Tag Archives: Big Ten

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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J.T. Barrett and Ohio State Are Downright Scary

Coming into the 2017 season, the Ohio State Buckeyes were ranked No. 2 in the polls, which garnered both negative and positive reactions. Some eyebrows were raised due to the fact the Buckeyes had been obliterated 31-0 in the 2016 College Football Playoff and were seemingly rewarded based on their namesake alone, while fans argued that despite their embarrassing loss, they lost to the eventual national champion Clemson. Not even almighty Alabama could defeat them. Also, if it wasn’t for a few fortunate opportunities that went Penn State’s way, they would’ve won that game and advanced to the Big Ten Championship game as the presumed favorites versus Wisconsin. Whatever your position was, it was a fortuitous spot to be ranked ahead of the reigning Big Ten champs Penn State and put the pressure on Ohio State to prove their worth.

In their first battle or “test” of the season against Oklahoma, the Buckeyes, seven-point favorites in Columbus, suffered their biggest loss at home since 1999 (46-20 loss to Illinois) and were mocked as overrated. J.T. Barrett was just 19 of 35 for 183 yards as the passing game was wildly inconsistent and below average. It appeared the naysayers were right and much to their delight, the Nittany Lions leapfrogged the Buckeyes in the rankings.

Since that time heading into last Saturday, Ohio State had been playing very good, fundamentally sound football. Yes, the opposition wasn’t exactly challenging but their offense had looked like a well-oiled machine and the defense hadn’t surrendered many points. Sometimes all you need is a few solid games to build momentum and confidence and regain your swagger.

Last weekend before the epic showdown, I was asked the question several times who was the best team in conference and I said Ohio State. Some gave me interesting looks while others laughed and said good luck versus Penn State. Others said I was a traitor for not saying my alma mater, Wisconsin. However, as hard as it is to support Ohio State, I had predicted much earlier this year, Wisconsin would meet Ohio State in the title game and I had to stay true to my word.

Also, I just had this premonition the Buckeyes would get the job done. The game was in Columbus and it’s not the easiest place to play. It’s like meeting a rabid animal in its very own den – its possible to survive but its no simple task either. Second, these teams were only separated by four spots in the rankings. It seemed everyone was already writing the Silver Bullets off much too soon and media outlets criticized Barrett for failing to show up in big games but you can never count out a Buckeye squad that has been written off too early.

We’ve seen this story before in 2014 when Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech only to come back and win the national title. Just when they appear dead to rights, they come back and shock you. To me, it’s simple: Hell hath no fury like a scorned Urban Meyer. Besides Nick Saban, no one plans, prepares, adjusts and responds in the face of adversity better than Meyer.

Things didn’t look great early on for the Buckeyes as Penn State raced out to a 21-3 advantage and although they closed the gap 28-17 by halftime, the Nittany Lions were in control as they built a 35-20 lead in the fourth quarter and appeared they would knock Ohio State out of playoff contention.

Yet, in spite of the big lead, turnovers, poor special teams, and questionable calls, Barrett rose to the occasion. All the qualities people said he didn’t have, he displayed: leadership, poise, resolve and a strong, accurate arm capable of leading his team to victory. The sign of a great leader is how he reacts and responds to adversity and all Barrett did was calmly throw 13 for 13 in the final quarter for 170 yards and three touchdowns including the game-sealing pass to Marcus Baugh with 1:48 left. It was the most impressive performance of his collegiate career in a classic game and showed once again the power of never giving up.

Yes, the jury is still out on Barrett and the Buckeyes as they are far from the being the top contender but the critics have been silenced, at least for moment. The takeaway here is really quite simple: Barrett vaulted himself back into the Heisman race as a front-runner and cemented Ohio State’s spot in the middle of the playoffs, though the initial rankings surprisingly did not place them in the top four. The Buckeyes are peaking at the right time and Barrett is a dangerous man. If they can fix their special team problems, it could be 2014 all over again and that is downright scary.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051

Image courtesy of flickr

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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Ohio State Lost and It Doesn’t Matter

The Ohio State Buckeyes were served a cold dish of revenge by Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners this past Saturday night.  The offense found the end zone just once.  The defense gave up 28 points in the second half, including 21 unanswered which turned a three-point lead into a three-score deficit.

