Tag Archives: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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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What to Make of PJ Fleck

Remember the 2016 season? Western Michigan University was the darling on the NCAA and on the Broncos were on the way to a regular undefeated season. The Broncos actually had more Big Ten wins than some Big Ten teams. Sure, the Rose Bowl was won by Wisconsin but outside of Jim Harbaugh, there was only one larger than life coach that everyone was talking about: PJ Fleck.

Hearing Fleck scream “Row the boat!” became commonplace throughout sports media as pundits began speculating that the head coach wasn’t long for Western Michigan. The talking heads turned out to be right although few people expected Minnesota to snatch him up after dismissing Tracy Claeys in a rather ugly situation.

PJ Fleck was the hottest coaching prospect, even paying to bring his catchphrase to the Golden Gophers. There’s even an ESPN mini-series dedicated to PJ Fleck’s first season because everyone knew he was going to be the next big thing. He’s got to be doing great, right?

Well, about that…

Minnesota is currently 3-3 and winless in their conference. It’s not going to get any easier from here on out either. After Illinois, PJ Fleck has to face in order Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. None of those teams are what you’d call a cakewalk. Best case scenario, PJ Fleck finishes his first season in the Big Ten at 6-6 which is not really what anyone was expecting.

So what gives? Minnesota went 8-4 last regular season and very easily could’ve been 9-3 after an overtime loss to eventual Big Ten Champion, Penn State. It shouldn’t be the run game as Minnesota returned Rodney Smith who had six 100 yard games in 2016. A couple of experienced receivers returned in Tyler Johnson and Nate Wozniak so there’s that.

What is Minnesota missing that Western Michigan had?

Well for one, a four-year starter in Zach Terrell. Even if Terrell isn’t playing in the NFL this season, there’s something to be said for having a guy who spent his entire career in the same system. He knows what works, what doesn’t, and how to run the show.

Oh, and Western had an NFL first-round draft pick in Corey Davis. You know, the guy who set the FBS single-season record for receiving yards.There is not anyone like Davis at Minnesota and that’s not being mean. There’s not a lot of guys like Davis and Minnesota just doesn’t have one. Last year’s top receiver was Drew Wolitarsky who didn’t even top 900 yards.

We’re about to find out if PJ Fleck is going to be worth what Minnesota paid for him. Despite having one of the hotter names in coaching, the 2017 recruiting class for the Golden Gophers is actually worse than 2016’s. In case you don’t want to click the links, it’s by 11 spots which isn’t exactly insignificant.

Typically it takes a couple seasons for a coach to get his guys in and get his system fully in place so it’s a bit early to start judging PJ Fleck. But there needs to be an improvement. There’s clearly talent on the team but can Fleck bring it out of his players? Or will he be the next Gene Chizik who rides one player to a National Championship and then completely falls off? Chizik hasn’t been a head coach since 2012 which isn’t to say that’s the fate that awaits PJ Fleck but where will he go if he fails at Minnesota.

There’s a joke about boats and paddles that I refuse to make.  

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

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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.

Image: flickr user morebyless

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

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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.

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Burning Big Ten Questions for 2017

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

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

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

Can Minnesota row a boat?

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

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

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

Will Purdue ever get it turned around?

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

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

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

Can Indiana get over the hump?

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

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

Will Rutgers be any less terrible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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College Athletic Departments Are Swimming in Debt but It’s Not The End Of The World

I’m not telling you anything that you didn’t already know when I say that college athletics is a business. As much as we the fans enjoy gameday and seeing our team win, there is a wheeling and dealing undercurrent that makes it all possible.

It’s nice to believe that college athletic departments are swimming in money. But what’s the definition of “swimming in money?” If we’re talking about top-line growth, sure, college athletic directors are managing a substantial block of business. But what about the bottom-line? That’s often times a different story.

