Tag Archives: Iowa

Ohio State Doesn’t Belong in College Football Playoff

The playoff picture is less than a week away from being formed.

Heading into the final weekend there are seven teams that are still alive.

Clemson and their opponent in the ACC Title Game, North Carolina, Alabama, Iowa and their opponent in the B1G Championship Game, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Oklahoma has all but assured themselves a spot in the final four to cap things off.

Of the seven teams listed, only six deserve to have the chance to play for the college football playoff.

The Ohio State Buckeyes do not belong in this conversation.

Yes, they are highly ranked, and yes they are very talented, there is no denying both of those two facts. What can be denied is that the Buckeyes have played well enough to deserve a spot playing in the semi-finals on New Year’s Eve.

Entering this season, Ohio State was voted unanimously number one by the AP. Voting them first overall seemed like the right move considering how many key players were returning to the Buckeyes from the previous season that saw them win the national championship.

While many of the key players returned, the team was nowhere near the caliber that the 2014 edition of the Buckeyes was.

Throughout this entire year, Ohio State has underachieved. The Buckeyes have had close calls against NIU at home, Indiana on the road and Minnesota at home as well before finally falling to Michigan State in the Horseshoe.

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The Spartans dominated the Buckeyes physically in their own house, out rushing them 203 to 86, and holding Heisman hopeful Ezekiel Elliot to only 33 yards on 12 carries.

Sure, the Buckeyes bounced back nicely and dominated Michigan at the Big House the following week, but does one good win really deserve to be rewarded with an opportunity to play for college football’s biggest prize?

Comparing Ohio State to the other one-loss teams shows the Buckeyes do not have anywhere near as impressive as Alabama, Oklahoma, and Michigan State.

The Crimson Tide’s seventh best win (Wisconsin) would be the second best win that Ohio State would be able to tout. Sure, both teams have a home loss, but is there any doubt as to which team has a better body of work? Absolutely not.

Heading out west, to Norman, OK, the Sooners also have a resume that trumps what the Buckeyes are able to present. Aside from the drubbing of rival Oklahoma State in Stillwater by a score of 58-23, the Sooners also have wins over Baylor, TCU, West Virginia, and in SEC Country at Tennessee. Comparing resumes, the Sooners have two wins that would be better than any win Ohio State has. Of course, Oklahoma did lose a neutral site rivalry contest with Texas, but overall the body of work simply outweighs what the B1G East Runner-Up Buckeyes have been able to put forth.

It is also worth noting that Oklahoma has won the Big 12, and Alabama has an opportunity to win their conference, the SEC, something Ohio State does not have a chance to do. They lost that opportunity when Michigan State smoked Penn State on the last Saturday of the B1G regular season.

Surely, no one is arguing that Alabama and Oklahoma don’t belong in over Ohio State. The argument that very few are talking about would come out of the ACC.

Simply put, if Clemson wins the ACC Championship, they’re in the playoff, no two ways around it. The argument would be if they lose to North Carolina in that game.

The Tar Heels have flown under the radar since their week one loss to the Old Ball Coach and South Carolina. Since that game, all Marquise Williams and the Tar Heels have done is win, and looked very impressive doing so.

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The Tar Heels have not played an overly grueling schedule considering they are still looking for a marquee win, one they have a chance to get against Clemson. The lack of a big win does hurt them, but the fashion in which they have taken care of the opponents on their schedule has been very impressive. Williams and company have topped the 50 point mark three times against FBS competition, and came within five points of doing so two additional times.

The Tar Heels, like the Buckeyes have only defeated one ranked team (@ Pitt), but they have looked much better than the Buckeyes have against very similar schedules.

Much is made of the “eye test” these days in the college football world. The test essentially is based upon how well a team plays week to week. Alabama and Oklahoma have each passed every week since their losses; Iowa has looked bad on an eye test level as well. The Buckeyes failed their eye test while the Tar Heels have passed theirs.

A win over Clemson would give North Carolina an A on their eye test, how could that be kept out in favor of an underachieving team?

