Tag Archives: Penn State Nittany Lions

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.

Image courtesy Flickr

Comment on this and every article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.

Are There Any Good Football Teams in 2017?

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

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

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

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

Let’s start at the top of the polls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who else is even left?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy Flickr

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

Comment on this and every article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.

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

Ohio State Lost and It Doesn’t Matter

The Ohio State Buckeyes were served a cold dish of revenge by Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners this past Saturday night.  The offense found the end zone just once.  The defense gave up 28 points in the second half, including 21 unanswered which turned a three-point lead into a three-score deficit.

They were bottled up by a Big 12 defense and exposed by a playmaking quarterback, at home, under the lights, in front of a national audience.  After the game, Mayfield decided to take a victory lap that ended with him planting the OU flag right in the middle of Ohio Stadium.

As a Michigan fan surrounded by Buckeye nuts at the time, I absolutely loved it.  Really though, it’s not going to end up meaning much when it comes to the playoff picture.  Sure, there will be an effect on the team.  Of course, this will go a long way in molding them for the rest of the season.  All of a sudden, the sense of urgency has skyrocketed.  It will feel like every game could be, in essence, the last one that truly matters for this program that sets its bar so high.

Things will seem much different after suffering this crushing blow.  In reality, however, this season started with that heightened sense of urgency for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.  We know what happened last year.  tOSU snuck into the final four despite not winning its conference (or even its division, for that matter).  It was the first time in the College Football Playoff’s short history that had been done.  Considering the way the Buckeyes rewarded the committee for that decision, it may very well be the last time it happens, too.

So, you come into the 2017 season, if you’re the Buckeyes, knowing that you must win your conference championship game to earn a spot in the top four.  The definition of insanity is yadda, yadda, and you can’t expect the committee to give you the same chance when you squandered it so spectacularly the last go around.  Still, win the Big Ten and you’re virtually guaranteed a spot in the dance.

Here’s the thing: losing to Oklahoma, even if it was by a wide margin, in your own barn, in primetime, in front of the whole country, doesn’t do a damn thing to harm your original goal of winning the Big Ten.  In fact, I would argue that taking such a big L actually motivates, and ends up helping what is still a relatively young squad.

Ohio State fell all the way to number eight in this week’s updated AP Top 25.  That’s still well within striking distance.  Army, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland, and Nebraska are the competition awaiting the Buckeyes the next five weeks.  Then they have a bye week to prepare a little revenge of their own against Penn State.  Please forgive me for not worrying about where their record will stand when they welcome in the Nittany Lions on October 28.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from Saturday night’s failure.  If there’s one man who’s going to teach his players how to correct their mistakes, it’s Urban Meyer.  The man’s made a career out of paying special attention to the tiny details and making the necessary adjustments for his team.  I have no doubt he will do the same here, and the Buckeyes will waltz through the next month and a half ahead of the showdown with Penn State.

Ohio State fans are upset.  I get that.  Nobody likes getting beat by two scores on their own turf, at night, with everyone else at home watching.  And they’re really not used to getting bullied in the ‘Shoe.  Still, I don’t see how dropping this game amounts to anything more than a bruised ego and an extra chip on the old shoulder.

Scheduling these massive early season clashes against other national championship contenders does nothing but help nowadays.  Win and you’ve got an impressive, pearly white feather in your cap.  The Buckeyes had just that last fall.  Lose and, really, nothing happens.  You only narrow your focus to what you set out to do anyway, taking home a conference championship.

The rest of the Big Ten had better watch out.  Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners just pissed off the baddest dude on their playground.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on twitter @GreatGatzke.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

2017 Big Ten Power Rankings

Only nine days until college football Week 1 officially starts, though as my fellow writer Mitch Gatzke wrote, it leaves much to be desired.  Stanford versus Rice from Australia is your headliner. Yay. Can you sense the sarcasm? For me, it kicks off on Thursday August 31st when Ohio State takes on Indiana. Speaking of the Buckeyes, based on how 2016 unfolded in the Big Ten, here are the unofficial power rankings for 2017 with that team from Ohio sitting on top. Enjoy.

