Ohio State is 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in the latest AP poll as the Buckeyes travel to Madison for a top-10 matchup with No. 8 Wisconsin. All of a sudden, maybe because the Buckeyes only managed to defeat Indiana by 21 points, the local vibe surrounding Ohio State has taken a significant dip. The Buckeyes did not lose this game and never came even remotely close. In Columbus, sometimes even a shaky performance can be perceived like a loss.
Sure, Curtis Samuel only receiving nine touches is somewhat baffling as is the fact that quarterback J.T. Barrett only completed nine passes. These are things that can and will be fixed, especially with an upgrade in competition on the horizon in a primetime setting.
Ohio State played anything but a perfect game and made plenty of mistakes against Indiana, but if that is the Buckeyes’ version of bad, Ohio State is in great shape. Indiana also deserves a lot of credit. The Hoosiers came into the Horseshoe with their hair on fire, following an emotional last-second victory against Michigan State last week. Teams like Indiana have nothing to lose when playing Ohio State and the Buckeyes are going to have a target on their back week-in and week-out.
We would be naive to think that a subpar performance was not in the cards for Ohio State at some point this season. There will be another game or two where the Buckeyes may come out of the gate a bit flat, especially against an inferior opponent. The Indiana game had “letdown” written all over it and I apologize to any of you who had Ohio State covering the four touchdown spread.
It was a game sandwiched between Rutgers (as close to a bye-week as you can possibly get) and at Wisconsin, the first true road conference game for many of these Buckeyes. Aside from Wisconsin being a top-10 opponent that hung with Michigan for four quarters, Camp Randall can be a beast at night, so it doesn’t surprise me that Ohio State appeared lackluster at times against Indiana, both players and coaches.
I might be worried if the Buckeyes were making a trend of mediocre performances like they did in 2015, but they’re not. The problem last year was that Saturday against Indiana became the norm. Ohio State has already proven that they are one of the most dominant teams in the country, if not the most, and a 21-point victory against at least a semi-decent team isn’t going to change that. This Indiana team doesn’t resemble Bowling Green, Tulsa or Rutgers in any way and Ohio State isn’t going to play a perfect game or win by 50 points every time it takes the field. And that’s okay.
When Ohio State takes the field at Wisconsin on Saturday night, a capacity crowd at Camp Randall will be silenced. Of course, the Badger faithful will “jump around” at the conclusion of the third quarter, but they won’t have much else to be excited about. Wisconsin is an extremely solid team that plays phenomenal defense and is without question, worthy of their current No. 8 ranking based on their resume so far.
The Big Ten has four teams currently ranked in the AP top-10 for the first time since 1960. I understand that the conference appears to be back on the map for the first time in a decade and that Wisconsin is a team that played Michigan tough and even knocked off SEC-power LSU.
However, Wisconsin is still what I would call “Big Ten” good. The Badgers are a top-tier physical team that plays defense, but lacks the necessary speed in order to beat the nation’s elite. Being at home and playing under the lights in the primetime showcase game, Wisconsin will compete with Ohio State for awhile, but ultimately the Buckeyes are just on another level from a talent and speed perspective.
Before the 2016 season began, none of us could have expected Ohio State, a team that lost 16 starters, to be arguably the best team in the country after six weeks. Through four games, Ohio State’s smallest margin of victory is 21 points, which came at Oklahoma, an impressive statement to say the least. Now, the Buckeyes come out with one lackluster performance offensively and all of a sudden we’re worried?
R-E-L-A-X. Ohio State doesn’t need style points against Indiana. Wisconsin will have Ohio State’s undivided attention and Barrett and Co. will jump all over and around the Badgers.
It only took five days, but our first weekend of College Football is in the books. We had a lot of chalk and some disappointment, but it was the “Wow!” moments that really jumped off the page. The bar was really set high for the individuals that the consensus expects to be in the running for that big heavy trophy, and for the schools interested in playing in that little tournament, well, they just had to win.
From the home of the Belk Bowl to the campus of the last program to slay the dragon that Urban Meyer built in Central Ohio, it was an extended weekend of debuts, vengeance, and perhaps an introduction to some new contenders. We’ll start in Blacksburg, where the first unanimous Preseason AP #1 team in the country took on Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech Hokies, seeking their pound of flesh for what took place in Columbus a year ago.
Ohio State 42 Virginia Tech 24
The story has been told, time and time again. Cardale Jones has never started a game in his own stadium for Ohio State, and on Monday night, he earned his first regular season victory, so it’s long past the time we stop referring to him as the Buckeye’s 3rd-string quarterback. In case you felt his previous three performances were some type of sorcery on the part of Meyer last December and January, the junior from Cleveland showed the magic is still there on Ohio State’s first possession, hitting Curtis Samuel on the money with a throw off of his back foot, good for a 24-yard touchdown. The next time the Buckeyes snapped the ball, Ezekiel Elliott went 80 yards to make it 14-0 in favor of the defending champs, perhaps making fans in Tuscaloosa feel better about things, but likely not.
It appeared the Buckeyes were going to roll, but misfortune, the type that goes beyond taking the field at Lane Stadium without Joey Bosa or Jalin Marshall on the field, struck, and the Hokies ripped off 17 unanswered, taking a 17-14 lead into the break. A missed Ohio State field goal gave the home team some momentum towards the end of the first quarter, but all of the credit in the world goes to Virginia Tech for designing a wheel route to full back Sam Rogers, who was all by himself on the left sideline. The big man had to hustle, but Eli Apple stood between him and the goal line and he shook the Buckeyes’ the third-year corner out of his shoes to cut the early advantage in half. Without the services of Marshall, Meyer had Elliott back returning punts, and call it inexperience or whatever, but the All-World running back struggled to field AJ Hughes second punt of the night, and four plays later, another nicely designed throwback to Ryan Malleck on third down gave the Hokies the lead.
Anyone remember Braxton Miller, the forgotten head on the three-headed monster of Ohio State’s open competition for the starting role last spring? They gave him a new number and a new position, and it only took him about a half of football to get his sea-legs beneath him. He did have a couple of rushing attempts and a nice diving 24-yard catch in the first half, which I think showed us he’s still a legitimate player, even when not behind center. On the third play of the second half, he took a pass from Jones and tip-toed by the Hokie defender, down the right sideline for 54 yards and the score. On the Bucks next offensive play from scrimmage, he gave the Scarlet and Gray their first Wow Moment of the season with a spin move that you can, yeah, only do on video games. From there, the rout was on.
Give Beamer and company some credit; they nearly made Mark May look smart. While the final score really was indicative of the game we watched, they did some really good things to take the straight-up running game away from Ohio State, despite big plays from Elliott and Miller, and they found enough vulnerabilities in the defense to put some points on the board and make this prime time affair interesting into the late night hours of Labor Day. The game really didn’t get out of hand until Brenden Motley had to spell starting quarterback Michael Brewer.