It would be an absolute travesty to leave North Carolina out in favor of Ohio State if Clemson goes down this coming weekend.

Ohio State does not belong anywhere near the semi-finals, here’s to hoping the committee does the right thing.

Where Does Ohio State Belong?

They say that previous success should have no bearing on the current standing. One would think that this would be especially true in today’s “What have you done for me lately?” world.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that way.

Ohio State continues to sit safely in the top four of the College Football Playoff Committee’s rankings.

MikeThomas-rutgers

 

 

 

This might be an unpopular opinion, but they don’t deserve to be in that spot.

Yes, the Buckeyes are unblemished this year, coming out on top every time they’ve walked on the field, but as Oklahoma State and Iowa have shown us, that simply isn’t enough.

Why is it that Ohio State’s run through cupcakes and unranked teams is good enough for number three, but Iowa’s two Top 25 wins or Oklahoma State’s Top 25 win isn’t as good a resume as Ohio State’s zero?

The argument is there that Iowa is very overrated due to the eye test, and I could buy that. Iowa might actually be the most overrated team in the top 10 at the moment. That being said, at least they have a few solid wins.

Yes, Oklahoma State’s non-conference schedule is as bad as, if not worse than Ohio State’s, but they still have more wins over ranked teams than the Buckeyes do.

Ohio State will have the time to prove it belongs in the next two weeks with their matchups against Michigan State and at Michigan, but until those happen, what have they really done, other than winning it all last year?

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Looking at their resumes all together, they are very similar. That being the case why does Ohio State get all the love?

Taking out a mediocre Virginia Tech on the road was a solid win, granted Lane Stadium is a tough place to play, especially at night, but is that good enough to be a top four team’s marquee win? If it isn’t that game it surely must’ve been sneaking past Mid-American Conference powerhouse Northern Illinois by seven, inside of the almighty Horseshoe. That one really must’ve impressed the committee.

Ohio State has beaten three bowl eligible teams at this point, and two of them are from the MAC in Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.

After looking at Ohio State’s body of work, I simply cannot find a reason to have them placed inside the top four at the moment.

Call me a hater, call me whatever you want because I’ve heard it all. Facts are facts and right now the Buckeyes don’t have the credentials of a top four team.

Truthfully speaking there are a number of teams with better resumes than Ohio State, even including teams that don’t have perfect seasons.

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Ohio State has an extremely talented team; there is no doubting that. Braxton Miller has made the transition from QB to WR look very smooth, Joey Bosa will play at a high level on Sunday’s for a long time, and Ezekiel Elliott is a special talent.

All of those cannot be denied.

A few other things that cannot be denied this year include the inconsistent quarterback play, the lack of a true deep threat offensively, an offensive line that has struggled, and a team captain pulling the “Do you know who I am?” while being arrested for OVI.

Keep in mind before you throw me to the Twitter wolves, that the Buckeyes still have plenty of time to prove themselves.

It just so happens that their season starts 11 weeks after the rest of the college football world.

The College Quickie: Rivalry Week Edition

That time of year is once again upon us. It is rivalry week. Throughout this week, cfbroundtable will be featuring key rivalry games. To get you in the mood, this week’s college quickie will serve as your rivalry week primer.

ARIZONA STATE/ARIZONA

Look, I told everyone a few weeks ago that the Pac 12 was for real. Well, one division of the Pac 12 is at least, the Pac 12 South. Consider them the west coast edition of the SEC.

Rivalry week offers a marquee Pac 12 South matchup in Arizona St./Arizona. The winner stands to get a shot at Oregon. For Arizona St. it would be their first crack at the Ducks. The Wildcats on the other hand would be looking for the sweep.

What happens in this rivalry game and the eventual Pac 12 championship could have surprising ramifications. Stay tuned, the Pac 12 is in position to surprise some people.

OREGON/OREGON ST

I think enough of the Pac 12 that I have decided to stay on the west coast for rivalry number 2.

While I do not anticipate a Beaver win, I do believe they are dangerous; just ask Arizona St. There will be plenty to watch in this game. Oregon stands to make a statement and build momentum going into the Pac 12 championship game. Oregon St has an opportunity to showcase their top tier quarterback, Sean Mannion.

