Tag Archives: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Cleveland State Is a Good Team…In the Future

After Saturday’s 67-57 loss to Akron, one thing was made very clear: Cleveland State, as a whole, is not a bad team. The problem is that this year, the Vikings are going to drive fans utterly insane.

While the preseason expectations have been pretty low, by all accounts, there has been some reason to think that CSU will outperform predictions. Even head coach Dennis Felton is optimistic that his team will overachieve this season.

“We want to be better than we are supposed to be,” Felton said to The Reserve prior to the start of the season. “What that translates to in term of wins and losses, there is no way for me to know that.”

And for the first half of the Zips game, the Vikings absolutely were better, out-hustling, out-muscling and out-playing Akron at every turn. Unfortunately, some of the old Cleveland State bugaboos (poor three-point shooting and foul troubles), along with some new ones (the abysmal 40 percent from the free-throw line) ultimately cost CSU the game.

Then the Vikings ran into Rutgers on Tuesday.

The Scarlet Knights pushed Cleveland State around in the second half. That, coupled with the fact that the Vikings decided that this wasn’t really the game for the offense to show up, led to a 70-38 drubbing.

It’s not hard to see why, two games in, fans are dread what lies ahead. Offensively, the five seniors (Terrelle Hales is currently out) are averaging 24 points per game. The team as a whole is shooting 14.6 percent from beyond the arc, and the free-throw shooting has been even more atrocious.

All of this said, however, this can be viewed less as a failure on Felton’s part to work with what he has and more as an indictment on Gary Waters’ dwindling recruiting prowess in his final years as head coach. With an entire recruiting class (2015) no longer on the team and his 2014 and 2016 classes unable to match their defensive intensity with even a glimmer of offense, Felton’s first year was doomed from the start.

As Cleveland State preps for its home opener against Coppin State, fans have to be wondering what the appeal of this team will be as the season wears on. And while Felton will remain optimistic on his team’s performances in the coming months, the people he’s trying to convince to buy tickets, an already historically cynical bunch, are apt to disagree.

When you go beyond the surface, it looks as if Felton has already taken the frustrations of this season into consideration and has started building the foundation from which he’ll rebuild the program.

If you need any further proof of this, look no further than freshmen Stefan Kenic and Tyree Appleby. Kenic, the 6-9 Serbian, has already landed a spot in the starting lineup, and it isn’t very hard to see why.

With a dearth of offensive options for the Vikings, Kenic, in the first two games, has stepped up to the challenge. In fact, he currently leads the team in three-point shooting. Appleby, on the other hand, has provided a spark off the bench and clearly has shown no fear as it comes to slashing to the basket, as he did on more than one occasion in the first two games.

As freshmen, of course, there is certainly room for improvement for both players. Kenic will need to further develop his presence on the offensive glass, while Appleby will need to boost his free-throw shooting. And as the season wears on, Felton will look for ways to cut down their turnovers (both average three per game).

However, if you’re a casual fan and don’t want to get caught up in the frustration of the roller coaster this season is looking more likely to be, there’s always next year.

The one gift Waters gave Felton was a great deal of flexibility in recruiting. And with only two Waters holdovers (Kash Thomas and Evan Clayborne), that has given Felton opportunities to shape the Viking roster in his own image.

In addition to Kenic and Appleby, you can expect to see more of Northern Illinois transfer Dontel Highsmith once he’s finished completing his three-game suspension for breaking team rules. There’s also freshman Shawn Christian, who has yet to see action. But with offense coming at a premium for CSU, what could it hurt to give him some minutes?

Even before the fall signing period began, Felton had already brought on some size with 6-8 forward Algevon Eichelberger, who will be available next year after transferring from DePaul. Cleveland State has also gotten Wayne (MI) Memorial combo guard Rashad Williams to sign at the beginning of the fall signing period and his AAU teammate, 6-9 forward Deante “Spider” Johnson, signed Wednesday. The Vikings have another verbal commitment Kenic’s Serbian teammate Uros Plavsic, whose 7-1 frame makes him the tallest player CSU will have had since Aaron Pogue.

The future for the Vikings looks far brighter than the present current looks like. Then again, as they say, it’s always the darkest before dawn.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

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

Felton’s Debut Season at Cleveland State Will Be Grueling

For as many basketball pundits who have already predicted that Cleveland State, under Dennis Felton, will finish at the bottom of the Horizon League rankings, the Vikings’ new head coach didn’t seem deterred by loading up the non-conference schedule with some tough contests.

