Tag Archives: Michigan Wolverines

The Biggest Disappointments in the Big Ten, 2017 Edition

It’s been a long and somewhat peculiar season but the Big Ten regular season is finally over. Rivalry games have been played the tickets punched to Indiana. There were some interesting twists and turns along the way but what about disappointments? What were the biggest disappointments of 2017 in the Big Ten?

Inconsistencies

Penn State started the season out looking like a potential College Football Playoff contender. The Nittany Lions even survived a night game at Iowa which most visiting teams do not. Then Penn State dropped two in a row to Ohio State. Ohio State, on the other hand, had an understandable loss to Oklahoma but got absolutely blown out by Iowa later in the season. Michigan State seemed like they’d turned things back around but then were beaten by Northwestern.

Just what could have the Playoff rankings looked like if just one of these programs had shown some consistency? If Ohio State hadn’t gone from looking like the best defense in the country to swiss cheese in alternating weeks, would the Buckeyes Playoff hopes still rest on the outcome of the Big Ten Championship game? Or if Saquon Barkley had kept pace, could the Big Ten have had its first Heisman Trophy winner since Troy Smith in 2006?

Regardless, the Big Ten came off as a much weaker conference for all its ups and downs for the season.

Minnesota

Man, was anyone not riding the PJ Fleck train after last season? Not a lot of guys could’ve gotten a random catchphrase at a MAC school to get such play and be so beloved by the nation. Fleck did just that and parlayed that into an offer from Minnesota and somehow a contract extension despite having just now completed his first season.

Instead of lighting the world on fire, Fleck lead the Golden Gophers to a 5-7 record which is their worst is a stark departure from the 8-4 season prior. Fleck didn’t even end the season on a high note. His team got blanked in a pair of 30-point losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin. Add on to that, Demry Croft the starting quarterback is planning to transfer.

Maybe PJ Fleck isn’t ready for the big times in the Big Ten. It’s not even the first time that I’ve wondered just that. Time will tell but at least for now, Minnesota ranks as one of the biggest disappointments for the Big Ten in 2017.

Michigan

I debated ranking this above Minnesota but for those of you that aren’t Michigan fans, let me explain:

There are two types of Michigan fans. The first type is the rationale fan that understands the limitations of the teams and has reasonable expectations. This type of fan is unfortunately quite uncommon in the Maize and Blue fanbase.

The second fan is the fan that believes that Michigan is a perennial contender for the National Championship despite any evidence contrary to the fact. These are the fans that believe John O’Korn who is not as good of a quarterback as an ear of corn would’ve beaten Michigan State if it hadn’t started to rain. This particular group of fans is, unfortunately, the vast majority of Michigan fans so just based on fan expectation, Michigan is the bigger disappointment than Minnesota.

I don’t know if there was another team that entered the season with as much hype and expectation as Michigan despite not really having a track record for, well, anything at this point. Jim Harbaugh has a massive reputation heaped on him by fans and the media and an 8-4 season doesn’t really meet those expectations. Given the level of quarterback play, 8-4 was a miracle but still a disappointment

Maybe the postseason will provide the Big Ten with some exciting successes but if the regular season is any indication, probably not.

Email Tim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @tbach84.

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Jim Harbaugh is in Hot Water

Back when Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh, it seemed like the perfect fit and the perfect thing to do. He was a “Michigan Man” and had proven himself at all his previous coaching stops. Now, coming off his second defeat by rival Michigan State in three years, people are beginning to mumble. The shine is coming off the seemingly perfect union of Wolverines and Jim Harbaugh as he is looking at most likely being 1-5 against his two main rivals.

Jim Harbaugh is heading towards being in hot water and it’s his own fault.

Think back to when Harbaugh was the coach at Stanford. From 2007 to 2010, he had the reputation of being hotheaded and overly competitive. In 2009 he continued to run up the score on USC prompting head coach Pete Carroll to ask “What’s your deal?” which is saying something when you consider how competitive Carroll is. He was known for being a grumpy guy that only cared about winning at all costs.

