Tag Archives: Indiana Hoosiers

Big Ten Power Rankings Week 2

When I initially did the power rankings, I didn’t expect too much movement to happen but since then, things have been stirred up especially after the four losses in Week 2 particularly Ohio State’s.

  1. Penn State (previous ranking: 2): The 2016 Big Ten champions are back in the driver’s seat after a 33-14 victory over in-state rival Pittsburgh. Heisman hopeful Saquon Barkley accumulated 183 yards and two scores while Trace McSorley totaled 164 yards and three touchdowns despite missing several wide open receivers, mostly in the first half. Other than that, it was a solid victory and the Nittany Lions look like the team to beat in the Big Ten.
  2. Wisconsin (3): A classic, 31-14 Badger win as Jonathan Taylor ran for 223 yards and three touchdowns, joining Zach Brown, Ron Dayne and Alan Ameche as the only true freshman in program history to rush for over 200 yards. Ameche and Dayne were Heiman trophy winners. In addition, the defense looked stout against Lane Kiffin’s Owls, holding them to under 250 yards in total offense.
  3. Ohio State (1): Oklahoma avenged last year’s loss to Ohio State in Norman with a 31-16 win. Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield torched the secondary for 386 yards and three scores while J.T. Barrett was just 19 of 35 for 183 yards as the passing game was wildly inconsistent and below average. Buckeyes need a playmaker to emerge on offense. The loss is hard to swallow but it really doesn’t affect their chances as a contender.
  4. Michigan (4): A week after a 33-17 victory over Florida in which the Gators were held to 192 total yards, the defense looked very stout in a 36-14 win over Cincinnati. The Wolverines D kept the Bearcats at 200 total yards and had two pick-sixes. However, quarterback Wilton Speight, who threw two pick-sixes versus Florida, continued to struggle with accuracy and consistency. He needs to improve if Michigan wants to contend.
  5. Maryland (11): Fresh off a 51-41 upset over a then-ranked Texas team, the Terrapins continued where they left off and put on quite encore in a 63-17 rout of Towson. They gashed the Tigers for 367 rushing yards with D.J. Moore scoring three times and freshman under center Kasim Hill looking good in his debut.
  6. Iowa (6): The Hawkeyes defense looked strong in their 24-3 win over Wyoming, holding potential NFL draft hopeful Josh Allen to 174 yards but was consistently getting beat against Iowa State. Fortunately, first-year signal-caller Nathan Stanley passed for 333 and five touchdowns and tailback Akrum Wadley had 190 total yards as Iowa came back from a 10-point deficit to escape 44-41 in overtime. Defense needs to play better.
  7. Michigan State (9): After last season’s 3-9 debacle, the Spartans are off to a promising 2-0 start following a 28-14 win over Western Michigan as the defense has not allowed an offensive touchdown in eight consecutive quarters. Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke threw for 161 yards but showed he’s also a dual-threat as he rushed for 81 yards including a 61-yard touchdown run. The Spartans have off this week before hosting Notre Dame.
  1. Indiana (10): It will be interesting to see what Indiana does at quarterback as it has two capable throwers. Senior Richard Lagow, who threw for 420 yards versus Ohio State, is still the starter but after struggling early against Virginia, redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey replaced him, completing 16 of 20 passes for 173 yards and two scores as the Hoosiers won 34-17.
  2. Nebraska (7): The Cornhuskers are a tough read. Nebraska allowed the Oregon Ducks to go up 42-14 at halftime but held the Ducks scoreless in the second half and scored three unanswered touchdowns, nearly rallying from a 28-point deficit before falling 42-35. Yet, quarterback Tanner Lee threw the last of his four interceptions with two minutes remaining and Bob Diaco’s new 3-4 defense has allowed 1,063 yards this year.
  3. Minnesota (8) Good things are happening for new head coach P.J. Fleck. Minnesota trounced Oregon State 48-14 on the road as the defense forced three turnovers and running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks combined for 253 yards and four touchdowns. In addition, two areas of weakness were addressed as quarterback Conor Rhoda cemented himself as the outright leader of this team and Tyler Johnson has emerged as a go-to receiver.
  4. Purdue (12): Purdue has impressed me so far. They put up a valiant fight versus Louisville in a 35-28 loss and put on an offensive clinic (558 yards) in a 44-21 victory over MAC contender Ohio. Head coach Jeff Brohm promised an up-tempo, high-scoring offense and the Boilermakers haven’t disappointed. Watch out for quarterback David Blough as he led Purdue on a 24-0 first half run.
  5. Northwestern (5): I picked Northwestern to be a contender in the West this year but its play so far has concerned me. The Wildcats escaped against Nevada in Week 1 and were decimated by Duke 41-17 on Saturday as quarterback Daniel Jones accounted for 413 total yards and four touchdowns. Northwestern signal-caller Clayton Thorson was picked off twice and Justin Jackson rushed for 18 measly yards on seven carries.
  6. Illinois (14): Yes, the Fighting Illini came into Champaign as underdogs to Western Kentucky, a Conference USA team that averaged 45.5 points per contest in 2016, best in the country. However, none of that mattered as the young defense of Illinois held the Hilltoppers to one score and 244 yards while also getting 111 rushing yards from freshman Mike Epstein in a 20-7 win.
  7. Rutgers (13): Following a 16-13 loss to lowly Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Rutgers showed how incredibly far behind the other Big Ten programs it is. The game was the Eagles’ first victory over a Power Five opponent in 59 tries and I fear this is just the tip of the iceberg for how ugly things will get for the Scarlet Knights this season. A long, treacherous road lies ahead.

