Tag Archives: Michigan State Spartans

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

The New Era of College Football: The Haves Trump The Have-Nots

The evolution of college football has created a new reality. Thanks to the college football arms race in facilities, fan support, and money as well as the nascent playoff system, there are two types of college football programs:

  1. Those that have a chance to win a national championship
  2. Those that have no chance to win a national championship

There is no migration between the types of programs. You either have a chance to win it all or you don’t. The rich teams get richer, everyone else treads water or drowns.

While there are two types of college football programs, there are three types of college football fans:

  1. Those fans who correctly recognize that their teams have a chance win a national championship
  2. Those fans who correctly realize their teams have no chance to win a national    championship
  3. Those fans who incorrectly believe their team has a chance to win the national championship, when in reality, they have no chance.

No convinced? Take a look at the following videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVC3UziHeGk and this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZU4NXtu2T5E.

These are, theoretically, facilities for college students. But we all know what these really are. Recruiting tools to draw top athletes to Texas and Texas A&M. These are “in-kind” payments to players who are ostensibly amateur athletes.

I have no doubt that the other programs with a chance to win a national championship have (or will soon have) facilities on par if not better than these. We all know the names of these programs – Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Ohio St, Michigan, Clemson, Florida State, & Oklahoma. You could probably add Oregon, Tennessee, Notre Dame and a small handful of other programs to this list, but that’s it. No other programs have a chance.

It is not shocking for fans of programs like Virginia, Wake Forest, Duke, Boston College, Vandy, Kansas, and Northwestern that they have zero chance to win a national championship…ever. I think the fans of these programs understand that they will never have facilities like Texas or Texas A&M. They will never compromise their integrity to the extent that the contending programs must to get the numbers of top players needed to compete for a national championship. Fans from these programs and many more like them realize their role in the world of college football. They are fodder for the teams with a chance to win it all. They can have successful seasons and win bowl games, but they will never hoist the national championship trophy. Maybe that’s okay. The point of college, after all, is to educate young minds, not win national championships. College athletics is supposed to be entertaining, so if you recognize your place and revel in reaching the heights of success within the boundaries of your possibilities, college football is a great deal of fun.

What might be shocking to the vast majority of the fans of programs not listed above, is that their teams also have no chance to win a national championship. None, zero, zilch, nada… they just don’t realize it. Many programs fit this description…we can all name these programs with perpetually frustrated fans who mistakenly think they are on the cusp of breaking into the top tier of college programs – Virginia Tech, NC State, UNC, West Virginia, Michigan State, South Carolina, TCU, Baylor, Arizona, Missouri, Maryland, Iowa, Kansas St, and Arkansas among many others, have no chance to win a national championship. Unfortunately, their fans think they do.

Think about how excited fans of these programs are when they land a big-time recruit. A 5-star or high 4-star kid who is a “can’t miss” prospect. There are high-fives all around and dreams of winning the college football playoff. The sad reality is, the teams that have a real chance to win it all, get at least a half a dozen of these players – every year. Not one per year or every other year like the wannabe programs. So the teams with a real chance to win it all have 30 or more can’t-miss players on their teams. The wannabe teams might have 5.

None of this is lost on the best coaches in the industry either. Do you think Nick Saban is going to leave Alabama to coach Northwestern anytime soon? Urban Meyer going to Wake Forest? Which programs have huge donor bases that make space-age locker rooms possible? (hint: it’s not Duke and it’s not Virginia…nor NC State or West Virginia) The best coaches go to the programs with the biggest donor bases that pay the biggest salaries & fund the best facilities, which draw the best talent…and so the cycles continues.

Like gambling in Vegas, the college football game is rigged. Over the course of any season, there will be exciting times when wannabe teams beat the odds and score big upsets. But over the course of a full season (including the playoffs), a single wannabe program cannot beat the system. There are too many 30+ mega-recruit teams out there, getting better every day and one of those teams will win the national championship every time. It’s why house wins over time in Vegas. The swanky trappings of the Bellagio are not there because gamblers go home winners. The odds favor the house, so it always wins. The system favors the top programs, so they will always win.

