Five Predictions For The Pac-12 Conference In 2016
The 2016 College Football season is less than two weeks away as Hawaii and California kick off on August 26th (if you are watching in the US) in Sydney, Australia. Below are five predictions for Pac-12 Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful (or correct) by the end of the season.
There are no changes for the Pac-12 Conference as the twelve teams remain the same and are split into North and South Divisions. The six teams in the North Division are California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington, and Washington State. The six teams in the South Division are Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA, USC, and Utah.
Here are five predictions for the Pac-12 Conference in 2016:
1. California and Oregon State will both miss a bowl game – California went 8-5 last year with Jared Goff throwing for 4,719 yards with 43 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. There was a lot of talent coming back in 2015 outside of Goff with eight starters on offense (put up 37.9 points and 529 yards per game) and nine on defense (gave up 30.7 points and 454 yards per game). That will change for 2016 as the offense has only four starters back while the defense has five. 2015 showed the best output on offense under Sonny Dykes and the best defense as well in his three years. It is hard to find six wins for Cal when they have to face both San Diego State (away) and Texas (home) in the non-conference schedule to go along with the nine conference games they will play.
For Oregon State, they had a miserable season going 2-10 overall and 0-9 in Pac-12 play in GaryAndersen’s first season. The offense put up only 19 points and 337 yards per game while the defense gave up 37 points and 482 yards per game, the highest total in nearly three decades (1987). Even with seven starters back on offense and six back on defense (had just two in 2015) they have to face Minnesota on the road and Boise State at home out of conference. Oregon State will be better, but it will not be enough to get to a bowl game.
2. Colorado will make a bowl game – This one is going to be close. Colorado will be in the fourth year of Mike MacIntyre and he has struggled to rebuild this team going 10-27 overall with a 2-25 conference record. 2016 will be his most experienced squad with nine starters back on both offense and defense. The offense has stagnated with the highest total coming in 2014 at 28.5 points and 439 yards a game. SefoLiufau is back for his fourth year at quarterback though he will be missing his top target in Nelson Spruce, who went to the NFL. The rest of the receivers are back including some new enrollees as is running back Phillip Lindsay (653 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2015).
The defense is where the biggest improvements have been made. They went from allowing 39 points and 461 yards per game in 2014 to 27.5 points and 417 yards per game in 2015. There is even more room for improvement as the Buffaloes return those nine starters and will be in their second year under defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. The defense allowed 199 yards rushing per contest, but can improve on that with the return of five starters as well as 2012 through 2014 mainstay Josh Tupou. The entire secondary returns after improving their passing yards allowed per game by 38 yards and could improve again in 2016.
The schedule opens with Colorado State in Denver before a home game against Idaho State. They close their non-conference with a trip to Michigan before going on the road the next week to open Pac-12 play against Oregon. In total, they have four road games in-conference, which will help their chances. It will take wins against teams like Oregon State (home), Arizona State (home), Arizona (away), Washington State (home), and Utah (home) to get to six wins. They will need a few upsets to get to a bowl game, but Colorado can do it.
3. The duo of Christian McCaffrey and Royce Freeman will rush for a combined 4,000 yards – These two players had wonderful 2015 seasons. Christian McCaffrey ran for 2,019 yards and 8 touchdowns while also catching 45 passes for 645 yards and 5 touchdowns. We cannot forget his return abilities when he added in a combined 1,200 yards and two touchdowns. He was electrifying in 2015. RoyceFreeman did not get the same hype as McCaffrey, but he too was exciting to watch. He ran for 1,836 yards and 17 touchdowns while adding in another 26 receptions for 348 yards and 2 touchdowns.
What leads to this prediction is both Stanford and Oregon will have new quarterbacks. These two players were already likely to get a majority of the touches, but having new quarterbacks only makes it more likely for them to be relied upon. Even Oregon’s Mark Helfrich has made it known what his offensive game plan is for his quarterbacks. Sure the defenses will key in on these two, but these are guys are not easy to contain.
4. Washington will not win the Pac-12 – There is a lot of hype surrounding the Washington Huskies in 2016. Even ESPN wrote an article on the amount of hype the Huskies have around them this year. There is no doubt the Huskies have potential with 15 starters back (8 on offense and 7 on defense) including super sophomores Jake Browning at quarterback (2,955 yards with 16 touchdowns an 10 interceptions) and running back Myles Gaskin (1,302 yards and 14 touchdowns). The defense will be tough again in 2016 after allowing just 18.8 points and 452 yards per game last year.
The Huskies have five Pac-12 games in 2016 against Arizona, Oregon, Utah, California, and Washington State, which are all teams that made bowl games in 2015. Arizona and Utah will not be easy, but are games that should be won by Washington. Their toughest two will be against Oregon (a team they have not beaten since 2003) and Washington State in the Apple Cup (the Huskies have won three in a row and six of the last seven games). They also face Stanford and USC at home this year, which will not be easy even at Husky Stadium.
It feels like Washington is going to peak in 2017 rather than 2016. Even if the Huskies do win the Pac-12 North, they will have to defeat the South winner, which is likely to be UCLA or USC.
