Complete Big Ten preview for 2018.
The Big Ten heads into the 2018 college football season with five candidates to reach the playoff. After winning the conference championship last year, Ohio State is the favorite in the Big Ten to win the league title once again. However, rival Michigan and division foes Penn State and Michigan State aren’t far behind. In the West, Wisconsin is a clear favorite over Iowa, Northwestern and Purdue. The Badgers face a tougher schedule than they had in 2017, but coach Paul Chryst’s program has the returning talent to push Ohio State or any of the teams from the East in the Big Ten Championship.
Saquon Barkley is someone else’s problem now, but opponents should still be wary of this offense, especially if Trace McSorley displays the kind of accuracy he showed while completing all 12 of his third-down passing attempts vs. Washington in the Fiesta Bowl. Penn State is going to get its points. But can a graduation-depleted defense stop opponents from getting theirs? That’s what will determine whether this team earns its third consecutive New Year’s Six bowl berth.
OSU ended last season with a win over That Team Up North and a defeat of USC in the Rose Bowl, but the 55–24 setback at Iowa still can’t be explained. Plus, the late-season momentum was offset by the loss of a multitude of key players, QB J.T. Barrett atop the list. The Buckeyes will march onward with a new quarterback, a roster loaded with hungry talent and a defense that still plans to come after people.
This is a pivotal season for coach Jim Harbaugh, whose struggles against his three main rivals are well documented. His fourth Michigan team will once again be outstanding on defense. If the offense, a trouble spot in recent years, shows any improvement, this team can compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff — even against a difficult schedule that includes the usual suspects from the Big Ten East as well as Notre Dame (on the road) and Wisconsin (the top team from West). However, if the quarterback play remains an issue and the offensive line doesn’t progress, it will be more of the same in Ann Arbor.
Head coach Tom Allen landed Indiana’s best recruiting class in years and has upgraded the program’s athleticism. But depending on freshmen to win against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State is not a winning formula. With questions at quarterback, the offensive line and across the defense, the ceiling for this team could be six wins.
Coach DJ Durkin’s endless enthusiasm was tested last year. Injuries crippled a promising team that upset Texas in the opener. The Terrapins got pounded by the Big Ten’s biggest bullies. Now there’s a second straight top-30 recruiting class in tow, five new coaches, a new state-of-the-art indoor practice/sports medicine facility in New Cole Field House, and a whole new offense with some healthy quarterbacks. Big Ten foes may not have to “Fear the Turtle” just yet, but they’ll have to start paying attention.
Michigan State bounced back from a 3–9 season to reach double-digit wins for the sixth time in eight years. With 19 returning starters from a team that went 10–3, the Spartans are a dangerous contender in one of the best divisions in college football and will continue to be a problem for Penn State and Michigan. A return to the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2015 is unlikely but not impossible. No one is expecting Michigan State to leapfrog Ohio State, but that’s the way coach Mark Dantonio likes it.
A bowl game is the hope for coach Chris Ash’s third season — a goal he is not shying away from. But if bowl eligibility does happen, it will likely be achieved early. Six of the first seven opponents Rutgers faces were a combined 20-52 last season, including three that lost 10 games or more. The closing five-game stretch of Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State — a combined 52-14 last year — isn’t conducive to making bowl headway. In the end, it all comes down to offensive improvement and the play at quarterback for this team.
The defense has been the star for the first three years of the Paul Chryst era, a stretch that includes 34 wins. Now, the Badgers might have to light up the scoreboard if they’re going to make a run at the Big Ten title. A light non-conference schedule should give the defense a chance to grow, but that group needs to be ready for a Big Ten slate that includes road games against five bowl teams from a year ago.
There is a lot to like but also a lot to question about this Iowa team. QB Nate Stanley and TE Noah Fant both have star potential, the defensive ends might be the best in the Big Ten as a group and the kicking game is solid. On the other hand, the top two running backs have to be replaced, along with all three starting linebackers and an All-America cornerback.
One of Iowa’s biggest strengths might be its schedule, which doesn’t include games against Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State – three of the Big 4 from the Big Ten East.
Nebraska has been largely absent from the national discussion since 2001, and the Cornhuskers haven’t won a conference championship since 1999. Without overstating things, coach Scott Frost and staff were miracle workers at UCF, taking a program from 0-12 the season before they arrived to 13-0, including a Peach Bowl victory against Auburn, last year, their second in Orlando.
Whether they can work such magic in two seasons again is uncertain. Nebraska had better than 4-8 talent a year ago, and much of it returns. New systems are in place all the way around, causing growing pains, and the schedule is daunting. But the Cornhuskers will be up-tempo, aggressive, physical — and competitive.
For the third time in four seasons, Minnesota figures to enter November still in search of an elusive sixth win — and bowl eligibility. A year ago, in coach P.J. Fleck’s first season at Minnesota, the Gophers lacked depth and talent and finished at 5-7, including 2-7 in the Big Ten. It marked the first time Minnesota had missed a bowl since 2011.
“The outside people are going to say, “What about your wins?”” Fleck said during the spring. “Again, I’m not worried about all that. I’m not worried one bit about any of the wins and losses. I’m worried about developing this football team.”
Fleck, who took Western Michigan from 1-11 to 8-5 in Year 2 in Kalamazoo, received a one-year rollover contract extension at Minnesota during last season and now has five years remaining to build the program in his image.
With 27 wins in the last three seasons and a new lakefront facility, Northwestern clearly has momentum. Keeping it likely depends on QB Clayton Thorson, who, if healthy, can take the Wildcats a long way. But his uncertain status and key losses at running back, safety and defensive tackle increase the degree of difficulty. Northwestern needs line play to excel and for its star power on defense to shine again. Although the schedule is tough, Northwestern misses both Ohio State and Penn State and gets almost all of its marquee opponents at home.
Coach Lovie Smith’s teams are 5-19 overall and just 2-16 in the Big Ten, including an unprecedented 0-9 in 2017. He has a six-year deal, so the administration is giving him time. The fans want to see some progress and some excitement. The schedule is challenging, with an early game against South Florida in Chicago, visits from Penn State and Iowa and trips to Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern.
