Tag Archives: BYU Cougars

BYU Should Be Admitted to Big 12 Despite Athlete Ally’s Frivolous Concerns

The last time I checked in on Big 12 expansion, Houston and BYU were positioning themselves, with the help of their respective state governors, as the leading candidates for Big 12 membership. In staying true to form, there is yet another plot twist to the Big 12’s expansion saga as LGBT groups are balking at the idea of BYU being admitted to the Big 12. These LGBT groups are not happy about BYU’s honor code and the stance that the institution takes towards homosexuals.

I can see why LGBT groups would take issue with this portion of the honor code as it does not fit into the mainstream definition of acceptance. However, homosexuals are not banned from attending BYU. They are banned from acting on their sexual urges. I consider this type of splitting of the hairs to be ridiculous, but, contrary to what these LGBT groups suggest, BYU does not deny admission based on sexual orientation.

And besides, we’re talking about admission to a conference based on the athletic market value of the institution. It really is that simple and to make conference expansion a deeper issue is silly.

One LGBT group, Athlete Ally, went a step further in denouncing BYU and how its honor code aligns with the honor codes found at the current Big 12 institutions when the group said that adding BYU “would be inconsistent with Big 12 membership values.” 

First of all, this isn’t Athlete Ally’s call to make and Athlete Ally is not in a position to speak on behalf of the Big 12. But the group has made their statement and it must be dealt with. The Big 12 would be smart not to base its decision on who to admit to the conference based on the preferences of activist groups. If BYU is admitted to the Big 12, just what is Athlete Ally going to do? Hold a rally denouncing the conference? If so, big deal.

My second issue with Athlete Ally’s statement of BYU being inconsistent with Big 12 values is that the group is showing a lack of awareness when it comes to the recent events at Baylor. There should be no implication that LGBT acceptance trumps the travesty that occurred at Baylor, but that is precisely the implication that Athlete Ally is making. If Athlete Ally really wanted to be the watch dog for Big 12 values, the group would not only be fighting to keep BYU out of the conference but they would also be fighting to kick at least Baylor out of the conference.

The two questions that the Big 12 needs to consider are whether or not BYU fits its athletic model and whether or not BYU’s views on homosexuality should factor into the decision to admit them into the Big 12.

To answer my first question, yes, BYU should be admitted to the Big 12. The Cougars are the best available program and the Big 12 would be stupid not to include them in its expansion plans. As for my second question, no, BYU’s views on sexual orientation shouldn’t come into the equation as the Big 12 decides which schools will be invited to join its conference.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom

Photo: Jamieca/Flickr.

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The Cartel and the Mid-Majors, Why Scheduling Matters

Imagine pulling for a team that can’t possibly win a championship, and not just because they aren’t good enough.  In College Football, it might literally be impossible to even qualify for a championship based on the company we keep.  Because of that, and that alone, it falls on the schedule-makers at Nobody U to make said program outside the Cartel relevant to the national conversation.

That’s not to say any of the participants from “non-qualifying” conferences ever really diluted the product, quite the opposite, in fact.

Boise State was the nation’s only unbeaten team from the 2006 season. The Broncos had to ‘settle’ for that historic Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.   Meanwhile, one-loss Florida took down Ohio State in the bigger game on that same field in Arizona a week later.  After Boise State’s 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma, their quarterback was asked if they deserved a title shot, and he said he thought so.  He wasn’t wrong, but he wasn’t quite all-the-way right either.

That perfect Boise State squad scheduled Division I-AA Sacramento State, a 10-win Oregon State team, Wyoming, and Utah in a down year, out of conference. None of their Western Athletic Conference rivals were ranked at the time of their game against the Broncos or the end of the season, so it was very difficult to argue their body of work against that of Ohio State’s or Florida’s for a spot in the two-team playoff.  Being undefeated basically became the standard for the Broncos, but even non-league wins over Oregon, Virginia Tech, and Georgia were not enough for National Championship consideration.  Playing other mid-majors in 8 or 9 contests per year, it impresses no one.

What are the contenders in the American, Conference-USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt doing to chase down more than just small conference glory? What type of 2016 schedule might qualify these nobodies for the very exclusive tournament that College Football uses to crown its champion?

American Athletic Conference

The geography of this league lends itself to some really good non-conference games, as SMU gets backyard games with TCU and Baylor, but the team with a schedule worthy of national consideration is Houston.  Sure, they’re playing Lamar, and I will not support any playing of FCS opponents by teams that want to be the best of the FBS, but I’ll let it go for Oklahoma and Louisville.  The Sooners and Cardinals will both play Houston in Houston, which should be good enough if they survive the AAC.

Conference USA

Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) is going to attract the big boys to the Alamo Dome, but they will usually have to reciprocate with a road game. This year, they host Arizona State in September and take a trip to College Station, where Texas A&M will host them in November.  Don’t expect competitive games.  I might like Marshall’s gauntlet of ACC adversaries, if they weren’t coming immediately after an opening slate of Morgan State and Akron. Like Marshall, Western Kentucky will be taking on Louisville, but we’re focused on their Week 2 matchup. They’ll tussle with Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide, so should there be a running of the table, the Hilltoppers may get to dance.

Mid-American Conference

There might be a case to be made for Northern Illinois, but Bowling Green accompanies their visit to Columbus to play Ohio State with solid mid-major matchups against Middle Tennessee State and Memphis. They’ll see both NIU and Toledo in conference play, games they need to win for anyone to take them seriously, especially if Ohio State doesn’t boat-race them in the opener.

