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Tuesday Morning Brews: Waiting in the Wings

Iowa is right where they want to be, while three other teams wait for the coaching carousel to start.

Kirk Ferentz chatting with a young'un, interim Maryland head coach Mike Locksley
Kirk Ferentz chatting with a young'un, interim Maryland head coach Mike Locksley
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

How Legit Is Iowa?

If you go out to Espresso Royale, or walk down Main Street to Crazy Wisdom Tea Room, and you happen to stumble on some Michigan fans discussing football, you'll probably hear a lot of scenarios. In Columbus, and East Lansing, and yes, in Happy Valley, too, fans are doing the same. They're talking about who's going to win the Big Ten East, and how it can be done. And you can usually count on somebody in those conversations to throw in the briefest mention of beating Iowa and making the final four.

Meanwhile, this past weekend, if you happened to miss it, was 'Separation Saturday' - a day that ESPN expected would separate the contenders from the pretenders, with match-ups between Florida State and Clemson, LSU and Alabama, and TCU and Oklahoma State. As it turned out, ESPN was right. Six teams that were ranked lower than their opponent in the CFP Poll won their games, including a heart-breaker for Michigan State against Nebraska, Navy running roughshod over Justin Fuente's Memphis Tigers, and both Ole Miss and Texas A&M losing division games to unranked Arkansas and Auburn, respectively.

A key trend in those games? Rush defense. Every one of the upsets except for one were by the superior run defense, and the other - Arkansas-Ole Miss - featured the #28-ranked team against the #27-ranked team in a one-point overtime game. There are a lot of factors, of course, to winning a football game, but having a great run defense helps shorten the odds when you're an underdog.

Run Defense
Natl. Rank Yards Per Carry Allowed Rush TD's Yards Per Game
Michigan #3 2.60 5 80.6
Iowa #9 3.21 3 101.4
Michigan St. #24 3.69 12 122.6
Ohio St. #33 3.52 7 138.7
Penn St. #50 3.80 13 152.2

Of course, run defense isn't the only factor, as I said. Iowa doesn't have Connor Cook slinging the ball all over the field, and they don't have Darron Lee and Joey Bosa manning the strong side, and they don't have Jim Harbaugh and D.J. Durkin on the sideline.

Still, though, Iowa's had a hard time finding respect, or even attention. There are only five unbeaten teams left in the Power 5, only four that are 9-0, and Iowa is one of them. But the most recent betting lines on winning the national championship have Iowa tied for tenth, behind Oklahoma, Notre Dame, and Florida. Yes, that's the Florida team that just beat Vanderbilt 9-7, and has half of its wins by a touchdown or less.

Peeking at some advanced stats shows an Iowa defense that's top-12 against both ground-and-pound and big plays. Michigan, MSU, and OSU have all been susceptible to giving up the big play, and Iowa, believe it or not, is settling into a rhythm in that regard: the Hawkeyes produced 75 plays of 10 yards or more in their first six games and 49 in their next three. Meanwhile, on the offensive side, the Hawkeyes are equally as balanced as they are on defense, with 1,863 passing yards and 1,845 rushing yards on the year.

Then, there's the simple aspect - the Jimmies and Joes. This Iowa team is fired up to prove themselves after experiencing plenty of disappointment last year. Harbaugh, Meyer and Dantonio get all the headlines. Iowa is getting it done, but it's still not enough to satisfy Iowa's players... or its critics. In a strange turn of events, the taciturn coach who's led Iowa through endless ups and downs is also the perfect man to keep his team peaking at the right time.

"We're headed back to Kinnick," said Ferentz after getting to 9-0, "and it's going to be lively next Saturday."

You might say.

Improving From The Top Down

Ten teams have a head coaching job up for grabs; and three of those - Illinois, Minnesota, and Maryland - are Big Ten programs. The dominoes are going to start falling in the next month or so as teams wrap up their conference schedules and prepare for life after 2015. Some of the schools searching for a new coach have been football heavyweights in the last few years, like USC, Virginia Tech, South Carolina, and Miami. Minnesota, Maryland, and Illinois have had sporadic success, but they are most definitely considered lightweights in comparison. In a whirlwind that somewhat resembles musical chairs, the Big Ten seems primed to come up lacking for some of the better names out there, like Tom Herman or Justin Fuente.

But if football records aren't quite enough to convince you of that, take a look at some of the athletic departments that will be competing for the game's best coaching talent. On the one hand, Southern Cal's athletic director is Pat Haden, a playoff committee member and one of the more respected ADs in the game. On the other, you have Illinois, which is without an AD after firing Mike Thomas yesterday, or Minnesota, whose AD resigned in a sex scandal.

