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Previously: Big Ten West
Good riddance. [Bryan Fuller]
We're still taking a look at the strongest and weakest units of each Big Ten squad, this time focusing on the East division. These are still in order of Bill Connelly's power rankings. You'll like this order.
Good News: [looks at defensive line depth chart] [cackles for several minutes]
Bad News: I know we all believe Ben Bredeson is going to be quite good, but I'd be lying if I said the news that a true freshman might start at left tackle doesn't give me the willies.
Good News: Linebacker, as usual, should be a strength, even if Ed Davis's dubious claim for a sixth year—we'll know for sure soon—doesn't go through. Riley Bullough isn't quite in that top tier of Big Ten MLBs, but he's close, and I think Jon Reschke is a quality player on the strong side. Sophomore Andrew Dowell is a player I really liked coming out of high school; he's stepping into the "STAR" spacebacker role after flashing promise as a freshman. Pulling some NCAA voodoo to get Davis another year could take this group from good to great.
Bad News: There are some major question marks (and ORs) on the depth chart on both lines, but for me the main area of concern is still the passing game. Tyler O'Connor has won the starting QB job; unless he improves dramatically from his (admittely limited) time of the field last year, there will be a noteworthy dropoff from Connor Cook. The bigger issue, though, might be the receiving corps. Cook's binky, Aaron Burbridge, is also off to the NFL, as is MacGarrett Kings Jr., leaving slot RJ Shelton as the only returning wideout with more than two catches last year. Experience is very important at both receiver and quarterback; State doesn't have much at either.
[Hit THE JUMP]
Good News: While JT Barrett had a down year as a passer in 2015, his struggles can largely be attributed to circumstances—both the season-long QB battle and the loss of Tom Herman—that should be mitigated this season. He's still one of the best running QBs in the country, and if he can come close to his freshman passing production he'll be easily the best QB in the conference.
Bad News: After so much roster turnover, there are a lot of spots on the depth chart where you can point to a lack of experience, but it's hard to expect huge drops in play given the combination of ridiculous talent and coaching in the program. That said, starting a true freshman on the O-line is a big red flag, and the Buckeyes are poised to do just that with Michael Jordan (NTMJ) at left guard. The Viking horde that is Michigan's interior D-line should have (excessively violent) fun with that matchup.
Good News: Sophomore RB Saquon Barkley would be a Heisman contender on a better team. He won't have to carry the entire workload, either. PSU's passing game could very well improve with new faces at both offensive coordinator and quarterback. Meanwhile, they signed five-star RB Miles Sanders, who should immediately become the second half of one of the best tailback tandems in the country.
Bad News: Penn State had the best pass-rush in the country due to the exploits of Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson, and Anthony Zettel. All of those guys are gone. The only remaining starter, Garrett Sickels, had a pedestrian year in 2015, and only two returning DTs saw any action at all last season. PSU has some very good linebackers; they're going to need to be great to make up for the losses up front.
Good News: Opponents are going to spend a lot of time chasing after this receiving corps if JuCo transfer QB Richard Lagow is any good. Simmie Cobbs Jr. is the big downfield target; he's both high-volume (110 targets in 2015) and high-efficiency (9.4 yard per target). A cadre of slot types surround him; 5'10" Ricky Jones, 5'7" Mitchell Paige, and 5'8" J-Shun Harris II (returning from a season lost to injury) will give Lagow plenty of options when opposing defenses focus on Cobbs.
Bad News: The entire secondary returns. This secondary:
Meanwhile, the rush defense was somehow worse than the pass defense in 2015, and IU loses five of their top seven defensive linemen. Another year of CHAOS is all but guaranteed.
Good News: Maryland should be strong up the gut on defense. They were 36th in power success rate in 2015, have a couple burly DTs in Azubuike Ukandu and Kingsley Opara, and Jermaine Carter is one of the best inside linebackers in the country.
Bad News: The Terps will roll with Perry Hills as their starting quarterback in the season opener. Yes, that Perry Hills.
He'll be a better fit in new OC Walt Bell's up-tempo, spread-to-run system. Given his struggles completing passes to the correct team last year, though, that's probably not going to be enough.
Good News: New head coach Chris Ash, in all likelihood, won't try to get a player's grade changed by meeting a professor on campus in the fail-proof disguise of "I'm not literally wearing team-issued clothing."
