Tag Archives: Illinois

Big Ten Power Rankings

The College Football Playoff rankings are officially out for the first time and what was once seen as a potential lifesaver for the Big Ten has done the conference no favors. The playoff was supposed to create three more opportunities at the title but at this juncture in time, not even six spots would be enough for the conference to qualify as MSU checks in at No. 8 in the initial rankings and in a mild but completely understandable surprise, Nebraska is 15th just ahead of Ohio State.
 
It is clear that the Buckeyes massive defeats were overshadowed by their blemishes including a double overtime scare from Penn State and a Week 2 home loss to an unranked 4-4 Virginia Tech team, even though it was before J.T. Barrett truly blossomed. Yes, I know there is a ton of football yet to be played and everything could become gobbledygook near the top but these early rankings are far from encouraging for the Big Ten. And just for argument’s sake even if the Spartans were ranked higher than they are now, they would need other leagues to stumble. Thursday night’s matchup between Florida State and Louisville would’ve been huge for the conference if Louisville hung on to win but the Seminoles came back and it’s hard to fathom them losing again this year, guaranteeing them a spot. And it’s all but certain given the strength of the SEC West, two SEC teams get in, leaving one spot left. The Big Ten would be in a competition with the Big 12 champ, Pac-12 champ, and Notre Dame for that final spot and based on what has transpired this season, I would say the Big Ten will be left out even if MSU, OSU or even Nebraska wins the rest of the way.
If there is any silver lining, last year at this time with the BCS, MSU was No. 22 and six weeks later would’ve qualified for a playoff spot so it remains to be seen what happens but early signs aren’t great for the Big Ten. All the conference can do is continue having its top tier teams win out and hope for the best, which brings us back to an updated power rankings lineup.
1. Michigan State Spartans
Record: 7-1 overall, 4-0 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 1.
The Spartans have now won 14 consecutive Big Ten games but unlike seasons past, their defense has been more vulnerable to the big play. Fortunately, after throttling Michigan again, MSU has earned a nice bye week to recuperate and work out the kinks in preparation for the biggest game of the year.
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Record: 7-1 overall, 3-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 3
Nebraska set the tone early as Ameer Abdullah continued his dazzling season by churning out a school record for total yardage in a single game with 341 yards in a victory over Rutgers. It was the fourth time this season he has gone over 200 yards.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 7-1 overall, 3-0 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 2
The Buckeyes barely hung on to defeat Penn State as J.T. Barrett rose to the occasion in overtime and Joey Bosa was a one man wrecking crew. The Buckeyes can let out a collective sigh of relief as they face Illinois in a nice tune-up game before the grand showdown with MSU next weekend.
4. Wisconsin Badgers
Record: 5-2 overall, 2-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 9
In their most complete and balanced performance of the season, the Badgers shined with stout defense (held Terps to 175 yards), efficient passing from QB Joel Stave and of course, Melvin Gordon running over everything in his path. Rutgers, who was singlehandedly demolished by Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah could be in for another long day with Gordon hitting his stride.
5. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Record: 6-2 overall, 3-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 4
The Illinois defense forced three costly turnovers including the game-changing fumble in the fourth quarter and though David Cobb finished with118 yards, he was held to 34 yards for nearly three quarters. If they can’t get passed Illinois, they definitely are in trouble four top-tier teams are coming up in the future: Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
6. Maryland Terrapins
Record: 5-3 overall, 2-2 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 10
A week following a jovial win over Iowa, the Terrapins were decimated by Wisconsin 52-7 in their worst loss of the year and it remains to be seen if they can rebound from such a crushing defeat especially with a tough schedule ahead. The Terps aren’t ready to take on the B1Gs elite.
7. Iowa Hawkeyes
Record: 5-2 overall, 2-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 6
The Hawkeyes are still in the thick of the West division title race and control their own destiny even with a troubling loss to Maryland last week. However, if they want to rise to the top, there needs to be much improvement especially on defense and offensive line.
8. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Record: 5-3 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 8
Rutgers attempted to drive down the field in the final minute of the second quarter only to have QB Gary Nova suffer a leg injury and it proved to be costly, as the Scarlet Knights were handed their second straight loss after an encouraging six game start.
9. Northwestern Wildcats
Record: 3-4 overall, 2-2 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 5
Even with a 3-4 overall record, there is still plenty to play for in the coming weeks and we have seen spurts of brilliance from this team but if it is going to be a successful season, it has to start this week at Iowa. It also must win three of its final five games to become bowl eligible
10. Penn State Nittany Lions
Record: 4-3 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 7
Even in an overtime loss to Ohio State, Penn State delivered a valiant effort to comeback after a 17-0 deficit at halftime against the second best team in the conference. If only their offense was not so stagnant and had an offensive line that could adequately block to compliment a strong defense.
11. Purdue Boilermakers
Record: 3-5 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 12
Purdue was off last weekend in their quest for constant improvement following two competitive outings and a breakthrough win against Illinois. Now comes the hardest part of the schedule with Nebraska and Wisconsin next on tap.
12. Illinois Fighting Illini
Record: 4-4 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 14
A poised effort from QB Reilly O’Toole coupled with decisive defense and solid coaching helped the Illini put away Minnesota in their first Big Ten win since 2011. They will need their defense to play like it did against Minnesota if they are to win two more games and make a bowl.
13. Michigan Wolverines
Record: 3-5 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 13
Even with two weeks to prepare for MSU, the Wolverines looked dazed and confused especially on offense in another lackadaisical outing and need to win out the rest of the season just to finish above .500.
14. Indiana Hoosiers
Record: 3-4 overall, 0-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 11
It is hard to imagine how far this team has fallen ever since their signature win over Missouri, arguably the best nonconference victory of the Big Ten. Yet, without injured QB Nate Sudfeld, the Hoosiers are a one-man show with Tevin Coleman and he can’t do everything by himself.