During the past two decades, the third year has been a charm for Illinois coaches. Ron Turner, Ron Zook and Tim Beckman earned bowl bids in their third seasons. If offensive coordinator Rod Smith continues to have a golden touch with quarterbacks, like he did at Arizona, the offense will improve. Enough to bump the win total to six? Probably not.
Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Coach Jeff Brohm exceeded those expectations by leading Purdue to its first bowl win since 2011. Veteran defensive leaders keyed the turnaround last year. Now, with so many of those players gone, the pressure is on the offense. Purdue could take a step back in Year 2 before it takes two steps forward in Year 3.
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Wisconsin at Purdue
Purdue puts its No. 3 national ranking, its share of the Big Ten lead and Division I’s second-longest win streak on the line Tuesday when it hosts Wisconsin. The Badgers were depleted by graduation in the offseason and have further been hampered by injuries, particularly in the backcourt, and given their current struggles at 9-9 overall, they are in definite danger of missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
As just mentioned, though, there have been a completely different set of headlines for the Boilermakers, who have reeled off 13 straight wins since back-to-back losses in the Nov. 22-24 Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. Nine of those 13 victories have been by at least 12 points, including Saturday’s 81-47 road thrashing of Minnesota, and Purdue has now climbed to third in the current coaches’ poll, trailing only one-loss Villanova and Virginia. Sophomore guard/leading scorer Carsen Edwards and four senior starters lead the way for the Boilermakers, who own the nation’s best scoring margin at 22.3 points per game. “They’re playing with a great purpose,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said of Purdue after Saturday’s rout. “They coach themselves. Matt (Painter) is a terrific coach, but you can tell they’re coaching each other.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
ABOUT WISCONSIN (9-9, 2-3 Big Ten): The Badgers did get off to a 2-1 start in conference play but have dropped their last two games to less-than-formidable foes in Rutgers (64-60) and Nebraska (63-59). Forward Ethan Happ is pacing the squad in scoring (16.8 points per game), rebounding (8.6) and assists (3.4), and is the only major-conference player averaging at least 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists on the year. Freshman guard Brad Davison (12.1 points) is the only other player averaging double digits and is one of only two active guards on scholarship with Kobe King out for the season with a knee injury and D’Mitrik Trice (foot) sidelined indefinitely after undergoing foot surgery last month.
ABOUT PURDUE (17-2, 6-0): Forward Vincent Edwards scored a game- and season-high 25 points in only 29 minutes vs. Minnesota – thanks largely to a 5-of-7 performance from 3-point range – and is one of four Boilermakers averaging at least 13.3 points per outing. Carsen Edwards leads the way at 16.7 points and he and backcourt mate Dakota Mathias (13.3 points, team-leading 4.5 assists) have combined to connect on 92-of-221 (41.6 percent) 3-point attempts. Senior Isaac Haas, a 7-foot-2 center, is averaging 14.8 points and shooting 63.8 percent from the floor while Vincent Edwards is contributing 14.4 points and a team-most 8.2 rebounds.
1. Purdue has won the last three meetings and is 70-18 vs. Wisconsin in West Lafayette, Ind.
2. The Boilermakers and Saint Mary’s, of the West Coast Conference, are the only two Division I teams who had won 17 games as of Monday, and Purdue’s 17-2 start shares the best 19-game record in program history with its 1993-94 and 1987-88 counterparts.
3. Purdue ranks second in Big Ten field-goal percentage (50.0) while the Badgers bring up the rear in the conference in field-goal percentage defense (45.8).
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Week 14 CFP Rankings
The 13th weekend of the 2017 season featured several rivalry matchups, including the showdown in the SEC between Auburn and Alabama. The Tigers victory pushes coach Gus Malzahn’s team into the top four, while the Crimson Tide are going to need a little help in order to reach the CFB Playoff. Clemson assumes the No. 1 spot following Saturday night’s win against South Carolina, with Oklahoma jumps one place after handling West Virginia in Norman.
Here is the top 10 week 14 CFP rankings :
1. Clemson (11-1)
Week 13 Result: Defeated South Carolina
The Tigers are a win away from their third consecutive trip to the CFB Playoff.
2. Auburn (10-2)
Week 13 Result: Defeated Alabama
For the second time (Georgia and Alabama) in 2017, Auburn defeated the No. 1 team in the nation.
3. Oklahoma (11-1)
Week 13 Result: Defeated West Virginia
Easy win over West Virginia sets up a showdown (or rematch) against TCU in the Big 12 Championship.
4. Wisconsin (12-0)
Week 13 Result: Defeated Minnesota
Badgers’ defense turns in another dominant effort in Saturday’s win over Minnesota.
5. Alabama (11-1)
Week 13 Result: Lost to Auburn
Let the debate begin: Can the Crimson Tide get into the CFB Playoff with one loss and no SEC Championship?
6. Georgia (11-1)
Week 13 Result: Defeated Georgia Tech
Bulldogs successfully avenged last year’s loss to Georgia Tech with a blowout 38-7 victory over the Yellow Jackets on Saturday.
7. Miami (10-1)
Week 13 Result: Lost to Pitt
Loss to Pitt was a significant setback, but Miami’s playoff hopes are still alive with a win over Clemson.
8. Ohio State (10-2)
Week 13 Result: Defeated Michigan
Urban Meyer is now 6-0 as Ohio State’s coach against Michigan.
9. Penn State (10-2)
Week 13 Result: Defeated Maryland
After destroying Maryland 66-3 on Saturday, the Nittany Lions should be in good shape to earn a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl.
10. USC (10-2)
Week 13 Result: Bye Week
The Trojans had a scheduled bye in Week 13, which was the program’s first off week in the 2017 season. While one was needed during the regular season, the timing worked out with the Pac-12 Championship up next.