5. The Pac-12 will not make the College Football Playoffs – The Pac-12 conference schedule looks like it might cannibalize the conference and keep it out of the College Football Playoffs for the second straight year. Some teams even play a strong non-conference schedule that could provide more losses (or conversely impressive wins to factor in). Let’s take a look at all the contenders and their toughest games.
Stanford – They face Kansas State at home and Notre Dame on the road in their non-conference schedule. In conference, they play USC and Washington State at home while taking on UCLA, Arizona, and Oregon on the road.
Oregon – They face Nebraska on the road in non-conference while in Pac-12 they play Washington State, USC and Utah on the road. At home, they will play Washington and Stanford.
Washington – Their toughest non-conference game is Rutgers at home the opening week in what should be a comfortable win. They face Stanford and USC at home while playing Arizona, Oregon, Utah, and Washington State on the road.
UCLA – They face Texas A&M and BYU on the road as part of their non-conference schedule. In conference, they face Stanford, Arizona, Utah, and USC at home while taking on Washington State on the road.
USC – They open with Alabama in Arlington, Texas and also face Notre Dame at home to end the season. In conference, they have to face Utah, Arizona, Washington and UCLA on the road and play Oregon at home.
Utah – They face BYU at home as well as USC, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon at home in Pac-12 play. On the road, UCLA is their toughest opponent.
Some teams definitely have a manageable schedule, but the Pac-12 will need a team with one loss (preferably none) and that loss better not come in the Pac-12 Championship Game. If it does, it could mean the Pac-12 is left out of the College Football Playoffs for the second straight year.
The Prediction Schedule
With the Pac-12 predictions above, there are now predictions for nine conferences in the books. Below are the predictions completed and which conference is next.
2015 College Football Preview: Pac-12 North Division
We have reached the penultimate conference preview with the Pac-12 in focus this week. We will start with the Pac-12 North on Tuesday and finish with the Pac-12 South on Friday. The Pac-12 North is part sixteen of the Sports Enthusiasts 2015 College Football Preview. Below are the previews that have already been completed and the few that are to be completed.
Let’s get started by looking at each team in the Pac-12 North.
1. Oregon Ducks
Oregon is well known for their flashy uniforms, but they have a pretty darn good football team as well. Since 2009, when Chip Kelly was head coach, the Ducks have won at least 10 games ever year and made the National Championship twice. However, they lost both games including last year’s to Ohio State, 42-20. Mark Helfrich has continued the success started by Kelly, but can he get them to the ultimate conclusion with a National Championship?
The offense has six starters returning from a group that put up 45.4 points and 547 yards per game. Of course, Marcus Mariota is not one of the returning starters, but the Ducks do add in Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams. Adams is very much like Mariota with his ability to throw and run while knowing how to play against Pac-12 competition. At EWU, Adams faced Washington State, Oregon State, and Washington. In those three games, he beat Oregon State 49-46 and lost to the Cougars and Huskies by a combined 11 points. Royce Freeman will be back to run the ball after rushing for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns. The receiving unit returns intact with the top five all coming back. Byron Marshall had 74 catches for 1,003 yards and 6 touchdowns (ran for 392 yards and a touchdown as well), Darren Carrington had 37 catches for 704 yards and 4 touchdowns, Devon Allen caught 41 passes for 684 yards and 7 touchdowns, and Dwayne Stanford had 43 catches for 639 yards and 6 touchdowns. Returning at wide out is Bralon Addison, who missed all of 2014. Only two starters are back on the line from 2014, but Tyler Johnstone returns from a torn ACL, which basically gives them three. The drop off from Mariota will be present, but it will not be nearly as bad with Adams coming in. Expect more high-flying offensive production from Oregon in 2015.
The defense has six starters back from a group that allowed 23.6 points and 430 yards per game. The line returns two starters led by DeForest Buckner, who was a monster last year. Buckner recorded 81 tackles (tied for fourth most on team), 4 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, and 4 pass breakups as a defensive end. Three linebackers return this year in Rodney Hardrick (75 tackles, 1 sack, and 5 tackles for loss), Joe Walker (81 tackles, 1 sack, and 7 tackles for loss), and Tyson Coleman (44 tackles, 3 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss). There is just one starter back in the secondary and that is Reggie Daniels. Daniels is the top returning tackler after recording 83 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 9 pass breakups, and an interception in 2014. The defense will probably put up slightly better numbers in 2015.
Oregon opens the season with a home game against Vernon Adams’ former school in Eastern Washington. They will have a tough road trip to Michigan State in the second game before welcoming Georgia State home in the final non-conference game. In division, Oregon will face Washington State, California, and Oregon State at home while taking on Washington and Stanford on the road. Oregon will have to play Utah (home), Colorado (road), Arizona State (road), and USC (home) from the South. Once again, the Ducks are a contender for the Pac-12 title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
2. Stanford Cardinal
Stanford was completely turned around under Jim Harbaugh. In 2006, the year before Harbaugh took over, the Cardinal went 1-11. By 2010, Harbaugh led Stanford to a 12-1 record including a demolition job of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl that year. David Shaw has done a very nice job continuing that success, as he led the Cardinal to three straight double digit win seasons in 2011, 2012, and 2013. In addition, Shaw led them to three straight BCS Bowls before the bump in the road during 2014 when the Cardinal finished 8-5.