Unfortunately for Brewer, we live in a world where what you say with a certain expectation of privacy is subject to “going viral”. He was caught on camera, and yes, it’s likely he knew it was in his face, spouting off some one-liner about how it’s going to take a lot more than a fairly brutal hit he took on the Hokies last drive of the half to knock him out of the game. You can’t blame the kid; he was talking to his teammates in the locker room, more so than the national television audience through the lens of ESPN’s camera, but people are going to talk about karma. To that, I say “whatever”.
It’s widely believed that this is Ohio State’s last real test before Michigan State visits Columbus in November, and it’s hard to disagree. Up next, the Buckeyes get Hawaii, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan at home, and then a relatively simple conference slate, though I’m not ready to overlook Minnesota’s visit to the ‘Shoe on November 7th. For the Hokies, don’t expect the season to instantly go down the toilet after this acceptable performance. Last year, East Carolina beat Virginia Tech on their home field a week after they stunned Ohio State. Don’t expect Furman to follow suit; in fact, I’d say you can expect the Hokies to get their own pound of flesh from ECU on the road in a couple of weeks, and for them to be competitive in the ACC.
Marshall 41 Purdue 31
It was tough sledding for Darrell Hazell and Purdue in the only game on the slate for this pre-NFL Sunday. If Hazell and his signal-caller Austin Appleby never see Tiquan Lang again, it will be too soon for the both of them. Though, I’m very open to the possibility that Appleby never saw Lang at all, yeilding two pick-sixes to the Thundering Herd’s junior safety, which were good for the first and last scores of the game.
On the game’s very first play from scrimmage, Lang stepped in front of the intended receiver, and went 30 yards untouched to give Marshall the early lead, but there was still a good 59 minutes and change of football to be played. Purdue was able to recover on a DJ Knox touchdown run, on his way too a 100-yard day on the ground, but the game went back and forth all afternoon. The visiting Boilermakers led for most of the first half, until Devon Johnson put Marshall back up 34-31 with a 6-yard score, but Appleby had one more chance. After timeouts by both teams, it appeared the Purdue junior had too much time to think about it once again. And once again, an ill-fated pass attempt fell into the hands of Lang, who had to work harder on his second return, cutting across the field for a 55-yard score to put it to bed.
You've had nine months to come up with a first play.
Given their early success in making the jump from Division I to Division I-AA with Chad Pennington and Randy Moss nearly twenty years ago, it’s difficult to believe Sunday’s win, in front of a home crowd of nearly 39,000 in Huntington, was the school’s first win over a Big Ten program, but the Boilermakers seem to be giving a few mid-Majors that milestone in recent years.
Alabama 35 Wisconsin 17
Hey Badger fans, I think Derrick Henry just scored again! Okay, maybe not, but the Alabama junior running back averaged 11.3 yards per carry, en route to three touchdowns on the ground at “The House That Jerry Built” in North Texas on Saturday. It probably would have been more, but the end zone kept stopping him. If there’s honestly a debate about the quarterback position at Alabama, and I don’t think there is, we gained no clarity about it on Saturday night. My gut tells me Nick Saban will let Jake Coker assume the role, unless his poor play forces his hand or Cooper Bateman takes things to a new level in the time he’s getting.
So, I know Gene Chizik was 5-19 at Iowa State before being awarded the Auburn job, where he landed the services of Cam Newton and won a title in his second season, so maybe I don’t read too much into Paul Chryst’s 19-19 mark at Pittsburgh. Seriously though, in Chryst’s debut with the Badgers, he wasn’t just behind the curve with the X’s and O’s, that Big Ten size and strength, which is supposed to be their finest asset in Madison, it’s not there. I’ve long thought that Barry Alvarez was the reason Gary Andersen chose a new gig in Corvalis over what he’s built in Madison, but he might have just seen the writing on the wall with what he wasn’t able to recruit. Sorry, but 16 yards on 8 carries for Corey Clement just isn’t getting it done; Melvin Gordon III isn’t walking back through that door and head coaches will dare Joel Stave to beat them all season.
Texas A&M 38 Arizona State 17
Is it possible to lose a game by more than just the numbers on the scoreboard? In being picked apart by Scottsdale, Arizona’s Kyle Allen and Christian Kirk, the very successful head coach of the Sun Devils, Todd Graham, was exposed for losses to the state of Texas in the recruiting game. Allen, the sophomore quarterback fighting off highly touted freshman Kyler Murray, threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, but Kirk was the star of the show. You get sick of hearing about video games when you’re discussing actual human athletes, but between his 79-yard punt return that put the Aggies up 14-0 early and his 66-yard touchdown catch and run, that status quo had cheat codes on their mind. I’d reference the Game Genie here, but it would be lost on everyone not born between 1975 and 1985.
After A&M’s season went downhill after their big win in the opener against South Carolina a year ago, Aggie fans can only be cautiously optimistic about Kevin Sumlin’s squad’s chances in the SEC. On the other hand, after watching how hapless the ASU offense was in Houston, there has to be some concern about senior quarterback Mike Berovici, a guy that wasn’t spectacular in his understudy role in 2014, despite the team’s success in games he started.
This neutral site game was the only game of any sort on the 2015 schedule that paired a Pac-12 school against a team from the Southeastern Conference. If you’re an SEC honk, you want the Sun Devils to dominate their conference. If you support a Pac-12 contender that isn’t Arizona State, you’re probably hoping your program isn’t basically a coin flip for that fourth playoff spot with a member of the SEC in December.
Northwestern 16 Stanford 6
We should probably acknowledge this battle of Academia that took place in Evanston, the most watchable matinee of the day on Saturday. Was this more about Kevin Hogan and Stanford being inept on offense, or does Pat Fitzgerald have a great defense at Northwestern? I fear David Shaw may be on the decline, the more we see time separate this program from the days of Jim Harbaugh.
One thing I’m hearing and I don’t agree with is that Stanford is suddenly too slow. Sure Hogan isn’t a runner on the level that Andrew Luck was, and Ty Montgomery is gone from the offense and special teams, but Michael Rector isn’t slow and we should see more of Christian McCaffrey in both the running and passing games. My guess is the offense works it out, but I don’t know if the glass is less than half-full when I look at that defense. The departing talent hasn’t been replaced, or the newbies haven’t been developed, but Northwestern owned the line of scrimmage when they had the ball. That’s going to be a problem for the Cardinal all year.
The victory in the trenches translated to a good game for running back Justin Jackson, who ran for 134 yards. However, it was quarterback Clayton Thorson’s 42 yard run, on what looked like a designed draw play, that represented the only touchdown of the day. The Wildcats will host an FCS team next week, and visit Duke in a few weeks, but expect them to finish non-conference play 4-0, setting up a big match up with Minnesota, on October 2nd at Ryan Field.