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Wisconsin versus Indiana Preview
While the teams at the top of the Big Ten East beat up on each other, Wisconsin is cruising atop the West Division and does not have a ranked team on its schedule the rest of the way. The Badgers, who were slotted at No. 9 in the first College Football Playoff rankings released on Tuesday, will try to stay undefeated Saturday when they visit an Indiana squad that has yet to earn a conference win. Wisconsin versus Indiana will be broadcast at noon on ABC. Play this game as part of Saturday Big 10 conference bundle contest starting at 12pm ET.
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Wisconsin holds a two-game lead over Northwestern and Nebraska in the West and already beat both of those teams, giving it the inside track to the Big Ten Championship Game. The Badgers have home games against Iowa and Michigan before finishing up the regular season at Minnesota and they continue to impress on the defensive end, where their average points allowed of 12.9 is good for fifth in FBS. The Hoosiers are not quite as sharp on defense and are coming off a 42-39 loss at Maryland that marked the third time in five Big Ten games that they allowed more than 40 points.
ABOUT WISCONSIN (8-0, 5-0 Big Ten)
The Badgers lost a huge part of their offense last week, when freshman running back Jonathan Taylor did not play in the second half due to a left leg injury. Taylor, who leads the Big Ten in rushing yards with 1,185, is listed as questionable for Saturday. Wisconsin managed just 303 total yards of offense in the 24-10 win at Illinois last week, with Garrett Groshek and Bradrick Shaw combining for 91 yards on 24 carries in place of Taylor.
ABOUT INDIANA (3-5, 0-5 Big Ten)
The Hoosiers are dealing with an injury at quarterback as freshman Peyton Ramsey had to leave last week’s loss at Maryland twice due to a knee issue. Ramsey still managed to throw three TD passes last week while senior Richard Lagow came on in relief and threw for a pair of scores as the two combined for 410 yards.
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ACC Games of the Week
Saturday lives for College Football and FanPicks has your fantasy football fix. If you are a fan of the Big Ten conference, then you’re in luck because we got the Big Ten Games of the Weeks contest. Only Big Tens matchups are allowed. With 6 games in line, there will be no shortage of draft picks. Check out all of the Big Ten Saturday games preview below and join the action for cash prize!!! >>>Click here to join the game<<<
Iowa Hawkeyes vs Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern looks to build on its first Big Ten win when it hosts Iowa on Saturday (Noon ET on ESPN2) The Wildcats kicked off conference play with losses to No. 5 Wisconsin (33-24) and second-ranked Penn State (31-7) before rebounding with a 37-21 road victory against Maryland, and they hope to notch back-to-back wins for the first time this season by knocking off the Hawkeyes for the second time in as many years.
The Hawkeyes hope to have ironed out a few wrinkles on offense during their bye week after beginning Big Ten play 1-2 for the first time since 2013. Iowa is averaging 24.7 points per game in conference action, but achieved its highest total of the season in the 45-16 win over Illinois on October 7 and looks to climb back into the race for first place in the West Division.
ABOUT IOWA (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten)
Nate Stanley threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns while Wadley rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Illini to finish with over 100 yards for the 12th time in his career. Running back James Butler practiced for the first time since suffering an elbow injury in the win against North Texas on Sept. 16, but likely needs another week to recuperate. Senior linebacker Josey Jewell continues to lead the defense and has 70 tackles, including 7.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks and an interception in six games.
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten)
Senior running back Justin Jackson racked up a season-high 171 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Maryland to break the Wildcats’ all-time rushing record previously held by Damien Anderson (4,485). Jackson needs 38 more yards to move past Anthony Davis (4,676) into eighth place on the Big Ten’s career rushing list. Charlie Kuhbander was named the Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week after becoming the first freshman in Northwestern history to kick three field goals in a single game.
Purdue Boilermakers vs Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Two improving teams with bowl aspirations must put this one in the win column to reach their goal when Purdue visits Rutgers for Big Ten matchup on Saturday afternoon (Noon ET on Big Ten Network). Purdue attempts to even its league record after playing No. 5 Wisconsin tough in a 17-9 loss last week and starts a stretch of four straight games against teams at .500 or worse while the Scarlet Knights are coming off an important victory at Illinois.
The Boilermakers lean on a defense that has forced 15 turnovers, including nine fumble recoveries (tied for second in the country), and has allowed just 20 total points in two road games – none in the second half. Rutgers rushed for 274 yards and rolled to a 35-24 victory over the Illini to snap a 16-game Big Ten losing streak last week.
ABOUT PURDUE (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten)
Coach Jeff Brohm told reporters he will keep using two quarterbacks even though sophomore Elijah Sindelar (52.9 completion percentage) has gotten most of the snaps of late while junior David Blough (68.9) did not attempt a pass last week. Sophomore running back Tario Fuller (foot) is expected to miss his fourth straight game after rushing for 261 yards in the first three contests. Senior linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley had 12 of his team-high 46 tackles against Wisconsin and sophomore linebacker Markus Bailey boasts 41 (career-high 10 solo tackles last week) to go along with three sacks.
ABOUT RUTGERS (2-4, 1-2 Big Ten)
Junior Giovanni Rescigno replaced senior Kyle Bolin (three TD passes, six interceptions) at quarterback last week and threw for 89 yards while running for 41, but suffered an apparent knee injury and is considered day-to-day. Senior Gus Edwards rushed for a season-high 91 yards with two scores and freshman Raheem Blackshear gained 87 yards on just six carries, including a touchdown, against Illinois. Whoever is under center will be looking for top targets senior wide receiver Janarion Grant (15 catches, 162 yards, one TD) and junior tight end Jerome Washington (16, 141, one).
Maryland Terrapins vs Wisconsin Badgers
Top 10 teams seem to fall every weekend, but No. 5 Wisconsin just keeps rolling along on its way to the Big Ten championship game. The Badgers will try to stay undefeated and knock off another conference opponent when they host Maryland on Saturday (Noon ET on FOX).
Wisconsin, which does not have to face fellow top-10 teams Ohio State or Penn State in the regular season and gets No. 19 Michigan at home on Nov. 18, overcame three turnovers and leaned on the defense while fighting off Purdue 17-9 last week. The Terrapins have allowed 99 combined points in back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Northwestern and are surrendering an average of 36.5 points – 115th out of 130 FBS teams.
