All posts by Tim Bach

The Biggest Disappointments in the Big Ten, 2017 Edition

It’s been a long and somewhat peculiar season but the Big Ten regular season is finally over. Rivalry games have been played the tickets punched to Indiana. There were some interesting twists and turns along the way but what about disappointments? What were the biggest disappointments of 2017 in the Big Ten?

Inconsistencies

Penn State started the season out looking like a potential College Football Playoff contender. The Nittany Lions even survived a night game at Iowa which most visiting teams do not. Then Penn State dropped two in a row to Ohio State. Ohio State, on the other hand, had an understandable loss to Oklahoma but got absolutely blown out by Iowa later in the season. Michigan State seemed like they’d turned things back around but then were beaten by Northwestern.

Just what could have the Playoff rankings looked like if just one of these programs had shown some consistency? If Ohio State hadn’t gone from looking like the best defense in the country to swiss cheese in alternating weeks, would the Buckeyes Playoff hopes still rest on the outcome of the Big Ten Championship game? Or if Saquon Barkley had kept pace, could the Big Ten have had its first Heisman Trophy winner since Troy Smith in 2006?

Regardless, the Big Ten came off as a much weaker conference for all its ups and downs for the season.

Minnesota

Man, was anyone not riding the PJ Fleck train after last season? Not a lot of guys could’ve gotten a random catchphrase at a MAC school to get such play and be so beloved by the nation. Fleck did just that and parlayed that into an offer from Minnesota and somehow a contract extension despite having just now completed his first season.

Instead of lighting the world on fire, Fleck lead the Golden Gophers to a 5-7 record which is their worst is a stark departure from the 8-4 season prior. Fleck didn’t even end the season on a high note. His team got blanked in a pair of 30-point losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin. Add on to that, Demry Croft the starting quarterback is planning to transfer.

Maybe PJ Fleck isn’t ready for the big times in the Big Ten. It’s not even the first time that I’ve wondered just that. Time will tell but at least for now, Minnesota ranks as one of the biggest disappointments for the Big Ten in 2017.

Michigan

I debated ranking this above Minnesota but for those of you that aren’t Michigan fans, let me explain:

There are two types of Michigan fans. The first type is the rationale fan that understands the limitations of the teams and has reasonable expectations. This type of fan is unfortunately quite uncommon in the Maize and Blue fanbase.

The second fan is the fan that believes that Michigan is a perennial contender for the National Championship despite any evidence contrary to the fact. These are the fans that believe John O’Korn who is not as good of a quarterback as an ear of corn would’ve beaten Michigan State if it hadn’t started to rain. This particular group of fans is, unfortunately, the vast majority of Michigan fans so just based on fan expectation, Michigan is the bigger disappointment than Minnesota.

I don’t know if there was another team that entered the season with as much hype and expectation as Michigan despite not really having a track record for, well, anything at this point. Jim Harbaugh has a massive reputation heaped on him by fans and the media and an 8-4 season doesn’t really meet those expectations. Given the level of quarterback play, 8-4 was a miracle but still a disappointment

Maybe the postseason will provide the Big Ten with some exciting successes but if the regular season is any indication, probably not.

Email Tim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @tbach84.

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A Surprise To Playoff Contender Status

Last week I wrote a piece declaring that Wisconsin was the Big Ten’s one hope of making the College Football Playoff. I was pretty confident in that statement too. The Badgers hadn’t really played anyone of note at the time but given their undefeated record and where the other teams in the conference stood, it seems highly plausible.

Well, some things happened in week 11 of the season.

Ninth-ranked Washington chalked up a second loss to unranked Stanford. Auburn trucked number one Georgia and I don’t have a strong enough word to describe what Miami did to number three Notre Dame. Wisconsin still won the game against the 20th ranked Iowa Hawkeyes but something else happened.

Number 13 Ohio State but a 45-point beatdown on number 12 Michigan State. Suddenly Ohio State is back to the offensive powerhouse that put up more than 30 points against everyone but Iowa and Oklahoma. That loss against Iowa still doesn’t look very good but that loss to Oklahoma is looking better and better each week. The Sooners have dropped 50+ points on three different teams now.

So now we’ve got Ohio State occupying the ninth spot.