Cleveland State will, for its opening months, be facing the likes of Rutgers, Michigan State and Cincinnati. As expected, The Spartans and the Bearcat will provide the Vikings with, quite bluntly, nearly impossible odds of winning, especially given the recent changes in the Cleveland State roster and coaching staff.

Ironically, though, the CSU-Cincinnati game on December 21st will be played at the home of one of Cleveland State’s conference foes, Northern Kentucky. The Bearcats, while their permanent home is being renovated, will take up temporary residence at BB&T Arena, which the Vikings will see one more time later in the season when they face the Norse in Horizon League play.

As for the Scarlet Knights, second-year head coach Steve Pikiell may find some challenges in Cleveland State, which travels to New Jersey as part of the Phil Sellers Showcase, though Rutgers has made some significant improvements to its roster since last year. This showcase will also find the Vikings hosting Coppin State on November 17th, which will be Felton’s home debut, and Central Connecticut State, with a road trip to East Carolina in between.

For the third year, Cleveland State, along with Akron, Kent State and conference foe Youngstown State, will gather for the annual Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. This season, the classic will be held in Akron, with the host Zips facing off against the Vikings on November 14th.

Akron will be one of four MAC teams that Cleveland State will face. Toledo will come to the Wolstein Center for CSU’s annual pre-Christmas match on December 23rd, while the Vikings will make the road trip to Kent State (12/2) and Western Michigan (12/6).

In what seems to be a given with Cleveland State and every other mid-major, there will be a non-Division I team on the home slate. This year, it will be Notre Dame College on December 10th. The Vikings will play a second non-D1 team, Cedarville, but this will be a November 2nd exhibition game.

Cleveland State will, in addition to its conference slate, play 14 games in the confines of the Wolstein Center. The Vikings will play host to Arkansas State on November 29th, a return matchup from the trip CSU took to Jonesboro last season.

Of course, the most anticipated game on the schedule may very well be on New Year’s Day, when the Vikings open the year, and the Horizon League, with a home contest against Youngstown State. The duel between new coaches Felton and YSU’s Jerrod Calhoun is probably marked on a few people’s calendars, though it’s a safe bet many of those folks are wearing red and white.

The competition that Cleveland State will face in 2017-18 is some of the stiffest that the Vikings have seen in some time, and you’d be forgiven if you’re not sure what to make of it. With three high-major road trips and an ever-improving Horizon League (IUIPUI notwithstanding), it seems as if CSU will not spend Felton’s opening year trying to ring up wins against low-majors to inflate its record.

At the same time, a slow burn may hinder Felton’s effort to rebuild the fan base. Whether the scheduling will serve as a benefit or deterrent to the Vikings when January 1st rolls around remains to be seen.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

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

Burning Big Ten Questions for 2017

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

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

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

Can Minnesota row a boat?

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

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

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

Will Purdue ever get it turned around?

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

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

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

Can Indiana get over the hump?

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

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

Will Rutgers be any less terrible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy Flickr via Creative Commons

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Over/Under: Big Ten East

Last time I wrote, I did over/under projected victories for the Big Ten West this upcoming season based on what we know as of now and as promised, I have the Big Ten East this time around.

Indiana 6-7, 4-5 = Over 7-5, 4-5

Defensive coordinator Tom Allen takes over at head coach and the Hoosiers are eager to continue to build upon their success from 2016 when they made back-to-back bowl trips for the first time since 1990. In Allen’s first year, the Hoosiers defense made vast improvements, improving from 121st in yards allowed per game (509.5) in 2015 to 45th (380) in 2016. Linebacker Tegray Scales led the FBS with 23.5 tackles for loss and Rashard Fant led the conference with 17 pass breakups. Yet, despite the defensive success, Indiana struggled mightily on offense with 29 turnovers (123rd) and a 71.4 red zone score percentage (127th). If the Hoosiers can improve in these areas, getting several more wins shouldn’t be hard.

Maryland 6-7, 3-6 = Under 4-8, 1-8

In head coach DJ Durkin’s first season, Maryland improved from a 3-9 record to finish 6-7 and nabbed a bowl bid after drastically reducing their interceptions from an FBS-leading 29 to nine and also brought in the 17th-ranked recruiting class for 2017 in the off-season. There’s a lot of optimism and the future looks bright for the Terrapins but there are some huge obstacles including inexperience at quarterback with Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe moving on, suspect pass protection (49 sacks, 127th) a bad turnover margin (minus seven, 107th), not to mention a tough Big Ten East division. Remember Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan outscored Maryland 159-20. I see the Terrapins taking a step back before they go forward.

