior spot, is wily and tough, and another former end, Adolphus Washington, also is making a successful transition inside. Ends Joey Bosa and Noah Spence are heat-seeking missiles who give tackles fits.

The linebacking corps lost leading tackler Ryan Shazier to the NFL, but Joshua Perry, who clicked during the second half of last season, will take over his weak-side spot. Local product Darron Lee has the lead on the strong side after showing he has the tenacity and speed for the position. Senior Curtis Grant turned in his best spring according to Meyer and could be in for a productive season at middle linebacker. Then again, Grant has to hold off freshman Raekwon McMillan, who enrolled early and stood out during spring drills.

The secondary will feature senior Doran Grant, who is on track to be OSU’s next award-winning corner, while Armani Reeves and Gareon Conley also will check receivers. The safeties — Tyvis Powell and either Vonn Bell or Cam Burrows — are highly athletic and improving tacklers. This unit needs to develop in a hurry, though, as the Buckeyes struggled against the pass last season.

Previewing Ohio State's Specialists for 2014:

The Buckeyes need a new kicker and appear to have found one in rugged freshman Sean Nuernberger. Cameron Johnston made a freshman splash at punter last season and already appears to be the cream of the crop in the Big Ten. Special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs again will put a premium on kick coverage, and the Buckeyes have enough top-flight athletes to make some noise on returns.

Final Analysis 

On one hand, Ohio State has too many unproven players, including several seniors with less-than-inspiring résumés. On the other, the roster is littered with raw athleticism and speed, which can cover up a lot of imperfections. Plus, the defensive line could be dynamite. This would appear to be a transition year if it weren’t for the fiery drive of Meyer and the unique talents of Miller. If the slick QB has a Heisman-like season, OSU likely will compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Ohio State No. 3:

1. Improvement on defense
Despite losing linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby, Ohio State’s defense should improve off a disappointing 2013 season. The Buckeyes allowed 5.4 yards per play in Big Ten games and finished fifth in the league by allowing 24 points per game (Big Ten-only contests). Seven starters return for 2014, and this unit was bolstered by the addition of two new assistants. Larry Johnson Sr. comes to Ohio State from Penn State to tutor the defensive line, and Chris Ash was hired from Arkansas to serve as co-defensive coordinator. Although the Buckeyes didn’t have a vintage Ohio State defense last year, the returning talent and additions on the coaching staff suggest improvement is coming in 2014.

2. Braxton Miller’s development
Kenny Guiton expired his eligibility after the Orange Bowl, leaving a significant void at backup quarterback. While replacing a No. 2 signal-caller may seem like a small issue for Ohio State, Miller missed two games in 2013 and was also injured in 2012. When he’s on the field, the senior is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and made progress as a passer in 2013. Miller raised his completion percentage to 63.5 after posting a 58.3 mark in 2012. He also recorded 36 passing plays of 20 or more yards in 2013, an increase from 26 in 2012. Miller still has more development ahead, but there were positive signs last season and another step forward is expected in 2014.

3. Emerging talent at the skill positions
Offensive coordinator Tom Herman was busy this spring, as Ohio State started the process of replacing running back Carlos Hyde (1,521 yards) and receiver Corey Brown (10 touchdown catches in 2013). However, the cupboard is far from bare, and there’s hope the 2014 edition of the Buckeyes’ skill players will be even better than the 2013 version. Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball are capable options at running back, with Dontre Wilson a breakout candidate in the hybrid running back/receiver role. The Buckeyes need more consistency at receiver, and there’s veteran experience with Devin Smith and Evan Spencer returning. Urban Meyer is counting on freshmen Curtis Samuel, James Clark and Jalin Marshall, along with sophomore Michael Thomas to emerge in the receiving corps. This unit is unsettled, but there’s also a lot of talent.

4. The nation’s No. 1 defensive line
Urban Meyer is no stranger to elite defensive lines from his tenure at Florida, and the third-year coach at Ohio State has already assembled the nation’s deepest and best defensive lines for 2014. Noah Spence is suspended for the first two games, but Joey Bosa and Steve Miller are capable replacements. The interior is set with Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington – two potential All-Americans – and backups Tommy Schutt and Michael Hill are solid. Ohio State finished ninth nationally against the run and averaged three sacks per game in 2013. Expect this unit to dominate opposing Big Ten offensive lines in 2014.

5. Overall edge in talent and No. 1 coach in the Big Ten
The debate between Ohio State and Michigan State at Athlon Sports for the No. 1 spot in the Big Ten was not an easy one. The Spartans have defeated the Buckeyes in two out of the last three years and lost by one point in 2012. The gap between Michigan State and Ohio State is very small. But if you are looking for an edge, the Buckeyes have an advantage in talent in recruiting rankings. Ohio State has averaged the No. 7 class nationally from the last five years, while Michigan State ranks No. 30. Mark Dantonio and Urban Meyer are two of the nation’s top-10 coaches, but an edge goes to Meyer. The Buckeyes have question marks to address, but the Spartans also must replace several key players from last year’s team. With an advantage in talent, combined with the Big Ten’s top quarterback and head coach, Ohio State is a slight favorite over Michigan State to win the conference in 2014.

The Debate

Is Braxton Miller the Big Ten's Best Quarterback?

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