Tag Archives: Nebraska Cornhuskers

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

We Should All Be Rooting For Tommy Armstrong Jr. To Succeed

If you watched any Nebraska Cornhusker football games the past four years you were subjected to all of the jokes about quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. Among the most popular jabs thrown at the Jekyll-and-Hyde quarterback was referring to him as Tommy Arm(not so)Strong. Ha! Get it? Yes. We all got it.

Now what i’m about to say will come as a huge surprise to my Husker bred wife. Calling it a “huge surprise” may even be considered the understatement of the year. I’m here to defend Armstrong and his aspirations of becoming an NFL player. Notice that I didn’t say NFL quarterback?

But first, a trip down memory lane…Do you remember Eric Crouch?

Crouch was the Nebraska quarterback from 1998-2001. He was one of the most electrifying players that I have ever seen play in person. If you’re a Missouri fan, I know you remember his 95-yard touchdown run out of the South endzone at Faurot Field. That is the longest run from scrimmage by a Cornhusker and I had a front row seat for that kick in the groin. Missouri had him sacked for a safety! Except they didn’t.

He led Nebraska to its last national championship game appearance in 2001 and became the last Husker to win the Heisman trophy in that same year. Needless to say, Crouch is one of the best all-time players to wear the red N on the side of his helmet. But you know what? His overall statistics weren’t eye popping.

During the course of his career, he completed 51.5% of his passes for 4,481 yards; threw 29 touchdowns with 25 interceptions; rushed for 3,434 yards to go along with 59 rushing touchdowns. He was obviously more of a threat with his legs than with his arm. And once he was drafted by the Rams in the 2002 draft, he was still caught up in what he had been in college. He thought he was still a quarterback. Crouch’s NFL career was a flop and he himself attributes much of that disappointment to not sincerely buying into the idea of switching positions.

Back to the present day as Tommy Armstrong is attempting to make an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent.

One would think that Crouch’s collegiate numbers would be far superior to Armstrong’s. But that’s not the case. During the course of Armstrong’s Nebraska career, he completed 53.3% of his passes for 8,871 yards; threw 67 touchdowns with 44 interceptions; rushed for 1,819 yards to go along with 23 rushing touchdowns.

The two quarterbacks played in different eras. It makes sense that Armstrong would have thrown for more yards given the modern day infatuation with the spread offense and RPO schemes. But it’s the completion percentage that tells much of the story for me. Neither Crouch nor Armstrong were legitimate quarterbacks. This is something that Armstrong realizes as he makes he way to the NFL. It was something that Crouch realized after it was too late.

With each Nebraska game I watched with my wife, I kept telling her that Armstrong was not a quarterback and he’d be best served switching positions. That is precisely what he is trying to do.

As Armstrong prepared for the draft, it was as a wide receiver or running back.  He gets it. Even with that preparation on the offensive side of the ball, he was still receptive to the Vikings bringing him to camp to play safety. It didn’t workout with the Vikings, but the guy just wants to play football. He doesn’t seem to be discouraged.

I wasn’t a fan of Armstrong the quarterback but, based on his determination to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL, I am absolutely a fan of Armstrong the person. With the mindset that he has exhibited, we should all be rooting for him to succeed.

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.

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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.

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Missouri Tiger Football Fans Shouldn’t Forget Corby Jones

The proverbial “roar” had not been restored to Missouri football in 1997. At 7-5, the team was still just a blip on the radar of college football. That 3rd place finish in the Big 12 North gave hope to the Missouri fan base and provided a glimpse of what the program could be. And for that, Corby Jones deserves more credit that he gets even from Missouri fans.

A 7-5 record may not look like much to many, but it meant the world to a program that hadn’t enjoyed a winning season since 1983. For 13 long, cold, dark years, Missouri fans suffered through an average of three wins a season. And then Larry Smith struck recruiting gold with the local quarterback recruit from Columbia.

Jones was recruited by the best-of-the-best blue blood programs when Nebraska’s Tom Osborne tasked Turner Gill with bringing Jones to Lincoln. Smith had an ace up his sleeve, though. Jones’ father had been retained by Smith when Bob Stull and his coaching staff were fired after the 1993 season. It’s not a stretch to say that this relationship helped seal the recruiting deal that kept Jones in Columbia.

