Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL. Some players can be replaced easier than others, and it goes farther than just one’s physical abilities. The Cleveland Browns have recently been put in this type of predicament. Alex Mack is out for the year with a broken tibia, and he will clearly be missed. You simply cannot replace an All-Pro center like Mack with just anyone.
In some cases, an understudy can produce stunning results when called upon, but that doesn’t appear to be the fortune for Cleveland’s football team. When Mack initially went down in the second quarter of the Browns 31-10 win over Pittsburgh on October 12th, it appeared all was well. John Greco moved over from guard to replace the void left at center and former Sea Chicken Paul McQuistan took Greco’s spot at right guard. If there was a drop-off, it was negligible and it didn’t slow down the Browns running game that day.
Pittsburgh did not have the luxury of game-planning for an offense without Cleveland’s 2009 first round pick snapping the football. Since starting on Day 1 as a rookie, he hadn’t missed a snap over the course of his 85-game career. Seriously, the dude even had an appendectomy in 2011 and he was back on the field against the Oakland Raiders 13 days later. Of course, that’s a testament to his toughness, but there’s more to what the Browns are missing right now than thick skin.
It’s easy to mistakenly label a good football player as one with football intelligence. That just isn’t how it works. There are players that remember things, and they get by. The players that learn the game and so many of its variables possess a tangible thing called “football intelligence”. No one on the planet exists on the same plane as Peyton Manning in this realm.
Sure, he’s probably a giant dork that sees everything pre-snap in 1s and 0s, and then converts to hexidecimal when the ball is in his hand. My theory is that he sees things faster than they’re actually happening, that real time for the rest of us is presented to him as slow motion. It’s a subtle difference, like the difference between a split-second and a well enunciated One Mississippi. It might be the difference between a yellow jacket in Canton and a short career.
However, we might be missing out on some that top the list of the game’s most football intelligent characters because they didn’t play the quarterback position. Edge rushers know how to get to the quarterback. Linebackers see and hear what’s about to come at them, as if they were in the offensive huddle. Ball-hawking safeties just know how to put themselves in the right place at the right time. That’s all football intelligence, but you need to have the talent to do it.
It can actually work the other way around. It’s up to the coaches to find ways to make talent compensate for the absence of football intelligence. You’ll hear a couple of things from the consensus on this subject.
First, there are no bad football players in the National Football League. The evaluation process is too complicated for things to be overlooked. This is a league that is so much more about the Xs and Os than the Brian and Joes. Players will always be somewhat hit and miss, it’s a tough game, but it all comes down to coaching. Part of that is finding the right personnel.
The offensive line needs their brainiac too. Former Browns head coach Eric Mangini earned his “Mangenius” nickname under Bill Belichick’s charge. His brilliance never translated to wins, but there were honestly mitigating factors that went into that. At each of his head coaching stops, he left a necessary building block behind. It was Nick Mangold in New York and Alex Mack in Cleveland, both franchise centers were taken late in the first round of the draft.
First round status doesn’t guarantee anyone anything. I use Tim Tebow as an example, because I specifically remember thinking how wrong people were. They’d say his work ethic would put him on another level and his football intelligence would carry him. Now, I am all for giving Saint Timmy a sincere golf clap for his effort, if only that was all it took. Now that he’s out of the game at the age of 27, I can tell Tebow is a smart man, but that doesn’t mean he’s ever been heavy on football intelligence.
Tebow had a special set of physical skills that allowed Urban Meyer to build an offense that took advantage of what he could do without over-working his noggin. He took what was given to him, and it was enough to make him one of the best College Football players ever.
The NFL just had a standard he wasn’t capable of reaching. In 2011, John Fox and Mike McCoy modified or dumbed down their offense enough for him to take over for Kyle Orton, who was 1-4 as the starter. That’s a move you can make because the gimmick of Tebow justified the downgrade in skill. The Broncos coaching staff pulled it off, and they even won a playoff game. Keep in mind, they were replacing Kyle Orton, not Peyton Manning.
There’s nothing Mike Pettine would like more than to get by with a serviceable backup, but Jacksonville attacked the vulnerability. There was no way to stop it. In reality the Browns took a hit at two places on the offensive line, so we’re not overlooking the plunge taken at Greco’s now back-filled spot at guard. They weren’t physically outclassed on the whole, but they were just lost on who goes where and when.
If you recall the late season magic Denver had with Tebow, it’s likely you give a lot of credit to defense and special teams for that. They definitely had to conceal their quarterback, and they really did get away with it when they weren’t playing the Patriots.