Shades of Gary

On September 15, 2012, the stars aligned and Wisconsin got its first look at the man who the Badgers would call their coach three months later when the Badgers met Utah State in an unexpectedly tense showdown at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. As Andersen would later state in an interview after being named the head coach for the Badgers, “it all came together” on that fateful Saturday.
Wisconsin’s 2012 season was full of disappointment and struggles. The Badgers began the season with high expectations after getting a second high profile quarterback transfer in Danny O’Brien and coming out with an offense with better balance. Unfortunately, O’Brien never lived up to expectations and was woefully ineffective, eventually leading to his benching and later his departure from the school. Coming into the Utah State game, Wisconsin had won a close game against Northern Iowa, lost a controversial close game against Oregon State, and was looking at Utah State as a “get right” type of matchup. It never happened and Wisconsin entered the second half down 14-3. Montee Ball ran into the line over and over again for seemingly no yards, but ended the day with a surprising 139 yards. Both punters were kept busy with Utah State punting 11 times and Wisconsin punting 9.
Josh Thompson is a man who no one knows and who no one is expected to know. However, thousands of Wisconsin football fans know him for doing one thing. Josh Thompson was the kicker for Utah State who missed a potential game winning 37-yard field goal that allowed the Badgers to escape the game with a 16-14 victory. In many ways, Thompson’s missed field goal could have provided an extra push during Wisconsin’s courtship of Gary Andersen. The athletic department, players, and fans all knew that Gary Andersen had outcoached, outexecuted, and outschemed Wisconsin for the entire game only to be let down by a kicker who was attempting his first field goal of a still very new season.
The movement of college coaches is a brutal business. Bret Bielema angered fans as he sprinted to Arkansas days after winning the Big Ten championship against Nebraska. Wisconsin’s football program responded by returning the favor and prying Gary Andersen away from a Utah State program that he built from the ground up approximately two weeks later. If the premise that the Badgers had no idea that Bielema wanted to leave is to be believed, the Wisconsin athletic department operated with incredible celerity in assembling a list of viable candidates, interviewing them, and then offering a position to a new head coach. Considering the hurry, it isn’t inconceivable that Wisconsin, in a moment of conceit and elitism, decided that if Gary Andersen was nearly good enough to topple a Big Ten power with his Utah State players, then he must be an extraordinary coach who, when given Wisconsin’s superior resources and player talent, would bring the program to national prominence. The extremely limited timetable for the hiring process coupled with competition for Andersen’s services might be coming back to haunt the Badgers this season.
Wisconsin was not the only school which pursued Andersen. He was a hot coaching candidate because he took Utah State, a school which had to deal with the reputation of not even being the best in its own state, and turned it into a ranked team. Kentucky, Colorado, and California were reportedly in pursuit of Andersen’s services before the Badgers called. Like the game against Utah State earlier in the year, this scenario created a perfect environment for making a quick, hasty decision. Wisconsin needed a coach, they found someone who had impressed them early in the season, Andersen was willing to come to Madison, and everything looked good. It was the type of decision that everyone involved hoped would work so critics would never analyze the move closely. However, in the same way that “winning cures all,” losing bring scrutiny. And Gary Andersen has been involved in some head scratching situations this season.
The start of the 2014 season against LSU unearthed an injury “controversy” when Melvin Gordon was conspicuously absent from the second half of the game. There was a “miscommunication” between the two about hip injury that was not mentioned in any of the postgame activities or interviews, but surfaced a day later, enough time for everyone involved to get their stories straight. How a coach and his best offensive weapon can manage to avoid one another for an entire half and “miscommunicate” is a mystery that Andersen managed to fall into. As a stand alone, one-off situation, Melvin Gordon injury-gate could have been written off as a fluke. Yet only a few weeks later, Andersen managed to raise the stakes and embroil himself and his players in another sticky situation.
A sure-fire way to split a fan base is to add fuel to an already brewing quarterback controversy. Gary Andersen began the season with a surprise move when he named Tanner McEvoy the starter. McEvoy had a bad passing game against LSU, but there were many excuses for his poor play: it was the first game of the season, he was a first time starter playing on a national stage, he was under pressure. Underlying all those excuses, the question of “Could Joel Stave have done better?” lingered in the minds of fans. However, Stave supposedly had the yips, a mental block that causes throwers to inexplicably lose the ability to throw accurately, and was in no condition to start for the Badgers. McEvoy’s job was safe.
In their game against Northwestern, the most glaring example of an untrustworthy and shady Gary Andersen surfaced. Joel Stave replaced Tanner McEvoy late in the first half and stayed in to complete the game. While Tanner McEvoy has struggled throughout the season and been inconsistent throwing the ball, the way Stave was brought back into quarterback mix was perplexing. For someone who supposedly had the yips, Stave miraculously got his moxie back in the week of practice prior to the Northwestern game. This scenario seems unlikely, if not impossible, as baseball players such as Chuck Knoblauch and Rick Ankiel, athletes with considerably greater arm talent than Stave, got hit with the yips and were never the same for the remainder of their careers. Both even changed positions with Ankiel making the more dramatic change by converting from a pitcher to an outfielder. Either Joel Stave has superhuman mental healing powers and has defied the odds by eliminating the yips in a week, or Gary Andersen and his coaching staff are trying to control the narrative and engage in damage control after the man they named the starter at the beginning of the year has failed to produce at acceptable levels. Were Stave’s struggles real? Did Andersen or his staff mark Stave with the yips moniker to give him a few more weeks to heal, and if so, why would they have used the yips as an excuse instead of simply pointing at his injury and saying there was a set back?
If the Northwestern loss and the uninspired 97-yard passing performance against Illinois is any indication, poor quarterback play will be an unfortunate, but constant, theme of Wisconsin’s 2014 season. For now, Wisconsin seems poised to proceed with a two quarterback system, presumably with Stave being put in for passing downs and McEvoy being used as a dual threat option. Based on how the season has progressed so far, Gary Andersen seems bound to do something else that is perplexing, mystifying, and maybe even shady.

Big Ten Week 6 Sampler

Best of the Best
Rutgers QB Gary Nova: Nova threw four touchdowns in the Scarlet Knights’ 31-6 win over Tulane, hitting 9 of 9 throws for 195 yards and three scores in the first half alone. As a result, he became the school leader in passing touchdowns with 61 in 38 games.
Maryland LB Cole Farrand: He recorded 19 tackles, the highest single-game tackle total in the Big Ten this season, including 1.5 tackles for loss, to lead Maryland over Indiana.
Minnesota RB David Cobb: He ran for 183 yards on 32 carries and had three catches for 50 yards as Minnesota retook the Little Brown Jug. Cobb outgained the Wolverines’ entire offense (171 yards) all by himself.
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett The redshirt freshman is quickly becoming the Buckeyes’ leader. In Ohio State’s 50-28 over Cincinnati, Barrett completed 26-of-36 passes for 330 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. He also ran for 79 yards on 14 carries.
Worst of the Worst
Michigan QB Shane Morris: He was supposed to jumpstart and energize the offense as he started for the maligned Devin Gardner but was completely ineffective as he was just 7 for 19 for 49 yards and turned the ball over twice including a pick six by De’Vondre Campbell. Minnesota held the Michigan offense to a grand total of 171 yards.
Penn State Offensive Line: The Nittany Lions have problems on their offensive line and, consequently, in the running game. Northwestern exploited that in as Penn State ran for only 50 total yards, and Christian Hackenberg was sacked four times while also throwing a pick six that broke the game wide open in the fourth.
Illinois Rush Defense: The Illinois Fighting Illini were pretty much doomed from the start. By halftime, Heisman Trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah had rushed for 196 of his 208 yards and scored three touchdowns. In fact, Nebraska churned out a staggering 458 rushing yards out of 624 total yards in the game. The Illini have now lost 16 out of their last 17 Big Ten games.
 