South Carolina's AD, Ray Tanner, was the head coach of the USA National Baseball Team in 2003 that won silver at the Pan American Games, and also contributed to Gold and Bronze Medal teams at the Olympics. Kevin Anderson, Maryland's athletic director, ushered out a successful football coach (Ralph Friedgen) and his heir to the throne (James Franklin) for Randy Edsall. Virginia Tech's AD, Whit Babcock, has been called a "rising star in his profession" who made a slam dunk of a hire last year in men's basketball. Rutgers, which isn't even to the point of firing Kyle Flood, is run by Julie Hermann.

Minnesota is poised to embrace continuity if they retain Jerry Kill's staff, but Illinois and Maryland are stuck trying to mend fences in the athletic department and build a football foundation at the same time. It's a process that could easily show both programs in an incompetent light. Nothing highlights dysfunction in an athletic office better than a coaching carousel against hungrier, more ambitious programs, and if the past is any indication - from Nick Saban feeling unappreciated at MSU to Kevin Sumlin being interviewed, but rejected, by Michigan's Dave Brandon - the mistakes only get more painful until the ship turns around.

Saban and Smart, coaching against the Buckeyes; Matthew Emmons, USA Today

Hitting the Links Is Feeling The Pinch

Checking In On Braxton Miller; More Notes

You're going to start hearing Elliott's streak of consecutive 100-yard games every week (it's currently at fourteen). More intriguing, though, is his march up the Ohio State record books. With another 170 yards, Zeke will pass Tim Spencer for #3 all time in Ohio State history. With another 215 after that, he'd pass Eddie George. Only Archie Griffin will be waiting after that, but good luck there: that milestone is another 1,821 yards away.

Illinois AD Mike Thomas Is Fired | Tone-Deaf

Illinois will be trying (one would assume) to land Rick George, Colorado's successful AD with strong ties to the Illini.

Grading Michigan vs. Rutgers

Michigan's defense did not give up a touchdown for the fourth time in nine games.

Harbaugh Has Michigan Improving RapidlyGushes About Peppers

In Harbaugh's Monday presser, he took issue with the idea of "hitting their stride." But this team is working hard and improving consistently. Whichever team faces Michigan in a bowl is going to have a hard time, basically.

Carlo Kemp, Wolverine

Michigan is currently ranked 28th in the nation in sacks - ahead of LSU, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin - despite the lack of a traditional feared pass rusher. Willie Henry (6'3", 311) leads the team with six sacks. Chris Wormley (6'5", 300) has four, followed by Taco Charlton (6'6", 273) and Mo Hurst (6'2", 281). Kemp fits in that same mold. I'd expect him to gain some weight once he gets to campus, and fit in at a defensive end spot.

Big Sean Makes An Appearance

The attached video includes Jim Harbaugh shouting at the top of his lungs, and I may have spilled more drinks than I was actually holding.

More Thoughts From Michigan-Rutgers

Ryan Glasgow has been key to this defense's success, and there are only so many injuries the line can take. Indiana and Ohio State both have great offensive lines.

MGoFish: Top Offensive Targets | Defensive Targets

A great layout for this. Michigan is on good shape with all of these players.

Purdue Coaching Changes: Never Mind

Hammer & Rails would like to remind everyone that nothing is happening.

Bill Cubit Gains Credibility From Report

Illinois, like Minnesota, will be strongly tempted to err on the side of continuity, especially if Cubit has some good ideas going forward and can keep the coaching staff together.

Some Optimistic Words For Maryland

I'm less optimistic that Maryland's quarterback play is going to improve. Sure, Dwayne Haskins, Jr. has gotten a lot of attention as Maryland's version of Shane Morris, holding the class together and assuring a promising future. But Michigan fans know how that can go, and Haskins will be a true freshman next year. Unless there's a certified quarterback guru heading to College Park, Maryland fans might have a rough time with their quarterbacks yet again.

Creative Run Call For C.J. Beathard

This was called back by an intent to deceive.

Nebraska-MSU Produces A Commitment For Riley

Good vibes for the Huskers. Bryant is a three-star scatback out of Missouri.

Northwestern Player Grades: Thorson Injured

Justin Jackson got his groove back against Penn State, which was nice to see. He's third in the Big Ten in rushing yards.

Nebraska Locker Room, Post-Game

I can tell you that the Buffalo Wild Wings in Ann Arbor went a little nuts there at the end.