As we begin the 2017 college football season, we could create a list of 18-20 programs with a chance to win it all. It would be the same list from 2016. The participants in the football championship will be from that list – with no chance for an upstart to crash the party. It’s like the list to get into the VIP section of a popular night club. Not on the list? Not getting in.

The downside of this could be that as more college football fans realize the game is rigged against them, fans will lose interest and the game’s popularity could begin to fade. Then again, Las Vegas doesn’t seem to be losing its steam and state lotteries continue to be wildly popular. Maybe the fans of the wannabe programs understand their fate better than they let on. Maybe they are like the lottery players, thinking that someone is going to win this jackpot, if I buy a ticket it might be me, so every season, misplaced hope springs eternal. Unfortunately, the odds of winning the Powerball are better than their team winning the national championship.

E-mail David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

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

It’s Time to Play the College Football Version of Would You Rather?

Summer is officially here which means only a few more months until football games so what better way to celebrate this than to have a couple of Would You Rather? questions to ponder regarding college football.

Would you rather lose in a blowout or in the final seconds?

For me, I would rather lose in a blowout than lose a very evenly matched game in the final seconds. When you’re down by a significant margin, the sting of defeat is much easier to come to terms with and accept because you have no shot at winning. Yes, it’s completely embarrassing for any program to lose by over 30 points and the level of respect your opponents and onlookers have for you drops but in the grand scheme of everything, people often forget about those blowouts. The games are often forgettable letdowns as there is little to no drama, competition or excitement. For example, in the 2014 Big Ten championship, Wisconsin, who was favored by 4.5 points and I predicted would win, was dismantled by Ohio State 59-0. Yes, the painful memory still lingers but to be honest, I often forget about that loss since it was over before it even started. I was able to get over it much easier than one particular game that took place in 2011 for my beloved Badgers.

Wisconsin (No. 6 BCS, No. 4 AP) invaded East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans (No. 16, No. 15) for a Saturday primetime matchup on October 22nd and it was a tense, back-and-forth contest with multiple lead changes. In the fourth quarter, Michigan State’s lead ballooned to 31-17 but with 1:26 remaining, Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson tied the game 31-31 with a two-yard touchdown pass to running back Montee Ball. It appeared the game would head to overtime but on a last-second Hail Mary pass, Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousin’s desperation heave deflected off receiver B.J. Cunningham’s helmet and into the hands of Keith Nichol, who lunged forward, fighting off two defenders just enough to cross the goal-line for the game-winning score. The reason this one was so painful was the fact that Wisconsin was ranked so high and whispers of a national championship run were being floated around. Now, the game was tied and was headed into overtime so we still could’ve lost but to have those title aspirations erased that suddenly was mind-numbing.

The problem with losing in the final seconds is there is this tremendous amount of hope that your team can pull it out and the agony of having that hope ripped away in such a dramatic, mind-blowing matter is much more devastating. Just the thought of these athletes putting everything on the line and getting all the way to the finish line only to fall just short is the epitome of heartbreak and these losses are much harder to forget.

Would you rather attend a college or NFL football game?

It’s the age-old question that nearly every football fan must answer at some point in their lifetime but for me, I would rather attend a college football game than an NFL game. The first reason is that nothing can replace the lore, pageantry, and tradition that so many college programs have that distinguish them from their competitors. Tailgating at The Grove at Ole Miss, the Ohio State marching band forming its famous “Script Ohio” formation, the War Eagle taking flight at Auburn, the Sooner Schooner at Oklahoma or Clemson players touching Howard’s Rock as they enter. These are things you don’t see happen anywhere else. In addition to the special traditions, think about all the unique and historic venues these programs play in from the Big House, the Swamp, the Horseshoe, the two Death Valleys and the Coliseum. Most of the NFL stadiums are rather bland, corporate, and ordinary. Also, I can’t think of any NFL rivalry that can compare with how passionate and emotional college football’s premier rivalries are such as Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, Texas-Oklahoma.