  1. Ohio State Buckeyes

The Ohio State Buckeyes are completely stacked for another playoff run and poised to win a conference title. With 15 starters returning, arguably the best front defensive coordinator Greg Schiano has coached, an offensive line that features two potential first-round draft picks (Jamarco Jones and Billy Price) and the hiring of Kevin Wilson as offensive coordinator to help J.T. Barrett return to freshman form, this is by far the best team in the Big Ten.

  1. Penn State Nittany Lions

Nipping at the Buckeye’s heels will be the Nittany Lions, who went from conference afterthought to Big Ten champions after reeling off nine consecutive wins in 2016. The dynamic duo of quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley fit seamlessly into Joe Moorhead’s up-tempo, spread attack and will have four returning starters on offensive line to protect them. Yet, the luck they had last season against Ohio State will be long gone in this year’s rematch.

  1. Wisconsin Badgers

Coming into this season, Wisconsin already had a void at outside linebacker with T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel departing and then inside linebacker Jack Cichy suffered another season-ending injury. Fortunately, there is a lot of depth and experience on the defense for first-year coordinator Jim Leonhard to work with. Plus, the offensive line returns all five starters and with a more feasible schedule, the Badgers will be the favorite in the Big Ten West and a top-ten team.

  1. Michigan Wolverines

So close, yet so far away defined the 2016 Michigan Wolverines as two late season losses by four measly points cost them conference glory. Now, only four offensive starters and one defensive starter return and even more pressure will be on Wilton Speight to deliver with a new receiving corps. Jim Harbaugh has recruited some good raw talent, but I feel the Wolverines will take a small step backwards before reaching their full potential.

  1. Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern has a solid chance to make some noise this season with a speedy, explosive defense that features a disruptive front seven and an offense with the strong arm of Clayton Thorson and the tireless workhorse Justin Jackson. Unfortunately, they’ll be without the leading receiver from the Big Ten last year in Austin Carr and need a reliable target to emerge. Also, they ranked 108th in pass defense and face their biggest divisional opponent Wisconsin in Madison.

  1. Iowa Hawkeyes

While the Hawkeyes have limited experience at quarterback with presumed first-time starter Nathan Stanley and few receiving options besides Matt VandeBerg, they possess one of college’s best offensive lines and a home-run threat in senior running back Akrum Wadley. On defense, they also are raw and young at most of the skill positions. Yes, they’re anchored by linebacker and leading tackler Josey Jewell but one man can’t do it all. Nonetheless, their ceiling is still 7-9 victories.

  1. Nebraska Huskers

Though the Nebraska Huskers started 7-0 and had a great opportunity for a championship game invite in 2016, they lost four of their final six. Now, they are in a state of transition with pro-style quarterback Tanner Lee under center trying to resuscitate an offense that averaged 211.7 passing yards a game (86th). On defense, they still have a very stout secondary in their new 3-4 scheme but with all the changes, I see more growing pains than success.

  1. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Even with P.J. Fleck’s infectious positive energy, that only goes so far. The Gophers have essentially no experience at quarterback and wide receiver besides leading wideout Rashad Still (18 catches). They’ll have to rely heavily on running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, both of whom averaged over 4.7 yards per carry and combined for 1,808 yards but the offensive line is thin and lacks depth. The defensive line is lean as well. Expect a middle-of-the-pack finish.

  1. Michigan State Spartans

Jekyll and Hyde perfectly describes the Spartans last two seasons, plunging from a conference champion to a basement dweller, and it remains to be seen if they can rebound after a rough off-season. I believe with their three-headed monster in the backfield (L.J. Scott, Gerald Holmes, Madre London; 3,300 combined rush yards)and the return of quarterback Brian Lewerke, who played well versus Michigan before breaking his leg, the Spartans will compete for a bowl bid. Anything more is wishful thinking.