The offense has nine starters returning from a group that put up 27.2 points and 389 yards per game. Kevin Hogan will be under center again after throwing for 2,792 yards with 19 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Remound Wright had 601 yards and 11 touchdowns as the top rusher last year and he returns along with Barry Sanders Jr. (315 yards) and Christian McCaffrey (300 yards). The wide receiver group returns nearly intact except for Ty Montgomery, who led the team with 61 catches for 604 yards and 3 touchdowns. Devon Cajuste had 34 catches for 557 yards and 6 touchdowns, Austin Hooper had 40 catches for 499 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Michael Rector had 24 catches for 324 yards and 2 touchdowns. Four starters are back on the offensive line and the offense should be able to have a better year on offense.
The defense has been very good for Stanford the last five years. The “worst” season was in 2011 when they allowed 21.9 points and 338 yards per game. In 2014, the defense allowed 16.4 points and 282 yards per game with seven starters back. In 2015, only four starters return, which is the lowest number in at least 8 years. The defensive line has no starters returning, but Brennan Scarlett has transferred in from Cal. Linebacker is in much better shape than the line with two starters back. Blake Martinez is back after recording 102 tackles (#1 on team), 4.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 3 interceptions. Kevin Anderson also returns after recording 52 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss. The secondary has two starters back in Ronnie Harris (29 tackles and 5 tackles for loss) and Zach Hoffpauir (44 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and 5 pass breakups). The defense is a bit of a concern and will probably not match even the “worst” defensive season on 2011. However, the defense will still be good for Stanford.
Stanford starts the season on the road at Northwestern before a home game against Central Florida. Their final non-conference game is on November 28 at home versus Notre Dame. Within their division, Stanford will face Oregon State and Washington State on the road while playing Washington, Oregon, and California at home. From the South division, the Cardinal draw USC (road), Arizona (home), UCLA (home), and Colorado (road). Stanford will probably be a win over Oregon away from the Pac-12 Championship Game and should get back to a double-digit win season in 2015.
3. California Golden Bears
Sonny Dykes will be in his third year at Cal in 2015. Both sides of the ball are trending in the right direction and the 2015 squad will be his most experienced. In 2013, Cal had just 10 returning starters and went 1-11. The number of returning starters went up to 14 last year, as did the record to 5-7. This year has 17 starters returning and will the pattern continue?
The offense went from 23 points and 454 yards per game in 2013 (five starters back) to 38.3 points and 495 yards per game in 2014 (nine starters back). There will be eight starters returning this year including all the skill positions. Jared Goff threw for 3,973 yards with 35 touchdowns and 7 interceptions and he will have all but one of his top ten receivers from 2014 to throw to. Kenny Lawler led the team with 54 catches for 701 yards and 9 touchdowns, Stephen Anderson caught 46 passes for 661 yards and 5 touchdowns, and Bryce Treggs had 52 catches for 583 yards and 6 touchdowns. Daniel Lasco is back after rushing for 1,115 yards and 12 touchdowns. The offensive line has three starters back and it would be no surprise to see the numbers go above 40 points and 500 yards per game in 2015 for Cal.
The defense allowed 45.9 points and 503 yards per game with five starters back in 2013. In 2014, the defense allowed 39.8 points and 512 yards per game with five starters back once again. For 2015, the defense has nine starters back including 12 of the top 13 tacklers from last season. The defensive line has three starters back led by Mustafa Jalil, who had 35 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss. The linebackers all return with the trio of Michael Barton (80 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss), HardyNickerson (69 tackles and 2 tackles for loss), and Jalen Jefferson (58 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss). Three starters return in the secondary led by Cedric Dozier (52 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 5 pass breakups) and Stefan McClure (50 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and an interception). Also returning from injury is Griffin Piatt, who had 40 tackles, 1 sack, 6 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions in only six games before an injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. Expect another improvement in the defense in year three of Sonny Dykes’ tenure.
California opens with home games versus Grambling and San Diego State before a stern test on the road at Texas. Within the North division, Cal will face Washington, Oregon, and Stanford on the road while playing Washington State and Oregon State at home. From the South, Cal draws Utah (road), UCLA (road), USC (home), and Arizona State (home). Cal has not made a bowl game since 2011, but that should change in 2015 with this improved team.
4. Washington State Cougars
Mike Leach was hired by Washington State late in 2011 to coach the team. Leach had previously coached at Texas Tech from 2000 to 2009 and led the Red Raiders to a bowl game each year. Leach’s first year was in 2012 and the Cougars went 3-9, but improved to 6-7 in 2013 with a bowl appearance (lost 48-45 to Colorado State). Last year, the Cougars went back down to 3-9 and 2015 must produce a better result.