Second, there’s something for everyone. You can see dozens of different offenses and formations like the triple option, spread, pro-style, wishbones, and flexbones whereas the NFL mostly runs variations of the West Coast offense. You can also witness players being utilized like Swiss Army knives, playing multiple positions.

College football has better rules such as players needing only one foot down inbounds to complete a catch and having pass interference be a consistent 15-yard penalty. My favorite is overtime actually gives each team an equal opportunity to possess the ball whereas the team that wins the coin toss in the NFL has a huge advantage and usually wins the game as we saw in this past year’s Super Bowl with the Patriots.

Finally, the NFL boasts that it has more parity than college and any team can win on any given Sunday, adding an element of unpredictability but a balanced league means a dearth of underdogs and few epic David overcoming Goliath storylines. It also means there is no chance for the elation that comes with an odds-defying win, the type of thrill that leads thousands to storm the field and celebrate together. When a team scores a game-winning touchdown on a Hail Mary, it’s even more exciting than when the same thing happens in the pros because there are fewer games in college, four times as many teams and losing even one game can completely ruin a season. That means that every play carries more weight than they do in the pros.

These are just a few reasons why I prefer college over pros and I’m sure you can definitely think of more. Summer is great but Saturdays aren’t the same without football.

E-mail Mike at  or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Image courtesy of flickr user Virtual Eyesee

Why is Michigan State Afraid of Success?

For a three-year span, Michigan State was one of the best schools in the Big Ten and even the country. The Spartans racked up a record of 36-5 over that span including two Big Ten Championships and one playoff berth. That’s a pretty impressive resume no matter what conference your school plays in.

So, what the heck happened?

There were signs of it in 2015. It took a fluke blocked punt for them to beat Michigan, close wins against Purdue and Rutgers, and then finally an absolute destruction by Alabama in the playoffs. That was before the wheels really came off in 2016 with more losses (nine) than they’d had in the previous three years. If you didn’t watch it, it was ugly.

Really it comes down to one thing: why is Michigan State afraid of success?

College football is a game of adaptation. The game changes and if you don’t change with it, you’re going to be left in the dust. Unless you have the absolute top talent like Nick Saban, you need to change with the times.

Michigan State had a crop of very talented players but all of them, including a very underappreciated quarterback in Connor Cook, left after the 2015 season. Most coaches would adapt their coaching schemes to what was left but not Mark Dantonio and his staff. They continued to run the same schemes that they ran with a quarterback that had NFL potential. The starter in 2016, Tyler O’Connor, did not have that type of talent but they kept asking him to try and make those same throws.

You know what good coaches do when things change? They adapt. Look at Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Lose your Heisman candidate quarterback to injury? Replace him with another Heisman candidate and then replace him when he’s injured all the way to a National Championship.

Now hold up you’re probably saying. You’re probably thinking that I’m just some Michigan slappy who’s hating on Michigan State because come on, didn’t Michigan just revert to the offense that they ran in the 80’s? The sure did but Jim Harbaugh has that top level of talent like Saban and Alabama.

Besides, there’s more than one way to adapt.

The coaching game has changed and Michigan State is not keeping up. Maybe they don’t want to spend the money or maybe Dantonio is more concerned with making his friends happy but look at his coaching staff. Look at his defensive coordinator, Harlon Barnett. Barnett has been with Dantonio since 2004. Yes, there were some good years in there so clearly, he makes a lot of money, right? That’s why no one has managed to swipe him yet, right?

Funny story there: he actually made less money than Drew Mehringer who was the Rutgers offensive coordinator in 2016. Yes, that Rutgers. The one that went 2-10. That team pays their coaches better than the winner of two of the last four Big Ten Championships. So, he makes less than coordinators at terrible schools and no one has bought his services. Kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, Oregon and Michigan were competing to hire Michael Johnson mostly because they thought it would help their respective schools land his prospect son.

