With the season less than 100 days away and preview magazines on the shelves of the local Piggly Wiggly, it’s never too early to start looking forward to the college football season. This week, I begin to take a week-by-week look at the coming season, highlighting what to look for. Consider it an early, early preview. You’re welcome.
The formula for building a non-conference schedule is pretty standard: play one challenging game vs. a team from a Power 5 league (ACC, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten) and three games vs. foes from “lesser” conferences. And ideally, three of the four games are at home. But, as you can see, not all non-conference games are created equally.
We’ve reached the right side of 100 when it comes to the countdown to the college football season. Three months from now, there will be football. Get excited! Until then, we’re previewing the season. It’s time for Tom Dienhart to single out your team’s toughest non-conference game.
Big Ten regular season and postseason champ Indiana and Nebraska open NCAA regional play Friday. The Huskers kick things off for the Big Ten vs. Cal State Fullerton at 1 p.m. ET, while the Hoosiers host Youngstown State at 7 p.m. ET. Before the games begin, BTN.com conducted an email Q&A with a beat writer from each school to preview the action.
Names such as Ameer Abdullah, Shilique Calhoun, Melvin Gordon, Randy Gregory, Braxton Miller and Brandon Scherff receive plenty of hype, and for good reason. What about the guys who produce but don’t receive the appropriate fanfare, though? You know, the underrated players. The BTN.com team offered its most underrated players entering 2014, and you can see our picks in this post. Spoiler alert: Running backs were a popular choice. [ MORE: View Tom Dienhart’s 2014 Big Ten schedule analysis posts ] TOM DIENHART Josh Ferguson, RB, Illinois. When the conversation about top Big Ten backs breaks out, you always hear about Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford, among others. But don’t forget about Ferguson. The diminutive back is a jack-of-all trades who is as well-rounded as any running back in the conference. To wit: He led all Big Ten running backs with 50 catches for 535 yards. Ferguson added 779 yards rushing. Add it all up, and Ferguson finished ninth in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards with 112.6 per game. Yet, he remains largely anonymous because of Illinois’ lack of success. But don’t sleep on Ferguson, who again figures to be a prime weapon in a Fighting Illini attack that continues to improve under coordinator Bill Cubit.
The NCAA baseball tourney opens Friday, and Big Ten champ Indiana and Nebraska are ready to fight for a Super Regional berth. Before the two teams open regional play, here are five facts to know about the Big Ten and the NCAA tourney.