Though the Browns weren’t playing anything reminiscent of Patriots without Mack, they’re unable to conceal their center position. The one who snaps the ball is more important to their offense and offensive line than the guy who was lined up a couple of spots over for every snap, all 5,189 of them. That guy at left tackle is Joe Thomas, and smart people think he’s bound for the Hall of Fame.
We’ll wait a couple of years before we start talking about Mack’s candidacy for Canton, but it’s understood that his value is very near that of Joe Thomas. Thomas and the Browns have a couple more bad teams ahead on the schedule, convenient for them in figuring out how to plug an obvious leak. Otherwise, a promising 3-2 start could all be for not. It look as though damage controls with putting Greco back on the right side and seeing if Nick McDonald. His one NFL start at the center position is one more than Greco had before the game in North Florida last week, but he probably isn’t the second coming.
Cleveland might need a miracle to thrive without their clever center, and we’re doubting even Tebow can shit a miracle of this magnitude.
Let’s face it: it’s been a rough couple years for the Bears. Cal’s last bowl appearance, a loss to Mack Brown’s Longhorns in the 2011 Holiday Bowl, came 3 years ago. Since then, the Bears have had a hard time putting wins together, ending last season with a dismal record of 1-11 and failing to defeat a single Division I opponent. Despite all of this, the future looks bright for the Bears.
Sonny Dykes, the man brought in to replace Jeff Tedford, didn’t exactly have a stellar first year. Cal averaged a pedestrian 23 points a game, calling into question Dykes’ vaunted offensive prowess. But look at his first year at LA Tech: in 2010, the Bulldogs only averaged 26.8 points per game. In Dykes’ last year there, 2012, they just about doubled that number, posting an astounding 51.5 points per game and a 9-3 record. But why the dramatic increase? What happened in those 2 years that lifted the Bulldogs to such lofty statistical heights? The answer holds the key not only to the past success of the Bulldogs, but also the future of the Golden Bears.
Often overlooked in football is the immense value of learning and teaching. Any coach will tell you that a player who hesitates is a player who isn’t playing football. Hesitation negates the advantages of speed, strength, and athleticism. How then, do coaches get players to stop hesitating? The short answer is that they teach their players a scheme. Once players have learned the scheme, they stop hesitating and start acting. Coaches, however, cannot prepare for everything, and hesitation still occurs when players face formations, coverages, and fronts that they have never seen before. This most often happens in a coach’s first year of tenure when they face 10 opponents they have never faced before. Sure, they have some idea of how their opponents will line up against them, but they cannot be sure of the exact details. By year two, the players and coaches know what to expect, and, surprise, improvement occurs.
Apply this theory first to the Bulldogs. In 2010, Sonny Dykes arrives to replace Derek Dooley. Dykes introduces a new scheme, derived from the Air Raid, which, for a variety of reasons too expansive to delve into here, was radically different from any scheme that his players had seen before. The Bulldogs proceed to finish the season 5-7 and score 26.8 points a game. Then, two years pass. The coaches study their opponents, they teach their players how to adjust. The players learn the scheme, they buy in, and lo and behold, suddenly they’re scoring 51.5 points a game and winning 9 games.
Now take Cal. During the Tedford era, the Bears were known for cranking out running backs like Marshawn Lynch and Jahvid best. While they had the occasional Desean Jackson or Aaron Rodgers, they were a traditional, pro style attack. But Tedford’s tenure ends, and Dykes arrives, again having to take the reigns following a losing season. In one offseason, he does his best to teach his players his scheme. The players learn, and some of them buy in. But he has a true freshman quarterback in Jared Goff, who is being asked to do something very different than what he did at Marin Catholic, and to do it about 622 times. Also, they’re playing in the PAC-12 against multiple teams who expect to contend for a national title. The Bears go 1-11 taking a beating both on the field and in the press. The offseason rolls around, Dykes and co. watch film, adjust, and above all, teach their players even more. The players have had 12 games to learn exactly what works and what doesn’t in Dykes’ scheme, and a full offseason to practice it. August 30 arrives on the calendar, and the Bears are off to Northwestern annnnnd. . .
Maybe they don’t manage to score 52 points, maybe they don’t go 13-0 and blow the doors off the PAC-12. But they will have improved. Goff will be comfortable in the system (and hopefully have put on a little weight) as will the running backs and receivers. Barring a major catastrophe, the Bears will improve. Sonny Dykes has proven himself to be too good a teacher for anything else to happen.
Whenever I ask my father-in-law how he’s doing, he always says, “I’m like the bear, I’m making big tracks, but I ain’t going nowhere!” That being said, the 2014 California Golden Bears’ football season will come down to steps taken. In which direction, remains to be the question.
