Saturday, July 19, 2014

2014 College Football Preview: Big 10

The Big 10 adds two new members, however useless they are to the bigger picture (Maryland, Rutgers). If the Big Ten needed new members, certainly there had to be better big picture candidates. The conference seemed to be dead set on adding the New York/New Jersey and Washington DC markets. Here's a newsflash...those are two terrible college football markets that are pro sports markets first, and college football falls about fifth or sixth in priority when it comes to coverage, or even fan interest. Add to that the fact that Maryland and Rutgers are historical average to horrible programs, and the Big 14 really grades an epic fail when it comes to who they chose to expand with. The conference would have been better off staying at 12 until better candidates chose to come along. Sometimes market size and TV viewing households do not translate when it comes to college football fandom. It's dated thinking at best.
The good news is that the conference has as many as four teams that could all influence the national title picture, either by eliminating someone from consideration, or by winning out and making the move for themselves. The pressure is on.

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Ohio State
2. Michigan State
3. Michigan
4. Penn State
5. Indiana
6. Rutgers
7. Maryland

1. Wisconsin
2. Nebraska
3. Iowa
4. Minnesota
5. Northwestern
6. Illinois
7. Purdue

Most Overrated

Most Underrated

Coaches on the Hot Seat
Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Randy Edsell, Maryland
Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Tim Beckman, Illinois
Bo Pelini, Nebraska

Best Coach
Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Worst Coach
Tim Beckman, Illinois

Conference Preview

The following teams are expected to post winning records and acquire bowl bids...

Ohio State Buckeyes
Projected 2014 Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Urban Meyer (24-2, 3rd season)

The Buckeyes will likely be one of the more explosive offensive teams in college football in 2014. Back is QB Braxton Miller, one of the best QBs in the nation, and a big time Heisman candidate. He is a game changer who needs to stay healthy to give the Buckeyes a shot to win it all inside and outside of the Big 10.
Ezekiel Elliott gets the nod at RB as a sophomore, but he is a weapon to be used plenty out of the backfield and in the passing game. He can be lined up all over the field, and could be a prime time power back as well.
OSU also returns one of the best receiving corps in the game in Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, but SLOT receiver Dontre Wilson will, like Elliott, be used as a weapon in various forms, and may be the most talented of the group in his first season as a starter. Jeff Heuerman is the returning starter at TE, and just gives the Buckeyes yet one more weapon in the passing game.
The only concern on this offense is the line, which could make or break the season, as only one starter (LT Taylor Dekker) returns for the 2014 season.
The secondary was the biggest issue a season ago, and it appears that it may be the Achilles once again in 2014. only CB Doran Grant returns from a unit that finished 110th against the pass in last fall by allowing 268 yards per game through the air.
The story is different up front, as the defense ranked 9th nationally against the run. Noah Spence leads a talented and deep unit up front at DE, and is joined on the line by returning starters DE Joey Bosa and DT Michael Bennett. Adolphus Washington looks to be in line to start at the opne DT position.
At LB, Joshua Perry returns as the leading tackler from a season ago, finishing with 84 tackles on the season. Curtis Grant returns at LB as well, while freshman Raekwon McMillan may battle for playing time in fall camp.
Special Teams
The Buckeyes will be turning over the PK duties to a freshman in Sean Nuemberger, but he will still have to prove himself in camp. It's always a risk to go with a freshman in such an important position. Cameron Johnston brings his cannon leg back after averaging 44 yards per punt in 2013.
Opening Game
8/30 Navy at Batimore
Final Overview
OSU is coming off of a two game losing streak to start the season, and nothing is ever guaranteed against a pesky Navy club in the opener. The secondary is being rebuilt, and wasn't that good to start with. The offense ought to score with the best of them, but the defense has some areas of shoring up to do in camp. Urban Meyer rolled off 24 straight wins to start his Buckeye career, and the Buckeyes could very well roll off 12 or 13 more this season, however, there is always a trap game in the Big 10, which is strong at the top. Michigan State is that trip up game, and nothing is ever guaranteed against Michigan in the finale, and certainly don't forget trap games in non-conference play against Navy and Virginia Tech.