It’s not a great spot with only two weeks left in the season but suddenly, there is a path for the Buckeyes to get into the College Football Playoff. It’s a bit of a murky path but let’s take it.

Obviously, Ohio State needs to win both their upcoming games against Illinois and Michigan. If they lose either of those, the jig is up and we can forget about everything after this sentence. So the purpose of this exercise, let’s assume they win both of those. Illinois is a gimmie but Michigan could put up a fight but the Buckeyes should win.

So let’s look at the eight teams ahead of Ohio State right now:

Alabama

Clemson

Miami

Oklahoma

Wisconsin

Auburn

Georgia

Notre Dame

Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.

Notre Dame is basically done. Games against Navy and Stanford are left but what of the Fighting Irish’s spirit? Even with two wins, Notre Dame isn’t likely to move up much.

Georgia has only one shot: win the SEC title game. If the Bulldogs don’t bounce back against Kentucky and Georgia Tech, it’s all moot and can only help Ohio State. No matter what Georgia does, it helps clear the path for the Buckeyes.

Auburn’s basically in the same boat as Georgia. Ironically, it’s Alabama standing the ways of both of them. Win out and it’s even better for Ohio State.

Wisconsin is the most interesting of the remaining teams. Ohio State fans need to root for Wisconsin to win their remaining games but not by much. Michigan either needs to keep the game close or win it at the last second. Both scenarios should keep Wisconsin and Michigan ranked but the former will make Wisconsin an even more impressive conquest.

In the Big Ten Championship game, Ohio State will need to do what it did the last time the two teams met. I was actually there and man, it got boring watching them smack Wisconsin all over the field. Trounce an undefeated or one-loss Wisconsin and Ohio State should see a good jump in the rankings.

Not a whole lot can be done about Oklahoma. The Sooners are tearing it up but every win by them makes their defeat of Ohio State more reasonable.

Thankfully Miami and Clemson are right next to each other because they’re going to take care of each other. They’re going to meet on December 2nd and only one will survive. You can already cross one of them off the list already.

Last but not least, there’s Alabama. They haven’t been super impressive but they’re most likely going to win out. As long as they don’t lose close in the SEC title game, they’re either in or out.

Lots going on here but that works in favor of Ohio State. Only one or two things need to go right and Ohio State to win out and suddenly we’ve got a different Big Ten team into the playoffs.

Considering the ups and downs of the Buckeye season, credit has to be given to Urban Meyer and his staff. It’d be the second time he’d suffered what should’ve been a season-crippling loss and still made the playoff.

And that’s why college football is the best.

Email Tim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @tbach84.

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Help Us Wisconsin, You’re Our Only Hope

I don’t think people realize it but 2017 is the most Big Ten year in quite a while. Recently we’ve had years with multiple teams losing only one or two games and usually to each other. Now we’re back in the good old days when suddenly everyone’s got at least one or two losses and a lot of them from unexpected teams.

No one expected Michigan State to be taken out by Northwestern, let alone Iowa taking down not one but two top ten teams. Of course, no one expected the Hawkeyes to absolutely manhandle Ohio State that way either. So now what was perceived as Big Ten’s best two chances to make the College Football Playoffs in Penn State and Ohio State now both have two losses.

But what about Wisconsin?

To be honest, no one really likes to talk about the Big Ten West because it’s not very good. Only Wisconsin and Northwestern having winning conference records and Iowa joining them with overall winning records. When people talk about powerhouse Big Ten teams, they usually aren’t referring to this division.

However, Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team without a loss and currently occupying the number eight spot in the playoff rankings. Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State are lurking in the background at spots 12, 13, 14 but can they catapult themselves back into the race? Michigan State and Ohio State still have to play each other so one of them is for sure out. Penn State has a cakewalk left so not really any chance to impress the playoff committee.

What it boils down to is that as it stands right now, Wisconsin is currently the best chance has to make the College Football Playoffs.

But can they get there?

In terms of getting to the Big Ten Championship, that’s almost a lock. Technically the Badgers only need to win one out of the remaining three games to get to Indianapolis but if only one game is won, this whole thing is probably moot.

Here’s the problem with Wisconsin: the Badgers have beaten no one.