  1. Indiana Hoosiers

The defense, which improved from 121st to 45th in passing yards allowed in 2016, has nine returning starters and should be the strength especially in the linebacking corps with Tegray Scales (23.5 tackles for loss in 2016) and secondary with Rashard Fant (48 passes defended). Richard Lagow has a canon for an arm but needs to work on his accuracy (17 interceptions). If the offense can cut down mistakes and the defense rises up like last season, this is a scary, dangerous team. I forecast a definite bowl game.

  1. Maryland Terrapins

A 2014 four-star recruit by 247sports, there is a lot of hype surrounding North Carolina transfer quarterback Caleb Henderson. He has good size and can run and pass as he commands Maryland’s spread offense and tries to improve an offense that averaged just 178.2 yards a game (106th). The defense is experienced with their senior-laden front seven led by middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. but allowed over 28 points seven times. Sadly, I see them drastically receding.

  1. Purdue Biolermakers

David Blough can air it out with the best of them but he led the league with 21 interceptions and losses his top four pass catchers from 2016. To make things even trickier, Purdue is young on offense with just one returning starter on the line so protection is a concern. Depth on the defensive line and secondary is also a weakness.  New head coach Jeff Brohm maybe an offensive whiz but he has a lot of work to do.

  1. Illinois Illini

Lovie Smith will have a tough time this season as the teams top five pass rushers including standouts Carroll Phillips and Dawuane Smoot as well as leading tackler Hardy Nickerson Jr. are gone. In fact, the defense will be very young and untested and will have one senior starter in corner Jaylen Dunlap. On offense, quarterback Chayce Crouch is healed after attempting just 32 passes and gets two formidable receivers in Mike Dudek and Malik Turner. Other than that, nothing is sound here.

  1. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Four quarterbacks are competing for the starting job and electrifying return man Janarion Grant returns. Other than that, not much to say besides good luck not losing any games by a significant margin. Every year I think they will stop getting killed, but it always seems it gets worse. Is it even possible to be embarrassed more than being shutout 78-0? I hope it doesn’t for the sake of the conference’s reputation.

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

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

College Football’s Opening Weekend Owes Us More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Can We Do?

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wikipedia

Comment on this and every article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.

New Year’s Six Preview: Rose Bowl

This year’s Rose Bowl is a matchup between two programs that have an eerily similar story this year. Both the Penn State Nittany Lions and the USC Trojans struggled early in the season. They both lost big to a top-five team (Penn State to Michigan and USC to Alabama). However, both teams came storming back in the second half of the season. Both, despite their big losses, were actual contenders for the College Football Playoff at the end of the season. The team similarities, the growing hype once again around the Penn State football program, and the fact that this game is, after all, the Rose Bowl, makes the USC-Penn State game probably the most interesting among this year’s New Year’s six, maybe even including the CFP semifinal games.

Though USC’s offense is ranked above Penn State’s by several dozen spots, I still believe the Nittany Lions offense is the one to watch. After an amazing second half comeback against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, it will be interesting to see how PSU comes out. Southern Cal certainly has a competent defense, so Penn State will want to break through early to try and keep the game as close as possible moving into halftime.

Looking at the Southern Cal offense, it is so well-rounded that it’s near impossible to point to a single facet of it as the “key.” I think the Trojans need to keep themselves loose offensively, and not over-commit to the pass or the run. Penn State’s defense is good, but beatable, and the Trojans need to keep that in mind. Seeing how much of a second half team Penn State is, the USC offense really needs to ensure that they have a lead going into the half.

These two squads seem, on paper, extremely even. This year’s Rose Bowl may be the most highly contested of the NY6 matchups, with each team landing blows throughout. Personally, I see this game becoming high-scoring. If that does occur, the West Coast style Trojans definitely are in better shape than the Nittany Lions, who are a classic Big Ten team. Though I expect a close game, in the end I think USC will overcome a late Penn State run to win the Granddaddy of Them All.

 

Final Score: USC Trojans 41, Penn State Nittany Lions 37

 

Email Cooper at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

Photo: maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com

Comment on this and every article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.

Wisconsin Season Report Card

Heading into this season, numerous pundits including myself predicted the Wisconsin Badgers would take a step backwards despite winning 10 games in 2015 and finish mid-pack in the Big Ten West due to their incredibly tough schedule and new personnel.