Speaking of recruiting, that battlefield has changed as well. You have the above-mentioned battle to hire a single coach in the hopes of landing a 2019 prospect and you have, of course, satellite camps. Made famous by the probably insane Jim Harbaugh, you knew they were a good idea when the SEC tried to get them outlawed. You know who’s bringing in top recruiting classes? Not Michigan State who didn’t host or take part in any of them.

So, let’s tally up that scorecard again:

  • Not adapting to player talent
  • Not hiring top coaches
  • Not adapting to the new recruiting world.

That’s not a recipe for success. Dantonio is promoting the guys that are loyal to him even though guys like offensive coordinator Dave Warner are showing that they are basically incompetent in their roles. Being loyal to your friends is good but this is a business and if he’s not willing to put money into it, he’s going to find himself looking for another job pretty soon against what might be 2017’s hardest schedule.

Him and his friends.

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

Image courtesy Flickr

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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

2017 NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Notebook

Good fortune finds that the region that I happened to be covering turned out to be the only part of the bracket I predicted 100% correctly after the Round of 64.  No real surprises, as the top seeds took care of things in a business like fashion; and the only higher seeds to advance – #9 Michigan State and #11 Rhode Island – were anticipated.  The Round of 32 presents some intriguing match-ups as the first weekend of the Big Dance commences.

Close but no Cigar

I mentioned in my tournament preview on Thursday that the Midwest felt like a bracket that would not have much in the way of double-digit upsets.  The teams I felt were most likely, if any, to pull off upsets were Vermont and Nevada.  I make the mistake every year of picking a few too many of the 11-13 seeds to advance out of the Round of 64.  In customary fashion, both of these schools played very well, and hung tough for the majority of their respective games, but in the end Purdue and Iowa State were able to outlast the upstarts.  No surprise that Monte Morris led the way for the Cyclones, and B1G player of the year Caleb Swanigan did the most damage for the Boilermakers.  This sets up a 4/5 tilt between two schools recently plagued by early tournament failures, and something’s gotta give.

Wolverines continue their tear; have a shot at Revenge

The #4 seed Michigan Wolverines kept on rolling, outlasting Oklahoma State 92-91 in one of the more entertaining opening round games.  Senior Derrick Walton Jr. led the way with 26 points and 11 assists, setting up a Sunday afternoon showdown with Louisville.  The Cardinals once again got off to a shaky start, allowing themselves to fall into a 10-2 hole, before taking the lead permanently with just under seven minutes left in the first half.  The Cards got surprisingly strong contributions from big men Mangok Mathiang and Ray Spalding in order to outlast Jacksonville State.  Michigan has an opportunity to grab a little revenge, as John Beilien’s Wolverines fell in the 2013 National Championship game to Rick Pitino’s Cardinals.

Ram Tough

Dan Hurley’s Rhode Island team handily dispatched #6 Creighton, lining up one of the match-ups I was most looking forward to in this tournament, a date with the #3 seed Oregon Ducks.  All five starters scored in double figures, led by freshman Jeff Dowtin, who along with E.C. Matthews, went 10-10 from the free throw line.  The Rams will need every bit of toughness they have in them, as Oregon handled their business the way the tops seeds should, running up 55 points in the first half, and cruising to victory.  When Dana Altman’s team exerts all of their talent, the Ducks are elite.  This will be a fun game on Sunday.

This is Sparta!

The 2016-17 instillation of the Michigan State Spartans isn’t the typical powerhouse that Tom usually has at his disposal.  Coach Izzo knows how to pull the right strings at the right times, and now is presented with a golden opportunity to knock out top-seeded Kansas.  The Spartans thumped the Miami Hurricanes, and now await the Jayhawks, who, as expected, destroyed UC Davis to move into the Round of 32.  What was expected was the performance of Michigan State’s powerful freshman Miles Bridges and Nick Ward.  The keys on Sunday will be how Izzo’s club deals with the Kansas backcourt, particularly Frank Mason III, and whether the Jayhawks have enough support for senior Landen Lucas on the interior, in order to keep him on the floor.  I like Bill Self’s team to get through, but it may be a battle of attrition.