ABOUT MARYLAND (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten)
Terrapins running back Ty Johnson rushed for at least 124 yards in three of the first four games but was limited to 57 yards on 12 carries at Ohio State and slumped to a season-low 20 yards on 10 carries against Northwestern. The offensive star for Maryland is junior wide receiver D.J. Moore, who caught 12 passes for 210 yards and a pair of scores against the Wildcats to bring his total on the season to seven TDs.
ABOUT WISCONSIN (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten)
The Maryland defense is surrendering an average of 174.3 yards on the ground and this week has to go up against Badgers freshman star Jonathan Taylor, who is on the verge of a 1,000-yard season. Taylor upped his total to 986 yards with 219 on 30 carries last week – his third 200-plus game of the season – and scored at least one touchdown in each of the first six contests.
Indiana Hoosiers vs Michigan State Spartans
No. 19 Michigan State returns home Saturday looking to build on a pair of big road wins when it faces an Indiana squad still looking for its first victory in Big Ten play (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC). The Spartans have won three straight, including triumphs at Michigan and Minnesota the last two weeks, while the Hoosiers are coming off a tough overtime loss to the Wolverines and face their fourth straight nationally ranked conference foe.
Michigan State’s running game got a big boost last week with the re-emergence of junior LJ Scott, who recorded career highs in carries (25) and rushing yards (194) after sitting out the previous game with an undisclosed injury. The Spartans also are powered by one of the top defenses in the country, ranking in the nation’s top 10 in total defense (fifth, 263.8 yards per game) and rushing defense (eighth, 93.3). Indiana’s offense has been solid, with redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey (815 passing yards, seven touchdowns) set for his third career start under center. Coach Tom Allen has been pleased with the play of the team’s defense, which has held its last two opponents (Charleston Southern and Michigan) under 100 yards passing.
ABOUT INDIANA (3-3, 0-3 Big Ten)
The feeling around the Hoosiers these days is one of confidence – despite the overtime loss to Michigan – because of the presence of Ramsey in the lineup. Indiana was down 10 points with less than four minutes to play against the Wolverines’ vaunted defense, but Ramsey was able to lead them to overtime and nearly a victory, even with a knee brace he had to put on in the second quarter after being injured. While senior Richard Lagow provides experience, as he led Indiana to a win over Michigan State last season, many around the program believe Ramsey provides the intangibles that can guide a good team to greatness.
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten)
Even though Indiana has played very good pass defense the last two weeks, quarterback Brian Lewerke likely will be happy to see the Hoosiers because it will mean playing in some better weather. Lewerke hasn’t been able to get into a groove over the last two weeks, throwing for a total of 214 yards, and Michigan State has kept the ball on the ground because of rainy conditions in both Ann Arbor and Minneapolis. But Lewerke has a plethora of receivers from which to choose and is itching to throw the ball more, and the Spartans’ coaches likely will try to open it up to keep Indiana from stacking the line against the run.
Minnesota Golden Gophers vs Illinois Illini
Minnesota and Illinois boast two of the youngest rosters in FBS, but while the former has given its fan base reason for hope by playing its Big Ten rivals close so far, the latter has not. The Golden Gophers attempt to end a three-game losing streak and give first-year coach P.J. Fleck his first conference win Saturday when they host the Fighting Illini (3:30 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network) in a battle of the only two winless teams during West Division action.
Fleck led his charges through an undefeated run in non-conference action before losing late to Maryland in the conference opener and giving up two touchdowns in the final 1:17 en route to a 14-point setback at Purdue two weeks ago. Minnesota continued to show its resolve in last week’s 30-27 defeat at No. 19 Michigan State, as the Gophers scored two late touchdowns to threaten the Spartans after trailing by as many as 17 midway through the fourth quarter. The same has not been true for Illinois, which is coming off a 35-24 home loss to a Rutgers team that had dropped its previous 16 straight Big Ten contests. The Illini have dropped six straight conference tilts by an average of 26 points and are 2-10 in Big Ten play overall under second-year head coach Lovie Smith.
ABOUT ILLINOIS (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten)
Ricky Smalling continues to be one of the few bright spots for the worst scoring offense in the conference (18.8 points), as he leads the league in yards per catch (19.4) while becoming the sixth player in program history to have a 100-yard receiving game as a true freshman last week after posting 111 yards. Sophomore quarterback Jeff George, Jr. threw for a career-high 308 passing yards against Rutgers and has the offense averaging 420 yards in his first two starts, but he has thrown at least two interceptions in all three games in which he has played. Smith announced leading rusher Mike Epstein will likely miss the rest of the season with a foot injury after the true freshman did not suit up last weekend.
ABOUT MINNESOTA (3-3, 0-3 Big Ten)
Sophomore receiver Tyler Johnson almost singlehandedly brought the Gophers back versus the Spartans, doubling his season total for receiving touchdowns with three fourth-quarter scores, allowing him to finish with a career-high eight catches for 106 yards. Fleck pulled struggling senior quarterback Conor Rhoda in the middle of the second quarter and replaced him with sophomore Demry Croft, who connected with Johnson on all three TD throws – the first of his career – and compiled 194 total yards. Although the duo was held to 51 rushing yards on 17 carries against Michigan State, junior running backs Rodney Smith (73.7) and Shannon Brooks (64.4) comprise one of the most productive running back tandems in the conference, ranking eighth and 14th in the Big Ten, respectively.
Michigan Wolverines vs Penn State Nittany Lions
No. 2 Penn State begins the most difficult portion of its schedule Saturday night when it hosts a Michigan team looking to prove it belongs among the Big Ten elites (7:30 p.m. ET on ABC). The 15th-ranked Wolverines are enduring a sluggish stretch that includes a home loss to Michigan State and an overtime win against East Division doormat Indiana, and they hope to hang around against a dominant Nittany Lions crew that’s coming off a bye week.