Bad News: Rutgers has to replace all of their starting linebackers from an abject defense. This is how that was going in the spring:
Jay Niemann on LB depth chart: 'It's a mess'
They've settled on three true sophomores with a combined one career start. It's gonna be a mess.
Many people are saying things about Michigan's fall camp. Some are coaches, some are insiders, some are men wearing shoes as hats. Some of the things are true, some are maybe a bit misleading, some verge on balderdash. Let's evaluate things that people are saying for truthiness.
The quarterback battle is still up in the air
Thing: Nobody has ventured a strong opinion on Michigan's starter. You occasionally get a weak assertion that someone feels like a leader that's immediately followed with caveats. Tellingly, those assertions are split close to down the middle between the two main contenders.
Thing react: The coaches almost certainly have a good idea who it's going to be, but I believe that the race is tight enough that it might get overturned late and that there's genuine uncertainty amongst insiders. I'd strongly prefer an answer by now. I mean, it'll be fine since Harbaugh, but it's more likely that Michigan has one good QB than two.
Thing: Can't throw a rock on a message board without hitting an insider swearing up and down that Chris Evans is the truth. This has bled through to honest to God press conferences as well.
Thing react: It's tough to find snaps for Evans in an offense that's going to run a metric ton of tight ends onto the field along with Grant Perry and Jabrill Peppers. One thing Evans has going for him is Peppers's tendency to be the best at everything all the time: they'll want to keep his snaps down until they really need him. Evans is another spread H-back type. He'll slot into the Peppers role against the pushovers.
Still feeling like Evans hype is real but a year too early.
Thing: Ben Bredeson has been promoted into a bonafide 50/50 competition for the left tackle spot. Also impossible to throw rock on message board without hitting man enthused about Bredeson. He was the BTN's primary takeaway from their visit to practice, which says something about something.
Thing react: If you made me guess this instant I'd say he's the starting LT. I'm not entirely enthused about this either, but Bredeson is closer to the instant-start five star zone than Mason Cole was. Cole was the #127 recruit on the composite. Bredeson was #39. Bredeson's also 20 pounds heavier than Cole was as a freshman. He was the only OL at the loaded UA game who could annoy Rashan Gary, so maybe he is ready to take on mortals.
Cole managed to survive as a freshman. Bredeson can probably do better. The ceiling is probably something like Erik Magnuson's completely average 2015.
The freshman receivers are good
Thing: Michigan has already lost two of their five WR recruits, but initial reports on the three guys still on campus have been universally positive. All three are reputed to be explosive and dedicated.
None of these guys are going to play much this year, but if one or two emerges even a little bit that will ease everyone's mind about the 2017 receiving corps. I'm not worried. They can find three guys out of Ways, Harris, Perry, and the freshmen.
This defensive line is just… I mean…
Thing: All the usual suspects have come in for praise; the guys who have not been mentioned are guys who are taken for granted as really good players like Ryan Glasgow and Chris Wormley. Rashan Gary is mostly described with a blank look, a shake of the head, and a laugh because he is everything he's supposed to be. Chase Winovich and even Matt Godin are getting talked up as contributors.
Thing react: Yes to all of it. Godin suffered late last year because he played next to the third string NT and teams could double him with impunity; before that there was a period where he was keeping guys like Wormley and Henry on the bench to an extent. He's a good player and will see snaps. Charlton should blow up with increased playing time and his still-excellent upside.
Nobody says anything about the linebackers
Thing: Aside from the occasional direct response when a coach gets asked about them at a press conference, there is total radio silence about the inside linebackers. Brown keeps talking about redshirt junior walk-on Mike Wroblewski.
Thing react: I wouldn't take that as a sign either way. Linebacker play is difficult to get a read on. The last four years of Joe Bolden spring hype that petered out in to just okay play have made me suspicious of anything people say in this department.
One glance at the depth chart is enough to see that Wroblewski is going to play some. After the starters there is very little aside from freshmen. Devin Bush will play; Elysee Mbem-Bosse and Devin Gil are both very raw. Linebacker has more depth concerns than any position on the roster other than maybe safety.
Thing: David Long is very fast and takes notes and is Jehu Chesson, cornerback edition.
Thing react: If Long remains healthy he is a lock. He's going to play this year and start in 2017 and that's going to be very little dropoff from Jourdan Lewis. Maybe not immediately, but by the time he's a junior definitely.