Week 6 Game Previews
Wisconsin vs NW
The Badgers have had considerably sluggish starts in two of their victories, leading Western Illinois just 9-3 at halftime before a 37-3 win and being tied with South Florida 3-3 at halftime before a 27-10 win. A similar start could be hard to overcome since Northwestern (2-2, 1-0) has allowed 13 points, forced six turnovers and recorded eight sacks over the past two weeks. Plus, even though Wisconsin leads the nation in rushing yards per game at 359.7, the Wildcats have held opponents to 2.9 yards per carry after holding Penn State to 50 yards on 25 carries.
Fortunately, the Badgers’ defense, which allows a conference-low 14.5 points per game, has helped them overcome their slow starts. Wisconsin has allowed an average of 226.0 yards in its three victories and has let its four opponents convert just 26.9 percent of their third downs. In last seasons game, the Badger defense came up huge as Wildcats QB Trevor Siemian was sacked five times while converting 13 of 34 passes for 163 yards. Wisconsin is the only FBS squad yet to give up a red zone touchdown this season.
Nebraska vs MSU
In a potential preview of the Big Ten title game, Michigan State, widely considered as the best team in the conference, will take on rival Nebraska, the last remaining undefeated team. Both teams have high-octane offenses. The Spartans are No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring (50.2 ppg); the Cornhuskers are No. 2 (45.4 ppg). Nebraska is No. 1 in total offense (572.6 ypg); Michigan State is No. 3 (515.0 ypg). It will come down to who commits less turnovers. Last November in Lincoln, Michigan State beat the Cornhuskers 41-28 as Bo Pelini’s team committed five turnovers, leading to 24 Spartans points. I expect the game plan for Saturday to include a heavy dose of senior Ameer Abdullah. In the last four years, Nebraska is 18-3 when Abdullah runs for at least 100 yards, and Michigan State is 6-5 during that time when allowing a player to rush for 100. If Michigan State wins, there are no more doubts about the Spartans being the best Big Ten team. If Nebraska comes away with the victory, it should vault itself into the College Football Playoff debate.
Michigan vs Rutgers
Unless Michigan somehow wins the rest of its games, it is pretty much set in stone, at least in my opinion, that Brady Hoke is gone – the only question is when – and is almost laughable that he still thinks this team is capable of winning the Big Ten title. Heading into this weekend, Michigan is a four-point underdog to Rutgers and the Scarlet Knights are playing well, their lone loss coming by three points, 40-37 against West Virginia. A Wolverines’ attack that is last in the Big Ten in scoring (22.0 ppg), 11th in total offense (357.6 ypg) and 12th in passing (172.2 ypg) may find it tough to gain any traction going against a solid RU defensive seven in front of an electric crowd at High Point Solutions Stadium. If Rutgers wants to reach a bowl, it likely will need to win this game with a such a hard schedule coming up. The Scarlet Knights are off after this weekend then play at Ohio State and at Nebraska before coming home to play Wisconsin. Absolutely Brutal.
Ohio State vs Maryland Maryland’s offense is firing on all cylinders, displaying explosive playmaking on both sides of the ball and ranking fifth in the conference in scoring (36.8 ppg). And even though its defense stepped up in last week’s win at Indiana by yielding only 332 yards and 15 points (one TD), the Terps are No. 13 in the league in defense (434.8 ypg) The Buckeyes’ attack also is playing well, ranking No. 3 in the Big Ten in scoring (42.8 ppg) and finished with 710 yards and a school record 45 (!) first downs in a victory over Cincy. But like Maryland, the OSU defense remains suspect. The Buckeyes allowed 422 yards overall and 352 in the air vs. Cincinnati. This could turn into a good old shootout. Maryland could have a big say in the East and if they can somehow knock off Ohio State, it instantly goes from a darkhorse in the Big Ten title race to a legitimate contender. Meanwhile, Ohio State has bounced back nicely after struggling early with a new quarterback and revamped offensive line.
Illinois vs. Purdue
In 2013, the only Big Ten win for the Fighting Illini was an ugly 20-16 win with four turnovers at Purdue to make Tim Beckman 1-16 in conference play. Boilermakers coach Darrell Hazell is still searching for his first Big Ten victory, holding an 0-9 mark and still doesn’t know who to start at quarterback. Purdue needs to revv up its offense (last in the league, 312.0 ypg) while Illinois needs to buckle down on defense (last in the league, 468.6 ypg) especially against the run, giving up 229.6 yards per game. They have given up 1,304 yards and 10 TDs on the ground in the first five games. Only Fresno State and Bowling Green are worse. Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt missed last week with an injury, but he is expected to return this week. He has completed two thirds of his passes and is already well over 1,200 yards. Illinois hasn’t won the Cannon trophy in consecutive seasons since 2002 and Purdue leads the series by a 32-27-2 mark. This Saturday’s meeting will be the 90th meeting between the Illini and the Boilermakers.
North Texas vs. Indiana
The 2-2 North Texas Mean Green of the MAC, coached by Dan McCarney could be a formidable challenge for the Hoosiers as they try to get to 3-2 through five games for the first time since 1995. Indiana’s running back Tevin Coleman, who leads the conference in rushing at 172.8 yards per game and has rushed for over 200 yards in every game this year, takes on a defense that has held three consecutive opponents under 100 yards rushing. Indiana will look to key in on redshirt freshman QB Dajon Williams who completed 11 out of 14 passes for 176 yards with three touchdowns and also ran in two scores. In fact, North Texas is one of only seven FBS teams to score on every trip inside the 20 this season, with 11 touchdowns and two field goals. Indiana lost at North Texas in 2011, the only meeting between the schools.
Power Rankings
1. Michigan State Spartans (3-1, 0-0)
Previous Ranking: 1
No change here as the Spartans ate another nonconference cupcake, taking out Wyoming quickly and decisively in another blowout. MSU is in for a big home test against Nebraska in what could be a preview for the Big Ten title game and prove if the Spartans are the cream of the crop.
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-0, 1-0)
Previous Ranking: 2
Ameer Abdullah pummeled the Fighting Illini for 208 total yards and raised his Heisman Trophy campaign while Nebraska remained unbeaten with a blowout over Illinois. If the Huskers can pull off the upset versus MSU, they will not only be the Big Ten’s leading playoff candidate but also a player in the national title hunt.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (3-1, 0-0)
Previous Ranking: 4
With a 50-28 victory over Cincinatti, the OSU Buckeyes looked like an Urban Meyer team as redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett played like a seasoned veteran and Ezekial Elliott gained 182 yards on the ground. The pass defense is still highly susceptible and needs to be fixed but everything else is running fairly smoothly.
4. Wisconsin Badgers (3-1, 0-0)
Previous Ranking: 5
It remains to be seen who the Badgers really are. Their defense has played solid and kept them in games and while their offense is one of the best running attacks, it has also been inconsistent and lost for periods of time. Fortunately, Wisconsin heads into Saturday with some momentum as Melvin Gordon scored two touchdowns and racked up 131 yards in the second half.
5. Maryland Terrapins (4-1, 1-0)
Previous Ranking: 6
Many scoffed when Maryland was invited to come to the Big Ten saying they would be a doormat but low and behold, this team is showing it is definitely worthy and is achieving more than what might have been expected. Maryland is poised to become an undisputed contender in the East Division with a signature victory over Ohio State this weekend.
6. Minnesota (4-1, 1-0)
Previous Ranking: 10
The Gophers could be – no check that – are a team that will have an impact on the West Division if they continue to play relentless, solid defense and utilize their reliable rushing attack that has stymied opponents. Minnesota definitely earned the Little Brown Jug, holding Michigan to just 171 total yards offensively and pounding the rock with David Cobb for 183 yards.
7. Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-0)
Previous Ranking:8
The Hawkeyes are fortunate they head into a bye week after a sloppy, forgettable performance against Purdue, where they were down 10-0 before rallying for a 24 point turnaround. This team likes to live on the edge as that was the third come-from-behind victory of the young season and one of these times, being down late in the fourth quarter will come back to haunt them.
8. Penn State Nittany Lions (4-1, 1-1)
Previous Ranking: 3
Even though they won their first four games, Christian Hackenberg has struggled at times and their offensive line has been exploited by opposing defenses. In fact, Northwestern held PSU to just 50 yards on 25 carries Saturday. The Lions are just two victories away from being bowl eligible, something almost inconceivable before the season began yet need more consistency for that to be a reality.
9. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-1, 0-1)
Previous Ranking: 7
Even without their starting running back Paul James, backups Desmon Peoples and Justin Goodwin played just fine, combining for 165 yards, while Gary Nova had his best outing of the season, throwing for four touchdowns. Now more than ever, Rutgers has a chance to claim its first conference victory over a disjointed, struggling Michigan team.
10. Indiana Hoosiers (2-2, 0-1)
Previous Ranking: 9
Just when the Hoosiers appeared to turn the page with an upset over Missouri, they reverted back to their old selves, getting humiliated by the Terrapins at home. The defense didnt even show up and cant be trusted while the high-octane, high-scoring offense was held in check to only a single touchdown.
11. Northwestern Wildcats (2-2, 1-0)
Previous Ranking: 14
The Wildcats were all but written off at 1-2 and stuck in the basement of the Big Ten until they decided to actually play against Penn State, which resulted in a stunning upset on the road. They completely shut down the Nittany Lion’s run game and if they can do that this weekend against Wisconsin, things could get really interesting down in Evanston.
12. Illinois Fighting Illini (3-2, 0-1)
Previous Ranking: 12
In spite of the shortcomings of the porous Illini defense, Wes Lunt’s arm has made them an offensive threat and an intriguing team to watch. However, Illinois had no shot at beating the Cornhuskers on the road with him on the sideline. Fortunately, they should get back on track this weekend when they take on a reeling Purdue team.
13. Michigan Wolverines (2-3, 0-1)
Previous Ranking: 11
It continues to blow my mind how low Michigan continues to plummet week after week and just when you think it couldn’t get possibly any worse, it does. Starting Shane Morris at quarterback did nothing to jumpstart and energize an offense but was completely ineffective as he was just 7 for 19 for 49 yards and turned the ball over twice including a pick six by De’Vondre Campbell.
14. Purdue (2-3, 0-1)
Previous Ranking: 13
Another weekend, same result. The Purdue Boilermakers came out strong against the Hawkeyes and the defense played ok for several stretches but in the end, they predictably fell apart as they accumulated just 72 yards in the air. It remains to be seen who will be the quarterback this weekend as both Danny Etling and Austin Appleby threw interceptions.