They were bottled up by a Big 12 defense and exposed by a playmaking quarterback, at home, under the lights, in front of a national audience.  After the game, Mayfield decided to take a victory lap that ended with him planting the OU flag right in the middle of Ohio Stadium.

As a Michigan fan surrounded by Buckeye nuts at the time, I absolutely loved it.  Really though, it’s not going to end up meaning much when it comes to the playoff picture.  Sure, there will be an effect on the team.  Of course, this will go a long way in molding them for the rest of the season.  All of a sudden, the sense of urgency has skyrocketed.  It will feel like every game could be, in essence, the last one that truly matters for this program that sets its bar so high.

Things will seem much different after suffering this crushing blow.  In reality, however, this season started with that heightened sense of urgency for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.  We know what happened last year.  tOSU snuck into the final four despite not winning its conference (or even its division, for that matter).  It was the first time in the College Football Playoff’s short history that had been done.  Considering the way the Buckeyes rewarded the committee for that decision, it may very well be the last time it happens, too.

So, you come into the 2017 season, if you’re the Buckeyes, knowing that you must win your conference championship game to earn a spot in the top four.  The definition of insanity is yadda, yadda, and you can’t expect the committee to give you the same chance when you squandered it so spectacularly the last go around.  Still, win the Big Ten and you’re virtually guaranteed a spot in the dance.

Here’s the thing: losing to Oklahoma, even if it was by a wide margin, in your own barn, in primetime, in front of the whole country, doesn’t do a damn thing to harm your original goal of winning the Big Ten.  In fact, I would argue that taking such a big L actually motivates, and ends up helping what is still a relatively young squad.

Ohio State fell all the way to number eight in this week’s updated AP Top 25.  That’s still well within striking distance.  Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland, and Nebraska are the competition awaiting the Buckeyes the next five weeks.  Then they have a bye week to prepare a little revenge of their own against Penn State.  Please forgive me for not worrying about where their record will stand when they welcome in the Nittany Lions on October 28.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from Saturday night’s failure.  If there’s one man who’s going to teach his players how to correct their mistakes, it’s Urban Meyer.  The man’s made a career out of paying special attention to the tiny details and making the necessary adjustments for his team.  I have no doubt he will do the same here, and the Buckeyes will waltz through the next month and a half ahead of the showdown with Penn State.

Ohio State fans are upset.  I get that.  Nobody likes getting beat by two scores on their own turf, at night, with everyone else at home watching.  And they’re really not used to getting bullied in the ‘Shoe.  Still, I don’t see how dropping this game amounts to anything more than a bruised ego and an extra chip on the old shoulder.

Scheduling these massive early season clashes against other national championship contenders does nothing but help nowadays.  Win and you’ve got an impressive, pearly white feather in your cap.  The Buckeyes had just that last fall.  Lose and, really, nothing happens.  You only narrow your focus to what you set out to do anyway, taking home a conference championship.

The rest of the Big Ten had better watch out.  Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners just pissed off the baddest dude on their playground.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on twitter @GreatGatzke.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

For Illinois, Moral Victories Exist

When it comes to college football, success is primarily measured by the amount of games won as well as the number of conference titles and national championships a program has accumulated. The more victories a team has, the easier it is to hire top-notch coaching staffs, lure in gifted athletes, build state-of-the-art facilities and keep fans interested. Yet, winning games is much easier said than done especially for schools that don’t have the same financial resources, talent, experience and championship-rich pedigree as the top dogs. A conference bottom-feeder like Illinois just can’t keep up with the likes of Alabama even if they play a perfect game. 9 out of 10 times, the Fighting Illini get crushed by the Crimson Tide and even in the rare event that its close, the more talented team usually always comes out on top. So if your program rarely wins, has fallen drastically behind other teams and is in the middle of rebuilding, what does success look like?