Backup safeties can play
Thing: Praise all available deities. Angry Michigan Safety Hating God seems to be focusing on receivers who might get moved to safety these days—in the last year he's hewed down Brian Cole, Brad Hawkins, and Ahmir Mitchell—and spared the actual DBs. As long as we're keeping Chris Evans on offense that trend can continue.
Tyree Kinnel and Khaleke Hudson are both getting plugged as definite contributors this year and solid replacements down the line. Neither is much of a surprise—Kinnel had a strong spring and Hudson is our favorite non-Gary recruit in this class—but not having either guy derailed is important for 2016 and critical for beyond. Josh Metellus has even come in for the occasional mention; hitting on him would be very nice.
Thing react: I expected to hear these things, but actually hearing them is a step on the road to having a functioning secondary this year.
Most of these things are about 2017 more than 2016
Thing: The camp chatter glosses over big swathes of the team because you don't need to be told about them.
Thing react: Gonna be a good year.
On who can make the call to change the years Michigan plays MSU on the road:
“It’s a combination of television, and where we have control it falls on the home team and not the visiting team, and that’s usually in conference and non-conference. But most of that now, any game changing assignments, time assignments, is usually done by television through the conference office. We don’t really have a lot of say. They may ask us what we’d like to do, but we now don’t have a say in picking the game times at this point.”
On breaking up the two home, two away format of the schedule and whether that’s something he’s pursuing:
“Conversations are continuing to be had about what we’d like but there’s 13 other schools in the conference. Scheduling, whether you have 10 teams in the league, eight teams in the league, or 14 like we do, is very hard to do. I don’t negate that. Would I love to see Ohio State and Michigan State on different years? Yes. Do I think it’s hard to do given where we are now? Yes. Will I continue to still have the conversations that need to be had to try to see if there’s anything that can be done? Yes. Is it easy? No.”
On whether he plans to present that to the board:
“I plan on having any conversation I need to have to the benefit of Michigan athletics. Listen, I have great colleagues. Jim Delany is a great commissioner. We have a great staff in the Big Ten. I have great colleagues across the conferences. We all have different things, tweaks, that we may like to see. I’m not the sole member that may want tweaks and changes to the schedule. As soon as we can have that conversation with everyone or individually, and conversations I’ve already had and discussion points, I’m working to understand as well as to talk about what I believe is in the best interest of Michigan.”
On whether Michigan will have to wait until the next batch of schedules is released to make a change:
“Probably, yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s not going to change overnight. It’s trying to figure out how we can make any adjustments, and people know that we would like to see an adjustment to that.”
On changing the schedules that are in place:
“Listen, I’m not proposing that what we already have changes immediately, but I do want to have the conversation—I have had some—to understand and…but again, in talking to some of my colleagues, there are some things that other ADs would like to see on their football schedules. So, while we talk about the imbalance of Michigan State and Ohio State, both of them being away or at home, they have other tweaks or changes that they would like to see on their schedule. And once you start putting all that together, now you’ve got a big cauldron of issues that you’ve got to try and figure out, right?
“It’s not as simple as me saying, ‘Well, we want this’ and everybody saying, ‘Okay, we’ll just change it.’ If you start to make the changes—and you guys are very smart—as you start to look at the other schedules you’ll see that there’s more moves than just flipping one to one year and keeping the other on the other year. I mean, there’s more that needs to happen. So, it’s complex enough that the conversations need to be had and I’ll continue to have them when the issue comes up.”
[After THE JUMP: who has input on alternate uniforms, Harbaugh as attention lightning rod, and a bit about Harbaugh’s contract]
On whether other existing series might be changed a la Arkansas being dropped to add ND:
“I am looking at our schedule to try and figure out what is in our best interest. Talking to Jim, figuring out what we need to do to move forward, but there’s nothing that I’m here to announce today as it relates to any changes at this present time.”
On alternate uniforms and their process for consideration:
“You know, we’ll look at what they bring to the table and maybe some ideas that we might have about that. But for this year, we really like the look that they created for the team. I think the uniforms—I don’t know if a football uniform can be pretty or handsome or however you’d describe it, but I really love the look that they created for the team this year and we’re going to enjoy that and have conversations with them about alternates and ultimately we’ll see where that goes.”