Image: flickr user morebyless

Sunny Day, but a Gloomy Loss in Charlottesville

The weather on Saturday was a glorious reminder that Charlottesville is a beautiful place to spend an (almost) early fall afternoon. Tailgating was a delight and the lots around Scott stadium were close to capacity. Revelry was in full swing. Once the game started, the weather was still glorious and the tailgating around Scott stadium was still in full swing. Many of the Virginia faithful chose to continue to enjoy the Charlottesville weather and not let a football game spoil the good tidings of the day. Smart move.

While last week, Virginia won pretty decisively on a gloomy day, this week was the inverse of last. While I am was not overjoyed with the winning performance against William & Mary, I am not ready to throw in the towel on the 2017 season based on this week’s loss.

While Indiana is no football power, they are losing their moniker as the perpetual doormat of the Big 10. They went to a bowl game last year. Looking at their schedule and their performance to date, they have a decent shot to go bowling this year as well. This was a solid test for Virginia, which it failed, though not as miserably as some might project.

Virginia was well prepared for this game. They were not surprised by any of Indiana’s offensive plays or strategies. Virginia’s defense did not give up big plays throughout the game that exposed an ineffective game plan. Virginia did not commit any turnovers for the second week in a row, though the ‘Hoos had some help from the officials keeping that streak alive. Virginia committed 5 penalties for a paltry 26 yards. Poorly prepared teams turn the ball over and commit stupid penalties. Virginia did none of those on Saturday. The defense was well prepared for the Indiana’s hurry-up offense and made plays early that showed they knew what they were doing against the fast-paced Hoosiers.

For three quarters, the Virginia defense was solid. They are not going to overwhelm anyone with their speed, but they were generally in position to make plays and made the most of the many bad positions into which they were thrust by the offense and special teams.

So where did Virginia go wrong? That would be the offense and special teams.

While special teams was a disaster for the second week in a row with the punt team matching the ineptitude of the field goal unit, the offense was not a disaster, they were just ineffective.

Virginia will not win more than 2 games this season if it cannot improve the field goal execution. No team can succeed if the maximum field goal range is inside the 10 yard line. This is embarrassing for a D1 program. Virginia has the worst kicking team I have ever seen at the college level.

I believe the offense was not bad much as it was just ineffective. Receivers were consistently open all day, and they dropped passes. One notable drop was an easy touchdown early that could could have changed the complexion of the entire game. Other times receivers were open and Kurt Benkert over threw them. In fact, Benkert over threw literally every pass beyond 15 yards notably missing a wide open Andre Levrone for a touchdown.

I blame the eclipse. It is unusual for both receivers and a quarterback to be that off at the same time. It is my feeling that such a condition was an outlier and will not happen again.

What was not an outlier was the poor play of the offensive line. I was concerned last week when Virginia could not manage 100 yards rushing against an enthusiastic but over matched William & Mary front 7. The Virginia line was exposed again with a meager 55 yards rushing against a solid, but not spectacular Indiana front line.

Jordan Ellis does not need much running room to be a very solid runner. However, he needs some room and for most of the day on Saturday he had none. The Virginia O-Line had was pushed around all day. I understand the new players on the line and learning new roles. It is time for the offensive line to step up and deliver.

Kurt Benkert attempted 66 passes Saturday on a day when he was not at his best. Not because that was the game plan, but because it was the only option given the running game was so hopelessly ineffective. Any game where Kurt Benkert throws over 60 times is going to be a Virginia loss. The Virginia O-line has to find itself or Wahoo fans are in for another long season.

The biggest exposure on defense was was that Virginia’s front 7 depth is shallow. That said, Virginia held Indiana 100+ yards under their total against Ohio St. The Virginia defense made some big plays Saturday, but the Virginia offense could not capitalize on presented opportunities. Juan Thornhill made a spectacular interception that gave Virginia the ball inside Indiana territory. Most teams turn this kind of play into points. Virginia went 3-and-out, and the defense was back on the field.

It was clear by the 4th quarter that the defense was gassed. They were consistently put in poor field position throughout the day. Several times they rose to the occasion in the first half and stopped the Indiana attack, but given enough chances over an entire game, even mediocre teams will find ways to score, which Indiana did.

The weather forecast is for another delightful day in Charlottesville next week I quit giving stock-buying advice a long time ago and I am not big on making predictions on college football games. However, I think Virginia’s performance this week against UConn matches the weather and Virginia comes away with a solid win.

When Virginia wins Saturday, they will be a crossroads. Heading off to play Boise St the following week, everyone expects a loss…everyone but me, but then again, I quit making predictions on college football a long time ago, for good reason.

2017 Big Ten Power Rankings

Only nine days until college football Week 1 officially starts, though as my fellow writer Mitch Gatzke wrote, it leaves much to be desired.  Stanford versus Rice from Australia is your headliner. Yay. Can you sense the sarcasm? For me, it kicks off on Thursday August 31st when Ohio State takes on Indiana. Speaking of the Buckeyes, based on how 2016 unfolded in the Big Ten, here are the unofficial power rankings for 2017 with that team from Ohio sitting on top. Enjoy.