Mountain West

Boise State will make headlines in some markets with their Pac-12 opponents, at home against Washington State and in Corvallis versus the Oregon State Beavers, but BYU may give them their biggest challenge. However, it is the much traveled Hawaii Rainbow Warriors that play Cal, Michigan, and Arizona.  Those are all long-ish to long road trips against 2016 teams that are much better than their 2015 counterparts.

Sun Belt

If I skipped this section or listed FCS schools in this paragraph, would you even notice?

On a serious note, Troy plays Clemson, which is cool, but it’s off-set it is by playing the dregs of the FBS in Idaho. Austin Peay and Southern Miss don’t move the needle for me either, looking at the Trojans schedule. However, our eye is on Appalachian State.  The team best known for upsetting Michigan in 2007 is going FCS-free in ‘16, visiting the best Tennessee Volunteers team anyone has seen in years, and they convinced The U to come to Boone, North Carolina. The Mountaineers have already won, if you ask me.

At the end of the day, if we’re talking about those four lines and those two semi-final games, to open our game’s championship up to the anyone outside of the Cartel, it’s probably Houston.

E-mail Jeff at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByJeffRich.

(featured photo via Sporting News.com)

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Realigning into 16-Team Power Conferences

So much has been said about conference realignment in the last few years that we’ve become numb to it.  We recognize that the motive behind all of it is money, and that, understandably, turns many of us off to the whole idea.

I haven’t seen anybody try to turn this sensitive issue into something fun though.  Obviously, this is a complicated case with a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.  We don’t need to get into all of that.  It’s been done before.  It’ll be done again.  So, forget all that and proceed with an open mind.

Let’s just stuff 16 teams into each of the Power 5 conferences and see what that looks like.

First of all, logistically speaking, adding teams gives us an opportunity to level the playing field a bit.  16-team conferences break down nicely into four divisions of four and that allows me to mandate schedule changes.

Every team will play 12 games in a regular season, three non-conference contests against other Power 5 teams and nine within the conference.  Teams will play their three divisional foes every season.  They’ll also annually rotate playing one entire division within their conference.  This leaves two more games, filled by one team from each of the remaining divisions in the conference.  Those, too, will rotate yearly.

From there, division winners will be pitted against each other in a two-week long playoff to determine a conference champion.  The five conference champs will receive automatic bids to the College Football Playoff with three more bids going to the most deserving at-large teams.  Oh yeah, we’re expanding the Playoff too, but that’s another column for a different time.

Enough introduction, let’s realign.

ACC

We’ll start out with the easy one.  The Atlantic Coast Conference already has 14 teams and it’s a basketball league anyway.  It shouldn’t be hard to add two schools that’ll make the East Coasters happy.

Additions: Memphis and Temple

The Tigers and the Owls both had surprisingly solid seasons in the American Athletic Conference in 2015.  Timing might have a lot to do with this but it seems like they’d be the best fits for right now.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Clemson                    Florida State            Louisville                    Boston College

North Carolina         Miami                       Virginia Tech              Pittsburgh

NC State                    Georgia Tech            Virginia                       Syracuse

Wake Forest              Duke                          Memphis                     Temple

The problem with the ACC is there aren’t many schools you know you can count on to field a solid football team every year.  That made splitting them up evenly a bit more challenging and I think these combinations are as fair as you’re going to get.

To clarify the schedule reconstruction from earlier, let’s use Clemson as an example.  The Tigers would play UNC, NC State and Wake Forest every year going forward.  In 2016, they’d play every team in “Div. 2” and one team from “Div. 3” and “Div. 4”.  I think that shakes out to be a much better schedule than anything we see under the current system.

Of course, you’d rotate home and away to prevent Clemson from rarely leaving Death Valley, but breaking all that down would be delving into details that are not the aim of this column.  Again, we can do that some other time.

Big 12

Yee-haw!  Here’s where the real fun is to be had.  The Big 12 needs six teams to get itself up to code.  There’s been a whole lot of talk coming out of the Wild West, but it seems everyone is too afraid to pull the trigger on any real moves.  Let’s make it easy for them.

Additions: Houston, Cincinnati, BYU, Boise State, Arkansas State, North Dakota State

With so many spots to fill, this was the toughest conference to add to.  Houston, Cincinnati, BYU and Boise State all belong in the Big 12 for real and I figured why not throw in Arkansas State and FCS-powerhouse North Dakota State for fun.  All of these teams would run the Kansas Jayhawks out of the building so I’m not worried about having to dig a deeper basement.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                         Div. 3                          Div. 4

Oklahoma                  Texas                        Houston                    West Virginia

Oklahoma State        Baylor                      Boise State                Iowa State

Kansas State              TCU                         BYU                             Cincinnati

Kansas                        Texas Tech            North Dakota State   Arkansas State

Look, I know this isn’t perfect, but like the ACC, the Big 12 isn’t giving me much to work with.  It’s a conference dominated by its haves and embarrassed of its have nots.  I’ve almost made it into a coast-to-coast league by adding Boise State (that’s a long way from Morgantown, West Virginia) but the conference itself didn’t seem too bothered by that when it added the Mountaineers in the first place.