Michigan St left Autzen Stadium with the loss, but Connor Cook passed for 343 yards and 2 TD. Mannion is every bit as good as Cook, if not better. Expect Mannion to use this game as an audition for the NFL draft.

ALABAMA/AUBURN

Ah yes. The Iron Bowl. Last year’s edition was epic and just served as a continuation of Auburn’s magical season. This year shouldn’t have the excitement of last year’s game, but there is plenty on the line for Alabama and the SEC.

A win just keeps Alabama humming along their path to the playoff. It also keeps the SEC on the path to the playoff. If Auburn wins, there will be chaos in the SEC and potentially the nation. The door that it would open could allow some surprising participants in the playoff. Will those surprises include an additional Pac 12 team? Possibly Ohio St.? Or would it offer a poster child for the SEC bias crowd and usher in a team like Missouri?

MISSOURI/ARKANSAS

And with that prior sentence, I will present my black and gold tinted offering to this college quickie; Missouri versus Arkansas.

Please, don’t get me wrong, this is not on par with the established rivalry games.,,yet. The teams have played a few times in bowl games, but it has been ages since the schools met in the regular season. This has the makings of a great rivalry. The states share a border and Kansas is in Arkansas’ name.

For Missouri, it’s simple. Win and they can book their reservations for a return trip to Atlanta. Yes, the unimaginable could happen. The new guy on the block is in position to make back to back appearances in the conference championship game.

And for Arkansas, maturation and credibility is on the line. Coach Bielema has done a masterful job this year, just as Damien Bowman wrote about earlier on cfbroundtable. The Hogs took baby steps earlier in the year and now they are walking. Win against the Tigers and they become bowl eligible and generate a nice buzz going into next year.

NEBRASKA/IOWA

This budding rivalry game does not have nearly as much on the line as the games previously presented. Nebraska made sure of that when they lost to Minnesota last Saturday. What this game does offer are two coaches who may or may not be in the process of over staying their welcome at their respective schools.

Kirk Ferentz. Head coach for the Hawkeyes since 1999. His overall resume is impressive. 115-83 to go along with some nice bowl game wins. His stock has been high enough over the years that his name was at least thrown around as a possible candidate for NFL jobs.

The problem with Ferentz is that his 9 and 10 win seasons have been few and far between. It has been 5 years since he has won at least 9 games and 10 years since he had back to back seasons of 9 wins or more. Lose to the Huskers and he is 7-5. Win and he is 8-4. Not good in a watered down Big Ten. Can Iowa afford to give him a 6th rebuilding year?

Bo Pelini is finishing up his 7th year as the head coach for the Huskers. In his 6 full seasons in Lincoln, he has averaged 9.5 wins. He has never won less than 9 games. A win against Iowa puts him at 9-3, par for his course. Lose and he slips to 8-4, his worst year as a head coach.

This game won’t provide influence at a national level, but it does have the possibility of being a program changer for the loser.

LET’S GET IT ON

Ohio/Miami (OH) get us warmed up tonight. Thursday evening presents an intriguing matchup between Texas A&M/LSU along with Texas/TCU. Then, on Friday, things hit full speed and we not only begin to get answers, but also a little more excitement for the 2014 season.

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.

State of the Big Ten

What a difference several weeks can make especially in the cyclical, turbulent world of college football. Following a historically horrific first three weeks (1-10 against Power 5 opponents), the Big Ten looked dead in the water and was on the chopping block for elimination from the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The Source: US PRESSWIRE
The Source: US PRESSWIRE