Leach’s offense are known for putting up big points and 2014 was the best year under Leach for WSU. The offense put up 31.8 points and 518 yards per game with seven starters back. This year, the number of starters returning goes up by one, to eight, but quarterback is not one of them. Connor Halliday threw for 3,873 yards with 32 touchdowns and 11 touchdowns in nine games, but departs while his heir apparent Luke Falk threw for 1,859 yards with 13 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. The running game is usually not a strong suit for Leach, but the rushing attack has been poor in his three years at WSU. The best output is 53 yards per game in 2013 and was only 40 yards rushing per game in 2014. Jamal Morrow is back after leading the team with 351 yards and Gerard Wicks ran for 234 yards and 4 touchdowns. The top two wide receivers depart (combined for 184 catches for 2,455 yards and 21 touchdowns), which will hurt, but the good thing about the Air Raid offense is that receivers always do well. River Cracraft had 66 catches for 771 yards and 8 touchdowns, Dom Williams caught 43 passes for 656 yards and 9 touchdowns, and running back Jamal Morrow had 61 catches for 460 yards. Also in the mix will be Robert Lewis (41 catches for 370 yards and 2 touchdowns), Tyler Baker (27 catches for 308 yards and 2 touchdowns), and Gabe Marks (74 catches for 807 and 7 touchdowns in 2013). The entire offensive line returns intact and despite the losses of the top two receivers and quarterback, the offense has a chance at topping last year’s production.
The defense has been a liability under Leach. In 2012, they allowed 33.7 points and 426 yards per game while they gave up 32.5 points and 458 yards per game in 2013. Last year, the defense regressed by surrendering 38.6 points and 442 yards per game. This year, six starters return with one on the defensive line in Destiny Vaeao (14 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1.5 tackles for loss). Two linebackers return in JeremiahAllison and Kache Palacio. Allison was the second leading tackler with 78 tackles and also recorded 3.5 sacks and 5 tackles for loss. Palacio had 57 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss. The secondary will have three starters back in Darius Lemora (68 tackles), Charleston White (34 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and an interception), and Taylor Taliulu (66 tackles and 4 pass breakups). The defense should improve from last year’s poor performance and could produce the best defense yet under Leach.
Washington state has an easy non-conference schedule with Portland State (home), Rutgers (road), and Wyoming (road). WSU will face California, Oregon, and Washington on the road while playing Oregon State and Stanford at home. From the South, they will take on Arizona (road), Arizona State (home), UCLA (road), and Colorado (home). The final two weeks of the season could determine if the Cougars reach a bowl game with games versus Colorado and Washington.
5. Washington Huskies
Steve Sarkisian was the head coach at Washington from 2009 through 2013, leading the Huskies to four bowl games in five seasons. He left for USC and in came Chris Petersen for the 2014 season. Petersen went 8-6 in his first year after eight years at Boise State. How will Petersen and the Huskies perform in 2015?
The offense has five starters returning from a group that put up 30.2 points and 389 yards per game. The top returning quarterback is Jeff Lindquist with 162 yards and a touchdown. He will be battling with KJCarta-Samuels and Jake Browning to win the job. Dwyane Washington ran for 697 yards and 9 touchdowns while Lavon Coleman had 565 yards and 1 touchdown with both returning this year. The top four receivers are back led by Jaydon Mickens, who had 60 catches for 617 yards and 4 touchdowns. Also returning are John Ross (17 catches for 371 yards and 4 touchdowns), Joshua Perkins (25 catches for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns), and Dante Pettis (17 catches 259 yards and a touchdown). The offensive line has only one returning starter and the offense will have some growing pains in year two with the losses at quarterback and on the line.
The defense was solid last year allowing just 24.8 points, but giving up 411 yards per game. This year, the defense has only four starters back. The defensive line has no starters back from a unit that allowed 124 yards rushing per game. At line backer, only Travis Feeney returns after recording 60 tackles, 1 sack, 3.4 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. The secondary is the strength this year with three starters back led by Budda Baker. Baker had 80 tackles (#4 on team), 1 sack, 6 pass breakups, and an interception. KevinKing (65 tackles and an interception) and Sidney Jones (61 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions). The defense will be much like the offense with growing pains and may not match their points per game number from 2014.
Washington opens with Boise State on the road, in a game that is sure to be fiery. After that, they will welcome both Sacramento State and Utah State to Seattle. In division, Washington faces California, Oregon, and Washington State at home while taking on Stanford and Oregon on the road. From the South, the Huskies will face USC (road), Arizona (home), Utah (home), and Arizona State (road). The Huskies will probably need an upset or two to reach a bowl game and it could come down to the regular season finale against Washington State at home to get to 6 wins.
6. Oregon State Beavers
Mike Riley was at Oregon State from 2003 through last season, but decided to move on to Nebraska. Filling the vacancy was Gary Andersen, who was previously at Utah State (26-24 record) from 2009 through 2012 and then at Wisconsin in 2013 and 2014 (19-7 record). Andersen does not inherit the best situation, but he is known for his work on defense, which will come in handy this year.