Michigan 10-3, 7-2 = Over 11-1, 8-1

With the departure of 17 starters and finishing 1-3, it is going to be a fascinating season for Michigan as they look to improve upon a 10-3 record in Jim Harbaugh’s third season. For most teams, losing that many starters would certainly be a devastating blow but with three loaded recruiting classes and continuity at quarterback with Wilton Speight returning, the Wolverines should remain a top contender for a conference championship. Plus, defensive coordinator Don Brown, who helped Michigan finish No. 2 in total defense and produced similar results at Boston College in 2015 with much less talent, returns. Yet, even if these underclassmen can deliver, I still think that the more experienced Buckeyes have the edge.

Michigan State 3-9, 1-8 = Over 5-7, 3-6

Coming off a disappointing 3-9 season and with a sexual assault investigation against several Spartans underway, things are not exactly sunny in East Lansing. Plus, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this team such as if projected starting quarterback Brian Lewerke, who had shown some flashes of potential in his limited experience before breaking his leg against Michigan, can be a reliable playmaker. He will need to deliver for an offense that was minus 58 in fourth quarter point differential. Also, can the Spartans improve upon a weak pass rush that yielded a measly 11 sacks? A lot of improvement will be needed to contend again but getting to a bowl is still within reach.

Ohio State 11-2, 8-1 = Over 13-0 (Big Ten champion), 9-0

In 2016, Ohio State appeared poised for another title run but J.T. Barrett had problems getting the ball downfield as the Buckeyes averaged 6.8 yards per pass attempt (88th in FBS) so new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day were hired to fix that. I and my fellow writer, Mark Silverman feel this could be a deadly offense with Wilson calling shots. On defense, only one team was more effective in the red zone, with the Buckeyes giving up touchdowns just 37.5 percent last season (15-40). With the exception of Raekwon McMillan, starters return at every spot in the front seven. If Barrett returns to 2014 form and the defense delivers, this is a legitimate national title contender.

Penn State 11-3, 8-1 = Under 10-2, 7-2

Despite starting 1-2, the Nittany Lions won nine straight to take the Big Ten due in large part to an explosive offense led by Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley. Averaging a conference-best 9.3 yards per pass attempt, McSorley made tremendous strides in his second season, totaling 29 touchdowns, eight interceptions and 3,614 yards (No. 1 in Big Ten), while Barkley led the conference with 18 rushing touchdowns. On defense, there are holes up front with both starting defensive ends gone but an experienced secondary with Marcus Allen and Grant Haley. There’s a lot to like here and while I don’t see them beating Ohio State in magical fashion again, I see them securing another 10-win season.

Rutgers 2-10, 0-9 = Neutral 2-10, 0-9

The gap between Rutgers and the league’s elite is already massive as the Scarlet Knights were outscored an insane 224-0 against Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. Unfortunately, at the rate the elite teams are growing and recruiting, I see the gap becoming larger before it gets smaller. Even with the hiring of Jerry Kill as offensive coordinator and the return of Janarion Grant, who is tied for the most kick and punt return touchdowns in history with eight, there’s only so much a few men can do here. Plus, it’s still a mystery if presumed starter Giovanni Rescigno is the answer at quarterback. It’s going to be another long year as Rutgers remains the conference’s doormat.

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

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Bilal Kamoon

The Big Ten Does Its Best MAC Impression

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Big Ten’s recent adoption of Friday football is exactly that.

Last week, the conference announced the inclusion of six Friday night contests in its 2017 television partnership with FOX. “All things considered we thought it was worthwhile to dip our toe in the water,” said Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner.

Sure Big Ten, it’s fine to dip your toe in the water, but understand this: there’s a big, blood-thirsty shark lurking in that water. That shark? The #MACtion.

The Big Ten can conceal its jealousy for the Mid-American Conference no longer. After years of watching weekday football from the outside looking in, Delany and the Big Ten finally caved to their better instincts. The only way for the Big Ten to solidify itself as a premier college football conference is to follow in the MAC’s footsteps.