Does Ohio State Need the Big Ten

If Michael Vick isn’t playing quarterback for the Hokies, there are really no excuses for losing to Virginia Tech at home in prime-time. Frank Beamer really isn’t that great coach everyone tried to make him out to be fifteen years ago, and he’s only still empolyed because no one is Blacksburg believes they can do better. That said, Ohio State only has themselves to blame for dropping out of the National Championship hunt early, with their 35-21 loss to their ACC opponent last Saturday.
If that seems a little dramatic on the surface, I’d ask you to really think about it. In the past early season losses to Texas and USC have crippled their chances, even though it may have taken subsequent losses to Penn State and Purdue to put the nail in the coffin of their championship hopes. Someone might be quick to point out how they recovered from a late-season home loss to Illinois in 2007, but it took a lot of chaos to put them in the Superdome with LSU the following January, a match-up that the consensus hated on paper and in reality. One of the problems is wiggle room, and once conference play begins, Ohio State has none. I may be out of line, but what type of showing is required on November 8th in East Lansing to erase the events of September 6th in Columbus?
That’s the problem right there; with ten games left to play, no Big Ten opponent, not Michigan State, regular Michigan, or Penn State, has the clout for anyone that matters to think it took one hell of a football team to take those guys down. If Oregon, who beat the Big Ten’s best from a year ago soundly, or Virginia Tech run the table, things look better for Michigan State and Ohio State, but the Big Ten contenders have a Big Ten problem on the national scene. Of course, the focus might currently be that the Spartans have a Michigan State problem and the same logic applies to Ohio State, Wisconsin, and any other school in the league that has suffered an early season defeat.
The way it used to be, the Big Ten Champ had a set destination. Pasadena or bust, it was a showcase to take on the best out west, the Pac-10 Champ. The game was played on New Year’s Day at the Rose Bowl, and as the bowls expanded and playing in one became less exclusive, it was always special to see your team in the sunshine out west, as you watched the game on ABC on a dark wintry night back east. For the teams, the privilege of being showcased on this stage was not to be taken for granted. For all that Ohio State has been cracked up to be over my lifetime, a span of 36 years and change, they’ve reached the game just four times over that period and just twice since I became congnizant of sports in 1985. Before that, the Big Ten’s participation was something of a status symbol or badge of dominance for Ohio State and Michigan, who represented the conference in the Rose Bowl every year from 1969 to 1981. In the final years, before something called the Bowl Championship Series came to be, the Rose Bowl had National Championship implications for Arizona State in 1997, and then again for Michigan in 1998. The Sun Devils went undefeated in 1996, en route to a Pac-10 Championship and a berth in the Granddaddy of Them All, but were denied a title when the Joe Germaine led the Buckeyes to victory in the game’s final minute. The loss didn’t simply deny them a chance at being the consensus #1; Florida State’s loss to Florida meant winning that Rose Bowl would have left them as the only team without a loss. A year later, Lloyd Carr’s Wolverines did what they needed to do on the field, besting Washington State 21-16, but the world didn’t crumble around them as much, forcing them to share the glory with an undefeated Nebraska team that handed Peyton Manning’s Tennessee team a loss in his final collegiate game.
The next year, they had to get #1 and #2 on the same field. To pull this off, the Rose Bowl would sacrifice its traditional Big 10 vs Pac-10 matchup at least once every four years, in order to be put in rotation with previously inferior games in Arizona, Louisiana, and Florida. Three years later, for the first time since Alabama beat USC in 1946, the Rose Bowl was not a match-up of Big Ten vs Pac-10, but the Big East Champ against the runner-up in the Big 12 North, a game designated as the fourth BCS National Championship. Meanwhile, Illinois represented the Big Ten in a forgettable Sugar Bowl.
In 2003, Ohio State reached that title game, facing Miami, while we got that Big Ten vs Pac-10 match-up in the Orange Bowl and the Big Ten was, once again, not represented in Pasadena. Look, I’m sure few supporters of the Big Ten will gripe too much about being denied representation in the Rose Bowl, given the Buckeyes win in Tempe was the only Championship the conference would attain in the series’ 16 year run, but that was the peak. Ohio State and the rest have slid into the valley since that Friday night early in 2003. Since, highlights include Michigan State’s win over Stanford in Pasadena last January and Ohio State’s 2010 win over Oregon, but even those have been overshadowed by the Southeastern Conference’s 7-year run of National Championships. Ohio State defeated Kansas State and Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, Michigan won a Sugar Bowl, and we saw Penn State and Iowa celebrate Orange Bowl victories, but good luck getting anyone without a dog in the fight to recall or recognize any of that success.
That brings us to where we are today, where the Big Ten has a Big Ten problem. Their reputation now precedes them, and it’s more reality than perception at this point. Did I think there was any shame in getting plastered by USC annually, speaking to the games that saw Michigan, Penn State, and Illinois fail to achieve victory in the Rose Bowl? The answer is no. I didn’t think it was fair to brand the conference as awful when Ohio State lost to the National Champs from the SEC in consecutive years, or even to a Texas team that had a good argument for their own Championship Game pedigree. However, the big picture is telling and I don’t think there’s a solid case to deny it.
As a football conference, the Big Ten stinks.
Now, Ohio State’s problems are mostly their own…mostly. Keep in mind, every school in the country has these types of problems, issues with whom they have no one to blame, but they can argue strength of schedule day and night, even when they’re playing an FCS opponent in mid-November. So, maybe that’s just the SEC, but does it matter if it’s just Alabama that can lose a regular season game and then turn around and get another opportunity at the same team in the title game. We might remember that Michigan wasn’t afforded that luxury in 2006. The point is, someone outside of the Big Ten gets the leg-up, because perfection is not demanded of them, which is exactly what the system requires a Big Ten team to do, if they want to play for all the marbles. How do you avoid it, if you’re Ohio State? While some might respect regular appointments with Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State, they will rarely be admired for wins over Indiana, Maryland, and Rutgers, while often avoiding Wisconsin and/or Nebraska in the other division. In a game where style points still mean a great deal, dominance in the Big Ten will long be a hard sell to any type of selection committee, considering the conference has spent nearly a decade planting the seed of doubt.
One school of thought, probably the more popular one, is for Ohio State and their fans to deal with it. Enjoy the 9 or 10 wins every year, anticipate the Michigan game, drink until you pass out, hope for a trip to the Capital One Bowl, and embrace the remaining tradition, rather than getting upset at how much the game has pissed on those very traditions you used to enjoy. That’s a reasonable approach; the world needs its doormats, and if you’ve ever supported a MAC school that was thrown to the wolves at Ohio Stadium, you might understand and appreciate that. Something tells me that most at Ohio State don’t care to simply accept putting the shoe on the other foot, and that Ohio State should be no one’s cupcake opponent, let alone someone from the Southeast region.
Strictly from a football perspective, has Ohio State exhausted the benefit of being a member of the Big Ten? I think it’s worth considering that they have. Money is probably the main thing that debunks this sentiment, as Ohio State gets a lot of it from the Big Ten Network and it’s other television partnerships, but there’s a school, albeit a private one, 250 miles northwest of Columbus, whose pockets are deep without an entire conference of hands reaching into them. I really don’t know if Ohio State can reach the plane that Notre Dame is on with their independence, and the Irish have their fair share of issues scheduling 12 games without 8 already built-in by a higher authority, but maybe it’s an idea worth exploring. Is this a break Ohio State can make, while still maintaining relationships with their former league counterparts? We have not seen anyone depart from the Big Ten in my lifetime, but if expatriated institutions like Nebraska, Texas A&M, or West Virginia serve any precedent, I doubt remaining members of the conference would be amicable about continuing their rivalries with the Buckeyes as non-league foes.
Even without the obligation of league play, I believe Ohio State would want to keep Michigan and Penn State on the schedule every year, with the finale against Michigan remaining in tact. I do not believe Ohio State would ever schedule more than four games away from Columbus, and why should they? If you want Ohio State to come to your place, you would probably need to ante up a nice ransom since that game is an automatic sellout, but agreeing to a home & home would probably be worth more than cold hard cash, depending on the stature of your program. Another thing to consider is taking a page out of the USC playbook and scheduling regular trips to Hawaii, just to get awarded that 13th game, since Independents don’t have that bonus conference championship game.
So, how does the schedule shake out for Independent Ohio State? It really depends on the Big Ten’s attitude towards them in the aftermath of their departure. If they’d be cooperative, and they should be, Michigan and Penn State stay on the schedule constantly, and I imagine we’d see two more of their former conference opponents in some kind of rotation, something similar to the ACC’s new relationship with Notre Dame football.
Notre Dame would likely be the model to use, and you know that means service academies, in addition to traditional rivalries. Away from the Big Ten, that might include in-state rival Cincinnati, regular Rose Bowl opponent USC, and fellow Independent Notre Dame. As it stands, the Buckeyes have future commitments w ith Oklahoma, TCU, Texas, and Boston College; no reason not to honor those. I’ve taken the liberty of drawing up a mock schedule, with and without the cooperation of the Big Ten. We’ll start with 2015.