Of all the newly hired head college football coaches, the University of Minnesota is betting on perhaps the largest ROI. The Gophers hired the much-coveted coach from Western Michigan when P.J. Fleck bolted Kalamazoo for Minneapolis. But coaching changes come with a price and that price is most often funded via expectations. Fleck will be expected to run a chaos-free program that wins and sells tickets. Oh, and a program that people will want to watch on television. Fleck is basically being asked to bring the entire marketing enchilada to Minnesota.

Minnesota A.D. Mark Coyle is now faced with a debt-ridden department that he, and the athletics department as a whole, inherited in large part from former A.D. Norwood Teague. Adding added context to the debt that Coyle is having to manage is the perceived uncertainty surrounding television contracts. Ticket revenue fell short of Coyle’s expectation so that places added importance on the revenue being generated from the television contract. As Coyle himself said, “I think everyone’s mindful of what’s happened across the country with cord-cutting. I think we’re foolish if we don’t think there will be an impact on us, so how do we prepare for that?”

The truth of the matter is that athletic departments aren’t swimming in profit. For many departments, the top-line looks phenomenal but the bottom-line is buried at least ten feet deep. But you know what they say. To make money you must spend money and carrying debt in the business world isn’t the end of the world. This is particularly true when the ever-expanding payout from college football television contracts are taken into consideration.

I agree with Coyle when he talks about being mindful of cord-cutting. We’re also in agreement when he says that cord-cutting must be prepared for. I don’t, however, agree with his implication that cord-cutting will drain the pool of money that is being funneled to colleges from these television contracts. When it comes to the topic of cord-cutting and its potential impact on college sports, I’m in agreement with Adam Gajo.

Gajo highlights the growing number of options that are available to viewers. Are people cord-cutting? Absolutely. But to suggest that cord-cutting will pop a college sports market bubble on the potential horizon fails to acknowledge Gajo’s overall point. That point being that there is capacity in the market space for ESPN, Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, Hulu, Amazon, and a myriad of other current and future broadcast platforms.

Not only is there capacity, but there is an expanding market for televised games. Once upon a time, college football was like cartoons. If you wanted to watch either, it had to be on Saturdays. But now college football games can be seen on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. That increase in scheduled games helps create demand for more broadcast streams. And when broadcasting rights are negotiated, it’s not happening in a soft-market. The lowest price isn’t winning the business. The broadcast rights go to the highest bidder. Money talks. Especially when so many athletic departments are having to manage debt obligations.

All of this should hold true for any program that plays in a Power-5 conference. The teams in those conferences are ultimately the teams that create viewership. Perhaps if Minnesota wasn’t a member of the Big Ten then I would share Coyle’s apprehension about the future revenue stream created by broadcasting rights. Minnesota is not a blue-blood program. The Gophers aren’t Michigan or Ohio State. But what those three schools have in common is the strength and leverage that comes with being affiliated with a conference like the Big Ten.

Coyle is taking the conservative approach to his revenue forecast in relation to estimates of future expenses. That’s just smart business. I do, however, believe that he is underestimating the size of the future television market. The market has capacity due to increased demand coupled with the ease that internet based broadcast platforms provide.

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

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Over/Under: Big Ten West

Yes, I know a lot can happen during spring practice and the summer months so it may seem premature to be doing an article where I’m doing over/under for the upcoming year but with March Madness upon us, I feel like a gambling man and figured to take a risk. This week I’m doing the Big Ten West and the East next time around.

Illinois 3-9, 2-7 = Under 3-9, 1-8

Illinois loses its entire starting defensive line including first-team, all-Big Ten pass-rushing end Carroll Phillips (20 TFL’s, nine sacks) as well as spots at middle linebacker and secondary for a defense that already ranked near the bottom of the conference In almost every statistical category.  Its offense loses quarterback Wes Lunt and, while running backs Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin, who combined for 1243 yards and nine touchdowns, are back, as well as receiver Malik Turner (48 catches, 712 yards, 6 tds), backup quarterbacks Chayce Crouch and Jeff George Jr. were subpar as they appeared in nine games. Lovie Smith’s second year will be even worse.