After an abysmal 1-11 season (0-9 in Pac-12 play), Sonny Dykes and company have to lick their wounds and take that redemption step forward. Inexperienced players and injuries plagued the Golden Bears throughout the season. These are two areas that coaches, for the most part, have very little to zero control over. In the aforementioned cases, coaches heavily rely on team leadership and the team’s collective desire to overcome adversity. To which, Cal demonstrated none. With the upcoming 2014 season approaching, those once inexperienced players are not so wet behind the ears. Once injured players are recovered and participating. Based on those two facts alone, this has the makings of at least three or four steps in the right direction; now, whether those steps translate into wins, who knows.
Looking at Cal’s 2014 schedule, there is “A” bright spot. And there are “A Lot” of bleak ones (Arizona, Stanford, USC, Oregon, Washington, etc.). The bright spot is a September 6th meeting with FCS Sacramento State. Mind you, the Hornets of Sacramento State defeated Oregon State in 2011. But that was 2011. Fast forward three years later. With second year, record-setting quarterback Jared Goff at the helm, quality receivers, and a respectable ground game, this has the makings of a potential barn burner. I give the Golden Bears the 42-35 advantage.
Offensively, Cal has real potential. During the 2013 campaign, Cal was ranked 11th in the country for passing yards per game. That’s right, 11th in the country! That’s pretty impressive for a team with only one, I say, “1” win. Barring injury and having a year under the proverbial belt, there’s a chance that last year’s ranking can improve. Now, their rushing game left something to be desired; 109th overall (122 yds. /game). Of course stats can be deceiving. If you look at the numbers without statistical ranking (331 pass yds. /game and 122 rush yds. / game), you’d think these are respectable numbers offensively. However, you need to take into consideration, the type of offense some of these schools run. Cal’s Bear Raid offense is pass-oriented. I can’t imagine Cal running the ball 30-35 times per game. It’s counter intuitive. But let me enlighten you with this, if Cal’s rushing attack were to average 50 more yards per game, their run game would be ranked 50th in the country. Just 50 more yards!
The real test and the bane of Cal’s existence is their defense. Ranked 122nd overall; with New Mexico State the worst overall at 123rd. Again, Cal suffered a slew of injuries on the defensive side of the ball. It’s hard to say how much better they could’ve been had they not contracted the injury bug. I’ve got to shrug my shoulders with that one. But, those injured players are back and I’m willing to bet those rankings will improve. I’m not talking top 50 or 60, but somewhere in the 70’s or 80’s. Cal isn’t a defensively minded program. They never really were. Now, they’ve had some standout defensive players which made the defense a better unit overall, but that’s about it. Honestly speaking, looking at this season’s schedule, I’d say a ranking in the 90’s and low 100’s is a fair assessment. As impressive as it is to see the ball fly around the yard, Cal’s got to spend some time and build up their defense, if not for a quality player or two, or three.
I’m going to set my expectation bar extremely low this year for Cal. Not because I don’t think there’s any upside, well, offensively, yes; but I try to look at the other vantage points. The Pac-12 is no cakewalk conference. I would say six to seven teams are potential top 25 programs. Also, it’s going to take some time to develop Cal’s program under Sonny Dykes. I know college football operates under a “win now” mindset. Gone are the days of player and program development. I can only hope there are enough glimpses of promise to allow for more time for Sonny Dykes to right his ship. Plus, with a little more success, Cal may be able to attract a few more players to continue rebuild a program that had savored some success a few years back. Because I’m a Bay Area native and I live minutes from Cal, I’ll toss a little hometown pride in my prediction. I’m saying 3-9. I know, it’s not the most popular prediction, but given what’s on the table with talent and strength of schedule, it’s fairly accurate. But, I will point out under my prediction; Cal will have increased their wins by 200%. When presented like this, it takes the edge off, a little. I’m not going to predict which teams Cal will earn victories from. That’ll spoil the suspense. You’ll just have to stay tuned.
All in all, I believe that the 2014 California Golden Bears will take those progressive steps forward; even if for a few paw prints. I’m going to keep the faith. When it’s all said and done, I’m optimistic that the effort displayed on the field will warrant Sonny Dykes and co. another opportunity to bring respectability back to Golden Bear country.
Changing your allegiance from one team to another is considered blasphemy to most sports fans. I am currently considering a blasphemous course of action.
Let me fill you in on a little background, so you don’t pass judgement on me before explaining my reasoning.