The Missouri fans who spin Tiger folklore consider Brad Smith to be the savior of Tiger football. Smith was as exciting a player as Missouri and college football had experienced in quite some time. Think of a 2001-2005 version of Lamar Jackson. Smith either held or holds countless Missouri, Big 12 and NCAA records. He was more electrifying than Jones had been but excitement only counts for so much.

 

Jones’ best win and one that is too often forgotten about was the 1997 game against Oklahoma State. Played in Stillwater, Missouri not only took the 12th ranked team in the country to overtime, but the Tigers beat that ranked Cowboys team on the road. That win meant enough to the program that I remember where I was as Jones hit Ricky Ross down the sideline to tie the game with 20 seconds left in regulation. I was at a friend’s wedding. I know. Who gets married on a football Saturday?

 

This is the game that truly put the Missouri program back on the road to recovery and it had everything to do with the quarterback who most thought was destined to go to Nebraska to be the heir apparent to Tommy Frazier. Later in the 1997 season, Nebraska would have first-hand experience of the impact that Jones’ athletic ability and desire to win could have on a football game.

It was that 1997 game against the top-ranked Huskers that made the nation really take notice of what was going on at Missouri. Moral victories aside, that 45-38 overtime loss to Nebraska was symbolic. For starters, Missouri had lost 51-7 to Nebraska in 1996. That was the kind of score that had become all too common in this series. Taking a Tom Osborne coached Nebraska team into overtime only to lose by a touchdown felt good. And the 38 points that Jones helped to orchestrate was the most points a Tiger team had scored against Nebraska since scoring 47 in 1947.

 

It’s this game against Nebraska that Missouri fans like to reminisce about when thinking about the 1997 season. The notion is that Missouri somehow won in losing. This game did mean something but not what so many Missouri fans think it meant. What playing Nebraska into overtime showed was that Missouri could be competitive against programs like Osborne’s Nebraska machine. I’ll still take that road victory over Oklahoma State as the crowning achievement of the 1997 season.

In beating Oklahoma State, Jones proved what Missouri football had become and Jones was the centerpiece of that tangible accomplishment. And in losing a heart-breaker to Nebraska, Jones offered a glimpse of what the future could hold for Missouri football.

That future became reality when, in 1998, Jones led Missouri to another winning season as the Tigers finished the year at 8-4. Unlike the 1997 season, there wasn’t that signature win over a ranked team. The four losses did include some near upsets of ranked Nebraska, Texas A&M and Kansas State teams. But 1998 was about the season in aggregate, not the individual games.

The 1997 season had been the first winning season in 13 years for the Missouri program to enjoy. Having experienced a 13-year drought of winning, expecting back-to-back winning seasons wouldn’t have seemed like a reasonable expectation. But that is precisely what the Missouri football team did on the back of Jones.

Missouri fans like to romanticize what Brad Smith meant to Missouri football. He filled up the stat sheet and in 2003 he was the first Missouri quarterback to beat Nebraska since 1978. The accomplishment of beating Nebraska was remarkable and one that I remember fondly. But again, it was just one game.

 

Brad Smith’s accomplishments were awe inspiring, but we shouldn’t allow Smith’s highlight reel to mask what Corby Jones meant to the program as a whole. Each of these quarterbacks deserves to have their Tiger legacy’s acknowledged. Including Jones.

 

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

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Huskers May Not Win Music City Bowl, But Vols May Lose It

You know what I’m going to miss this off-season? I’m going to miss Butch Jones press conference quotes. Seriously. They make great punchlines. Heading into the Music City Bowl, Jones managed to give us yet another great line.

Earlier this week, Jones told reporters that he’s had coaches calling him and asking how he managed this season with all the adversities the Volunteers faced. Were expectations for this team high? Yes. But just look at the resiliency. And after all, the Vols did win the championship of life already.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers faced a different kind of adversity this season. This summer the team tragically lost punter Sam Foltz in a car accident. During the first game of the season, the team lined up with just 10 men on the field for a punt in remembrance of Foltz. The referees called a delay of game penalty on the play, which Fresno State then declined.