Iowa 8-5, 6-3 = Under 8-4, 5-4

The biggest question for the Hawkeyes is can sophomore Nathan Stanley, who is slated to be the starting quarterback heading into spring practice, be a reliable leader like his predecessor C.J. Beathard despite his limited experience? Other first-year starters like Beathard and Ricky Stanzi did pretty well and Stanley will have some resources like a seasoned offensive line and tailback Akrum Wadley but few options at receiver even with Matt VandeBerg returning. The other concern is at corner, where they lose the dominant Desmond King and Greg Mabin and have to use raw prospects Michael Ojemudia (five tackles) and Manny Rugamba (19 tackles, two interceptions). I say Iowa takes a step back because of its harder schedule.

Minnesota 9-4, 5-4 = Under 7-5, 4-5

With the departure of Mitch Leidner, Minnesota has very limited quarterback experience. Fifth-year senior Conor Rhoda has just one career start and a host of others are fighting for time including Demry Croft, junior college transfer Neil McLaurin, and redshirt freshman Seth Green and Mark Williams. Yes, starting halfback Rodney Smith was fourth in conference with 1,158 yards and second with 16 touchdowns while backup Shannon Brooks finished with 650 yards and five touchdowns but I see growing pains for a team that went through a very tumultuous season. Plus, they have a new system to get acclimated to with P.J. Fleck and an entirely different staff.

Nebraska 9-4, 6-3 = Under 8-4, 5-4

It’s hard to replace a starting quarterback especially one like Tommy Armstrong Jr., who holds most of the passing and touchdown records for Nebraska, but there is some upside and potential on the roster with Tanner Lee, Patrick O’Brien and Tristan Gebbia. Lee played two seasons at Tulane while O’Brien is a redshirt freshman and Gebbia is an early enrollee who has the second most yards in California high school history (13,109). On defense, Nebraska’s secondary looks strong as starting corners Chris Jones and Josh Kalu (103 tackles, 21 passes defended, four ints) return as well as safety Kieran Williams (five ints) and Aaron Williams.

Northwestern 7-6, 5-4 = Over 9-3, 6-3

Quarterback Clayton Thorson was fourth in the league in passing yards per game (244.8) and tossed 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Running back Justin Jackson had career highs for rushing yards (1,524), touchdowns (15) and yards per carry (5.1). If another receiver can emerge as a reliable target as Big Ten receiver of the year Austin Carr is gone, this offense could be a handful for opponents. On defense, the ultra-talented Anthony Walker is gone but they only have two starters to replace and leading tackler Godwin Igwebuike returns. If Northwestern can improve on pass defense, which ranked 109th nationally, I can see them an upset or two away from division glory.

Purdue (3-9, 1-8) = Over (4-8, 2-7)

There seems to be a lot of optimism surrounding Purdue’s new head coach Jeff Brohm, who led Western Kentucky for three seasons. The Hilltoppers ranked fifth nationally in passing offense and first in scoring offense last year, averaging 44.6 points per game. Yes, the Boilermaker’s lose their top three receivers (DeAngelo Yancey, Bilal Marshall, Cameron Posey) as well as Domonique Young, all of whom combined to haul in 157 passes for 2,122 yards and 17 touchdowns but David Blough has a lot of talent and Brohm’s system could greatly benefit him. Winning one more conference game isn’t much but it’s a step forward for a program that has won two Big Ten games in the past three years.

Wisconsin 11-3, 7-2 = Over 12-2, 8-1

It remains to be seen if quarterback Alex Hornibrook is the answer and can build upon a solid freshman season but the Badger faithful are crossing their fingers he is because if he can deliver, this team could be very dangerous. Yes, they lose both outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel but still should be a disruptive front seven especially at inside linebacker as T.J. Edwards led the team in tackles for a second consecutive season and Chris Orr and Jack Cichy return after suffering season-ending injuries. Secondary, which was second in FBS with 22 interceptions, will also be strong. With all this in mind and a softer schedule, I predict another 10-plus win season.