Iowa comes to visit this Saturday and it will be the first ranked team that Wisconsin plays all season, possibly the only ranked team. That’s going to be Wisconsin’s biggest issue. Even if Michigan crawls back into the rankings somehow, the Wolverines are not going to crack the top 20. As of this moment, Wisconsin’s marquee win is Northwestern which will most likely be replaced by a home win against Iowa.

Presumably, the Badgers will make it to the Big Ten Championship but in what shape is their opponent going to be? No one is really quite sure of what to make of the three most likely opponents in Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State. Best case scenario is a 10-2 Michigan State that’s going to have wins over what will now be a devalued Ohio State and Penn State. Will a win over the Big Ten East Champion really carry a ton of weight?

The committee has already shown that undefeated records don’t mean much if you don’t beat anyone. That’s no more obvious than when you take note that there are three teams in the top ten, ahead of Wisconsin, with one loss. There are actually three teams in the top 25 with three losses right now. Three losses!

Right now… I don’t think Wisconsin can make it in and that means the Big Ten is going to get shut out for the first time.

Be honest with yourself for just a moment. Picture Wisconsin in your mind on a neutral field. Now imagine the Badgers playing against Georgia. Or Notre Dame. Or Oklahoma. How many teams in the top ten or even 15 can you look at and go “Yeah, Wisconsin will rough them up.” I personally would say none of them. The Badgers don’t really seem to have that desire or ability to crush those who stand in their path like say a TCU or Oklahoma. Wisconsin is solid but not fantastic.

And to go to the playoffs, let alone win, solid isn’t enough.

Email Tim at tim [dot] bach [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @tbach84.

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The College Football Playoff Is Not Going To Expand

Jim Harbaugh appeared on a morning sports talk radio and had some interesting opinions on things. I’m not talking about who’s going to be the starting quarterback at Michigan because no one cares, that season is over. What I’m referring to is Harbaugh’s opinion on the College Football Playoff.

The Michigan head coach thinks that the playoff field should be expanded from the current four teams. That’s not a surprise, a lot of people want that. What is a surprise is how many teams Harbaugh thinks should be allowed in. Harbaugh doesn’t want six or even eight. He wants 16 or at the very least, 12.

I’ve got two arguments against why he’s not talking any sense. One of them is why it’s a bad idea and the other is why it’s never going to happen. Neither of them has to do with Harbaugh only wanting it because it looks like that might actually be his best shot to win a title while at Michigan.

There’s a lot of arguments against why a larger playoff field is a bad idea but most of them aren’t taking into account a 16 team field. They’re more based on the argument for the six or eight-team expansions. Those expansions would be fine in my opinion but the double-digit field takes away the one thing that separates college football from every other sport: the regular season.

The regular season in college football is unlike any other sport, both professionally and collegiate. A team’s season lives and dies with every single game every single week. You lose in Week 7? Well, you’re probably screwed. Lose in Week 3? You might be able to recover yet. Compare that to college or pro basketball for a second. Their regular seasons are pointless, especially college basketball when 68 teams get to go to the postseason. You see teams without winning records go to the postseason a fair amount in all sports.

Except for college football.

The regular season means everything and if the field expands to 16 teams, the sport loses that sense of urgency to win every game. Take last season for instance. The Michigan-Ohio State game that went to double overtime in 2016 wouldn’t have mattered because both of them and Penn State would already be going to the playoff. Would players have played as hard if there was nothing on the line? Probably not.

So that’s why playoff expansion is a bad idea but let me tell you why it’s not going to happen.

Slowly but surely, non-Power Five schools have been creeping into the AP and College Football Playoff polls. Houston, Western Michigan, Temple, and more have all made appearances in the last few years. The Houston Cougars even finished 2015 ranked inside the top ten. That’s a trend that despite the reluctance to let go of the traditional “blue blood” programs that have the name recognition, people have started to realize that these teams can be and are pretty good.

What’s this got to do with the College Football Playoff expanding?

Glad you asked.

If the playoff field expands at some point a non-Power Five school is going to make it in. Suppose Boise State gets in and are set to face the USC Trojans. During the first quarter of the game, the starting quarterback for USC tears his ACL and Boise State wins that game. Suppose they come out firing on all cylinders and take down a Michigan State team that just can’t get in sync. The Boise State Broncos manage to run the table and are unexpectedly crowned the champions of college football.