  1. Ohio State Buckeyes

The Ohio State Buckeyes are completely stacked for another playoff run and poised to win a conference title. With 15 starters returning, arguably the best front defensive coordinator Greg Schiano has coached, an offensive line that features two potential first-round draft picks (Jamarco Jones and Billy Price) and the hiring of Kevin Wilson as offensive coordinator to help J.T. Barrett return to freshman form, this is by far the best team in the Big Ten.

  1. Penn State Nittany Lions

Nipping at the Buckeye’s heels will be the Nittany Lions, who went from conference afterthought to Big Ten champions after reeling off nine consecutive wins in 2016. The dynamic duo of quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley fit seamlessly into Joe Moorhead’s up-tempo, spread attack and will have four returning starters on offensive line to protect them. Yet, the luck they had last season against Ohio State will be long gone in this year’s rematch.

  1. Wisconsin Badgers

Coming into this season, Wisconsin already had a void at outside linebacker with T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel departing and then inside linebacker Jack Cichy suffered another season-ending injury. Fortunately, there is a lot of depth and experience on the defense for first-year coordinator Jim Leonhard to work with. Plus, the offensive line returns all five starters and with a more feasible schedule, the Badgers will be the favorite in the Big Ten West and a top-ten team.

  1. Michigan Wolverines

So close, yet so far away defined the 2016 Michigan Wolverines as two late season losses by four measly points cost them conference glory. Now, only four offensive starters and one defensive starter return and even more pressure will be on Wilton Speight to deliver with a new receiving corps. Jim Harbaugh has recruited some good raw talent, but I feel the Wolverines will take a small step backwards before reaching their full potential.

  1. Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern has a solid chance to make some noise this season with a speedy, explosive defense that features a disruptive front seven and an offense with the strong arm of Clayton Thorson and the tireless workhorse Justin Jackson. Unfortunately, they’ll be without the leading receiver from the Big Ten last year in Austin Carr and need a reliable target to emerge. Also, they ranked 108th in pass defense and face their biggest divisional opponent Wisconsin in Madison.

  1. Iowa Hawkeyes

While the Hawkeyes have limited experience at quarterback with presumed first-time starter Nathan Stanley and few receiving options besides Matt VandeBerg, they possess one of college’s best offensive lines and a home-run threat in senior running back Akrum Wadley. On defense, they also are raw and young at most of the skill positions. Yes, they’re anchored by linebacker and leading tackler Josey Jewell but one man can’t do it all. Nonetheless, their ceiling is still 7-9 victories.

  1. Nebraska Huskers

Though the Nebraska Huskers started 7-0 and had a great opportunity for a championship game invite in 2016, they lost four of their final six. Now, they are in a state of transition with pro-style quarterback Tanner Lee under center trying to resuscitate an offense that averaged 211.7 passing yards a game (86th). On defense, they still have a very stout secondary in their new 3-4 scheme but with all the changes, I see more growing pains than success.

  1. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Even with P.J. Fleck’s infectious positive energy, that only goes so far. The Gophers have essentially no experience at quarterback and wide receiver besides leading wideout Rashad Still (18 catches). They’ll have to rely heavily on running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, both of whom averaged over 4.7 yards per carry and combined for 1,808 yards but the offensive line is thin and lacks depth. The defensive line is lean as well. Expect a middle-of-the-pack finish.

  1. Michigan State Spartans

Jekyll and Hyde perfectly describes the Spartans last two seasons, plunging from a conference champion to a basement dweller, and it remains to be seen if they can rebound after a rough off-season. I believe with their three-headed monster in the backfield (L.J. Scott, Gerald Holmes, Madre London; 3,300 combined rush yards)and the return of quarterback Brian Lewerke, who played well versus Michigan before breaking his leg, the Spartans will compete for a bowl bid. Anything more is wishful thinking.

  1. Indiana Hoosiers

The defense, which improved from 121st to 45th in passing yards allowed in 2016, has nine returning starters and should be the strength especially in the linebacking corps with Tegray Scales (23.5 tackles for loss in 2016) and secondary with Rashard Fant (48 passes defended). Richard Lagow has a canon for an arm but needs to work on his accuracy (17 interceptions). If the offense can cut down mistakes and the defense rises up like last season, this is a scary, dangerous team. I forecast a definite bowl game.

  1. Maryland Terrapins

A 2014 four-star recruit by 247sports, there is a lot of hype surrounding North Carolina transfer quarterback Caleb Henderson. He has good size and can run and pass as he commands Maryland’s spread offense and tries to improve an offense that averaged just 178.2 yards a game (106th). The defense is experienced with their senior-laden front seven led by middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. but allowed over 28 points seven times. Sadly, I see them drastically receding.

  1. Purdue Biolermakers

David Blough can air it out with the best of them but he led the league with 21 interceptions and losses his top four pass catchers from 2016. To make things even trickier, Purdue is young on offense with just one returning starter on the line so protection is a concern. Depth on the defensive line and secondary is also a weakness.  New head coach Jeff Brohm maybe an offensive whiz but he has a lot of work to do.

