Summer Odds, 8/31
Current Odds, 10/13
Ohio St. at Penn St.
Ohio St. -10
Ohio St. -21
Wisky at Iowa
Nebraska at Wisky
Michigan at MSU
Nebraska at OSU
Ohio St. -15
Ohio St. –20.5
Iowa at Penn St.
Penn St. -1
Michigan at Iowa
Ohio St. at MSU
Ohio St. -6
Ohio St. –18.5
Nebraska at Iowa
Michigan at Ohio St
Ohio St. –5.5
Ohio St. –8.5
Alright, so a lot of the luster has worn off plenty of the games above. Juicy storylines have been reduced to simply ‘How much will Michigan and Ohio State win by?’ and ‘How bad will Michigan State look today?’
Every line has shifted at least two points.
Two games list a different favorite compared to the summer line: Wisconsin at Iowa and Iowa at Penn State. In both cases, the Hawkeyes fell from the favorite to the underdog. The defending West Champions aren’t even favored to beat Penn State anymore. But it makes sense considering the S&P only projects wins against Purdue and Illinois the rest of the way.
The odds aren’t any better for Iowa’s counterpart in last year’s B1G Title Game. Michigan State has seen the biggest line movement against a team in the remaining listed conference games with that 12.5-point swing in the Ohio State game. The 10-point swing in the Michigan game in two weeks is the third biggest swing on the above list. It’s not going well for the Spartans.
Chalk won’t sweep against the spread. That’s a good bet. But which underdogs will cover? I like the two Thanksgiving weekend with Nebraska over Iowa and Michigan over Ohio State. I also think the Huskers ought to be improved enough to stay within three touchdowns of the Buckeyes.
The smallest line swings are in the two games most now figure to settle both division titles: Nebraska at Wisconsin and Michigan at Ohio State.
Of course, the stakes are expected to be higher than a possible division title game for The Game next month. It’s shaping up to be a playoff elimination game. And the Heisman Trophy could be up for the grabs. Over at 5Dimes, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers and OSU’s JT Barrett are the third and fourth shortest odds on the board at 8/1 and 10/1 respectively. They’re both chasing the still-as-of-now two team race between Lamar Jackson and DeShaun Watson, who check this week in at –170 and +300 for the award. But it’s worth pointing out that Jackson at one point was –550 to win, so the Louisville quarterback at least is coming back to the betting pack
However, if it breaks right over the next six weeks, Michigan-Ohio State could not only be between the two top ranked teams in the country, but it could also be between the two leading Heisman candidates with the added unique twist of one of the candidates trying to tackle the other.
But we have a long way to go until then. Including this weekend. Here are this week’s B1G picks and more…..
Indiana +3 over Nebraska: Richard Lagow and Tommy Armstrong are 1-2 in the B1G in yards per pass. This unlikely quarterback duel will likely turn on which improved secondary holds up better. Nebraska and Indiana are 4th and 6th in the B10 in yards per pass allowed, a year after being 12th and 10th respectively. The Hoosiers are 19th in passing success rate against and 44th in passing down success rate against. They were 87th and 109th in those categories a year ago. Nebraska has nine interceptions after just 10 swipes a year ago and their 11.3% defensive back havoc rate is third best in the country.
Many though Indiana’s Kevin Wilson was too conservative against Ohio State in his play calling in the red zone and relied way too heavily overall on the running game. Twenty five of Indiana's first 35 plays against OSU were rushes. But Wilson has said this season he's doing something he's never done at Indiana before and that's coaching to allow his improved defense to win the Hoosiers the game. So he was fine pounding the rock, shortening the game, and trying to avoid that big mistake to open the game up. Past Indiana teams would have zero shot if they could not score on every possession. For long stretches of the game, this strategy worked. Ohio State had 15 possessions and nine of them went nowhere, totaling 31 plays before a punt or a turnover ended it. The Bucks averaged just 4.0 yards per play over their first six drives. And in the second half, they could not shake the Hoosiers thanks to a four drive stretch when Indiana allowed just 41 yards. The plan unraveled thanks to a Lagow turnover and a 91-yard kickoff return that set OSU up with first half touchdown drives of six and nine yards. Despite that, the game was still in the winnable category well into the fourth quarter thanks to a defense that held the Buckeyes 1.88 yards per play before their season average.
Both teams should feast on the ground. The Hoosier D remains vulnerable against the run. That will be a problem against Armstrong's dual threat abilities and his two feature backs Terrell Newby and Devine Ozigbo. But look for Indiana's running game to finally get going some against a Nebraska defense that's 80th in standard down defensive success rate and 102nd in yards per rush. Don’t be surprised if Devine Redding goes over 100 yards for the fourth time this season. Indiana's passing game will have more success against Nebraska's improved pass defense than the other way around. Nebraska has some improved numbers, but they're still 87th nationally in defensive pass success rate. The Hoosiers passing success rate was above 50% for three straight games before facing the Buckeyes. But that's an elite defense with elite athletes. Nebraska's defense is improved, but not the same. All of Nebraska's games this season have been undecided in the fourth quarter. So will this one. I'll take the home dog, expecting the Hoosiers and their healthier receiving corps to make the big plays in the second half putting them over the top.
Rutgers +6 over Illinois: Do we have records for how teams do the week after losing as double digit favorites to Purdue? What about teams coming off a 78-point loss? There really couldn't be any better momentum for this game than the combination of Illinois coming off a loss to Purdue and Rutgers coming off an 11-touchdown thrashing. It's a critical game in the race to the bottom. Rutgers has fallen below Kansas and is now the worst ranked Power-5 team in the S&P Rankings. You always have to pick against the team falling below Kansas in any rankings. Those are the rules, right? But we’re breaking the rules here. Illinois would probably be below Kansas too if they had just played Ohio State and Michigan in consecutive weeks. There is a real storyline activated if Illinois officially makes a quarterback switch. Besides, as long as Rutgers isn’t playing a top-10 team, they’re outscoring their FBS opponents this year and own covers against New Mexico and Iowa. Is this really that much harder?
