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2015 Big Ten preseason preview: Rutgers

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2015 Big Ten preseason preview: Rutgers

BY JEFF SLADE 

As football season inches closer, we take a look at the early preseason previews of every team for the 2015 Big Ten Season, ranking numbers 14 through one until we finally hit September 3rd. 

<<<CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE 2015 BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS>>> 

2014 Record: 8-5 (3-5) 

Key games: at Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland 

Players to watch:  WR Leonte Carroo, DE Kemoko Turray, DT Darius Hamilton  

Overview:  

In 2014, Rutgers entered their first Big Ten season with little expected and much to gain. 

Thus, the conference and nation couldn’t help but be surprised as Rutgers posted an 8-5 record including a marquee win over traditional power Michigan. They went on to defeat North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl, their first postseason victory since the Greg Schiano era. 

However, similar to the other newcomer Maryland, many around the Big Ten will wait before proclaiming Rutgers true contenders. 

One year is just that, but a second successful season would go a long way towards establishing Rutgers as more than an afterthought. 

The schedule for Rutgers is not an easy one. 

In the non-conference, Washington State will look for revenge after a home loss in 2014, while Kansas and Army will provide difficult tests as well. 

In the conference, they face about the toughest intra-division games possible against Wisconsin and Nebraska. Inside the division, they face Michigan State, Ohio State, and Maryland at home, while traveling to Penn State, Indiana, and Michigan. 

Besides Indiana and perhaps Maryland, they’ll be likely underdogs in every other conference game. In order for any semblance of 2014’s success, Rutgers will need to pull an upset or two (or four). 

On offense, Rutgers will look to replace the presence of four-year starter Gary Nova. Though Nova had his faults, he was able to lead the offense to over 7,500 passing yards and 60 touchdowns in his last three seasons. 

The favorite to take the huddle as of today may change depending on who you ask. 

Redshirt sophomore Chris Laviano has served as backup to Nova the past two seasons, but has played extremely sparingly. 

There’s also Hayden Rettig, a 6’4 transfer from LSU who was once rated the third ranked pro-style quarterback in the country as a recruit in high school. 

Rettig may have the edge in terms of talent, but there’s a reason why he transferred from Baton Rouge; and it’d surprise nobody to see Laviano take the helm come September 5. 

No matter who the favorite is, the quarterback battle is an undecided one and certainly interesting to watch leading into the opener. 

Whoever’s throwing the ball; they’ll be helped by one of the nation’s top receivers in Leonte Carroo, who decided to forgo the NFL Draft for a final year in Piscataway. 

The situation in the backfield is somewhat more unclear, with five running backs on the roster with over 300 rushing yards last season. It’s a good problem to have, however, and the running back by committee approach will continue. 

On defense, the Scarlet Knights will need improvement across the board to improve upon a unit ranking near the bottom of about every 2014 defensive category. 

Defensive end Kemoko Turray has the potential to be a star after a breakout freshman season. Meanwhile, Steve Longa returns at linebacker after a 2014 campaign leading the team overwhelmingly in tackles. Plus, there’s also former five-star defensive tackle Darius Hamilton lurking around, who’s yet to realize his undeniable talent. 

Some of the pieces are there, but they still need to be put together. 

Despite the potential, Rutgers will this year and every year have to contend with the looming brutality of the Big Ten East. 

Ohio State is coming off a national championship; Michigan State has developed into perennial contender; Penn State is pulling in regular top-15 recruiting classes; and three-time NFC Champion coach Jim Harbaugh has taken the reigns in Michigan. 

Despite their early success, does Rutgers truly have the ability to hang with the powers of the East? 

I’m leaning towards no, and 2015 may very well be the first year to show it.

Prediction: 6-7 (3-5); sixth in Big Ten East 

<<<CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE 2015 BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS>>> 

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Maryland reacts to latest FBI investigation reports

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Maryland reacts to latest FBI investigation reports

The world of college basketball has been on high alert since last fall when reports first surfaced of a longterm FBI investigation into the worst-kept secret in sports: college athletes being paid to play.

News surrounding the scandal died down after the inital wave of arrests, but Yahoo! Sports released a warning of sorts recently and followed it up on Friday by naming players (both past and present) for the first time. There were dozens of programs and players implicated, including Maryland's Diamond Stone.

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon released the following statement Friday afternoon.

