Close Quarters: MSU and UM
Down the halls of any high school, side by side, sharing the same classrooms, hitting each other on the football field. The best Michigan kids often end up at either Michigan State or Michigan, crossing paths later in life, as grown men, trained and with a purpose, absorbed into one of the two warring families. One, proud and persevering. The other, cut from a different cloth.
One wasn't really a university until 1955. The other is the winningest college team of all time, and the oldest university in the state. After football was invented in 1869, it was being played in Ann Arbor by the spring of 1870. Michigan State has had a grand total of twenty-four 8-win seasons. Michigan has had 60. MSU has no Heisman winners, a losing bowl record, and little in the way of historic victories.
But with both teams pulling from the same state, that one-sided 'brother' relationship gets a little more complicated. Devin Funchess admitted he was "like brothers" with Aaron Burbridge; the two set an 800-meter relay record together while on the track team at their high school. When MSU offensive lineman Dennis Finley got injured a couple weeks ago, Michigan lineman (and a former teammate at Cass Tech) David Dawson went out of his way to express well wishes. Meanwhile James Ross III's younger brother, 2017 recruit Joshua Ross, is seriously considering going to Michigan State, where he recently saw another of his high school teammates playing college ball.
"What really shocked me the most," he said about the Oregon-Michigan State game, "was seeing Jalen Watts-Jackson get on the field from Orchard Lake. I was hyped up because I just played with the dude a couple years ago, so seeing him in action was great, but the defense did a great job."
As much as the players who were raised in Michigan will insist this is just another game, the close quarters of state football ensure that it means something different - something a little more. And it's a rivalry that each person feels in a different way.
Grading the Big Ten's Coaches (Mid-Season)
Vince Lombardi, who had a good quote for every single day of the year, once said that leaders "are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile." He also linked leadership to inspiring and helping others.
In truth, in the middle of a tumultuous season where fortunes could still change and the seas still part, the performance of the Big Ten's coaches is incomplete. The grades, then, are incomplete. But judging based on what we've seen, here are some (very soft) grades for each of the Big Ten's head men. We'll revisit this, as well, after the season.
Michigan - Jim Harbaugh: A+
Good luck finding someone to argue this. From the moment Harbaugh stepped on campus, he has pulled the right strings. And Brady Hoke's biggest weakness, development, has been Harbaugh's strength. He's known when to sit people, or even move them to a different position, and when to stick with them through the growing pains. He's built a juggernaut that's as workmanlike as it is exciting. And he did it with a 5-7 team.
Michigan State - Mark Dantonio: A-
Dantonio deserves credit for a tricky segue. He built the Spartans by recruiting underrated and overlooked talent, hidden away in back parts of the country. And yet now he's recruiting with the big boys - and managing to not fall into the traps that sometimes befall Alabama, Florida State, and USC. He's still recruiting guys that fit his system - grinders. Now they're just a little faster out of high school.
But the Spartans have felt the loss of Pat Narduzzi while trying to break in a young secondary, and there's a chance for more difficulties down the road if they can't replace Narduzzi's brilliance.
Ohio State - Urban Meyer: C
Perhaps this is harsh. Like Dantonio, Meyer is feeling the loss of a great coordinator, and the moves Meyer made to replace Tom Herman have not softened the blow at all. One of Urban Meyer's greatest strengths was always emphasizing a great coaching staff from top to bottom. But for a talented team with quite a few talented coaches remaining, something has been absent from the '15 Buckeyes. Meyer's trying to right the ship, and might do it just in time.
Indiana - Kevin Wilson: A-
Wilson has been the driving force behind any success Indiana has had over the last five seasons - and trust me, it hasn't been much. But he has gotten three-star talent to play like four- and five-star veterans, and he might be getting this IU defense on the right track, from an offhand punch line to at least some respectability. There are promising signs. And Wilson, meanwhile, has been a class act through it all.
Penn State - James Franklin: B-
Franklin would point out that he's 5-1, and there he has a point. Only 28 teams in Division-I - or about 22% - have a record that good. Franklin has gotten there with a young offense, a thin defense, and a pass attack with a rather awful penchant for negative plays. There's talent being developed, and that's what you really want to see while treading water. But you'd also like a little more with a five-star NFL prospect running the show.
Maryland - Randy Edsall: D
I was ready this whole time to cut Edsall some slack. He was losing so many players, from all over his team, and changing schemes on both sides of the ball. He was even replacing a coordinator, like Meyer and Dantonio.
But the numbers are ugly for a team that got to play Richmond, Bowling Green, South Florida, and West Virginia in addition to Michigan and Ohio State. 109th in total offense. 126th in pass efficiency. 110th in total defense. 124th in turnover margin. 111th in third down conversions. 101st in punting. 109th in time of possession. 108th in penalty yards per game. Maryland was the statistical football equivalent of a car crash.