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

Image courtesy of flickr user usdagov

2017 NCAA Tournament Notebook: The South – Where Everything is Fine

I’m back. I know it’s been a long time, but let’s get right into it. When Bob assigned me the South region of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, I thought it was a gift and you know what, it was. During the first two rounds (remember, play-in games aren’t part of the tournament), there were virtually no upsets in the South region. The closest call was either No. 12 Middle Tennessee (nee: MTSU) over No. 5 Minnesota or No. 10 Wichita State over No. 7 Dayton, but we all know that’s hogwash.

Any team beating a Big Ten team in this year’s tournament makes complete sense, but because anyone (me) who paid even a middling amount of interest knows the Big Ten was terrible in basketball this year. 1. So, if an undervalued Middle Tenn (we’ll just keep making their name shorter and shorter) beats an overvalued Richard Pitino (how long until he goes by Rick or Dick?) Golden Gopher team, then it isn’t much of an upset. I don’t think Vegas is necessarily the key to knowing exactly how every game will play out, but the sportsbooks said MT was 1.5-point favorite over Minnesota.

Seems about right.

The next “upset,” which, again, anyone with a brain knows is complete hogwash, was Wichita State over Dayton. Dayton is a good team, so let’s not knock them, but to even suggest that Wichita State was seeded properly might be as dumb as suggesting that Donald Trump has a chance to become…never mind. The Shockers entered that contest as 6.5 favorite and beat the Flyers by six, so maybe Vegas does know something about how this process should work?

Perhaps it would make more sense to have Vegas setup the brackets?

Round of 32

Chalk.

I mean my bracket doesn’t look anything like I think it should at this point, but the top four seeds all advanced to next weekend in Memphis which I guess is how it’s supposed to be. No. 8 Arkansas gave No. 1 North Carolina all it could handle until the pressure became too intense. The Razorbacks had a good season even if their performance versus Kentucky in the SEC Tournament was childish at best.

We will no longer ignore the elephant in the room, which was Wichita State and No. 2 Kentucky yesterday in Indianapolis. The game was great, in fact it was so good that it should have been played this weekend in Memphis, but again, because the people on the selection committee forgot how good the Shockers are, we watched that game yesterday.

I’m clearly in the corner that Wichita State was under-seeded and yes, they did lose yesterday and probably would have lost to Kentucky next week, but it seems to me that it makes the most sense to have the best teams playing each other later in the tournament so those games are watched by more people.

One very important side note about Wichita State: Lynn Marshall, the wife of Head Coach Gregg Marshall is apparently very animated during games. There’s a report she may have been extremely intoxicated. There is a picture of her (below) standing behind Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde yelling at screaming (not at him like all y’all do) but either in celebration or trying to help the refs get through a tough sequence. I don’t know if she was drunk or how animated she is or what exactly is going on, but that this made the national media should be worrisome to the higher-ups at Wichita State.

I understand fans will be fans and that’s perfectly alright, but the wife of the coach shouldn’t have facility security talking to her about her behavior or have media speculating about how sober she is or isn’t.

Can she have one or 10 beverages before the game? Absolutely. Should it be obvious and on display to everyone because she’s in the front row being louder than the cheerleaders? No, not at all.

How Bad Are the Tournament Officials?

Look, I officiate basketball and at one point in my life I thought I may have a chance to do it consistently at a higher level than high school. For several reasons, it didn’t work out and I have very few regrets about that, but I’ll say this: these tournament games and every game in the college ranks are hard games to officiate. Officials will miss calls and some will be very bad misses.