Instead, the Badgers defied those preseason predictions by beating three top-10 opponents and winning the Big Ten West division to earn another trip to the Big Ten Championship versus Penn State, another program that shattered preseason expectations. It appeared that the Badgers would cruise to a conference title after seizing a 28-7 first half advantage, but the defense, which had been the strength of this team, squandered the lead and the Nittany Lions used their explosive offense to pull off a 38-31 victory. For most programs, accumulating ten victories would be a formidable accomplishment, but the season left something to be desired.

Now, Wisconsin will take on the undefeated Western Michigan Broncos in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at Arlington, Texas on January 2. It certainly isn’t the prize the Badgers had hoped for but it’s still a New Year’s Six bowl game and they hope to end the season on a high note.

Passing offense: C

The Badgers had more continuity at quarterback last season with Joel Stave under center every game and were 55th overall in total passing yards, but this year, they dropped to 98th in that category, as senior Bart Houston and freshman Alex Hornibrook combined to throw for 2329 yards along with just 13 scores and 10 interceptions.

Houston’s experience and slightly more mobility and accuracy than his teammate offered a nice change of pace and kept defenses on their toes and while the freshmen did show flashes of brilliance and poise in the pocket, he struggled at times to consistently hit open receivers.

As for receiving, the speedy Jazz Peavy (43 catches, 635 yards, five touchdowns) became the Badgers top weapon and tight end Troy Fumagalli (41 catches, 497 yards) proved to be an important security blanket this season.

In a nutshell, the passing offense was the definition of mediocre. It wasn’t dreadful but it certainly wasn’t great and didn’t put the Badgers over the top when they needed an offensive boost.

Rushing offense: A-

Last season, the Badgers stumbled in this department as they ranked 97thwith 1,954 rushing yards, 10th in conference while averaging 150.3 per game. Corey Clement was out most of year due to a sports hernia surgery so the Badgers severely lacked a home-run hitting, dynamic playmaker in the backfield and the offensive line couldn’t stay healthy, losing three starters.

Fortunately, the vintage Wisconsin rushing attack, which was No. 1 in rushing yards in the Big Ten, returned and was the saving grace for the offense. With a reliable, stable O-line anchored by first-team All-American Ryan Ramczyk this season, Clement’s 1,304 rushing yards led the conference and as a result, the offense overall was more balanced and consistent this season.

Freshman Bradrick Shaw also gave Badgers fans reason to feel optimistic about next year in limited action. Shaw averaged a solid 5.2 yards per carry and rushed for 457 yards with five touchdowns.

Passing defense: B-

Similar to last season, the Badgers pass defense was a consistent source of strength though from a numbers standpoint, they fell a little, dropping from 2nd to 7th in yards allowed per game (206.1) in conference and falling from 2nd to 12th in the Big Ten in total yards allowed (2,679). Nonetheless, there was still plenty to like about the way Wisconsin played.

The Badgers were second nationally in takeaways (21) led by senior Leo Musso’s five interceptions and the pass rush was especially ferocious as junior T.J. Watt, who made the switch from tight end to linebacker, had a team-leading 10.5 sacks and was named second-team All-American.

However, even with all the positives in place, Wisconsin was exposed in the title game as Penn State’s taller, more physical receivers took advantage of the Badgers smaller-sized secondary. Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorely passed for 384 yards and four touchdowns. If Wisconsin truly wants to be win the Cotton Bowl, it will have to figure out how to limit big plays in the passing game.

Rushing defense: A

The Badgers rank second nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (96.9) and only Leonard Fournette surpassed the 100-yard mark against this unit. In fact, just six teams have allowed fewer than the eight rushing touchdowns Wisconsin surrendered. The Badgers also rank among the top 10 in yards allowed per carry (3.23).

Led by Olive Sagapolu and ends Conor Sheehy and Chikwe Obasih, along with Alec James, the unheralded defensive line combined for 83 tackles and 7.5 sacks.