Seems like it’d be pretty cool, right?

Not unless you’re a Power Five commissioner and you like money.

Per Forbes, a team makes their conference $6 million just by simply appearing in the College Football Playoff. That’s chump change when you consider what conferences can make from all the bowl games. Check this out: the Big Ten made $132.5 million from postseason bowl games last season.

$55 million base payout.

$6 million for Ohio State’s berth in the Fiesta Bowl which is a College Football Playoff game.

$4 million for Wisconsin’s berth in the Cotton Bowl.

$40 million for Penn State’s berth in the Rose Bowl.

$27.5 million for Michigan’s berth in the Orange Bowl.

All those major bowl games are out the window with an expanded playoff field so the Big Ten has 132.5 million reasons to not want expansion. Let’s all be honest with each other for a moment: money talks. Everything is driven by what makes someone money and postseason play is an absolute cash cow for these conferences.

College athletes can’t get paid and you think these conferences are going to share their money with even more teams and conferences that get into the College Football Playoff?

The University of Memphis has a better shot at making the playoff this year than we do at seeing a 16 team playoff so just go ahead, get comfy, and get used to a four-team College Football Playoff.

Email Tim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @tbach84.

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What to Make of PJ Fleck

Remember the 2016 season? Western Michigan University was the darling on the NCAA and on the Broncos were on the way to a regular undefeated season. The Broncos actually had more Big Ten wins than some Big Ten teams. Sure, the Rose Bowl was won by Wisconsin but outside of Jim Harbaugh, there was only one larger than life coach that everyone was talking about: PJ Fleck.

Hearing Fleck scream “Row the boat!” became commonplace throughout sports media as pundits began speculating that the head coach wasn’t long for Western Michigan. The talking heads turned out to be right although few people expected Minnesota to snatch him up after dismissing Tracy Claeys in a rather ugly situation.

PJ Fleck was the hottest coaching prospect, even paying to bring his catchphrase to the Golden Gophers. There’s even an ESPN mini-series dedicated to PJ Fleck’s first season because everyone knew he was going to be the next big thing. He’s got to be doing great, right?

Well, about that…

Minnesota is currently 3-3 and winless in their conference. It’s not going to get any easier from here on out either. After Illinois, PJ Fleck has to face in order Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. None of those teams are what you’d call a cakewalk. Best case scenario, PJ Fleck finishes his first season in the Big Ten at 6-6 which is not really what anyone was expecting.

So what gives? Minnesota went 8-4 last regular season and very easily could’ve been 9-3 after an overtime loss to eventual Big Ten Champion, Penn State. It shouldn’t be the run game as Minnesota returned Rodney Smith who had six 100 yard games in 2016. A couple of experienced receivers returned in Tyler Johnson and Nate Wozniak so there’s that.

What is Minnesota missing that Western Michigan had?

Well for one, a four-year starter in Zach Terrell. Even if Terrell isn’t playing in the NFL this season, there’s something to be said for having a guy who spent his entire career in the same system. He knows what works, what doesn’t, and how to run the show.

Oh, and Western had an NFL first-round draft pick in Corey Davis. You know, the guy who set the FBS single-season record for receiving yards.There is not anyone like Davis at Minnesota and that’s not being mean. There’s not a lot of guys like Davis and Minnesota just doesn’t have one. Last year’s top receiver was Drew Wolitarsky who didn’t even top 900 yards.

We’re about to find out if PJ Fleck is going to be worth what Minnesota paid for him. Despite having one of the hotter names in coaching, the 2017 recruiting class for the Golden Gophers is actually worse than 2016’s. In case you don’t want to click the links, it’s by 11 spots which isn’t exactly insignificant.

Typically it takes a couple seasons for a coach to get his guys in and get his system fully in place so it’s a bit early to start judging PJ Fleck. But there needs to be an improvement. There’s clearly talent on the team but can Fleck bring it out of his players? Or will he be the next Gene Chizik who rides one player to a National Championship and then completely falls off? Chizik hasn’t been a head coach since 2012 which isn’t to say that’s the fate that awaits PJ Fleck but where will he go if he fails at Minnesota.

There’s a joke about boats and paddles that I refuse to make.  