The Midwest Region is set up to have an outstanding Sweet 16.  Purdue or Iowa State will grab the first slot as that game caps off the action on Saturday night; then everyone else will fill in the gaps on Sunday.  Here’s hoping I can keep one clean region, and have each of my picks roll through, including #11 seed Rhode Island, there to upset the apple cart, and close out the opening weekend of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

E-mail Damon at  or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Real Madness of March

Every year, I spend far more time and energy than I should filling out my NCAA Tournament March Madness bracket.  I debate whether chalk or Cinderella’s will prevail.  I agonize over which 12-5 upsets are ripe for the picking.  I look at strength of schedule and see who beat who, as if that matters.  Then, I spend the entire tournament second guessing myself.

Inevitably, I get caught in between rooting for my bracket and cheering for those Cinderella’s that capture our hearts.  It ends up being a very stressful month and at the end, I never feel like I have fully enjoyed what is truly an amazing sporting event.

I like to act as if I know what I’m talking about when predicting these games.  Really, I don’t.  None of us do.  Why bother pretending?  It’s not like I’m a big college basketball fan anyway.  I mean, sure, I watch the tournament religiously.  The first Thursday and Friday of games are days that I believe should be national holidays.  Why play the charade of going to work and acting like I’m not watching online?  I am.  #SorryNotSorry (I am, however, sorry I just used that expression. #NeverAgain)

Anyway, when it comes to regular season college basketball, I never watch many games.  This season though, that’s never been truer.  Confession: I watched a grand total of three full college basketball games this winter.  The complete list: Mt. St. Mary’s vs. Michigan (I was actually in attendance), Xavier vs. Cincinnati (Go Bearcats! #BeatX), and Tulsa vs. Cincinnati (Again, I was in attendance).

So, yeah, I don’t really have any idea what went on this college basketball season.  (Though, I hear tripping people has become a hot button issue.)  What I do know, from hardly following along, is that there was a lot of movement in the Top 25.  It seems to me that this is one of those years where there are a ton of good teams in the field, but not many great ones.  Is that a fair assessment?  Honestly, I’m asking.

Let’s highlight some things as I take my first look at the bracket.  (That’s right; I didn’t watch the selection show either.)

East

Hey!  Mt. St. Mary’s made the field… sorta.  The only first round upsets I have here are Marquette over South Carolina and New Mexico State over that Baptist school in Waco, Texas.  Give me Virginia over Florida in the second round.  Other than that, there’s nothing too exciting.  Looks like an easy path to the Final Four for defending champion Villanova.

Midwest

Woo, lots going on here.  First, Michigan State got lucky.  The Spartans are bad but the Hurricanes sound beatable.  The rest of the first round seems pedestrian but man, look at these possible second round matchups.  Kansas vs. Michigan State is enough said.  Iowa State meets Purdue in a battle of teams with high hopes.  Creighton vs. Oregon will be fun.  And Michigan gets a shot at revenge against Louisville.  I’m still upset about 2013 and, as a result, I’m going into full homer mode.  The Wolverines beat the Cardinals, the Ducks, and the Jayhawks on their way to Phoenix.  (#SorryNotSorry… Damnit, that didn’t last long.)

West

Smart guy alert in the 8-9 matchup as Northwestern and Vanderbilt get together.  Wait, the Northwestern Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament!  Congrats to them.  I’ll even pencil in an opening round win for them before getting smacked by Gonzaga.  Give me the other smart guys at Princeton to pull the upset on Notre Dame.  On the bottom half, I’m going a little upset crazy.  Florida Gulf Coast makes another run to the second weekend with wins over Florida State and Maryland.  And St. Mary’s finds its way to the Elite Eight for a fourth try at besting West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga.  You know what they say, “it’s tough to beat a team twice, thrice, four times in the same season.”  Well, Gonzaga will.

