Big Ten lunch links

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:30
PM ET
Football, please get here. I can't stand watching Chicago baseball any more.
Maryland and Rutgers fans might have the wrong idea about their new Big Ten brethren.

For the most part, Midwesterners are excessively nice and hospitable. Coastal arrogance or aloofness has no place in the heartland, and the only frostiness in these parts is the weather. Big Ten fans might not have done backflips when they found out Rutgers and Maryland were joining the league, but now that the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins are part of the league, they will embrace their new, well-located friends.

But there are certain individuals that rankle even the most sensible Midwesterners. They are the folks you love to boo. Sadly, some of our favorite Big Ten villains -- Bret Bielema, Terrelle Pryor, Taylor Lewan -- are no longer here to kick around, but others remain.

Some of these folks have done absolutely nothing wrong. They have been too good on the field or on the sideline or as high school recruits. Others have said or done things to stir the pot.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
MCT via Getty ImagesPenn State coach James Franklin's exuberance has grown a little annoying for some around the Big Ten.
Today, we unmask these villains.

To those on this list, an important point: the only true villains in college football are good enough to be villains. No one cares what the last-place coach or quarterback thinks. So you have earned this distinction. Put it right next to your playing or coaching awards.

Another reminder: this is all in good fun.

Without further ado, the list in alphabetical (not villainous) order:

Jim Delany, commissioner, Big Ten: He is one of the most powerful figures in college sports and has built the Big Ten into a revenue superpower through initiatives like the Big Ten Network. The Big Ten will never have a commissioner who makes a greater impact for such a long period of time. But Delany is still known more for his pro-BCS stance, Legends and Leaders, and the eyebrow-raising additions of Rutgers and Maryland. He lacks Larry Scott's polish or Mike Slive's willingness to stump for his constituents no matter what. Delany is a true independent voice and, at times, it has hurt his image among Big Ten fans. He might not be truly appreciated until he's gone.

James Franklin, head coach, Penn State: Remember when Penn State's offseasons used to be quiet? Franklin has generated noise -- joyful noise for Nittany Nation, not so much for other fan bases -- since his opening news conference in January. He has made bold statements about dominating regional recruiting and backed it up so far, compiling a top-5 class for 2015. Franklin soaked up the spotlight during his May tour around the state and appears to be in front of every microphone and camera. Recruits and many fans love the guy, but some question his authenticity and get tired of the incessant hype.

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: He is about as subdued a superstar as we have seen in the Big Ten and a welcome departure from his predecessor, Pryor. But the introverted Miller has inflicted quite a bit of damage on Big Ten fan bases, leading Ohio State to a 16-0 mark in regular-season league games the past two seasons as the starter. Miller has been the king of comebacks during his Buckeyes career, leading six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most among any FBS player. Knock him if you'd like for lack of a Big Ten title, but his best could be still to come.

Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State: He is the overlord of the Big Ten's best defense and one of the nation's most dominant units. Michigan State and Alabama are the only FBS teams to rank among the top 11 nationally in the four major defensive categories in each of the past three seasons. Narduzzi's incessant blitzes punish quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Just ask Michigan. The Spartans have a good thing going and Narduzzi knows it, telling ESPN.com, "I don't think there's a team in the country that does what we do. ... We've been ahead of the curve for years."

Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan: How can Peppers be a Big Ten villain when he hasn't even played a Big Ten game? I'll answer that question with a question: How many recent Big Ten players have generated more headlines before they step on the field than Michigan's prized incoming recruit? It's not Peppers' fault, but 13 of the 14 Big Ten fan bases likely are tired of hearing about the next Charles Woodson, his connection to "Naughty by Nature" and Peppers being the potential savior for an underachieving Wolverines program. Peppers might be the most anticipated Big Ten recruit since Pryor in 2008. He has a lot to prove this fall, and quite a few folks hope he busts.