Iowa –11.5 over Purdue: I actually looked up how Purdue does the week after a win. It took two minutes. Since it's Purdue, the numbers aren't pretty. They've lost eight straight the week after a win, covering the spread in just two of those games. Since 2008, the Boilers are just 5-23 SU, 8-19-1 ATS the week after a win. They have not won consecutive games since the final two games of the 2012 season. They should be just the tonic Iowa's struggling offense needs. The Hawkeyes haven't been able to sustain drives for weeks. Twenty of their last 53 drives dating back to the North Dakota State game have been a three and out or worse. If they can't get anything going against a Boiler defense that's in the bottom third of the country in every defensive success rate category, including 104th in overall efficiency, then it's only going to get uglier with some bigger tests ahead in conference play.
Minnesota +7 over Maryland: Here's the Conor Rhoda dossier. He takes over as quarterback for the Gophers with Mitch Leidner out with a concussion. It'll break a streak of 27 straight starts for Leidner, but will Minnesota really be worse for wear passing the ball with the backup? In two close losses to start conference play, Leidner's play has been a problem for the Gophers. On third down passes in those losses, he was 5-for-18, 49 yards and two interceptions. For some reason the Gophers put the game in his hands last week against Iowa. After taking a 7-6 lead early in the third quarter, the Gophers couldn't generate any offense the rest of the way. Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith combined for only four carries after that, while Leidner went through a stretch of 14 dropbacks or runs gaining just 26 yards and tossing an interception. He hit some throws on the Gophers last ditch drive, but eventually threw four straight incompletions ending Minnesota's final hope. All of this is to say that Maryland is nearly a full touchdown chalk here because of the Gophers' QB situation, but I am not afraid of it. Playing Rhoda might force the Gophers strategy back to what they do best: pound the rock with their stable of tailbacks. And they shouldn't have much of a problem doing that against a Maryland defense that allowed a 53% rushing success rate and 6.0 yards per carry against Penn State a week ago. The Terps looked shaky on both sides of the ball in their first test against FBS bowl caliber competition. I can't back them as a favorite so soon after that, especially when the best side in this game is probably going to be the Gophers defense.
Northwestern +7 over Michigan State: A year after combining for a 22-5 record, Northwestern and Michigan State meet with disappointing 2-3 mark. They’ve lost five games between them as a favorite. The S&P projects that each team has at least a 70% chance of finishing 5-7 or worse. The loser of this game faces a hard road back to bowl game, making this a critical swing game in the chase for the league’s Quick Lane bowl bid. As we approach midseason, the Spartans know who their tailbacks and wide receivers are, but not much else. Name the positional unit and they are shuffling it in East Lansing. Injuries have forced their hand way too much at linebacker and offensive line. They've had three different starting offensive lines in five games with a trio of different starters already at each guard spot. Does anybody on the staff even know the quarterback depth chart? After Malik McDowell, their best defensive lineman are probably the freshmen backups. A fourth freshman might join that mix if they burn Auston Robertson’s this weekend. The secondary is a total mess, allowing FBS foes to pass for over eight yards an attempt. If ever a team needed a bye week to take a step back and sort things out it's MSU. Too bad they had their bye week a month ago. It's been a mediocre start for State. It's also been a mediocre year also for our picks. We're basically fighting for bowl eligibility too. Picking against the Spartans is the one thing that's worked in our favor almost every week. Why change now?
Wisconsin +11 over Ohio State: Wisconsin has covered the spread as double digit underdogs this season against LSU, MSU, and Michigan, winning those first two games outright. The Badgers are now 14-6-1 ATS when catching points since the beginning of the 2008 season. Can they conjure up that underdog magic again against the Buckeyes? Unlike those previous showdowns earlier this season, this one is one their home turf at Camp Randall Stadium. But the Buckeyes won’t mind. There is not a better road football team in the country than Ohio State. Under Urban Meyer, the Bucks are 19-0 in true road games, going 13-6-1 against the spread. Here’s the tale of the tape for a game that could be a B1G Championship Game preview.
When Wisconsin has the ball, the Badgers will be going against the 12th ranked team nationally in defensive success rate. It will be the third top-15 team in defensive success rate the Badgers will have faced, after playing 8th ranked LSU and top ranked Michigan. How did Wisconsin do in those games? Alright against LSU. They came out hot, Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbawale combined for 130 rushing yards, and Troy Fumagali had seven big catches. It was a disaster against Michigan. The Badgers averaged just 11.2 yards per possession, gained 2.91 yards per play, and ended the game with less than 100 yards rushing and passing. QB Alex Hornibrook was under siege all day by the Wolverines, but if there was a silver lining to his game, it’s that he never coughed up a killer a turnover, helping the Badgers to stay with Michigan the whole game. He’ll need to at least find a way to repeat that against a Buckeye defense that’s already forced 13 turnovers this year. If the Badgers can somehow squeak out enough offense and resemble that LSU box score, they’ll have a chance to win the game.
The real show will be when the Buckeyes offense collides with the Badgers defense. Ohio State is ranked second nationally in offensive success rate while the Badgers are ranked 22nd or better in all five defensive success rate categories. A week ago, OSU was held in check by a decent Indiana defense. This will be a major step up. Indiana was able to get OSU off the field enough to stay in the game and limited them to just 6-of-17 on 3rd down. A week ago against Indiana’s improved pass defense, JT Barrett had his most inaccurate day in over two years and averaged almost four yards less per pass than his season average. The Badgers pass defense is better than Indiana’s. Their run defense will prove a lot sturdier. And they bring a lot more pressure with a deep set of athletic, disruptive linebackers. That group will be key in keeping Barrett’s running game contained, something the Hoosiers were unable to do.
I believe in Wisconsin’s defense. It’s been one of the stories of the season. I like them in this matchup against Barrett. At least enough to cover this spread.