South

I’ve got Seton Hall beating Arkansas for the same reasons I have Marquette beating South Carolina.  I’m Catholic and the SEC is still a terrible basketball conference, until proven otherwise.  Middle Tennessee State earns its second tourney win over a Big Ten opponent in as many years, my second 12 over 5.  Cincinnati will beat UCLA with a superior defense the likes of which the Bruins have never come up against.  Unfortunately for my adopted school, the Kentucky Wildcats will be waiting in the Sweet Sixteen.  North Carolina will be able to handle Coach Cal’s bunch en route to yet another Final Four.

Final Four

Last year’s championship game was so phenomenal, why not have a rematch?  Michigan and Gonzaga fall victim to destiny.  This time around, Villanova won’t need a buzzer beater.  The Wildcats will repeat, beating North Carolina quite easily.

There you have it.  Now all that’s left to do is wait until Thursday so I can hide my internet browser behind some important-looking work stuff and enjoy this damn thing for once.

I recommend you do the same, but don’t expect many of you to.  That chance at glory is too tantalizing to pass up, isn’t it?  Yes, you’d rather drive yourself crazy trying to arrive at the perfect bracket that you’ll literally never achieve.

And to you all I say have fun losing your group for the umpteenth time to your aunt who bases her picks on the team mascots.  After all, this is the real madness of March.

E-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll send you back an invite to my bracket group.  Should be easy to beat me since I’m not trying, right?

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A Storm Is Brewing At Michigan State And No One Is Paying Attention

Remember Baylor? Remember how up in arms everyone was and still is about the allegations that continue coming out? Coaches and players were swept up in the investigations and the public was outraged, and rightly so. Sexual assaults are not something to be messed around with. Even the allegations can get players suspended and coaches fired for just asking for due process, just ask former Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys.

So why is Michigan State getting a pass?

Despite what some people might think, this isn’t me being a Michigan fan and wanting a rival to be tanked and punished. This is me wondering why everything that’s going on in East Lansing is flying so low under the radar.

Let’s recap: three players that have yet to be identified were suspended amidst claims of a sexual assault. Six days later, a member of the Michigan State coaching staff is suspended. The school declined to comment on why Curtis Blackwell, the football program’s director of college advancement and performance, was suspended. But come on. He gets suspended less than a week after an investigation starts into some players? We know why he was suspended even though it hasn’t been made official.

It escalated to the Michigan State police filing for four warrants, three for the unnamed players and one for a fourth person who is being charged with obstructing the investigation. Now Mark Dantonio is not allowing the press to go to the spring football scrimmage. That’s a very stark departure from the normally open Michigan State procedures.

But you guys, it’s ok. Tom Izzo says he supports the school leadership. Cancel everything, we’re all good here.

The one thing that Michigan State does have going for it is that the school made a point to get out in front of this. They suspended the players and got them off campus despite not releasing any information about any of them. With the exception of whoever is being issued a warrant for obstructing the investigation, they’ve made a point to seemingly do the right thing.

Well… there’s this other thing, though. Dr. Larry Nassar is currently under investigation for criminal sexual conduct. He was the Michigan State and USA women’s gymnastics team doctor.

22 new charges were just filed against Nassar and now it’s up to 80 different women claiming that he violated them. There have been charges filed against Nassar for more than 20 years.

Think about that. There have been complaints of sexual abuse filed to Michigan State for almost as long as some of the Campus Pressbox writers have been alive.

Now go back and look at this Michigan State football thing from a different perspective. How in the world can we trust this administration to do what actually needs to be done now? Mark Hollis has been the athletic director at Michigan State since 2008. A police report was filed in 2014 alleging this misconduct so combine that with multiple complaints in 2004 and why did no one look at this?

