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Thursday Morning Brews (1/15/15)

Today, I'm coming out as a guy who doesn't mind Matt Millen.

Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

Ten Unpopular Opinions

It's the off-season, and that means it's time to share unpopular opinions. Or something like that.

1. The Big Ten's academics will be a strength in the coming years.

Football is still a raw, physical sport, but it requires increasingly high amounts of intelligence and foresight - especially on defense, where teams try to find seams wherever they can and use misdirection on almost every play. The more multidimensional a team can be, ultimately the easier it is for that team.

In recruiting terms, it's also good to have a calling card, and the Big Ten has a long tradition there. It's something that impresses parents, who are good recruiters themselves, and plenty of recruits will appreciate talking seriously about a well-rounded university experience. It's also another way to get a recruit hooked on the prospect of attending that university.

2. The Golden Gophers are really, really, really cool.

Yeah, it's cold up in Wherever The Gophers Are, but it's cold in Madison, too, and Wisconsin's a nationally relevant football program. The Gophers have a chance to reach that plateau if they start regularly dominating the Big Ten West. That's some years off, but they're doing all the right things to get there - impressing recruits, building up players and sending them to the NFL, and even flashing some snazzy uniforms. What makes it even better is how impervious they are to the cool; they just get to work.

3. Mark Dantonio is really, really, really good for the rivalry.

This is unchartered territory. Never in the history of Michigan-Michigan State have both teams been dominant. Sure, beating around a weak and unfocused Michigan State squad is fun. But this is better in some ways.

Around the time Jim Harbaugh got hired, there were some interesting conversations about what makes a real rivalry. Some Buckeyes were excited to see a strong Michigan, because in their mind, there was nothing better than the schadenfreude of crushing a strong team's hopes and dreams. Other fans believed that the natural goal of a rivalry is to forcibly end it, by suffocating their foe into oblivion.

When it comes to Little Brother, Michigan fans tend to fall in the latter category. No Michigan State is a good Michigan State, and any Michigan State is annoying and infuriating. Ohio State is supposed to be the challenge. Michigan State's supposed to suck. The worse, the better.

Dantonio's putting a wrench in all of that. In so doing, he's writing a new chapter in the rivalry, a chapter with a tough, angry, and capable little bro. It's a bit weird. But it also adds a few layers to a long-comfortable game, and makes the state rivalry more important and dynamic. Some great moments can come out of an elite UM-MSU matchup.

4. Bowl season matters too much when looking ahead to next year.

It was the fourth quarter, looking like a blowout, and Baylor was in field goal range to get its forty-second, forty-third, and forty-fourth points of the night. But Chris Callahan's 46-yarder banged off the right upright, and, still all smiles, he accepted some conciliatory high-fives and jogged off the field, unaware that he had just missed what would be the deciding points. The Spartans would go on to win, and rewrite their off-season narrative.

Bowl season means a lot for conference pride and for a year-end statement, and there's no doubt that there's plenty to pull out of those games. But the SEC East's undefeated performance didn't necessarily pull it ahead of the SEC West (owners of a rather discomfiting 2-5 postseason record). After all, Tennessee beat up on Iowa and South Carolina faced a Miami squad that barely logged two wins against winning Power 5 teams on the year. Georgia faced a not entirely equal foe in Louisville. When non-conference comes around again, a week like this can get shrugged off and changed the next weekend.

So, yes, Oklahoma was crushed by Clemson, and yes, Texas was murdered by Arkansas. But that will only give those losers an added motivation to prepare for the next time they reach the field.

5. Matt Millen's turning into a good analyst.

This is a hard one to believe, and maybe the most unpopular. But Millen has become both more detail-oriented in his color commentary, and more comfortable in his (accidental) entertainment value.

A year ago, Millen called the Buckeyes against the Clemson Tigers, and he defaulted to cheesy analysis like "Kelvin Benjamin - big-time player" and calling football players "hurtin' buckaroos." He had no middle ground between his expertise and his attempts to make the game easy to connect with.

That's started to change, as Millen's started to give good scouting reports on college players, what their prospects are at the next level, and what they need to work on. He still has a bit of "aw shucks" that probably didn't help him win roster battles with Bill Belichick over hidden gems, but that's all for the good, as he's easier to connect with, even if he is quirky.

Plus, he's just unintentionally funny. He had this to say about Wisconsin giving Joel Stave time to throw: "Look at this protection. He could read Tolstoy back there. And that takes a long time, trust me." When the Outback Bowl brought coconut shrimp up to the booth, Bob Wischusen ruefully observed, "I might be on my own on this drive."

"You are going to, this shrimp is off the charts..." ... "That's not all yours, by the way."

6. Brian Kelly might not be the answer at Notre Dame.

He's clean enough for Notre Dame, and recruits well enough for Notre Dame. In fact, he recruits for the Irish just as well as Brady Hoke did for the Wolverines. But while Kelly's results have been more palatable, his 45-20 record has been bolstered by a single 12-win campaign, with a very good nine-win season the year after and the rest all leveling off at 8-5. That's been while facing plenty of top-25 teams every year, and this season he had to deal with suspensions and injuries.

So perhaps that's not fair to wonder if Kelly can in fact lead them to the promised land. But with the talent on that roster, he has to be able to get 10 wins periodically, and also win in big moments. The bowl game against LSU was encouraging, but it was also against a heavily flawed (if physical) LSU squad. Does Kelly have the scheme and the motivating ability to hold court against other top athletes and coaches? Kelly's not going anywhere, so it's something we'll find out over the next several seasons. If he does not, they will ultimately feel like empty seasons for the Irish.