The offense has eight starters back from a group that put up 25.7 points and 394 yards per game. SeanMannion has graduated and that leaves Seth Collins, Nick Mitchell, and Marcus McMaryion to battle it out for the top spot with none of them having thrown a pass in college. Storm Woods will be the running back after rushing for 766 yards and 5 touchdowns. Three of the top four receivers return in VictorBolden (72 catches for 798 yards and 2 touchdowns), Jordan Villamin (35 catches for 578 yards and 6 touchdowns), and Hunter Jarmon (20 catches for 334 yards and 1 touchdown). The offensive line has four starters back as well, but the change in schemes and lack of experience at quarterback will hurt the offense.
The defense was poor the last two years of Riley’s tenure. They allowed more than 31 points and 400 yards per game in both 2013 and 2014. This year, only two starters return making the transition difficult for Andersen. Jaswha James is back after recording 16 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 tackle for loss last year while Lavonte Barnett had better stats in only four starts. Barnett recorded 18 tackles and 4.5 sacks last year. The linebackers were decimated with the top three all gone. Those three were the second, third, and fifth leading tacklers last year and the top returner is Rommel Mageo, who had 23 tackles. The secondary has only one starter back in Larry Scott (43 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 11 pass breakups), but also have Justin Strong returning (56 tackles, 1 sack, 4 tackles for loss, and 3 pass breakups). Andersen has solid defenses, but a lot was lost this year and it may not perform better this year in the numbers.
Oregon State has Weber State (home), Michigan (road), and San Jose State (home) to start the year. In conference, OSU has Stanford and Washington at home while playing Washington State, California, and Oregon on the road. From the South, OSU will play Arizona (road), Colorado (home), Utah (home), and UCLA (home). It looks like a rough year is store for Oregon State in Andersen’s first year.
The Pac-12 North will likely come down to the Oregon at Stanford game on November 14 to determine the winner of the division. California appears to be the third best team in the division while the trio of Washington State, Washington, and Oregon State will battle for bowl eligibility and to stay out of the cellar. Below is the predicted order of finish.
4. Washington State
6. Oregon State
Check back on Friday to see a preview of the Pac-12 South as well as a prediction for the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Part fourteen of Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football Preview delves into the Big 10’s West Division. There are only three conferences left in the preview series with the Pac-12 and SEC still a few weeks down the road. Below is the schedule of conference previews completed and those still to come.
Bret Bielema bolted Wisconsin after the 2012 season to go to Arkansas while Gary Andersen came in for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He led the Badgers to a 9-4 record in 2013 before a double digit win season in 2014 including a 59-0 destruction at the hands of Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship. He too bolted Madison and went West to Oregon State. Paul Chryst returns to his alma mater where he played quarterback from 1986 to 1988 and was the offensive coordinator from 2005 through 2011. He was also the head coach at Pittsburgh from 2012 t0 2014.
The offense was very good under Andersen where they had nearly identical output over his two years. In 2013, they put up 34.8 points and 481 yards per game and it was 34.6 points and 469 yards in 2014. The offense has five starters back with Joel Stave not having to worry about another QB. Stave threw for 1,350 yards with 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Melvin Gordon is gone after his monstrous season with 2,587 yards with 29 touchdowns, but Corey Clement is willing to try and fill the void. Clement had 949 yards and 9 touchdowns rushing while Dare Ogunbowale had 193 yards and a touchdown on only 34 carries. The go to guy last year, Alex Erickson, is back after recording 55 catches for 772 yards and 3 touchdowns. Troy Fumagalli caught 14 passes for 187 yards last year and a second wide receiver will need to develop in 2015. The offensive line also has only two starters returning, but the quarterback numbers should be better with Chryst in charge. The loss of Gordon will hurt, but the offense should be solid even with Chryst coming in.
The defense for Wisconsin is constantly solid. Between 2009 and 2014, the defense has not yielded more than 22 points and 325 yards per game. The defense had only 3 starters back in 2014 and allowed 20.8 points and 294 yards per game. There are six starters back including most of the secondary. Chikwe Obasih had 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks in seven starts. The depth is also better after plaguing them the past two seasons. The linebacker unit has the two outside ‘backers returning in Vince Biegel (56 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss) and Joe Schobert (69 tackles, 3 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 7 pass breakups). The secondary has three starters back led by Michael Caputo. Caputo was the top tackler last year with 106 stops while also recording 1 sack, 5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and an interception. Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton will be at the cornerback spots, but need to interception more passes after those two failed to record any in 2014. Tanner McEvoy has also moved to safety after splitting time at quarterback and safety in 2014.
Wisconsin opens with a daunting game in Arlington, Texas against Alabama that will surely test them to their highest capability. After that, it is much easier with the trio of Miami (OH), Troy, and Hawaii all coming to Madison. In conference, Wisconsin faces Iowa, Purdue, and Northwestern at home while playing Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota on the road. From the East division, the Badgers take on Rutgers (home) and Maryland (road). The Badgers will surely make a bowl game in 2015 and can expect to be the team to beat for the West, but they have their question marks.
2. Northwestern Wildcats
Pat Fitzgerald did something that only Bob Voigts was able to do: win a bowl game. Voigts won the 1949 Rose Bowl while Fitzgerald won the 2012 Gator Bowl after losing the previous four bowl games. Since that 2012 season, Northwestern has not been back to a bowl game after back-to-back 5-7 seasons that have been filled with injuries. 2015 must result in a bowl game for the Wildcats and Fitzgerald.