Penn State is coming off back-to-back routs of Indiana and Northwestern, but faces a daunting three-week run that also includes visits to No. 6 Ohio State and No. 19 Michigan State. The Nittany Lions have won 14 straight regular-season games since a 49-10 loss at Ann Arbor a year ago in which the Wolverines posted a 515-191 advantage in total yards – including 326-70 on the ground
ABOUT MICHIGAN (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten)
The Wolverines rank 11th in the Big Ten in passing offense and senior John O’Korn has struggled since taking over the starting job from the injured Wilton Speight. O’Korn has zero touchdowns, three interceptions and a completion percentage of 47.3 over the last two weeks. Michigan’s top three rushers – Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans – combined for 211 yards and four TDs in last year’s rout of Penn State.
ABOUT PENN STATE (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten)
Stars like running back Saquon Barkley (Big Ten-leading 1,302 all-purpose yards) and quarterback Trace McSorley (Big Ten-leading 266.2 passing yards per game) get most of the headlines, but the Nittany Lions’ defense is gaining more credit with every week and tops the country with an average of nine points allowed. Linebacker Jason Cabinda leads the way with 40 tackles and defensive end Shaka Toney has three of the team’s 17 sacks and two of its nine forced fumbles.
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NCAA Football 2017 Season
Big Ten West Preview
The Badgers have earned a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game in two out of the last three seasons. All signs point to another appearance in December. While Wisconsin is a heavy favorite in the West Division, selecting the order of teams in the next tier (2-4) is a little more challenging. Little separates Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks
The Badgers have won 21 games over Paul Chryst’s first two seasons as head coach despite inconsistency on offense. The defense, on the other hand, has been terrific. A return to the days where the offensive line wore down opponents would take some of the pressure off that the defensive core.
One positive development for Wisconsin: Its schedule appears much more manageable than in 2016, when the opening two months included games against LSU, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa.
After recording multiple 10-win seasons and multiple bowl wins since 2012, Northwestern now hopes to contend in the Big Ten West. The return of 15 starters and a fairly favorable schedule (no Ohio State nor Michigan) suggests that this is the season to make a move. But a larger indicator, according to head coach Pat Fitzgerald, is how many starters will be pushed or displaced by others. Northwestern must show it can handle inevitable injuries as well as underperforming play better than it did early last season.
Consecutive games against West Division winner Wisconsin (road) and league champion Penn State (home) on September 30th and October 7th should show whether Northwestern is for real or not.
There is lot to be encouraged about on both offense and defense. Unfortunately, for every strength, there seems to be a matching weakness. Iowa is loaded on the offensive line and also has a star running back in Akrum Wadley. But there is little proven depth at receiver. Also, none of the quarterbacks has started a game. Combine that with having to replace three starters in the secondary, along with the starting punter, and much of the team is unproven at this point.
The schedule also could be tricky. Iowa hosts a respectable Wyoming team in the season opener before facing Iowa State in Ames. Ohio State also returns to the schedule for the first time since 2013. A winning record coupled with yet another bowl game appearance seems within reach. But Iowa has too many uncertainties at this stage to be considered a contender in the Big Ten West Division.
The Huskers improved from 6–7 to 9–4 in head coach Mike Riley’s second season, although the improvement could be partially attributed to better breaks. Plus, the four losses came in the final six games. After battling Wisconsin to overtime, they lost at Ohio State 62–3, at Iowa 40–10 and to Tennessee in the Music City Bowl 38–24. They’ve allowed a combined 1,519 yards of offense in those games. This led to former defensive coach Mark Banker being fired. A year ago, Riley fired defensive line coach Hank Hughes. Despite his nice-guy personality, Riley has shown a hard edge in trying to get this team to where he wants it.
Nebraska hasn’t won a conference championship since 1999 and has played in only one Big Ten Championship Game — a 70–31 loss to Wisconsin in 2012. With so many changes on offense, defense and special teams, the Huskers would seem to be long shots to play in a second this season.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Gophers went 9–4 and beat Washington State 17–12 in the Holiday Bowl last season, but this year’s squad could take a step back. They’ll face a harder schedule, as Michigan essentially replaces Rutgers on the slate.
There’s also uncertainty with a lack of experience at quarterback and a lack of depth along the offensive and defensive lines as well as in the secondary. If they can shore up those questions and can get past Oregon State in Corvallis on September 9, a 5–0 mark is attainable heading into the home game against Michigan State on October 14.
New head coach P.J. Fleck has a track record for taking teams to unforeseeable heights. He took Western Michigan from 1–11 in 2013 to back-to-back 8–5 campaigns before a breakthrough to 13–1 and a Cotton Bowl berth against Wisconsin in 2016.
Jeff Brohm was hired as the Boilermakers head coach in December to replace the fired Darrell Hazell. A 9–33 in three-plus seasons for Hazell with the Boilermakers wasn’t good enough to let him keep his job. The former coach was also 3–24 in the Big Ten and a horrific 0–14 in the month of November.
While Brohm has a talented and experienced quarterback in junior David Blough, Purdue’s September schedule isn’t exactly conducive to a quick turnaround. The Boilermakers open on September 2nd against Louisville in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium. The follow up that by playing Ohio University in West Lafayette. They then finish their travel to Missouri before entertaining Michigan on September 23rd.
Brohm will have to rely on young players on the offensive line and transfers at wide receiver. Purdue likely will feature an exciting offense and an improved defense, but winning more than three or four games will be a challenge for Brohm and his coaching staff.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois regressed across the board in Year 1 under head coach Lovie Smith. The Illini won two fewer games, averaged 57.6 fewer yards per game and allowed 54.3 more yards per game. More troubling: Their final five losses came by an average of 30 points.
Smith will rely heavily on underclassmen in 2017. There are just six seniors on the projected two-deep depth chart. The schedule includes an early trip to AAC favorite South Florida but isn’t overly daunting. The Illini travel to Ohio State but don’t play Michigan or Penn State. Still, getting to six wins will be a challenge.