Needless to say, while the Vols have faced injury adversity, the Huskers faced a completely different kind of adversity. This bowl game will be an emotional battle on both sides of the field.

But beyond this, there are statistics from the two teams’ performances throughout the season to compare. And there are also current situations and “x-factors” that may affect the outcome of this game.

On offense, both teams are not in the top in the country. But, neither team is in the bottom in the country either. As far as total yards gained on the season goes, the Vols are 60th while the Huskers are 93rd. The Vols averaged about 50 additional yards on offense per game, split pretty evenly between both rushing and passing yardage. As far as points go, the Vols averaged nearly ten more points per contest than the Huskers did. This gives them a decent advantage offensively.

On the other hand, there is a much larger separation between the two defenses. In total, Nebraska allowed over 100 less yards per game than Tennessee did. Most of that difference comes from the rushing defenses of the two teams. Although there is over double the difference in yardage on this side of the ball, the point differential is smaller. The Vols only allowed an average of 6.5 more points per game. At the end of the day, points do decide the turnout of the game. So on that front, I give the Vols a slight advantage.

The Vols also have an advantage in the fact that they have the players they’ve had all season. And while they are still a bit battered, that is just how they’ve been playing this year. They know they can win even without the same roster of players they began the season with.

On the other side of things, the Huskers are missing some players that they’re used to having. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr. has been battling a hamstring injury for a while now and is not expected to start. Coach Mike Riley did express hope that he could be available if needed, though. Additionally, star safety Nathan Gerry and backup DB Boaz Joseph have both been ruled ineligible to play by the university.

But what makes trying to predict this game especially interesting to me is the fact that the Huskers did not beat any good teams. And as an SEC homer, I’d still like to think the Vols are a good team. At the same time, two of the Vols’ four losses came in conference play to teams that should not have been able to beat them. Those two teams are South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

So while I can’t say that I would pick the Huskers to win this game, I can say that I might pick the Vols to lose this one.

Watch the game on Friday, December 30th at 3:30 PM EST on ESPN.

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

Image courtesy of Flickr user arianravan.

Nebraska Finally Comes Back To Earth

So where we at now, Nebraska? You shot into the rankings, even checking into the top 10 for a little bit there. Man, the Cornhuskers had us all fooled. Well, I guess not all of us but certainly a lot of people. They beat Oregon before we realized the Ducks were bad and Northwestern before the Wildcats got hot. Everything was coming up roses for Nebraska because the timing was right.

Then reality hit.

Once the Cornhuskers finally ran into a good team, things fell apart. Sure, the game against Wisconsin went to overtime but man that Ohio State game? Things were out of hand even before Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong got hurt. The Buckeyes even took their foot off the gas and still dropped 60.

Basically, once Nebraska actually played a good team, it crumbled. You know, it’s ok. That happens to a lot of teams. Once they come up against some resistance they just fall apart. Ask Iowa. The Hawkeyes know how that goes. They’re in such bad shape that I didn’t even want to pick on them this week.

Quite frankly, the fact that Nebraska got this far is kind of impressive. When your leading rusher only has 600 yards and your second-leading rusher is your quarterback who only trails by 200 yards, that not usually a recipe for success.

Defense is usually the calling card of the Cornhuskers and head coach Mike Riley made a point to improve on defense, but they’re still letting in a lot of points. Even if you wipe off the massacre by Ohio State, they were letting in a lot of points. They couldn’t even hold anemic teams like Illinois and Purdue to less than double-digits. For comparison’s sake, Michigan held Illinois to a garbage-time eight points and Purdue to negative ten. Ok, the Wolverines didn’t play Purdue but judging by what they did to Rutgers, that’s not an inconceivable result.

Now, Nebraska’s on a skid and Minnesota is on a run, having won its last four games. Nebraska’s quarterback is coming back from an injury while Minnesota running back Rodney Smith is starting to heat up. Smith has gone over 100 yards in the last four games, including 144 against Maryland and 154 against Purdue. The Cornhuskers gave up over 200 yards rushing to both Wisconsin and Ohio State. You do the math.