National Games: Kansas State +14 over Oklahoma: Never shy betting against the Sooners these days, especially against a Wildcat team that’s 27-17 ATS as an underdog during Bill Snyder’s second tenure at the school, including covers and outright wins their last two trips to Norman……..Arkansas +7.5 over Ole Miss: Arkansas has been a great underdog play for a few seasons now, but some of the shine is off them after failing to grab the money the last two times out in this role against Texas A/M and Alabama. But those are top-10 teams. Earlier in the year, they covered and won outright as a dog against a good, but incomplete TCU team. Maybe that’s just their speed this year. We trust them in this spot against the Rebels…….Tulane +11 over Memphis (Friday): All of the Green Wave’s FBS games this year have been close, but more importantly do we have a double digit dog with the better defense? Tulane is allowing a half yard less per play than the Tigers and ranked 27 spots better than them in defensive success rate. I think so and I really like those. Texas Tech –1 over West Virginia: We’ll take the Tech offense to pull one out at home in a matchup between the B12’s best third down conversion team against it’s worst defense on that down…..Eastern Michigan +7.5 over Ohio. Not a typo. We’re on the Eagles. They’ve been hot lately and, frankly, there isn’t any proof that Ohio is better than them this year. Ohio lost to Texas State, the team currently ranked last in the S&P rankings. Sounds like a great team to bet against as touchdown chalk. Eastern is flirting with a bowl game. Whoever their coach is will look great in Purdue Black and Gold next fall……Tennessee +12 over Alabama: We hate betting against Bama, but we’ve always liked Butch Jones as an underdog. Lesser Vol teams have covered the number the last two years against the Tide…..UCF –3 over Temple: Did you know Michigan’s non conference foes are 14-2 ATS this year. And if you have a good memory, you know those two no covers came against the Wolverines. Not fans of CU –12.5 vs. Arizona St or Hawaii –9 vs. UNLV, but we like the Knights as short home chalk against a Temple that isn’t nearly as good as last year’s version…..UNC +7 over Miami: The Heels stunk up the joint for us a week ago, but we’re going to give them another show this week. The weather last week ensured their offense was going nowhere. With a dryer track, we’ll get a proper shootout this week and a much better showing out of Carolina against a Canes team that’s covered the spread twice in their last nine showings as chalk against an FBS team.
(Season Record: 18-21-1; B1G Games 9-7-1)
Week 6 Conference Wins Update
“Break their hearts my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy.”
- Miss Havisham (Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations)
Six weeks and counting and it’s the midway point of the season already. Time and distance sure flies by when your team is trundling along like a runaway locomotive. The Out-of-Conference games are now complete with following Sparty’s capitulation to the missioneers of BYU. The statistical databases - now founded on hard, objective data - have begun to divulge the true nature of the combatants.
The impetus of this diary is the desire to characterize the competitive landscape of the Big Ten Conference through the synthesis of total win probability distributions for each of the teams. The distributions are derived from the relative expected points ratings from Bill Connelly (S&P+), ESPN (FPI), and occasionally Ed Feng (The Power Rank). The key is that the ratings are based on expected points, which are in turn translated into win probabilities. Each of these three ratings are generated from their respective advanced statistical analyses and metrics. In doing so, they achieve varied results ... some more pleasing than others depending on your point-of-view.
Anyway, here you will find further ruminations on said statistics into still more statistics as a means for enabling further discussion, jumping to conclusions, flying off of the handle or goading your rival. Also included is a fresh look at the all-important head-to-head win-differential probability distribution for the matchup between a select pair of contenders in the B1G East.
Schedules, Spreads & Win Probabilities
B1G East Schedule Rundown
The table of schedules below shows the overall schedules for all seven teams in the B1G East based on the Bill Connelly’s S&P+ weekly ratings. The last table simply shows a rank-ordering of the B1GE teams based on their expected in-conference win totals, it’s not a projection of divisional standings based on projected wins, losses, and tie-breakers.
After weathering the chaos that is the Indiana Hoosiers, the Buckeyes’ managed to maintain their claim to being the only team in B1G East that is favored in all of its remaining games, although the claim is by much thinner margin than last week. This is because UM, by virtue of its unprecedented throttling of Rutgers last week, is now ranked #2 overall by S&P+, one spot ahead of OSU. As such, despite having the benefit of being favored in all its remaining games, the Buckeyes do not top the B1GE in total expected wins. That distinction also goes to the Wolverines, who have edged the Buckeyes on that count by precisely 0.4 wins. At about 8.2 expected wins, Michigan is the only team in B1G expected to exceed 8 wins. As inferred above, the only game U-M is not a favorite in remains in Columbus at the end of November. As for OSU, what had appeared to be potentially tough road games for OSU - at Wisconsin and at Penn State - stand at just under two score margins (and a three score margin versus Sparty). It’s those two road games coming up for OSU that may make or break the Buckeyes’ prospects heading into The Game. It’s worth noting that both Wisconsin and Penn State will have the benefit of playing OSU at home and coming off a bye. It remains to be seen how the Badgers will respond coming off a loss.
PSU, however, has reeled off 2 wins since getting the snot smacked out them in Ann Arbor, and has improved its expected total to nearly 6.3 wins, ahead of Indiana by 1.6 wins. Indeed, PSU exhibited some zone-read hijinks on offense in making soup of the Terrapins (at least when they weren’t punting from the Terps’ 36). The bottom line is that PSU is an underdog in only one of its remaining games and is a virtual lock to be bowl eligible, and that’s good news for those keen on the idea of James Franklin continuing as head coach of the Nittany Lions.
Meanwhile, the Indiana defense continued to display an emergent saltiness in the Hoosiers visit to Columbus, which has something to do with the erosion of the Buckeyes’ fancy-stats lead. The Hoosiers expect just under 4.7 Big Ten wins, and are underdogs in three of its remaining games, which should get them into a bowl game. Maryland is now on the bubble after its first loss, being an underdog in 5 more games. However, the Terps expect nearly 3.8 B1G wins, which is closer to a clinching 4 B1G wins than three. On the heels of MSU screwing the pooch versus BYU for its third loss in a row, prospects for MSU to qualify for bowl eligibility are sinking fast. Sparty is an underdog in four of its remaining B1G games. As for LOLRutgerz, The Scarlet Knights will be seeing red for the rest of the season, en route to levels of B1G ineptitude not seen since the Northwestern teams of the early 1980’s that set the NCAA record for consecutive losses at 34.