Ole Miss 76 Tennessee-Martin 3
Yuck, just yuck. Hugh Freeze, you’re in the SEC, and I know you want the home game at whatever price, but playing FCS foes is totally beneath you. Indiana got lucky doing this, but Wyoming, Washington State, and Kansas were not. Shame on everyone who partakes in this practice, even you Arizona State, where I’ll watch you rebound against cal-Poly, but still, Yuck!
Michigan State 37 Western Michigan 24
Kudos to the AD’s in East Lansing and Kalamazoo for making this happen, with the mid-major hosting the high major. PJ Fleck, your Western Michigan program isn’t quite there yet, but they didn’t look out of their element with a big boy from the Big Ten in town.
Michigan State might want to work on kick coverage this week, while the Broncos shouldn’t change a thing. Row your boat, fellas.
Charlotte 23 Georgia State 20
This game kicked off at 12:30 PM, during my work day on Friday. I caught the end on the ESPN app in my office. It was fourth College Football game I’d watched with some interest in a 24-hour span; yeah, I need help.
For the 49ers, it was their first game as an FBS program, and obviously also their first victory, but the Panthers of Georgia State made it interesting in the end.
TCU 23 Minnesota 17
I don’t know if I just don’t like the idea of B being a Heisman candidate, or if I have the bar set too high for him and, really, the rest of the Horned Frogs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think TCU is phenomenal when they have the ball, and that’s where the expectation comes from, but they just didn’t seem to have it, despite a nice victory over an underlooked Minnesota team on Thursday night at TCF Stadium.
He’s got weapons all around him, most notably Josh Doctson, and 246 passing on a day he rushed for 92 is far from underwhelming, but in real-time, I didn’t think he was anything special. That just tells me we haven’t seen anything yet from the offense. Based on what SMU was able to do to Baylor for 30 minutes on Friday, they might make for an interesting opponent for Gary Patterson’s defense, still a question mark for me after Minnesota had many opportunities Thursday.
Jerry Kill has a nice little team in Minnesota. They hung around the entire game, even if TCU did adjust better at the half. Rodney Smith seems like a good find; the freshman had 88 yards on 16 carries, but a lot of it that offensive line. Junior quarterback Mitch Leidner needs to be more efficient or throw the ball less, but I don’t know how much less he can throw it, considering he was sacked 20 times a year ago.
That Ref Deserves a Hug
Sometimes, I just can’t get over how the universe can even itself out. Two years ago, going left to right across the Big Red “N” at midfield in Lincoln, a backup quarterback heaves up a prayer. You know the rest, Jordan Westerkamp is on the receiving end for the touchdown and the win against Nebraska. Redemption is spelled R-O-N (Kellog).
Fast forward to Saturday, BYU down 28-27, 1 tick on the clock for Tanner Magnum, on in relief of the injured Taysom Hill. Mitch Matthews hauls it in for the win, but #11 Terenn Houk is the star of this Vine.
…and the rest.
These are all of the items that are too short for a capsule of their own.
Penn State, I’m glad you went to Philly to play Temple, but how did you lose that game?
Michigan, you can’t run the ball and don’t have a real answer at quarterback. Jim Harbaugh isn’t saving you right away.
Between the Cactus Bowl and Friday’s somewhat awkward return to Boise for Chris Petersen, I’ve now bailed on Washington at halftime in consecutive games, only to learn the second half was interesting, the next day. Show up in the first half, Huskies.
Nicely done, Josh Rosen. What a performance for the true freshman; he came with a lot of hype, but lived up to it. UCLA wasn’t playing an FCS school on Saturday, they were hosting a Power 5. It was Virginia, but still.
Northern Illinois, that’s two years in a row that you’ve dominated UNLV, but let them hang around. A MAC rival will take advantage at some point, just watch.
We’re so spoiled with digital options for viewing, that it was aggravating that CBS Sports didn’t have an option and I’m told didn’t regionally switch to the UNLV-NIU game in DeKalb, while overtime was played in Tulsa.
By the way, way to finish your win over Florida Atlantic, Tulsa.
So, Auburn is pretty good. Louisville might be too, but not based on their play Saturday. Either way, good to see Verne and Gary on CBS in Week 1. (They called Ohio State-Navy for CBS Sports Network to open the 2014 season)
Play-by-play announcers and color analysts, it’s okay to punt in College Football. Not every opponent is Oregon, and not every situation near or behind midfield equals four-down territory. Our game is about field position, and you win it by punting when appropriate.
Adults that paint their bodies and dedicate their lives to “me time” on camera for their favorite College Football team don’t deserve the air time.
I’d rather get neutral site games than no game at all, but there’s something about the games being played on campus. Steve Spurrier, that atmosphere sucked with all of the empty seats in Charlotte. Go to Chapel Hill or have Larry Fedora bring his team to Columbia, and stop trying to do too much.
Nice touchdown reception, Robert Nkemdiche. We’ll talk more about the two-way play of the Ole Miss pass-rusher, when they play an FBS foe.
Lastly, I think I underestimated how cool Scott Van Pelt’s midnight Sportscenter would be, because I was mostly upset about losing his radio show on my mid-day drives. I’d planned on getting straight to my writing room when the game ended, but I stuck around. It’s a shame the technical stuff had to be difficult in Virginia, I really would have loved to see him interview Braxton Miller.
Back on Sunday to discuss Week 2…61 hours until Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky kickoff.
As the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers were being consumed, college football was inching closer to clarity. Whatever clarity is this year. The four major conferences now have their conference championship games set. The Pac 12 will kick the weekend off on Friday night and the Big Ten will finish us off Saturday night.
THE PAC 12
Number 8 Arizona plays number 3 Oregon for the second time this year. In their first meeting this year, Arizona came out on top 31-24. There was the proverbial asterisk placed next to the Wildcat’s win since Oregon was missing some of their offensive lineman. Well, I see your asterisk and raise you ANOTHER asterisk. Arizona beat the Ducks last year as well. The score of that game being 42-16.
Arizona has proven that it can play with Oregon and will not be intimidated. And there is more on the line this year than there has ever been as the winner should find themselves in the inaugural college football playoff.
Number 1 Alabama squares off with number 14 Missouri. It has been 2 years since Alabama appeared in the championship game and this is a back-to-back appearance for Missouri. For Alabama, it is all on the line. Win and they lock up the number 1 seed in the playoff. Lose and anything is possible. Would a loss knock the Crimson Tide out of the top 4? Or would the committee simply slide them down to number 4? As for Missouri and what they are playing for? The Tigers have a chance to win their first conference championship since the 1969 Big 8 title. But, unlike Alabama, a playoff birth is an extreme long shot.
Number 2 Florida St. takes on number 12 Georgia Tech. I’ll be honest, i’ve fallen into the @damiEnbowman mindset. We know how this ends and i’m not interested. But in the interest of The College Quickie, i’ll say a few words on the matchup.