That continued when he left Stanford for the San Francisco 49ers. Jim Harbaugh was known for making average quarterbacks better, having sideline meltdowns, and shaking hands a bit too aggressively. He was an angry guy that only cared about winning football games. He even ditched a quarterback that got a concussion for the hot-handed Colin Kaepernick. It was all about winning for Jim Harbaugh.

Then he got to Michigan and things took a strange turn.

As strange as this sounds, Harbaugh didn’t do himself any favors winning 10 games his first year after previous coach Brady Hoke went 5-7 to miss a bowl game yet again. Michigan fans were ready to commit to a rebuilding period and not have high hopes for the first couple seasons. After seeing what happened in 2015 and 2016, Michigan fans were ready to assume what they felt was their rightful place at the top of college football.

With the fanbase and presumably the Michigan administration on cloud nine, not only with the winning seasons but the media attention from hiring the hottest coaching candidate, Jim Harbaugh basically had a blank check to do what he wanted.

And he did.

Jim Harbaugh began appearing in random commercials for milk, taking his players to Rome, and other bizarre things that had no right making the news. He also coached first base for the Detroit Tigers because why not? He’s Jim Harbaugh!

Essentially, he became a caricature of himself. Harbaugh took his newfound wealth and fame and did literally whatever he wanted. There are two possible outcomes: either Jim Harbaugh is playing chicken with the Michigan administration or he’s lost his competitive edge.

Personally, I think the edge has been dulled. Where’s the fire this season? The rants have decreased and the team has regressed. Is the team falling for the hype or is there no fire anymore?

Maybe Harbaugh had decided to mail in this season in. He’s just trying to buy one more season until he can get a real quarterback but his team kept winning anyway. Now instead of having a fanbase that would be satisfied with a nine or ten win season, these fans are expecting national championships.

2018 will be the pivotal season. If Jim Harbaugh doesn’t win something in 2018, what was the most exciting coaching hire this decade is about to start becoming the most exciting coaching divorce outside of scandals.

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Are There Any Good Football Teams in 2017?

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Alabama.

Ok, maybe I made up that third one but since Nick Saban took over you can basically pencil the Crimson Tide into one of the top couple spots in the polls. Saban already has his team locked into the number one spot in the polls and everyone else is right on their heels… right?

The entire offseason has been filled with stories about how great other teams were going to be. That Texas was back (they aren’t) and that Josh Allen is the next big thing at quarterback (not so far).

So I guess that leaves us with the question… who’s actually any good? Three weeks in and I’m really not sure who’s any good. I know who I’m being told is good or going to be good but so far, the game has told another story.

Let’s start at the top of the polls.

You’ve got Alabama who took apart Florida State in week one. It’s hard to read into what they did against Fresno State and Colorado State too much but this is the one team in the polls that I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to. Why only Alabama? Well, because more than anyone, the Tide have a recent track record of excellence. Not a good few years in a row or a couple good years in the last decade, basically a decade of domination. There’s a reason you always see “We Want Bama” signs. 

Clemson is the only other team you can maybe convince me right now is any good after beating Louisville but dial it back a week and the Tigers only managed two touchdowns against Auburn. Auburn doesn’t seem to be very good (Sorry Bird) after only scoring 24 points against Mercer and turning the ball over five times. Louisville is a good win but the rest of the resume is lacking.

Then we’ve got the Sooners. How much can we read into the win over Ohio State? Everyone but Urban Meyer is calling for a quarterback change due to an anemic offense but Ohio State does have a good defense. We’re not going to find out if Oklahoma is any good until week nine when they play in-state rival Oklahoma State who is currently ranked sixth. The Cowboys have the offense but haven’t faced a dominant defense. That showdown is going to tell us a lot about both teams.

I know that I’m supposed to be the Big Ten guy but of the four Big Ten teams in the top ten, three of them are frauds. Both Michigan and Ohio State are downright anemic on offense. Wisconsin is only this high because of favorable preseason ranking and a weak schedule. Sure, the Badgers beat BYU but BYU is bad so all they’ve got is a name now. They’ve got a favorable schedule in their favor and at some point, Michigan’s defense isn’t going to be able to bail out the offense.

Penn State is the only legitimate Big Ten school in the polls. Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley are absolute studs and the Nittany Lions return almost everyone from their Big Ten Championship season. I’m betting on Penn State until proven otherwise.