On who makes the decision re: alternates:
“Yeah, whether we use them or not. And in my world, normally I would leave that up—Jim and I really haven’t had a conversation, but I would leave that up to Jim and how he wants to handle that either himself or with the team. Because you can create the alternate uniform, but—I may be a part of the conversation but I’m not going to dictate to my coach that on a certain game you’ve got to wear a certain uniform. We’ll work—if we want to have one on the shelf somewhere, I’ll leave it up to Jim and the team to make that decision whether or not they want to wear it.”
On unveiling Michigan’s Jordan basketball uniforms:
“Yeah, I believe we’re going to do something in September similar to—I don’t know how similar. I don’t know exact details yet but yes, we will have a rollout of the new basketball uniform.”
On how long a leash Harbaugh gets:
“No, I don’t have him on a leash, first of all. I mean, I don’t have leashes. That’s not the way I manage people. If there are things I need to talk to Jim about I talk to Jim about them. If there are things I need to talk to other coaches [about] I talk to them about them. But I don’t have leashes. I don’t look at it as anything that I need to control. I look at it as me helping this department manage effectively and put out there effectively what we’re trying to do. I don’t give anybody limits. We talk about things as they come up.
“I think the things that Jim has done have…they come up in the media. You guys react to it in different ways, our fans react to it in different ways, but Jim has been tremendous to deal with. Very smart, very knowledgeable, and so when issues come up that we need to talk about we talk about them. When something I say or some policy or something I implement comes up and he wants to talk to me about it we talk about it, just like any other coach. He’s been tremendous to deal with.”
On whether Harbaugh has free reign:
“Everybody has free reign. I have free reign. You know, President Schlissel didn’t say to me, ‘You can talk about A but you can’t talk about B and C.’ I don’t understand what’s the other context of the situation where it’s free reign versus a leash versus anything else. I guess I don’t talk that way, I don’t think that way about managing people. I let people be themselves.
“But Jim has his own limits that he sets on what he does and he understands the rules. He understands the Michigan culture, and so do I have to—I have to make sure all my coaches are educated on the rules. I have to make sure all my coaches have a sense of the culture. I have to make sure that we have those discussions as a group [and] individually when necessary. But I don’t really think about it as…I want Jim Harbaugh to be Jim Harbaugh.”
On whether Harbaugh is the most powerful person in the department:
“Jim Harbaugh is a great colleague in this department. I mean, that’s what I’d say to you. You guys can determine who’s more powerful and who’s all-seeing and all-knowing. That’s not for me. Jim’s a great colleague. He’s a great head coach of our football program and he’s a powerful figure in the University and a powerful figure in intercollegiate athletics and football because he is the head coach at Michigan, he’s had a tremendous career, [and] he is very bright. You guys can put all the…however you want to frame it, but I know he’s a great colleague to work with and that’s how I look at it.”
On whether Manuel’s ever seen a college coach garner the attention Harbaugh has, and whether he likes the attention Harbaugh draws:
“I don’t know the answer to the first part of the question. I guess I’m immersed in what I’m immersed in now. It’s a lot of attention on him, but he garnered a lot of attention when he was a head coach at San Francisco. He garnered—I don’t know if it was as much—attention when he was at Stanford. I don’t mind it. It doesn’t bother me, if that’s the gist of the question. It is what it is.”
[Reporter clarifies that it’s not whether it bothers Manuel, but whether it feels different for someone to get so much attention even during the offseason]
“In my mind it has a lot of positives to it. When I look at the coverage and I look at what he’s doing and what’s out there about him and the program, it has a great deal of positiveness to it from my perspective. So, it’s not something—you know, I don’t sit down with him and say ‘Jim, I need you to do more’ and I don’t tell him to do less. He’s doing what he’s comfortable doing and there’s nothing at this point that would cause me any concern about the amount of coverage or the things that are being covered. And let’s call it what it is. He’s not…he’s doing some things, but most of the coverage is coverage by the media. It’s not Jim every day putting out a story or saying, ‘Hey, every day I want you to shoot a video of me every day.’”
[Another reporter says that he probably knows what kind of reaction he’s going to get.]
“Probably. It’s just like this today. As I’m coming over here I look and I look at my buddy Mark, because I’m teasing him today, and he said to me, ‘We want to talk to you at football media day’ and I said, ‘What do you want to talk to me about? I’ve got nothing to say.’ Right? He said, ‘Well, we just want to spend time with you.’ Well…I get it. Y’all want to spend time with me, I’ll come. And do I know there’s going to be stories written after this? Yes, I do. Because when you go in front of the media that’s what y’all do.”