I grew up as a Cal Bears, because both my grandparents, my mom, and my cousin attended UC Berkeley. Some of my earliest childhood memories were tailgating with my grandparents and their friends before attending a Cal game. Of course, who could forget the Big Game against Stanford that left John Elway crying like a little baby. My grandparents were at that game and would retell the events of that infamous day at every family gathering for the next 20 years. The only problem with growing up as a Cal fan during the 80’s and 90’s was that they sucked each and every year.
Fast forward to the 21st century with the arrival of new coach Jeff Tedford. Cal finally became relevant for the first time in my life. They were regularly ranked and were even number one for about an hour. I was finally proud to be a Cal fan and was even able to start talking smack to fans of other Pac-12 schools. Cal regularly dominated Stanford and was only a step behind the almighty USC Trojans. Life was great as a Cal Bear fan, but all of that was about to change. Cal’s gradual demise seemed to begin as Stanford began to ascend. Cal went from a team who would regularly finish the season with something like a 10-2 record to one with a 7-5 record. 7-5 would’ve been great back in the 80’s but Cal fans got greedy, myself included. We thought Tedford was no longer the offensive guru he once was and had fallen behind the times. Also, Cal hadn’t had a decent quarterback since Aaron Rodgers had graduated. This culminated into the fans calling for the firing of the once heralded savior Jeff Tedford. We finally got our wish when Tedford was fired and Sonny Dykes was brought in from the offensive powerhouse Louisiana Tech. His use of the spread offense was sure to compete against Oregon and put Cal back into the national spotlight. He appeared to be the right choice at the right time. Appearances can sometimes be deceptive, and in the case of Sonny Dykes, this was exactly the case.
So here’s my dilemma. I just moved to Oregon a week ago, and I was thinking to myself that this would be the perfect opportunity to switch my allegiance from the Bears to the Ducks. After all, I can’t imagine Cal winning more than two games this year and I’m sure Oregon will once again be in championship contention throughout the season, especially with the new playoff system. Saturdays would be a lot more fun watching my new favorite team and its’ high powered offense steamrolling its’ way through the Pac-12. The other alternative is to continue to root for Cal as they once again dwell in the cellar of the Pac-12 and get pounced upon by the likes of Washington St. I mean, if those are your two choices, doesn’t the answer seem obvious? If you’re on a sinking boat that you have loved and taken care of for years, and a beautiful new shiny yacht comes by, isn’t the obvious choice to jump of your beloved boat and swim towards the yacht? It seems like a simple solution, but can one really just simply switch favorite teams? What if Cal became relevant again; could I flip-flop back to Cal? Wouldn’t that make me more of a politician than a sports fan? These questions all need careful examination before I make my decision.
I couldn’t make this transition to any Pac-12 team. I’ve always despised USC and that will never change. I also could never become a fan of Stanford, because that would hit to close to home. Throw in UCLA too, because they’re from Southern California and my NorCal roots force me to hate every team from SoCal. Wait, I grew a fan of Magic Johnson and the L.A. Lakers. Now, I’m a Golden State Warriors fan. That’s great, I can switch allegiances from one team to another. The only problem is that my switch from the Lakers to the Warriors was an organic change that evolved over the course of a decade. It wasn’t a conscious decision, rather it was a result of being a product of my environment. I got caught up in the Warriors excitement during the We Believe year. I went to their first home playoff game against the Dallas Mavericks and was hooked. I’ve got it, all I have to do is go to this year’s Civil War game against Oregon St and boom, the process will repeat itself.
Although this sounds like a nice idea, I can guarantee that I will be rooting for Cal as they get upset by Sacramento State, lose to Colorado at home, and follow that up with a loss to Wassou. But wait, what if it really was possible to switch favorite teams? Then I could plan for a trip back to the Bay Area in late October and watch Oregon trounce Cal at Levi’s Stadium. How sweet would that be to be able to celebrate my new favorite team’s victory at the 49ers’ brand new stadium in Santa Clara. Now that’s a plan. It’s time to get to work, because I have less than five months left to convince myself that I am officially an Oregon Ducks’ fan.
Cal’s current head coach, Sonny Dykes, hails from the Air Raid coaching tree, which includes names like Mike Leach, Dana Holgersen, Hal Mumme, and now, Texas Tech’s youthful Kliff Kingsbury. Mention any one of these coaches, and you conjure up gaudy offensive statistics and an unflinching commitment to football’s passing game. Dykes’ high flying Louisiana Tech offense was no different, and its statistical success likely played a large part in landing him his current position at Cal.