Once everything started to go public, Nassar was fired. That’s all well and good but why not sooner? At this point, I’m having trouble accepting that the school is doing what’s right for absolutely anyone except for the school.

Contrary to what they might believe, universities have a responsibility to all students instead of just the athletes and what’s good for the athletic programs.

I hope this all goes smoothly. I hope it comes out that Mark Dantonio knew nothing about the football players or Blackwell. I even hope that Hollis was somehow clueless about what a piece of scum Nassar is. Even if it does, we need to hold them to the fire every bit as much as we did to Baylor and Penn State. Only when these schools are really held responsible are they going to step up and do something about all this violence.

E-mail Tim at .

Image courtesy Wikipedia via Creative Commons

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Who Will be the 2017 National Signing Day Diamonds in the Rough?

It’s all about the stars, baby! It’s all about those 4 and 5-star future All-Americans who will catapult your favorite college football team to a national championship. Collecting a stable of primetime players may be easy for coaches like Urban Meyer and Nick Saban but that kind of success on the recruiting trail just isn’t the reality of the situation for the majority of coaches. If your team isn’t considered to be a football blue-blood, success is going to be a process that is built upon 2 and 3-star recruits who will need time to be developed.

But success can be achieved with these so-called “diamonds in the rough.” It’s not an easy path to success, but it can and has been done. Rivals and 247 don’t have crystal balls that will clue us into who these diamonds in the rough will be. Even the most experienced coaching staffs can’t predict which of their less heralded recruits will lead their teams to divisional and conference championships.

With today being National Signing Day, let’s take a look back and some 2 and 3-star recruits from the past who proved to have significant impacts on the field.

Marcus Mariota was barely recruited before signing with Oregon. He was a 3-star recruit with two scholarship offers. Oregon and Memphis. That was it. All Mariota did was lead Oregon to an appearance in the 2015 National Championship game and he won the 2014 Heisman Trophy. Not bad for a recruit who struggled to receive offers.

I can’t imagine Michigan State fans were waiting with eager anticipation for the day a 2-star running back recruit with offers from Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, and Marshall would step on the field for them. All Le’Veon Bell did in his Spartan career was rush for 3,346 yards and 33 touchdowns. In his junior season, before leaving early for the NFL, Bell rushed for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns. He proved to be more talented than a 2-star recruit with mid-major offers.

Missouri’s Charles Harris makes Bell look like a highly sought after recruit. Harris excelled on the high school basketball court and had barely played any football prior to Missouri offering him a scholarship. His options were Northern Iowa, Missouri Western and Pittsburg State. In his three-year career, Harris recorded 18 sacks, 34.5 tackles-for-loss and forced 5 fumbles.

Jordy Nelson committed to Kansas State as a 2-star safety prospect. His options were Kansas State and Kansas but even those weren’t legitimate options. Neither coaching staff was willing to provide a scholarship offer to Nelson so he attended Kansas State as a walk-on. Nelson holds the Kansas State record for most receiving yards in a single season and is 2nd all-time in career receiving yardage. Not bad for a high school player that nobody wanted.

Gaines Adams was a 3-star tight end recruit who chose Clemson over Michigan State, North Carolina, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. Compared to the others on this list, Adams offer list made him look like a blue-chip recruit. Not only was he not a blue-chip recruit, tight end wasn’t even his ultimate position. Adams became a first team All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2006.

As fans, we like to get all worked up over National Signing Day. How many 4 and 5-star recruits has our team collected? Which kids pulled a signing day surprise and left our team at the alter? Which players did our team’s coaching staff manage to flip? It can be an entertaining soap opera to follow, but none of us have a clue as to how the story will unfold.

My advice to you is this – Have fun with recruiting, but don’t become so invested in it that a signing class ruins your day. None of us will know the verifiable quality of this recruiting class for another few years. Enjoy the ride, because who knows, maybe your team has a diamond-in-the-rough buried in this recruiting class.

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

Photo: Flickr.com

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