The offense sputtered last year after putting up 23 points and 353 yards per game despite eight starters back. This year, the offense will have six starters back, but one of them will not be at quarterback. That may not be a bad thing as Trevor Siemian only threw for 2,214 yards with 7 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Zack Oliver threw for 367 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, but he will be battling with ClaytonThorson and Matt Alviti for the starting job. Justin Jackson is back after a stellar freshman season. Despite only starting five games, Jackson ran for 1,187 yards with 10 touchdowns while also catching 22 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. There is plenty of talent back at wide receiver with Dan Vitale leading the way. He had 40 catches for 402 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cameron Dickerson (24 catches for 318 yards and a touchdown) and Miles Shuler (23 catches for 190 yards) back as well. The biggest returner is Christian Jones, who had a solid 2013 season with 668 yards, but missed all of 2014. The offensive line has three starters back and the entire offense should be able to perform better this year.
The defense was decent in 2014 with seven starters back, giving up 25.2 points and 384 yards per game. Eight starters are back in 2015, the most for Fitzgerald since 2009 (gave up 24.5 points and 350 yards per game). The entire defensive line is back led by Dean Lowry, who had 41 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 8 pass breakups. The linebacking unit is the worry for Northwestern with only Anthony Walker returning (51 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions). The secondary is another strength with three starters back. Traveon Henry had 73 tackles (#2 on team) and 2.5 tackles for loss while MatthewHarris had 70 tackles (#3 on team), 3.5 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The defense should be solid once again for Northwestern and should improve on the numbers the allowed last season.
Northwestern does not have an easy start to the season with Stanford coming to town followed by Eastern Illinois. A road trip against Duke comes before their final non-conference game against Ball State at home. In conference, the Wildcats will face Minnesota, Iowa, and Purdue at home while taking on Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road. They also face Illinois in Chicago on the final weekend in November. From the East, they will have the pleasure of facing Michigan (road) and Penn State (home) in two tough games. All around, Northwestern should be better in 2015 and could have a chance to take the division with a win over Wisconsin (Nov. 21).
3. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska was led by Bo Pelini starting in 2008 and going through 2014. During that time, Pelini led Nebraska to at least 9 wins each year including three 10 win seasons. Pelini, however, did not make a BCS or Group of Five bowl in that time and was let go after the 2014 season. Mike Riley comes over from Oregon State after 15 years there and only once led the Beavers to at least 10 wins (2006).
The offense has six starters back from a group that put up 37.8 points and 452 yards of offense per game. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong threw for 2,695 yards with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while also rushing for 705 yards and 6 touchdowns as the teams second leading rusher. Ameer Abdullah will not be back, which leaves Imani Cross (384 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Terrell Newby (297 yards and 5 touchdowns) as the top returning running backs. Nearly all of the receivers return led by JordanWesterkamp (44 catches for 747 yards and 5 touchdowns) and De’Mornay Pierson-El (23 catches for 321 yards and 4 touchdowns). The offensive line has two starters back at the tackles. The offense will probably not put up the same numbers as they did last year with a new coach and new schemes.
The defense has six starters back from a unit that allowed 26.4 points and 384 yards per game. Three starters are back on the defensive line that gave up 178 yards and 4.7 yards per carry last year. GregMcMullen (4 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and 4 pass breakups), Maliek Collins (45 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss), and Vincent Valentine (45 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 2 pass breakups) are the returners. David Santos is the lone returning linebacker after recording 50 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 interception. The secondary has two starters back led by Nathan Gerry (#1 tackler), who had 88 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, and 5 interceptions en route to making the 2nd Team Big 10 squad. There may be some growing pains in 2015, but the numbers should not fluctuate too much.
Nebraska opens with BYU and South Alabama at home before traveling to face Miami (FL) on the road and getting Southern Miss at home. The Cornhuskers face Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue on the road while playing Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa at home. From the East, Nebraska will take on Michigan State (home) and Rutgers (road). Nebraska should be in a bowl game in 2015 and could even make the Big 10 Championship Game with a few stumbles and surprises.
4. Illinois Fighting Illini
Ron Zook was in charge of Illinois from 2005 through 2011 and led the Illini to three bowl games including the 2007 Rose Bowl. Zook was let go before the 2011 bowl game that Illinois won 20-14 over UCLA. Tim Beckman came in starting with the 2012 season and went 2-10 followed by a 4-8 record in 2013. The Illini had to make a bowl game in 2014 for Beckman to keep his job and they did, but lost to Louisiana Tech 35-18. 2015 is another chance for Illinois to make a bowl game.