How those three men missed the goaltending in the Gonzaga/Northwestern game I’ll never understand, but I can say the conversation with NCAA Men’s Basketball National Coordinator JD Collins was not pleasant. I also cannot make an excuse for the amount of contact that have been “no-called” by officials this past weekend. It isn’t a good look. It isn’t what Collins wants to see happen in the tournament, because he has bosses too who are probably looking at all the news and reports and are saying how does this continue to happen?

Are there likely solutions that could make this easier or fix a lot of this? Yes. But consider this, and only this, you me and everyone at home has the luxury of HD televisions and we aren’t constantly in motion trying to get an angle on play or trying to officiate 10 men that are significantly faster and stronger than us.

As much as coaches complain about how they want younger officials, they then complain about how bad those younger officials are at communicating or how they don’t trust them. At the same time, the officials who have been around the longest aren’t nearly as good as they were 10, 15 or even 20 years earlier.

I don’t say any of that to make excuses for the number of bad calls we saw this weekend, but for every bad call we saw there were at least five or more that were correct or where people on Twitter had conflicting opinions. Block, charge, traveling…well, sure pick one…or pick nothing and play on. It’s a choice officials must make decisions in a split-second again without the luxury of replay or beer.

South Region Links:

How did he tip that in? Kennedy Meeks basket helps avert upset for UNC [Scott Fowler/Charlotte Observer]

Three-minute crash: Hogs black out with victory in sight [Bob Holt/Whole Hog Sports]

What’s next for Middle Tennessee’s 10 returning players? [Aldo Giovanni Amato/Daily News Journal]

Sweet 16 celebrated far and wide by former Butler coaches, players [David Woods/Indianapolis Star]

Bearcats can’t contain UCLA, out of tourney [Tom Groeschen/Cincinnati Enquirer]

UCLA to head to Sweet 16 after defeating Cincinnati 79-67 [Matt Cummings/Daily Bruin]

Kentucky ends Wichita State’s season with 65-62 second-round win [Paul Sullentrop/The Wichita Eagle]

Wichita State talked, Kentucky listened and the Wildcats advanced [Kyle Tucker/SEC Country]

I think that’s enough for now. Please check out the tournament notebooks from the other three regions as well as all our 2017 March Madness tournament coverage.

E-mail Damien at [email protected] or following him on Twitter @damiEnbowman.

  1. Yes, the Big Ten is STILL better in basketball than football. Fight me.

The Best and Worst of 2016: Big Ten

There was a lot that happened in 2016. Teams rose and teams fell. There were highs and there were lows. So, you know, the average year. It did not end with a National Championship but the 2016 edition of the Big Ten was still fun.

I was tasked with coming up with the best and worst things that happened in the conference this season and there was a lot to choose from. Although there were singular dramatic moments, I tried to focus on the larger picture. For example, Penn State beating Ohio State on a blocked field goal return. A great moment? Absolutely but was it one of the greatest parts of the season? Well, I guess if you’re a Penn State fan probably but it was less meaningful to the entire conference.

You might agree, you might not. Let me know in the comments what you think.

BEST

Early Season Big Wins

The pre-conference season is always important because if you lose early, you might not recover. If you win over big time teams, you can really earn your team and your conference some much-needed credibility. That’s what the Big Ten did this season. The conferenced racked up some early big wins like:

Ohio State over Oklahoma

Michigan State over Notre Dame

Wisconsin over LSU

Nebraska over Oregon

Later it would turn out that Michigan’s win over Colorado would count in that list of big wins. Sure, some of those teams didn’t turn out to be as good as everyone thought but at the time they were all ranked. It’s not just about who you beat but when you beat them too. These early season wins lead directly into the next of the best of the season.

The Polls

The College Football Playoff committee doesn’t release their first official poll until week nine but from week nine to week 14, the Big Ten had a serious presence. Never at any time did they have less than four teams in the top ten. Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin were the mainstays with Nebraska starting there and then being replaced by Penn State. For a conference that had been perceived as weak for the last few years, it was a nice turnaround. Even if you go by the AP poll, there was always at least three teams in the top ten.