Initially, it doesn’t look like anything tangible and won’t show in the win column so you need to find satisfaction in the small victories. These victories can be getting a highly-rated recruit and seeing him blossom into a consistent play-maker or putting up a competitive, valiant fight against a superior, highly-ranked foe. They say moral victories don’t exist but for a fledgling operation, you need to find the silver lining and take away positives in order to build confidence and a solid foundation for the future. Other than that you can’t have too many lofty expectations because if you do, chances are they will never be fulfilled and you’ll always be miserable and unsatisfied.

Since 1951, when Illinois last won a national championship according to the Boand selecting body, the Fighting Illini have 23 winning season records, finished in the top three of the Big Ten 16 times, have four conference titles, and six bowl victories. It’s not anything incredible but certainly not the worst ever and shows that Illinois could make an occasional run at a conference title (2001)or a Rose Bowl berth.

Remember in 2005, former Florida head coach Ron Zook was hired and Illinois went 2-9, 0-8 and 2-10, 1-7 in his first two seasons but went 9-3, 6-2 in 2007 including a victory over No. 1-ranked Ohio State and a trip to Pasadena . Then again, it must be stated that the Illini did get mighty fortunate in recruiting in 2006, when one of the Midwest’s top quarterbacks, Isiah “Juice” Williams of Chicago Vocational High School was right in their backyard and had a top-25 class in 2007 highlighted by one of the country’s top receivers in Arrelious Benn.

However, unless the Fighting Illini hit the jackpot again in recruiting soon, it’s going to take some time to turn things around. It’s been 16 years since the Illini won a conference title and I think it be mighty unfair to criticize Lovie Smith if he doesn’t win more games next season especially with what he has to work with. Plus, Smith has had only one true season of recruiting and it will be three more years until Smith actually has a team entirely of players he and his staff recruited.

Now, the one thing Illinois has going for them is they just need four wins to make an official improvement from 2016 and could conceivably win three to six games from a schedule-standpoint. But with the enormous amount of talent leaving an offense and defense that both ranked near the bottom of the conference, I predict things will get worse for the Illini before any improvements, whether measurable or not, will show.

The offense was 109th in total passing yards per game and loses its starting quarterback Wes Lunt, two wide receivers, three linemen and two tight ends. On defense, which ranked 11th in conference for yards allowed per game, it loses its entire starting defensive line, starting middle linebacker and leading tackler, Hardy Nickerson Jr. and two defensive backs.

I hope the Illini faithful have come to terms with reality and accepted this won’t be fixed overnight. The only thing you can hope for is that the team plays competitively and maybe pulls off a couple victories.

Winning games will always be the definition of success and some programs will always have an uphill climb to the top. My advice is to keep expectations low and embrace the drought so that when that turnaround happens, you will feel incredibly satisfied. Cherish those small victories to maintain hope and your sanity and keep up the faith. Sooner or later, those moral victories will translate into real wins and no one will see it coming except those who patiently waited.

E-mail Mike at [email protected]puspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Over/Under: Big Ten West

Yes, I know a lot can happen during spring practice and the summer months so it may seem premature to be doing an article where I’m doing over/under for the upcoming year but with March Madness upon us, I feel like a gambling man and figured to take a risk. This week I’m doing the Big Ten West and the East next time around.