7. The Big 12 has more elite coaches than the Pac-12.

An interesting fact about the Pac-12: although the longest-tenured head coach is technically Kyle Whittingham, who led the Utes since '05 but only was a part of the conference since 2011, after Whittingham it's David Shaw. Regardless of that lack of longevity, the turnover has brought mostly good things to the conference, with added depth and some resurrected programs.

The Big 12 has some distinctly longer resumes on hand: first, there's two-time Coach of the Year Bob Stoops, who has a 168-44 record with the Sooners. Then, there's Mike Gundy, who almost led Oklahoma State to the championship game in 2011. Bill Snyder is a Hall of Famer for Kansas State, and Art Briles is one of the top coaches in the game today. TCU's Gary Patterson is 132-45 at TCU, and newcomers Charlie Strong and Kansas' David Beaty have potential.

The lower end of the conference can't hold a candle to the Pac-12, but there's enough talent at the top to say it's a comparable group - even with Mark Helfrich taking his team to the national title.

8. Steve Spurrier is no longer one of the better coaches in the SEC.

To be fair, the competition has gotten pretty stiff as names like Nick Saban (2007), Dan Mullen (2009), Kevin Sumlin (2012), Gary Pinkel (2012), Gus Malzahn (2013), and Bret Bielema (2013) have steadily trickled into the SEC since 2005. Spurrier is still a good captain when he has the talent around him. The problem is that on the one hand, recruiting has never been his greatest strength, and on the other, his assistant coaching staff may have grown a bit stagnant.

The Gamecocks have been able to get a fair share of blue-chip talent, usually on the low-four-star end of the spectrum, but much of Spurrier's teams have been built with three-star players. There is also some concern about recruiting for 2016, as Spurrier recently admitted he only had "two or three" years of coaching left. He's gotten a lot out of those three-stars, and he also got plenty out of having Jadaveon Clowney in that defense. But 11-2 (a record he posted three consecutive years that Clowney was in town) seems to be the ceiling for this Gamecocks squad, rather than an average.

Spurrier's wizardry was evident in the passing game this year, with quarterback Dylan Thompson (a former two-star) leading a 20th-ranked unit. The problem was everywhere else. The running was not as advertised, and the defense was crippling against the run. Overall, they had the second-worst defense in the conference, but the entire staff on both sides will likely be retained.

"I was telling our coaches," said Spurrier recently, when asked about coaching changes, "at this time last year we were #4 in the nation and, maybe, some of us got a little cocky that it was just going to keep happening - that we were just going to keep winning 11 games every year - and it didn't happen. All we can do is try to learn from it and try to do some things differently around here."

9. Rutgers is set up to win in 2015 much better than Maryland... and Penn State.

It isn't just that Maryland is losing Stefon Diggs, Deon Long, and C.J. Brown, although that's part of it. It isn't just that Hayden Rettig might be taking over at QB for Rutgers. Rutgers is faster on defense and has a gold mine of long, capable-looking pass-catchers: Carroo, who will be coming back after a 1,000-yard season, 6'3" Andrew Turzilli, and 6'4" Andre Patton. Paul James also will be returning from injury, which makes the offense somewhat lethal.

Penn State is also losing a pretty heavy amount of reliable guys. All-American linebacker Mike Hull, much of their secondary (including Adrian Amos) and key pieces on the line (including Donovan Smith) will have to be replaced. There's still a chance for a big step forward if the offense can click, but it will still be a (painfully) young line in 2015. The coaching staff will make a lot out of what's there, but youth will be a pretty large theme for the Lions in 2015.

10. Jim Delany is unparalleled.

Another risky move, another great result as Rutgers and Maryland were not only competitive in Year 1, they added spice to the Big Ten rivalries and gave us great memories, historic institutions, and two very good divisions. Delany is as progressive as they come, but he's been the commissioner now since 1989... in other words, since before the answering machine, the digital clock, or the World Wide Web. Some of his ideas haven't worked, but the Big Ten is competitive in large part because of him, and that itself is an amazing accomplishment.

Hitting the Links Is A Farmboy And A Bull

Ed Warinner Promoted to OC, Tim Beck Co-OC

Warinner will be the primary offensive coordinator, but Beck will be tasked with developing the quarterbacks.

Pitt Hires Arkansas' Jim Chaney for OCFIU's Josh Conklin for DC

This would seem to imply that Narduzzi wants a great passing attack combined with plenty of takeaways - in short, he wants an aggressive team in every facet.

Houston Hires Major Applewhite as OCCraig Naivar at AHC, Co-DCTodd Orlando at Primary DC

Herman has done a good job locating talent, as well, pulling from the FCS, the SEC, and everything in between.

Joe Rudolph, Dave Aranda Officially Announced as UW's Coordinators

This will be Paul Chryst's show on offense to some extent, seeing as he was recently a very successful coordinator there. But Rudolph was his offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Pitt, and brought NFL experience to the offensive line coaching.

Dak Prescott Returning to MSUEd O Returning to the SEC

These are two very good moves for teams that will be replacing some talent.

In other news that's hardly news, Marcus Mariota declared his intention to enter the draft.

Behind the ESPN Megacast

This was a very interesting addition to ESPN's coverage.

This would come shortly after the city hosts the Super Bowl.

Final 2014 Big Ten Power Rankings

The top five or six and the bottom two are more definite, while the middle is a pretty muddled group of mediocre, occasionally impressive football teams.

ESPN's Way Too Early Top 25

Georgia's the highest SEC team at #8, and FSU comes in at #19.

$1.5 Million Gamble

Turns out, there was an Ohio furniture company that offered free furniture if Ohio State did a whole bunch of things they ended up doing.

Top 15 Melvin Gordon Runs

Complete with six more honorable mentions.

Iowa Recruiting Map

A good satire of how Iowa recruits. Credit to SB Nation user 99playsNAblitzaint1.