Villains on deck: Urban Meyer, Bo Pelini, Connor Cook, Julie Hermann, Christian Hackenberg

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
5:00
PM ET
Coming back at you with another mailbag. Bring it:

Husker fan from St Louis writes: The Big Ten's 2014 pre-bowl perception will be largely base on the nonconference games you ranked Tuesday 1 to 14. What kind of record does the Big Ten need to fare favorably? What key games are must wins for perception? What's your prediction for the Big Ten's record in those games?

Brian Bennett: It's not just perception on the line but also the Big Ten's chances of getting a team in the College Football Playoff. The view of a 12-1 Big Ten champion would be greatly enhanced if the league scored several key out-of-conference wins. Conversely, the league could find itself shut out if the nonconference performance suffers.

The two most important games, obviously, are Michigan State at Oregon in Week 2 and Wisconsin vs. LSU in the opener. Of course, the Big Ten entry figures to be a significant underdog in those games. Of the top 14 listed, I see two other matchups where the Big Ten team should be a sizeable underdog: Illinois at Washington and Indiana at Missouri. The league should be favored to win the following matchups:
  • Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech, Navy and Cincinnati
  • Iowa vs. Iowa State and (possibly) at Pitt
  • Nebraska vs. Miami

Most of the other games are likely toss-ups, or close to it, on paper. The league needs to win more than its fair share and can't have a team like Ohio State or Nebraska lose a game it is supposed to win, especially at home. Even competitive games but close losses by Michigan State and Wisconsin would not necessarily be a bad thing if the conference takes care of business elsewhere. And doing well against Notre Dame always helps keep the critics at bay.


Glenn K. from Siesta Key writes: Brian, it's almost going beyond annoying to being funny that year after year you, Adam and other so-called "experts" continue to pick OSU as the favorite to either win the division or the B1G title outright. Yet, each year they choke in the big games where it really counts or win their division by default. You even mentioned the question marks about some position groups for the 2014 season, yet you justify them by saying that Saint Urban is their coach, which makes everything OK. Stop riding his shirt tails from the national championships he won at Florida, playing a lot of questionable recruits. What has he really done in Ohio, except go undefeated with Jim Tressel's recruits?

Brian Bennett: Funny, huh? I assume you're trolling here, Glenn. Because you do realize, I hope, that Ohio State has won the division in each of the past two years, and I don't think going 12-0 in two straight regular seasons involves any kind of default. And surely you're aware that between 2002 and 2010, the Buckeyes won or shared the league championship seven times and captured five BCS bowl victories. Ohio State gets too much grief for its back-to-back losses in the national title game (when no other Big Ten team ever made it that far in the BCS era) and not enough credit for its big bowl wins. To be clear, I haven't yet officially picked anybody to win the East Division or Big Ten title in 2014, and I may or may not wind up picking the Buckeyes. But based on recent track record alone, they make for a very safe choice.


Truman from Chicago writes: You wrote: "Ohio State is officially the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten title at 1-to-1. It's interesting that the Buckeyes are such favorites despite so many question marks, including offensive line, running back, receiver and defensive back seven. But the faith in Urban Meyer is strong." Or is it that Vegas believes the rest of the league is really that bad? I have a hard time seeing anyone other than Ohio State in the Top 25 at the end of the season. Yes, even Michigan State could be a letdown. After the early loss to Oregon the Spartans will be prime upset candidates. So does the Big Ten getting to the playoff rely on Michigan State beating Oregon?

Brian Bennett: You guys are downers today. No one besides Ohio State in the Top 25? That's just silly. Even in a relatively down year like 2012, the Big Ten had four teams finish in the Top 25. Let's be realistic here. Michigan State is a legitimately good team and will be fine regardless of the outcome in Eugene. Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa and others are also prime candidates to not only win the league but finish ranked. And there are several others who could jump up.

Ohio State's odds, I believe, are influenced at least a little by its name brand. Remember that the Vegas guys set odds hoping to get you to bet money; they know that there are a ton of Buckeyes fans roaming around and that casual fans recognize the Urban Meyer factor. Teams like Michigan State and Iowa are a little undervalued right now. Hint, hint.