The FPI results differ slightly, the most notable difference that Michigan holds the #1 spot in all the land. In turn, M tops all teams in the B1GE with just over 8.2 expected wins, ahead of OSU by nearly 0.6 wins. Nonetheless, FPI results still show OSU to be favored in all of its remaining games; so of course the only game in which U-M is not favored is The Game. The margin, however, is only a half point. The second tier of bowl-contenders in the FPI rundown still has three teams: PSU, Maryland and Indiana. PSU is an underdog in only one more game; Maryland in 3 games; and MSU, four games. That would be sufficient to send Maryland bowling, as well as keep Sparty home. Indiana is an underdog in five games, but has almost 4 expected wins (nearly identical to Maryland), so that loss to Wake Forest could do the Hoosiers in. Their best chances are to pick off Maryland or Penn State.
Here’s a link to the results based on the Power Rank-ings.
B1G East Expected Conference Wins
The bar plots below show the expected total overall wins distributions for teams in the B1G East, in alphabetical order. Noted above each bar is the probability for that number of wins (you may need to click & embiggen to read it). The bar with the highest value is the most likely outcome (the mode). Also flagged on each plot is the expected overall win total (the mean). The last line plot is just an overlay of the same data from the other seven bar plots.
What this round of distributions shows is that Michigan and Ohio State are tied for the highest modes at 8 wins, with UM now skewed significantly toward an undefeated 9 wins, and OSU skewed slightly toward 7 wins. The next highest mode is Penn State at 6 wins, followed by Indiana at 5 wins and Maryland at 4 wins. MSU teeters between 2 and 3 B1G wins, while Rutgers is not likely to get more than 1 win. Clearly, the B1GE will be decided between U-M and OSU by significant margin. UM now has the edge for the best chance of having an undefeated season at 34.0% (up from the 18.8% before obliterating Rutgers) or about 2:1 odds, followed by OSU with an 23.2% likelihood (9:2 odds). At this point, the overlaid S&P+ distributions show the groupings of the Big Two and fairly spread out remainder of the B1GE, with at least four and possible five teams likely to be bowl eligible. Lagging behind are Sparty and the Black Sheep... er… Knights. Rutgers is the only team at this point registering any significant likelihood of going winless in the Big Ten at 32.3%.
The FPI results are quite similar to the S&P+ results above. Both UM and OSU register modes of 8 wins, with OSU skewing toward 7 wins and UM skewing significantly toward 9 wins. UM registers a 37.1% chance to win out, whereas the OSU likelihood to go undefeated has dropped to 20.0% from 27.6% last week. From there, a clear separation of 2 wins exists to the next closest contender, Penn State, who also stands another 2 wins ahead of Indiana and Maryland, with modes of 4 wins. Sparty lags further behind with a mode of 3 wins, still 2 wins ahead of Rutgers.
Here’s a link to the results based on the Power Rank-ings.
B1G West Schedule Rundown
The next table of schedules shows the overall schedules for the B1G West based on the Bill Connelly’s S&P+ weekly ratings. Again, the last table simply shows a rank-ordering of the B1GW teams based on their expected win totals - it’s not a projection of divisional conference standings per se.
The S&P+ results have the contenders in the B1GW, in order of overall expected wins, as Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. Nebraska, expecting about 5.9 wins, has an edge of 0.6 wins over Wisconsin. From there, Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern follow at about 0.5 win intervals. No team is favored in all of its remaining games. Wisconsin is an underdog in only one remaining game, whereas Nebraska and Minnesota are underdogs in 2 games each. Iowa, however, is an underdog in four, including two near toss-ups with with Wisconsin and Nebraska to end the season.
Meanwhile, Northwestern is favored in 2 remaining games - hopes of a bowl-bid remain ethereal. There’s still Illinois and Purdue, whom the Cats are favored to beat. Illinois is favored in only one remaining game. Purdue, after defeating Illinois last week, is favored in none of its games for the remainder of the year, its position as cellar-dweller will be shared with Illinois.
FPI also expects only Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa to have winning B1G records. Nebraska is the leader per FPI expecting about 6.3 wins, a nearly 0.4 win edge over the Badgers. Iowa is another 1.0 wins back. Northwestern stands 0.6 win behind the Hawkeyes, and 1.0 wins ahead of the Gophers. No team is favored in all of its games. Wisconsin, however, is an underdog in the fewest remaining games: one. Nebraska is a two-game dog. Minnesota, three games; Iowa and Northwestern, four.
Here’s a link to the results based on the Power Rank-ings.
B1G West Expected Conference Wins
The bar plots below show the expected overall win distributions for the B1G West teams, in alphabetical order.
The story here is how close the race remains in the B1G West. Five teams have modes of 4, 5 or 6 wins. Nebraska is currently the only team with a mode of 6 wins. Wisconsin and Iowa share the 5 win mode, with Wisconsin leaning strongly to the higher side and Iowa biased to the lower. Minnesota and Northwestern share the 4 win mode with Minnesota nearly perfectly balanced, and the Cats skewed to the low side. It appears highly unlikely that any team will have an undefeated season. Nebraska, currently the only undefeated team in the B1GW, has the best chance of a one-loss season at 7.3%, followed by Wisconsin at 1.8%.
The FPI results tell a similar story, but with a bit more separation among the top five, and a tighter grouping between Nebraska and Wisconsin. Both have the same mode of 6 wins, with the Huskers distribution leaning toward 7 wins, and the Badgers more symmetrical. Iowa maintains sole possession of the 5 win mode with a skew toward 4 wins. Conversely, the Cats hold the 4 win mode and are leaning toward 5 wins. Meanwhile, Minny is on the bowl-eligibility bubble in the 3 win mode. As such, those five teams are at least hopeful bowl-game qualifiers. The other two do not have promising post-season prospects.
Here’s a link to the results based on the Power Rank-ings.