Sure Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner isn’t great in third and long situations but if your running back can keep you out of them, suddenly that doesn’t matter, does it?

Let’s be honest, Nebraska was playing way above its level for the whole season because they were playing off of emotion. They were still trying to honor their fallen punter Sam Folz. Eventually, that emotion was going to fade and what you’re left with is a team that isn’t as good as everyone wanted to think that it was.

If this was any other team but Nebraska, we wouldn’t be talking about how far the Huskers fell in the polls because they wouldn’t have even been in the polls. Nebraska got the artificial boost in the AP Poll simply because everyone still remembers the days that the Huskers were good. Pretty soon those days are going to fade and those boosts are going to fade. Then everyone is going to realize that Nebraska is exactly what it turned out to be: a team that has higher expectations than talent.

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How Nebraska Can Beat Ohio State

Let’s be honest. Who would’ve thought at this juncture in the 2016 season the Nebraska Cornhuskers, despite a heartbreaking overtime loss to Wisconsin, would not only be first in the Big Ten West but have a shot at the College Football Playoff? Maybe some extremely optimistic fan, but it’s pretty remarkable to see how far Nebraska has come especially after last season under the tutelage of head coach Mike Riley. Now, it’s time for the Huskers biggest test of the year as they invade the Horseshoe to take on a vulnerable Buckeyes team that has been less than stellar in its previous three games. While the Huskers are the underdogs, they have a shot at winning if several things happen. Here’s how.

Now, it’s time for the Huskers biggest test of the year as they invade the Horseshoe to take on a vulnerable Buckeyes team that has been less than stellar in its previous three games. While the Huskers are the underdogs, they have a shot at winning if several things happen. Here’s how.

Here’s how:

It’s no secret that Ohio State has been struggling in the passing game and been inconsistent connecting on deep throws downfield. They rank 77th in passing yards per game (220) and 65th in yards per completion. This is good news for the Huskers as their secondary has been a source of strength. Opposing offenses are averaging just 6.2 yards per pass attempt and have accounted for just seven touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions. Safety Nate Gerry has been a ball-hawking beast this entire season and shined last weekend as he picked off two passes on consecutive defensive series. He will be somebody on the Buckeyes radar. If the Huskers load the box to force the Buckeyes to throw the ball deep, keep tabs on Barrett’s favorite target, the elusive Curtis Samuel and can make some defensive passing plays, they will cause J.T. Barrett to think twice about where to pass the ball. If there’s any sign of uncertainty, Barrett might make a mistake.

Safety Nate Gerry has been a ball-hawking beast this entire season and shined last weekend as he picked off two passes on consecutive defensive series. He will be on the Buckeyes’ radar. If the Huskers load the box to force the Buckeyes to throw the ball deep and keep tabs on Barrett’s favorite target, the elusive Curtis Samuel, and can make some defensive passing plays, they will cause J.T. Barrett to think twice about where to pass the ball. If there’s any sign of uncertainty, Barrett might make a mistake.

Despite his less than gaudy numbers against Wisconsin (12/31, 153 yards, 2 interceptions), Tommy Armstrong kept Nebraska in the game and showcased great leadership by stepping up and delivering in the clutch. He led a 14-play, 75-yard drive that ended with his 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that made it 17-14.

Now just imagine if he didn’t toss those two interceptions and completed over 50 percent of his passes. If his much-maligned offensive line can somehow negate a strong pass rush and give Armstrong time to operate, he can make things happen with his arm and legs.  The Buckeyes defense has shown a tendency to lose contain on the edges, which he can exploit. When he’s pressured he makes terrible decisions with the football like throwing off his back foot and trying to force a ball somewhere it shouldn’t be.

I also concur with the assessment that covering the slot position has been a problem for the Buckeyes, particularly in the last two weeks versus Wisconsin’s Jazzy Peavy (four catches, 76 yards, one touchdown) and Northwestern’s Austin Carr (eight receptions, 158 yards). The young Buckeye secondary will now match up with Jordan Westerkamp and if he can continue to find ways to get open in the slot, it will free up Nebraska’s deep corps of talented pass-catchers and create open space for Armstrong to scramble. At Wisconsin, Westerkamp accounted for 62 of Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s 156 passing yards and I expect him to be a security blanket again this week.