Sweet Sixteen Day Two
Friday CBB Rundown
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No 4 Butler Bulldogs (25-8) vs No 1 North Carolina Tar Heel (29-7)
The Bulldogs have been crisp on offense in the tournament, shooting 50 percent overall and 47 percent from 3-point range, with Memphis transfer Avery Woodson (8.9 points) going 8-of-14 from behind the arc. The Tar Heels nearly met their match with Arkansas’ frenetic style of play, but their up-tempo game should match up better against the Bulldogs.
No 7 South Carolina Gamecocks (24-10) vs No 3 Baylor Bears (27-7)
This marks the fourth time in 14 seasons under Scott Drew that the Bears made it to the Sweet 16 and they’ve advanced to the Elite Eight twice with wins over Saint Mary’s in 2010 and Xavier in 2012 while losing to No. 2 seed Wisconsin in 2014. Seventh-seeded South Carolina takes part in the school’s first Sweet 16 under the current NCAA Tournament format. SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell was somewhat under the radar nationally until Sunday’s upset of Duke when the 6-5 senior guard filled up the stat sheet with 24 points, six rebounds and a team-high five assists as the Gamecocks exploded for 65 second-half points.
No 2 UCLA Bruins (31-4) vs No 3 Kentucky Wildcats (31-5)
Bruins freshman point guard Lonzo Ball had one of his most impressive performances of the season in the second round and should be motivated to play well against the freshman backcourt of Kentucky. Isaiah Briscoe is the third starting guard for the Wildcats and also has good size at 6-3, and is the best rebounder in the backcourt, posting four double-doubles this season and ranking second on the team at 5.4 rebounds. The Bruins need to decide who to put on Briscoe, and that could be Ball, who has the length at 6-6 to keep him off the glass.
No 8 Wisconsin Badgers (27-9) vs No 4 Florida Gators (26-8)
The Badgers have two key seniors with multiple Final Four experience in Koenig, who has drained 11 3-pointers en route to 45 points through two games of this event, and Nigel Hayes, who is averaging 17.5 points and nine boards through two NCAA contests. The Gators are 8-1 all-time in the Sweet 16 and have an excellent shot at improving that mark if Devin Robinson continues to shine.
Big Ten Championship Preview
Penn State Nittany Lions vs Wisconsin Badgers
In a game that could be decided by who is not on the field rather than who is, a Big Ten championship title and possible berth in the College Football Playoff is on the line when No. 6 Wisconsin meets seventh-ranked Penn State on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (Enter Contest). Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook is questionable after suffering a concussion in the first half of last week’s win over Minnesota, while Nittany Lions star runner Saquon Barkley (1,219 yards and 15 touchdowns) sprained his ankle in the second half of last week’s 45-12 rout of Michigan State that secured the Big Ten East.
In order to gain a berth in the College Football Playoff, the winner will likely need a loss or two from No. 4 Washington and No. 3 Clemson in their respective conference title games, although an idle Michigan sits at No. 5 with wins over both Wisconsin and Penn State. After a 49-10 blowout loss at Michigan dropped the Nittany Lions to 2-2, fans weren’t pleased with third-year coach James Franklin. The following week against Minnesota, the game kick-started an eight-game winning streak that featured an offense that averaged 40 points. This stretch included Franklin’s signature 24-21 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes.
ABOUT PENN STATE (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten)
McSorley, who threw for career highs of 376 yards and four TDs last week, has completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 2,976 yards with 21 TDs against five interceptions , with just two of those picks during the winning streak. Junior Curtis Godwin is McSorley’s favorite target with 47 receptions for 762 yards and nine TDs, but Mike Gesicki set a Penn state record for tight ends with 44 catches, and DeAndre Tompkins, DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall round out the conference’s best set of receivers. Since linebackers Brandon Bell (18 tackles against the Spartans) and Jason Cabinda returned from early-season injuries, the defense has moved up to 20th in total defense (346.8) and hasn’t yielded a touchdown in the last two games.
Penn State has won four of the last five with the last contest against the Badgers, being a 31-24 Lions victory in 2013. The Nittany Lions rank second in FBS in second-half scoring (22.83) and first in fourth-quarter scoring (13).
ABOUT WISCONSIN (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten)
Hornibrook lost a quarterback competition to Bart Houston in summer camp for the unranked Badgers, became the starter in a Week 4 win over Michigan State and held the job until Houston replaced him last week and rallied the Badgers to a 31-17 victory over Minnesota. Regardless of the quarterback, Wisconsin will try and batter the front seven of the Lions with Corey Clement (1,140 yards, 13 TDs), while the Lions will try and attack deep with quarterback Trace McSorley (Big Ten-best 150.9 passer rating and FBS-best 16.2 yards per completion) against one of the best overall defenses in the FBS.
After rambling for a season-high 164 yards in a 30-23 home loss to Ohio State, Clement ran for 100 yards five times during the Badgers’ season-ending six-game winning streak (657 yards, eight TDs). Hornibrook has completed 58.1 percent of his 179 passes for 1,243 yards with eight TDs and seven interceptions, while Houston is 69-of-108 for 912 yards with five TDs and three interceptions. The defense, spearheaded by outside linebacker T.J. Watt (9.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss) and safety Sojourn Shelton (16 passes defensed, four interceptions) led the FBS in interceptions (21), ranked third in scoring defense (13.7), rushing yards allowed (100.8), third-down conversion rate (26.6 percent) and seventh in total defense (292 yards per game). Penn State will be a school-record sixth top-10 team that Wisconsin has played this season at the time of the meeting, going 3-2.
College Football Playoffs Rankings
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The College Football Playoff selection committee released its first set of rankings on Tuesday night. As expected, Alabama took the top spot, with Clemson at No. 2 and Michigan at No. 3 The big surprise came at No. 4, as the committee went with Texas A&M over Washington. The Huskies checked in at No. 5, while Ohio State, Louisville, Wisconsin, Auburn and Nebraska rounded out the top 10. Western Michigan was the top Group of 5 team at No. 23, and Oklahoma was the first Big 12 team at No. 14.