Michigan vs. Ohio State Wins Differential
The win-differential distribution simply shows the likelihood of one team (say, Michigan) finishing with a conference record that is some number of games better or worse than another team (say, Ohio State). Keeping in mind that in the event of a tie, the winner of the head-to-head match up determines the tiebreaker … the probability of the teams having identical conference records (i.e. a win differential of zero) heading into the final head-to-head meeting is then pro-rated in proportion to the win probability of the head-to-head game. The same principle also applies to the probabilities of either team having a one-game lead going into the head-to-head (i.e. win differentials of +1 and -1). This is because a team trailing by one game would still clinch the tie-breaker by winning the final head-to-head game. Thus, the total likelihood of Michigan finishing ahead of Ohio State is the sum of all the maize-and-blue shaded bars (i.e. U-M wins two or more games than OSU), plus a proportional split of the -1, 0 and +1-differential bars. It’s worth noting that this total likelihood does not indicate the likelihood of making it to the B1G Championship, as it says nothing about how other teams in the B1G East do, or even how Michigan or Ohio State do in the absolute sense. For example, if both teams were to finish tied in the B1G at 6-3, which means that UM and OSU would be losing 3 games each, other teams are clearly winning those games - and so another team may well be the B1GE representative in Indy.
Beginning as usual with the results of the S&P+ analysis, the chart below shows that the most likely outcome (41.5% likelihood) is that U-M and OSU have identical records heading into Columbus. Thus, as in days of yore, The Game would likely decide who has the better team, and who will play for the B1G Championship. Looking at the head-to-head matchup, OSU is favored with a win probability of 54.1%, so it collects 22.4 point share of the 41.5 points for the likelihood of winning coming in tied (and finishing ahead one game). U-M collects the remaining 19.0 points.
The second most likely scenario, with a 33.2% likelihood, is that UM comes into Columbus one game ahead of OSU. Of this possible outcome, OSU collects another 18.0 point share for the likelihood of winning coming in behind by one game (thus finishing in a tie, but OSU winning the tie-breaker).
The next most likely scenario, with an 11.0% likelihood, is that UM comes into Columbus trailing by one game. Of this, UM collects a 5.1 point share for its likelihood of winning (thus finishing in a tie, but UM winning the tie-breaker).
The other outcomes are relatively straightforward in that either team would have already clinched finishing the season ahead of the other team. In total, UM has a 52.4% likelihood of finishing the season ahead of OSU - an 11:10 chance or about as close to even as you can get.
Continuing on, here is the same chart based on the FPI ratings following the week 6 results. This shows a somewhat wider margin for UM in the race against OSU to the B1GCG. As with S&P+, the most likely outcome is that the teams head into Columbus with the same record. In the head-to-head matchup, OSU’s home field advantage gives them the narrowest of margins with a 51.3% likelihood to win the game. Tosum it all up - according to FPI, UM has a 56.5% likelihood of beating out OSU at season’s end, or a little better than a 5:4 chance.
Here’s a link to the results based on the Power Rank-ings.
So there you have it. After a down-tick following UM’s narrow victory over Wisconsin and OSU’s drubbing of Rutgers, the tables have turned at least part way around. Michigan obliterated Rutgers on the road even more thoroughly than OSU did at home. The rest of the table-turning remains in how competitive OSU’s matchup with Wisconsin will be. Wisconsin will be coming off a bye, looking to remove the bitter taste of defeat from their collective mouths, while making its own push toward a spot in the B1GCG and a likely rematch (for them).
The prospects for Michigan football to play in the Big Ten Championship Game are as good as they’ve ever been - better than the proverbial puncher’s chance, it’s now Michigan that is the team to beat, and I like Michigan’s chances.
Yours in football, and Go Blue!
Recently my new BFF It's Harambe took on the thankless task of asking his fellow MgoBloggers to rank the top 25 Michigan athletes of all time. As the list was revealed it was clear to this reader that some of the most notable players who competed during the athletic stone age (pre-internet) had been forgotten about. This weekly diary will take a look at the more notable players from our past to remind everyone of what they did and why they deserve to be honored and remembered.
"I take a lot of pride in having played at Michigan," Abbott said. "Pretty much everywhere I go, people know I went there. I wear it on my sleeve."
Abbott was born in Flint, Michigan. He was picked up by the Ypsilanti, Michigan American Legion team and went on to win the championship. He graduated from Flint Central High School in Michigan where he was a stand-out pitcher and quarterback. He played for the Grossi Baseball Club during the summer in the Connie Mack leagues of Michigan. He was drafted in the 36th round by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1985 Major League Baseball draft but did not sign, instead moving on to the University of Michigan.
The remarkable and inspirational part of the Jim Abbott story is that he was born without a right hand. When preparing to pitch the ball, Abbott would rest his mitt on the end of his right forearm. After releasing the ball, he would quickly slip his hand into the mitt, usually in time to field any balls that a two-handed pitcher would be able to field. Then he would secure the mitt between his right forearm and torso, slip his hand out of the mitt, and remove the ball from the mitt, usually in time to throw out the runner at first or sometimes even start a double play. At all levels, teams tried to exploit his fielding disadvantage by repeatedly bunting to him; this tactic was never effective.
He played for Michigan three years under coach Bud Middaugh, from 1985 to 1988, leading them to two Big Ten championships. In 1987, he won the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States, becoming the first baseball player to win the award
The Golden Spikes is like the Heisman Trophy of College Baseball. It was presented in the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City and presenting the award that season was former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
Abbott was the flag-bearer for the United States at the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis, helping lead the USA to a second-place finish. Baseball was a demonstration sport in the 1988 Summer Olympics; Abbott pitched the final game, winning an unofficial gold medal for the United States. Abbott was voted the Big Ten Athlete of the Year in 1988. He would be selected 8th overall by the California Angels in the 1988 draft. Abbott's University of Michigan #31 jersey was retired at the Wolverines' April 18, 2009 home game against Michigan State University.
In 2007, Abbott was elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame for his career at Michigan.Abb ott, who pitched for U-M from 1986 to 1988 before embarking on a 10-year professional career, was the fifth person in program history to have his number retired. Maloney said Abbott's addition to the group was a "no brainer."