Penn State’s Return to Prominence

The Nittany Lions have had a rough go of it since the Sandusky scandal. Stripped of scholarships and their total availability reduced, banned from postseason play for a time, and of course monetary sanctions. It’s not an easy thing to recover from even for one of the most storied programs in history.

Head coach James Franklin started out the season on a lot of people’s coaches hot seat list. Most people though the writing was on the wall his team lost to Pittsburg by a field goal and then absolutely trampled by Michigan. Something happened in the game against Ohio State, though. A switch was flipped after that blocked field goal and the Nittany Lions didn’t look back all the way to the Big Ten Championship game. Sure it ended in a Rose Bowl loss on a last second field goal to USC but it was a dramatic turnaround that’s restored Penn State to powerhouse status for now.

The Game

Ohio State vs Michigan hadn’t been what it had been in quite a while. ESPN and all the other sports media outlets continued to hype it anyway. Well, this year it lived up to the hype. Michigan came into Columbus with a half-strength quarterback and went blow for blow with the Buckeyes into the rivalries first overtime and then a second overtime. In the highest-rated game of the regular season, the Buckeyes used a controversial play to knock the Wolverines out of the Big Ten Championship berth and send themselves to the College Football Playoff.

WORST

The Fall of the Spartans

Losing an NFL-caliber quarterback always hurts but the season for Michigan State was just stunning. We didn’t blink when the Spartans knocked off Notre Dame, figuring that Michigan State was just picking up where last season left off. Well, it turned out Notre Dame was terrible. That was Michigan State’s last win until they defeated Rutgers in Week 10 for their one and only Big Ten win. Rutgers went winless in the Big Ten so at least the Spartans had that going for them.

No one expected Rutgers to be any good but the fall from the top tier of teams for Michigan State was a shock. For comparison’s sake, Western Michigan had two Big Ten wins which are better than three Big Ten teams. The top of the Big Ten might have been good but the bottom was bad.

Postseason Controversy

Usually, it’s a good thing if the nation is talking about your conference. The week leading into the final reveal of the College Football Playoff bracket, it was all anyone could talk about. Penn State and Michigan both had legitimate claims to the 4th seed. Neither of them ended up making it in favor of Pac-12 Champion Washington but that’s not the problem.

The issue that the nation had was that Ohio State despite not winning the Big Ten Championship or even the East division was firmly locked into the Playoff. That didn’t sit well with a lot of people. Penn State, winner of the East and Big Ten Championship game, who defeated Ohio State was left on the outside looking in possibly (if you ask me) for non-football related reasons.

Ultimately, Ohio State proved that it didn’t belong after being manhandled and shut out by eventual National Champion Clemson. Penn State didn’t get a win either but they did have one of the best Rose Bowl games of all time, showing that maybe the committee got it backward.

Bowl Season

The Big Ten sent 10 of its 14 teams to the postseason. That’s the good news.

Michigan and Penn State were part of some entertaining games but ultimately lost. Ohio State got trampled. Wisconsin was the only “marquee” team that got a win.

Only three teams won with Minnesota and Northwestern joining Wisconsin in the win column. Three teams lost by more than two touchdowns and Ohio State and Iowa didn’t score a single touchdown. Things certainly could’ve gone better.

The Minnesota Situation

Look, I’m not going to rehash the entire ordeal that happened at Minnesota. You can read my piece on it but the long and short of it is head coach Tracy Claeys supported his players who were asking for due process instead of being outright suspended. That support got him fired. I can’t do much on this because I’m so furious that Minnesota is going to come out of this with one of the hottest coaching names in P.J. Fleck. A school shouldn’t come out of a scandal better off than they were.

E-mail Tim at tim [dot] bach [at] campuspressbox [dot] com.

Image courtesy Flickr via Creative Commons

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