With a FSU win, and we all know they will win, they stay put in the playoff. A loss drops them from the top 4, but, again, we all know that is not happening. And, just to be fair, if Georgia Tech wins they probably just solidify their spot in the Orange Bowl.
THE BIG TEN
Number 6 Ohio St. against number 11 Wisconsin. I’m starting to see a pattern here. Three out of four of these games are between a team positioning itself for the final 4 and a team simply trying to improve its bowl game slot.
Ohio St just can’t catch a good break this season. First they lose Braxton Miller to injury and now JT Barrett is done for the year. Ohio St is coming close to Florida St territory for me. The Buckeyes let inferior teams hang around and then find a way to win. What makes this more impressive for Ohio St is that they seem to win in impressive fashion. And once Barrett shook off the jitters against the Fighting Beamers, it seems it doesn’t matter who Urban Meyer’s quarterback is.
If you are looking for predictions, you’ll have to stay tuned to the podcasts this week and our conference and team specific writers. I’m offering a quick primer for each game. Predictions will come later.
*Feature image courtesy of firenicksaban.com (yes, that site really does exist)
Cardale Jones made it known that he didn’t come to Ohio State to play school. Well, his team needs the third-string quarterback to play some football and deliver a Big Ten championship if the Buckeyes want to remain in the playoff discussion.
Unless Ohio State can find a way to contain Wisconsin running back and Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon and win in decisive fashion, playoff consideration is wishful thinking. Two weeks ago, I made it clear that the Buckeyes did indeed control their own destiny in hopes of making the playoffs. Trailing 20-14 midway through the third quarter against Indiana and the Hoosiers’ third string quarterback is not taking care of business. Indiana running back Tevin Coleman is a nice player and will very soon be playing on Sunday’s, but for the Buckeye defense to allow multiple touchdown runs of 50 yards or more was inexcusable. With just over a minute remaining and Ohio State leading 42-20, Coleman scored his third touchdown of the day on a 52-yard run. In today’s college football, there is a big difference between 42-20 and 42-27, especially against such an inferior opponent.
Rivalry or not, to allow four touchdown drives of 75 yards or more to Michigan’s 117th ranked offense is borderline absurd. Of course at the end of the day, Ohio State recorded double-digit victories in back-to-back games to close the regular season, but style points have been lacking ever since the destruction of Michigan State, thanks to the defense. Unless Luke Fickell and Co. can figure out how to get off the field, it wouldn’t surprise me if the 2013 and 2014 seasons have similar closing chapters.
As unfair as it may be, the playoff committee will surely take quarterback J.T. Barrett’s into consideration when evaluating Ohio State. Unless Jones can prove otherwise, the Buckeyes are without question a completely different team without the services of Barrett and a notch below teams like Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and TCU if they weren’t already. However, we said the same thing in late August about Barrett when Braxton Miller was lost for the season. Now, if Florida State were to remain unbeaten through the ACC Championship but lose quarterback Jameis Winston to a season-ending injury, there is no way the committee is leaving the Seminoles out of the playoff. Talk about a different team. Regardless, Ohio State is on the outside looking in.
Currently, Vegas has Ohio State as four-point underdogs to Wisconsin, which should be encouraging for Buckeye Nation. It’s not very often the Buckeyes come into a game as an underdog but when they do, Ohio State seems to relish that role, a la Michigan State.
Whether Ohio State can win their first Big Ten Championship Game is as much on Urban Meyer and the coaching staff as it is on Jones or the defenses ability to get stops. A conservative approach due to a lack of trust in Jones will doom the Buckeyes. Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman must approach this game like it’s a 100 percent J.T. Barrett under center. Should the Buckeyes get out to an early lead, Ohio State is obviously in no position to sit on it and pray that its suspect defense can hold it. That mentality won’t land the Buckeyes a Big Ten title or a spot in the playoffs.
Ohio State jumped one spot to No. 6 in the latest AP poll with Wisconsin coming in at No. 11. When the new playoff rankings are released tomorrow night, Ohio State could find themselves as high as fifth, but no higher due to TCU’s 48-10 dismantling of Texas in Austin on Thanksgiving night. That, ladies and gentleman, is style points. Ohio State defense take note. With Baylor defeating Texas Tech in unimpressive fashion, the Buckeyes should feel safe at No. 5 in front of Baylor. However, anything less than an impressive double-digit victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game could spell lights out on the Buckeyes’ playoff chances. The loss of Barrett and a sub-par resume will be tough to overcome.
Although he has yet to prove it in his Ohio State tenure, I like Meyer in the underdog role in a championship setting. It’s time to prove to the committee that whether it’s Miller, Barrett or Jones at quarterback, this offense will flourish. I like Ohio State to earn a close victory, but the offense will have to outscore Gordon and the Badgers. The defense will once again be the downfall in a lack of style points and will continue to be against a quality opponent as long as Fickell is running this defense.
After another week of college football, one huge question remains.
Who is going to be the fourth team in the Playoff?
The top 4 for this week, as decided by the committee, are as follows. Mississippi State, Oregon, Florida State, and TCU, respectively. The first two put are Alabama and Arizona State. Yes, the same Arizona State Sun Devils who lost by almost 40 at home to UCLA earlier this season.
With Auburn’s loss, at home, to Texas A&M, they have moved down to the lower half of the top 10 and have all but ruined their destiny. They are the best 2-loss team, but 2 losses probably won’t get the Tigers into the playoff, unless they receive a ton of help.
TCU jumping over Alabama is a bit questioning for me, however. TCU has had an incredible run this season, but Alabama is in the SEC and has dominated recently. The Big 12 is not as credible, but is getting there with Baylor and TCU representing well in the top 10. Baylor beat TCU head-to-head, yet TCU is 3 spots ahead of the Bears. Alabama has one loss, to Ole Miss, and is just behind TCU.
Yes, Alabama shouldn’t be too worried because they control their own destiny and play Mississippi State and Auburn to finish out the season, and if they win out they will clearly take over control of this Playoff bracket. Oregon jumping Florida State in another question mark, but of course the PAC 12 is far tougher than the lowly ACC, although that is not the Seminoles fault.
OK, time to take a deep breath. Bear with me here ladies and gentlemen.
If Alabama beats Mississippi State, TCU wins out, and Oregon wins out, than we have 3 teams locked into the bracket: Alabama, Oregon, and TCU. Then the big question would be who is that fourth team? Would it be Mississippi State, would it be Baylor who beat the Horned Frogs head-to-head, or could it an outside team such as Arizona State or Ohio State?
This weekend will have huge implications on the Playoff battle. Mississippi State travels to Tuscaloosa to take on the Crimson Tide, who have looked unstoppable since squeaking by Arkansas by one single point. Florida State also has in-state rival Miami, on the road too.
Knowing that, here’s what could also happen. If Mississippi State losses, they probably won’t drop out of the top 4. If Florida State loses, they will most certainly drop out of the top 4. Yes, that is entirely up to the committee.