The offense put up 25.9 points and 367 yards per game in 2014 with Wes Lunt taking over at quarterback. Lunt had injury issues throughout the season while finishing with 1,763 with 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Josh Ferguson is returning at running back after a sub par year with only 735 yards and 8 touchdowns. Ferguson also was the team’s third leading receiver with 50 catches for 427 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mike Dudek led the team in receiving as a freshman in 2014 with 76 catches for 1,038 yards and 6 touchdowns, but tore his ACL in April. He status for 2015 is still up in the air. Geronimo Allison (41 catches for 598 yards and 5 touchdowns), Malik Turner (25 catches for 256 yards and a touchdown), and Justin Hardee (19 catches for 240 yards and a touchdown) all return in case Dudek is unable to go. Three starters are back on the offensive line to bring the total up to eight for the offense. A healthy Lunt will mean higher numbers for the Illini offense even if Dudek is out for the year.
Defense has been an issue for Illinois under Beckman, as the unit has not allowed less than 32 points per game in his tenure. Last year, the defense gave up 34 points and 456 yards per game with seven starters back. That same number is back this year with Jihad Ward and Rob Bain back on the line. Ward had 51 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss last year. Two linebackers return in Mason Monheim and TJNeal, which is good news for Illinois. Monheim had 111 tackles (#1 on team), 1 sack, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions while Neal had 98 tackles (#4 on team) and 6.5 tackles for loss. The secondary has three starters back including Taylor Barton, who had 100 tackles (#3 on team). V’Angelo Bentley is back in the secondary as well, but he will also be utilized in the return game. The defense should improve in 2015 with seven starters back.
Illinois opens with home games against Kent State and Western Illinois before traveling to face North Carolina on the road. They close out the non-conference portion of their schedule against Middle Tennessee at home. Within their division, Illinois will play Nebraska and Wisconsin at home while facing Northwestern in Chicago. They also play Iowa, Purdue, and Minnesota on the road. From the East, the Illini play Penn State (road) and Ohio State (home), which is a tough draw. There is enough offense and defense on this Illinois squad to make a second straight bowl game under Beckman.
5. Iowa Hawkeyes
Kirk Ferentz is entering his 17th season at Iowa. In that time, Iowa has 11 winning season and four season with at least 10 wins. Since going 11-2 in 2009, however, Iowa has not reached that success with their best recording being 8-5 in both 2010 and 2013. The pressure may be on Ferentz to get Iowa back to double digit wins sooner rather than later.
The offense will return five starters from a group that put up 28.2 points and 400 yards per game. CJBeathard is taking over at quarterback for the now transferred Jake Rudock (went to Michigan). Beathard threw for 645 yards with 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while also not having Mark Weisman (812 yards and 16 touchdowns). Jordan Canzeri (494 yards), Akrum Wadley (186 yards and a touchdown), Jonathan Parker (141 yards and a touchdown), LeShun Daniels (49 yards and a touchdown), and CJ Hilliard will all see some looks at the running back spot. Tevaun Smith (43 catches for 596 yards and 3 touchdowns), Jake Duzey (36 catches for 392 yards and 3 touchdowns), and MattVandeBerg (14 catches for 256 yards and 1 touchdown) are back. The line has three starters back while the offense could put up similar numbers in 2015 as they did last year.
Last year’s defense was not as effective as an Iowa defense usually is. They gave up 25.6 points and 344 yards per game with only five starters back. The number of starters returning increases by two, to seven, which is good news. Drew Ott (57 tackles, 8 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and an interception) and Nate Meier (57 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) are back to anchor the defensive end positions. Bo Bower and Josey Jewell are the two starters returning at linebacker while the secondary has three starters back. Jordan Lomax will be at one of the safety spots after recording 92 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and an interception last year. 2015 should see Iowa’s defense improve.
Iowa opens the season against Illinois State at home before facing in-state rival Iowa State on the road. The non-conference schedule ends with Pittsburgh and North Texas both coming to Iowa City. Iowa will face Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Nebraska on the road while playing Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue at home. From the East, Iowa has Maryland (home) and Indiana (road) in two winnable games. Iowa should be back in a bowl game this year, but will that be enough to keep Ferentz around another year?
6. Purdue Boilermakers
Darrell Hazell came in from Kent State in 2013 and had a rough first year. The Boilermakers went 1-11 with their lone win against FCS Indiana State in a game they only won 20-14. The offense (14.9 points and 345 yards per game) and defense (38 points and 460 yards allowed per game) were dreadful. 2014 was a very good step in the right direction with a 3-9 record and 2015 should continue that trend.
The offense in 2014 had 8 starters back and shot up to 23.8 points and 345 yards per game. There are eight starters back again in 2015 with the quarterback position in the air between freshmen David Blough and Elijah Sindelar and Austin Appleby (1,449 yards with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions). Running back is not settled with DJ Knox, Keyante Green (199 yards), David Yancey, and Markell Jones all having a chance to win the top duties. Danny Anthrop is back as the top wide receiver after grabbing 38 passes for 616 yards and 4 touchdowns. The offensive line has all the starters back, which is great news for whoever wins the quarterback and running back battles. The offense should be better in 2015 with even better numbers than last year.