Fast forward seven weeks later and much of that negativity is ancient history. More importantly, the Big Ten is right back in the thick of the playoff discussion and with the exception of Florida State, looks arguably in better shape than the ACC with three teams ranked in the top 16 in the Associated Press and coaches’ polls.
Now if you’re not down with the Big Ten, take a look around the rest of the nation. The other power five conferences aren’t exactly shaping up like we expected just a few short weeks ago.
SEC fans will argue that the SEC beats itself up, and to a certain extent, that’s true. But with highly ranked SEC teams falling each week like dominoes and so many big games left before the playoff is set, it makes sense to believe that any Big Ten team has a reasonable chance to fit into the playoff picture at 12-1.
As far as the conference is concerned, comparing the East and West is almost night and day. It is no secret that the most likely Big Ten champion is coming from the East and will be between powerhouses Michigan State or Ohio State. If they both continue to pummel their competition as they have in the past few weeks, both teams early season losses do not look so bad if the committee takes into account both losses occurred when the season just started. Admittedly, though, if Ohio State wins the all-important November 8 matchup against MSU it maybe a harder argument to consider them seeing their lone loss was against an unranked Virginia Tech team. On the flipside, the committee may take into account it was before the true blossoming of J.T. Barrett.
In the muddled, wild West, five teams all have legitimate shots to win the division and no one knows who the champion will be although in recent weeks, Nebraska has appeared to be the most talented and balanced team.
Minnesota, which was firing on all cylinders having won three games in a row, remained hot with a come-from-behind home win against Purdue, whose defense surrendered 194 rushing yards to Golden Gophers running back, David Cobb. 6-1 Minnesota is all alone atop the West with a victory over Northwestern as their signature win and can’t be excluded from the division championship race even though their remaining schedule is brutal. At 3-0, it controls its destiny as the lone unbeaten team within Big 10 play.
Right behind Minnesota is Nebraska and Iowa.
Nebraska beat Northwestern at home this week for one of their top victories this year and gave MSU all it could handle and more as it rallied back from a 24 point deficit only to fall short in East Lansing in Week 7.
Iowa on the other hand, has an ugly early season loss to a struggling Iowa State team and was incredibly ineffective on offense against Maryland this past weekend, which resulted in a 38-31 loss.
Iowa is a team that is the definition of inconsistency and is facing an identity crisis at the quarterback position. Yet, Iowa still is in the Big Ten race as many pundits picked them to win the West due to their favorable schedule, but dreams of a truly special season for Kirk Ferentz’s squad are now much tougher to make reality.
Behind them, Northwestern started out strong with two solid conference wins over Penn State and Wisconsin only to drop their next two games to Minnesota and Nebraska for a 3-4, 2-2 record. The Wildcats offense sputtered against the Huskers as none of their passes went longer than 23 yards. The offensive limitations stem from the fact they lack explosive receivers, who can’t stretch the field and a quarterback who doesn’t possess a strong arm. They also lost their star tailback Venric Mark and potential downfield threat, Christian Jones.
Bringing up the rear is Wisconsin at 5-2, 1-1. If Wisconsin doesn’t have a passing game, the offense is in trouble and Wisconsin doesn’t have a passing game. The Badgers passers have been downright dreadful at times and are unreliable. The Badgers still have talented running backs in Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement; however, the offensive line has struggled to control the line of scrimmage especially in their two loses.
When the Wisconsin offense struggles, the No. 1 defense in the Big Ten comes to clean the mess up though they have given up big plays marked by poor coverage, especially in the secondary. It is hard to write off Wisconsin in the West race, especially when you think back to 2012 and the Badgers won the Big Ten title with a 4-4 conference record.
The Big Ten is in a slightly favorable position right now but the pendulum has swung back and forth between relevancy and irrelevancy all year long. It is tough to say what exactly the state of the conference truly is but it is remarkably better than when the season started and I, as a big ten fan, feel much more confident in the conference’s chances to actually field a playoff team especially with other conferences beating each other up in conference play.