Michigan State Spartans
Projected 2014 Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (64-29, 8th season)

The offense struggled at times in 2013, but came through when it was needed most, and the QB position, which was a liability when the season began, turned into a strength when Connor Cook stepped up. The junior is well in charge heading into the fall, and will lead a unit that should be much improved.
Jeremy Langford rushed for 1422 yards last fall, and returns as the primary back as a senior. Langford is an absolute beast, and could be the best overall back in the Big 10, and could be one of the best nationally.
WR Tony Lippett stepped up late in the season as well last fall, and will be the number one target in the passing game. Josiah Price is the other returning starter in the passing game at TE. Joining Lippett as starter would be Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings, but Kings was suspended and he may or may not be back. If Kings is gone, then expect DeAnthony Arnett to step into the other starting role.
The line ran an eight man rotation last fall, and it is paying off in 2014. Jack Allen returns as the starting Center, and the only other returning full time starter is LT Jack Conklin. The main question will be at RT, where sophomore Kodi Kieler is slated to start.
The best news here is the return of DC Pat Narduzzi, who turned down a few head coaching jobs to remain as DC at MSU. He returns some intriguing pieces from a unit that finished 2nd nationally in total defense last season.
Shilique Calhoun returns as the reigning Big Ten DL of the year in 2014 at DE. He is joined at the other DE spot by Marcus Rush. They compliment each other perfectly coming off of either edge. Lawrence Thomas and Damon Knox will be new starters in the middle of the line.
Max Bullough and Denicos Allen have both departed, but that doesn't mean that talent isn't still flowing. Taiwan Jones will be back in the middle at LB, and should be joined by new starters Darien Harris and Ed Davis, both juniors.
Trae Waynes has to be counted on to lead the secondary at CB, but the other spot is vulnerable with a sophomore taking over in Darian Hicks. Senior Kurtis Drummond will return at FS, and will be joined at SS by incoming freshman Jalyn Powell, who is expected to have a huge impact from day one in the program.
Special Teams
The kicking game is set with the return of PK Michael Geiger and P Mike Sadler. Geiger hit on 15 of 16 FGs last fall, while Sadler averaged 42.5 yards per punt and led the nation in punts downed inside the ten.
Opening Game
8/29 Jacksonville State
Final Overview
The Spartans will easily be the main challenger in division for Ohio State, and will be a major player in the national picture as well. Dantonio signed a lengthy contract extension, and Narduzzi returned to run one of the best defenses found anywhere. The Spartans are in prime position to be a major national power for the next several seasons, and have now surpassed instate rival Michigan for state superiority.

Wisconsin Badgers
Projected 2014 Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Gary Anderson (9-4, 2nd season)

Imrovement must come from the passing game if the Badgers are to become players in the conference race. Wisconsin finished just 93rd in passing last fall, but Joel Stave is back with another season under his belt at QB despite being pushed by Tanner McAvoy in camp.
The other key to the passing game must come from a largely inexperienced group at WR, as the entire returning corps combined for 28 grabs last fall. Jordan Frederick and Kenzel Doe will have to step up as they head the depth chart heading into camp. Sam Ameson is also fighting to take over at TE.
Melvin Gordon is a beast at RB, and will be joined in the strong backfield committee by Corey Clement, who is a strong replacement for the departed James White.
The line returns intact, with only one new starter in C Dan Voltz.
Dave Aranda will have to completely rebuild the defense, as only three starters return, and they're all in the secondary. Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary are both back at CB, and junior Michael Caputo returns at SS, and is largely expected to be the unit leader. Sophomore Leo Musso is in the lead to start at FS heading into the fall.
The entire front seven is going to be loaded with new starters, but that's not all bad for the Badgers. Aranda likes the unit that he has coming in, and figures to blitz more and have more intricate schemes going on in the 3-4 defense. The only issue with having so many new faces is that depth figures to be an issue. As good as the new faces may be, injuries could wreck the season that could be special if all things come together.
Special Teams
Jack Russell is back at PK after hitting 9 of 13 FGs last fall. That being said, he is being challenged by big time recruit Rafael Gaglianone in camp. That could be an interesting battle heading into the fall, and both could see action during the early part of the year.
Drew Meyer returns as the Punter, but he had a subpar season in 2013, averaging just 38.6 yards per punt. He has a firm hold on the job, and has no real challengers heading into the season.
Opening Game
8/30 LSU at Houston
Final Overview
Despite so many new faces and questions, if all things come together, the Badgers could be playing for a Big Ten title, and could make a push in the national picture. Gary Anderson is one hell of a coach, and resisted being recruited to leave by the Cleveland Browns. In all reality, that shouldn't have been a difficult call to make, and staying in Madison was the right call. The opener is tough with LSU in what is an essential home game for the Tigers, but the Badgers should blow through the next eight games until they run into Nebraska and Iowa in back to back weeks in November. If you are looking for a dark horse, Wisconsin could be your team.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
Projected 2014 Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Bo Pelini (58-24, 7th season)