"You have to be very selective and it's a difficult decision, but to me, this one was not very hard," Maloney said. "Not only with the success he had at Michigan, but more importantly on top of all that, his humility and how he's represented the university."
Abbott retired from baseball in 1999. He currently lives in Orange County, Calif., and does motivational speaking around the country. He also recently worked on a disability awareness project for the federal government.
He counts his years at Michigan as one of his most cherished achievements.
A look at some of the key statistics Jim Abbott compiled while pitching for Michigan from 1986 to 1988:
26 career wins (Fourth)
13 complete games (Eighth)
3.04 career ERA (Sixth)
1987 Golden Spikes winner, given to college baseball's top player.
1987 Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year
My first visit to Michigan Stadium was against Michigan State in 1988 with my grandfather. I was ten years old. It was one of the best experiences of my young life. I marveled at the 106,000 fans, the band marching in perfect step across the field as I pumped my fist to “The Victors”, at cheerleaders doing backflips off the wall, at Leroy Hoard, Greg McMurtry, and Mark Messner.
I saw it all, from the 50 yard line, one row above the tunnel.
I ran down to the rail as the team took the field, holding my hand out for whatever high-fives I could get. I was a budding offensive lineman at the time, so getting up close to the massive man-mountain that was Greg Skrepenak was a thrill.
Earlier that day, that ten year old kid - obsessed with all Wolverine sports - got to eat a pre-game lunch on the floor of Crisler Arena. I met Forrest Evashevski. I shook hands with Tom Harmon!
I did all of this at the hip of my grandfather, who was showing off his grandson to his old buddies as much as he was showing me U of M. He only left my side for a short while at halftime of that game, when he walked to the middle of the field with his teammates.
This was the 50th reunion of the 1938-1940 University of Michigan football teams, and my grandfather got a standing ovation from 106,000 people.
It’s been so much fun, this week, to see the 1939 University of Chicago game mentioned over and over. Everyone loves an opportunity to share the pride they have in their loved ones, and the man who introduced me to Michigan Football started at guard that day in Chicago. He was part of the 85 points scored the last time a Wolverine team dominated an opponent as thoroughly as this year’s team did Rutgers.
This is from the 1938 team picture. My grandfather, Fred Olds (#56), is on the right, the other starting guard from the Chicago game, Milo Sukup, is in the top left, and Tom Harmon is in the bottom left.
After graduating Michigan, my grandfather went on to serve in the Pacific Theater during WWII. He married a U of M alumna. They had three children, but lost one at a very young age. He worked as an engineer. He traveled the world speaking to scientists and policy makers as an expert on Nuclear Power. He became editor of Power Engineering Magazine. He was part of a group that founded the city of Prospect Heights, IL. He was brilliant. He was quick to smile and make others smile in turn.
Years later, he watched his son enroll at Michigan, get married, and then go off to Vietnam –to fight another war across the Pacific. That son gave him a grandson, one of 4 grandchildren. In 1988 he took that grandson to meet the men who had been so large a part of his story 50 years prior.
I don’t know all of their stories, or even most. We all know about “Harmon of Michigan.” I know that at least 3 other members of that team are also in the College Football Hall of Fame. I know that Evashevski coached Iowa to a National Championship. David Nelson invented the winged-T formation and brought the winged helmets to the University of Delaware.
I also know that most of these men went straight from the gridiron to the war. Most then went on to have families of their own. There were other children at that reunion: likely grandkids who forged their fandom that day, and will someday pass it on.
12 years after my first game, my grandfather’s friends met up again. They expanded the reunion to include teams from 1938-1942, but still there were fewer of them that time around. I came across this picture from that day, which inspired me to write this (now incredibly long) post. My grandfather is kneeling in the front, viewer’s right.
The perfect frame for all of this eludes me, but the team we’re seeing now looks more and more like the teams he introduced me to. My fandom started at his house, watching games in which Jim Harbaugh played quarterback. Now Harbaugh’s back, and so is the winning. It’s a team and a coach in the image of Harbaugh’s hero, Bo Schembechler. Bo passed just before the last epic showdown between Michigan and Ohio State, and now his protégé is poised to lead us into the next.
There’s something here about the passage of time, about emulating our heroes, about loss and reclamation and salvation. Maybe it’s just being reminded more clearly of the things and people that we loved and that brought us so much happiness.
I don’t know if that group met again in 2010, because my grandfather had since passed. 77 years after the game against Chicago, I’m sure most members of that team have joined him. One of the great things about College Football – and Michigan Football specifically – though, is the celebration of history. Each historic event recalls the achievements of the past… tying these events together across generations of fans.
As we celebrate 78-0, I thank everyone who has helped to remember 85-0. I especially remember one of the great men who made it happen. I’d love to hear from anyone else connected to that team.
Previously in the 'Sights of' series: Sights of the NCAA Hockey Tournament
This past Saturday was the first battle in the War on Rutgers. Thousands of wolverines made the trip and, well, quite frankly all of them made it out alive. Actually, is there still even a war? At some point when your band starts playing the opposing team's fight song, you have to declare an unconditional surrender. This was Helms Deep if the Rohirrim never arrived. Many Michigan fans predicted a blowout and, with the uncertainty of a category 4 hurricane sweeping the East coast, decided to stay home. But I made the trek and snuck behind enemy lines to bring you the inside scoop on the war coverage.
(Right click -> View image to make pictures larger)
Also click HERE to see my full album on the MGoFlick page!
Welcome to the birthplace of college football
Walking around the encampments- er, the tailgaters, was definitely a positive experience. Within 10 minutes I was invited to a pig roast.
Unfortunately I did not have time to partake, but it looked delicious:
Post-game look at the Rutgers offensive line?
Most tailgates looked just like any other Big Ten tailgate that I've seen. Most Rutgers fans were very friendly and shared their space with the many Michigan fans that were there. You could feel a sense that they kind of knew what would happen but wanted to make the best of it anyways. But wait what's this?
I don't know what an Ash Woopin' is but I'm sure it's harmful for the person doing the Ash Woopin'
Michigan fans were not in short supply. They predicted 500-600 just at the alumni tailgate.