Dave in the 740 writes: It's my contention that the B1G screwed up by going to an East-West setup and not a North-South setup. Look at what a North-South setup could look like:
  • North: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern and Purdue.
  • South: Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers.

This setup would allay most of Nebraska's concerns, as well as a number of others. It would get them annual games with Penn State and Ohio State (as an Ohio State follower, I wonder why they would want to play a program in decline like Michigan, but whatever). It would also set up annual North division rivalry games between Minnesota-Iowa (Floyd of Rosedale...the best trophy game of all time), Minnesota-Wisconsin (Paul Bunyan's Axe, tied for second best with...), Minnesota-Michigan (The Jug), Michigan-Michigan State (a budding annual classic) and maybe Northwestern-Purdue. Yes, Purdue-Indiana and Ohio State-Michigan would be protected rivalries, but so what? It would also preserve the Ohio State-Illinois Illibuck rivalry (such as it is), keep the Ohio State-Penn State series going, and allow Penn State to continue its off-and-on rivalry with Maryland (35-1-1!) and build one with Rutgers.

Brian Bennett: A couple of things here. First off, I thought it was very important -- and the league obviously agreed -- to put Ohio State and Michigan in the same division to avoid a possible rematch a week after The Game (not that the Wolverines have been all that close to going to the Big Ten title game lately, but still). I like the East-West setup because it's a lot easier to remember which schools are in the East and which are West than it is to figure out if, for example, Lincoln, Nebraska, is south of West Lafayette, Indiana.

The one difference in the current setup that I argued for was switching Michigan State to the West Division. Given the way the Spartans have played in recent years, that would have put another power in the West and potentially balanced out the divisions more. But, hey, the East-West is here the way it is, so let's see how it plays out. We can all agree it's a vast improvement over Legends and Leaders.


Rodney from Grantville, Pennsylvania, writes: Has the B1G considered scheduling crossover games based on previous year standings? If they were doing the nine-game schedule this year, MSU would have to play Wisconsin and Iowa -- same for OSU -- and on the other end Purdue would play Indiana and Rutgers, for example. This would give the B1G more marquee matchups and would also give the schools that are struggling a break from having difficult crossover games giving them more of a chance to become bowl eligible.

Brian Bennett: It's a nice idea in theory, Rodney, but college football isn't the same as the NFL. Schedules are done years in advance to give schools plenty of time to prepare and set up their nonconference schedule. It would be great if there were a little more flexibility in those schedules, but no conference does it that way. We can hope the parity scheduling idea results in good matchups down the road, but the danger of setting those in advance is that teams' fortunes can rise and fall dramatically in the intervening years.
Does Ohio State get a little too much credit sometimes? Sure.

Still, if you're trying to figure out which Big Ten team will be the best over the next three years, it would be hard to argue against the Buckeyes.

That's exactly the conclusion ESPN.com panel consisting of Travis Haney, Brad Edwards, Brock Huard, Tom Luginbill and Mark Schlabach reached in their second annual college football future rankings. The panel ranked the top 25 college football teams over the next three years based on factors such as coaching, current talent, recruiting, title path and program power.

Ohio State checks in at No. 3 in that Top 25, and it's no real surprise. Sure, the Buckeyes haven't actually won a Big Ten championship in the division era, but all the pieces are there. Urban Meyer has a championship track record, he and his staff have been recruiting outstanding athletes, and few schools in the nation can match Ohio State's resources and support.

And let's face it: it could well be easier to win the Big Ten than a league like the SEC in the next few years, giving the Buckeyes a clearer shot to make the College Football Playoff. Edwards sees big things looming in Columbus:

"I don't think they look at themselves as competing with the rest of the Big Ten," he said. "I think they're competing with Alabama, Florida State, Oklahoma, USC and teams like that. ... I think Ohio State is going to keep getting better. I think [the Buckeyes are] going to run away from that conference."