This unit was largely all over the place in 2013, and the Huskers come into the season looking for stability, especially at the QB position, which never should have been an issue. Tommie Armstrong, Jr. comes in as the man at QB this fall after starting eight times a year ago in relief. Armstrong looked wonderful sometimes, and awful in other situations. He has had a full spring to lock into the role, and should be more stable this time around.
One benefit Armstrong has is Ameer Abdullah running out of the I behind him. Abdullah rushed for 1690 yards last fall, and is one of the premier backs in the nation. If he can break into the end zone more than 9 times this fall, well, that would be just great.
Kenny Bell is one of the premier receivers in America, and he will try to give Armstrong a reliable target, especially in the red zone, where Bell is the man. Jamal Turner and Sam Burch are new full time starters, so that may be an issue as they develop into their roles. Cethan Carter returns to start at TE.
The line could be a mess, and that is a huge problem with a young QB trying to find his way. LG Jake Cotton is the lone returning starter. All of the front runners in the other positions are upper classmen, but that also means that depth could be a disaster when injuries hit.
Remember when the Huskers were one of the most dominant forces in college football? Well, many of you may not have been alive back in those days. Nebraska finished ranked 40th in total defense, and ranked no higher than 33rd in any given stat on the defensive side. That is where the problem is for Nebraska, and until that issue is resolved, Nebraska will never likely be a team to deal with on a national level, and the fan base needs to realize that. It all starts with the black shirts, and they may not be walking through that door.
Randy Gregory (DE) and Vincent Valentine (DT) are back on the line, but the other DL jobs are open. Michael Rose is back at LB, and more will be needed of him this fall. Zaire Anderson and David Santos will flank him, with Anderson being expected to add some impact on the edge rush.
Josh Mitchell will return to start at CB, but a new starter will be lining up on the other side in junior Jonathon Rose. Corey Cooper is back at SS, but FS is open, with the job likely falling to sophomore Leroy Alexander.
Special Teams
Mauro Bondi was expected to win the PK job, but wasn't solid enough in the spring, so now he finds himself in a battle with freshman Drew Brown heading into camp. Sam Fultz had a solid freshman season as the starting Punter, and is back after averaging 41.6 yards per punt.
Opening Game
8/30 Florida Atlantic
Final Overview
It all starts with fixing the QB play, the offensive line, and finding a way to return to dominance on defense. Bo Pelini is a cat with nine lives spent, as he somehow avoided being canned after having several meltdowns last season on and off the field. Pelini may have gotten an extension after last season, but make no mistake, the heat us at inferno level, and Pelini may not have the talent to break through with this football team. There are some nice pieces, but overall, there aren't enough special athletes on this football team to challenge the big boys in the Big Ten. This isn't the old days, when the Huskers could steam through the Big 2 and little 6. Pelini is going to hear it all year long, but the fan base also has to somehow cope with the fact that the 70s, 80s, and 90s are over, and the landscape has changed.