I tried to keep as many rivalries alive as I could without severely crippling any one of the divisions.  Who knows what to expect from “Div. 3” with all newcomers, or “Div. 4” with West Virginia at the top.  There’s a lot going on in the Big 12 and frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it on a regular basis.  Sorry, Courtney McCrary.

Big Ten

Welcome to Big Ten country, where football is just better.  Sure, we’ve recently added a couple ridiculous East Coast members in Maryland and Rutgers, but they do serve nicely as automatic wins for our real teams.  Just two additions needed here.

Additions: Notre Dame and Ohio

Now that I know I’ve scared away all the Golden Domers, I can just come right out and say that it’s utterly ridiculous for Notre Dame to be playing half of an ACC schedule.  The Irish belong in the Big Ten.  We all know it.  They all know it.  The only reason they’re not, you guessed it: money.

Also, welcome the Ohio Bobcats whose campus is absolutely beautiful (and great fun on Saturday nights).  Maybe now people will realize there is, after all, another school besides THE one in Columbus.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Ohio State                Michigan                    Nortre Dame            Wisconsin

Penn State                Michigan State         Iowa                            Minnesota

Maryland                  Indiana                      Northwestern            Nebraska

Ohio                           Rutgers                       Purdue                        Illinois

Truthfully, I would love to boot Maryland and Rutgers, make them go play in the ACC and add a couple more MAC schools.  Northern Illinois, Toledo, Central and Western Michigan would all suffice, but for the purpose of this column I’m simply working with what’s already there.

Notre Dame gets to play schools it can start, or continue, a legitimate rivalry with.  They’ll have to play those fake rivalries they’ve got on both coasts on their own time.  The Buckeyes will have to play the Bobcats every year because I know that scares them.  As far as “The Game” is concerned, like our own Damien Bowman says, Michigan vs. Ohio State would be an even bigger game if it wasn’t played annually.

SEC

I know I angered many of you from the Southland with that wise crack about football being better up north.  We all know where the best football is played.  It’s just that people are tired of hearing about it.  The best conference in college football also needs just two teams to fill itself out.

Additions: Western Kentucky and Southern Mississippi

You’re the best, right?  Well, then you shouldn’t need any more help proving it.  Take these two C-USA teams (last year’s division winners), and consider them replacements for those mid-season walk-throughs y’all like to schedule against FCS schools.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Alabama                    Florida                       LSU                             Ole Miss

Auburn                      Georgia                      Arkansas                     Tennessee

Texas A&M               Kentucky                    Missouri                     Mississippi State

South Carolina        Western Kentucky    Vanderbilt                  Southern Mississippi

There are so many rivalries down south it’s impossible to keep them all intact.  This divisional split preserves many of the big games while setting up some intriguing new ones.  This shakeup seems perfect to me, particularly for this coming season, but I’m sure some of you have one or two issues with it.  I’m curious what our SEC guys (and gals), Bird LeCroy, Seth Merenbloom and Kristen Botica, think about this.

Pac-12

Fifth and finally, that wacky conference out west that loves to put up points.  Unfortunately, picking last and being on the West Coast severely limits the options here.  With four spots to fill, this is going to be a tough one.

Additions: Utah State, Colorado State, San Diego State, Nevada

Basically, the Pac-12 absorbed the best available teams from the Mountain West and banished the rest of them to whatever level we’re setting up underneath the Power 5.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

USC                            Stanford                    Oregon                         Utah

Arizona                      UCLA                         Washington                Colorado

Arizona State            California                  Washington State      Colorado State

San Diego State       Nevada                      Oregon State               Utah State

Dividing this group of teams was even more difficult than finding which ones to add to it.  I wanted to keep USC and UCLA together, but doing so makes all the other divisions look much less formidable.  The door does seem wide open for Oregon and Utah in this setup.  I tried to put the Ducks and the Utes together but, again, the repercussions make things worse than they stand now.  What say you, Mike Wilson?

Reminder

Sports are supposed to be fun.  If they’re not, then what’s the point?  And while I understand this is a serious topic with a lot of money involved, I have a hard time taking it seriously since all anyone wants to do is talk.  Until something real happens, I’ll just keep serving up far-fetched proposals to stir the conversational pot.

I hope you enjoyed reading and I look forward to many of you telling me what I already know, why this won’t work, in the comments section below and on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: The Holy War in Las Vegas

Rivalry week is long since passed, but we get one more big rivalry game in the Las Vegas Bowl when the Utah Utes take on their hated rival, the BYU Cougars. With the religious undertones surrounding these two teams this is truly a Holy War, but who do you want to take the bet on with this game? That’s a good question because the nature of this rivalry can cloud any thought of who may come out on top.

First of all, this is a true rivalry game. Getting these two teams to tee it up in Las Vegas was a shrewd move of genius by the people who run the Las Vegas Bowl because these two fan bases really do hate each other and they will provide an atmosphere at Sam Boyd Stadium that will be hard to beat in any bowl game this postseason.

Utah comes into this game a bit disappointed. All season, I talked up Utah about winning the Pac-12 South Division and possibly winning the Pac-12 Conference Championship, but that didn’t end up happening. Once the Utes got to 6-0 they had already beaten Michigan in their opening game and the Oregon Ducks on the road by six touchdowns, and were in the top four in the college playoff rankings. Things were looking phenomenal for Utah, but good things must come to an end sometimes and they did for the Utes. They split their final six games and their “reward” is coming to Vegas to play their rival.