Then again, some other schools will have a lot to say about that. Like Michigan State, which beat Ohio State in the Big Ten title game last year and doesn't appear to be slowing down under Mark Dantonio. The Spartans checked in at No. 17 in the future rankings Top 25. That might still be undervaluing that program, but the panel sees Michigan State as the No. 2 team in the Big Ten ... three spots ahead of Michigan.

The Wolverines, who have all the money and facilities a team would ever need, have seen their recent recruiting classes garner very lofty rankings. Still, after going just 15-11 the past two years under Brady Hoke, they're trending downward in the panel's view.
"Here comes a painful comparison for Michigan fans: Chizik-era Auburn, without the Cam Newton title year," Haney writes. "Michigan had the Nos. 6 and 7 classes in 2012 and 2013. If you recruit that well and you do not produce, it begins to work against you. ...

"Momentum is definitely working against Michigan. But we said the same thing a year ago about Oklahoma, a program with similar history and tradition (albeit a far more stable coaching situation). Hoke's program is at a crossroads. He could be [Will] Muschamp entering 2015, or he could be Bob Stoops. That's one heck of a spectrum."

Penn State is ranked No. 22, which is pretty impressive considering the program is still dealing with the shackles of probation. The panel likes what James Franklin is doing on the recruiting trail, and how Bill O'Brien set the program up to succeed despite severe hurdles.

Neither Wisconsin nor Nebraska made the Top 25, which seem like slights in my view. Wisconsin, in particular, has been a far more successful and stable program of late than, say, Miami, which checked in at No. 25 in the future rankings. And Nebraska should be favored to beat the Hurricanes when the two teams meet in Lincoln this September. Miami has better access to talent, but the Badgers and Huskers have shown a much better job of actually using their talent in recent years.

I'd place my money on those Big Ten teams over Miami for the next three seasons. I can't wait to find out who is right.

 
Just before the holiday last week, we took a look at some Big Ten units that will be under pressure to perform this season. Now we want your opinion on which groups have the most riding on them.

Cue David Bowie as we list the nominees under the most pressure:
    SportsNation

    Which Big Ten unit is under the most pressure in 2014?

    •  
      53%
    •  
      21%
    •  
      9%
    •  
      14%
    •  
      3%

    Discuss (Total votes: 6,853)

     
  • Michigan's offensive line: The Wolverines allowed 36 sacks and averaged just 3.3 yards per rush last fall, and that was with future NFL draft picks Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Michigan needs a lot of players to grow up quickly on the O-line to have any chance of competing for a division title this season.
  • Ohio State's secondary: The Buckeyes' pass defense collapsed at the end of last season and lost top cornerback Bradley Roby to the NFL. New secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash is bringing a more aggressive mindset while relying on young, athletic players like Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell and Cam Burrows.
  • Penn State's receivers: Who will replace Allen Robinson? That's a major question in State College. Sophomore Geno Lewis and true freshmen DeAndre Thompkins, Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin are among the top candidates.
  • Wisconsin's quarterbacks: Incumbent starter Joel Stave is a lightning rod for fans, and he's not guaranteed to keep his job over Tanner McEvoy. Whoever earns the nod must help improve the Badgers' passing game -- and deal with LSU's defense in the opener.
  • Illinois' defensive line: The Illini were one of the worst teams in the country at stopping the run last season, giving up 238 yards per game on the ground. Junior college transfers Jihad Ward and Joe Fotu are expected to help, but if things don't turn around quickly, this team is going to struggle again.

Which unit is under the most pressure to succeed this year? Vote now in our poll.

Big Ten lunch links

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
12:00
PM ET
Happy Video Games Day. If anybody needs me, I'll be in front of a Galaga machine.
 
If you want accurate predictions on the 2014 college football season, you could comb the various preseason magazines. You could read expert takes on the Internet (ahem). Or you could go with the Vegas sharps who get paid to know these sorts of things.