2015 w/ Big Ten 2015 w/o Big Ten
at Virginia Tech at Virginia Tech
Hawaii Hawaii
Northern Illinois Northern Illinois
Western Michigan Western Michigan
Notre Dame Notre Dame
at USC at USC
Cincinnati Bowling Green
Northwestern Pittsburgh
at Iowa at Tennessee
Penn State West Virginia
Navy Navy
at Michigan at Cincinnati
2016 w/ Big Ten 2016 w/o Big Ten
Bowling Green Bowling Green
Tulsa Tulsa
at Oklahoma at Oklahoma
USC USC
at Notre Dame at Notre Dame
Akron Akron
at Wisconsin at Kansas State
Iowa Ball State
Kentucky Kentucky
at Penn State at Syracuse
Army Army
Michigan Cincinnati

With this, we tried to honor existing agreements, but an independent is always at the mercy of who might actually be available when October and November roll around, given conference obligations.  One would think this would open the door to escalate strength-of-schedule even more than we’ve done here, but in the real world travel is a concern, as well as the amount of teams that might reject a proposed series with Ohio State.  Tennessee, Georgia, and Vanderbilt have all pulled out of deals that would have required them to travel to the Midwest in recent years, though it’s possible things crumbled from Ohio State; we’ll never really know.
In the end, none of it matters.  Ohio State isn’t leaving the Big Ten next year or ever.  Money talks and the Big Ten has it. Ohio State will simply deal with their Big Ten problem, but they obviously must address the problems they see in the mirror first.

Big Ten Musings and Power Rankings

Thoughts on Penn State

When the initial sanctions were handed down against Penn State for the crimes of Jerry Sandusky and those who knew about them, I felt having a two year bowl ban, numerous scholarships removed and paying 60 million was ludicrous for the type of crime committed and felt the death penalty should’ve been handed down. Well two years since then my opinion has changed and I am now all for the NCAA dropping Penn State’s postseason ban and reducing its scholarship penalties. All of those involved in the crimes are gone and why punish innocent athletes who had nothing to do with it? Anytime a school messes up they should be punished but what is the point of making others having to pay in an attempt to appease the public? In the end it pleases no one and serves no one.

Thoughts on Big Ten

While I can’t predict the future, lets be honest and face it: The chances of a B1G team making the inaugural College Football Playoff are now virtually over with the embarrassing performances this past Saturday. As all of you know by now, Saturday was the first time since 1988 that Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State all lost on the same day and the B1G as a whole went 8-5 in non-conference play with several other games going down to the wire. It’s almost unfathomable to think that a league with so much history, prestige and honor could miss such a monumental moment in college football history but thats exactly where the B1G sits. As painful as it is lets take a look back at some of the events that transpired on Saturday and try to make some sense as to what happened.
Let’s start with the game in Eugene, OR. I wrote last week that the pressure was solely on the Spartans shoulders now to carry the little amount of respect the Big Ten had left and was in prime position to help raise the profile of the conference with a competitive, strong showing against Oregon. Congratulations Spartans. You were successful in that department…for 2 and 1/2 quarters.
Even with an 18-7 advantage following a 70 plus yard touchdown by Marcus Mariota, you guys remained composed and did not panic. On offense, you controlled the time of possession by efficiently spreading the ball around, while the defense finally buckled down and suffocated the Oregon offense with its relentless pass rush and superb pass coverage. As a result of your strong play, you went into halftime with a 24-18 lead. Unfortunately, the team that prides itself on playing stout, physical defense started to wear down midway through the third quarter due to the heat and hurry up offense of the Ducks. You were playing so well up to the juncture in time but as they say speed kills and Oregons athleticism proved too much to handle as they scored four unanswered touchdowns en route to a convincing 46-27 victory.
If that wasn’t bad enough, how about the game down in Columbus, OH? Things went from bad to downright ugly for the Buckeyes as they were stunned by an unranked Virginia Tech team, handing Urban Meyer his first loss at the Horseshoe. The Hokies defense created problems with their speed and athleticism, outpowering a porous Buckeye O-line, sacking J.T. Barrett seven times and forcing three interceptions as Barrett went just 9 for 29. Yes, Virginia Tech has a good defense but its significant for a team that was an ACC afterthought and lost 11 games the past two seasons. My how things have fallen for a preseason top 10 team with a Heisman hopeful quarterback and national title aspirations. If this is indicative of how the Buckeyes are going to play, its going to be a long and tumultuous season for Ohio State.
Things were not much better for their biggest rival Michigan. Big Blue is glad that their series with Notre Dame is over for the forseeable future as the Fighting Irish shut out the Wolverines 31-0 for its most lopsided victory in the 127-year history of the series.
The top Big Ten West contenders barely survived against FCS teams. If not for the heroics of Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and his 58 yard touchdown with 20 seconds left for a 31-24 win, McNeese State might’ve knocked off Nebraska. As for Iowa, it needed two touchdowns in the final three minutes to take care of Ball State and for the cherry on top, the Big Ten lost two games to MAC teams.
Even if MSU does run the table and win the rest of its games, it really won’t matter because where are the quality wins going to come from? Beating an Ohio State team that just lost to Virginia Tech and has no Braxton Miller is not a big-profle victory nor will be beating a Michigan team that couldnt muster a single point against Notre Dame.
It all means that a two loss SEC or PAC-12 team could easily leapfrog even the champion from such an inconsistent, porous league as the Big Ten.
There is no such thing as a solid victory anymore and it took only until Week Two for the Big Ten to meet its match.

Big Ten Power Rankings

1. Michigan State Spartans 1-1
For what its worth, despite the final score, MSU held its ground against a superior opponent until the defense just got too tired and overworked from the heat and the hurryup offense of the Ducks. I’m not sure if any other Big Ten team could’ve even lead the game but MSU showed some things to be proud of.
2. Wisconsin Badgers 1-1
Western Illinois held Melvin Gordon to just 38 yards on 17 carries but quarterback Tanner McEvoy (23/28 for 283 yards and 3 touchdowns) came back with a solid performance and the defense only allowed a field goal.
3. Ohio State 1-1
As disastrous as the loss was, there were a few bright spots including defensive end Joey Bosa registering 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble that lead to a touchdown and three tackles for loss. Now if only everyone on defense played that well.
4. Nebraska 2-0
It’s hard to gauge who exactly the Huskers are. They crushed Florida Atlanta only to barely squeeze by lowly McNeese State. This upcoming game agaiinst Fresno State should be a good measurement of who this Nebraska team really is.
5. Rutgers 2-0
Unlike the rest of the league, the Scarlet Knights have surprisingly exceeded expectations this year as they have started 2-0 and quarterback Gary Nova has accumulated 563 yards and six touchdowns. Paul James has also looked good, averaging 5.1 yards per carry for 216 yards. We will see just how good Rutgers truly is when they take on a strong Nittany Lions team.
6. Penn State 2-0
Sophomore Christian Hackenberg threw for 319 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 21-3 victory over Akron but there needs to be more consistency on offense as Hackenberg has also been picked off four times this season.
7. Iowa 2-0
Even though the saying is defense wins championships, you need a balanced offense to compliment a strong defense and if Iowa wants to win the Big Ten West, they will need to become more reliable and consistent on offense especially in the running game. Jake Rudock has put up respectable numbers but if they also had a run game, maybe then they wouldnt need to come from behind to nab a victory as they did in a 17-10 win over Ball State.
8. Minnesota 2-0
it seems like no one is talking about the Minnesota Golden Gophers despite David Cobb gobbling up yardage like Pac-man. In a dishoveled West division, Minnesota is in prime position to be a surprise contender.
9. Maryland 2-0
No matter how ugly it is at times, a win is a win and the Terps came back to win even after six turnovers and being down ten points in the fourth quarter at South Florida.
10. Michigan 1-1
Nothing went right for the Wolverines down in South Bend as Devin Gardner was just 19 for 32 with three interceptions and his top target, Devin Funchess, missed most of the second half with an apparent leg injury.
11. Indiana 1-0
A huge winner in my book in the Big Ten in Week 2 since it didnt play. The Hoosiers’ offense looks like a potent, well-oiled machine compared to the other highly ranked offenses of the conference.
12. Illinois 2-0
If not for the strong play of new quarterback Wes Lunt and the solid numbers he has totaled, this team could easily be 0-2. The defense has looked downright awful at times and is one that even a weak Big Ten could easily exploit.
13. Northwestern 0-2
It has been a tumultuous past few weeks for the Northwestern Wildcats to say the least. Not only did they lose dynamic playmaker Venric Mark but lost against Cal and QB Trevor Siemian left in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg injury against Northern Illinois, who they also lost too.
14. Purdue 1-1
Surprise. The Purdue Boilermakers are once again at the bottom of the Big Ten as they were hammered by Central Michigan and to make things even worse, they will now have to take on a Notre Dame team that shut out the Wolverines for the first time since 1984. Good luck with that.