What does Utah do well? They work hard in the trenches and well, it’s been just another year of tough-nosed play by a Kyle Whittingham coached team. They have also played a tougher schedule than BYU and are allowing only 21.8 points a game. The defensive line will be something to watch. With a sketchy BYU O-line, it will be a matter of time before Lowell Lotulelei and the rest of the Ute defensive line converge on Cougar quarterback Taylor Mangum whose play really hasn’t been all that steady.

Utah will be missing their fantastic running back Devontae Booker who is out with a knee injury. They’l have to rely on Travis Wilson who isn’t exactly an effective thrower. In other words, Wilson doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of defensive backs. His play against a solid BYU defense will be something to watch as the game progresses.

BYU is going to have to play a complete game to beat Utah. They do many things well, especially on defense. It’s almost like the Cougars are looking at their mirror image with this game on the defensive side of the ball. The BYU front seven is solid, they create pressure and with that pressure comes the ability to create turnovers. In fact, the Cougars have 15 interceptions and 37 sacks this season, so the turnovers and the pressure are a fact of life that Utah is going to have contend with all night.

With the absence of Devontae Booker for Utah, the Cougars are going to load the box and dare the Utes to throw the ball to beat them.

The difference in this game will come down to which team can create the turnovers and more opportunities for their offense. I still believe that Utah has the better talent, even with Booker out of the picture. Utah wins this game by a couple of touchdowns and the bragging rights of the state of Utah that will go with it.

We Can Trust the Wolverines Again

The Michigan Wolverines wiped the floor with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 49-16 on Saturday afternoon.  And in a change of pace I was able to rest easy as I watched the other, far more meaningful games that were on at the same time.

If you watched more than 15 total minutes of this beatdown you’re either more dedicated to, or more skeptical of this team than I am.

On the opening drive of the game the Wolverines missed a field goal.  That I saw.  I’m sure at that point you were thinking, as I was, “Oh boy, here we go again.”

After that though, smooth sailing.

The defense forced a three-and-out on Rutgers’ first drive, and the offense scored a touchdown on each of its next five possessions.

Relief washed over me after the fifth one as I sat on the couch frantically flipping between the Big Ten Network, ESPN and Fox in an attempt to catch as much as I could of three games that started simultaneously.

The score was 35-13 at halftime.  It was over.  The remaining 30 minutes of gameplay would be merely a formality.  I felt free.

I tried to remember when I last felt so comfortable not watching a Michigan game.  Nothing came to mind.  Only when I looked back did I realize that I hadn’t been this confident in the Wolverines since August 31, 2013 when they stomped all over Central Michigan 59-9 in the season opener.

I mean, sure the games against Oregon State, UNLV, BYU, Maryland and Northwestern were pretty well in hand, but I wasn’t quite sure what these Wolverines were all about yet.  Years of distrust had jaded me and I remained cautious.  But now, big leads over bad teams that seem safe actually are.

Truthfully, I did not watch a single play of the second half.  I didn’t miss much of anything.

The only significant part of this game came from Jabrill Peppers, for whom my affinity has been documented.

For the second consecutive week the triple-threat playmaker rewarded Jim Harbaugh for continuing to expand Peppers’ role in the offense.  His 18-yard catch and run for six will technically go down as a rushing touchdown since the pass was thrown backwards.  Either way, there’s no denying Peppers’ game-changing ability.

The replays don’t do it justice.  That’s because Jabrill is so good he makes extraordinary plays like this look pedestrian.  Matt Millen summed it up perfectly by commenting, “He’s just special.”

One can only hope that Peppers continues to get more touches.  Judging by Harbaugh’s comments last week, and then again this week, it’s safe to assume that he will.

Next is a trip to Bloomington for another tricky road game against the pesky Indiana Hoosiers.  They’ve yet to win a conference game, but their offense usually keeps them within striking distance.  Penn State has been the only team to hold them under 26 points this season.

The Hoosiers have given Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa closer games than you’d expect them to on paper.  Obviously, they’re capable of doing the same against Michigan.

It’s important for the Wolverines to stay focused during this week of practice.  It can be difficult to prepare as you would normally when coming off a big win and heading into another game you’re heavily favored in.

That’s where Harbaugh comes in.

He’s not going to let his players get distracted and lose sight of the fact that they’re still very much alive in the race for the Big Ten East crown.  You could call it “the Harbaugh difference.”

The Michigan Wolverines handled their business against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights efficiently, proving to me that they are worthy of my trust again.  So much so that I didn’t even have to watch.  Here’s hoping they do the same in Indiana this weekend.

The Real Season Starts this Weekend

Now that Michigan has taken care of the riff-raff on its schedule, it’s finally time to play some real football against actual opponents.

Sure, the Wolverines have outscored their opponents 139-38 during this 4-1 start, but look at who they’ve played.  Outside of Utah (who’s finally getting the recognition it deserves), it’s an underwhelming list.

Oregon State is a Pac-12 doormat.  UNLV has already matched its win total from last season.  BYU is a semi-decent team that just got off to an incredibly exciting hot start.  And Maryland looks to be headed for a last place finish in the Big Ten.

Basically, Michigan has drummed up a bunch of hype and expectations by doing very little.  That should sound familiar.