The Air Raid theory of offense (and all of its derivatives) is based around the complete mastery of a few relatively simple passing concepts in which receivers and quarterbacks are given the freedom to adjust routes on the fly. These plays are practiced endlessly, so that adjustments eventually become second nature, and victory can be achieved through execution rather than complex scheming. The second major tenet of the Air Raid, and the one responsible for its name, is a total commitment to passing the football at any down and distance. Air Raid quarterbacks consistently rack up passing yards because they throw the ball over40 times a game. Cal’s own Jared Goff attempted 531 passes in 2013, about 44 per game. Their statistics are further inflated by quick receivers who gain most of their yardage after the catch. Wes Welker, Michael Crabtree, and Tavon Austin thrived on this in college, and Welker even made a pro career out of it.
In theory, this scheme fits Cal’s personnel to a T. Cal cranks out speedy receivers (think about the electrifying Desean Jackson, a Cal product), and they have a quarterback with enough arm to throw the ball 50 times a game. Despite only having a single offseason in Dykes’ new offense, Cal still found offensive success and broke many of its own yardage records. Unfortunately, Jared Goff and co. had a difficult time finding the endzone, and finished the season with the dismal record of 1-11. Some of the blame for Cal’s lack of success can safely be assigned to the growing pains that come with the first year of a new coaching staff, and even more to the team’s struggling defense. The biggest contributing factor, however, is not found anywhere within Cal’s football program. Rather, it lies in the greater
world of football, where at every level, passing has become more and more commonplace. The Air Raid, 50 pass-a-game offense is not the revolution it was when Mike Leach and Hal Mumme cooked it up at Iowa Wesleyan. The novelty has largely worn off. Everyone throws the ball nowadays, and, as shown by theSeahawks’ 43-8 drubbing of the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos, defenses are catching up.
The point of all this is that scheme alone cannot carry Sonny Dykes to a PAC-12 title. Cal cannot expect to win by outscoring its opponents, especially with the offensive powerhouse lurking in Eugene, nor would getting in a shootout every weekend be a viable strategy for consistent success. Rival Stanford and USC pose another hurdle with their dominant ground games, and it’s not like the rest of the PAC-12 is a cakewalk. Cal even has to contend with a Washington State led by Mike Leach himself, arguably the greatest Air Raid guru (though Washington State’s offense faces similar problems). For Cal to claim a perch at the top of the conference, Dykes will have to challenge his own roots as an offensive-minded coach. The 2013 Bears defense was laughable at best, and, though Dykes hired a new defensive coordinator, he himself needs to do a better job of connecting with his defense. Furthermore, while he has shown himself to be a capable orchestrator on offense, he needs to demonstrate the ability to inspire toughness and fortitude in his offensive personnel. Though they’ve had their fair share of pretty touchdown grabs, they have not shown the stubborn physicality to compete with some of the PAC-12’s nastier defenses. The first year under Dykes will be written off as a honeymoon year (justifiably so) but the second will not. In year two, Sonny Dykes and his staff must find that ever so elusive “it” factor to fire up and unite the Bears, or it will be every bit as forgettable as year one.
Some say the best thing about the BCS is that it exposed the Big Ten, who allegedly received way too much credit for their strength on the football field over the years. I’ve always rejected that notion, but the past couple of years has made it difficult to argue. I still think it’s more of a recent thing than a historic thing, but we live in the present, and it is what it is.
It’s been somewhat of a running joke, between Damien Bowman and I, that the Big Ten is hardly worth our time, here at the College Football Roundtable. For me, it’s basically just satire, but I think the Big Ten shame is all business with my podcast partner. Look, there’s some merit to it, which goes far beyond Ohio State losing back-to-back National Championships; top to bottom, the Big Ten really doesn’t have it, whatever it may be.
For this conference’s Year-In-Review, we’re going to take a sarcastic or satirical approach, to feed the trolls, if you will. I offer you a brief summary of what happened to each team, how they feed that narrative (that the conference should be relegated to the FCS), and why that assessment just might be wrong. Granted, criticism might be natural in some cases and whoever “they” are, “they” might not be wrong in saying whatever negative things they tend to say about some of these programs.
What happened in 2013? It was a rough first year for Darrell Hazell in West Lafayette. Their lone victory came, and it didn’t come easily in a matchup with in-state FCS rival Indiana State. Indiana State’s only win came over a school named Quincy; I had to look this up, but the Quincy Hawks are a Division II school in Illinois that finished near the bottom of the Great Lakes Valley Conference. A week after holding off a late comeback surge from Indiana State, they lost to Notre Dame by a single touchdown, and then went on to lose to everyone except Illinois by double digits. Their signature moments included the 31-24 loss to Purdue and a 14-0 loss to Michigan State, if that tells you anything about the 2013 Boilermakers.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…I had to look up Quincy University to demonstrate how meaningless their win over Indiana State was. They didn’t score a single point between October 12th and November 9th, which was only two games, but still.