Despite Five Wins, Inconsistencies Continue to Plague Terps

The Maryland Terrapins took down their second Big Ten opponent of the season by defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes this past Saturday, and the win comes as some small form of redemption after getting blown out at home by Ohio State on October 4. The offense as a whole played well aside from continuing inconsistency at the quarterback position. C.J. Brown’s struggles in the passing game continued, which included throwing an interception directly to an Iowa defender on the very first play of the game. The interception set the Hawkeyes up in the red zone which led to Iowa’s first touchdown. Aside from playing too soft too early and allowing Iowa back in the game in the fourth quarter, the Maryland defense performed well, getting big stops when needed and forcing three Iowa turnovers.
Both offense and defense have succeeded at times and significantly underachieved at others so far this season. As far as the offense goes, C.J. Brown’s season-long struggles are well known at this point. His running capabilities stabilize his status as the team’s starting quarterback but still don’t quite cancel out the inaccuracy and some frankly boneheaded mistakes throwing the football. The running backs have been inconsistent as well, which is directly related to their puzzlingly inconsistent usage. The defense has made dazzling individual plays, led by cornerback Will Likely’s Big Ten-leading four interceptions, two of which have been returned for touchdowns including one against Iowa. Cole Farrand has anchored the defense from the linebacker position and continues to rack up tackles. Despite stellar individual performances, the defense has shown serious vulnerability in both pass coverage and run defense at times, and has allowed opposing offenses to gain an average of 516 yards per game over the last five games.
From quarterback controversy (which has quieted since news broke of Caleb Rowe’s ACL tear) to the defensive holes, Maryland’s inconsistency on both sides of the ball has been well documented to this point and will likely continue throughout the season. What is becoming more apparent by the week, however, is that Maryland’s special teams are no exception. Specifically, the disparity in efficiency between Maryland’s kicker and punter is growing by the week.

The Good

Place kicker Brad Craddock has arguably evolved into the best kicker in the entire country, having not yet missed on any of his 12 field goal attempts so far in 2014. Only one kicker in FBS Division I-A is currently ranked above Craddock, that being Roberto Aguayo of Florida State who is 14-for-14 on the season. Craddock is now 8-for-8 on field goal attempts of 40 yards or more, including one knocked through from a career-long 57 yards. If not for a 58-yarder made by Indiana’s Griffin Oakes (against Maryland, ironically), Craddock’s 57-yard make would be the longest in college football this year. The Aussie is also a perfect 30-for-30 on extra point attempts, and has accounted for nearly one-third of Maryland’s offensive production this season (66 points out of 211 total offensive points scored).

Maryland's Brad Craddock has kicked his way into the discussion of the best collegiate kicker for 2014. Photo courtesy washingtonpost.com.
Maryland’s Brad Craddock has kicked his way into the discussion of the best collegiate kicker for 2014. Photo courtesy washingtonpost.com.

Craddock is truly an elite kicker, and seems to be NFL-ready halfway through his junior year. When asked about Craddock’s success this season in the post-game press conference after the win against Iowa, head coach Randy Edsall choked up discussing how the kicker has adjusted to being a collegiate athlete in the United States. His voice quivered as he explained why Craddock’s fellow countrymen in Australia should be proud, mentioning the kicker’s athletic ability as well as his morality, upbringing, and leadership. Craddock has truly come a long way from hitting only 10 of his 16 attempts his freshman season with the Terps.

The Not So Good

Unfortunately, there is another end of the spectrum, and Maryland punter Nathan Renfro slides towards it more and more with each passing week. Out of 128 qualifying punters this season in all of FBS Division I-A college football, Renfro currently ranks 88th in average yards per punt. More alarming are the junior’s struggles in recent weeks, averaging below 40 yards per punt in 19 punts over three games. Renfro had his worst game of the season against the Hawkeyes, punting nine times for an average of just 37.78 yards per punt. His woeful day consisted of short punts when long ones were needed and long punts when short ones were called for. One punt traveled a mere 19 yards. On another occasion the Terps were trying to pin the Iowa offense deep in their own territory late in the game. Renfro crushed a punt 30 yards too far. The ball rocked off the brick of the Gossett Team House, which sits about 15 yards behind the east end zone, on the fly. Granted, on this particular play the snap was low and Renfro had to adjust… but he didn’t.

A growing concern for the Terps is the lack of efficiency punting the ball away. Photo courtesy collegefootball.ap.org.
A growing concern for the Terps is the lack of efficiency punting the ball away. Photo courtesy collegefootball.ap.org.