I actually forgot Washington was in the top ten. I’m not even kidding, I didn’t realize it because they’ve done absolutely nothing of note. Washington is that team that’s ranked highly because of achievements in the previous season. What happened when Washington played a good team last season? Alabama did what they do to everyone.

Then we’ve got what could turn out to be the most over-hyped team in the preseason in USC. All I heard was that USC was “back” and that quarterback Sam Darnold had already won the Heisman and put his team in the playoffs. Instead, they struggled with Western Michigan in their season opener and then had to use double overtime to beat what is not a good Texas team. Darnold doesn’t look like he’s holding up to the expectations either as he’s thrown seven touchdowns to six interceptions. I don’t care that the Trojans beat Stanford, right now this is not a good football team.

Who else is even left?

Georgia? The Bulldogs will start hot until their running back has a catastrophic knee injury like always.

Florida? They had a great hail mary win last week but we all know they’re bad.

Miami? Maybe, but that team has only played one game. There’s no way to tell.

Virginia Tech? I like what Justin Fuente did last season and so far but the Hokies only have a win over West Virginia. Going to need to see more than that.

Mississippi State? Don’t make me laugh. Dan Mullins’ team beat an LSU team with one good player in Derrius Guice.

Where’s this leave us then? Is anyone actually any good? Well at the moment, no.

But they will be. There’s a lot of good coaches out there in Harbaugh, Meyer, and Jimbo Fisher. At some point, one of these teams is going to start showing us that they belong up at the top with Alabama and probably Clemson. Or maybe not. Maybe we’ll get a hilarious year like 2007 where teams like Missouri, Kansas, and Hawaii were routinely seen near the top of the polls.

I don’t think we will but it’s something that college football could use. We’re so entrenched in the idea that there are basically only 25 or so programs that are actually any good according to the polls. Washington broke the mold last season but we need more of that. There’s more than these 25 to 30 out of over 100 programs that are good at football but because they don’t have the right name, they never even get considered.

But let’s be honest: 2017 is Nick Saban and Alabama’s season. We’re all just waiting for them to be crowned at this point unless something unexpected happens.

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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.

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How Many Games Will the SEC Lose This Weekend?

The SEC has plenty of all-but-guaranteed wins in the first week of the 2017 college football season. But, the SEC also has multiple games that are toss-ups and some that look like likely losses.

As a lover of all things SEC football, I’ve been contemplating what kind of record the SEC will emerge from this opening weekend of games with.

Last year, the ACC proved to be stronger than many anticipated (even though I made an early call on that one). But with three at least decent ACC opponents scheduled for SEC teams this first weekend, should the SEC be worried?

There’s also that Michigan-Florida rematch from about a year and a half ago when the Wolverines annihilated the Gators in the Citrus Bowl. Should we go ahead and give this one to Michigan, too?

What about Texas A&M and UCLA? Aggies Head Coach Kevin Sumlin is undoubtedly on the hot seat this season. Will he be able to get his second-straight win over the Bruins and ease the pressure down in College Station a bit?

Unfortunately, I am not Brandon Stark and I do not have “the sight.” I cannot give you a completely confident answer for any of those questions I just posed. I can, however, give you a few game predictions along with my reasoning for my picks.

The NC State Wolfpack and South Carolina Gamecocks face off on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. This game poses an interesting offense-defense matchup for the teams. NC State has a powerful defensive line but will be lacking in the secondary. South Carolina may be lacking on the offensive line, but boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC this season in Jake Bentley. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives NC State a 62.7% chance of winning this game. After seeing how the ACC fared last season and considering the intriguing matchup, I give a slight edge to the Wolfpack here as well. Regardless of the outcome, I expect this to be a close contest.

The Florida State Seminoles and Alabama Crimson Tide also face off in an ACC-SEC matchup on Saturday in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. I’ll never be one to bet against Nick Saban and Alabama, but if I were going to bet against him, I would be considering this game. ESPN’s FPI may give the Tide a 59%-41% advantage over the Seminoles, but the computers don’t know everything. Alabama returns numerous important pieces of its puzzle, and so does Florida State. Florida State seems to have the advantage on offense while Alabama has the defensive advantage. At the end of the day, this will probably come down to coaching. And in that scenario, I’ll take Nick Saban.