Iowa Hawkeyes
Projected 2014 Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (108-79, 16th season)

If you want to find a breakthrough player in the Big 10 in 2014, it may end up being QB Jake Rudock. Rudock was largely hit and miss last fall, but he may have developed enough from lessons learned that he could very well push forward and break through the upper echelon of conference QBs this fall. He certainly has some decent skills to build on after passing for 18 TDs and 2383 yards last fall.
Mark Weisman is back to start at RB, but the Hawkeyes are especially deep at RB, and Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock could add significant carries. There are six other RBs on the depth chart. FB Adam Cox will get the nod to start this fall.
Kevonte Martin-Manley never really broke through last fall at WR, but he has an opportunity this fall to be the leader on this offense. He has all of the skills to do so, but needs to step up big. Tevaun Smith will get the job opposite heading into camp, but look out for freshman Derrick Willies, who got on the radar in spring ball. Senior Ray Hamilton will likely be the starting TE on opening day.
The line is solid with Brandon Scherff back at LT, Austin Blythe at Center, and Jordan Walsh at RG.
The defense is the strong side of this football team, having finished 9th national in total defense. There are some issues, however, especially in the middle. All three linebackers must be replaced. Travis Perry, Quinton Alston, and Reggie Spearman are in line to start heading into camp.
The line is loaded, with three starters returning in DE Drew Ott, DT Carl Davis, and DT Louis Trinca-Pasat. THe front seven helped the Hawkeyes rank 10th national in 2013, holding opponents to 128.4 yards per game. The secondary has holes to fill at CB and FS. Sean Draper is slated to hold down the open CB spot, while Jordan Lomax is lined up to start at FS. Desmond King had a very nice freshman season, and is back at CB, while John Lowdermilk returns at SS.
Special Teams
There will be a new PK this fall, with Marshall Koehn slated to lead the pack heading into camp, but he will have challengers until the season opener.
Conner Kornbrath averaged 40 yards per punt last fall, and is back, but JC transfer Dillon Kidd may give him a run for the job.
Opening Game
8/30 Northern Iowa
Final Overview
Iowa is the 4th team in the Big 10 that could potentially blow up into a national scene stealer in 2014. There is more than enough talent on defense to carry the offense as it finds itself, and the schedule is completely manageable until the final two games of the season, when Iowa takes on Wisconsin and Nebraska in back to back weeks to close it out. Kirk Ferentz could have his best team in the last ten years if everything comes together. There is plenty to look forward to this fall in Iowa City.

Michigan Wolverines
Projected 2014 Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Brady Hoke (26-13, 4th season)

The Wolverines, like Nebraska, have issues that weren't always issues in the past. With Michigan, it's a dysfunctional running game, that was always the strength on traditional Wolverine football teams. UM ranked just 102nd in rushing in 2013, which is completely unacceptable by Michigan standards, and if you want one specific area to blame the collapse of 2013 on, this could be a prime suspect.
It's time for Derrick Green, the top recruited RB for UM in 2013, to show his thing in 2014. He will get the first crack at the open RB job, and will be joined there by De'Veon Smith. These guys have much to prove.
Nobody has more to prove than QB Devin Gardner, who is back as a 5th season. He is working on his 3rd coordinator, so his struggles are not all his fault. Doug Nussmeier will try to tweak Gardner into being more pocket thinking, which is where he really excels. Shane Morris is hanging around if Gardner faults, but he has shown little thus far.
Devin Funchess, one of the best TEs in the country, will likely line up more at WR this fall, with Erik AJ Williams starting at TE. This could be an excellent one-two punch for the passing game, which is dying for dependable targets.
The line really is a black hole of disaster, and was a major factor in the struggles of both the running game, and the entirety of the problems that the Wolverines have been having. Nine different linemen started last fall, and that was a huge disaster. Three full time starters return in LT Erik Magnuson, LG Kyle Bosch, and RG Kyle Kallis. All three are sophomores, and will serve as building blocks moving forward. The other two spots are open.
Frank Clark and Brennan Beyer return at DE, but there will be new starters in the middle of the line. The defense was largely average last fall, so pressure has to come from up front, and disrupt the passing game, which averaged 231.3 yards per game last fall. The LB corps returns intact, which is a huge relief, and gives the D some stability. Desmond Morgan, Jake Ryan, and James Ross III all return, but more is expected after ranking 29th against the run, which is a strong point.
Ray Taylor is back at CB, and Jarrod Wilson is back at FS, while Blake Countess returns at the other CB spot, giving Michigan a strong building point in the secondary. It's time for this group to step it up.
Special Teams
Matt Wile returns at PK after starting as the Punter last fall, but he does have some experience at PK duties, so not all is lost here. He hands his punting duties over to senior Will Hagerup, who returns after being suspended last fall. He has a quality leg.
Opening Game
8/30 Appalachian State
Final Overview
We all know what happened the last time that Appalachian State opened a season in the Big House (Remember, I called that ASU win), but ASU is no longer an FCS member, and is not the same quality as that club, so don't expect a repeat here.
The offense has several issues, and the defense needs to step up. There are few special athletes here, and the strong defenses and run game from the past that were the foundations of all great Michigan teams do not exist here.
Brady Hoke is a strong coach, but he had better start turning it around, or else the locals will be head hunting. Like Nebraska fan, it's time to acknowledge that the 70s, 80s, and 90s are long gone, and Bo isn't walking through that door to fix things.