I'm always going to look long and hard at the oddsmakers' choices. And Bovada has released its odds for national, Big Ten and league division championships, so let's examine.

The bookmaker sees Ohio State as the Big Ten's top College Football Playoff threat, giving the Buckeyes 10-to-1 odds to win the national championship. That's No. 5 among all teams, behind defending champion Florida State (11-to-2), Alabama (6-to-1), Oregon (8-to-1) and Auburn (9-to-1).

Michigan State checks in as the league's second choice at 25-to-1, tied for 10th among all teams. Wisconsin is next for the Big Ten at 33-to-1, followed by Michigan and Nebraska at 50-to-1 and Iowa at 100-to-1. Rutgers is 1,000-to-1, if any Scarlet Knights fans are feeling lucky.

Ohio State is officially the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten title at 1-to-1. It's interesting that the Buckeyes are such favorites despite so many question marks, including offensive line, running back, receiver and defensive back seven. But the faith in Urban Meyer is strong.

Michigan State and Wisconsin are tied as the second choice at 9-to-2, followed by Nebraska at 5-to-1. Other teams' odds to win the Big Ten championship (Penn State, obviously, is ineligible):

Michigan: 6-to-1
Iowa: 12-to-1
Minnesota: 33-to-1
Northwestern: 40-to-1
Illinois: 66-to-1
Indiana: 66-to-1
Maryland: 100-to-1
Rutgers: 200-to-1
Purdue: 250-to-1

If you're just looking for value here, Iowa is an intriguing bet at 12-to-1. The Hawkeyes own a highly advantageous schedule, with Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Iowa City. They could easily find themselves in Indianapolis for a one-game shot at the title.

Speaking of division winners, Ohio State is a 2-to-5 favorite to win the Big Ten East, ahead of Michigan State at 13-to-5. Wisconsin is 6-to-5 to win the West, edging out Nebraska at 3-to-2 (Iowa is 5-to-1).

Name value plays a role here, as Vegas wants to entice fans to bet on recognizable teams (hence, I believe, the odds for Michigan). But the wiseguys are saying Ohio State deserves to be the clear favorite heading into 2014.
Football will be here before you know it (we hope). So we've been ranking every Big Ten nonconference game this season, from worst to first.

Now we're down to our final 14. These are the best of the best, the games we simply can't wait to see. Let's count 'em down:

No. 14: Illinois at Washington, Sept. 13: Can the Illini take advantage of the Huskies' coaching switch to Chris Petersen? Going to the West Coast doesn't often work out well for Big Ten teams.

No. 13: Minnesota at TCU, Sept. 13: The Gophers' lone chance to score an impressive nonconference win in the regular season. TCU had a very disappointing and out-of-character 4-8 season a year ago.

No. 12: Iowa vs. Iowa State, Sept. 13: A great year for the Hawkeyes almost necessarily has to include a win over the rival Cyclones.

No. 11: Iowa at Pitt, Sept. 20: This nonconference game for Iowa intrigues me just a bit more than the Iowa State rivalry, as former Wisconsin assistant Paul Chryst is starting to build something in the Steel City.

No. 10: Indiana at Missouri, Sept. 20: The Hoosiers go to Columbia to take on the reigning SEC East champs and hope to put up a more competitive showing than they did last year in Bloomington.

No. 9: Ohio State vs. Navy (at Baltimore), Aug. 30: The Buckeyes open against the always difficult Midshipmen attack. Some coaches would rather do that to give themselves an entire offseason to prepare for the option.

No. 8: Northwestern at Notre Dame, Nov. 15: The first game between these two since 1995 is one Wildcats fans have been anticipating for a while. An interesting mid-November date for it, too.

No. 7: Penn State vs. UCF (at Dublin, Ireland), Aug. 30: The exotic locale raises the interest level here. Even without the Irish charm, it's James Franklin's debut, and UCF is coming off a Fiesta Bowl victory.