When you think about it, losing to Utah might have been the best thing for the Wolverines.  It reminded us all how awful last year’s team was and how much work still needed to be done.  It also served as a reality check for the many fans who thought Jim Harbaugh was going to waltz in and lead his team to an undefeated national championship season.  You know who you are and you remember feeling heartbroken the next morning.

Sitting here five weeks into the season though, with Utah having stomped Oregon, losing to the Utes by a touchdown looks more like a feather in the cap than a nail in the coffin.

Since lowering our collective expectations, Michigan has made it hard for us not to be impressed with their performance.  On the surface you see four consecutive blowout wins and back-to-back shutouts for the first time since October, 2000.  Checking underneath you notice that was nothing compared to the challenges that come next.

Keep your foot hovering over the brake pedal.  There’s a bumpy ride up ahead.

You have to go back to 2008 to find the last time Northwestern beat Michigan.  However, the Wildcats have been a thorn in the Wolverines’ side in recent years.  Two of their last three meetings have taken extra time to decide, last year’s exception being a 10-9 Wolverine victory that put anyone who watched too closely straight to sleep.

Northwestern is all too often the butt of the joke in Big Ten country.  They’re lumped in with Indiana and Purdue even though they prove themselves far better than those two every season.  The truth is Northwestern isn’t a bad program.  It’s simply an inconsistent one.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has built his program the right way.  He’s a standup guy who went to, and played for Northwestern himself.  He knows what Evanston, Illinois is all about and he’s changed the perception of Northwestern football.  His no-nonsense approach has yielded results and garnered him respect across the country.

Northwestern’s high academic standards make recruiting tough, though.  Therefore, you never really know what to expect when you try to size up the Wildcats.  That makes them a dangerous team to play.

This is a team that’s finished 5-7 each of the past two years.  Yet here we are five games into the 2015 season and they’ve already got five W’s.  Northwestern has established a pattern of October collapses, but these are not the Wildcats you’re used to.

Of their five wins, three are totally legitimate.  First, the Wildcats pulled off the upset of the opening week, toppling Stanford.  Two weeks later they earned a solid road win at Duke.  Then, last week they shut out Minnesota to open Big Ten play.  These Wildcats have earned the right to be called the #13 team in the nation right now.

So please, before you hit the gas pedal and floor it into next week’s clash with the Spartans, take the time to realize this weekend’s game against the Wildcats is just as important.

A Michigan win here would outweigh the other four combined, and set up a battle between two top 15 teams in Ann Arbor next weekend.  A loss, however, makes for just another matchup the Spartans are supposed to win easily.

Wolverines Ranked for First Time since 2013

Did anyone honestly see this coming?  I mean, some people were giving Michigan a chance last weekend against BYU, but I didn’t hear anyone predict a blowout in favor of the Wolverines.  We were all wrong.

Michigan earned itself the #22 ranking in this week’s AP Poll by dismantling the Cinderella Cougars. The win was their first over a ranked opponent since beating #14 Notre Dame in September of 2013.  It’s also the first time the Wolverines have been ranked in the AP Poll since week 10 of the 2013 season.

Clearly, we had all overrated BYU.  Looking back on it now, all they really had done was have their prayers answered twice and come up short against a team whose quarterback threw them three picks.

The Cougars had arguably the most intense schedule in the country over the first month of the season and it finally caught up to them in week four.

Michigan delivered an early knockout blow by hanging 24 points in the second quarter.  The game, with the scoreboard reading 31-0, was over at halftime.

You could say nothing happened in the second half and you wouldn’t be overly exaggerating.  The rest of regulation was a victory lap for the fans who had stayed.  Both teams simply ran the ball, let the clock bleed, and got out of there as soon as possible.  It seemed like the latter half of the game only took an hour to play.

De’Veon Smith had another big day, his second of the season.  He pulled a disappearing act, ran 60 yards and violently broke a tackle on his way to the endzone in a play that might end up the highlight of his career.

Unfortunately, as has been the case with this program for the majority of the past decade, the good news comes with giant grains of salt dumped all over it.  Smith went down in the third with what appeared a very painful ankle injury.  He did walk off under his own power, but was later carted back to the locker room for x-rays that came back negative.  Head coach Jim Harbaugh has been vague when asked about Smith’s availability this weekend at Maryland.

Jake Rudock had his best day as a Wolverine, mostly because he eliminated the turnovers.  He threw for one touchdown and ran for not one, but two scores.  This guy will never jump off the stat sheet, but that’s not his role here.  So far, the graduate transfer has been adequate at executing his job.  Taking care of the ball last weekend was another sign of progression in Rudock’s game.

Amara Darboh led the team in receiving with just four catches and 57 yards.  A touchdown grab and a one-handed snag that all the highlight shows picked up made his day appear to be more than it was.  It’s safe to say Rudock will not have a true go-to receiver to look for this fall.

The college football gods were so pleased with Michigan last Saturday that for some reason they even allowed Kenny Allen to make his second 40-yard field goal of the year.  Allen has now made four of his five attempts.  With numbers like those, we could be looking at the best kicker the Wolverines have had in 10 years.

All of that is fun and cute but the real takeaway is that the Michigan defense is what wins them ballgames.

The defense made the strongest statement of all last Saturday.  BYU had 11 possessions.  All 11 ended with a punt, seven of which came on “three and out” drives.  The Cougars mustered just 105 total yards.  Offenses of the Big Ten were officially put on notice.  The Wolverines rarely bend, let alone break.