After all, what does the Big Ten have that the MAC doesn’t? The MAC’s best team is ranked above ten teams in the Big Ten and defeated two of those teams. You can’t tell me watching Purdue on a Saturday is that much more valuable than watching Miami University on a Friday.

Let’s not even consider the fact that weekday games are a terrible idea for the Big Ten. Let’s not even consider the horrific effects it’ll have on recruiting for benchmark programs like Penn State and Michigan. Let’s simply evaluate how pathetic it is that the Big Ten is stooping to the MAC’s level.

By adding weekday games, the Big Ten is admitting it cannot compete within the traditional Saturday slate. Maybe Ohio State and Wisconsin can. But Illinois? Iowa? Rutgers? Maryland? Not so much. Moving to a weekday sends the clear message that those teams are effectively as hapless as MAC members when it comes to generating television revenue. It also sends the message that attendance at those games are so bad already that moving to Fridays – where they’ll presumably lose ticket sales – won’t really matter.

The Big Ten has never looked stronger in recent history, which is why the decision to relegate their product to Friday evenings is so peculiar. Perhaps the Big Ten brass understand that action needs to be taken in order to salvage the lagging members of the conference.

Or maybe they’re just paying homage to their conference from another mother. Looking at you, MAC. Never change.

Email Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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There’s Nowhere To Go But Up For Rutgers Men’s Basketball

Rutgers basketball fans kept waiting to hit rock bottom.

In typical New Jersey fashion the university and it’s fans became impatient 10 years ago. Gary Waters had just led the Scarlet Knights to a 19-14 season, 7-9 in the Big East, when the Big East was still THE Big East. Kenpom had them as the 71st team in the nation– nothing to write home about, but respectable enough that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Instead of keeping Gary Water on the banks Rutgers turned its program over to Fred Hill, a man who had built his reputation as a recruiter. Quincy Douby, the last Rutgers player to be drafted into the NBA was gone — Rutgers finished 207th.

2008 brought highly coveted local recruit Corey Chandler, it didn’t work out — the team finished 11-20 overall and 3-15 in the Big East. 2009 brought in another highly touted local recruit in Mike Rosario, along with a talented big body in Gregory Echenique.

The 2009 team had a ton of talent, but for as much talent as they had, they possessed even less discipline. Rutgers finished 11-20 overall and 2-16 in conference and 159th in the nation.

In 2010, Dane Miller and Jonathan Mitchell came on board. Mitchell, a junior who had sat out the previous season after transferring from Florida was a do it all forward/wing. Dane Miller fit the same role, a slasher who ran on pure athleticism at times. Rutgers finished 15-17 overall, 5-13 in the Big East.

That would be Fred Hill’s last season as Rutgers head coach. As he departed so did Mike Rosario (transferred to Florida) and Greg Echenique (transferred to Creighton).

After going in the recruiting direction with the Fred Hill hire Rutgers turned to a hard working X’s and O’s guy in Mike Rice for 2011. He took the remaining talent and mixed in two freshman — a New York City guard in Mike Poole (would end up redshirting) and big man Gilvydas Biruta.

The result was the Scarlet Knights best campaign since Gary Waters’ final season. Rutgers finished just 5-13 in the Big East but 15-17 overall, good for a final KenPom ranking of 78th.

There was hope on the banks, the 2011 team played hard and was fun to watch. Mike Rice got the most from a team led by seniors Jonathan Mitchell, Mike Coburn and James Beatty.

Adding to the fans optimism was a 2012 recruiting class that infused the program with talent. Guard Myles Mack, Eli Carter and Jerome Seagers were joined by wing Malick Kone and big man Kadeem Jack.

Mack and Carter were local Paterson products, Kadeem Jack was from Queens. The Scarlet Knights had not only brought in talent, they had landed local talent. The team finished 14-18 overall and 6-12 in the Big East. The final KenPom ranking of 120 was a step back, but it was to be expected with such a young team.

After the 2012 season sophomore Gilvydus Biruta decided to transfer to Rhode Island (where former Rutgers assistants were now employed). At the time there wasn’t much concern, in hindsight it was a sign of things to come.

For the 2013 season, Rutgers would add Wally Judge who was now eligible after transferring from Kansas State. It helped ease the blow of losing Biruta the previous offseason. The Scarlet Knights now had talent which had gained valuable experience the year prior.

Half way through the season things started to get ugly. They finished the season 5-13 in the Big East and 15-16 overall — one Big East Tournament win away from their first .500 season since Gary Waters roamed the sidelines.