On how Harbaugh seems to be looking for a reaction via his use of subtweets:
“Yeah, but some of the tweets that he tweets are reactions to things other people have said or done, not him going, ‘Hey, give me attention.’ Right?”
On Harbaugh’s contract’s compensation structure:
“It isn’t unique. It was something that was started prior to me getting here and it is something that has been utilized in the business in terms of additional dollars for…through insurance and through the coverage. I wasn’t involved in the negotiation of the structure of it so I can’t tell you that I understand all of the details, but it’s true to what we committed to Jim. The structure of it might be unique, but the dollars are what we had committed from day one bringing him here.”
On using that structure in other coaches’ contracts:
“It’s all dependent. I think it’s—the structure of the way everything lined up is it’s a win-win for both coach and the University, and any time you get into negotiation of contracts and employment contracts and incentives and those kind of things, whenever you can get to win-win in that situation where both sides feel great about where you are, that’s what you look for. And in this particular case this is the way it was structured, and I think it’s a win-win for both Jim and the University.”
On why it’s a win-win:
“I think the structure of it. The way it’s structured for him and the way it’s structured for us financially on both sides, it has got that balance that I think both sides appreciate.”
On where Harbaugh ranks in the heirarchy of coaching salaries:
“Probably not relevant because when we look at salaries we look at obviously internally but also externally at the marketplace as we do our analysis of where we are, what we would want to pay, the cost, what’s the market for a coach. So you look internally and also externally to try to balance that.”
On whether it’s intentional that Harbaugh’s close to but not the highest paid coach in the country:
“I don’t know. You would have had to ask Jim [Hackett] that question. Doesn’t bother me that he’s that close to the top. I think he’s worth everything we pay him and we’re happy to have him as our coach, so I don’t get into those details of how close he is or those kinds of things.”
On whether Harbaugh’s contract is considered an investment that, considering the attention he’s drawn and the Nike/Jordan deal, has paid for itself:
“I hope that as we all work to have success here at Michigan that people look at what we do and say we’re all worth what we’re paid in that we bring that benefit, and I think that Jim has proven that he brings tremendous benefit to our football program, to this department, and to this university. So, I don’t have any problems. I think he’s worth every penny that he makes.”
On the new weight room and setting a construction start date:
“We should get some more refined cost estimates by the end of this month, which would be sometime next week and if not then the following week. We’re waiting on more refined cost estimates and drawings to be able to know exactly what the costs are, where we are, where we need to be from a development standpoint—fundraising, and they’re working diligently from my understanding, the architects, getting that firmed up next week.
“Maybe spring, depending on the cost. I would thin the earliest we’d be able to put things in motion would be next spring. And as a part of this project, Oosterbaan’s roof needs to be replaced. Given the weather conditions, obviously that’s not going to be able to be started until the spring-time anyway. How that ties into the roof and all those things—or to the building, I should say—we just need to figure that out.”
The sudden retirement of Dan Voltz leaves Wisconsin alarmingly thin up front.
As we're hanging on to every word leaking out of the submarine, the rest of the conference is also in their final preparations for the season, and expectations can change dramatically based on unexpected depth chart changes and injuries. Yesterday provided one such example when Wisconsin announced that interior lineman Dan Voltz is retiring due to injury; without him, the Badgers don't have a single OL with more than 13 career starts.
With opening weekend around the corner, I decided to take another look at each Big Ten squad to identify their strongest and weakest position groups. We'll start today with the Big Ten West. Before Iowa fans start getting mad online, these are listed in the same order as Bill Connelly's Big Ten power rankings—he's already quite accustomed to Hawkeye fans yelling at him.
Good news: The Huskers return five of their top six wide receivers from a year ago. Jordan Westerkamp has an argument—one that'll hopefully be refuted by Jehu Chesson—as the top returning receiver in the conference; he's a threat working underneath or stretching the field, and he's capable as both a slot and outside receiver. Brandon Reilly and Alonzo Moore averaged 11.1 and 9.9 yards per target, respectively, in 2015. Steady TE Cethan Carter, former four-star Stanley Morgan Jr., and slot bug Demornay Pierson-El—an electric return man coming off an injury-plagued year—round out a talented, deep group of pass-catchers. Tommy Armstrong Jr.'s penchant for losing his damn mind a couple times per game is all that's holding this passing game back.