Wisconsin’s linebackers were an especially disruptive corps this season and consistently demonstrated explosive playmaking abilities. Leading tackler T.J. Edwards racked up 79 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks and Watt, younger brother of NFL players J. J. and Derek Watt, has 14.5 TFL for the season and an interception return touchdown. Jack Cichy (60 tackles), Ryan Connelly (54), Vince Biegel (39) and Garret Dooley (39) all chipped in at key moments for what is arguably the deepest and most talented set of linebackers in the Big Ten.

Special teams: C

Wisconsin had its share of ups and downs in this area. Starting kicker Rafael Gaglianone was out for the majority of the year with a back injury, forcing backup Andrew Endicott into action. He’s been just subpar, hitting 11-of-16 field goals (68.8 percent) with a long of 46. Anthony Lotti averages 37.7 yards on punts, which is last in conference and the return game lacks any explosiveness.

Overall: B

Wisconsin was in position to close the year on a high note and couldn’t finish against Penn State. Ultimately, the result will sting for a while and take some luster off of Paul Chryst’s second year as head coach.

Still, back-to-back 10-win seasons is pretty respectable and a 10-3 record probably isn’t what many fans expected given the tough schedule. And If Chryst can recruit the right players to fit his own system, the future of Wisconsin football looks bright.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia 

Barrett Gets His Opportunity to Finish the Job

Ohio State is back in the playoff after a one-year hiatus, but this time it will be quarterback J.T. Barrett leading the Buckeyes in their Fiesta Bowl matchup with Clemson and possibly beyond.

We all remember that it was Cardale Jones, filling in for an injured Barrett, who forever became a Buckeye legend in 2014 by delivering both a Big Ten title and national championship to Columbus for the first time in 12 years. It was the “12 Gauge” cannon that stretched opposing defenses, including the vaunted Alabama defense en route to the title. Jones stepped into the national spotlight at the perfect time because Ohio State probably doesn’t win a national championship without their newly formed aerial assault.

But this time, Barrett gets the opportunity to finish what he started. At times, Barrett has been criticized for his inconsistency to throw the football down the field with accuracy and the Ohio State passing game as a whole has been lackluster at best for the latter portion of the 2016 season.

As dominant as the Silver Bullet defense, we know both Clemson and Alabama are going to score their fair share of points against the Buckeyes. No, Washington doesn’t possess a chance to knock off the Crimson Tide and if Ohio State is fortunate enough to get by Clemson, it will be another Urban Meyer vs. Nick Saban matchup, but this time for the national championship.

We can’t expect first-team All-American safety Malik Hooker and the defense to put up a score or two every game, especially against top-notch opponents. Barrett’s passing game will need to evolve in the coming weeks if the Buckeyes are to have a chance at claiming a second national title in three years.

It’s hard to find a fault in Barrett’s game when he is the all-time record holder at Ohio State for touchdowns responsible for. Barrett has used his arm successfully in big games before. Barrett and receiver Noah Brown tore apart the Oklahoma defense early in the season, connecting four different times for touchdowns. The Oklahoma victory is also the sole reason that Ohio State is a member of this year’s playoff. In Ohio State’s memorable 49-37 victory at Michigan State in 2014, which put the Buckeyes back in the national title chase, Barrett was 16/26 for 300 yards with three touchdown passes.

Say what you want about Barrett, but the guy is a flat-out winner. He makes the necessary plays when the game is on the line, whether it’s with his legs or his arm and the Buckeyes win almost every time. In Barrett’s three career losses, the signal-caller could hardly be considered at-fault.

In just his second career game, Barrett and Ohio State got their doors blown off by Virginia Tech early in the 2014 season. Barrett was a sitting duck in the backfield due to some of the most porous offensive line play you will ever see. Barrett could hardly be blamed for the debacle that occurred in the Horseshoe that night.

When it comes to the Michigan State game last year that cost Ohio State a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game and ultimately the playoff, the ultra-conservative approach by the coaching staff cannot be attributed to Barrett. As for Penn State earlier this season, all I will say about that is Barrett doesn’t play on special teams.