Illinois 3-9, 2-7 = Under 3-9, 1-8

Illinois loses its entire starting defensive line including first-team, all-Big Ten pass-rushing end Carroll Phillips (20 TFL’s, nine sacks) as well as spots at middle linebacker and secondary for a defense that already ranked near the bottom of the conference In almost every statistical category.  Its offense loses quarterback Wes Lunt and, while running backs Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin, who combined for 1243 yards and nine touchdowns, are back, as well as receiver Malik Turner (48 catches, 712 yards, 6 tds), backup quarterbacks Chayce Crouch and Jeff George Jr. were subpar as they appeared in nine games. Lovie Smith’s second year will be even worse.

Iowa 8-5, 6-3 = Under 8-4, 5-4

The biggest question for the Hawkeyes is can sophomore Nathan Stanley, who is slated to be the starting quarterback heading into spring practice, be a reliable leader like his predecessor C.J. Beathard despite his limited experience? Other first-year starters like Beathard and Ricky Stanzi did pretty well and Stanley will have some resources like a seasoned offensive line and tailback Akrum Wadley but few options at receiver even with Matt VandeBerg returning. The other concern is at corner, where they lose the dominant Desmond King and Greg Mabin and have to use raw prospects Michael Ojemudia (five tackles) and Manny Rugamba (19 tackles, two interceptions). I say Iowa takes a step back because of its harder schedule.

Minnesota 9-4, 5-4 = Under 7-5, 4-5

With the departure of Mitch Leidner, Minnesota has very limited quarterback experience. Fifth-year senior Conor Rhoda has just one career start and a host of others are fighting for time including Demry Croft, junior college transfer Neil McLaurin, and redshirt freshman Seth Green and Mark Williams. Yes, starting halfback Rodney Smith was fourth in conference with 1,158 yards and second with 16 touchdowns while backup Shannon Brooks finished with 650 yards and five touchdowns but I see growing pains for a team that went through a very tumultuous season. Plus, they have a new system to get acclimated to with P.J. Fleck and an entirely different staff.

Nebraska 9-4, 6-3 = Under 8-4, 5-4

It’s hard to replace a starting quarterback especially one like Tommy Armstrong Jr., who holds most of the passing and touchdown records for Nebraska, but there is some upside and potential on the roster with Tanner Lee, Patrick O’Brien and Tristan Gebbia. Lee played two seasons at Tulane while O’Brien is a redshirt freshman and Gebbia is an early enrollee who has the second most yards in California high school history (13,109). On defense, Nebraska’s secondary looks strong as starting corners Chris Jones and Josh Kalu (103 tackles, 21 passes defended, four ints) return as well as safety Kieran Williams (five ints) and Aaron Williams.

Northwestern 7-6, 5-4 = Over 9-3, 6-3

Quarterback Clayton Thorson was fourth in the league in passing yards per game (244.8) and tossed 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Running back Justin Jackson had career highs for rushing yards (1,524), touchdowns (15) and yards per carry (5.1). If another receiver can emerge as a reliable target as Big Ten receiver of the year Austin Carr is gone, this offense could be a handful for opponents. On defense, the ultra-talented Anthony Walker is gone but they only have two starters to replace and leading tackler Godwin Igwebuike returns. If Northwestern can improve on pass defense, which ranked 109th nationally, I can see them an upset or two away from division glory.

Purdue (3-9, 1-8) = Over (4-8, 2-7)

There seems to be a lot of optimism surrounding Purdue’s new head coach Jeff Brohm, who led Western Kentucky for three seasons. The Hilltoppers ranked fifth nationally in passing offense and first in scoring offense last year, averaging 44.6 points per game. Yes, the Boilermaker’s lose their top three receivers (DeAngelo Yancey, Bilal Marshall, Cameron Posey) as well as Domonique Young, all of whom combined to haul in 157 passes for 2,122 yards and 17 touchdowns but David Blough has a lot of talent and Brohm’s system could greatly benefit him. Winning one more conference game isn’t much but it’s a step forward for a program that has won two Big Ten games in the past three years.