This defense has improved each week, and right now it’s hard to identify a weakness.  The line has set the tone and played in the offensive backfield.  The line-backing corps has been tremendous at stepping up to fill holes and stop the run.  The secondary has kept most everyone in front of them and made sound tackles in the open field.  It looks like 21 points on any given Saturday this fall will be plenty enough for Michigan to win.

Harbaugh takes his Wolverines to Maryland this weekend to open up Big Ten play.  The Wolverines are favored by 16 points.  This might seem like a lot if you haven’t seen Maryland play this season, but I assure you the Terrapins are terrible.

Michigan’s mission this week is to resist the temptation of looking ahead to hosting sixteenth-ranked Northwestern next weekend.  Good teams don’t fall victim to trap games.

I’ll be watching to see how the Wolverines handle their business this weekend before getting to have fun next weekend.  I’m also curious how they will react to a little number being listed in front of their name.

Beating BYU was great, and it did wonders for the outlook of the season.  However, dropping a game to Maryland would shove Michigan right back to square one.  Tune in to the Big Ten Network at 8 o’clock Saturday night to see if the Wolverines take another step forward or two more back.

Staff Pick’em: Week 4

Well it wasn’t a great start for any of our illustrious panel but it’s early in the season. Just like in college football, you can recover from an early loss.

Special mention to Mitch and Courtney for being the only ones to take SMU and the points last week as well as myself, Tim, for being the only one to pick Ole Miss.

Last week’s scores:

David Poole: 1-5
Mitch Gatzke: 3-3
Courtney McCrary: 2-4
Derek Woods: 2-4
Britt Zank: 1-5
Tim Bach: 3-3

#22 BYU at Michigan

David Poole: BYU: Michigan uses momentum from last week to notch their second win in a row. Mangum shines early, but fades late. Wolverines squeak by 28-24.

Mitch Gatzke: I’m still not completely sold on BYU.  Call me a homer, but I think Michigan can make this a low-scoring, defensive game and win because of it.  Go Blue.

Courtney McCrary: BYU. If the Cougars are able to start with the momentum they will be able to win at the Big House in Ann Arbor.

Derek Woods: BYU: This will be a tough matchup for Michigan one in which I expect Michigan to have to throw to get a win, which will be the problem with Rudock running the show.

Britt Zank: I’m going Michigan over BYU in the Big House. I think the home field advantage really counts with Harbaugh.

Tim Bach: Harbaugh’s got the Maize and Blue moving with a swagger not seen in Ann Arbor in some time. BYU has scraped by thanks to some early season magic but the Wolverines say not this time.

#25 Missouri at Kentucky

David Poole: After mustering up just 9 points last week, the offensive woes continue against the Wildcats. Kentucky in a stunner, 17-14.

Mitch Gatzke: Missouri has a quarterback controversy on its hands.  Kentucky isn’t the terrible team it’s been for the better part of the program’s history.  I’ll go with the Cats.

Courtney McCrary: Kentucky– Hansbrough may be back for MU, but Kentucky’s defense will stop the struggling MU offense and pull out a surprise win at home.

Derek Woods: Mizzou: As bad as they have played on offense I feel it gets better this week in a win against Kentucky.

Britt Zank: I’m going Missouri over Kentucky. With Russell Hansborough back for Mizzou their offense will be more balanced and Kentucky will be lucky to score on Mizzou’s defense.

Tim Bach: Missouri has been awful while Kentucky appears to be trending upwards. Give me the Wildcats.

#9 UCLA at #16 Arizona

David Poole: UCLA escaped the clutches of the Cougars. But Anu and company bear down on the Bruins in a slugfest. Wildcats take it,  45-42.

Mitch Gatzke: At this point, I feel much more confident in UCLA than Arizona who wasn’t challenged in the non-conference.  I’ll take the Bruins.

Courtney McCrary: Arizona–  Arizona has a great offensive attack and being at home will help them tremendously.

Derek Woods:  Arizona: UCLA escaped with a win last week but will lose their first game of the season on the road against Arizona. The loss of Myles Jack will definitely hurt the Bruins.

Britt Zank: I’ll take Arizona over UCLA, this is a complete coin toss so I’ll lean towards the home field advantage.

Tim Bach: UCLA is going to miss Myles Jack but you don’t get to be ranked #9 and be 3-0 because of one good player. Bruins hold on in a wild one.

#18 Utah at #13 Oregon

David Poole: The Utes defense is no joke and if Vernon Adams’ thumb isn’t 100%, back up, Locke won’t have enough the goods to bring home the bacon. Utah with the upset,  24-17.

Mitch Gatzke: I keep going back and forth on this one.  Oregon was my original pick to win the Pac-12, but the offense disappointed me against Michigan State.  Utah’s also got the type of defense that can ruffle the Ducks’ feathers.  With neither team being forthright about starting quarterback decisions I have to go against my nature and make a pick that’s not based on quarterback play.  Give me the Utes.

Courtney McCrary: Utah– Even though Oregon has a very good record at home their defense has really struggled this year. Devonte Booker and maybe Travis Wilson (if he returns) will have a big game.

Derek Woods: Oregon: If this game was played in Utah, I might sway the other way. Oregon will pull out a close one.

Britt Zank: Give me Utah over Oregon. Utah seems to just have Oregon’s number and in a year of change for the Ducks I think Utah will win a close one.