Big Ten West Week 1 Preview

I can’t believe it is finally here but the 2014 NCAA football season officially begins tomorrow and to get you even further pumped up, I have Week 1 predictions for the Big Ten West. Most of the games are insignificant but one in particular is of national importance. Check it out.
LSU vs. Wisconsin
Coming into this game, there are a whole plethora of question marks for the Badgers. Who will be the next go to receiver? Is there enough talent on a defense that returns just three starters from last season? Is McEvoy the real deal? But the biggest question is will they beat LSU and start a potential campaign that ends with them in the Big Ten title game heading into the playoffs. It is crucial Wisconsin establish the run game early and set the pace of the game to a slow, grind-it-out style that suits its offense. If LSU’s young but hungry defense can take the run away and force the Badgers to pass the ball, Wisconsin could be in trouble. It remains to be seen how quarterback Tanner McEvoy reacts while under pressure. Either way, its going to be an peic battle that wil come down to the wire, but in the end, I’m taking Wisconsin.
Western Michigan vs. Purdue
The good news for Purdue fans is that despite winning only one game, the Boilermakers should be favored in a matchup versus Western Michigan, another team that also had an abysmal year and finished with the same record of 1-11. Wins will not be easy to obtain especially with such a difficult schedule coming up, so Purdue needs to grab as many as they can. Starting off the season with a victory would help build confidence especially with young sophomore quarterback Danny Etling leading the team. While I think that Purdue should win the game playing in front of a home crowd, it should be a close contest as both of these teams were ranked over 80th in passing yards, over 110th in rushing yards and over 105th in defense. Not too good of statistics right there so it makes it important for Purdue to come out with purpose and set the tone for the season on a positive note.
Youngstown State vs. Illinois
You will not hear this very often about the Illini this season but they should definitely come out on top in this particular game. While the Youngstown State Penguins were formidable opponents within the MVFC (8-4, 5-3) last season, they did not face an offensive juggernaut like Illinois, which ranked 23rd in the country in passing yards (287.7). There will be high expectations for newly appointed quarterback Wes Lunt and I’m anxious to see how he performs for the first time in Bill Cubit’s prolific passing offense. Plus, with such a tough slate of opponents during conference play and to be bowl eligible, it is a must-win for the Fighting Illini. The game should also serve a good test for a maligned defense that was ranked 106th in defense, giving up over 35 points per game.
Eastern Illinois vs. Minnesota
It remains to be seen if Eastern Illinois (12-2)is as potent on offense as their superstar quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who accounted for over 5000 yards in the air and 53 touchdowns just last season, was drafted by the New England Patriots. And even if somehow they are, they will face a physical stout defense which was ranked 25th in defense, holding opponents to 22.2 points per game. The only way the Panthers can keep up with the Gophers is if they shutdown their potent running game and make them a passing team, which isnt Minnesota’s strongpoint, but this should be good practice for quarterback Mitch Leidnner to get into a rhythm early on in the season. a middle tier Big Ten team should be able to knock off a good OVC team. I believe it could be a close game but Minnesota grindds it out and goes on to win by a feasible margin.
California vs. Northwestern
The season opener will be a rematch between these two teams last season as Cal lost to the Wildcats 44-30 but it’s important to remember the game was tied in the fourth period and NW pulled away with two pick-sixes. Now with the departure of running back Venric Mark, it is more likelky cal could pull off the upset and either way, it should be a close game as the Golden Bears had one of the best passing attacks going up against a nw defense that gave up just over . at the same time, cal has continuity on the offensive line and at quarterback with sophomore qb Jaread Goff gaining Pac experience lasat year which sould help him in this game and the saeasaon. With all thazt said i still think nw comes away with a win because their defense wazs one of the worst in the entire countr y azs they gave up a ridiculous fortb five points per game.
Northern Iowa vs. Iowa
Northern Iowa may have had a winning record but was just 3-5 in the MVFC and will face the toughest defense all year as they go up against the Hawkeyes. Iowa’s stingy defense was ranked 9th in the nation, holding opponents to just under 19 points and even though they lost three linebackers, they have a great deal of trust in their replacements including Reggie Spearman. They also have a balanced offense with a solid passing game and reliable ground game that averaged 180 yards. The Hawkeeyes are just too strong and multi dimensional. They will simply overwhelm the Panthers with their sheer size and talent and Northern Iowa will be lucky if they can keep up. I predict this game to be a nice warmup for the upcoming season as they go on to win by a large margin.
Florida Atlantic vs. Nebraska
The game looks like a beginners training course for the No. 22 Nebraska Cornhuskers as they take on a subpar, medicore Florida Atlantic Owls team that was 6-6 and finished 4-4 in the CUSA. Sure, the Owls did averazge 183 rushing yazrds and were 26th in defense, holding opponents but Nebraska is stacked on both sides of the ball and is the most talented team they will face this season. The Huskers will also get to play against a duel threat quarterback, Jaquez Johson, who led the team in rushing with 776 yards. This could be a good simulation of facing Wisconsin’s Tanner Mcevoy, assuming he is still the starter when they go up against each other in November. The Owls vaunted defense may make a few nice stops but in the end it wont matter as Nebraska cruises to victory.
 
 
 

Tim Beckman’s Last Stand

After a disappointing 1-7 Big Ten (4-8 overall) record last year, Tim Beckman’s job security is not at an all-time high.  His overall record with Illinois is 6-18 and boasts only a single Big Ten win, last year’s victory over a Purdue team that only had one win.  Beckman’s coaching track record shows that he is able to take teams and show consistent improvement, but the Big Ten is a far tougher place to consistently improve than his previous conference, the MAC.  With the young players he inherited when he took over as coach as the leaders of his team and some of his own recruits on the roster, Beckman is quickly running out of reasons for why he deserves more time as coach.
Beckman comes into this season with Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt, a talented quarterback with some bad luck.  Injuries hampered Lunt in his 2012 season with Oklahoma State and robbed him of the opportunity to gain valuable experience and become entrenched as the starting quarterback.  Lunt has a wealth of talent as a passer and has experienced players at running back and wide receiver with Josh Ferguson, Donovonn Young, Justin Hardee, Martize Barr, and Geronimo Allison.  With three seniors on the offensive line to protect him, Lunt seems to have been given a very strong hand to stay healthy and succeed this season.
Much like the NFL, the “what have you done for me lately” moniker is in full effect with Beckman.  He has had time to bring in his own recruits that fit his system and needs to put together a winning season.   Since talented recruits don’t typically want to go to schools coming off of 4-8 seasons, Beckman is depending on some experienced “veterans” to play key roles this year.  Lunt is the most important of the new players, but JUCO wide receivers Geronimo Allison and Martize Barr will also need to have strong showings for Illinois to improve.  On defense, Zane Petty, Eric Finney, Jihad Ward, and Carroll Phillips will need to provide consistent production to keep games within reach.
Best realistic case:  Wes Lunt provides consistent production, a few (or all) of the JUCO transfers pan out and Illinois is a middle of the pack team, finishing with a much improved record.  Beckman gets his team into a bowl game and lives to coach for at least one more year, possibly signing one of the top in-state prospects in the process.
Worst realistic case:  Lunt can’t stay healthy or doesn’t produce as expected (think Danny O’Brien for the Wisconsin Badgers a few seasons ago).  The quarterback position is wildly inconsistent throughout the year and Beckman loses his job.
The future for Illinois is a moving target with so many factors needing to fall into place for the team to become a contender once more.  Bringing in JUCO players is a good short-term fix, but ideally, playmakers would be recruited out of high school and develop over 3 or 4 years as opposed to coming in with fewer years of eligibility.  Beckman seems to have acquired the best weapons available for what could be his last season in Champaign, but unless he turns into the next Bill Snyder, his strategy will probably need an overhaul if he survives.  Or, maybe, Beckman is just another coach who could succeed at the lower levels of college football and isn’t cut out, at least not right now, for a job in one of the power conferences.