Wisconsin 11-3, 7-2 = Over 12-2, 8-1

It remains to be seen if quarterback Alex Hornibrook is the answer and can build upon a solid freshman season but the Badger faithful are crossing their fingers he is because if he can deliver, this team could be very dangerous. Yes, they lose both outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel but still should be a disruptive front seven especially at inside linebacker as T.J. Edwards led the team in tackles for a second consecutive season and Chris Orr and Jack Cichy return after suffering season-ending injuries. Secondary, which was second in FBS with 22 interceptions, will also be strong. With all this in mind and a softer schedule, I predict another 10-plus win season.

E-mail Mike at mike [dot] tews [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Image courtesy of flickr user usdagov

When Does Coaching Cross The Line?

Following a 31-0 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff, it was clear the Ohio State Buckeyes needed a change so on January 10th former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson was hired to be co-offensive coordinator with Ryan Day.

As many of you may already know, Wilson was fired by Indiana on December 1, 2016 due to “philosophical differences” with athletic director Fred Glass. In addition, it was revealed that during the two weeks leading up to Wilson’s departure a former Hoosier player and at least five then-current Indiana players were interviewed about his treatment of players with athletic department officials and university lawyers. There was no wrongdoing proven to have taken place but from what I saw, some of the tweets, even from players who supported him, were disturbing. For example, Cleveland Browns center Gabe Ikard, who played for Wilson at Oklahoma, tweeted:

With regards to these comments, my editor Seth Merenbloom gave his opinion on the matter and felt that while Indiana had no choice other than fire Wilson, it’s unclear if he ever violated any rules other than rub some players the wrong way.

To me, that doesn’t seem to be normal coaching behavior and made me think of the age-old dilemma in sports which is when does a coach cross the line and do the end results justify the means?

(I am not accusing Wilson of doing anything wrong because at the end of the day, these are just allegations and he should be treated as innocent until proven guilty.)

Coaches carry a lot of power and great power comes with great responsibility. Not only do coaches have to satisfy the university, its donors and fans but they are tasked with educating, motivating and protecting its student-athletes. Yet, in a society that places so much emphasis on winning, there have undoubtedly been times when the welfare and well-being of the athlete has been neglected by the coach in the name of winning. Furthermore, if the coach is highly successful, his questionable methods will be seen as effective and the proper way to teach the athletes. No one dares to question him because he clearly gets the most out of his players and they in turn tolerate and accept his actions even if they are borderline abusive since they want to win.

Now, there is nothing wrong with winning itself. Not only do athletes and coaches feel the satisfaction of achieving a goal after putting in hard work but become personally empowered and build confidence in themselves. It also brings pride and happiness to the university and its fans.

However, my belief has been that if an athlete is hurting in some way or another, whether physically or mentally, due to a coach’s actions, it needs to stop, even if it costs you a win. Yet, what constitutes as excessive and abusive can be subjective and differ from person to person. Plus, there are a plethora of negative emotions that have nothing to do with abuse that can be connected to personal mistakes or lack of playing time in sports. The coach may also yell and even get angry with a player but is doing it because he cares deeply for them. For me, the line is clearly crossed if a coach puts his hands on an athlete and gets physical, which is what allegedly happened to Ikard.

Yet, it’s hard for players to say something for fear they’ll be seen as cowards and traitors by their peers and fans. The counter-argument is players have become too sensitive and cry wolf whenever their feelings are hurt. Toughness needs to be instilled somehow so there’s nothing wrong with a coach wanting to be aggressive, physical and old-school. And as aforementioned, if the team is winning, the coach must be doing something right and the players buy in. It’s the whole mindset if I can withstand the pain, then I can conquer anything and whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.

I don’t know how it’s gotten to the point where it seems that bringing people down and potentially hurting them is seen as acceptable. To me, being an uplifting, positive role model can be just as powerful and yet that seems to be exceptionally rare rather than the norm.