That’s wrong, because…it isn’t Purdue’s fault that Indiana State stunk. They did win that game 70-7. And as far as the near-month-long scoring drought is concerned, that was Michigan State, Ohio State, and a bye week, but still.
What happened in 2013? They took down the really bad teams on their schedule, lost to the teams that were heavily favored, and snuck in a few surprises in games that I’d have considered a coin flip. After Cincinnati punished Purdue 42-7 in Week 1, the Illini weren’t ready to let Cincinnati think they were a Big Ten-caliber team, with a 45-17 drubbing of Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats. They had a respectable showing in defeat at Soldier Field, to what we believed to be a pretty good Washington team at the time, losing 34-24. They did what they were supposed to do to Miami, the MAC conference’s bottom feeder, then the Big Ten had their way with them. Tim Beckman is certainly on the hot seat in Champaign, after a week finish that included a 4-point win over hapless Purdue and a loss to a broken Northwestern team at home.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…they managed to score 32 points or more in four of their losses, and three of those were by at least 17. It speaks volumes to the level of defense they pretend to play in the Big Ten, when the second worst team in the leauge is putting up video game numbers on offense.
That’s wrong, because…they might have been all that terrible after all; they might just need to work on their defense that allowed 60 points to Ohio State and 56 to Wisconsin. The only utter beating they took was 42-3 loss to Michigan State, magnified by the fact that it was not only a home game, but the Homecoming Game.
What happened in 2013? Northwestern came out of the gate at 4-0, with non-conference wins over the Pac-12 and ACC, and then a couple of tune-up games against the MAC and FCS. They were ranked, and deservedly so, with Ohio State coming to town for a game on national TV; Ohio State outlasted them, winning by 10 on a fluke touchdown in the end. Unfortunately, that was the first of seven straight losses the Wildcats, bitten badly by injury, suffered. The losing streak was gut-wrenching, but not as bad as it might sound. Nebraska needed a Hail Mary, and they took Michigan to three overtimes, before losing 27-19 at home in a game they had plenty of opportunities to win. They salvaged the season, to a certain extent, with a season-ending victory at Illinois.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…the Wildcats were ranked, then lost 7 consecutive games. Now, it isn’t Northwestern’s fault they were, perhaps, overrated. Venric Mark was hurt all year, and Kain Colter missed significant time, but a lack of depth in Evanston really cost Pat Fitzgerald a chance at a good season and a bowl game.
That’s wrong, because…they didn’t get to play Purdue, which easily could have been a bowl-clinching sixth win for the Cats. People, over time, forgot how close they came against Ohio State. And, it’s okay to dismiss Ohio State as nothing on the national stage, but in Big Ten-speak, they remain the cream of the crop.
What happened in 2013? If you don’t count Michigan in this group, they were probably the best of the bad teams in the Big Ten. They, like Purdue, had a chance to tee off against Indiana State, then lost a close one to Navy, beat eventual MAC champion Bowling Green, and didn’t play dead against SEC runner-up Missouri. Kevin Wilson has them playing offense; they put up 28 against Michigan State and Missouri, and couldn’t quite finish drives at Ohio State, where they had one of the more impressive 28-point losses you’ll ever see.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…nobody respects Bowling Green or Penn State, easily the Hoosiers best two victories of the year. What people will notice is a 51-3 loss at Wisconsin, and maybe even yielding 36 points to Purdue at home to wrap up another season without a bowl in Bloomington.
That’s wrong, because…they aren’t necessarily waiting for the hoops season to start in August any more. Like I said, the offense can do good things, but the defense needs to do what traditional Big Ten fans so desperately miss about this league, and that’s tackling the ball carrier.
What happened in 2013? What always happens in Ann Arbor? When Michigan beats Notre Dame, everyone is ready to hand them the crystal football, and says never mind that they almost lost to Akron and Connecticut. Then, when they poo the bed in Happy Valley, a 4OT loss, and everyone is canceling their flights from Detroit to Pasadena in January. Their only victory after a 63-47 shootout win over Indiana on October 19th was a triple OT miracle at Northwestern. The highlight of their season might have been a 1-point loss/moral victory at home against Ohio State to end the regular season.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…I asked, and got a serious answer from Lost Letterman’s Jim Weber (a Michigan guy), how much are they missing Rich Rod in Ann Arbor? Brady Hoke’s days are probably numbered at Michigan. I mean, this is supposed to one of the conference’s banner programs!