The Tennessee Volunteers play another ACC opponent next Monday, when they also visit Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. A few weeks ago, I would’ve said Tennessee was likely in trouble in this game. After the Yellow Jackets dismissed top returning running back Dedrick Mills from the team, Tennessee’s chances to win this game surged. After a rough 2016 season defensively, the Vols might have had trouble defending such a dynamic offense. But the loss of Mills will be insurmountable for the Yellow Jackets at this point in the season, giving Tennessee a good shot at winning this game. And for what it’s worth, ESPN’s FPI also gives the Vols a good shot here with a 68.1%-31.9% advantage.

The Michigan Wolverines take on The Florida Gators on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Due to a 41-7 Michigan win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl the concluded the teams’ 2015 seasons, there is doubt that Florida can even put up a good fight. Michigan returns almost nobody noteworthy from that 2015 team. So, I find that bowl victory to be irrelevant. Florida returns multiple starters, boasts a very talented receiving corps, and has very capable young defensive players to fill gaps left by last year’s departures. Michigan returns talent and has young players stepping up as well, make no mistake. But because of Florida Coach Jim McElwain, I’m leaning toward the Gators for this huge matchup. ESPN’s FPI isn’t any help here, being a near-toss-up at Michigan 50.5%, Florida 49.5%.

The Texas A&M Aggies travel to Pasadena, CA, this weekend to take on the UCLA Bruins. Last season, these two teams kicked off the season in College Station, TX, with an overtime thriller. The Aggies finished the 2016 regular season at 8-4 while the Bruins finished at 4-8. The Aggies lost countless starters, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Their season is as unpredictable as ever under Head Coach Kevin Sumlin. The Bruins finished 4-8 last season, only winning one game after losing starting QB Josh Rosen to a season-ending injury. With Rosen back, the Bruins could be poised to bounce back with a vengeance this season. Because of Rosen and Texas A&M’s departures, I have to give the edge to UCLA here. ESPN’s FPI will back me up on this one, giving the Bruins a 68.4% chance of winning this game.

The question I posed remains. How many losses will the SEC endure in its first week of play this season? If you go by my answers here, it’s only two. But with a couple of my SEC wins being close calls, I wouldn’t be surprised to see three or four losses from the SEC this weekend.

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You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

2017 Big Ten Predictions

I almost canceled my Bold Big Ten Predictions last season after I made some questionable calls from 2015. But last season, well, I’m going to take a moment to brag and have my confidence restored. I completely nailed the decline of Michigan State, Iowa’s C.J. Beathard, and that the Big Ten would come down to the very last game of the season. Although I might have been a tad off on Indiana getting to eight wins.

Let’s focus on the positives and forget the stuff I got wrong and get on with this year’s bold predictions.

The Big Ten East is a mess again and it’s glorious

I know both teams are loaded with talent, but Michigan and Ohio State sent a ton of players to the NFL last season. Penn State lost their top receiver but bring back Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley. Those are your big three in the East that are going to be jockeying for the top spot.

Penn State gets Michigan at home and goes to the Horseshoe but Ohio State goes north for the 2017 version of The Game. There’s a chance that they all end up at the last game of the season at 11-1. It’s unlikely but possible. I see a team like Indiana throwing a wrench into things or possible P.J. Fleck making his mark on the Big Ten world when the Buckeyes go to Minnesota.

Since they got a decent ranking to start the season, the Nittany Lions could potentially end up as the highest ranked team when it’s all said and done and they’re my pick to win the East.

A new contender rises in the Big Ten West

OK, here we go again. Get your purple and white ready because we’re getting back on the Northwestern bandwagon! I’ve been saying for a while that head coach Pat Fitzgerald has been criminally underappreciated by everyone but Northwestern fans. This year he’s going to force them to appreciate him as the Wildcats win the Big Ten West after they return almost everyone from 2016.

Stick with me because this makes sense instead of a hunch.