Bad news: Corn Nation is rather alarmed at the defensive line situation:
Nebraska has no defensive line. Everyone experienced left or quit football. Defensive tackle Kevin Maurice has one career start, defensive ends Ross Dzuris and Freedom Akinmoladun have four starts apiece. Who’s going to fill the rest of that space? The Davis twins, one at a time, or both? Mick Stoltenberg?
Whomever it is, they’ll have to grow up fast. If the defensive line doesn't exist throughout the season, the offense will need to score 45 points a game. This is not conducive to having a great season.
The coach quotes coming out of fall camp would have me breaking out in hives if they were about Michigan. Their defensive coordinator is saying patently crazy things like experience doesn't matter much on the D-line:
Banker said that, if there’s a place where it’s OK for guys to be young, it’s the defensive line, coached by John Parrella.
“See ball, get off on the ball and get in your gap,” Banker said. “That’s what it really comes down to. And then go play the run on the way back to the quarterback. We’ve got to keep it simple for certain guys. That’s John’s biggest challenge and our biggest challenge right now. What you say in the meeting room. Who are you talking to? Are you talking to that young guy who hasn’t played a game, or are you talking to a guy who’s been here for five years and played in multiple games?”
Nebraska's D-line was excellent against the run last year, but they lost DTs Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine, who both went in the third round of the NFL draft. Meanwhile, they generated zero pass rush (96th in adj. sack rate). DT Kevin Maurice graded out very well last year on PFF, but a huge chunk of his value came from games against Southern Miss and Illinois. DE Freedom Akinmoladon has some upside. Otherwise, this looks like a group that could really hold the team back.
[Hit THE JUMP for Wisconsin's OL troubles(!!!) and much more.]
Good news: Even accounting for the departure of OLB Joe Schobert and a foot injury that could hold ILB TJ Edwards out of the opener, Wisconsin has an excellent group of linebackers. The headliner is OLB Vince Biegel, a top-notch pass-rusher. The key to this unit, however, is "Three-sack" Jack Cichy, who can play inside or outside. He should hold down the fort at ILB with Chris Orr until Edwards is healthy, at which point he may slide outside—if he can win the remaining OLB job over Yet Another Watt Brother (TJ, in this case).
Bad news: As mentioned above, Voltz's sudden retirement is a huge blow to an O-line that struggled with injury and inexperience last year. We've come to expect Wisconsin's OL will reload instead of rebuild every year, but that's a tall task this year. This is what they're working with:
I accidentally chopped off redshirt freshman David Moorman but you get the point.
The only four-star recruit left on the O-line is 280-pound true freshman Cole Van Lanen. The most established guys are sophomores who played on a disappointing group last year (70th in adj. line yards, 44th in adj. sack rate). The starting left tackle, essentially by default, is a D-III transfer(!!!) who left a recent practice in walking boot, though Wisconsin says his injury isn't serious. Starting RT Jacob Maxwell had offseason foot surgery and still isn't a full participant in practice. George Panos has been dealing with a shoulder issue. Wisconsin is ten days away from playing LSU. That doesn't sound ideal.
At just about any other program, we'd assume this is a disaster in the making. While Wisconsin and Paul Chryst deserve some benefit of the doubt, it's going to be tough to assmble even an average line out of the available pieces.
Good news: You'd expect Minnesota's top-20 pass defense to regress a whole lot after losing both NFL-caliber starting corners and a starting safety. That's not a safe assumption, however. Before a season-ending injury nine weeks into last season, Jalen Myrick ranked among PFF's top ten cornerbacks in the country. Safety Damarius Travis, who played well in 2014, is back after missing almost all of last year with a hamstring injury. If a second corner emerges, this could be a surprisingly good secondary again.
Bad news: Despite the presence of First Round Prospect Mitch Leidner, the Gophers will again lean heavily on the run game, and Shannon Brooks emerged last season as by far their best option at running back. Brooks broke his foot on August 9th, however, and it's looking increasingly unlikely he'll be available for the season opener. While the Gophers can afford to hold him out of their soft non-conference slate if necessary, foot injuries are notoriously tough to bounce back from without any setbacks. When healthy, Brooks is very good, but we might hear that "when healthy" caveat on a regular basis this season.