If the college football playoffs started today, No. 1 Alabama would play No. 4 Texas A&M at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and No. 2 Clemson would square off against No. 3 Michigan at the Fiesta Bowl. The winner of those semi-final match-ups face each other at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on January 9th 2017 for the National Championship.
The Aggies’ lone loss this season was at Alabama on Oct. 22, when A&M fell 33-14. Although Washington remains undefeated, the Huskies have only one road win against a ranked opponent in the Utah Utes. They are in the outside looking in for now, as the college football playoffs final rankings will now be updated every Tuesday moving on.
Major Bowls Projections
The Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual still gets the Pac-12 champ, which would be No. 5 Washington, and because No. 3 Michigan is in the semifinal, the Rose Bowl would host the next-best Big Ten team: No. 6 Ohio State.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl is guaranteed the Big 12 champ, which would be No. 14 Oklahoma, but because the SEC champ and Texas A&M are both in the semifinals, the Sugar Bowl would take the next-highest SEC team, No. 9 Auburn.
The Capital One Orange Bowl is guaranteed the ACC champion, but because Clemson is in a semifinal, the Orange Bowl would take the next-highest ACC team, No. 7 Louisville. The Orange Bowl then chooses the next-highest team from the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame. In this case, it would be No. 8 Wisconsin.
The highest-ranked Group of 5 champion is guaranteed a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl. As such, No. 23 Western Michigan would go to the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, which can then choose an at-large team from any FBS conference, and No. 10 Nebraska is the highest-ranked team available.
Wisconsin (4-0) vs Michigan (4-0)
Fifth-ranked Michigan hosts No. 8 Wisconsin for the first time since 2010 in a battle of Big Ten unbeatens on Saturday (Enter Contest). The Wolverines rushed for 326 yards and six touchdowns in the 49-10 thrashing of Penn State last week and have scored at least 45 points in each of their first four games. They will face their biggest test of the season against Wisconsin, which is ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense (11.8).
Michigan has won nine of its last 10 games dating back to last season and hopes to notch its first victory over a top-10 opponent since beating Wisconsin 27-25 on Sept. 27, 2008. They lead the country in tackles per loss with 45. The Wolverines’ running back by committee approach paid off as Karan Higdon rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns while De’Veon Smith (107), Ty Isaac (74) and Chris Evans (56) all added a TD apiece last week.
Senior cornerback Jeremy Clark will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter against Penn State. Freshman defensive backs Lavert Hill and David Long are expected to see more meaningful snaps in Clark’s absence. Nose tackle Bryan Mone, who has been sidelined with a knee injury since the opening week, will return in time to face the Badgers. Jim Harbaugh’s squad has dropped 11 consecutive games against top-10 opponents.
The Badgers are in a confident mood after going on the road and knocking off then eighth-ranked Michigan State 30-6 in Week 4. Wisconsin has beaten two top-10 teams in a season for the first time since 1964. They’ve extended their road-winning streak to a program-best eight games but are still considered double-digit underdogs in Ann Arbor.
Freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook showed veteran poise in his first career start, throwing for 195 yards and a touchdown to lead the Badgers past Michigan State. T.J. Watt was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week after registering six tackles, including 3.5 for loss, and 2.5 sacks against the Spartans. Offensive lineman Brett Connors will make his second straight start after an impressive performance last week. Left guard Jon Dietzen (right leg) and kicker Rafael Gaglianone (back) are listed as questionable after missing the victory against Michigan State. Wisconsin has given up 17 points or fewer in all four games this season.
NCAA Preview 2016
NCAA BIG TEN WEST
The NCAA football season is near. Get ready to play CFB at FanPicks (click to play). With the impending kickoff in Sydney on August 26th, FanPicks will cover every NCAA conferences and their teams for the 2016 season. If you’ve missed the Big Ten East CFB preview, click here. Now let’s get to the NCAA Big Ten West division.
Iowa was the only Big Ten program to have stayed undefeated (12-0) during the regular season. They represented the West into the championship game, but ultimately lost the one that counted the most against Michigan State 16-13. They got whomped even more at the Rose Bowl the following week versus Stanford 45-16. The division will be more explosive now that they’ve added a 9th conference game this season, something that the league hasn’t had since 1984. Will the west finally get the Big Ten championship title, after two years of losses since it’s 14 teams inauguration?
Illinois finished 5-7 last season, including 2-6 in the Big Ten. Bill Cubit took over as the head coach, after Tim Beckman was fired a week before the season. The project didn’t last long, as Cubit was fired after the season. Former NFL coach Lovie Smith looks to bring new life to this team. He’ll manage the squad star quarterback, Wes Lunt, on the youngster final college season.
The 2015 Hawkeyes were one of the biggest surprises in the country, going 12-0 in the regular season, winning the NCAA Big Ten West Division and coming within a couple of yards of the College Football Playoff. A better result is a great possibility with the central nucleus of the team coming back. C.J. Beathard will be back at quarterback and should be one of the very best signal-callers in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes will also have a strong running pair with LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley returning.
The Golden Gophers are coming off a 6-7 season. They extended their streak of making bowls to four seasons last year despite a 5-7 regular-season record, thanks to their high APR scores. Minnesota will be counting on the offensive back dynamic duo of Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith to carry the load. They’ve combined for 1,379 rushing yards and 5.0 yards a carry last season, and that was during their freshman campaigns. Brooks is coming off a season in which he won B1G freshman of the week three times, and Smith impressed against teams like Michigan with 12 carries for 74 yards.
The Cornhuskers finished last season 6-7 with a victory against UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl, capping a nice turnaround in the final four games. Nebraska beat Big Ten champion Michigan State and hung tough with Big Ten West division winner Iowa in the regular-season finale. Mike Riley’s first season in charge featured its share of unlucky moments. The Cornhuskers’ first five losses came by a combined 13 points. With their loaded offense, this squad has the elements to be in the double-digit wins. Can’t be that unlucky, right!