Penn State Nittany Lions
Projected 2014 Record: 8-4
Head Coach: James Franklin (1st season)

With change at the top, there is always a problem with consistency. Christian Hackenberg needs to find that this season after a strong, but not perfect freshman year. Bill O'Brien has moved on to the NFL, so James Franklin has to take Hackenberg to the next level, and Franklin has never had this kind of QB to deal with before, so the results will largely be anyone's guess.
Zach Zwinak could be a huge breakthrough player in the conference at RB in 2014, but he needs Franklin to just get him the ball in the playbook. Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch will also get some carries, but Zwinak could be the star here.
Jesse James is back at TE, but all of the other receiver spots are open heading into camp, which could be the biggest problem that the offense holds.
The offensive line could be an issue as well, as only LT Donovan Smith returns.
This unit has some work to do, ranking just 48th in total D last fall.
Deion Barnes and CJ Olaniyan are back at DE, but they will largely be supporting new starters at DT in the 4-3. The LB corps is the strength up front, as both Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman both return to the fold. Sophomore Brandon Bell should be the new starter at the open LB spot, while Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson will line up at the DT spots as we head into the fall.
The secondary gave up 237 yards passing per game last fall, ranking just 73rd. It shoud be better with three returning starters in CBs Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas returning along with S Adrian Amos. Senior Ryan Keiser will likely be the new starter at Safety heading into the fall.
Special Teams
Sam Ficken is back at PK, but hit just 15 of 23 for the season, and just 8 of 15 in the second half of the season. The punting game was no better, and it's up to new starter Chris Gulla, a freshman, to fix the problem.
Opening Game
8/30 UCF at Dublin, Ireland
Final Overview
Penn State was just showing progress coming off of the Sandusky/Paterno debacle, and then Bill O'Brien, largely sick and freaking tired of dealing with a delusional Paternoite crowd, bolted for a job coaching the Houston Texans. Nobody can blame him. In a short three years, the Lions are moving on to yet another head coach. Luckily, they landed James Franklin, who was largely recruited for several jobs. Franklin brings huge energy, and will recruit the hell out of the place. He should find a good deal of success, but questions remain about how good he will be on the big stage after working at some middling programs. The schedule shows 8 wins, but it's all about how the offense progresses with a young QB, and how much the D can step up from a middle of the road season. The Lions may be on their way back, but they aren't there yet.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Jerry Kill (17-21, 4th season)