Big Ten: West Preview

Just like the weather, college football predictions are subjective. There are so many unforeseen circumstances such as turnovers, injuries, disciplinary actions, or players underperforming that can alter the results. However, sometimes the stars do align and our predictions are proved to be right, which makes us feel like the smartest sports fans in the world. I know it does for me so I hope I am proved to be right this year. Here are my predictions for the Big Ten West. Next week I will have the East.
1. Wisconsin: 10-2, 7-1
2. Iowa: 9-3, 6-2
3. Nebraska: 9-3, 5-3
4. Northwestern: 7-5, 3-5
5. Minnesota: 7-5, 3-5
6. Illinois: 4-8, 1-7
7. Purdue: 3-9, 0-8
 
Wisconsin
The Good
Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon has averaged 8.1 yards per carry during his career and if he maintains his frenetic pace, he could possibly make 2,000 rush yards if he gets enough carries. His backup is just as potent as Cory Clement had 547 rush yards, seven touchdowns and 8.2 yards per attempt last year. The offensive line for Wisconsin this season should begin to come together and resemble the solid lines that the program is known for. Veteran right tackle Rob Havenstein leads the deep, experienced group as five players with at least five starts are back in the fold.
The Bad
It remains to be seen who will run the offense, incumbent Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy and who they will pass to. Without receiver Jared Abbrederis or tight end Jacob Pederson, Wisconsin has only one receiver (Jordan Frederick) with 10 or more receptions and none with more than 150 receiving yards. No team in the league lost more experience in the defensive front seven than Wisconsin as only one starter returns . Defensive lineman Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer are gone as well as do-it-all leader Chris Borland. Still, there is some potential as newcomer LB Vince Beigel, a player to keep an eye on, steps in and DT Warren Herring is another run-stuffer the Badgers can use in the trenches.
Prediction
10-2 overall, 7-1 conference, 1st in West
They have lost a significant portion of talent and experience on both sides of the ball and I do worry if they are trailing and need to rely on an inconsistent passing attack with an unproven group of receivers. But they are very well coached and their run game looks like vintage Wisconsin at its finest. And even though their competition will have improved, their schedule is one the easier slates.
 
Iowa See my article from last week
 
Nebraska
The Good
Strong, deep rushing attack. Ameer Abdullah eclipsed 100 rush yards in 11 of 13 starts and leads all active FBS players with 17 career 100-yard rushing performances. Imani Cross is also a touchdown machine as he has totaled 17 in just his first two seasons and Terrell Newby averaged 5.5 yards per carry as a freshman.
Elite playmakers and veteran leadership with defensive end Randy Gregory terrorizing the oppositions quarterback (9.5 sacks last season) and the always reliable Kenny Bell stretching the defense with his catching abilities (52 receptions, 577 yards last yr).
The Bad
Tommy Armstrong Jr. was erratic to say the least as he completed only 51.9 percent of his passes last season and had eight interceptions to nine touchdown passes. He also was not the playmaker and threat on the ground like former quarterback Taylor Martinez.
The Huskers were faced with replacing three starters in the five-man defensive backfield from a year ago, and now, two of those replacements defensive back Charles Jackson (knee) and Leroy Alexander (suspension) , are lost for the year. If that wasn’t enough, sophomore middle linebacker Michael Rose, who started seven games, suffered a season ending knee injury as well.
Prediction
9-3 overall, 5-3 conference, 3rd in West
On paper, they are the most stacked team in the West. Sorry Iowa and Wisconsin. Yet, their schedule will be tough as they have two road games verses Northwestern, which they needed a Hail Mary to beat last fall, and MSU in East Lansing. It also needs to beat the other red tram in the division Wisconsin and the Badgers have had the Huskers number, beating them by a combined 118-48 in their past two meetings.
 
Northwestern
The Good
Reliable receivers Christian Jones (54 rec 668 yds) and Tony Jones (55, 630 yds) return as well as tight end Dan Vitale, who had 62 receptions in two seasons and should be a big target come this fall. There is also a large contingency of talented players from the 10-win 2012 squad with 17 starters back as well as explosive playmaker RB Venric Mark from injuries. On defense, the secondary should be the deepest position for the Wildcats, who have starters returning at all four defensive back spots while up front they have some promise with the young Ifeadi Odenigbo, who had six sacks last season.
The Bad
Nebraska. The past two years of this series have left Northwestern dumbfounded as the Huskers came back in epic fashion in the fourth quarter two years ago and won on that Hail Mary last year. Pat Fitzgerald’s team needs to somehow defeat Big Red better this year at home. October and November are tough months as the Wildcats play Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks which is a taller task than Wisconsin or Iowa have. If they can whether the storm and go 2-2 or better, there is light at the end as they finish with Purdue and Illinois.
Prediction
7-5 overall, 3-5 conference, 4th in West
I do believe they are a dark horse in the division and last season’s record is not indicative of this teams overall strength. Plus, it will not have the same amount of bad luck – they might but not likely – they had last season. However, I think they bit off a little more than they can chew with their challenging schedule even if it was to make their strength of schedule stronger.
 
Minnesota
The Good
The Gophers have a solid stable of running backs led by 1,200-yard rusher Cobb with veterans Donnell Kirrkwood and Rodrick Williams providing support. To help sustain this production, four starting offensive linemen from 2013 return. They will have a physical, strong defense as defensive end Theiren Cockran, who led the Big Ten in forced fumbles (four) and was third in sacks (7.5), anchors the line. Damien Wilson leads the linebackers, and the secondary has good depth at cornerback with Eric Murray, Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy-Calhoun returning from injury.
The Bad
Minnesota has an absolutely brutal final four games as they host Iowa and Ohio State and finish on the road against Nebraska and Wisconsin. The Gophers struggled down the stretch last year following a promising start (8-2) and this season could definitely end in similar disappointing fashion. The Gophers were last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally in passing and needs major improvements from Leidner and receivers like Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones to be a factor in the division race.
Prediction
7-5 overall, 3-5 conference, 5th in West
Bottom line is they maybe improved but it won’t show in the win column with such a hard slate of games. Even if their passing offense and defense lives up to its potential, they are still a step behind the top contenders in the division.
 
Illinois
The Good
Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit returns with a pass happy, quarterback friendly offense that was near the top of the Big Ten in passing yards last season and should be a perfect fit for big-armed newcomer Wes Lunt. The offensive line is experienced with 96 total starts and will pave the way for big play threat running back Josh Ferguson, who averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season and was second on the team in receptions with 50.
The Bad
History is not on the Illini’s side. In three seasons, head coach Todd Beckman has posted a disappointing 6-18 record and has won just one Big Ten game during his tenure. Things do not get any easier for Illinois as they have dates with Wisconsin, Nebraska and Ohio State at their respective home stadiums.
They must rely on newcomers to make instant impacts, which is much easier said than done. On offense, they lose four of last seasons top receivers and on defense, its imperative transfers like Jihad Ward and Joe Fotu as well as veterans like Kenny Nelson play strong as their rushing defense was dead last in the Big Ten last season and 116th nationally.
Prediction
4-8 overall, 1-7 conference, 6th in the West.
If their defense does vastly improve and their offense produces, they could possibly pull off a Big Ten upset this season. Don’t count on that though. They will more than likely have to win at least three conference games this season if they want to go bowling and that’s not happening but to their credit, they nearly upset Penn State and Northwestern last year.
 
Purdue
The Good
Purdue has a golden opportunity to win two or three games this season in September as they should be favored against Western and Central Michigan and Southern Illinois. Fifteen starters return including true freshman quarterback Danny Etling, who put up sufficient numbers filling in for the injured Rob Henry last season and freshman wide receiver DeAngelo Yancey had a decent year with 32 catches for 546 yards. With his abilities, he should be a focal point and leader this season.
The Bad
Everything else is pretty messy and in need of stability and consistency. For one, more playmakers are needed not only on offense that averaged just 14.9 points per game last season but also for a terrible defense that gave up 38 points per game and lost some of its best talent such as ball-hawking cornerback Ricardo Allen. To make matters worse, it remains to be seen who will step up and make plays.
Prediction
3-9 overall, 0-8 conference, 7th in West.
Almost four wins as it plays Illinois close like last season when they lost by just four points but Purdue gets three victories and with such an awful 2013 season, it would be a nice step forward. There are too many question marks and simply not enough talent.

