Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Will Nate Sudfeld return Hoosiers to 2013 passing numbers?

nate-sudfeld-0815.png

Big Ten preview: Will Nate Sudfeld return Hoosiers to 2013 passing numbers?

Two seasons ago, Indiana had one of the most explosive passing attacks in the country, perhaps the most explosive in the Big Ten.

What a difference a year makes.

Nate Sudfeld — who helmed that prolific passing game back in 2013 — was injured in the team’s sixth game, and the Hoosiers were forced to turn to inexperienced backups Chris Covington and Zander Diamont. That dropped them from the conference’s best passing offense in 2013 to the conference’s worst in 2014.

Yes, a season after averaging 306.7 yards per game through the air and leading the league, Indiana averaged just 141.4 yards per game through the air and ranked dead last in the Big Ten in that category.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Jordan Howard gives Hoosiers quality Tevin Coleman successor]

The swing can be blamed almost entirely on the injury to Sudfeld, which derailed a junior season in which he still managed 1,151 yards in just five games and change. In 2013, he ranked fifth in the Big Ten with 2,523 yards and threw 21 touchdowns to nine interceptions in just eight starts, though he appeared in all 12 games.

The Hoosiers were caught fairly unprepared when Sudfeld went down, as Covington and Diamont were thrown into the fire after not seeing a single college snap prior. Covington completed three passes before going down with his own season-ending injury. Diamont completed just 48.5 percent of his passes and threw just one touchdown in six starts to finish the season.

But now Sudfeld’s back, and he’s ready to reestablish the Hoosiers as one of the Big Ten’s preeminent passing teams.

“Even without an injury, you kind of have nerves for that first game, just, ‘Hey, let’s get that first hit going.’ But especially a little bit more (for me following the injury),” Sudfeld said last month during Big Ten Media Days. “But our athletic trainers have been unreal helping me out this whole offseason. That spring semester was tough. With my rehab, I had a 6:30 a.m. lift. I’d be there by 5, rehab for an hour and a half, go lift and go have treatment afterwards. Those guys … they’ve helped me so much. (Head trainer) Craig (Tweedy) did such a great job, and it’s a testament to them how well I’ve recovered.

“What Craig has done is after player practice he’s had me put on a shoulder pad and helmet, and he’s been hitting me. He’s been having bags, hitting my shoulder, hitting my back as I’m throwing, things like that. And it’s felt great. Running through the gauntlet, where you have to lower your shoulder and run through and then falling on bags and things like that, it’s felt great. So that’s really kind of helped me with the nerves. I feel like could’ve taken hits a while ago, but especially now I feel almost stronger than I’ve ever been.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Can inexperienced secondary turn around Hoosiers' pass defense?]

Coming back from the injury provides plenty of its own pressure. But Sudfeld will be tasked with potentially having to do it all for the Indiana offense. Last year, the Hoosiers relied almost exclusively on Tevin Coleman to carry the offense, and he had a remarkable season, one of the best ever for a running back. But Coleman’s gone, and though Indiana added an accomplished rusher in Jordan Howard, there are question marks in the running game. And seeing what the passing game couldn’t do once Sudfeld went down, there are certainly non-quarterback question marks there, too.

Thankfully, the Hoosiers have a strong offensive line, which Sudfeld said makes everything easier.

“As a quarterback, you can’t do anything if you don’t have time to throw the ball. Receivers are not going to get any touches when you can’t protect for a little bit. And running back aren’t gonna run for very much without a hole. It’s really the foundation, the base of everything,” Sudfeld said Sunday during the team’s media day. “If the O-line’s really clicking well, I think we’re gonna have success in other aspects of the game. It’s really what coach Wilson emphasizes, great O-line play. They’ve answered that call, and they’re doing extraordinary.”

The good news, too, is that Sudfeld has improved his game immensely since his statistically impressive sophomore season. Coaches said he’s done a lot to better his quarterback play, and Sudfeld attended the Manning Passing Academy this summer, too. All in all, it ought to make for a much improved passing attack from last year’s last-place finish, and it ought to make Sudfeld a leader for the Indiana offense and the Hoosiers as a whole.

“I really just see a different focus, a different drive, a different sense of urgency than he’s ever had in his career,” offensive coordinator Kevin Johns said. “Early on when he was a freshman, I would challenge him and say, ‘Can you keep this focus for two straight hours of practice?’ And a lot of times he couldn’t. And I see a kid now out there that every rep he is on it like the game is on the line. And I think the other guys they see that and they feed off that.”

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

1121_baker_mayfield.jpg
USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?