Mitch Leidner was handed the full time job at QB after sharing duties with Phillip Nelson last fall. Nelson transferred, and then found some off-field trouble, so Leidner is the man. He has to be able to think pass before run, as he was the team's second leading rusher last fall. It's time to think more front line starter than situational guy.
David Cobb and Rodrick Williams will try to take some heat off of Leidner at RB, and both had starting experience last season, but someone has to be the guy here. Donnell Kirkwood is another back returning who started some last fall.
Both receiver jobs are open heading into camp, and that group could determine Leidner's fate and legacy. Only TE Maxx Williams returns in this group.
The line looks to be strong with three starters returning in LG Zac Epping, RG Caleb Bak, and RT Josh Campion. This group has a great deal of experience. Tommy Olson is the new starter at Center, and is a senior. LT Ben Lauer is the kid of the group as a sophomore.
There is depth and experience on the line, as DE Thieren Cockran, DE Michael Amaefula, and DT Cameron Botticelli all return. Scott Epke should be the lone new starter at DT.
LB may be a different story, as only Damien Wilson returns. He should be flanked by De'Vondre Campbell and Jack Lynn, who are holding down jobs coming out of spring ball.
Eric Murray is back at CB, and Cedric Thompson is back at S, but there are new bodies needed at CB and the other S spot as well.
Special Teams
Freshman Ryan Santoso is likely the new starter at PK, but that battle will continue into fall practice. Punter is more locked down, with Peter Morteli returning after a strong season ins 2013 that saw him average 43.3 yards per punt.
Opening Game
8/28 Eastern Illinois
Final Overview
The Gophers must find a way to be a better passing team if they hope to exceed seven wins, which seems to be their plateau. The run game is solid, but if a passing game cannot be found, then teams will go with 8 men I the box and challenge the Gophers to try to throw the football, which is no their strong suit.
The defense must step up as well, but wasn't terrible season, ranking 43rd in total defense.
It's time for the entire program to find a way to push through, and a healthy coach in Jerry Kill would be a nice start. He was taken out of play several times last fall with his health issues, and no matter what anyone says, it's a distraction.
The following programs are projected to finish with losing records, and will likely not receive bowl bids...

Indiana Hoosiers
Projected 2014 Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Kevin Wilson

The Good
The offense is one of the most explosive in the country, having scored 38.4 points per game, which was good for 16th nationally. The Hoosiers averaged 508.5 yards per game, good for 9th nationally.
The entire offensive line returns, which could be a huge building block for an already great offense. RB Tevin Coleman ran for 928 yards last season, but missed three games. He should be healthy.
Nine starters return on defense, but that could be bad news...see below.
The Bad
The defense was one of the worst in the country, ranking 120th nationally. The Hoosiers gave up 527.9 yards per game, and 38.4 points per game, the same as the offense scored. PK Mitch Ewald moved on, so the points gained from the kicking game must be found in another source. Kevin Wilson's overall record is 10-26 heading into his 4th season, so 2014 has to be the year that this football team turns a corner. Patience in Bloomington, even for football, only lasts so long.
By the way, as good as the offense is, I hate two QB systems, and the Hoosiers are running one. Nobody wins big with a two QB system.

Northwestern Wildcats
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald

The Good
QB Trevor Siemian is finally the full time QB, but only if he can stay on the field. Injuries ruined him last season, but then again, injuries wrecked every position last fall in some way.
If Venric Mark is healthy, he can be one of the most dynamic backs in the conference. He was far from healthy last fall.
The offensive line returns four starters, giving the Wildcats a starting point to build from, as is the receiving corps, as both Christian Jones and Tony Jones are slated to return.
Slotback Dan Vitale is one of the more interesting players in the conference.
The Bad
The union situation that started at Northwestern is potentially a huge blight on college football, and could change everything for the worse. Of course, every player that has signed on for this suit is someone who basically has no pro future, so there's that.
Neither the offense, nor the defense was absolutely awful, but neither were they overly wonderful. The defense was, however, particularly awful against the pass, ranking 99th in that category, while finishing 88th in total defense.
Several players got experience due to injury last season, but they have to all prove themselves, as they were bogged down last fall.
The schedule is a bit difficult, and a 2-6 start is possible. The Cats will be better this season, but maybe not by much. Pat Fitzgerald is seeing his star diminish just a bit.