With all this being said, the Committee answered a couple questions for us this week.
Although Baylor beat TCU, the Horned Frogs victories were more impressive than Baylor, and TCU’s one loss is better than Baylor’s one loss. Therefore, the head-to-head matchup doesn’t help Baylor, and TCU is currently in the Playoff picture. Also, Arizona State jumped all the way to number 6 and is ranked ahead of Baylor and Ohio State. This clearly tells us how the committee feels about the PAC 12 as opposed to the Big 12 and the Big 10.
And lastly, win out and you’re in. This message is clear and simple for teams vying for Playoff position. Oregon and Arizona State will more than likely face off in the PAC 12 championship game, and Mississippi State and Florida state basically have to win out to secure their spot. One loss by either the Bulldogs or the Seminoles will most likely knock them out of the top 4, unless Mississippi State handles Alabama well on Saturday.
The Top three control their own destiny, and are locked in until and if they lose. The fourth team is a big question mark. If TCU loses, Alabama takes over. If Alabama and TCU lose, Arizona State probably takes over. If Arizona State loses as well, it should be Baylor or Ohio State, although both don’t have strong non-conference schedules.
There is still a lot of football left to play, and still have the conference championship games which we know are very important to the Committee. For instance, if Alabama beats Mississippi State and Auburn, but loses the SEC championship, they will be out of the Playoff. Tha can be said for any team trying to crack their way into the Playoff bracket.
Of course in the next four weeks anything can happen. We are less than a month from the Inaugural Playoff Selection show, and it couldn’t be more exciting. So many teams are still alive, and so many teams have huge games in the next weeks that will either make or break their seasons. TCU and Oregon have favorable match-ups to end the year leading up to the conference championship games. Alabama and Mississippi State have a little tougher road down the stretch, and Florida State has had a pretty easy path all year long, thanks to being a member of the ACC.
With each week that goes by, more and more teams will reveal their true identity, and either solidify their Playoff hopes, or watch their Playoff dreams fade off into the distance. The Committee so far has done an excellent job with the rankings and don’t seem to be going through any growing pains whatsoever.
Yes, this is all so crazy. This is all way more exciting than the BCS was and each set of rankings reveals answers and also brings up more questions. The BCS system is a laughing matter now, and we can’t help but think what would’ve happened had the Playoff been instituted earlier. The excitement is unreal, and the importance of these big games is so huge.
This might just be the best thing to ever happen to College Football.
The College Football Playoff rankings are officially out for the first time and what was once seen as a potential lifesaver for the Big Ten has done the conference no favors. The playoff was supposed to create three more opportunities at the title but at this juncture in time, not even six spots would be enough for the conference to qualify as MSU checks in at No. 8 in the initial rankings and in a mild but completely understandable surprise, Nebraska is 15th just ahead of Ohio State.
It is clear that the Buckeyes massive defeats were overshadowed by their blemishes including a double overtime scare from Penn State and a Week 2 home loss to an unranked 4-4 Virginia Tech team, even though it was before J.T. Barrett truly blossomed. Yes, I know there is a ton of football yet to be played and everything could become gobbledygook near the top but these early rankings are far from encouraging for the Big Ten. And just for argument’s sake even if the Spartans were ranked higher than they are now, they would need other leagues to stumble. Thursday night’s matchup between Florida State and Louisville would’ve been huge for the conference if Louisville hung on to win but the Seminoles came back and it’s hard to fathom them losing again this year, guaranteeing them a spot. And it’s all but certain given the strength of the SEC West, two SEC teams get in, leaving one spot left. The Big Ten would be in a competition with the Big 12 champ, Pac-12 champ, and Notre Dame for that final spot and based on what has transpired this season, I would say the Big Ten will be left out even if MSU, OSU or even Nebraska wins the rest of the way.
If there is any silver lining, last year at this time with the BCS, MSU was No. 22 and six weeks later would’ve qualified for a playoff spot so it remains to be seen what happens but early signs aren’t great for the Big Ten. All the conference can do is continue having its top tier teams win out and hope for the best, which brings us back to an updated power rankings lineup.
1. Michigan State Spartans
Record: 7-1 overall, 4-0 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 1.
The Spartans have now won 14 consecutive Big Ten games but unlike seasons past, their defense has been more vulnerable to the big play. Fortunately, after throttling Michigan again, MSU has earned a nice bye week to recuperate and work out the kinks in preparation for the biggest game of the year.
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Record: 7-1 overall, 3-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 3
Nebraska set the tone early as Ameer Abdullah continued his dazzling season by churning out a school record for total yardage in a single game with 341 yards in a victory over Rutgers. It was the fourth time this season he has gone over 200 yards.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 7-1 overall, 3-0 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 2
The Buckeyes barely hung on to defeat Penn State as J.T. Barrett rose to the occasion in overtime and Joey Bosa was a one man wrecking crew. The Buckeyes can let out a collective sigh of relief as they face Illinois in a nice tune-up game before the grand showdown with MSU next weekend.
4. Wisconsin Badgers
Record: 5-2 overall, 2-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 9
In their most complete and balanced performance of the season, the Badgers shined with stout defense (held Terps to 175 yards), efficient passing from QB Joel Stave and of course, Melvin Gordon running over everything in his path. Rutgers, who was singlehandedly demolished by Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah could be in for another long day with Gordon hitting his stride.
5. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Record: 6-2 overall, 3-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 4
The Illinois defense forced three costly turnovers including the game-changing fumble in the fourth quarter and though David Cobb finished with118 yards, he was held to 34 yards for nearly three quarters. If they can’t get passed Illinois, they definitely are in trouble four top-tier teams are coming up in the future: Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
6. Maryland Terrapins
Record: 5-3 overall, 2-2 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 10
A week following a jovial win over Iowa, the Terrapins were decimated by Wisconsin 52-7 in their worst loss of the year and it remains to be seen if they can rebound from such a crushing defeat especially with a tough schedule ahead. The Terps aren’t ready to take on the B1Gs elite.
7. Iowa Hawkeyes
Record: 5-2 overall, 2-1 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 6
The Hawkeyes are still in the thick of the West division title race and control their own destiny even with a troubling loss to Maryland last week. However, if they want to rise to the top, there needs to be much improvement especially on defense and offensive line.
8. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Record: 5-3 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 8
Rutgers attempted to drive down the field in the final minute of the second quarter only to have QB Gary Nova suffer a leg injury and it proved to be costly, as the Scarlet Knights were handed their second straight loss after an encouraging six game start.