That’s wrong, because…Notre Dame! They beat #14 Notre Dame in September, the same Notre Dame that just played for a National Championship in January. The Irish came into the Big House, and they lost 41-30. LOUD NOISES!
What happened in 2013? With no big picture to think about for the next three years, Penn State has the advantage of not carrying that burden of what happens to them in December or January. A 3-point loss to Central Florida at home looked a lot worse when it happened in September than it turned out to be. A 20-point loss at Indiana can probably be taken at face value, ditto for the loss at Minnesota, but the Michigan meltdow in quadruple overtime probably would have served at the season’s best moment, if it weren’t for their stunning upset at Camp Randall over Wisconsin, which ended the season for probationary Penn State.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…Jerry Sandusky! The kids! The conference advocates that behavior. It really is no joking matter, what happened under Joe Paterno’s watch at Penn State, but it’s time to move forward. In all seriousness, they probably gave the conference a black eye by shocking Wisconsin in Madison; the Big Ten might have been able to boast about three elite teams otherwise.
That’s wrong, because…this probation is going to hit Penn State harder each year, given the scholarship reductions after surviving the intital set of transfers. Ultimately, probation is what made the departure so easy for Bill O’Brien after 2 seasons, but might lead to an upgrade with James Franklin running things now.
What happened in 2013? Jerry Kill spent some time in the hospital, but what else is new? The Gophers did a decent job keeping the out-of-conference schedule soft, so they could enter league play at 4-0. That meant they’d only need to win two games in conference to qualify for the post-season. After a couple of sound beatings from Iowa and Michigan, you wondered how realistic that was, but they didn’t win two games. They won four, in a row, against Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana, and Penn State. They dropped their final three contests, including the Texas Bowl, but you have to think they’d take 8-4 with a December bowl every year in those parts.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…they feast on the Mountain West, the WAC orphans, and FCS competition. In Minnesota’s case, guilty as charged; the path to 4-0 went through UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and San Jose State.
That’s wrong, because…they’re Minnesota. They were on the level with Syracuse in the bowl game, but no one will be confusing them with Ohio State or Michigan State anytime soon. It’s when they play a non-conference slate like that, and come away 2-2, that they deserve the knock.
What happened in 2013? THey didn’t play a game away from Lincoln until October 12th, which was a layup against Purdue in West Lafayette. They had a good chance to be 5-0, but they couldn’t capitalize on UCLA sleep-walking through the first half, and had their own 2nd half meltdown, allowing the Bruins to escape the Heartland with a 41-21 win. They would lose their second road contest, a 34-23 game at Minnesota, which would have been more of a black eye, if the Gophers didn’t have the great season (by their standards) that they had. No shame in losing to Michigan State, even at home, but beign humiliated in their regular season finale, at home against Iowa, is a different story altogether. Many, perhaps including Bo Pellini, were surprised that Pellini was permitted to coach another game for Big Red, but he answered the call with TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl win over Georgia.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…everyone was a little too proud that the Big Ten achieved victory against an SEC school’s taxi squad in Jacksonville on New Year’s Day. Nebraska has proven to be very average in the Big Ten, in its first three years since defecting from the Big 12.
That’s wrong, because…Nebraska hadn’t been anything special in the Big 12 for many years either. If anything, the immediate success of Missouri and Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference might suggest that the SEC is more sizzle than substance.c
What happened in 2013? Something had to give with Northern Illinois, who had suffered some heart-breaking losses to the Hawkeyes, both at Soldier Field and Kinnick Stadium, and it finally did in this year’s opener in Iowa City. After that, the Hawks had a very respectable season; losing to the consensus Top 3 teams in the Big Ten, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. They also made the mistake of scheduling the 2013 chapter of Michigan State for their Homecoming, but who saw them coming? They suffered an unfortunate setback in the Outback Bowl, a game they were very much in, when they lost their starting quarterback and ended up losing the game 21-14.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…Iowa is its 4th best team. Iowa can only be viewed in one way to support the narrative; they lost to a MAC school that was clobbered in back-to-back games by Bowling Green and Utah State. It’s no wonder they couldn’t handle the SEC in a bowl game.
That’s wrong, because…expectations were relatively tapered for the 2013 season. Weisman for Heisman was fun to say, but not realistic. I’m sure they would have rather not lost to Northern Illinois, but the way that game was sold, you’d have almost thought Iowa was the underdog in their season opener, and not the other way around.