  1. Illinois Illini

Lovie Smith will have a tough time this season as the teams top five pass rushers including standouts Carroll Phillips and Dawuane Smoot as well as leading tackler Hardy Nickerson Jr. are gone. In fact, the defense will be very young and untested and will have one senior starter in corner Jaylen Dunlap. On offense, quarterback Chayce Crouch is healed after attempting just 32 passes and gets two formidable receivers in Mike Dudek and Malik Turner. Other than that, nothing is sound here.

  1. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Four quarterbacks are competing for the starting job and electrifying return man Janarion Grant returns. Other than that, not much to say besides good luck not losing any games by a significant margin. Every year I think they will stop getting killed, but it always seems it gets worse. Is it even possible to be embarrassed more than being shutout 78-0? I hope it doesn’t for the sake of the conference’s reputation.

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

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Burning Big Ten Questions for 2017

It’s almost time for football and thank goodness for that.

As the days count down, everyone’s focusing on the big questions. Well, there are more questions to ask besides whether or not Ohio State is ahead of schedule in their rebuild or what flavor ice cream Jim Harbaugh is eating. I’m only partially kidding as it’s been mentioned before. If there was an actual article dedicated to it, the rest of this article would be an unintelligible angry mess.

So, without further ado, here are my burning non-big Big Ten questions.

Can Minnesota row a boat?

In what was a highly irritating situation, the Golden Gophers fired their head coach Tracy Claeys for essentially encouraging his players to stand up for due process. Not only did the school get away with it with little ruckus due to Minnesota not being a major player for some time, the administration managed to land the hottest coaching prospect in Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck.

There’s no way to say this without being slightly disparaging to Western Michigan players but you don’t find the same kind of players at Minnesota. Not necessarily talent-wise because Corey Davis was a beast but I’m talking mindset. There’s a different mindset when you’re playing in the MAC versus being on national television every weekend in the Big Ten. A cheesy saying like Fleck’s “Row the boat” might work at Western but will it in Minnesota?

In my mind, there are two ways this ends: either Fleck builds the Golden Gophers into a power program or he’s out of a job in three years.

Will Purdue ever get it turned around?

Making fun of the Purdue Boilermakers is something I enjoy immensely. If you read my columns regularly, you’ll notice that I usually get a dig in about them being terrible pretty much every time. It’s starting to lose the amusement factor and is becoming just sad.

Since head coach Darrell Hazell took over in 2013, the Boilermakers have 9 wins. That’s not a year, that’s a collective total. Purdue hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 2000 and hasn’t had a 10-win season since the 70’s. That’s just brutal.

Purdue did hang tough in a couple games and showed some spunk last season so maybe that could be the start of something? As much as I like picking on the Boilermakers, I’d rather they stop getting ridiculed by the national media too.

Can Indiana get over the hump?

The Hoosiers have been probably one of the best four to six-win teams in the last six years. Look at the 2016 season for instance, Indiana beat the teams they should’ve beat but then went toe to toe with the big dogs. Only Ohio State and eventual Big Ten champions Penn State beat the Hoosiers by more than 10 points. Go back another year and the Hoosiers gave up a late lead to Iowa and took Michigan to double overtime. There are some good players at Indiana and the ones that keep getting drafted confirm that.

We’re going to get the answer to this question almost immediately. In what had to be scheduling blunder, Indiana gets Ohio State in their season opener at home. If Indiana can knock off the Buckeyes… watch out.

Will Rutgers be any less terrible?

I probably should’ve been making fun of Rutgers last season, not Purdue, but Rutgers is just so, so sad. Even their coach looks sad, I mean real sad, and I can’t even find the picture of him in the rain looking like he’s crying.

At one point, Rutgers lost by a combined total of 150-7 to Iowa, Ohio State, and Michigan. It wasn’t even fun anymore, especially if you were a certain steakhouse in Ann Arbor. At a certain point even opposing fans would’ve been OK with giving up a field goal or something.

You’d think  there’d be really nowhere to go but up since the Scarlet Knights went 2-10 in 2016 but with a change of offensive coordinators and philosophies, there’s currently a 4-way battle for quarterback. Not like a “We really know who the starter is and just aren’t saying” type of battle but a legitimate “We don’t know” type battle.

The schedule doesn’t do Rutgers any favors either. They open against 2016 playoff team Washington and travel to Michigan, Penn State, and Nebraska. Guys… it’s not going to be pretty but I think they can get three wins.

I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to getting some answers. I’ve got a solid hunch about Rutgers and Purdue but watching Indiana and Minnesota should be interesting. The Gophers have a shot at seven or eight wins and so does Indiana. There’s just that tiniest of chances that the Big Ten could be a little less top-heavy this season.

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

Image courtesy Flickr via Creative Commons

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Over/Under: Big Ten East

Last time I wrote, I did over/under projected victories for the Big Ten West this upcoming season based on what we know as of now and as promised, I have the Big Ten East this time around.

Indiana 6-7, 4-5 = Over 7-5, 4-5

Defensive coordinator Tom Allen takes over at head coach and the Hoosiers are eager to continue to build upon their success from 2016 when they made back-to-back bowl trips for the first time since 1990. In Allen’s first year, the Hoosiers defense made vast improvements, improving from 121st in yards allowed per game (509.5) in 2015 to 45th (380) in 2016. Linebacker Tegray Scales led the FBS with 23.5 tackles for loss and Rashard Fant led the conference with 17 pass breakups. Yet, despite the defensive success, Indiana struggled mightily on offense with 29 turnovers (123rd) and a 71.4 red zone score percentage (127th). If the Hoosiers can improve in these areas, getting several more wins shouldn’t be hard.