No. 6: Ohio State vs. Cincinnati, Sept. 27: The Bearcats last beat their in-state big brother in 1897, but you know they will be pouring everything they have into trying to pull this upset -- both for themselves and for the American Athletic Conference.

No. 5: Nebraska vs. Miami (Fla.), Sept. 20: Two great names trying to regain their past swagger. How many clips from the 1983 Orange Bowl will we see in the leadup?

No. 4: Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech, Sept. 6: No one is giving the Hokies much of a shot in this game, but they're always dangerous. It's a game the Buckeyes and the Big Ten have to win.

No. 3: Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 6: The last scheduled game in this series, sadly. Crazy stuff almost always happens when these two teams meet, so what's in store for the (for now) finale?

No. 2. Wisconsin vs. LSU (at Houston), Aug. 30: The tonesetter not only for the Badgers but the entire Big Ten. Win it, and Wisconsin is a legitimate player in the College Football Playoff discussion. Lose it, and people might forget about Gary Andersen's team for several weeks because of the schedule.

No. 1: Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6: Well, sure. Two teams that should be in the preseason top 10. The Spartans' fierce defense vs. Oregon's pyrotechnic offense. The chance for Michigan State to show it truly belongs in the national elite. Can this one hurry up and get here, please?
video
LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. -- ESPN 300 linebacker Osa Masina arrived at The Opening with no pressure and no plans to make any big moves with his recruitment.

One of the most subjective yet popular elements of the interminable college football offseason is the stadium ranking. We gave it a go back in 2012 and received plenty of vengeful spirited feedback. Good times.

Athlon recently dipped its toe into the stadium rankings pool by asking 15 media members, including ESPN colleague Travis Haney, to rank the nation's top 10 stadiums. Two Big Ten stadiums made the cut: Ohio Stadium at No. 2 and Beaver Stadium at No. 10. Michigan Stadium, Camp Randall Stadium and Nebraska's Memorial Stadium also received votes.

Some might be surprised the Big House didn't make the top 10. I'm not. Although the recent renovations are terrific and enhance the atmosphere at Stadium and Main, especially for night games, Michigan Stadium always has been a bit overrated because of its size. I've always been partial to Camp Randall but think Nebraska's Memorial Stadium easily could make the top 10.

Today's exercise isn't about stumping for your team's stadium. Your task is to identify your favorite Big Ten road venue and tell us why you like it so much. Perhaps it's a place you've visited many times. Maybe you went just once or simply admired the atmosphere from afar.

Send us your responses here (Adam) and here (Brian) and we'll print some of the best ones in the coming days. Remember to list your team affiliation, your favorite Big Ten road stadium, and why you like it so much (100 words or less).

CFB Future Power Rankings

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
3:22
PM ET

CFB Future Power Ranks10 future stars | Chat wrap | 2013 FPR

It's Insider's second go-round projecting college football's next three years in our Future Power Rankings.

What did we learn from our first edition? For one, teams can make a substantive move in just a year's time. Just look at Auburn, which jumped from 23rd to fifth after a run to the championship game. USC, now with coaching stability, made the biggest leap (25th to sixth). Oklahoma, UCLA, FSU and Baylor were among other risers, and you'll soon read why.

On the other side, we were high a year ago on Florida and Michigan. Oops. The Gators' injury-plagued 4-8 season dropped them from No. 4 to No. 14, while the Wolverines, who lost five of their last six games, fell from fifth to 20th. We know Will Muschamp's job is in danger, but is that an omen for Brady Hoke's future in Ann Arbor?

Alabama is again our No. 1 team, but with two losses to end the season, its lead shrank. Is that a subtle signal that the Tide might have peaked under Nick Saban?

We'll examine those topics and more in the Future Power Rankings.

Here's how we compiled it: Our panel -- myself, Brad Edwards, Brock Huard, Tom Luginbill and Mark Schlabach -- provided 1-10 ratings in five different categories that we found to be comprehensive in determining current positioning, as well as a projection for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Here are the top 25 college football teams over the next three years:


  • 1
Alabama Crimson Tide
SEC FPR RANK: 1

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category. Category averages are weighted by importance to generate overall score.