Email [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @tbach84.

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Jim Harbaugh is in Hot Water

Back when Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh, it seemed like the perfect fit and the perfect thing to do. He was a “Michigan Man” and had proven himself at all his previous coaching stops. Now, coming off his second defeat by rival Michigan State in three years, people are beginning to mumble. The shine is coming off the seemingly perfect union of Wolverines and Jim Harbaugh as he is looking at most likely being 1-5 against his two main rivals.

Jim Harbaugh is heading towards being in hot water and it’s his own fault.

Think back to when Harbaugh was the coach at Stanford. From 2007 to 2010, he had the reputation of being hotheaded and overly competitive. In 2009 he continued to run up the score on USC prompting head coach Pete Carroll to ask “What’s your deal?” which is saying something when you consider how competitive Carroll is. He was known for being a grumpy guy that only cared about winning at all costs.

That continued when he left Stanford for the San Francisco 49ers. Jim Harbaugh was known for making average quarterbacks better, having sideline meltdowns, and shaking hands a bit too aggressively. He was an angry guy that only cared about winning football games. He even ditched a quarterback that got a concussion for the hot-handed Colin Kaepernick. It was all about winning for Jim Harbaugh.

Then he got to Michigan and things took a strange turn.

As strange as this sounds, Harbaugh didn’t do himself any favors winning 10 games his first year after previous coach Brady Hoke went 5-7 to miss a bowl game yet again. Michigan fans were ready to commit to a rebuilding period and not have high hopes for the first couple seasons. After seeing what happened in 2015 and 2016, Michigan fans were ready to assume what they felt was their rightful place at the top of college football.

With the fanbase and presumably the Michigan administration on cloud nine, not only with the winning seasons but the media attention from hiring the hottest coaching candidate, Jim Harbaugh basically had a blank check to do what he wanted.

And he did.

Jim Harbaugh began appearing in random commercials for milk, taking his players to Rome, and other bizarre things that had no right making the news. He also coached first base for the Detroit Tigers because why not? He’s Jim Harbaugh!

Essentially, he became a caricature of himself. Harbaugh took his newfound wealth and fame and did literally whatever he wanted. There are two possible outcomes: either Jim Harbaugh is playing chicken with the Michigan administration or he’s lost his competitive edge.

Personally, I think the edge has been dulled. Where’s the fire this season? The rants have decreased and the team has regressed. Is the team falling for the hype or is there no fire anymore?

Maybe Harbaugh had decided to mail in this season in. He’s just trying to buy one more season until he can get a real quarterback but his team kept winning anyway. Now instead of having a fanbase that would be satisfied with a nine or ten win season, these fans are expecting national championships.

2018 will be the pivotal season. If Jim Harbaugh doesn’t win something in 2018, what was the most exciting coaching hire this decade is about to start becoming the most exciting coaching divorce outside of scandals.

E-mail [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @tbach84.

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Why Does Kirk Ferentz Have A Job?

The world of college football, coaching is a tenuous career. You have to appeal to the athletes, their parents, boosters, the school, and fans. In order to keep your job you have to deliver winning seasons, conference titles, bowl wins and, depending which conference you reside in, College Football Playoff berths.

So why in the world is Kirk Ferentz still the head coach at Iowa?

Every team in the Big Ten has had at least two coaches since 1999 when the Hawkeyes hired him away from his position of the offensive line coach for the Baltimore Ravens. Michigan State has had three, Ohio State has had two not including interims, Wisconsin has had three and Michigan have had four. Those are some of the winningest programs in the conference and each of them has hired at least one more Iowa.

So what makes Kirk Ferentz so special?

It’s got to be all those national championships, right? Well… Kirk Ferentz has never led Iowa to a national championship. The Hawkeyes have never even played for a national championship. So it’s definitely not all those championship trophies that are on display.

But national championships aren’t the only championships. What about conference championships? He’s surely got a couple of those.

Iowa has won two Big Ten titles under Kirk Ferentz but the most recent of which was way back in 2004. This will be the 13th straight season without a Big Ten Championship although Ferentz did take the Hawkeyes to their only division title in 2015 before falling to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game. It’s clearly not championships that are keeping Kirk Ferentz employed as a head coach.