Northwestern should enter Week Four at 3-0 and headed to Wisconsin followed by Penn State at home. That’s rough and they’ll probably enter Week Six at 3-2. After that, the toughest game for Northwestern is traveling to Nebraska who lost basically everyone from 2016.

Wisconsin has an unproven young quarterback in Alex Hornibrook who lost his job last season. They end the season on the road at Indiana, home for Iowa and Michigan, and then back on the road to Minnesota. That is a rough stretch and I think the Badgers split the series at best. Wisconsin stumbles at the end and Northwestern finishes strong to end at 10-2 and their first trip to Indianapolis.

The Big Ten dominates the rankings

As you might’ve guessed, I expect the Big Ten to be pretty good this season. It’s going to be one of those years where the teams keep beating one another to prevent any one team from getting too high up in the polls but there’s going to be a lot of them there. You’ve got the obvious teams in Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State in the rankings to start the season. As you might expect, I’m predicting Wisconsin and Northwestern to find themselves in the top twenty to top fifteen.

Then there’s Minnesota. Maybe it’s because I have ESPN and their show on P.J. Fleck on but that guy just seems special. I think Minnesota is going to shock some people and spent a healthy part of their season inside the Top 25.

Bonus super bold prediction: Jim Harbaugh gets someone from the SEC mad again.

I know, super bold, right?

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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

College Football’s Opening Weekend Owes Us More

I love college football just as much as the next guy.  Saturdays aren’t for the boys so much as they are for the boys to gather around a big screen, drinking as many 96-calorie Miller Lite’s as they’d like.  We’ve yet to find anything that comes anywhere near college football’s ability to help us justify that weekly decision.

We owe a lot to college football Saturdays.  When I pick through the Week 1 schedule we have lined up for Labor Day weekend, though, it feels like college football owes us a little more.

Stanford is beginning its season with a game in Sydney, Australia.  That’s cool.  The fact that the Rice Owls are the opposition is not cool.  There’s a Florida rivalry game right off the bat.  Unfortunately, it’s between Florida International and Central Florida.  University Alabama-Birmingham makes its glorious return to football after a two-year hiatus, against Alabama A&M.  How have we possibly contained our excitement all summer?

In all seriousness, there are some things worth looking forward to.  P.J. Fleck, Lane Kiffin, and Tom Herman take the field with their new teams for the first time.  Ohio State opens on the road, on a Thursday night, against a conference opponent for the first time in… probably ever.  Florida State and Alabama collide in a top-five matchup in Atlanta.  Michigan and Florida head for Jerry World and a top-15ish meeting.  West Virginia and Virginia Tech will likely both be ranked for their opening contest in Landover, Maryland.

If you’re not a fan of those programs, you’ll probably be forced to watch your team playing in a glorified scrimmage.  Whether your team is the one laying the beat down or getting its ass kicked makes no difference, really.  Nobody wins if the boys had to finish the Miller Lite by halftime just to make it interesting.

At what point do we stop flooding to football just because it’s back?  At what point do we demand more as consumers, as opposed to blindly accepting whatever we’re given?  My guess is that will never happen.  Until it does, we’ll continue to receive a mediocre slate of games on opening weekend, with the only ones truly worth watching happening hundreds of miles off campus, in NFL stadiums.

This is big business we’re talking about and there’s a ton of money involved in these neutral-site games.  I understand that.  Still, it pisses me off.  These are essentially bowl games.  Actually, these games are more important because the whole season is still ahead.  If money grabbing is what we’re doing now, and it most certainly is, then why not take it to the extreme?

What Can We Do?

Let’s schedule bowl game rematches for the first week of the season.  Think for just a second about the storylines.  Would Clemson be able to pull off another upset of Alabama eight months after their instant classic?  Could USC and Penn State replicate the craziness of last year’s Rose Bowl Game?  Is Lamar Jackson really that containable, or did LSU’s defense just do everything right that day?

Wouldn’t it be fun if the two semifinal losers got a crack at each other to start the new season?  Imagine the hype that would surround a Washington-Ohio State clash in a couple weeks.  Automatically, one of the top contenders to reach the playoff would have an impressive feather tucked into its cap.  The four-letter network could have a field day with that buildup.