Good news: The secondary improved a great deal last year, and as long as everyone stays healthy they should be good again this year. Losing free safety Jordan Lomax hurts, and depth could be an issue if any of the starters go down, but Desmond King should compete for the Thorpe Award again and Greg Mabin is one of the better #2 corners around.
The real good news remains the butter-soft schedule. I will now die in an avalanche of angry Iowa fan twitter mentions.
Bad news: Iowa fans freaked out when CJ Beathard missed a couple practices last week and returned sporting a knee brace. While everything is reportedly fine, this passage isn't the most reassuring thing in the world...
Beathard said he has experienced no problems with the groin area injury he had surgically repaired during the offseason and he isn’t a big fan of the brace strapped around his left knee for what he called “precautionary’’ reasons.
“I don’t like wearing it because it’s hard to move in. It's a pain,'' Beathard said. "It’s precautionary, you don’t want to tear something in your knee so you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.''
...especially when considering Iowa's offense is at its best when Beathard is utilized as a runner. If Beathard gets dinged up, the Hawkeyes could experience a huge drop-off; sophomore Tyler Wiegers is being pushed by three-star true freshman Nate Stanley for the backup job. Beathard's injury could be nothing to worry about, but he hasn't been a paragon of good health over the last year, and if he's out for any stretch of time it probably dooms Iowa's hopes for a division title.
Good news: Even without standout corner Nick VanHoose, there's a lot to like about Northwestern's secondary. Matthew Harris had 13 PBUs and four picks in 2015, proving every bit as good as his counterpart. Godwin Igwebuike had a breakout year at safety and could be the best in the conference as a junior this year. Keith Watkins II looked decent as the team's third corner last year and should hold his own in a starting role. A couple four-star players—including one-time M target Parrker Westphal—are in the mix for playing time. I don't expect the Wildcats to finish 9th in S&P+ against the pass again, but even with a reasonable dropoff they'll be a solid unit.
Bad news: The offense was atrocious last year, and I don't think the outlook is much better for 2016. RB Justin Jackson is just a guy and he's the centerpiece of the offense. QB Clayton Thorson should be better in his second year as a starter, but he's got to improve a lot just to get to average—Northwestern got terribly predictable last year in an obvious effort to have Thorson do as little as possible. The only returning player to catch more than 20 passes last year is... Justin Jackson. Only one returning receiver cracked six yards per target.
Northwestern fans very much want offensive coordinator Mick McCall fired, and I can't blame them one bit.
Good news: While the Illini lost a second-round pick at DE in Jihad Ward, they've got some quality players up front, especially DE Dawuane Smoot, who's coming off an eight-sack season. NOTY candidate Chunky Clements is a disruptive defensive tackle—he had 11 run stops behind the line in 2015. The Illini bring back plenty of depth and add another NOTY candidate in former Auburn DE Gimel President. The back seven is scary, but Lovie Smith has something to work with up front.
Bad news: The Illini lose two starters and their top two backups from an offensive line that was one of the worst run-blocking units in the country, and their good pass-blocking numbers were largely a product of Wes Lunt getting the ball out as quickly as possible. Any injury to an established starter would be calamitous.
Good news: Darrell Hazell's buyout is getting less prohibitively expensive. Also, Jake Replogle is a very good DT.
Bad news: Pretty much everything else.
Ace took the best joke for this section. Tim Beck Man returns!
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — As the one-year anniversary of his firing at Illinois approaches, Tim Beckman has a new gig.
North Carolina officials confirmed Tuesday that Beckman is a volunteer assistant on Larry Fedora’s staff.
The Tar Heels play at Memorial Stadium in a prime-time game on Sept. 10.
Since Beck Man was referenced we are obligated to embed his greatest achievement despite the fact that nobody seems to watch this when we do:
That has just 8500 views and most of them are from the MGoStaff. Anyway:
"THE 'O' STANDS FOR MY SALARY..." https://t.co/C2kKTGjKFO
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) August 24, 2016
The K stands for the coffee he fetches.
Around the league some more. More things keep happening. They're mostly not great for the opposition because the only solid news coming out of camp concerns guys who aren't going to play anymore:
- Wisconsin OL Dan Voltz is forced to retire due to injury. Voltz was very good as a underclassman before an injury-wracked junior year saw a major dropoff. He was slated to start at guard.
- Nebraska lost projected starting left guard Jerald Foster to an ACL tear.
- Redshirt freshman DE Cassius Peat transferred away from Michigan State. Peat was a 3.5 star recruit. Academics appear to be the issue.
