Revisiting Preseason Expectations: B1G
This is meant as a pretty casual and brief run-through of Big Ten football, which will feature a bit of patting myself on the back as well as some self-immolating of things I got wrong. To paraphrase Rasheed Wallace, the film don't lie, and the bricks of 2014 have paved the results of this season and beyond. (Here were my preseason predictions of the Big Ten East and the Big Ten West.)
In the Big Ten East, the best, most dominant, hungriest outfit of players has been the Wolverines. The fact that this team has improved is not a surprise at all; as many have said, the talent was already there and the coaching is top-notch. As the defense goes, I expected it to not only replace Frank Clark and Jake Ryan, but even improve - and they have done that thanks to Jabrill Peppers and Desmond Morgan returning, an older Jourdan Lewis, and D.J. Durkin's ability to manufacture turnovers and chaos (for all of Greg Mattison's greatness, his defenses rarely forced a lot of turnovers).
The quarterback position has been curious, in retrospect. Jake Rudock has struggled to jump out of Kirk Ferentz's golf cart into Harbaugh's Ferrari - and yet none of the other quarterbacks have made a mark, either. For a season in which we're probably renting Jedd Fisch (who will get his share of NFL offers after 2015), and a year after Tim Drevno stalked the halls of Steve Sarkisian's USC Trojans, we haven't seen much explosion in the passing game. Darboh has looked good. Butt has been bootylicious. But otherwise, Harbaugh has relied on jet sweeps to Jehu Chesson and leaking the running backs out for passing gains. Nothing particularly innovative.
Before this season started, the division's ceiling was represented by Ohio State and Michigan State. The Spartans' struggles, at least, I saw coming. Consistency is hard to maintain and they were losing a top defensive coach and leaders out wide (Tony Lippett, Keith Mumphery) and in the secondary (Kurtis Drummond, Trae Waynes). The replacements didn't seem quite ready. Losing Ed Davis on the eve of the season only added to the foreboding.
Ohio State, on the other hand, has been a fascinating child of last year's hype and success. The Buckeyes had absolutely everything in their favor - enough talent to fill a couple of good teams, some very determined kids, and a coach who's been at the top before. Really, this just goes back to the best thing about football: work over hype, every time. Losing Tom Herman didn't help, either, of course, but this goes deeper than one coach.
Rutgers, Maryland, and Penn State have struggled next to some people's expectations (Bruce Feldman had them pegged to go 21-15), but the Eastern trio has at least managed to win most of the games they were supposed to win. Penn State's defense has been awesome, even without Nyeem Wartman-White, and Christian Hackenberg has shown that he needs to figure out how to play winning ball. The line, as expected, improved but has not excelled.
Oh, and there's Indiana. What a performance so far.
The Big Ten West, meanwhile, has truly been wild, what with Illinois, Iowa, and Northwestern going 14-1 and the rest of the division (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and lowly Purdue) going 9-11. Fitzgerald and Ferentz, the Big Ten's longest-tenured coaches, have had a few more tricks up their sleeve in going 10-0 to start the year. Purdue has been Purdue - at times, tantalizingly close to making a statement, then slowly sinking back into obscurity.
Nebraska's erratic ways and frustrating play were something I saw coming. Mike Riley was not a slam dunk hire, the offensive line was a weak spot from last year that Ameer Abdullah had managed to hide, the back seven was susceptible to athletic teams and the defensive line had no one to replace Randy Gregory. Some had called Nebraska a contender in the West, but these Cornhuskers were a paper tiger - royalty in name only.
A bigger surprise, to me, has been Minnesota, a team some overlooked but one I thought would break out. Every key loss from last year is still being felt, and the breakout performer that Minnesota always seemed to have ready has yet to arrive. Mitch Leidner looks lost. The defense looks less athletic. The offensive line has not dominated. The mojo is gone.
Wisconsin has also lost some of its mojo, and that's jarring for a team that finished first in its division four of the last five years. There were a few off-season losses that, in retrospect, we should have paid more attention to - Herring, Lewallen, Havenstein, Costigan, and Zegzebski on the front lines, and one Mr. Gordon in the backfield. But the offensive line and the tailbacks aren't nearly the same, and the run defense isn't as sturdy, either. Sure, the passing game looks better, but this was an unathletic group of wide receivers that needed a miracle to really leap forward. And so far, Chryst has looked unnervingly similar at Wisconsin (3-2) to what he was at Pitt (19-19) - basically, no miracle worker.
The ceiling is higher in Madison with the talent and reputation, but where is the development? Will the Badgers keep growing into November, then make a leap in Year 2? If Chryst can't replenish the pool of talent that made the Badgers the crown of the West, there are plenty of other teams and players who are eager to make a name for themselves. Football doesn't exactly wait around.
Hitting the Links Is Occasionally An EMU Eagle
Ohio State's WDE Tyquan Lewis did play very well in this game, and DT Tommy Schutt has solidified the middle pretty well. On the flip side, Indiana's front seven is also playing grown-man football out there. DT Nate Hoff could be the most anonymous star in the conference.