If your team was not invited to participate in a bowl game the previous year, it can do whatever it would like.  Honestly, nobody outside of the school gives a damn about your five-win team.  I’m only concerned with the primetime programs here.  And in tying them all up in these bowl game rematches, I am, in turn, saving a lot of you from an opening week embarrassment anyway.  It’s a win-win, even for the losers.  You should be thanking me for ignoring your meaningless team.

Is this grand idea ever going to materialize?  No, it won’t.  Like so many things in the world of college football, it makes too much sense to become a reality.  Still, it doesn’t hurt to dream, especially when the boys still have two weeks to save up their beer money.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him @GreatGatzke.

Photo: Wikipedia

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Auburn: No Need to Curb Your Enthusiasm

I just completed reading an article written by my friend, and co-host of the SEC 411 podcast, Seth Merenbloom. Seth is also an editor here at Campus Pressbox. I have a great deal of respect for his opinions on sports, in general, and on the SEC, in particular.

But I am going to have to part ways with my colleague on this one. He is of the opinion that Auburn is overrated. This piece from SEC Country deals with the Sports Illustrated prediction of Auburn as the number 10 team in the country. The column also mentions the Tigers as CBS Sports’ pick as number nine in the preseason.

The only poll we have at this point belongs to the coaches. Auburn ranks 13th there.

Let’s pause for a moment and reconsider the fact that all of this is merely talk, opinion, conjecture. Teams have begun practice all across the land but no one has played a single game just yet.

But talk is what we rabid fans do this time of year in the dog days of summer. The actual games begin on August 26th and the first game in the SEC, Florida A&M at Arkansas, follows on August 31st.

Back to Auburn and my take on the matter. I am with CBS Sports. I would put Auburn in the number nine slot. Also, I would precede my Tigers with 1. Clemson (I am of the old school opinion that the number one team from the previous year remains numero uno until/if they are defeated during the upcoming campaign. See September 9, Auburn at Clemson) 2. Alabama 3. Ohio State 4. Washington 5. Florida State 6. Penn State 7. Oklahoma 8. Southern Cal.

I would put Michigan at 10.

And I do my rankings based on how strong I foresee teams. I don’t take into account schedules, conferences, etc. I ask myself, “How good is this team in relation to the other teams in the FBS? How strong are they overall? What if this team played ‘X’ on a neutral field?”

Now, here is my reasoning on Auburn’s ranking as a top ten team.

Auburn returns seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, including its three top tacklers. Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams must be replaced but there is a ton of talent to go around on this surly defense.

Marlon Davidson is a beast and with help from the likes of Dontavius Russell, Derrick Brown, Tre Williams, Darrell Williams, DeShaun Davis, Carlton Davis and Tray Matthews, to name just a few, the D is stacked with top line SEC talent. There is also enough quality depth to make this unit as good or better than the 2016 group. And Kevin Steele is back as the coordinator. That’s big.

The offense should be lethal. We all know about Jarrett Stidham but the Tigers are three deep at quarterback with Sean White and Malik Willis. Running back? Loaded. Kamryn Pettway, Kerryon Johnson, Kam Martin, Malik Miller, and C.J Tolbert give Auburn a stable of horses second to none in the conference.

The offensive line is more talented and deep than it has been in years. Pat Dye thinks they have the potential to be as good as any since he began coaching at Auburn in 1981.

Wide receivers? Eli Stove, Darius Slayton, Nate Craig, Kyle Davis, Will Hastings, Ryan Davis, Marquis McClain and, now, John Franklin, will give Auburn very good talent and depth here.

Also, the tight end position should be much improved with Jalen Harris returning and transfer Sal Cannella, and his excellent hands, making this a position of strength.

Oh! Auburn has the best placekicker in the country in Daniel Carlson, as well.

The talent, experience, and depth is all in place down on the Plains. And, I think, Gus Malzahn has put together the complete and cohesive staff he has been looking for since he took over in 2013.

When you mix all of these ingredients together along with a great team chemistry and a hunger to win, I think you might be looking at a very special season down in the Loveliest Village.

I don’t think I can “Curb My Enthusiasm.”

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