Maryland 6-7, 3-6 = Under 4-8, 1-8

In head coach DJ Durkin’s first season, Maryland improved from a 3-9 record to finish 6-7 and nabbed a bowl bid after drastically reducing their interceptions from an FBS-leading 29 to nine and also brought in the 17th-ranked recruiting class for 2017 in the off-season. There’s a lot of optimism and the future looks bright for the Terrapins but there are some huge obstacles including inexperience at quarterback with Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe moving on, suspect pass protection (49 sacks, 127th) a bad turnover margin (minus seven, 107th), not to mention a tough Big Ten East division. Remember Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan outscored Maryland 159-20. I see the Terrapins taking a step back before they go forward.

Michigan 10-3, 7-2 = Over 11-1, 8-1

With the departure of 17 starters and finishing 1-3, it is going to be a fascinating season for Michigan as they look to improve upon a 10-3 record in Jim Harbaugh’s third season. For most teams, losing that many starters would certainly be a devastating blow but with three loaded recruiting classes and continuity at quarterback with Wilton Speight returning, the Wolverines should remain a top contender for a conference championship. Plus, defensive coordinator Don Brown, who helped Michigan finish No. 2 in total defense and produced similar results at Boston College in 2015 with much less talent, returns. Yet, even if these underclassmen can deliver, I still think that the more experienced Buckeyes have the edge.

Michigan State 3-9, 1-8 = Over 5-7, 3-6

Coming off a disappointing 3-9 season and with a sexual assault investigation against several Spartans underway, things are not exactly sunny in East Lansing. Plus, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this team such as if projected starting quarterback Brian Lewerke, who had shown some flashes of potential in his limited experience before breaking his leg against Michigan, can be a reliable playmaker. He will need to deliver for an offense that was minus 58 in fourth quarter point differential. Also, can the Spartans improve upon a weak pass rush that yielded a measly 11 sacks? A lot of improvement will be needed to contend again but getting to a bowl is still within reach.

Ohio State 11-2, 8-1 = Over 13-0 (Big Ten champion), 9-0

In 2016, Ohio State appeared poised for another title run but J.T. Barrett had problems getting the ball downfield as the Buckeyes averaged 6.8 yards per pass attempt (88th in FBS) so new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day were hired to fix that. I and my fellow writer, Mark Silverman feel this could be a deadly offense with Wilson calling shots. On defense, only one team was more effective in the red zone, with the Buckeyes giving up touchdowns just 37.5 percent last season (15-40). With the exception of Raekwon McMillan, starters return at every spot in the front seven. If Barrett returns to 2014 form and the defense delivers, this is a legitimate national title contender.

Penn State 11-3, 8-1 = Under 10-2, 7-2

Despite starting 1-2, the Nittany Lions won nine straight to take the Big Ten due in large part to an explosive offense led by Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley. Averaging a conference-best 9.3 yards per pass attempt, McSorley made tremendous strides in his second season, totaling 29 touchdowns, eight interceptions and 3,614 yards (No. 1 in Big Ten), while Barkley led the conference with 18 rushing touchdowns. On defense, there are holes up front with both starting defensive ends gone but an experienced secondary with Marcus Allen and Grant Haley. There’s a lot to like here and while I don’t see them beating Ohio State in magical fashion again, I see them securing another 10-win season.

Rutgers 2-10, 0-9 = Neutral 2-10, 0-9

The gap between Rutgers and the league’s elite is already massive as the Scarlet Knights were outscored an insane 224-0 against Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. Unfortunately, at the rate the elite teams are growing and recruiting, I see the gap becoming larger before it gets smaller. Even with the hiring of Jerry Kill as offensive coordinator and the return of Janarion Grant, who is tied for the most kick and punt return touchdowns in history with eight, there’s only so much a few men can do here. Plus, it’s still a mystery if presumed starter Giovanni Rescigno is the answer at quarterback. It’s going to be another long year as Rutgers remains the conference’s doormat.

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

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Bilal Kamoon

There May or May Not be Mutual Interest Between Tom Crean and Missouri

Hopes, dreams, rumors and FlightAware. Those are things that the minds of Missouri basketball fans are absorbing. Athletics director Jim Sterk made it official last week when he made the announcement that Kim Anderson will no longer be the coach of the basketball team. Did he resign? Was he fired? Does it matter? What does matter is that Missouri is moving on from former athletics director Mike Alden’s failed experiment of hiring a coach who was in over his head from day one.

Relieving Anderson of his position was the easy part. Now comes the hard part for Sterk. Hiring the coach who will likely establish his legacy at Missouri.

[Merenbloom: Jim Sterk’s Missouri Tiger Legacy will Ride on Kim Anderson’s Replacement]

The Missouri fans have their early frontrunner based on hopes, dreams, rumors, and a touch of FlightAware. That frontrunner is current Indiana Hoosier coach Tom Crean.

If you don’t consider the guys at the Mizzodcast to be credible sources, how about Dave Matter? Matter writes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and confirmed, via sources, that there is mutual interest between Crean and Missouri.