Numerous pundits like my fellow writer Mark Silverman praised Ohio State for their great hire and for Wilson’s great offensive mind. On the football field, no one can question Wilson’s ability to transform lackadaisical offenses into juggernauts as his track record clearly shows. I’m not saying Wilson is guilty of anything as these are all alleged events and he should be considered innocent but if there is any truth to this, I have lost respect for him.

Bottom line is that abuse has no place in sports and shouldn’t be seen as good coaching even if it results in winning.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia 

The Best and Worst of 2016: Big Ten

There was a lot that happened in 2016. Teams rose and teams fell. There were highs and there were lows. So, you know, the average year. It did not end with a National Championship but the 2016 edition of the Big Ten was still fun.

I was tasked with coming up with the best and worst things that happened in the conference this season and there was a lot to choose from. Although there were singular dramatic moments, I tried to focus on the larger picture. For example, Penn State beating Ohio State on a blocked field goal return. A great moment? Absolutely but was it one of the greatest parts of the season? Well, I guess if you’re a Penn State fan probably but it was less meaningful to the entire conference.

You might agree, you might not. Let me know in the comments what you think.

BEST

Early Season Big Wins

The pre-conference season is always important because if you lose early, you might not recover. If you win over big time teams, you can really earn your team and your conference some much-needed credibility. That’s what the Big Ten did this season. The conferenced racked up some early big wins like:

Ohio State over Oklahoma

Michigan State over Notre Dame

Wisconsin over LSU

Nebraska over Oregon

Later it would turn out that Michigan’s win over Colorado would count in that list of big wins. Sure, some of those teams didn’t turn out to be as good as everyone thought but at the time they were all ranked. It’s not just about who you beat but when you beat them too. These early season wins lead directly into the next of the best of the season.

The Polls

The College Football Playoff committee doesn’t release their first official poll until week nine but from week nine to week 14, the Big Ten had a serious presence. Never at any time did they have less than four teams in the top ten. Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin were the mainstays with Nebraska starting there and then being replaced by Penn State. For a conference that had been perceived as weak for the last few years, it was a nice turnaround. Even if you go by the AP poll, there was always at least three teams in the top ten.

Penn State’s Return to Prominence

The Nittany Lions have had a rough go of it since the Sandusky scandal. Stripped of scholarships and their total availability reduced, banned from postseason play for a time, and of course monetary sanctions. It’s not an easy thing to recover from even for one of the most storied programs in history.

Head coach James Franklin started out the season on a lot of people’s coaches hot seat list. Most people though the writing was on the wall his team lost to Pittsburg by a field goal and then absolutely trampled by Michigan. Something happened in the game against Ohio State, though. A switch was flipped after that blocked field goal and the Nittany Lions didn’t look back all the way to the Big Ten Championship game. Sure it ended in a Rose Bowl loss on a last second field goal to USC but it was a dramatic turnaround that’s restored Penn State to powerhouse status for now.

The Game

Ohio State vs Michigan hadn’t been what it had been in quite a while. ESPN and all the other sports media outlets continued to hype it anyway. Well, this year it lived up to the hype. Michigan came into Columbus with a half-strength quarterback and went blow for blow with the Buckeyes into the rivalries first overtime and then a second overtime. In the highest-rated game of the regular season, the Buckeyes used a controversial play to knock the Wolverines out of the Big Ten Championship berth and send themselves to the College Football Playoff.

WORST

The Fall of the Spartans

Losing an NFL-caliber quarterback always hurts but the season for Michigan State was just stunning. We didn’t blink when the Spartans knocked off Notre Dame, figuring that Michigan State was just picking up where last season left off. Well, it turned out Notre Dame was terrible. That was Michigan State’s last win until they defeated Rutgers in Week 10 for their one and only Big Ten win. Rutgers went winless in the Big Ten so at least the Spartans had that going for them.

No one expected Rutgers to be any good but the fall from the top tier of teams for Michigan State was a shock. For comparison’s sake, Western Michigan had two Big Ten wins which are better than three Big Ten teams. The top of the Big Ten might have been good but the bottom was bad.