- MSU QBs are going to run more this year, because they are bad at throwing.
- Kirk Ferentz is a bit peeved that Drew Ott didn't get a fifth year despite the fact he was in the exact same situation as Mario Ojemudia. Both got injured a few snaps after they could not get an injury redshirt, and the NCAA doesn't bend on that.
- On the other hand, this Tanner Lee thing is weird. The Nebraska QB and Tulane transfer got a sixth year of eligibility. Ferentz says it's because Tulane changed OCs, but it's a bit more complicated. Lee used a bylaw that "addresses student-athletes who feel they were 'run off' by a school." If he actually did not have a scholarship any more that would be a legit reason to give him the year he lost by transferring.
- Indiana blog Punt John Punt projects JUCO transfer Richard Lagow as IU's starting QB.
BEHOLD THE THROW-GODDENING. Trevor Siemian has broken out of the funk where he is only an unstoppable throw-god when I am watching him play. Now he is unstoppable throw god 24/7:
#Broncos QB Trevor Siemian will start the third preseason game, coach Gary Kubiak told reporters. A very good sign for him for this season
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 22, 2016
The Broncos are going to die this season, aren't they?
The decline of daily fantasy. Long feature article from Outside The Lines on that brief period when every ad on ESPN was from DraftKings or FanDuel. Things got so oversaturated that we were annoyed with them despite the fact that DraftKings was paying us. I still have no problem with the business model—I played online poker successfully for years until a late rider was inserted into a port security bill that banned it. (I played in the WSOP main event, which was fun until it wasn't late on day two.) Daily fantasy was very, very close to that model. This kind of negative…
Yet they relentlessly promoted their games as a means to get rich quick when they knew only a tiny percentage of their customers were winning more often than losing.
…is something literally every state is guilty of with their lottery programs, and this one…
They failed to aggressively move against big-bankrolled players who dominated newer players, sometimes with predatory behavior or technological advantages.
…is actually an argument that daily fantasy is a game of skill.
But those companies were run by guys with huge blindspots and questionable ethics, so they blew it all up. This is indefensible:
And they allowed their own employees to play -- and win millions -- on their rivals' sites, despite their having access to odds-improving proprietary data.
During the online poker boom there were always new sites popping up and scamming people, so the big players strove to be as transparent and honest as possible. Daily Fantasy is poker if PokerStars and PartyPoker were rife with actual cheats, and the one thing you cannot do when collecting a rake is allow any impropriety that will sic attorneys general on you. This is on point:
"This industry blew up so quickly -- no one adequately planned or prepared for it," says Gabriel Harber, 29, a former high-volume player at DraftKings and FanDuel. "[The executives] didn't make the substantial investment on self-regulation and the regulatory side that was obviously needed. ... Every PR person and lawyer should be fired. How could you let your client engage in this kind of crazy advertising if every legal loophole wasn't closed? How stupid can you be?"
The execs brought it all on themselves.
Etc.: OSU blogs will post literally anything. That's the ticket, Rutgers basketball. WTKA adds an afternoon show with Jamie Morris and Marcus Ray. They've gone from four hours of live local content to nine over the past month. Not bad. LSSU faculty head wants hockey to drop down to D-III. #disrespekt will never die. Hugh Freeze created a mock funeral for himself, because motivation? Don Brown says his defense isn't high risk because it isn't.
That didn't last long:
All love for the people of Michigan and U of M pic.twitter.com/dATIELCJQe
— Ahmir_SoDevoted (@TheDeuce_2_Nice) August 24, 2016
Mitchell got in serious trouble over the summer that warranted what was probably going to be a year-long suspension. He was also apparently in the habit of posting images of him partying at various late-night hours on Snapchat. By all reports he was not a good fit for the program.
Privately we were expecting this, and I tried to gesture that direction in his recruiting profile:
General Excitement Level: Moderate-minus. Washout potential is high. Pure athlete at the moment.
And lo, it has come to pass. Dude could have sped it up a bit so that I didn't have to write that profile.
Even though he was nominally a receiver, Mitchell's departure is mostly a hit to the safety depth chart. Michigan really likes the McDoom/Crawford/Johnson trio and with Brad Hawkins an academic casualty both WR recruits who could play S have burned out before they could even get started.
That brings Michigan to 23 scholarships in a class we expect to reach 30.