There is not a doubt in my mind that if Barrett needs to throw for over 300 yards to win a playoff game, he will do it. You play to your strength and Ohio State thrives at dictating their brand of football. Win or lose going forward, Barrett will do his part.

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25

Photo: Flickr/dviscione

Thankful Ohio State Is In The College Football Playoff

After an epic 38-31 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers, it was a foregone conclusion in my mind that the Penn State Nittany Lions were headed to the College Football Playoffs. After all, they were the only team to defeat Ohio State, fluke or not and just added a conference title so I was initially shocked when the playoff committee decided to choose the Buckeyes over Penn State. However, the more I thought about it, the more I liked their selection of the Silver Bullets and as the title obviously suggests, I am thankful the committee put them in the field.

If you’re still saying, this is completely unfair, I hear you. I agree with my fellow colleague, Tim Bach, it’s  unfair in every way and I’d be pissed off if I was a Penn State fan.  As a Wisconsin fan, I hate the Buckeyes but I take pride in my conference and as a Big Ten fan, I admit that Ohio State gives us the best chance at a national title for the second time in three years.

Think about it. As hot as Penn State has been, is there anyone out there who believes the Nittany Lions can stand next to Alabama and knock them off? I certainly don’t believe so and I‘d be hard pressed to find anyone else who does. However, the Buckeyes are the team in my opinion that poses the biggest threat to the Crimson Tide.

Now I know what you might be saying. Hasn’t J.T. Barrett struggled as of late (86 yards versus Michigan State, 124 yards versus Michigan) and inconsistent passing been a problem this whole season? Shouldn’t an offensive line as talented as theirs be better in protection (59th, 25 sacks allowed) and be more disciplined (64th in fewest penalties allowed)? Didn’t this team lose to Penn State, barely beat the Spartans and need two overtimes to defeat Michigan? Isn’t this team very young and inexperienced?

I concede that all those points are accurate but you have to admit, though this team has faced adversity, they still have come out on top even when nothing has gone right. It’s dangerous to live on the edge but there is something to be said about a battle-tested team that can make crucial plays in crunch-time.

Remember in 2014, the Buckeyes had a very young roster with a loss to Virginia Tech but still crashed the College Football Playoff and came away with the title over the favored Crimson Tide.

Another point to keep in mind is unlike 2014, this isn’t uncharted territory for head coach Urban Meyer and it’s intimidating to think what kind of game plan he devises given nearly a month to prepare. Next to Nick Saban, he has one of the brightest minds in the game.

Before Alabama, however, the Buckeyes need to take care of business against a highly motivated Clemson team. Heisman Trophy candidate Deshaun Watson showed little signs of wear-and-tear from last season as his stats are practically identical but even so, only two quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than his 15, which plays right into the strength of this Ohio State team. The stingy, ball-hawking secondary nabbed 19 interceptions and their pass efficiency defense (91.43 rating for opposing quarterbacks) leads the nation.

On the other hand, the way to hurt the Buckeyes is to pressure Barrett and Clemson features a fearsome defensive line led by Carlos Watkins, Christian Wilkins, and ACC defensive rookie of the year Dexter Lawrence that can dominate Ohio State’s porous offensive line.

I believe it will be a closely contested game and both defenses will force each quarterback to throw the ball so it comes down to who’s more efficient and less turnover prone. In my mind, I’d have to lean towards the Buckeyes as they hold onto win 31-28.

So how does Ohio State defeat the Crimson Tide?

Besides the aforementioned prowess of Meyer and the strong defense, the Buckeyes have a dual-threat signal caller in Barrett and Alabama’s defense struggled against other mobile quarterbacks like Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly and Clemson’s Watson in 2015.

In addition, if Ohio State can limit its mistakes, apply pressure on true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, sustain long drives and score before the Crimson Tide can answer, they have a shot at dethroning the champions.

In the end, I think that Alabama still wins the national title in a surprisingly close game, 30-23. Remember I didn’t say Ohio State would win but gave our conference the best chance and I’d rather lose by seven points than get blown out and humiliated.

Yes, it’s unfair but the committee did our conference a huge favor and for that I’m thankful.

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

Image courtesy of Wikipedia