This guy storms the field on this stallion after Rutgers scores touchdowns. The only other time I saw the horse was when Rutgers "scored" the pick-six and the knight was ready to do his charge. Following the review, they put the horse away.
Fire makes everything cooler, I guess
When the knight dismounted his steed, he came down to the field to fire up the crowd.
Look at how fired up they are.
Let's wander over the other side of the field, shall we?
You know the game is out of control when you have an entire section cheering for a photographer.
Why this tropy was here I'm not entirely sure. Maybe they were paying tribute to their claimed 1869 National Title.
Bold prediction: this is the only time this trophy will be on this field.
Many of you may have heard about the Rutgers cannon. It fired before the game, after the game, and right before they reviewed the Rutgers pick six. But after every Michigan touchdown, Michigan fans began chanting "SHOOT THE CANNON!"
They were not amused.
The game in summary:
In a move that I'm sure was able to win over many of the couple hundred recruits that came to visit, the Rutgers band began to travel around the stadium playing 'The Victors' for the many Michigan fans in the stadium.
And by the 4th quarter, most of the student section had disappeared:
The Army ROTC push-up board did not get used.
When the dust settled, only one army remained:
And they're not done yet.
Best: Indescribable Feelings
This is the first thing I wrote 2 years ago when UM played Rutgers for the first time:
[EDIT] You know it's been a long season since this was originally titled "Maryland". Just banking these beforehand, I guess[/EDIT]
One of these days I'm going to put in less work on writing these than the coaching staff did in preparing for the game. They just keep setting the bar so low, though.
Best: Semi-competent loss
It's come to this, hasn't it. Not moral victories or BS like that, but after being destroyed by a cadre of mid-level BCS teams and Notre Dame, Michigan finally looked semi-competitive against another BCS team. And Rutgers is at least a bowl team, something Michigan sure isn't right now. I always figured Michigan would have a close loss like this during the year, but the expectation was that it would be a rare occurrence of bad luck and incompetence instead of, I guess, a sign of growth and competence in year 4.
Ugh. Moving on.
If you ever wondered what rationalization looks like on (digital) paper, it’s that paragraph. Now, the nadir of Michigan under Brady Hoke had come a week earlier against Minnesota, but I am on record as being a bit of an apologist for how Hoke handled the Morris incident, at least at the time (which doesn’t need to be re-litigated here). I thought it was reactionary that Morris was given the start because we had seen nothing to suspect he would be an upgrade over Gardner at the spot; the offense had regressed every year under Hoke, and in fact had been buoyed somewhat with Gardner in the backfield, compensating for poor blocking and a anemic rushing attack by using his legs to keep plays alive. Morris lacked that ability, and so he got pummeled even moreso than Gardner, including an uncalled targeting shot, and well, you remember the rest.
But no, the offensive coordinator who currently oversees the #73 offense in the country at Florida(!), who people clamored for after the coordinator who oversees the #75 offense in the country in the Mountain West (!!), chosen by the man who is currently the defensive coordiantor for the #100 defense at Oregon (!!!) thought a change at QB would be the cure for what ailed Michigan in 2014…. Oh gawd, there isn’t a font invented yet that conveys the unique combination of sarcasm and anger I have for those men. Just…
But anyway. We’re talking about Rutgers. That Minnesota team wasn’t half-bad; they went 5-3 in conference, nearly beat OSU, and played in the Citrus Bowl. The Rutgers team might have also gone 8-5, but they struggled in conference (3-5), got pantsed by literally every halfway-decent team they played (unless you believe 2014 UNC resembled in any way the 11-3 outfit they’d become in 2015). And against Michigan, Gary Nova threw for 400 yards.
Gary Nova, perhaps the only man in the Big 10 who could challenge Taylor Martinez for snarky Youtube videos of his collective failures at playing the QB position, threw for more yards (404) than the entire UM team collected on offense (336). Gary F’ing Nova hung a 404 Page Not Found on the University of Michigan football defense. Let that sink in for a moment. No, I mean, really breathe it in.
There aren’t a lot of players left on the roster who competed in this game (Lewis, Clark, Charlton, Gedeon, Hurst, and Glasgow show up in the box score for the defense, while Smith, Chesson, Butt, and Darboh registered offensively, and I think about half the offensive line remains the same), but I have to believe that they remember the last time they traveled to New Jersey, a state full of suburban commuters to more interesting cities, a state that will hunt down your next of kin for unpaid student loans, a state that would foster a football program to the point that GARY NOVA would throw for 404 yards against the winningest football program in college football history, and wanted to make amends.
And with a couple more native sons returning to their home state, they sure did.
78-0 was the final score, and in some ways it probably could have been worse. UM had 600 yards of total offense compared to 39 for Rutgers, and 29 of those yards came on the last 2 drives of the game for the Scarlet Knights. At halftime, UM was up 43-0 and Rutgers had –13 yards of total offense. Michigan rushed for 486 yards and 9 TDs on the ground at a robust clip 9.2 ypc, which is doubly amazing considering De’Veon Smith, the team’s leading rusher coming into the game, averaged 2.2 ypc for only 11 yards. They nearly had 4 100-yard rushers on the day, with Isaac (93) and Peppers (74) trailing both Evans (153) and Higdon (114) in that department. From that group, only Evans failed to score, while Isaac, Peppers, and Higdon all scored 2 TDs and recorded at least one run of over 30 yards.
Wilton Speight played only that half, threw a total of 13 passes, completed 6 for 1 TD, and yet the offense looked downright unstoppable. Part of his early struggles were due to the weather; it wasn’t quite Notre Dame vs. NC State, but at least at kickoff it was raining quite hard and the air was swirling. A couple balls sailed on him and there were at least 2 drops that probably would have been hauled in (one each to Darboh and Chesson) on a drier day, and it was apparently bad enough out there that the team switched gloves a couple of series into the game because the logo ones were making it harder to grip the ball. And when JBB went down 2 plays into the game, you saw even more shuffling on the front line. Unsurprising, Rutgers tried to take advantage by blitzing. Now, none of this should be construed as saying Speight had a good day, as that UCF version of him is getting ever farther in the rearview mirror. But as the worst of the weather lifted and his protection improved, he threw a couple of really good balls, including the TD to Chesson.