What happened in 2013? Forget the 93-0 combined scores of the Badgers’ first two games at home against Who and Who Tech, because BYU and Arizona State make for a decent out of conference lineup. Of course, in traveling to Pac-12 country, Gary Andersen’s team had to deal with Pac-12 officials. They played the Sun Devils pretty evenly in Tempe, but most certainly had 18 seconds taken away from them, 18 seconds that may have afforded them the opportunity to win, but instead they lost. A few weeks later, they lost Ohio State, in a game they were expected to lose. Then, they blew everyone out, except BYU, until Penn State shocked them at home to close out the season. They ran into a very tough South Carolina team in Orlando on New Year’s Day, and dropped a game where they lost their starting quarterback.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…Wisconsin didn’t even play Michigan State. Their best win was either at Iowa or at Minnesota, and this is the third best team in the Big Ten. That’s a hand down assessment, isn’t it? Would you really argue with anyone that said this 2013 Badger team was on the same level as the previous two, who lost Rose Bowls?
That’s wrong, because…while I think Michigan State would have beaten them, I think they showed that they could hold their own against South Carolina. And while there are no trophies given for moral victories, if you can hang with Urban Meyer’s and Steve Spurrier’s teams, you could probably hang with every team in the country that didn’t make it to a BCS game. So, this isn’t a ringing endorsement, but how many nice things can you say about a team with these expectations losing to Penn State on Senior Day?
What happened in 2013? Well, the same thing happened with Ohio State in 2013 that happened in 2012; the Buckeyes went 12-0, only this time they were burdened with post-season games. Once again, nobody was blown away by the Buckeyes schedule, both in and out of conference; as it turns out, they got Central Florida a year too soon and the team with the most curb appeal, Cal, in the worst possible year ever. As it turned out, Buffalo and San Diego State both played in a bowl game, the same bowl game, but nobody cares about that. Nobody would have cared about them beating Iowa, Wisconsin, and Penn State, and nobody would have cared if they played Nebraska and Minnesota, but since they did not see the Cornhuskers or Golden Gophers, I’m sure someone made a big deal about that. What everyone will remember is the last 3 games, the near-miss in Ann Arbor, and the neutral site whiffs in Indianapolis and Miami, to the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl Champions. Most overrated 24-0 team ever, right?
The Big Ten is terrible, because…TATTOOS, MAURICE CLARETT, RAFFLES AT YOUNGSTOWN STATE! Honestly though, it helps the cause if they regroup from the 34-24 loss in the conference championship and finish against Clemson in a showcase game like the Orange Bowl. If they were the only thing the Big Ten had going for itself, it would be a very sad state of affairs, sadder than it already is.
That’s wrong, because…digging up Tressel era scandals is dumb, and how dare we disrespect Michigan State and Clemson in such ways to suggest the Buckeyes are terrible! Michigan State over Stanford in Pasadena helps their cause; as does Clemson over Georgia in Death Valley, but is there a signature win from any of Ohio State’s other 12 opponents, perhaps one they actually defeated, that gives them a case here?
What happened in 2013? It took Michigan State a few weeks to hit their stride offensively, what to do without Le’veon Bell in the backfield, and they lost a sluggish contest to Notre Dame, 17-13 in South Bend. They figured out the formula was Jeremy Langford running with a slightly different design to the offense, and they never lost again, like ever. However, it wasn’t until November, after holding Michigan to 6 points, that the intimidating Spartans’ D was anything more than a cool story. Personally, I started talking myself into this team beating Ohio State, something that ended up happening. After taking down the Buckeyes, I was convinced they could take down Stanford, my pre-season pick to be the National Champ. They did that too.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…they lost to Notre Dame! Stanford lost to Utah! Ohio State lost to Clemson! Nothing they did means anything; the Rose Bowl trophy, the Big Ten Championship, it all meant nothing! I mean, didn’t Purdue play Notre Dame close? Didn’t Notre Dame lost to Pitt? And, what the hell was up with Max Bullough?
That’s wrong, because…they won without Bullough, against one of the better rushing teams in the country. Even if Stanford lost to Utah, they won what everyone seems to believe is the second-best conference in the country. Even if Ohio State had their quirks, and we admit that they did, they weren’t a bad team for losing to the Spartans and Clemson. In a playoff, they’d have had a crack at Auburn or Florida State, but I’m not going to speculate on the results of the unknown in that case. If you think Michigan State stunk, you don’t have an open mind about things.
Archives of sports websites no longer available on the Internet