Also, if the Huskers can enter the fourth quarter with the lead, the score tied, or even trailing a few points, their chances will definitely improve because Nebraska has outscored its opponents 108-13 in the fourth quarter, showing it’s cool under pressure and can make a comeback. Ohio State has allowed teams to stick around in the fourth quarter. Northwestern tied the game and lost by just four points, and Wisconsin pushed the Buckeyes to overtime.

It may seem like an impossible task and Ohio State is still a feared team, but if the secondary stays strong, Armstrong and Westerkamp deliver, and the Huskers keep it close, they’ll have a chance. And remember anything can happen in college football. Just ask Penn State.

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

Photo from flickr user wht_wolf9653

 

Mock College Football Playoff 2016, Week 9

Welcome to the first week of Campus Pressbox’s official mock playoff committee. Every Tuesday I’ll be publishing the top 10 based on a group vote.

The committee:

Tim Bach (@Tbach84)
Kristen Botica (@OGKristenB)
Damien Bowman (@damienbowman)
Mitch Gatzke (@GreatGatzke)
Cooper Goetz (@uf_goetz)
Cole Hankins (@Cole_Hankins)
John Horlander (@John_Horlander)
Seth Merenbloom (@SethMerenbloom)
Evan Skilliter (@Skilliter)
Ben Belden (@bbelden330), Writer- Slap the Sign
Thomas Gardner
J.R. Goetz

The rules:

Each week, committee members will submit their top 10 teams and each team will receive points based on their position. The team’s will be ranked 1-10 based on which has the most points. Ties will be broken by which team has the highest votes in a specific position.

Points are assigned as follow: first place – 10, second place – 9, third place – 8, fourth place – 7, fifth place – 6, sixth place – 5, seventh place – 4, eighth place – 3, ninth place – 2, tenth place – 1.

Week 9 Results:

Place Team Points First Place Votes
1 Alabama 120 12
2 Michigan 103
3 Washington 93
4 Clemson 91
5 Louisville 59
6 Ohio State 58
7 Texas A&M 48
8 Wisconsin 37
9 Auburn 24
10 Florida 15
Additional Votes: Nebraska 11
LSU 1

Playoff:

Bowl Teams
Peach No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Clemson
Fiesta No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Washington

New Year’s Six:

Bowl Teams Tie In
Orange Louisville vs. ACC vs. Big Ten, Big 12 or SEC
Cotton At Large vs. At Large
Rose Ohio State vs. Utah Big Ten vs. Pac-12
Sugar Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M Big 12 vs. SEC

Notes and Observations:

  • There were three clear groups of teams.
    • The undefeated front-runners, consisting of the teams that received 1st or 2nd place votes (Alabama, Michigan, Washington, and Clemson)
    • The Contenders, consisting of the teams that peaked at 4th, 5th or 6th place votes (Louisville, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Wisconsin, and Auburn)
    • The Long shots, who, at best, received 7th place votes (Florida, Nebraska, and LSU)
  • Wisconsin and Auburn seem to be the most likely candidates for the Orange Bowl Big Ten/Big 12/SEC at large spot.
  • LSU, No. 15, was the lowest ranked team in the AP Poll to receive a vote. The Tigers jumped 3 Big 12 teams (Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia), none of which received a single vote. LSU’s single 10th place vote was courtesy of Seth.

 This Saturday’s Marquee Matches

No. 10 Florida @ Arkansas (3:30 P.M.)

Nebraska @ No. 6 Ohio State (8 P.M.)

No. 1 Alabama @ LSU (8 P.M.)

Our Work:

For transparency, here is how each member of the committee voted this week:

Voting Week 9

 

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @uf_goetz
Image Courtesy of tujabro_99 – Flickr
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The Sunday Morning Notebook: Afternoon Edition

Please pardon my tardiness and please enjoy this week’s notebook.

 

Clemson Escapes Tallahassee

Deandre Francois did exactly what a quarterback can’t do on a fourth down with the game on the line – he took a sack.  That turnover on downs secured a 37-34 victory for Clemson to help the Tigers stay undefeated on the season.