Postseason Controversy

Usually, it’s a good thing if the nation is talking about your conference. The week leading into the final reveal of the College Football Playoff bracket, it was all anyone could talk about. Penn State and Michigan both had legitimate claims to the 4th seed. Neither of them ended up making it in favor of Pac-12 Champion Washington but that’s not the problem.

The issue that the nation had was that Ohio State despite not winning the Big Ten Championship or even the East division was firmly locked into the Playoff. That didn’t sit well with a lot of people. Penn State, winner of the East and Big Ten Championship game, who defeated Ohio State was left on the outside looking in possibly (if you ask me) for non-football related reasons.

Ultimately, Ohio State proved that it didn’t belong after being manhandled and shut out by eventual National Champion Clemson. Penn State didn’t get a win either but they did have one of the best Rose Bowl games of all time, showing that maybe the committee got it backward.

Bowl Season

The Big Ten sent 10 of its 14 teams to the postseason. That’s the good news.

Michigan and Penn State were part of some entertaining games but ultimately lost. Ohio State got trampled. Wisconsin was the only “marquee” team that got a win.

Only three teams won with Minnesota and Northwestern joining Wisconsin in the win column. Three teams lost by more than two touchdowns and Ohio State and Iowa didn’t score a single touchdown. Things certainly could’ve gone better.

The Minnesota Situation

Look, I’m not going to rehash the entire ordeal that happened at Minnesota. You can read my piece on it but the long and short of it is head coach Tracy Claeys supported his players who were asking for due process instead of being outright suspended. That support got him fired. I can’t do much on this because I’m so furious that Minnesota is going to come out of this with one of the hottest coaching names in P.J. Fleck. A school shouldn’t come out of a scandal better off than they were.

E-mail Tim at tim [dot] bach [at] campuspressbox [dot] com.

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Is P.J. Fleck The Answer At Minnesota?

It has been a tumultuous past month to say the least for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The university administration fired head coach Tracy Claeys in part for publicly supporting 10 players, who were suspended for the Holiday Bowl due to their roles in an alleged sexual assault. None of the players involved were convicted due to lack of evidence but Claeys felt they should have been given due process instead of being suspended. Fair or unfair (my fellow writer Tim Bach certainly thinks so), Claeys was dismissed and it looked like the Minnesota football program was headed for big trouble with an uncertain future. But just 72 hours after the controversial firing, the university made a monumental splash by hiring one of the most coveted coaches in America, Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck.

Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle said he wanted strong leadership to address challenges in recruiting and the culture of the program. He also said Fleck “is a proven winner and a strong leader [and] his infectious energy and passion make him a terrific coach and dynamic recruiter.”

It certainly appears like Coyle struck gold as Fleck has already received 10 verbal commitments since he was introduced as head coach on Friday, including nine former Western Michigan commits. Though, starting center Tyler Moore is transferring and three players who made verbal commitments to Claeys decommitted on Monday.

When I initially heard that Fleck was going to be the Gophers next head coach, there were already several reports praising the decision but I had a burning question. How successful would Fleck be in a bigger conference when he spent the past four seasons in the much smaller Mid-American Conference? This isn’t saying the MAC is weak but the past few coaches hired by the Big Ten from that conference haven’t fared the best. Tim Beckman left Toledo for Illinois in 2012 and compiled a 12-25 record over three seasons before being fired over accusations of player mistreatment, while Darrell Hazell left Kent State for Purdue in 2013 and went 9-33 before being let go.

Then again, at the same time, Urban Meyer started his career at Bowling Green and that translated into great success at Utah, Florida and now Ohio State. Also, though it wasn’t a MAC school, Chris Petersen helped turn once-lowly Boise State into a very competitive, respectable program before taking the head coaching position at Washington, where he has done the exact same thing, turning the Huskies into a playoff contender this season.