Bowl games! It’s got to be a stellar record in the postseason!

Well… this can’t be right. Kirk Ferentz has not won a bowl game since the 2010 Insight Bowl. Ok, so he hasn’t won in a while. Has Iowa even been there? Yup, sure have. Iowa has only missed out on a bowl game twice since the 1999 season. The problem is that Kirk Ferentz is 6-8 in those games. I almost want to say that it’s an achievement to make that many games but come on. All it takes is a .500 record to make a bowl game these days. It’s more embarrassing that they missed out in 2012.

In fact, Kirk Ferentz and Iowa have a penchant for losing games they shouldn’t.

In 2016, the Hawkeyes lost to North Dakota State of the FCS. In 2014, it was a loss to in-state rival Iowa State which has happened more than a few times. Let’s also not forget losses to Northern Illinois, Central Michigan, and pre-PJ Fleck Western Michigan.

Now, the Hawkeyes have produced four first-round NFL draft picks and seven other picks for the second and third round since 2010. But that’s not enough to keep someone employed.

There’s clearly talent being brought into Iowa for the most part but imagine a top-tier coach. The Hawkeyes are paying Kirk Ferentz like a top-tier coach but he’s not producing like one. Ferentz was paid more in 2016 than Dabo Swinney of Clemson who won the National Championship. He makes the same as James Franklin of Penn State who won the Big Ten.

So what gives?

It’s not some magical formula that Kirk Ferentz has or that he has some kind of blackmail leverage over the Iowa administration. It’s that Iowa has their expectations set too low. The Hawkeyes are willing to settle for “pretty good” or “just ok” because that’s all that Ferentz has produced.

This isn’t on Ferentz who has found a comfy gig and is working it for all its worth. You can’t tell me that other coaches wouldn’t kill for expectations like that. There’s no pressure to win! Maybe the fans get restless but clearly not the administration. They gave Ferentz an extension and raise after producing one 12-win season in 2015. One! It was the first double-digit win season since 2009. Most programs are firing those kinds of coaches.

So I’m changing my call. I don’t want Kirk Ferentz to be fired anymore. I want the Iowa administration to be fired and to bring in someone who cares about winning. Then they can fire Kirk Ferentz.

E-mail Tim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @tbach84.

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Is… Is Purdue Getting Better?

I have a longstanding tradition when I write about the Big Ten. I’m not really sure when or exactly how it happened, it just did. Basically, as long as I’ve been writing for Campus Pressbox or its previous iterations I have been mean to Purdue. There’s not actually an article with the main subject being the Boilermakers but I have taken a shot at Purdue in a vast majority of my columns.

Well, I am here to say that the time for that is at an end.

At least I hope it is but for the moment at least, I am a believer in what Jeff Brohm is doing down in the state of Indiana.

So there is something that needs to be taken into account when talking about Purdue that was maybe lost on me in the past. Purdue is not a football school, Purdue is a basketball school. The top tier of football talent is never going to show up in West Lafayette. If you want to look at it in terms of NFL draft picks, there hasn’t been a first-round pick out of Purdue since 2011.

Purdue is in the same boat as Northwestern in that they’re very rarely going to get top level talent but still have to compete in one of and arguably the toughest conferences in the Big Ten. Given that fact, it’s less surprising that the Boilermakers haven’t posted a winning season since 2007 and third coach since 2009.

But that doesn’t mean that my former criticisms weren’t justified. Purdue has only won nine games since 2013 including a 1-11 season in that year. It’s been a bad couple of seasons.

So why do I think Jeff Brohm is going to change the culture there?

First off, Brohm has had success before despite only being a head coach at one stop before Purdue. However, Brohm had success during his three-year tenure at Western Kentucky University. Three winning seasons, including two with more than 10 wins and two bowl game wins over South Florida and Central Michigan. Is it Conference USA? Sure but that doesn’t mean you can win more than 10 games without any talent.

Does that mean that Brohm is going to have success at Purdue? It most certainly does not. Previous winning experience doesn’t always mean you’re going to win at the next level. Right, Brady Hoke?

But let’s look at the early season results.

Lamar Jackson is a heck of a player and Louisville is a pretty good team but Purdue was actually leading going into halftime. The Boilermakers ended up losing only be a touchdown. That’s already an improvement after they spent 2016 mostly getting blown out by teams that aren’t nearly on Louisville’s level.