Tim Bach: Even if Vernon Adams isn’t fully healthy Oregon is still going to put up points. Somehow the Ducks keep finding guys that just work in their system. The Utes are solid but not a lot of teams can run with the Ducks and I don’t think Utah can get enough stops. Oregon gets a big conference win.

#24 Oklahoma State at Texas

David Poole: The Longhorns still feel the sting  from last week’s heartbreaker. Jerrod  Heard does what he can to keep the Longhorns in it, but the Cowboys wrangle the ‘Horns 38-24

Mitch Gatzke: Texas is in shambles.  OK State wins.

Courtney McCrary: Oklahoma State– The Cowboys have to prove they should be nationally recognized. They will start out by beating Texas on Saturday.

Derek Woods: Oklahoma State: Texas can’t get out of its own way and will lose yet another game.

Britt Zank: I’ll take Oklahoma St over Texas because Texas is just a garbage fire and everyone maybe fired by the end of the season.

Tim Bach: People started declaring that Texas was coming back after the show they put on last week but we tend to have a short-term memory with sports. Everyone is going to forget about last week as Oklahoma State crushes Texas.

Spread pick: Western Michigan is a 31 point underdog at Ohio State

David Poole: Western Michigan keeps it close.  Sort of.  Buckeyes don’t cover the spread and win by 17 points.

Mitch Gatzke: Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.  The Buckeyes have too many offensive weapons.  I’ll take the Broncos and the points.

Courtney McCrary: I do not think that Ohio State will beat Western Michigan by more than 31 points. One of Ohio State’s biggest problems may be that they play two QBs and it looks like they will do it again this week.

Derek Woods: I don’t feel comfortable picking Ohio State to cover a spread like this with the way the offense has played. Ohio State wins by 24 over Western Michigan.

Britt Zank:  For the spread pick I will take Western Michigan and the points against Ohio State.  I think the Buckeyes will role but I think they’ll call off the dogs early and Western Michigan will keep it under the 31 point spread.

Tim Bach: I honestly think that Western Michigan is going to be competitive in this game. The Broncos gave Michigan State a fight and personally I think Michigan State is better than Ohio State. Give me Western Michigan and the points.

Five You Must See: Week Four West Coast Edition

Week four brings with it the official start of conference play.  The Pac-12 takes center stage on Saturday night with multiple games with championship implications in the spotlight.  Since it’s such a big weekend in the west, I thought I’d show some love to the “Best Coast” in this week’s Five You Must See:

Tennessee at Florida 3:30 P.M. on CBS

Before we head out west, let’s get one thing clear.  I’m a sucker for Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson on an autumn afternoon.  Those two are a large part of why I’m such an SEC fan.  It’s hard for an SEC on CBS game not to be one of the five you must see on any given weekend.  The network gets to take their pick and they normally choose wisely.  This game is another example.  Tennessee has one loss already and can’t afford to take another in their conference opener.  Florida is 3-0 to start the season for the first time since 2012.  The Gators are coming off a quality road win over Kentucky that should get their ball rolling as they get set to defend The Swamp.  The Vols have no choice but to be motivated for a game against a team they haven’t beaten since 2004.  If you’re looking for an authentic taste of the South this weekend then watch this game.

California at Washington 5:00 P.M. on Pac-12 Network

Photo: Kelley L Cox-USA Today Sports
Photo: Kelley L Cox-USA Today Sports

According to the Pac-12 Network this week, many won’t be able to watch any of the games featured on the channel at all this season.  It’s sad that big business is not allowing the fans to watch the games they want to see, but I guess that’s just the way it is now.  Anyway, the matchup is interesting because you’ve got two mid-tier teams with a chance to fill some open space toward the top of the Pac-12 North.  Cal hung on for dear life in Austin last week and came away with a 45-44 win over Texas.  You’ll want to watch quarterback Jared Goff who continues to impress NFL scouts with his throwing ability.  Washington intrigued me in the second half of their opening game at Boise State.  I want to see how they handle their first big home game of the year.  Tune in for this one if you can.

#9 UCLA at #16 Arizona 8:00 P.M. on ABC

The winner of this game seizes early control of the loaded Pac-12 South.  Both teams are dealing with injuries to their best defensive player.  Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright will likely be a game-time-decision as he nurses a torn meniscus from week one.  UCLA got tragic news on Wednesday when linebacker/ running back Myles Jack went down for the season with what is apparently a much more serious meniscus tear.  Jack is the third defensive starter the Bruins have lost for the season in three weeks.  The Wildcats will certainly be attempting to take advantage of the inexperienced substitutes.  UCLA put an end to the BYU Cougars’ Hail Mary magic last week.  A win here would mean at a top five spot for the Bruins in next week’s AP Poll.  An Arizona victory could vault the Wildcats into the top 10.  Also, College GameDay is in Tucson for just the third time ever so that makes it even more fun.

#18 Utah at #13 Oregon 8:30 P.M. on Fox

Nowadays, everybody wants to talk about the Pac-12, but they act like they forgot about Utah.  The Utes are a good team with a unique style that often gives more talented teams trouble.  Devontae Booker runs the ball as well as anyone in the Pac-12 and the Utes’ front seven stops their opponents from running well at all.  Neither team has officially announced who will start at quarterback on Saturday night, and probably won’t until game time.  Utah’s Travis Wilson injured his shoulder two weeks ago and sat out last week.  The oft-injured Kendal Thompson got the start against Fresno State and might get the ball again this week.  Oregon’s Vernon Adams also did not play last week.  Jeff Lockie filled in adequately against Georgia State.  I’m expecting both original starters to go, but if it comes down to it Oregon would lose more with their backup in than Utah would with theirs.  Hearing Gus Johnson on the call can only make this exciting game more thrilling.  Flip back and forth between this and UCLA-Arizona.