The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that one of the biggest reasons they were successful as opposed to the former was due to recruiting. With his boundless energy and contagious enthusiasm, almost everyone has talked about Fleck’s recruiting prowess. In fact, his 2016 class at Western Michigan ranked No. 64 in the nation by rivals.com, ahead of Big Ten schools Illinois (68), Purdue (74) and Rutgers (78).

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that in four seasons at Kalamazoo, Michigan, Fleck went 30-22 overall and 21-11 in the MAC. He took the Broncos to a bowl each of the last three seasons after a 1-11 debut in 2013 and led Western Michigan to a 13-1 overall record (8-0 MAC) in 2016 with wins over Northwestern and Illinois. In the final game against Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl, though it was a loss, Fleck showed he could keep pace with a premier program.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this is a unique situation in that Minnesota is not rock-bottom like Western Michigan was. The team won nine games this year and has appeared in 14 bowl games in the last 18 years. This isn’t a total rebuild from scratch and if he can remain strong in recruiting, the future looks bright.

My gut instinct tells me he will win games at Minnesota but I still have reasonable doubts. Will there be unrealistic expectations given all the success he has achieved? What if Minnesota never wins ten games, never makes a Big Ten championship or never makes a New Year’s Six bowl? What is considered a successful season for a program that has enjoyed just moderate success in its recent history and will fans turn against him if he doesn’t replicate the results his predecessor’s achieved? No matter how likeable a guy is, how good at recruiting he is or how savvy of a game-planner he may be, there’s only so much a coach can do and I’m worried he is being overhyped. Plus, Wisconsin and Nebraska are still ahead of the Gophers and the thought of them being able to dethrone those two is something I won’t believe until I see it for myself.

Maybe I’m over-analyzing all of this and focusing too much on the negative. Maybe he will be just as good if not better than advertised. I’m not sure exactly will happen and only time will tell but there is no doubt, Fleck has brought a great deal of excitement to the Gophers and the Big Ten.

E-mail Mike at mike [dot] tews [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

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New Year’s Six Preview: Rose Bowl

This year’s Rose Bowl is a matchup between two programs that have an eerily similar story this year. Both the Penn State Nittany Lions and the USC Trojans struggled early in the season. They both lost big to a top-five team (Penn State to Michigan and USC to Alabama). However, both teams came storming back in the second half of the season. Both, despite their big losses, were actual contenders for the College Football Playoff at the end of the season. The team similarities, the growing hype once again around the Penn State football program, and the fact that this game is, after all, the Rose Bowl, makes the USC-Penn State game probably the most interesting among this year’s New Year’s six, maybe even including the CFP semifinal games.

Though USC’s offense is ranked above Penn State’s by several dozen spots, I still believe the Nittany Lions offense is the one to watch. After an amazing second half comeback against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, it will be interesting to see how PSU comes out. Southern Cal certainly has a competent defense, so Penn State will want to break through early to try and keep the game as close as possible moving into halftime.

Looking at the Southern Cal offense, it is so well-rounded that it’s near impossible to point to a single facet of it as the “key.” I think the Trojans need to keep themselves loose offensively, and not over-commit to the pass or the run. Penn State’s defense is good, but beatable, and the Trojans need to keep that in mind. Seeing how much of a second half team Penn State is, the USC offense really needs to ensure that they have a lead going into the half.

These two squads seem, on paper, extremely even. This year’s Rose Bowl may be the most highly contested of the NY6 matchups, with each team landing blows throughout. Personally, I see this game becoming high-scoring. If that does occur, the West Coast style Trojans definitely are in better shape than the Nittany Lions, who are a classic Big Ten team. Though I expect a close game, in the end I think USC will overcome a late Penn State run to win the Granddaddy of Them All.

 

Final Score: USC Trojans 41, Penn State Nittany Lions 37

 

Email Cooper at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

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