Crean seems to be the hot name attached to the Missouri job at the moment, so let’s dig into what the possibility of his leaving Indiana for Missouri would mean for the Tiger program.

The Good

He wins. And wins are what Missouri basketball is in desperate need of. Crean has won two Big Ten championships at Indiana to go along with three Sweet Sixteen appearances. His detractors from Missouri will tell you that his first three seasons at Indiana resembled Kim Anderson’s three seasons at Missouri. On the surface those people would be correct, but there is more to the story.

Crean inherited a program that had been placed on three years of NCAA probation. Kim Anderson was dealt the same situation when he arrived at Missouri, but, unlike the former Tiger coach, Crean’s Hoosiers showed glimmers of hope as they went 28-66 in the first three years with Crean.

In his second season at Indiana, the Hoosiers beat a Pittsburgh team that would finish the season with a record of 25-9. And in his third season, Crean’s Hoosiers beat a Michigan team that would finish the season 21-14 along with victories over ranked Illinois and Minnesota teams. So don’t be fooled by Crean’s rough first three seasons at Indiana. His teams at least showed glimmers of hope and that is a testament to his ability to coach.

It was in his fourth season that those glimmers of hope turned into consistent results. Crean’s 2011-12 team went 27-9, finished 5th in the Big Ten and made it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. The reason for his success in his fourth season is the foundation for supporting Missouri’s interest in hiring Crean.

As his early Indiana teams were struggling to win, Crean was still able to sell his program to recruits. Players such as Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, and Jordan Hulls had no reason to commit to a program that won 28 games in a three-year period. But they did thanks to Crean’s ability to recruit. And, coincidently, Zeller’s uncle is Missouri basketball legend Al Eberhard and Zeller still turned down a winning Missouri program in favor of Crean’s sales pitch.

The Bad

Crean slowly developed a reputation for having issues with player control. His roster at Indiana has had problems with both drugs and alcohol. If that wasn’t enough, his handling of those incidents was considered to be lenient. Those events compounded upon themselves to the point that some believe that there was and possibly still is a disconnect between Crean and his players.

He has also shown behavior that is indicative of being a hot-head. In 2013, Indiana beat Michigan 72-71. While edging out that close win, Crean got into an argument with Michigan assistant coach Jeff Meyer. Meyer had been on Kelvin Sampson’s Indiana coaching staff. Crean yelled at Meyer, “You know what you did. You helped wreck our program.” Crean did learn from this incident as he had a different reaction when recently confronted by a Maryland fan.

Of all of the criticism that can be placed on Crean, the idea that he throws his players under the bus is possibly the most damning. When any coach does this, it gives the impression that the coach isn’t willing to take responsibility for the sub-par product that he is presenting to the fans. Whether or not it is a fair criticism of a coach is irrelevant. It’s a criticism that is there and it is one that Crean will likely need to address in any interview setting.

The Bottom Line

Crean has had his ups and downs at Indiana. This is true of just about every coach. Indiana fans and the local Indiana media seem to have grown tired of Crean’s style. Every coach has a shelf life and Crean may be at the end of his at Indiana.

I believe that Missouri basketball would be rejuvenated with the potential hiring of Crean. Truth be told, Missouri basketball would be rejuvenated with just about any coach that is hired to replace Anderson. But Crean may be different.

Crean has experience taking on a program that is down on its luck and turning it back into a winner. Whether or not Crean’s teams treated the Indiana fans to enough wins is up for debate, but Missouri fans would be ecstatic with the kind of success that Crean has had at Indiana.

Is Crean available? Only he knows at this point. Would he have any interest in the Missouri job? He says “no” but what is he supposed to say at this point?

I, for one, would be excited to see Crean coaching at Missouri. As a Missouri fan, I’ve witnessed worse.

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

Photo: Wikimedia

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When Does Coaching Cross The Line?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Wikipedia 

With impressive win and culture, the Mastodons now run the Summit League

Picked unanimously to win the Summit League this year, this is now the Fort Wayne’s conference.

Running up on offense, one may think that the Mastodons learned how to play basketball last week.  The general form of their jogging in each player does not give off a great sense of athleticism.  One may even question if the players even care with their body language.  This may all be a carefully designed Jedi mind trick by Jon Coffman and his players.

The cast of characters do not appear like anything on paper that should be a contender for a conference tournament title.  Yet, here we are expecting the Mastodons to run all over the Summit League on their way to a NCAA Tournament berth.

Brent Calhoun, a center that was once considered too overweight and out of shape to play college sports, now controls the pain for the Mastodons on defense.  Calhoun had to be convinced by the Fort Wayne coaching staff to stick with basketball.  He lost over sixty pounds and worked on his footwork.  Now he could possibly be the best post defender in the Summit League.

Mo Evans, a point guard who had to sit out the second semester of the 2015-2016 season due to academic issues.  Evans spent the second semester working to improve in the classroom.  He also helped the Mastodons better last season by being a member of the practice squad.  He never let the Mastodons give up on him, and this season could be considered the best point guard in the league.

John Konchar, a guy who can play four different positions, was ready to walk onto Notre Dame before picking up a scholarship offer to Fort Wayne.  Konchar put on a load of muscle and worked on his shooting in his redshirt season to become an all-around basketball player, and he is just that.  While Mike Daum has been considered the best player in the league, it may actually be Konchar.