#19 USC at Arizona State 10:30 P.M. on ESPN

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

The night cap is too close to call.  So, just like on election night, you’ll have to stay up in order to get your satisfaction.  USC is a five and a half point favorite, but ask yourself, “Do you truly trust the Trojans on the road in a game they’re favored to win?”  After last week’s debacle against Stanford maybe people will finally pump the brakes on the Trojan train.  Not to mention how good Arizona State can still be.  Sure, the Sun Devils got off to a lousy start by losing to Texas A&M and didn’t do much beyond what was necessary against Cal Poly and New Mexico.  However, it would be foolish to discount the ability of Arizona State’s playmakers.  Speaking of offensive prowess, boy do the Trojans have a matchup nightmare in JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose 434 receiving yards are good for third in the nation.  USC head coach Steve Sarkisian showed us earlier this year that he, like California, knows how to party.  Now let’s see if he knows how to coach in weighty road games.

The “Better as a Basketball Game” of the Week

Photo: Joe Maiorana - USA Today Sports
Photo: Joe Maiorana – USA Today Sports

West Virginia hosts Maryland this Saturday at 3:00 on Fox Sports 1.  That’ll be a decent watch, I guess, but imagine if it were a basketball game.  Now, all of a sudden you have #18 West Virginia hosting #16 Maryland (according to last year’s final rankings) in a rematch of last year’s third round NCAA Tournament game.  That’s a matchup worthy of primetime.  Unfortunately the football version is nowhere near as big.  In the winter these two are must-see, but in the fall they’re easily skippable.

Statement Game this Weekend, Gentlemen

Last Saturday the Michigan Wolverines beat the UNLV Rebels 28-7 in the least meaningful game on their schedule.

UNLV just isn’t a good football team.  And even though the final score doesn’t scream “blowout” the outcome was never in any doubt.  Michigan took a 21-0 lead into halftime and coasted to an easy victory in the second half.

The Wolverines ran all over the Rebels to the tune of 254 yards and three touchdowns.  Ty Isaac led the way with 114 yards and a score on eight carries.  His 76-yard touchdown run in the second quarter made his afternoon look much better than it actually was.  Even so, it’s refreshing to see a Wolverine run for 100-plus.

Jake Rudock didn’t have to do much but hand the ball off.  He completed 14 of his 22 pass attempts for 123 yards with a touchdown and an interception.  With the game in hand, Wilton Speight was given some snaps in the fourth quarter.  He failed to complete any of his three attempts.

Some are wondering why it was Speight and not Shane Morris.  What is Morris going to show you in garbage time against the worst team you play all season that will convince you he should be starting over Rudock?  Nothing.  That’s just not the venue for that audition.  Instead, you give the youngster a chance to get his feet wet.  The little bit of action Speight saw did much more for him than it would have for Morris.  Well done, Coach.

The defense was hardly challenged all afternoon.  Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark each had an interception.  The Wolverine defense continues to show that it is the strong suit of the team.  No new news there.

Jim Harbaugh knew his team had to do very little to beat UNLV.  The Wolverines did, in fact, do very little and still handled the Rebels.

The fact is last week’s game didn’t tell us much of anything.  Luckily, we have a big game to look forward to this weekend.

The #22 BYU Cougars travel to Ann Arbor looking to get back on track after coming up just short against UCLA last weekend.  The Bruins scored a touchdown with less than four minutes to go that put them up one.  BYU was right where they wanted to be, having miraculously won their first game against Nebraska and their second against Boise State.  This time though, the Cougars’ Hail Mary prayers were not answered.  Still, in keeping UCLA that close BYU exceeded expectations, suggesting they might actually be a good team even without quarterback Taysom Hill.

Michigan has not hosted a non-conference game against a ranked opponent besides Notre Dame since August 31, 2002 when a walk-on kicker made his first career field goal as time expired to beat the eleventh-ranked Washington Huskies 31-29.

That’s right.  The last time a ranked team outside of the Big Ten came to the Big House, John Navarre was handing the ball off to Chris Perry and throwing touchdown passes to Braylon Edwards.

A high school basketball coach of mine used to tell us we had a chance to make a statement anytime we played a team that was perceived to be better than we were.  “Statement game on Tuesday, gentlemen.” Coach Al would say.  Coach Harbaugh should borrow those wise words for this week of practice because that’s the exact situation Michigan faces against BYU.

The Wolverines have a prime opportunity to let their Big Ten foes know they’re not the pushovers they’re expected to be this fall.  Even though it’s at home, beating a good BYU team would serve as the first quality win of the Harbaugh era.  The third win of the season would also bring Michigan halfway to bowl eligibility.

A loss, on the other hand, would be debilitating.  It would halt the bit of momentum that’s been built up by winning the last couple weeks and bring the non-conference portion of the schedule to an ugly 2-2 end.

Last week was a cake walk.  This week will be anything but.  Let’s see what kind of statement Harbaugh’s Wolverines make before embarking on their journey through the Big Ten next week.