Big Ten: The I's Have it…At Least This Week!

ILLINI
 
Starting the 2014 season is the only thing that’s going to make Illinois Coach Tim Beckman and his team forget the 2013 campaign. With major questions on both sides of the ball and not one four-star or better recruit coming in this year, no one is expecting many answers from this year’s Illini team. Although often criticized by the media, QB Nathan Scheelhaase is going to be missed ridiculously by O-coordinator Bill Cubit. He’s going to go from having an athletic coach on the field to maybe having to stand on the field himself (a la Pee Wee ball) with his inexperienced offense.
peewee
 
Early non conference opponents will look to jump on the inexperienced and sometimes Fightless Illini to get that BIG conference victory notch on their belt, and by the last week of September The University of Illinois could be walking into Lincoln 1-3 to start the BIG season. Beckman already knows that another “ofer” or “one and done” conference season will have him looking for a real estate agent and shopping moving companies by Christmas. It’s been six years since the Illini has had a recruiting class worth talking about, and the players that they have had in the program have not developed into players who could compete on the BIG level. So if Coach Beckman has any tricks up his sleeves, he should cut those sleeves off, or better yet just wear a “wife beater” because it’s now or never to let it all hang out
 
 
IU
I expect much of the same from the Indiana Hoosier football team in 2014. They’re going to go up and down the field running and passing like nobody’s business, but when it’s all said and done they still may not make it to a bowl game. The Hoosiers first problem is their schedule. Besides having Missouri, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio all on the road, the Hoosiers will be welcoming MSU, and Penn State to Bloomington as well. I couldn’t pick the three teams that the Hoosiers can beat out out of that six to go .500, but head coach Kevin Wilson better.
 
The last problem is going to be trying to stop other teams from scoring at will. The basketball Hoosiers gave up almost 67 points a game last year. Not to compare the teams, but the football Hoosiers gave up 39 points a game last season…that’s too many for any team to give up and to try to win let alone a team with young and untapped talent.
New D- coordinator Brian Knorr is installing a 3-4 look and he hopes that his athletic linebacking corps shows up ready to turn a few facemasks in the wrong direction. He’s got a lot of other young talent at his disposal and he’ll need all of it to play fundamentally sound ball. If not, we can expect more basketball scores from the Hoosiers long before November.
 
IOWA
Of the “I” schools, Iowa is the cream of the crop…(pun intended)! Coming off an 8-5 season with an Outback Bowl bid, Coach Kirk Ferentz is hoping for lightning to strike twice or maybe three times in Iowa City this season.

The Hawkeyes will once again rely on the run to move the ball down field. With O-coordinator Greg Davis logging in for his 3rd season, the Hawkeyes passing game should see some improvement with
QB Jake Rudock once again taking the snaps with a ton of young receivers to sling it to. The defensive side of the ball doesn’t look quite as promising on paper, or my laptop…because truly no one looks at anything on paper anymore! The Hawkeyes are without the services of six defensive starters from 2013, including three linebackers. So the first few weeks of the season will be like an office potluck… You hope other people bring something good to the table, but if they can’t bring something good… Just bring something!
 
 
Forever Football,
 
One Man Shan
 

BIG Preview (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern, Rutgers)

 
ILLINI
Being from the great State of Michigan I see my share of potholes on a daily basis, but none quite like the one that was left in Champaign Illinois.
Graduating QB Nathan Scheelhaase left a huge crater in the Illini offense that I’m not sure the Illinois Road Commission could fill in time for the 2014 season. Even if Senior QB Reilly O’Toole rises to the occasion adequately, he will be still standing behind a suspect O-line which means he might not be standing much at all this year. I hope Donovonn Young had a great off season in the weight room, because the Illini Offense is depending on him to put some much needed bite back into the running attack.
After toll boothing  482 yards a game last season, the 2014 Illini Defense should keep the team in some games early season games if they’re able to build around head smacking Linebackers T.J. Neal and Mason Monheim. The cupboards were left a little bare after losing players like DE Bates and LB Brown from last years squad, so Defensive Coordinator Tim Banks will be looking for several players to stand up and stand out if the Illini have a chance at chalking more than 1W during conference play… (last year 1-7 in leaders div)).
 
IU
 
If I had to describe the stage that the Indiana Hoosiers football team was at in construction terms, I would say the foundation and frame is in place but we’re still a ways away from a habitable structure, but since I’m not a builder you can scratch that. The IU program is simply at a fork in the road and if they continue to build off of it’s quick killing offense that booked 38.4 pts a game last year and adapt to new D coordinator Brian Knorr’s 3-4 scheme they will surprise some people in conference competition. Playing musical QB’s didn’t hurt the Hoosiers last year but losing their 2 top WR’s and TE will call for some new blood to produce quickly. RB Tevin Coleman is the heart of this offense…and the face, and the legs, and the arms, if need be. If he goes so goes IU, if he doesn’t go so long IU!
The defense doesn’t lack young talent or experience, and if they can just lack the inability to tackle this season they may find themselves going on vacation in December.
 
IOWA
 
After bowling 11 out of the last 13 seasons the Iowa Hawkeye program is looking to step it up a notch in the 2014 campaign. Christmas came early when Schedule Claus delivered a season without Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio under the tree. So improving on a 8W season will come easy if QB Jake Rudock continues to lead the Hawkeye offense efficiently down the field.The backfield will still excite and there are some capable prospects coming up at receiver, but Coach Kirk Ferentz is definitely going to miss the all around services of an all league TE from a year ago.
Stingy was the word to describe Iowa’s defense from last year
(allowing just 18 pts a game), but with only 5 returning starters the new word to describe them may be…suspect. The one thing that’s for sure and that is the Hawkeye’s fans are religious about their team and they have seen great moments in the past 15 years…
Now it’s really time to see “if there’s a Kirk there’s a way” and why “In Kirk Iowa Trusts”!
 
NORTHWESTERN
 
The Northwestern football program is as confusing as some of the classes at Northwestern. Not that I’ve ever attended Northwestern, but I’ve read stories on Google to confirm my theories. After a 10W 2012 season, the Wildcats turned into Mildcats decided to only eat half the pie in 2013
(5 wins total). From an outside perspective, it’s easy to digest a 5W season for a BIG conference team, but when you have the recent history of the Wildcats, I had to ask myself why are they back in the kiddie pool of the conference again. Well, if you take out a few unfortunate plays last year, Northwestern might’ve played on New Year’s day as a 9W team but since they haven’t put in “do overs” in the college game yet…5-7 was what it was. Senior QB Trevor Siemian looks ready and he needs to eat whatever he ate on the last day of the season before every game. He went off for 414 yards and 4 Touches with no picks, solidifying himself as the Wildcats QB. He’ll be fronted by the entire O-line from last year. He’ll also benefit from having Senior running backs Mark and Green back together along with the the Jones boys (Christian and Tony) running routes.
The Cats defense looks to be in similar shape with 9 returning starters including All BIG candidates LB Chi Chi Ariguzo and S Ibraheim Campbell. Besides experience the best thing Coach Fitzgerald and Northwestern has going for itself is Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan are all at home and Michigan State and Ohio are nowhere near the schedule.
 
RUTGERS
 
The most encouraging thing I can say to the Rutgers football program is welcome to the BIG conference.
Now that that’s over, I want to alert you in advance that the yelling and screaming you will hear this fall will be Scarlet Knights going through the BIG conference meat grinder in their inaugural season. This could almost be considered hazing by having Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio, Penn State and Wisconsin all on the same calendar. On the bright side…they could still conceivably get to another bowl game by grabbing W’s in their other 6 games.
There are still unanswered questions at QB and leakage problems in the
O-line but with RB Paul James and TE Tyler Kroft coming back after strong 2013 seasons, Coach Kirk Flood may get a chance to smile once or twice during his teams BIG initiation. The Knights defense gave up almost 30 pts a game against last years competition, so D- coordinator Joe Rossi had better become a motivational speaker and a hypnotist to convince his defense to show up after week 7. Having a young defense that’s led by redshirt sophomore LB Steve Longais a good beginning, but he will need a few like minded friends to play above themselves if Knights stand a chance of being respectable. I’m sure everybody knows it’s a pretty foregone conclusion that the Knights will be the BIG’s doormat this year… but at least they can be a respectable doormat.
 
Forever Football…
One Man Shan