Adding to the concerns is the fact that statistically Renfro’s ability seems to have capped out at these numbers; the Terrapin punter averaged virtually the exact same yardage per punt in 2013 (40.84 in 2013; 40.88 in 2014). Only four FBS I-A punters have at least as many punts this season as Renfro (43) and have a lower yards per punt average. The Terps have no other viable options at the position, so Renfro’s job appears to be safe despite his struggles.
Even with ongoing issues on both offense and defense and the increasing concerns with the punting unit, the Terps boast a 2-1 conference record and are 5-2 overall. The two conference wins have been quite impressive, particularly the win Saturday over the Hawkeyes. The Terps found themselves in an early 14-0 hole, but rallied to outscore Iowa 38-7 before the Hawkeyes tacked on a quick 10 points in the last five minutes of the game. Accordingly, the 38-31 final score made the game seem closer than it actually was. Maryland continued to put up points despite a third quarter injury to C.J. Brown that forced third-string quarterback Perry Hills into the game. Hills was certainly rusty, as he hadn’t seen live action in over two years, but the offense didn’t fall apart.

Looking Ahead to Wisconsin

The issue that needs to be immediately addressed in anticipation of Saturday’s matchup with Wisconsin is the run defense. Iowa running back Mark Weisman finished with 78 yards on just 10 carries and two rushing touchdowns against Maryland. The Terps defense will have their hands full this Saturday trying to contain Badger running back Melvin Gordon, who is currently second in the nation in total rushing yards behind only Indiana’s Tevin Coleman. Gordon also has 13 rushing touchdowns, two more than Coleman. Maryland was somewhat able to contain Coleman (relatively speaking) in their September 27 meeting with the Hoosiers, and will need a similar defensive game plan against Wisconsin.
A win at Wisconsin this Saturday could potentially propel the Terps into the top-25 discussion for the first time in head coach Randy Edsall’s tenure.

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.