Then everything imploded.

Rutgers needed to do damage control, they went with program legend Eddie Jordan.

Jordan returned home with a NBA pedigree as he had both played and coached in the league. Many viewed it as a way to move past unfortunate recent events, while reminding both fans and potential recruits of Rutgers illustrious past.

In 2014, Rutgers would be playing in the American Athletic Conference, a one-year stop mover before their new home in the Big Ten. While expectations were low following a flood of transfers after the firing of Mike Rice, the AAC set Rutgers up with a softer conference schedule than the Big East they once competed in.

The team would finish 12-21 overall, 5-13 in conference. At the time it was easy to overlook, the program had just been through a lot. Talent had been lost and pieces needed to be plugged in last minute.

In hindsight there was still plenty of talent left in the program. Myles Mack, Jerome Seagers and Kadeem Jack were now all juniors. Rutgers had committed a fatal flaw when they handed the program over to Eddie Jordan — he had no idea how to run it.

College isn’t the NBA, in the NBA players are often as talented as they think they are– in college that’s rarely the case.

More than anything college players need to be broken down, their game dissected and torn apart before being rebuilt into a superior finished product. While John Calipari at Kentucky often has NBA level talent, he’s great at doing this.

Now in the Big Ten, Rutgers would finish the 2015 season with an overall record of 10-22 and a conference record of 2-16. Overall KenPom would have them ranked as the 198th team in the nation.

A team with talented seniors in Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack was getting blown out in non-conference play by 27 to George Washington and 18 to Saint Peter’s.

In 2016, now with both Mack and Jack gone, the Scarlet Knights would bring in talented playmaking guard Corey Sanders. Sanders would be joined by Deshawn Freeman and Jonathan Laurent, Rutgers was once again young but somewhat talented.

Poor play and injuries defined the 2016 season.

Rutgers would go on a 17 game losing streak, double digit conference blowouts were more likely than wins. There was a 22-point loss to Wisconsin, followed by a 25-point loss to Maryland, followed by a 34-point loss to Nebraska, followed by a 26-point loss to Ohio State, followed by a 50-point loss to Purdue

…followed by a…you get the point.

Rutgers finished last season 7-25 overall and 1-17 in Big Ten play. Their lone Big Ten win coming in their final conference game — at home over Minnesota.

KenPom had the Scarlet Knights ranked as the 279th best team in the country come seasons end. Their offense ranked 303rd, their defense ranked 235th. Rutgers would be labeled by most national media reporters covering college basketball as “the worst Power 5 program in the country”.

ROCK BOTTOM.

Now Steve Pikiell takes over — the UConn product who was able to build his previous universities program from the ground up (Stony Brook).

Here’s to digging our way out of this hole together.

E-mail Zak at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @playorbplayd.

Photo Courtesy of sheilnaik, Flickr

Rutgers is a Disgrace to the Big Ten

If I had to sum up my feelings about Week 6 in one word, I would say ashamed. I am ashamed to be a fan of the Big Ten and be associated with that ever-burning dumpster fire known as Rutgers especially after that 78-0 decimation by the hands of Michigan. The larger the deficit grew, the more I cringed and shook my head in disbelief.

I don’t care about Rutgers or have any allegiance to the Scarlet Knights but the reason it bothers me so much is that the laughing stock of college football is a direct affiliate of our conference. I can just hear SEC fans scoffing at the Big Ten and brag how they have premium matchups seemingly every weekend. They can brag and justifiably so that the worst team in the SEC, the Vanderbilt Commodores lost their three conference games by a combined score of 43-21 and had a legitimate chance to come away with victories in those contests, losing by one score in all three. Rutgers has been outscored 150-7 in conference games and it could have been even worse.

How did Rutgers football get this incredibly bad? Granted, Rutgers was never great but it wasn’t this terrible either. It was only two seasons ago they knocked off Michigan and they did return 11 starters.

I understand their quarterbacks Chris Laviano and Zach Allen can’t make a throw to save their lives (2 of 18 for 5 yards against Michigan), their chief playmaker Janarion Grant is injured and lost their top three linebackers but this is a monumental loss of epic proportions. This is supposed to be Division 1 football, not high school junior varsity.