Coaching: Saban did not receive a perfect 10, as he did a year ago. Maybe the one panelist who gave him a nine dinged him for how he managed the final second of the Iron Bowl.

But seriously, Saban is still well ahead of No. 2 Urban Meyer (9.2) and No. 3 Bill Snyder (9.0). (Have to appreciate that Snyder gets that kind of love, even if K-State didn't break the Top 25.)

Edwards thinks 2014 is a big year for Saban because it will show whether he can adapt his defense to better handle tempo offenses. Look at how Saban's defenses mightily struggled last year against not only Texas A&M, but also Auburn and Oklahoma.

"You put them all together and you realize, 'You know what, Alabama might have an issue with this,'" Edwards said. "I happen to believe Saban and [defensive coordinator] Kirby Smart have done enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt. Let's see what they can come up with this year before I decide the dynasty is over. Saban is now recruiting to find those types of players [to defend tempo offenses]."

As for the best coach in the state?

"I want to see Gus Malzahn beat Nick Saban one more time before I say he's a better coach," Edwards said, "which is a conclusion a lot of people are already making."

Current talent: There are more positional questions than in the past few years, especially the offensive line and cornerback spots. Rival coaches are even rumbling about it. "I don't know about them," one SEC coordinator said. But do not be fooled for an instant into thinking the Tide have suddenly become as barren as a bachelor's refrigerator in terms of talent.

Bama still has the top running back group in the country with T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry, who was a bright spot in the otherwise drab Sugar Bowl performance. The time could be now for LB Reuben Foster and FS Landon Collins to shine on defense. MLB Trey DePriest will be the defense's rock.

And what about QB Jake Coker? His old coach at FSU, Jimbo Fisher, believes Coker is capable, which is why Coker nearly beat out last year's Heisman Trophy winner to start at FSU.

Recruiting: This is why Alabama earned association with the word "dynasty" -- it started winning almost every major recruiting battle, and the program became the closest thing there is on the planet to the NFL's minor league system. It has not dipped, and there's no reason to believe it will as long as Saban is around; he will not let it slide.

Title path:  It's going to happen, and it could happen this year: The SEC is going to knock itself out of the playoff. The strength of the top half of the league could turn out to be a bad thing in some seasons.

The Tide are regularly part of a kickoff game of some kind, playing the likes of Clemson, Virginia Tech or West Virginia, but the nonconference slate is typically manageable. The conference schedule always works for and against the SEC. For the Tide, Auburn is the new-slash-old menace.

The rating suggests that it isn't the ideal road to the playoff, but it should not be preventive for a power program such as Alabama.

Program power: Like the coaching category, Bama still received four 10s and a nine. The takeaway: It's hard to remain perfect.

"We all know that every dynasty comes to an end, but when you look back on every dynasty, you know where the turning point was," Edwards said. Will we say it was the Iron Bowl and Sugar Bowl, perhaps? "I think what you have is a lot of people trying to be the first one to predict the end of the dynasty," Edwards said. "They want to be the ones to say they didn't miss it. I think they're jumping the gun a little bit."

Which is why Alabama is still No. 1. But one program is making up ground in a hurry ...


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Big Ten's lunch links

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
12:00
PM ET
Back from vacation. Hope you had a great holiday weekend.
Welcome to watch list season!

Yep, college football's individual awards -- I believe we're up to around 257 of them now -- have begun the annual summer tradition of releasing their preseason watch lists. It's an exercise born from a different era, when fans weren't plugged into the game year round and players and teams needed preseason publicity. The lists also signify almost nothing, because Florida State's Jameis Winston wasn't on any watch lists last year, nor was Johnny Manziel in 2012. Being excluded from the preseason watch list doesn't prevent a player from winning the award, and being included means very little except that you had a good season last year or that your school's sports information department did a strong job lobbying for you.