9. Northwestern Wildcats
Record: 3-4 overall, 2-2 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 5
Even with a 3-4 overall record, there is still plenty to play for in the coming weeks and we have seen spurts of brilliance from this team but if it is going to be a successful season, it has to start this week at Iowa. It also must win three of its final five games to become bowl eligible
10. Penn State Nittany Lions
Record: 4-3 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 7
Even in an overtime loss to Ohio State, Penn State delivered a valiant effort to comeback after a 17-0 deficit at halftime against the second best team in the conference. If only their offense was not so stagnant and had an offensive line that could adequately block to compliment a strong defense.
11. Purdue Boilermakers
Record: 3-5 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 12
Purdue was off last weekend in their quest for constant improvement following two competitive outings and a breakthrough win against Illinois. Now comes the hardest part of the schedule with Nebraska and Wisconsin next on tap.
12. Illinois Fighting Illini
Record: 4-4 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 14
A poised effort from QB Reilly O’Toole coupled with decisive defense and solid coaching helped the Illini put away Minnesota in their first Big Ten win since 2011. They will need their defense to play like it did against Minnesota if they are to win two more games and make a bowl.
13. Michigan Wolverines
Record: 3-5 overall, 1-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 13
Even with two weeks to prepare for MSU, the Wolverines looked dazed and confused especially on offense in another lackadaisical outing and need to win out the rest of the season just to finish above .500.
14. Indiana Hoosiers
Record: 3-4 overall, 0-3 Big Ten
Previous ranking: 11
It is hard to imagine how far this team has fallen ever since their signature win over Missouri, arguably the best nonconference victory of the Big Ten. Yet, without injured QB Nate Sudfeld, the Hoosiers are a one-man show with Tevin Coleman and he can’t do everything by himself.
As I was watching the historically inept performance of the Pitt Panthers (6 fumbles in 5 minutes), this Saturday and realized that the roller coaster of Pitt just has taken too much of a toll on me and probably others, it hit me…I started focusing on assistant coaches on the rise because I am dreaming that one day Pitt would decide to make football a priority like it did for basketball years ago.
Last week I focused on a few head coaches on the rise and offensive coordinators and this week the defensive coordinators get their shot. A common theme for the several of the listed coaches are the big time salaries that they collect which ultimately may just keep them at their current locations until the head coaching position opens. Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama Crimson Tide: any list of defensive coordinators must start with Smart, who is in his seventh season at Alabama. He is the mastermind behind the defenses that have dominated not only the SEC but all of the college football. Smart is just waiting for the perfect job whether its if and when Nick Saban steps down or some other prize job. Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Georgia Bulldogs: Pruitt has been in coaching for only seven years but his star is definitely shining. He started as a support staffer at Alabama, moved up to defensive coordinator for a year, then spent once season as Florida State’s defensive coordinator where they won the national championship and now is at Georgia. The Bulldog fans better not get used to Pruitt staying put, buy enjoy watching his players run through the hedges for him. He will be a head coaching within the next couple years no question about that. John Chavis, defensive coordinator, LSU Tigers: At the ripe age of 57 years old, Chavis’ head coaching window is at a crack but I think that his talent is unquestioned as he was the coordinator when LSU was top’s in the nation from 2010=2012 in defensive stats. His defenses are always good is the easiest way to phrase it. I don’t think Chavis would leave Baton Rouge for a mid major school but a Big 5 Conference team may get the steal of a lifetime. Bud Foster, defensive coordinator, Virginia Tech Hokies: Foster has been the coordinator for 19 years and his chance at being a head coach may be fast closing, but I still think that Foster would be a fantastic head coaching bringing his schemes, recruiting prowess and dynamic defenses. Again, Foster like Smart might just be waiting for the head coach, Frank Beamer to step down. Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson Tigers: The Tiger offense gets most of the accolades, but the defense is what keeps them going when especially injuries hit the Tigers like this year. Venables has the mind to be able to rebuild a defense or enhance an already stout defense. He is capable of adapting and adjusting which is the hallmark of a great coach. Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State: Narduzzi was named the top assistant last year as his Spartan defense was ranked number I in the Big ten for the third consecutive season. His defenses make the opponents running game obsolete. He received interest from Texas A&M in 2011 as well as some interest from Texas and Penn State last year. I expect Narduzzi to be the top man on the sideline of a MAC school next year if he feels like leaving his big ever increasing salary. Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin Badgers: Aranda joined the Badgers staff last year and made an immediate impact as his squad was in the top 10 in the NCAA in scoring defense, total defense and rush defense. His schemes make it easy for his defense to dictate the plays to the offense rather than the other way around. He has been successful in Utah State and Hawaii so he is climbing the ladder and succeeding wherever he goes.
That is the list of defensive coordinators and wow is it impressive from top to bottom and there are still may others making their names on defense as well as offense. Keep an eye on these names and their teams and what how dynamic they really are.
Through four conference matchups in Maryland’s inaugural Big Ten season, it is apparent how the Terps stack up against other teams in the conference. The Terrapins can defeat less-talented teams that tend to finish toward the bottom of the rankings, as they exhibited when they traveled to Bloomington and took down the Indiana Hoosiers. When the Terps face a Big Ten team that is solid but short of a true powerhouse, they can hang with and even defeat the opponent, as they proved when they avoided a furious Hawkeye comeback and held on for a 38-31 victory two weeks ago. On those dreadful occasions when the Terps have the dubious task of facing a traditional top-tier Big Ten team, they unfortunately don’t stand a chance. Terps fans may or may not recall, based on the amount of alcohol consumed by halftime, the 52-24 defeat at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes in early October. Saturday’s matchup with Wisconsin was no exception to the rule.
Maryland was annihilated by the Wisconsin Badgers in an embarrassing effort that saw the Terps fall to 2-2 in the Big Ten and 5-3 overall. Neither record is anything to scoff at, but each passing week solidifies Maryland’s role in the Big Ten as a middle-of-the-pack team. When the final score is 52-7, it is near impossible to focus blame on any specific person or unit of a football team. This was especially true Saturday. Quarterback C.J. Brown appeared lost and finished the day with a mere 13 completions for 129 yards. The saving grace to an otherwise horrific stat line came by way of a fourth quarter 21-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs with less than a minute left in the blowout loss. Terrapin running backs finished the day with 28 combined yards on 13 total carries. The run defense was pitiful, allowing 311 total rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, one of the nation’s elite backs, accounted for 122 yards and three of the team’s five rushing scores. The Terps’ pass defense contributed an equally poor performance, allowing the Badgers to complete their two longest pass plays of 2014. Wisconsin’s quarterbacks have struggled this season, leading to their utilization of a two-quarterback offensive game plan, but Maryland’s defense made both look like viable starters.