If Indiana gets comfortable, this team will be dangerous. They have some of the best wideout talent in the Big Ten, they've consistently grown quarterback talent, the front seven is up there with Penn State or Wisconsin (basically, one notch below the conference's best), and the offensive line has been a strength for several years. When recruits pick up on this and confidence starts to flow, Indiana will really get rolling.
How bad is Maryland, #OhioState's opponent this week? Meyer never mentioned the Terrapins, nor was he asked about them.— Bill Rabinowitz (@brdispatch) October 5, 2015
Magnus offers his thoughts on Ty Isaac, Drake Johnson's recovery and more.
Earlier in the off-season I had looked at this freshman class, and sort of predicted that most of these guys would redshirt. Not because of their talent, but because this team is so loaded with veteran players. Still, Tyree Kinnel forced his way onto the field with great, physical play, and he's one of three true freshmen who've played so far.
It's better to be lucky than good? Or it's better when the opposing coach has terrible clock management?
"I think, as we examine it again, we should've run more," Riley said.— Steven M. Sipple (@HuskerExtraSip) October 5, 2015
This is definitely generous, particularly considering - like many other Big Ten teams at the moment - the defense is carrying the day for this team. (Speaking of Penn State's defense: Army's first six possessions, excluding a one-play possession to end the first half, ended in three fumbles, a 4th and 22, a 4th and 41, and a 4th and 3 after getting one first down.) Christian Hackenberg has improved his demeanor and adjustments, but his short-range accuracy is still lacking, and it's clear he's not able to go at 100%. He's still getting a feel for the game.
Hackenberg's back-ups right now are Trace McSorley, a 6'0", 196-pound redshirt freshman, and Tommy Stevens, a 6'4", 211-pound true freshman. McSorley was recruited by some as a safety, but Franklin took him as a quarterback because of his accuracy and game management. Stevens is a more exciting prospect, but he's also entering his first year of college ball.
Ultimately, I don't expect Hackenberg to get pulled by Franklin, nor do I think it would help. All the busted hype aside, Hack has improved over the last few weeks, and Franklin is undoubtedly looking ahead to the meat of Penn State's schedule: Oct. 10 vs. Indiana, Oct. 17 at Ohio State, Nov. 7 at Northwestern, Nov. 21 against Michigan, and Nov. 28 at Michigan State. Hackenberg is far from this team's MVP, and in fact he's been one of its main problems. But he also presents the best chance to win some of those games.
I've been curious about Miles Shuler for a while. A former four-star, he looked good on film last season, but just didn't have big numbers. He's still light where that's concerned (54 receiving yards this year! 24 rushing yards! 74 punt return yards!), but the guy can make a big impact when he's called upon. Hopefully he doesn't break out against Michigan.
Segueing to some unfortunate injury news: Tevaun Smith is out for a few weeks, and Iowa's starting left tackle, Boone Myers, is out for about a week or more. Nebraska's getting thin at defensive tackle, with Kevin Maurice getting a stress fracture and Vincent Valentine also out.
Gophers corner Craig James is injured with a broken bone in his leg. Wisconsin wideout Alex Erickson suffered a concussion last week, and might not be ready to play for the Badgers' showdown with Nebraska. Teammate and tight end Austin Traylor is also out.
Nate Sudfeld is day-to-day, and Jordan Howard has an ankle sprain. Neither is serious, but both might miss Penn State. Rutgers will be without WR John Tsimis and RB Desmon Peoples. RG Chris Muller (their best offensive lineman) and DE Kemoko Turay (their best pass-rusher) are banged up but will likely play. And Josh Ferguson is 'very doubtful' for Iowa.
One is for alcohol, the other for marijuana. Neither has played yet.
This article is from IU's perspective. There are few Big Ten coaches I've studied more than Kevin Wilson, and from my experience I've never seen him as focused and angry as he was for the entire game against OSU. Basically, he looked like this the whole time. (And I loved it.) The fan base also came out to play.
'Struggles' is a gentle word to describe something that is driving Big 12 fans crazy and has been doing so for a while. On a less serious note, the Big 12 issued a statement apologizing, and suffered some misspelling gaffes in the statement.
I'd be intrigued at who South Carolina brought in to replace the Head Ball Coach. Arkansas found a good cultural and schematic fit in Bret Bielema, and that has helped them remain relevant in a tough division (some might argue the degree of Arkansas' relevancy at the moment). South Carolina has forged a good pro-style group, one that worked well when elite defensive talent roamed the front seven. New blood at the coaching spots will give Carolina a chance to raid Georgia and Florida for some of that skill.
WR Duke Williams has been dismissed from the Auburn football team.— Jay G. Tate (@JayGTate) October 6, 2015
This was a rough week where Twitter is concerned - not only were Texas players calling each other out (link 1) while one freshman expressed (perhaps) a desire to transfer (link 2), a UCF player re-tweeted stuff that he should have gone to Florida while Cardale Jones got attacked by Ohio State fans for being happy that his team is 5-0. Rough week.
Yes, there's probably too much talk about Fournette already. But credit to EMU for keeping this one close, and Fournette as well for his third straight 200-yard game. EMU is 1-4.