But it wasn't just the numbers. Edsall parted with D.C. Brian Stewart (now the defensive backs coach at Nebraska) partly because Stewart was struggling in his third year and partly because his 3-4 defense was running out of 3-4 linemen. As a recruiting issue as well as an execution issue, that's on Edsall.
Edsall and Mike Locksley also failed to develop the offense for years, relying on the talents of its better players without supporting them. And, in half a season, this year's backfield has thrown 17 interceptions. Players were quitting, fans were angry, and boosters were rioting. It was time to go.
Rutgers - Kyle Flood: D-
Flood also gets criticism for failing to develop his front seven for the rigors of a Big Ten season. There's also the small issue of acting like the main character in a 1940's noir while discussing a player's grades with a professor.
Iowa - Kirk Ferentz: A
Hi, Kirk. Glad you could join us.
Northwestern - Pat Fitzgerald: A
Fitz has pulled the right strings. He's stuck by his guys, and gotten them to keep taking that next step forward. It's good to know he still has some magic in him.
Nebraska - Mike Riley: D+
A 2-4 record, with each loss coming at the end of the game - this team may have been flawed, but Riley has done little to fix or even hide what's broken.
Wisconsin - Paul Chryst: C+
Chryst gets credit for reviving Joel Stave's career, but there isn't a whole lot else on his resume so far.
Purdue - Darrell Hazell: D
Travis Miller at Hammer and Rails goes through each Hazell loss in the last two and a half seasons. That's 25 in total - and it's ugly.
Illinois - Bill Cubit: B
A mixed bag overall, and optimism for the season's second half. The defensive line has grown a little bit, on par with their talent and the addition of a better coach. The secondary has been solid. Offensively, it's been a mixed bag, with tepid play from Wes Lunt but a couple breakout performances from Geronimo Allison and Ke'Shawn Vaughn. We'll see what Cubit has for an encore, and if this team can get stronger deeper into autumn.
Minnesota - Jerry Kill: B-
Between star players moving on and a rash of injuries, a rough patch is understandable. And besides, that 'rough patch' has produced a 4-2 record so far - on par for past seasons.
Hitting the Links Is A Derby
Ohio State will be hosting Penn State this week, at night, with black jerseys and a blacked-out crowd. Should be fun.
Also, a reminder that Ohio State would dearly like to beat us this year.
OSU is ranked 28th in the country in S&P+, far short of their #1 AP Poll ranking. And the numbers also say they're going to lose some games.
Ohio State had three of the top five running backs in the 2016 class, though some of them were bound to move over to H-back. Now, Hill is decommitted and there are rumors that Ohio State's staff is unhappy with Kareem Walker visiting Ann Arbor. Chris Partridge also sent out a tweet tweaking the Buckeyes on not liking the competition for Walker's services.
Meanwhile, Garrett Fishaw has a source that says Michigan is the favorite to land Walker's services and that he will likely decommit from OSU. We'll see how this derby plays out. There's a long way to go.
This was a great, great read. Michigan has needed to establish and revive some reputations for different position groups, and having a dominant secondary is a great way to get recruits' attention and sustain that success.
It also helps that the East can raid states like Illinois and Indiana for blue-chip talent while Nebraska (and, really, the entire B1G West) is down for the count.
I'm extremely happy for Rawls; though unfortunately for running backs in general, the start of this article is something of a manifesto about not spending first-round picks on tailbacks. Ultimately it will be up to guys like Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon III to prove that elite tailback prospects are worth that kind of investment.
Speaking of Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin's season has not gone according to plan without the man known as MG3. The Badgers are now entering their stretch of weakest run defenses, though: Purdue, Illinois, Rutgers and Maryland. They close with Northwestern and Minnesota.
Whoever wins the running game will probably win this one yet again. And that means a lot of responsibility falls on Michigan's O-line against a really difficult DL in Michigan State.
Connor Cook has incredible accuracy for someone with a 1970's TV star on his back. And I continue to be amazed by Mark Dantonio, who I presume used velcro.
James Franklin brought a win-at-all-costs demeanor with him to the Big Ten that I think has been absorbed a little bit by the rest of the conference. I confess I'm very curious what Franklin will be able to do with a prospect like Tommy Stevens or Jake Zembiec at QB.
Wes Lunt has been healthy, but he also looks tentative out there. I had expected some bigger numbers from him, but perhaps that will come when Mikey Dudek returns.
Iowa enters arguably its most important game of the season missing its all-B1G DE, its top WR and both tackles.— Patrick Vint (@HS_BHGP) October 13, 2015
Some very bad news for Iowa as they get ready to face Northwestern: Drew Ott is out with a torn ACL, and Ferentz will also be missing several other key players.
Hayes is rumored to be a Notre Dame lean, but he promises he's trying to go back to a clean slate and thoroughly re-open his recruitment. Hayes, who is 6'3", 254, reminds me of the gargantuan roving linebackers that Clemson has fielded in recent years. Very agile for a guy his size.
All big names, and very likely to succeed. Go big or go home, as they say.
Some really terrific burns by the Head Ball Coach.