These are just a few of the leaders for the Mastodons, but the entire team feeds off of their lessons.  The roster appears as if there is no emotional leader.  There is no one going around and yelling at players, pounding on his chest, or pushing his teammates around in excitement.  Everyone on the roster looks as if they are someone who wants to inspire with hard work.

No one else in the Summit League appears as if they quite know what they are at this point.  The Mastodons know exactly what they are.  The Mastodons are that hard working, gritty basketball team that works to rarely make mistakes as a team.  They are what North Dakota State wants to be.  The team is what the successful mold should be in the Summit League.  They might even be the right mold for what a successful mid-major should be.

With the versatility on the roster, the Mastodons are able to play different styles and adjust to their opponent.  They can play big or small, fast tempo or a slower pace.  When they upset the Hoosiers last week in Fort Wayne, the Mastodons were slowed up when Indiana stuck to a zone, but the Mastodons were able to adjust and make quick passes, find the open shooters, and keep their lead they had built against the in-state Power 5 foe.

It should be virtually impossible for a low-major program to get a power conference team to come play them in their own arena.  Tom Crean and the Indiana Hoosiers may have thought they could come into Fort Wayne and just buy a decent looking road win.  Now the Hoosiers may never even drive through Fort Wayne ever again.

With the win over Indiana, the Mastodons are striking fear into their Summit League competition, especially the teams like Omaha and Oral Roberts who may not be feeling confident in themselves after facing such difficult non-conference schedules.  With the win over a top-10 team, the Mastodons will now have to face their conference schedule with the biggest target on their backs.  A target that has probably never been larger for anything out of Fort Wayne.

Last season, the lack of depth is what hurt the Mastodons in the conference tournament, and eventually the NIT.  The depth issues appear to have been fixed with the staff’s recruiting and development of players.

E-mail Andrew at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @AndrewInTheO.

Photo from gomastodons.com

Hoosiers Fall as Soon as They Rise

The Indiana Hoosiers were finally back on top.  They had beaten Kansas in their opener, and after a few years of mediocrity (relative to Indiana basketball history) Tom Crean finally had his boys headed in the right direction.

Even ESPN couldn’t ignore the hype, placing the Bloomington Basketball Boys at the very top spot of its latest power rankings (by the way, Indiana was in the 14 spot the week before).  That’s right, it was Indiana first, then Kentucky, Villanova (defending National Champs), Kansas, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina. That’s a big list of big programs.

You know what big time programs have in common? They don’t lose regular season games to mid-major opponents.

If you haven’t heard, the same week Indiana jumped 14 spots to number one on ESPN’s power rankings, they lost to the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne Mastodons, more commonly known as IPFW, in overtime.

What a way to solidify your spot at the top, right?

Well, it was an away game for Indiana, which had to shift the odds just a little bit, right?

Please.

Indiana basketball is to Indiana what Kentucky basketball is to Kentucky, or what Ohio State football is to Ohio. If Kentucky were to travel to Newport to play Northern Kentucky, the stadium would be full of blue and white.  If Ohio State were to travel to Bowling Green, you would be hard pressed to find any orange and brown in the crowd.

It was no different for the Hoosiers last night in Fort Wayne’s Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.  Bloomington, the home of Indiana University, is around a three-hour drive from Ft Wayne, so fans from the far eastern part of the state that don’t generally get a chance to see their beloved Hoosiers gobbled tickets up. In fact, tickets to the game sold out in less than an hour.

How did this happen?

Indiana’s starting five included a former three-star recruit, three former four-stars, and a five-star.

IPFW’s starting five consisted of three guys that weren’t ranked as high school recruits, plus a two-star, and a three-star transfer.

That three-star transfer, Fort Wayne native Bryson Scott, shot 50 percent from the field while scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds (he’s 6’1”).  It was the first time Scott had ever amassed over 10 rebounds in a game.

As you can expect from a 71-68 game, the numbers in each statistical category were pretty similar.  Indiana had a slight edge in rebounds, free throw percentage, and field goal percentage.  The most lopsided categories fell IPFW’s way as the Mastodons accumulated 11 steals to Indiana’s four and seven blocks to the Hoosiers’ three.  Indiana finished with 15 turnovers, seven more than IPFW’s eight.

As far as Indiana and its fans are concerned, though, none of that matters.

Indiana has been revealed as a phony and we’re only a few weeks into the season.  With a non-conference schedule that includes North Carolina, Butler and Louisville, plus a tough Big Ten slate, you can probably expect quite a few losses from the Hoosiers, and don’t even think about a national title.

This is a knee-jerk reaction based on one bad result.

No it’s not.  This is an educated prediction based on NCAA history.  I’m not claiming the Hoosiers won’t win the Big Ten or make the tournament, but you’d be hard pressed to go back in history and find a team, ANY TEAM, that has lost to a mid-major opponent and proceeded to prove itself a championship contender.

That’s my challenge to you, actually. Find me a team that matches that description and tweet it to me @evanskilliter or email me at [email protected].  I’ll be happy to hear from you.

E-mail Evan at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

How Many Games Would Western Michigan Win with a Big Ten Schedule?