Illinois Fighting Illini
Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Tim Beckman

The Good
The Illini have a QB that could carry them to another level in Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt. That being said, he is in a three way battle to win the job that hasn't been decided.
Josh Ferguson is back at RB, and is just as dangerous as a runner as he is a receiver. In short, he's a nightmare for defenses in coverage.
The offensive line returns four starters, giving the offense some consistency.
Bill Cubit may have been a mess as a head coach at Western Michigan, but he's a solid OC who can find ways to use several players in unique ways.
The Bad
The defense wasn't as bad as Indiana, but it was damn close. The Illini ranked 110th nationally in total defense in 2013.
The defense wasn't athletically talented at all, and the unit spent much of the off season trying to add speed and strength. It's impossible for me to say that they are much better off than they were a year ago, and three sophomores are starting (LB TJ Neal, CB Caleb Day, and FS Taylor Barton).
The offense has to find a run game, as they ranked just 92nd in the country in rushing, which brought the rest of the offense to a halt.
At the end of the day, the Illini will be lucky to return to four wins, and that may not be enough to save Tim Beckman's job.

Purdue Boilermakers
Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Darrell Hazell

The Good
If you had to find something that worked for Purdue last fall, it was that the pass defense ranked 55th against the pass. That's about as good as anything got last season. Danny Etling is back at QB after starting as a freshman, so I'm looking for development here.
The middle of the line returns, which could help an anemic run game, and Akeem Hunt is a weapon at RB, where he'll be able to concentrate his full attention after playing both RB and WR last fall.
That pass defense returns three starters in the secondary in CB Frankie Williams, SS Landon Feltcher, and FS Taylor Richards.
The Bad
The offense was awful, the defense was awful, and the Boilers were just awful in every way. Purdue finished 119th in offense, and 104th in defense. The kicking game was terrible, and there is a battle at PK heading into the fall.
I'm being too harsh on Darrell Hazell as head coach calling him the worst in the Big 10, but until he gets this thing running, that's the honest truth. Maybe Tim Beckman is worse, but it's too close to call right now.

Maryland Terrapins
Projected 2014 Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Randy Edsell

The Good
CJ Brown returns at QB, and may be the biggest weapon the Terps have on offense, but he has to get better as a passer. As far as his running ability out of the spread read offense, he is a wizard.
The Terps are deep at RB, so the run game is a strength. That's a good thing, because the Terps only ranked 83rd in rushing last fall.
Both receivers return, and four starters return on the line, giving Maryland hopes of actually taking off on offense.
The defense wasn't terrible last fall, ranking 44th nationally. Six starters return in the front seven, so run defense should be a strength.
The secondary looks to get stronger as well, with three starters returning there for a unit that allowed 225.1 yards per game.
The Bad
Maryland ranked 75th nationally in total offense, and they don't seem to be any closer to finding answers to get much better than that.
There could be a major losing streak built into the schedule, with 8 potential losses in the middle of the slate. Turnovers were a killer as well, as the Terps finished -7 last fall.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Projected 2014 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Kyle Flood

The Good
There is depth at RB for the first time in a while, if the health bug doesn't bite. Paul James could be a game changer, but was banged up last year, which opened the door for several other RBs.
The receiving corps could have depth, but several receivers are inexperienced.
Tyler Kroft could end up being one of the better TEs in the conference when all is said and done.
All five linemen return on offense.
The run defense is really solid, and there is depth up front to support a unit that ranked 4th nationally against the run.
The Bad
The offense was a wreck, ranking just 95th in total defense. Pass D was especially terrible, ranking 120th.
Rutgers has another QB situation, with Chas Dodd battling Gary Nova, amongst others. None of them are very good overall, and Nova is barely better than average most days. That doesn't help an anemic run game, as Rutgers ranked 100th nationally in rushing.
The schedule is particularly brutal, with a four week stretch mid season against Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. The Knights may be scarlet in their own blood by the end of their first season in the Big 10.

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