The defense was awful in 2013 by giving up 38 points and 460 yards per game. Year two was better with the defense allowing 31.7 points and 416 yards per game. Seven starters return in 2015 including the second through fifth top tacklers from last year. Ryan Watson (17 tackles, 4 sacks, 1.5 tackes for loss) and Jake Replogle (40 tackles, 3 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss) return on the line that improved from 235 rushing yards allowed per game in 2013 to 192 yards per game in 2014. That number should drop in 2015. The strength of the defense is at linebacker with the top three starters back. Ja’Whaun Bentley (76 tackles; #2 on team), Jimmy Herman (56 tackles, #4 on team), and Danny Ezechukwu (43 tackles; #8 on team) all back after starting last year. The secondary has three starters back led by Anthony Brown and Frankie Williams at the corner spots. Like the offense, the defense should improve in year three of Hazell’s tenure.
Purdue opens the season on the road at Marshall in a tough game before facing Indiana State, Virginia Tech, and Bowling Green at home. In their division, Purdue will play Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois at home while facing Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa on the road. From the East, they will have to play Michigan State (road) and Indiana (home). Purdue is going in the right direction and will probably need two upsets to reach a bowl game.
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Jerry Kill has been at Minnesota since 2011 and has made them into a gritty team that is not easy to defeat. After going 3-9 in his first year, the team improved to 6-7 in 2012 and lost by a field goal, 34-31, to Texas Tech in the bowl game. 2013 saw them finish 8-5 and they did the same in 2014 as they had a chance to win the Big 10 West in the final week against Wisconsin. 2015 will be an interesting test for Minnesota and Kill.
The offense for Minnesota is run-based and will have five starters back in 2015. Mitch Leidner threw for 1,798 yards with 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while rushing for 452 yards and 10 touchdowns. Backup Chris Streveler ran for 235 yards and 1 touchdown as well. David Cobb has exited after rushing for 1,626 yards and 13 touchdowns leaving a big void at running back. Berkley Edwards (140 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Rodrick Williams (114 yards and 3 touchdowns) will be vying to start at running back. Top target Maxx Williams (36 catches for 569 yards and 8 touchdowns) is gone as well, leaving KJ Maye as the top wide receiver. Maye had 16 catches for 298 yards and a touchdown as the #2 receiver. The offensive line has three starters back, but it will probably be tough for the Gophers to match last year’s production of 28.4 points and 357 yards per game with Cobb and Williams gone.
The defense has been solid for Minnesota the last three years. In 2014, the defense gave up 24.2 points and 368 yards per game and returns seven starters from that group. Theiren Cockran (23 tackles, 4 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss) and Steven Richardson (23 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) will be teaming up with the Ekpe brothers of Scott and Hendrick. De’Vondre Campbell (75 tackles, 2.5sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and an interception) and Jack Lynn (57 tackles, 1 sack, and 6 tackles for loss) will be the returning linebackers. In the secondary, three starters are back led by Eric Murray at corner. Murray had 69 tackles, 7 pass breakups, and an interception last year. The defense should be solid once again for Minnesota.
Minnesota opens with TCU at home before facing Colorado State on the road. Kent State and Ohio both travel to Minneapolis to close out the non-conference slate. In division, Minnesota will play Northwestern, Purdue, and Iowa on the road while taking on Nebraska, Illinois, and Wisconsin at home. From the East, Minnesota draws Michigan (home) and Ohio State (road). It will be a challenging year for Minnesota if the offense sputters and will need a couple of upsets to make a bowl game, but they are more than capable of getting those upsets.
The Big 10’s West division is quite the conundrum with every team having questions. Wisconsin has a new coach and lost a star in Melvin Gordon while Northwestern has some offensive worries. Nebraska is in the same boat as Wisconsin with a new coach and lost Ameer Abdullah. Illinois has worries on defense while Iowa is constantly underachieving. Purdue is still learning Hazell’s system and Minnesota lost a lot of offensive production in David Cobb and Maxx Williams.
We will go with Wisconsin to win the division, but Northwestern or Nebraska could also finish on top. Illinois is likely to make noise with a more veteran team along with Iowa. Purdue and Minnesota will both be close to bowl eligibility and could easily finish higher than predicted, especially the Gophers. Below is the predicted order of finish.
Check back on Friday for a preview of the Big 10 East Division as well as a look at the Big 10 Championship Game prediction.
Gary Andersen has decided to leave the of Wisconsin Badgers for the Oregon State Beavers. Andersen let Athletic Director BarryAlvarez know of his decision to leave on Tuesday.
Andersen went 19-7 in the two season he spent in Madison. He was previously the head coach at Utah State where he went 26-24 overall. His last season with the Aggies yielded an 11-2 record and a WAC Championship. Andersen fills the void left by Mike Riley’s move to the Nebraska Cornhuskers earlier this month.
“I began working to find a new head coach as soon as I spoke with Gary this morning,” athletic director Barry Alvarez said. “My first concern is taking care of the players on the current team, especially the senior class, and ensuring that their bowl experience is a memorable one. I will find a head coach to uphold the great tradition at Wisconsin, someone who is committed to excellence both on and off the field.
It has been stated that Andersen has struggled with the high academic standards in place at Wisconsin while trying to bring in junior college transfers.
One name that will undoubtedly come up in the search for Andersen’s replacement is current Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Paul Chryst. Chryst was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin from 2005 through 2011 under Bret Bielema and also played quarterback for the Badgers from 1986-1988.