Northwestern running back, Justin Jackson ran for 2,605 yards in two years in Evanston, only 94 fewer than Florida State’s Heisman hopeful RB Dalvin Cook and more than Shock Linwood (Baylor), Wayne Gallman (Clemson) and Jalen Hurd (Tennessee) in that same time. The Junior won’t dazzle you though but he is a workhorse. He averaged more than 6 yards per carry in just one outing last year and ran for 10-plus yards only 30 times. His 312 rushes (third most in the country) accounted for more than half of Northwestern’s ground game.
The Purdue Boilermakers are coming off a 2-10 record and a last-place finish in the Big Ten West. They’ve had one winning season since 2008. If they have any chance of turning their misfortune around, it will be because of quarterback David Blough. The Big Ten’s most effective signal-caller in the red zone last season, Blough boasted an 87.2 QBR in the red zone, with five touchdowns and no picks. He was just a different player when the Boilermakers approached touchdown territory. Outside of the red zone, he had only a 39.1 QBR. Inside the red zone, he completed 72 percent of his passes. Now it’s Blough or bust.
Wisconsin is coming off its second straight double-digit win season (under two different head coaches) and has won at least 10 games in seven of the past 11 seasons (under four different head coaches). That’s pretty impressive. With an insanely difficult schedule ahead, the Badgers will likely struggle to reach 10 wins this year. It doesn’t help that defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is gone, as well as three key starters in the secondary and the NCAA Big Ten linebacker of the year also.
CFB 2016 Other Previews
NCAA Tournament Fantasy Preview
Wisconsin Badgers VS Xavier Musketeers
# 2 Xavier Musketeers and the # 7 Wisconsin Badgers will meet tonight in a battle for their Sweet 16 spots in St-Louis. This battle will be a physical one highlighting the different styles and pace of each teams. FanPicks is proud to bring you this NCAA Tournament Fantasy Preview. Come enjoy our March Madness contests at Fanpicks with over 5 MILLION dollars in prizes for the NCAA TOURNAMENT.
Xavier ranks among the top teams remaining in this tournament especially when it comes down to their potent offense. The Musketeers average 81 pts per game with about 72.6 possessions. In contrast, the Badgers average 68.2 pts per game with about 63.9 possessions.
On top of that, the Badgers only shot 32.1 % from the field. Their freshman Ethan Happ accounted for almost a third of their pts (15) however, the teams’s top 2 scorers, Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes combined for a terrible 14 pts and 4 of 25 from the field. The Badgers will need to have their key players to step up big time to the plate and finish their big plays if they want to head back like the past 2 seasons to the Final Four. A performance like the one against the Panthers will have them out of the contest in the first half. Maybe with history on their side, entering this second round, only Kentucky and Louisville have recorded more wins in an NCAA tournament than the Badgers.
The Musketeers however are going into this game confident and aiming for their 2nd consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. They made it to the Sweet 16 five times in the last seven years. They shot 48.4 % in their first round game and are extremely dominant on the rebound section, led by their senior James Farr. Farr recorded his 6th double-double of the season with a 18 pts and 15 boards performance. Their leading scorer Trevon Bluiett averages 15.3 pts and has been instrumental in the team’s success this year. Xavier has only lost twice in their past 11 games against Big Ten Conference teams and won their last 2 meetings against the Badgers, including a 2nd round NCAA tournament win back in 2009.
NCAA Tournament Fantasy Preview:
East Region Preview
A day after the selection committee’s final decisions, one thing is sure is that the East region was more predictable than others. FanPicks is proud to bring you this preview of this NCAA Tournament fantasy preview of the East region’s top teams and players.
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The North Carolina Tar Heels may have a clear shot at a title run and Elite 8 berth. It won’t be an easy task but the way they’re playing, dropping only 1 game out of their last 7 and securing the ACC tournament championship once more, anything is possible. They could’ve obtained possibly the top overall seed the way they played. With 3 of the top basketball programs among the 16 teams fighting for a place in Houston, Kentucky, Notre Dame and the Tar Heels will be in a hell of a battle.
Top Players to watch:
- Brice Johnson :
Johnson is not only a well rounded played but surrounded by top-level talent on his squad, making him even more dangerous. He could possibility carry UNC to a 3rd title under Coach Roy Williams. The playmaker is projected to be drafted already in the 1st round of the NBA Draft in June. John averages 16.6 pts per game with 10.6 boards, with a steal and a block per game.
- Tyler Ulis :
Ulis, still considered the nation’s top point guard averaging 16.8 pts per game, 7.2 assists and a 1.4 steals. He will try to carry the Wildcats past the tough East region favoured by UNC. With Jamal Murray, their Final Four aspirations may be possible
- Jamal Murray :
Murray has scored over 20 pts in 12 of his last 13 games with the Kentucky Wildcats, making a deadly threat for opponents. He will most likely continue his form with Tyler Ulis calling the shots on their offense.
- Kris Dunn :
The junior out of Providence is one of the top prospects for June’s NBA draft and most explosive player in the region averaging 16 pts with 6.4 assists. If he keeps his turnovers down (3.5 turnover/game) look out for him.
- Nigel Hayes:
The junior forward is hoping to add a third trip to the Final Four with the Badgers. An instrumental player for Wisconsin, his production can lead the Badgers very far in the tournament despite the loss of key players last year. He’s averaging 16.3 pts per game with almost 6 boards, 3 assists and 1 steal. Those numbers are unlikely going down.
- Yogi Ferrell
Ferrell is less spoken about, unlike Kris Dunn or Tyler Ulis when it comes down to the best PG in the nation. However, he led the Hoosiers to a regular season Big Ten title and nearly double doubled in the conference tournament final. He averages a huge 17 pts per game with 5.5 assists and a steal per game.
Team to watch out for:
The Michigan Wolverines have been finding ways to win, including their upset in the conference final to # 1 seed Indiana. If they get past Tulsa in the First Four matchup to face Notre Dame, they may cause the first upset of many in the tournament if their shooting beyond the arc remains the same.
First round upset possibilty:
There have been a lot of talks about Indiana possibly not getting past Chattanooga. This should be an interesting game with Chattanooga’s defense known to cause a lot of turnover and Indiana actually being one of the worst teams in terms of turnovers per game.