Row, row, row your boat ladies and gentlemen- the Western Michigan Broncos are for real.  After convincing victories at Illinois and Northwestern, the Broncos finished 4-0 in regular season non-conference play. Thus far, they’ve amassed just under 2,000 yards of total offense and they’ve possessed the ball over a quarter longer than their opponents. They’re limiting opposing rushers to 3.4 yards per carry and they’re already +7 in turnover margin.

There’s absolutely no reason the Broncos can’t run the table. With Northern Illinois, supposedly Western Michigan’s strongest intradivisional competitor, off to an abysmal 0-4 start, the ceiling is shattered for P.J. Fleck’s squad to gROW h16her.

Why stop there? Sure, Western Michigan is a popular pick in the MAC West. But how about the Big Ten West? After all, they’ve already vanquished two teams in college football’s strongest conference.

Now, I know exactly what you’re thinking: should Illinois count as an FBS football team? Probably not, but last time I checked, they’re still considered one and Western Michigan beat them. Similarly, the best thing to happen to Northwestern football in the last month is a guy named Trevor Semen Siemian. Maybe it isn’t so unrealistic to imagine the Broncos battling with the Big Ten brass week in and week out.

That’s the burning question no other mediocre sports writer has the courage to answer: how many games would Western Michigan win with a Big Ten schedule?

First, we need to provide the Broncos with a Big Ten schedule. Seeing as Western Michigan literally has the word “western” in it, the Big Ten West seems to be a natural fit. Yet, in order to include the Broncos in the West, another team has to be excluded from the West.

In what’s probably the least shocking news you’ve heard all day, we’re excluding Purdue from the Big Ten West. They’re a disgrace to the game of football at the moment. Given that their colors are nearly identical, you could replace the Boilermakers with the Broncos on any given Saturday and the only way their fans would know the difference is that they’d actually be winning a meaningful game for once.

With that, let’s examine just how well Western Michigan would fare playing Purdue’s Big Ten opponents this season. As for how Purdue would fare in the MAC…we’ll save that for a later date.

Home vs. Maryland Terrapins – W

What’s that? A home tilt against a team that won three games last year? Sign me up. Yeah they’re 3-0, but Maryland’s non-conference schedule was downright criminal. I mean, who doesn’t respect premier programs like Howard, FIU, and UCF? Maryland benefitted from both an easy schedule and sheer luck in the turnover department. A turnover hasn’t been allowed by either of these teams this season. The difference is, it makes sense with WMU- they actually have a good coach.

Away @ Illinois Fighting Illini – W

Western Michigan already won this contest in Week 3 of their actual schedule, so chalk this one up as a W.

Home vs. Iowa Hawkeyes – L

To speak in terms fellow MACtion lovers will appreciate, the Iowa Hawkeyes are simply a better version of the Ohio Bobcats. They’re stout, they’re gritty, they’re conservative, and both have coaches older than the ground they walk on. After Iowa’s blunder against North Dakota State, it’s clear the Hawkeyes aren’t the 12-2 world-beaters that earned Kirk Ferentz an eighty bajillion-year contract. They are, however, experienced. With experience up front and on both sides of the ball, the Hawkeyes wouldn’t allow themselves to falter a second time against a mid-major.

Away @ Nebraska Cornhuskers – L

The way they’re playing at the moment, I’m wary of picking against the Cornhuskers. This hypothetical matchup hinges on a battle within the trenches. Nebraska rushes for 5.1 yards a carry. Western Michigan allows only 3.4 a carry. Nebraska showed enough capability in defending against a spread Oregon attack that I doubt Western Michigan could out-possess or outscore Nebraska.

Home vs. Penn State Nittany Lions – L

I think this is James Franklin’s last season in State College. I’ll give you one good guess as to who I think replaces him. For the purposes of this matchup, I expect Trace McSorley to be a difference maker by the middle of the season. Not like anybody has ever overhyped a Penn State quarterback before…

Away @ Minnesota Golden Gophers – W

I expect P.J. Fleck to revitalize his team after a three-game skid and defeat a ho-hum Minnesota team. Besides that, I’m just going to leave this here:

Home vs. Northwestern Wildcats – W

Western Michigan defeated Northwestern narrowly in Evanston by a 22-21 margin. I’m going to assume a change of scenery to Kalamazoo wouldn’t alter the decision. This is another win for Western Michigan.

Home vs. Wisconsin Badgers – L

This is the only team on this schedule that Western Michigan has no chance of beating. With how swiftly Wisconsin punished Mike D’Antoni Mark Dantonio and Michigan State, even the flashiest of MAC talent simply can’t compete.

Away @ Indiana Hoosiers – W

Indiana just lost to Wake Forest, which is less than ideal. A week before, they only managed a 10-point cushion against Ball State- another MAC member. Once again, it appears all Indiana can do is throw the football. To stop Zach Terrell and Corey Davis, you need to do more than just throw the ball.

Final Record: 9-4 (5-4)

According to my predictions, Western Michigan easily secures a bowl game in the best conference in football. Take that, Purdue.

Am I high on the Broncos? You bet I am. Regardless of my feelings about them, regardless of whether they run the table, regardless of whether they reduce the MAC West to rubble (like Northern Illinois has for years), they’ll never get serious looks as a legitimate contender. That’s a shame for a team as talented as WMU and a coach as talented as Fleck, as well as all other underdogs like them.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, [the Big Ten] is but a dream.

Email Cole Hankins at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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