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#58 Indiana Hoosiers



Big Ten West Division PREDICTION


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.


#52 Minnesota Golden Gophers



Big Ten West Division PREDICTION


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.


#48 Maryland Terrapins





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.


#51 Northwestern Wildcats



Big Ten West Division PREDICTION


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.


#32 Michigan Wolverines





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. 


#29 Nebraska Cornhuskers





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:

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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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