"Late last night we were alerted of a report associating one of our former student-athletes with an agent. We are extremely disappointed, and we will fully cooperate with any investigation. I do not have a relationship with Andy Miller or anyone from his agency, and at no time have I ever had a conversation with Andy Miller or his agency regarding any Maryland basketball player. We remain steadfast in upholding a program of integrity that reflects the values of our University community."

Stone played for the Terps during the 2015-16 season, after which he left for the NBA. That Terps team was highly-ranked entering the season but ended up losing in the Sweet 16 to top-seeded Kansas.

RELATED: DIAMOND STONE ADMITS TO 'MISTAKES' DURING FRESHMAN YEAR AT MARYLAND

Andy Miller is the agent whose financial records were used to implicate so many players in the Yahoo! Sports report. It's no surprise that Turgeon would deny having a relationship with Miller regarding any of his players, but the question remains: What does this mean for Maryland basketball?

You can be sure that Turgeon will be meeting with both past and current assistant coaches Friday to confirm they have not had any involvement with Andy Miller. He'll also certainly be meeting with higher-ups at Maryland, as they try to cover their bases. 

That said, it seems unlikely Maryland would take an action as drastic as firing Turgeon over these allegations. There has been no evidence released so far that implies Turgeon had any knowledge of Stone's actions. Barring further information coming to light, it seems as though this is a case of Stone developing a relationship with Miller's agency separately from Maryland.

Some of the more vocal members of Maryland's fan base would like to think Turgeon is on the hot seat. The truth is, given his long-term contract and the current state of Maryland's finances, it's not currently feasible to fire him and expect to afford a more accomplished coach. Though if further reports indicate Turgeon was complicit, then all bets are off.

It remains possible the NCAA will impose punishments on the schools involved with this scandal, in the form of reduced scholarships, postseason bans, or worse. But that's likely off the table until further evidence comes out regarding how much schools and coaches actually knew. It is a near-certainty that some schools were in cahoots with Miller and other agents; the problem is identifying which schools were intentionally breaking the rules, and which were simply unaware. Ultimately, however, some degree of responsibility falls on the head coach.

For now, the biggest worry on the minds of Maryland fans should be vacated wins. If Diamond Stone was ineligible, then it's possible the victories Maryland recorded during the 2015-16 season will be erased from the record books. Unfortunately, this could include their run to the Sweet 16, which was the program's first in more than a decade.

Given the expectations surrounding the team during Stone's year in College Park, his tenure could already be considered a disappointment. Losing those wins would further dampen the memories fans have from that season.

On the bright side, at least the Terps didn't have a Final Four run to lose.

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Palmer's big 2nd half lifts Huskers past Maryland

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Palmer's big 2nd half lifts Huskers past Maryland

LINCOLN, Neb. -- James Palmer Jr. scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half, Isaiah Roby had all 11 of his after half, and Nebraska held off Maryland 70-66 on Tuesday night.

Palmer and Roby combined for 35 of the Cornhuskers' 40 second-half points, and they secured their first 20-win season since 2008. They won a sixth straight conference game for the first time in 20 years.

Palmer scored 15 straight points for the Huskers (20-8, 11-4 Big Ten) over a 10-minute span that ended when Roby hit one of two free throws with 2:57 left for a 64-59 lead. Roby had a double-double, with 10 rebounds, and he also blocked three shots.

The Terps (17-11, 6-9) had a chance to take the lead with a minute to play, but Glynn Watson Jr. blocked Anthony Cowan Jr.'s 3-point try, Evan Taylor came up with the loose ball and got it to Watson.

Watson missed a 3-pointer coming out of a timeout, and Roby got the rebound and was immediately fouled. He made both free throws for a 66-63 lead. Kevin Huerter's layin cut it to one point before Watson made two free throws.

Huerter went to the line with 2.8 seconds left, and after making the first free throw he intentionally missed the second. Palmer got the rebound, was fouled and put the game away with two free throws.

Bruno Fernando led the Terps with 21 points and nine rebounds. Huerter added 12 points and Darryl Morsell had 11.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: The Terps' fading NCAA Tournament hopes might have been dashed with their seventh straight road loss.

Nebraska: The Huskers are resting firmly on the NCAA bubble and absolutely needed this win. They got it, thanks to Palmer and Roby's efforts in the second half.

UP NEXT

Maryland hosts Rutgers on Saturday. It's the teams' only meeting this season.

Nebraska visits Illinois. The Huskers beat the Illini 64-63 in Lincoln on Jan. 15.

RELATED: DMV College Basketball Power Rankings: Missed opportunities