That's a lengthy intro to explain why we won't be posting on every single watch list this summer. They'll mostly be relegated to links and mentions on our Twitter account. We will occasionally write about some that happen to be interesting or have notable snubs, etc.

Watch lists for two of the bigger awards came out on Monday, and since they are notable prizes, we thought they were worth passing along. They are the Maxwell Award, which is presented to the top player in the country, and the Bednarik Award, which goes to the nation's best defensive player. If nothing else, this gives you an idea of where players stand in public perception heading into the season.

Here are the Big Ten players on the Maxwell list:
And for the Bednarik:
Hope everyone enjoyed the Fourth of July weekend. The next holiday weekend is Labor Day, which will be filled by college football. Yay.

Of course, that means nonconference action for the Big Ten. And we've been ranking the 2014 Big Ten nonconference games from worst to first, taking into account quality of opponent, interest level and expected competitiveness of the game.

We presented our first (read: worst) batch of 14 games on Wednesday and the second, slightly better group on Thursday. Things really start to perk up with this third and penultimate crop of 2014 nonconference games. Which rank a little something like this:

No. 28: Maryland at South Florida, Sept. 6: The Bulls host Maryland three weeks before going to Madison. If they're not vastly improved from a year ago, it could be a rough September.

No. 27: Penn State vs. Temple, Nov. 15: Oddly timed mid-November matchup here. The Owls were just 2-10 a year ago, so it's possible nobody outside of Pennsylvania will be paying much attention.

No. 26: Indiana at Bowling Green, Sept. 13: The Hoosiers' easy dispatching of Bowling Green, which went 10-4 and won the MAC East last year, was one of their best wins of the 2013 season. The Falcons look for revenge at home.

No. 25: Wisconsin vs. Bowling Green, Sept. 20: Two straight weeks of Big Ten teams for Bowling Green. We should know in advance whether the Falcons are feisty enough to mount a challenge in Camp Randall.

No. 24: Maryland at Syracuse, Sept. 20: The Terps are in the Big Ten and Syracuse is in the ACC. Still seems very weird.

No. 23: Rutgers at Navy, Sept. 20: The Scarlet Knights may very well need to win this game to have any chance at getting bowl eligible.

No. 22: Rutgers at Washington State, Aug. 28: Rutgers goes on the road to face Mike Leach's Air Raid attack a few weeks before taking on Navy's option. You can't say Kyle Flood isn't challenging his defense this year.

No. 21: Northwestern vs. Northern Illinois, Sept. 6: Would have been nice to see these two butt heads when both were riding high, like in 2012. Still, it's a fun little matchup between two schools that are practically neighbors.

No. 20: Michigan vs. Appalachian State, Aug. 30: Maybe we're basing this ranking way too much on the 2007 upset. But just try to pretend like you don't want to watch this one.

No. 19: Northwestern vs. Cal, Aug. 30: Could be a lot of points and yards on the board again in this one, but Cal was truly awful last season.

No. 18: Purdue vs. Notre Dame (Indianapolis), Sept. 13: The Boilermakers played far and away their best game of the season last year vs. the Irish. Can they repeat that performance and make things interesting at Lucas Oil Stadium?

No. 17: Maryland vs. West Virginia, Sept. 13: It's also weird that West Virginia is in the Big 12 and Maryland is in the Big Ten. At least someone had the sense to keep this rivalry going through all the realignment.

No. 16: Nebraska at Fresno State, Sept. 13: Derek Carr might be gone, but the Bulldogs can still bite. Nebraska had better be on top of its game with this late kickoff on the road.

No. 15: Michigan vs. Utah, Sept. 20: The move to the Pac-12 hasn't quite worked out too well for the Utes. Winning in the Big House would be a way to get some momentum back for the program.

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CFB Future Power Rankings
Travis Haney previews the college football future power rankings and discusses a few teams on the rise and a few teams that have fallen off.
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