Missouri’s not a top-tier program anymore but they’re still a SEC school. Purdue absolutely torched them. The Tigers were held to under 70 yards rushing which at first glance means that Missouri is bad at running the ball. But Purdue actually kept Michigan bottled up for most of the game. Take away one breakaway run by Chris Evans for 49 yards and the Wolverines are under 100 yards rushing too.

Guys, Purdue is actually getting better.

But let’s hold off on penciling them into the Big Ten title game. This isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight. Let’s see what happens in three weeks when Purdue travels to Wisconsin. If the Boilermakers can hang with Wisconsin or even somehow manage a win, we know that this isn’t a mirage.

Purdue might actually be climbing out of the Big Ten gutter. And I’m going to have to start being mean to someone else. I’m thinking Illinois.

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Are There Any Good Football Teams in 2017?

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Alabama.

Ok, maybe I made up that third one but since Nick Saban took over you can basically pencil the Crimson Tide into one of the top couple spots in the polls. Saban already has his team locked into the number one spot in the polls and everyone else is right on their heels… right?

The entire offseason has been filled with stories about how great other teams were going to be. That Texas was back (they aren’t) and that Josh Allen is the next big thing at quarterback (not so far).

So I guess that leaves us with the question… who’s actually any good? Three weeks in and I’m really not sure who’s any good. I know who I’m being told is good or going to be good but so far, the game has told another story.

Let’s start at the top of the polls.

You’ve got Alabama who took apart Florida State in week one. It’s hard to read into what they did against Fresno State and Colorado State too much but this is the one team in the polls that I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to. Why only Alabama? Well, because more than anyone, the Tide have a recent track record of excellence. Not a good few years in a row or a couple good years in the last decade, basically a decade of domination. There’s a reason you always see “We Want Bama” signs. 

Clemson is the only other team you can maybe convince me right now is any good after beating Louisville but dial it back a week and the Tigers only managed two touchdowns against Auburn. Auburn doesn’t seem to be very good (Sorry Bird) after only scoring 24 points against Mercer and turning the ball over five times. Louisville is a good win but the rest of the resume is lacking.

Then we’ve got the Sooners. How much can we read into the win over Ohio State? Everyone but Urban Meyer is calling for a quarterback change due to an anemic offense but Ohio State does have a good defense. We’re not going to find out if Oklahoma is any good until week nine when they play in-state rival Oklahoma State who is currently ranked sixth. The Cowboys have the offense but haven’t faced a dominant defense. That showdown is going to tell us a lot about both teams.

I know that I’m supposed to be the Big Ten guy but of the four Big Ten teams in the top ten, three of them are frauds. Both Michigan and Ohio State are downright anemic on offense. Wisconsin is only this high because of favorable preseason ranking and a weak schedule. Sure, the Badgers beat BYU but BYU is bad so all they’ve got is a name now. They’ve got a favorable schedule in their favor and at some point, Michigan’s defense isn’t going to be able to bail out the offense.

Penn State is the only legitimate Big Ten school in the polls. Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley are absolute studs and the Nittany Lions return almost everyone from their Big Ten Championship season. I’m betting on Penn State until proven otherwise.

I actually forgot Washington was in the top ten. I’m not even kidding, I didn’t realize it because they’ve done absolutely nothing of note. Washington is that team that’s ranked highly because of achievements in the previous season. What happened when Washington played a good team last season? Alabama did what they do to everyone.

Then we’ve got what could turn out to be the most over-hyped team in the preseason in USC. All I heard was that USC was “back” and that quarterback Sam Darnold had already won the Heisman and put his team in the playoffs. Instead, they struggled with Western Michigan in their season opener and then had to use double overtime to beat what is not a good Texas team. Darnold doesn’t look like he’s holding up to the expectations either as he’s thrown seven touchdowns to six interceptions. I don’t care that the Trojans beat Stanford, right now this is not a good football team.

Who else is even left?

Georgia? The Bulldogs will start hot until their running back has a catastrophic knee injury like always.

Florida? They had a great hail mary win last week but we all know they’re bad.