Week-by-week, Deshaun Watson’s Heisman hopes continue to waiver.  His performances have been excellent, but his solid and consistent numbers are not staggering enough to earn him consideration for the award.

Last week, Watson’s performance was only average by Heisman standards (378 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, 35 rushing yards and a touchdown).  Yesterday, Watson completed 27 of 43 passes for 378 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.  He also rushed for 52 yards.

Watson still doesn’t stack up to Lamar Jackson. Jackson has thrown for more yards and a higher passer rating. They’ve also thrown the same amount of touchdowns.
We can officially count Watson out for the trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

Notes:

  • Florida State’s final drive was possibly the worst final, comeback-attempt drive a top 25 team has ever had.
    • The drive started on FSU 21-yard line.
    • The first two plays each resulted in a first down.  A third-down holding penalty on the fifth play of the drive created a third and 23 from FSU’s 40 yard-line, but Francois completed a 26-yard pass to Travis Rudolph for the first down on the Clemson 34, which should have set up a game-tying field goal.
    • However, two different FSU linemen moved early on consecutive plays, pushing the Seminoles back ten yards and out of field goal range.  Francois threw consecutive incompletions, then took a sack on 3rd and 20.  After an FSU timeout, Francois took another sack on 4th and 32.
    • To recap: Florida State committed three penalties for -20 yards and gave up two sacks for -33 yards, including one on fourth down that ended their attempt to tie or win the game.
  • Dalvin Cook has been outstanding.  Cook rushed 19 times for 169 yards and a season-high four touchdowns, including this 70 yard TD run.  After three sub-100 yard games to start the season, Cook has averaged 168.2 rushing yards and nearly two rushing touchdowns per game. He’s 5th in the nation in rushing yards and 10th in touchdowns.
  • Clemson should cruise through the rest of its regular season schedule with matchups against Syracuse, Pitt, Wake Forest and South Carolina remaining.

 

Washington Remains Unbeaten

Washington may be the most balanced team in the country.  Jake Browning is a solid passer/decision maker and Myles Gaskin is electric (he averages 6.5 yards per carry).  At the same time, the Huskies’ defense has been stout, helping the team win games by an average of 30.4 points per game.

Browning passed for 186 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, and Gaskin rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

Utah’s effort should not go unnoticed, however.  Quarterback Troy Williams threw for 163 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions.  Joe Williams carried the ball 35 times for 17 yards and a touchdown.  24 points are the second most points any team has scored on Washington all season.

Utah’s defense also held the Huskies’ offense to its fewest point total of the season.

Notes:

  • It’s very likely that the Utes and Huskies meet each other again in the Pac-12 championship game.  Utah is currently second, behind Colorado, in the Pac-12 South.  The two will meet in the last week of the season, which will likely decide the South champion.
  • Washington is tied with Washington State for first place in the North.  Washington will play Cal, USC, and Arizona State before a match-up with Washington State during the last week of the season, which could very well decide the North champion.

 

Cornhuskers Can’t Complete Comeback 

Many would consider Nebraska and Wisconsin to be the Big Ten’s third and fourth best teams. They surely played like it yesterday, as Wisconsin staved off a Nebraska comeback to beat the ‘Huskers 23-17 in overtime.

This was a defensive battle as neither team was able to get much going on the offensive end.  The only impressive offensive performance of the day came from Wisconsin’s Dare Ogunbowale.  Ogunbowale rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries (10.9 YPC).

Notes:

  • Nebraska still controls its own destiny in the Big Ten west.  It is currently ahead of Wisconsin with a 4-1 mark in the conference, but the Cornhuskers still have Ohio State to get through.  Wisconsin has a much more favorable remaining schedule (Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota).

 

Other Notes:

-Jimbo Fisher wasn’t happy with the referees.

-Les Miles really wants a new job.

-Boise State lost to the only team that can pull off a brown and yellow uniform combo.

Evan Berry is very fast

-Texas probably has no idea what to do with Charlie Strong. Just when it seems Strong will be axed, he wins a game like yesterday’s upset of Baylor.

-Notre Dame upset Miami but somehow still looked bad.

 

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @skilliter.

Photo: Flickr, Phil Roeder