One play on Saturday, however, was as unforgettable a play as any in a Maryland football game over the last three and a half seasons in my opinion. This play, or more accurately described as a play call, came before the Badgers even had the opportunity to begin their ensuing 52-point onslaught of an unprepared Maryland team. It was fourth down at the Wisconsin 35 yard line on Maryland’s opening drive. Despite having one of the most reliable kickers in the country, the wind in the face of Maryland’s Brad Craddock would make the already lengthy field goal try that much longer. The decision came from the sidelines to go for the first down, a questionable call so early in a game against a team that had lost just six home games since 2005. Further circumstances made the call more than questionable, however. It was not 4th and inches. It was not 4th and 2. It was not even 4th and 10. The Terps needed to pick up 12 yards to avoid turning the ball over and leaving the Badgers with great field position on their first possession. Not surprisingly, a C.J. Brown pass sailed through the normally sure hands of star receiver Stefon Diggs. Wisconsin needed just four plays to find the end zone for their first touchdown of seven on the day.
The call on 4th and 12 cannot be supported by the mere fact that the wind presented less than ideal conditions for a long field goal attempt. The decision does not become any more logical based on the field being too short to punt the ball away. An option would be to take a delay of game penalty, providing Maryland’s punter Nathan Renfro with another five yards to work with. Take two delay of game penalties if necessary. The last time I can recall seeing a team attempt a fourth down conversion under similar circumstances was during a game of Madden. The play call was illogical, shortsighted, and impractical.
The call epitomizes Randy Edsall’s career as Maryland’s head coach.
Adding further confusion to the reasoning behind the play call are the season-long struggles plaguing Maryland’s offense. C.J. Brown has had an overall better-than-average season in 2014 statistically speaking, but his inaccuracy and poor decision-making throwing the ball continue from one week to the next. Previously this season, he has struggled to the point of being pulled from the game. To avoid harping on Brown’s ineffectiveness yet again, I will just say the 4th and 12 decision to go for it would have been ill-advised with even Peyton Manning at quarterback.
Little can be said for the coaching staff in the form of praise throughout Randy Edsall’s tenure, and on a personal level these concerns came to head for me last Saturday. Many Terrapin fans have been taking to social media to voice their displeasure with Edsall and the Terps’ overall lack of success since previous Terrapin head coach Ralph Friedgen’s firing in 2010. While I was a great supporter of Friedgen and admired how he turned the football program around during his decade as Maryland’s coach, I couldn’t help but be optimistic about the 2011 hiring of Edsall and what the future would hold for the Terps. After all, the university and the athletic department had to know what they were doing when they fired a coach who was coming off an 8-4 season, a bowl victory and being honored as the ACC Coach of the Year, right…?
Despite the general lack of success over the past four seasons, ranging from embarrassingly abysmal (2-10 record in 2011) to slightly above average (7-6 in 2013), I disagreed with the fans who felt Maryland needed to move in a different direction from Edsall. “Give him time to build around his own players,” I thought. Or, “Injuries have killed any chances of success for the Terps this year.” While both or either of the above might still be true to a small extent, there is no excuse for the fourth down call that seemingly opened the flood gates to an embarrassing 45-point route last weekend. I don’t have any excuses left for Edsall.
With one more win this season the Terps will be bowl eligible. Even so, Maryland will need to win at least two more contests for me to have any real optimism about the team’s future. The athletic department and some Maryland fans may be content with six or seven win seasons and bowl eligibility. Admittedly, I would be very pleased with such an outcome this year, especially taking into account Maryland acclimating themselves with a new conference, new teams and new playing atmospheres. But I am not content with the ceiling for success remaining where it currently seems to be: A team that will spend the foreseeable future never achieving more than six or seven wins in any given season. As minor as it may seem, a coaching decision like the 4th and 12 call last Saturday epitomize possibly the greatest concern for the football program, and it was the last straw for me.
Maryland is currently an average team. They will defeat lesser teams, play well against comparable Big Ten teams and get crushed by perennial powerhouses. Expect a repeat of Saturday’s matchup with the Badgers when the Terps face Michigan State at Byrd Stadium on November 15. Football teams are representations of their head coach, and Randy Edsall is unfortunately nothing more than an average coach.
What a difference several weeks can make especially in the cyclical, turbulent world of college football. Following a historically horrific first three weeks (1-10 against Power 5 opponents), the Big Ten looked dead in the water and was on the chopping block for elimination from the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Fast forward seven weeks later and much of that negativity is ancient history. More importantly, the Big Ten is right back in the thick of the playoff discussion and with the exception of Florida State, looks arguably in better shape than the ACC with three teams ranked in the top 16 in the Associated Press and coaches’ polls.
Now if you’re not down with the Big Ten, take a look around the rest of the nation. The other power five conferences aren’t exactly shaping up like we expected just a few short weeks ago.
SEC fans will argue that the SEC beats itself up, and to a certain extent, that’s true. But with highly ranked SEC teams falling each week like dominoes and so many big games left before the playoff is set, it makes sense to believe that any Big Ten team has a reasonable chance to fit into the playoff picture at 12-1.
As far as the conference is concerned, comparing the East and West is almost night and day. It is no secret that the most likely Big Ten champion is coming from the East and will be between powerhouses Michigan State or Ohio State. If they both continue to pummel their competition as they have in the past few weeks, both teams early season losses do not look so bad if the committee takes into account both losses occurred when the season just started. Admittedly, though, if Ohio State wins the all-important November 8 matchup against MSU it maybe a harder argument to consider them seeing their lone loss was against an unranked Virginia Tech team. On the flipside, the committee may take into account it was before the true blossoming of J.T. Barrett.
In the muddled, wild West, five teams all have legitimate shots to win the division and no one knows who the champion will be although in recent weeks, Nebraska has appeared to be the most talented and balanced team.
Minnesota, which was firing on all cylinders having won three games in a row, remained hot with a come-from-behind home win against Purdue, whose defense surrendered 194 rushing yards to Golden Gophers running back, David Cobb. 6-1 Minnesota is all alone atop the West with a victory over Northwestern as their signature win and can’t be excluded from the division championship race even though their remaining schedule is brutal. At 3-0, it controls its destiny as the lone unbeaten team within Big 10 play.
Right behind Minnesota is Nebraska and Iowa.
Nebraska beat Northwestern at home this week for one of their top victories this year and gave MSU all it could handle and more as it rallied back from a 24 point deficit only to fall short in East Lansing in Week 7.
Iowa on the other hand, has an ugly early season loss to a struggling Iowa State team and was incredibly ineffective on offense against Maryland this past weekend, which resulted in a 38-31 loss.
Iowa is a team that is the definition of inconsistency and is facing an identity crisis at the quarterback position. Yet, Iowa still is in the Big Ten race as many pundits picked them to win the West due to their favorable schedule, but dreams of a truly special season for Kirk Ferentz’s squad are now much tougher to make reality.
Behind them, Northwestern started out strong with two solid conference wins over Penn State and Wisconsin only to drop their next two games to Minnesota and Nebraska for a 3-4, 2-2 record. The Wildcats offense sputtered against the Huskers as none of their passes went longer than 23 yards. The offensive limitations stem from the fact they lack explosive receivers, who can’t stretch the field and a quarterback who doesn’t possess a strong arm. They also lost their star tailback Venric Mark and potential downfield threat, Christian Jones.