Miami? Maybe, but that team has only played one game. There’s no way to tell.

Virginia Tech? I like what Justin Fuente did last season and so far but the Hokies only have a win over West Virginia. Going to need to see more than that.

Mississippi State? Don’t make me laugh. Dan Mullins’ team beat an LSU team with one good player in Derrius Guice.

Where’s this leave us then? Is anyone actually any good? Well at the moment, no.

But they will be. There’s a lot of good coaches out there in Harbaugh, Meyer, and Jimbo Fisher. At some point, one of these teams is going to start showing us that they belong up at the top with Alabama and probably Clemson. Or maybe not. Maybe we’ll get a hilarious year like 2007 where teams like Missouri, Kansas, and Hawaii were routinely seen near the top of the polls.

I don’t think we will but it’s something that college football could use. We’re so entrenched in the idea that there are basically only 25 or so programs that are actually any good according to the polls. Washington broke the mold last season but we need more of that. There’s more than these 25 to 30 out of over 100 programs that are good at football but because they don’t have the right name, they never even get considered.

But let’s be honest: 2017 is Nick Saban and Alabama’s season. We’re all just waiting for them to be crowned at this point unless something unexpected happens.

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E-mail Tim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @tbach84.

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2017 Big Ten Predictions

I almost canceled my Bold Big Ten Predictions last season after I made some questionable calls from 2015. But last season, well, I’m going to take a moment to brag and have my confidence restored. I completely nailed the decline of Michigan State, Iowa’s C.J. Beathard, and that the Big Ten would come down to the very last game of the season. Although I might have been a tad off on Indiana getting to eight wins.

Let’s focus on the positives and forget the stuff I got wrong and get on with this year’s bold predictions.

The Big Ten East is a mess again and it’s glorious

I know both teams are loaded with talent, but Michigan and Ohio State sent a ton of players to the NFL last season. Penn State lost their top receiver but bring back Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley. Those are your big three in the East that are going to be jockeying for the top spot.

Penn State gets Michigan at home and goes to the Horseshoe but Ohio State goes north for the 2017 version of The Game. There’s a chance that they all end up at the last game of the season at 11-1. It’s unlikely but possible. I see a team like Indiana throwing a wrench into things or possible P.J. Fleck making his mark on the Big Ten world when the Buckeyes go to Minnesota.

Since they got a decent ranking to start the season, the Nittany Lions could potentially end up as the highest ranked team when it’s all said and done and they’re my pick to win the East.

A new contender rises in the Big Ten West

OK, here we go again. Get your purple and white ready because we’re getting back on the Northwestern bandwagon! I’ve been saying for a while that head coach Pat Fitzgerald has been criminally underappreciated by everyone but Northwestern fans. This year he’s going to force them to appreciate him as the Wildcats win the Big Ten West after they return almost everyone from 2016.

Stick with me because this makes sense instead of a hunch.

Northwestern should enter Week Four at 3-0 and headed to Wisconsin followed by Penn State at home. That’s rough and they’ll probably enter Week Six at 3-2. After that, the toughest game for Northwestern is traveling to Nebraska who lost basically everyone from 2016.

Wisconsin has an unproven young quarterback in Alex Hornibrook who lost his job last season. They end the season on the road at Indiana, home for Iowa and Michigan, and then back on the road to Minnesota. That is a rough stretch and I think the Badgers split the series at best. Wisconsin stumbles at the end and Northwestern finishes strong to end at 10-2 and their first trip to Indianapolis.

The Big Ten dominates the rankings

As you might’ve guessed, I expect the Big Ten to be pretty good this season. It’s going to be one of those years where the teams keep beating one another to prevent any one team from getting too high up in the polls but there’s going to be a lot of them there. You’ve got the obvious teams in Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State in the rankings to start the season. As you might expect, I’m predicting Wisconsin and Northwestern to find themselves in the top twenty to top fifteen.

Then there’s Minnesota. Maybe it’s because I have ESPN and their show on P.J. Fleck on but that guy just seems special. I think Minnesota is going to shock some people and spent a healthy part of their season inside the Top 25.

Bonus super bold prediction: Jim Harbaugh gets someone from the SEC mad again.

I know, super bold, right?

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E-mail Tim at tim.bach[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @tbach84.

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