The Return of the MAC

With 5 weeks in the books, college football ,as always, has been full of surprises, upsets, big plays, and crazy comebacks. The MAC has had it’s fair share of excitement so far as well, and entering the first full week of MAC play teams are hitting there stride and some competitive football is coming our way. Despite a few in conference MAC games already being played, very little has been decided other than a few bottom feeders claiming their territory and a surprise contender or two making some noise.
It’s been an entertaining first month of the season for MAC fans with ups and downs a plenty. The following is a condensed recap of the Highlights (and low-lights) of the season thus far:
Week 1: Starting off the season with a bang, MAC East preseason favorite Bowling Green got manhandled by the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 59-31 in a shocker. Being a relatively quiet tune-up week for most schools not much else thrilling took place week 1 although its noteworthy that in an early conference match-up Ohio defeated Kent St. 17-14 while Eastern Michigan matched their 2013 win total knocking off Morgan St. 31-28.
Week 2: In what proved to be the biggest week of upsets so far, week 2 gave us a little bit of everything. Central Michigan went to Purdue and stunned the Boilermakers 38-17 after Purdue outlasted a scare from Western Michigan last week. Northern Illinois followed suit dismantling in-state rival and fellow Big10 school Northwestern 23-15. Ball St. came within seconds of a MAC trifecta frightening Iowa fans in a heart crushing last second 17-13 loss. U-Mass took Colorado to the brink before falling 41-38 while Toledo couldn’t keep up with #24 Missouri losing 49-24 although it was a much closer game that the score reflects. After getting their fans hopes up week 1, E. Michigan suffered the 2nd largest lopsided defeat of 2014 in an absolute beat down from Florida 65-0 (EMU also has the 3rd largest blowout as you’ll find out later).
Week 3: A rough week for the MAC as tougher schools came calling. The lone bright spot was in yet another Big10 upset as Bowling Green worked out some wrinkles and squeeked past Indiana 45-42. Kent St. didn’t fare as well against the Big10 getting punished by #22 Ohio St. 66-0. C. Michigan’s high from the Purdue win was short lived as Syracuse stomped them 40-3. Buffalo shared a similar fate getting smashed 63-21 at #8 Baylor. Toledo hung around yet again in another shootout but eventually fell 58-34 to Cincinnati. N. Illinois continued to impress taking down UNLV 48-34 albeit UNLV isn’t the major program the others listed are.
Week 4: Yet another rough week for the MAC as the non-conference schedules get tougher and tougher. Bowling Green found out what a “real” Big10 team plays like getting shredded 68-17 by #19 Wisconsin. Helpless E. Michigan received the same Big10 powerhouse thumping at the hands of #11 Michigan St. 73-14 (There it is). C. Michigan continued to struggle through a tough early schedule falling to Kansas 24-10. N. Illinois ran into a team they couldn’t hang with losing to Arkansas in a 52-14 drumming. Continuing their promising start, Toledo had the lone highlight of the week in defeating Ball St. (who’s off to a slow start) 34-23 in Toledo’s MAC opener.
Week 5: Akron flexed some surprise muscle to start week 5 conquering Pittsburgh 21-10 while half of the MAC entered conference play. WMU however, was not one of those teams and after doubling last years win total last week (2), the Bronco’s were brought back down to earth against Virginia Tech losing 35-17 although like Toledo, hung in longer than the score reflects. Sticking with Toledo, they rocketed past C. Michigan 48-28 continuing Centrals early woes and proving again to be a strong contender for the MAC West title. Also playing in conference, Bowling Green righted the ship beating U-Mass 47-42 while surprise Buffalo bullied Miami(OH) 35-27.
Entering the first full week of MAC play, it appears 8 teams have put themselves into my “contender” ranking: Akron, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, N. Illinois, Ohio, Toledo, and W. Michigan. To date, Toledo, N. Illinois, and C. Michigan have played the toughest schedules which is why CMU still gets a nod despite being the only team named under .500. This week will provide us a much clearer view of who’s a real contender, and who’s just been pretending. It’s safe to say we can eliminate 1/2 of the East division from contention with 0-4 Kent St., 0-5 U-Mass, and 0-5 Miami(OH) not convincing anyone otherwise. E. Michigan can be put in this list too despite having a win, they lost their other 3 games a combined 155-17. The biggest surprise team not mentioned yet is Ball St. who despite their 1-3 record I can’t write off just yet but hasn’t earned contender status either. They should’ve beat Iowa and their 3 losses have all been by 10 pts. or less.
Despite some success, the majority of teams will be ready for, and looking forward to conference play. With understandable success against non-major conferences, the MAC still struggles against the major conferences not named Big10. Honestly, 3-8 versus the Big10 isn’t that high of a success rate either, but it’s considerably better that the 2-13 the MAC mustered up against all other major conferences (not including Marshall who is 3-0 vs. the MAC). The MAC is also 0-5 vs. AP Top 25 teams with the majority of the biggest blowouts coming at the hands of such schools. That being said, the MAC is getting better one season at a time as N. Illinois’ undefeated season last year, and P.J. Flecks 36th best recruiting class in the nation is proving in 2014. This week should be highly entertaining as MAC teams collide with eyes on the prize. Every game matters, but there are several marquee matchups on Saturday in the MAC including:
TOL vs WMU logos
A west division showdown between Toledo (3-2)(2-0 MAC) at Western Michigan (2-2)(0-0 MAC) in the Bronco’s MAC opener. The winner of this game gets my vote for MAC West division favorite. In an East vs. West collision, Ohio (3-2)(1-0 MAC) travels to C. Michigan (2-3(0-1 MAC) in whats become a must-win game for the Chippewas. Ohio could emerge with a 2nd MAC win vs. a fellow contender and a little more respect overall. Finally in an East division showdown, Buffalo (3-2)(1-0 MAC) locks horns with Bowling Green (3-2)(1-0 MAC) in a battle to remain on top of the East division. Only one can stay undefeated in conference while Buffalo can prove alot going on the road and earning a W in what would be an upset for the Bulls. All 3 games will be hard played and exciting to watch. I myself am attending the Toledo vs. WMU game and can’t wait to catch some live MAC action! Thanks for reading and be sure to tune in next week for all that is MAC from out here in MAC land!

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.