Bringing up the rear is Wisconsin at 5-2, 1-1. If Wisconsin doesn’t have a passing game, the offense is in trouble and Wisconsin doesn’t have a passing game. The Badgers passers have been downright dreadful at times and are unreliable. The Badgers still have talented running backs in Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement; however, the offensive line has struggled to control the line of scrimmage especially in their two loses.
When the Wisconsin offense struggles, the No. 1 defense in the Big Ten comes to clean the mess up though they have given up big plays marked by poor coverage, especially in the secondary. It is hard to write off Wisconsin in the West race, especially when you think back to 2012 and the Badgers won the Big Ten title with a 4-4 conference record.
The Big Ten is in a slightly favorable position right now but the pendulum has swung back and forth between relevancy and irrelevancy all year long. It is tough to say what exactly the state of the conference truly is but it is remarkably better than when the season started and I, as a big ten fan, feel much more confident in the conference’s chances to actually field a playoff team especially with other conferences beating each other up in conference play.
The Maryland Terrapins took down their second Big Ten opponent of the season by defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes this past Saturday, and the win comes as some small form of redemption after getting blown out at home by Ohio State on October 4. The offense as a whole played well aside from continuing inconsistency at the quarterback position. C.J. Brown’s struggles in the passing game continued, which included throwing an interception directly to an Iowa defender on the very first play of the game. The interception set the Hawkeyes up in the red zone which led to Iowa’s first touchdown. Aside from playing too soft too early and allowing Iowa back in the game in the fourth quarter, the Maryland defense performed well, getting big stops when needed and forcing three Iowa turnovers.
Both offense and defense have succeeded at times and significantly underachieved at others so far this season. As far as the offense goes, C.J. Brown’s season-long struggles are well known at this point. His running capabilities stabilize his status as the team’s starting quarterback but still don’t quite cancel out the inaccuracy and some frankly boneheaded mistakes throwing the football. The running backs have been inconsistent as well, which is directly related to their puzzlingly inconsistent usage. The defense has made dazzling individual plays, led by cornerback Will Likely’s Big Ten-leading four interceptions, two of which have been returned for touchdowns including one against Iowa. Cole Farrand has anchored the defense from the linebacker position and continues to rack up tackles. Despite stellar individual performances, the defense has shown serious vulnerability in both pass coverage and run defense at times, and has allowed opposing offenses to gain an average of 516 yards per game over the last five games.
From quarterback controversy (which has quieted since news broke of Caleb Rowe’s ACL tear) to the defensive holes, Maryland’s inconsistency on both sides of the ball has been well documented to this point and will likely continue throughout the season. What is becoming more apparent by the week, however, is that Maryland’s special teams are no exception. Specifically, the disparity in efficiency between Maryland’s kicker and punter is growing by the week.
Place kicker Brad Craddock has arguably evolved into the best kicker in the entire country, having not yet missed on any of his 12 field goal attempts so far in 2014. Only one kicker in FBS Division I-A is currently ranked above Craddock, that being Roberto Aguayo of Florida State who is 14-for-14 on the season. Craddock is now 8-for-8 on field goal attempts of 40 yards or more, including one knocked through from a career-long 57 yards. If not for a 58-yarder made by Indiana’s Griffin Oakes (against Maryland, ironically), Craddock’s 57-yard make would be the longest in college football this year. The Aussie is also a perfect 30-for-30 on extra point attempts, and has accounted for nearly one-third of Maryland’s offensive production this season (66 points out of 211 total offensive points scored).
Craddock is truly an elite kicker, and seems to be NFL-ready halfway through his junior year. When asked about Craddock’s success this season in the post-game press conference after the win against Iowa, head coach Randy Edsall choked up discussing how the kicker has adjusted to being a collegiate athlete in the United States. His voice quivered as he explained why Craddock’s fellow countrymen in Australia should be proud, mentioning the kicker’s athletic ability as well as his morality, upbringing, and leadership. Craddock has truly come a long way from hitting only 10 of his 16 attempts his freshman season with the Terps.
The Not So Good
Unfortunately, there is another end of the spectrum, and Maryland punter Nathan Renfro slides towards it more and more with each passing week. Out of 128 qualifying punters this season in all of FBS Division I-A college football, Renfro currently ranks 88th in average yards per punt. More alarming are the junior’s struggles in recent weeks, averaging below 40 yards per punt in 19 punts over three games. Renfro had his worst game of the season against the Hawkeyes, punting nine times for an average of just 37.78 yards per punt. His woeful day consisted of short punts when long ones were needed and long punts when short ones were called for. One punt traveled a mere 19 yards. On another occasion the Terps were trying to pin the Iowa offense deep in their own territory late in the game. Renfro crushed a punt 30 yards too far. The ball rocked off the brick of the Gossett Team House, which sits about 15 yards behind the east end zone, on the fly. Granted, on this particular play the snap was low and Renfro had to adjust… but he didn’t.
Adding to the concerns is the fact that statistically Renfro’s ability seems to have capped out at these numbers; the Terrapin punter averaged virtually the exact same yardage per punt in 2013 (40.84 in 2013; 40.88 in 2014). Only four FBS I-A punters have at least as many punts this season as Renfro (43) and have a lower yards per punt average. The Terps have no other viable options at the position, so Renfro’s job appears to be safe despite his struggles.
Even with ongoing issues on both offense and defense and the increasing concerns with the punting unit, the Terps boast a 2-1 conference record and are 5-2 overall. The two conference wins have been quite impressive, particularly the win Saturday over the Hawkeyes. The Terps found themselves in an early 14-0 hole, but rallied to outscore Iowa 38-7 before the Hawkeyes tacked on a quick 10 points in the last five minutes of the game. Accordingly, the 38-31 final score made the game seem closer than it actually was. Maryland continued to put up points despite a third quarter injury to C.J. Brown that forced third-string quarterback Perry Hills into the game. Hills was certainly rusty, as he hadn’t seen live action in over two years, but the offense didn’t fall apart.
Looking Ahead to Wisconsin
The issue that needs to be immediately addressed in anticipation of Saturday’s matchup with Wisconsin is the run defense. Iowa running back Mark Weisman finished with 78 yards on just 10 carries and two rushing touchdowns against Maryland. The Terps defense will have their hands full this Saturday trying to contain Badger running back Melvin Gordon, who is currently second in the nation in total rushing yards behind only Indiana’s Tevin Coleman. Gordon also has 13 rushing touchdowns, two more than Coleman. Maryland was somewhat able to contain Coleman (relatively speaking) in their September 27 meeting with the Hoosiers, and will need a similar defensive game plan against Wisconsin.
A win at Wisconsin this Saturday could potentially propel the Terps into the top-25 discussion for the first time in head coach Randy Edsall’s tenure.
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