Anyways, I never was fond of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s decision to invite Rutgers to our conference because even though they had mild success in the 2000’s culminating with an 11-2 record in 2006, they were never a football powerhouse or even a perennial contender in the now defunct Big East. I understand he wanted to expand the conference’s presence on the East coast and increase the Big Ten’s revenue stream through more viewers and bigger broadcast deals. It makes sense but as a fan, I couldn’t care less about more money because it doesn’t directly affect me or compensate the athletes. That’s a different argument for another day.

I care deeply about the product we put on and want to be proud of how our conference is perceived but Rutgers is like an anchor that continually brings us down, on and off the field. It’s 4-15 in the Big Ten since it joined in 2014 and I haven’t even got to all the turmoil that took place in 2015 with the three-game suspension by then-head coach Kyle Flood and the arrests of several players.

It will take a long time for Chris Ash to turn this program around and even if he manages to somehow someway keep recruits from bolting, I see them being just another middle-of-the-road team like Indiana or Purdue at best that could possibly challenge the top dogs but never compete for a division especially in a loaded Big Ten East. However, even that would be a significant improvement and I would surely welcome that as opposed to being subjected to this garbage.

Yet, any sign of hope is a long way away and we are still stuck in the present where the Scarlet Knights are actually part of our conference. Like Groundhog Day, it’s a recurring nightmare that you can’t escape.

It’s times like these I wish satire didn’t exist and Delany really would kick Rutgers out forever but with all the money involved, the Big Ten doesn’t regret its decision to invite Rutgers and would never admit it.

The only thing I guess I can do is endure the ridicule as Rutgers continues to embarrass us and hope that the Big Ten gets the last laugh by making the College Football Playoff and winning the national title.

Until then, all I have to say is that Rutgers is a disgrace to our conference and you’ll need more than luck to turn the ship around.

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

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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I Guess TCU Beats Arkansas, But the Big 12 Still Sucks

Here at Campus Pressbox, my disdain for Bret Bielema is well-documented, as is my complete lack of faith in the Big 12. When faced with two, unsavory options, what is a man to do?

In this weekend’s matchup between Arkansas and #15 TCU, I’m airing on the side of talent. I’m taking the Horned Frogs.

Although, again, I’m not loving my options. Both teams embarrassed themselves last week in spite of earning victories. Arkansas eeked out a one-point victory against Louisiana Tech. TCU allowed 41 points and 461 yards against an FCS squad. Certainly not inspiring performances.

Nevertheless, TCU is still my pick to win the Big 12. That’s contingent upon their defense being able to stop a nosebleed, but hey, fingers crossed. Aside from an 87-yard rush that briefly gave South Dakota State the lead, TCU only allowed 1.8 yards per carry last week. The Horned Frogs’ rushing defense wasn’t the problem, their secondary was. Thankfully, Austin Allen doesn’t look poised for a 300-yard passing day anytime soon. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Austin Allen proves me wrong, but the SEC has failed to do that so far this season.

When TCU has to face Big 12 opponents clinging to the air raid, the Frogs may have a reason for concern. This week, the fans in Fort Worth shouldn’t be concerned. Expect TCU to handcuff the Razorbacks’ developing offensive line and shut down their rushing attack.

Now that’s out of the way, it’s time for the main event: Bielema-bashing.

Let me get this straight. Bret Bielema almost became a victim of the BielemaMeter last week, but this week he’ll rally the troops and defeat a ranked opponent? With an unproven QB incapable of making big plays? With an offensive line that revealed a myriad of flaws against a C-USA team? After a dismal week for the SEC? Count me among the skeptics. Arkansas might be tracking upwards, but the issues they showed against Louisiana Tech aren’t being resolved overnight.

Why Bielema ever accepted the Arkansas job is beyond me. Bielema was 68-24 while coaching in Madison. He could operate his smashmouth offense against the likes of Rutgers and Purdue and still make a Rose Bowl every now and then. Instead, Bielema opted to take over a stalled program in an impossible conference, only now beginning to dig Arkansas out of a years-long slump. The money isn’t any better, and now he’s the fourth or fifth best coach in the SEC rather than the third best coach in the Big 10. Is that relevant to this Saturday’s matchup? Absolutely not. It is, however, an important chapter in the brilliantly confusing, unending book that is Bret Bielema.

So yeah, I’m not crazy about either team. I’m not a Bret Bielema fan. I’m not an Arkansas fan. I’m not a fan of terrible offense. I guess that means I’m picking TCU.

But the Big 12 still sucks.

Photo: Dallas Morning News

Email Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.