As for the defense, there isn’t much to say, as I am out of superlatives. You know how OSU got a bunch of praise for holding Rutgers to 116 total yards of offense, including 3 completions for 33 yards? Well, Laviano and Allen combined for 2 completions (in 18 pass attempts) for 5 yards. In fact, Zach Allen’s one completion was for a loss of a yard, so even half their completed passes pushed them backwards. The only time Rutgers even sniffed the UM endzone was on pick-six that was rather obviously an incomplete pass by Shane Morris.
In total, Rutgers ran 54 plays for 39 yards. That is a third as many yards as they picked up last week, and brings up the question of whether Rutgers would have recorded more yards simply falling forward every play. Honestly, depending on the spots they got, it’s quite possible that would have been a more successful offensive gameplan than what they employed.
The Michigan team that staggered into Triple Bundle (But You Don’t Want The Phone But It’s Part Of The Package) Stadium two years ago was disorganized, disinterested, and dysfunctional. But with the arrival of Harbaugh, UM now looks and plays the part of a professional organization with bigger goals in mind than revenge.
Best: No Mercy
I know I just listed a bunch of stats about the dominance on both sides of the ball by Michigan, but this probably takes the cake: Rutgers punted for 609 yards on 16 punts. That’s longer than the height of the Sears Tower, the Empire State Building, and the Eiffel Tower. It’s 6 football fields worth of surrender.
Michigan had 13 TFLs, including 4 sacks, on only 54 plays by Rutgers, meaning they lost yards a good quarter of the time they ran a play. Remember 2013 against MSU when the Wolverines rushed for –48 yards and everyone felt terrible about themselves? MSU recorded 11 TFLs on 59 plays by UM in that game. This was a terrifying display by a defensive unit that chewed up other decent offenses in Colorado and Penn State, and one that will probably replicate similar performances against the mediocre offenses that are coming up on the schedule.
Against teams like PSU and Wisconsin, the defensive performance was some shade of ass kicking, a known quantity of dominance that you as the viewer can contemplate and commoditize in your head. For me, the most ass-kicking performance by a Michigan defense was UM’s obliteration of undefeated PSU in 1997. Penn St. probably wasn’t the #2/3 team in the country (they had a number of uninspiring wins up to that point), but they were still one of the better offenses in the country. And UM absolutely shut that team down on the road, and that was the moment I realized that 1997 could be a special year.
Now, this Rutgers team isn’t anywhere close to those Nittany Lions teams, I get that. But UM held Rutgers to 0 first downs for 3.5 quarters of a football game and, had they not “slacked” and let Rutgers get a couple of first downs on the ground, might have kept the total yardage in the single digits. This is the same Rutgers team (sans Janarion Grant, admittedly), that netted 304 yards, 21 first downs, and 13 points against Washington to open the season and 383 and another 21 first downs against Iowa. The closest Rutgers got to a first down in that first half was a scamper by Allen that cleared the first down marker but was immediately nullified by a fumble and recovery by Michigan. That was it. Nobody was open downfield, nobody could run inside or outside the tackles, nothing. Chris Laviano started the game, was chased around for a couple of series, and was replaced by Zach Allen, who didn’t do any better. Taco Charlton had 2 sacks on the day and repeatedly crushed whoever was put in his path, while guys like Glasgow and Hurst just ran through would-be blockers to consume ball carriers before they even made a step forward. 28 players recorded at least 1 tackle in this game, and sure, kickoffs count for some of it, but that’s an insane stat. That’s 2.5 full defensive units of tacklers out there, and that doesn’t even include Bryan Mone recovering Allen’s fumble.
It got to the point that I was bored watching the defense out there, and I instinctively clicked on my remote to see about fast-forwarding to the offense. It’s not it wasn’t interesting in an intellectual context; this is an elite defense just destroying another team’s will to live. But I also don’t like watching a snuff film for 60 minutes, and after about 5 minutes of this game it was pretty clear Rutgers wasn’t going to be putting up much of a fight.
I want keep my excitement down, to put some perspective forward for viewing this defense in an historical light. In my lifetime, it feels like it’s better than 2006, and given how dynamic offenses are now I’d say it’s probably better than 1997 in terms of adaptability. It’s pretty clear that this season is going to be decided by the Game, and I think the final referendum on 2016’s place in the defense Pantheon will rest on that performance as well as the game against IU; hold two dangerous offenses (mostly) in check, and this is probably the best unit in modern UM history.
And yet, even that praise almost feels a bit faint. After a couple of growing pains against UCF and Colorado (mind you, games that UM won by a collective score of 96-42), Don Brown’s defense looks locked in, and even OSU looks tractable when you consider just how little the past couple of teams have been able to move the ball.
Best: Don’t Hurt ‘Em
This punt return didn’t count because apparently we can’t have nice things.
So another day, another amazing performance by Jabrill Peppers. Peppers was finally able to pull the ball when the Rutgers defensive end foolishly bore down on the option, allowing Peppers to scamper 63 yards to set up UM’s first score. He later scored on another play where he feinted toward the line, ran out to the flat, faked throwing the ball, then just ran into the endzone largely untouched. He added another goal line TD, and with that scored 2 TDs on 3 carries for 74 yards. He also added 2 tackles, including half a TFL (Rutgers attributed the other half to Grant Perry, which seems…wrong…but I couldn’t confirm), and a QB hurry. Harbaugh keeps talking about him as a transcendent player, and every weekend Peppers seems to prove him right.
Now, I will say that the Heisman talk probably won’t be realistic unless guys like Watson, Jackson, and Barrett struggle. Woodson only became a viable candidate after Manning struggled (again) against Florida, and that was a weird year wherein the next couple of viable candidates played for unknown programs in Ryan Leaf and Randy Moss. By comparison, all of the major candidates now play for prominent programs and/or have great statistical marks, and Peppers will never be used on the offense enough to rack up truly eye-popping numbers. Heck, a performance like in this game is probably the ceiling for him simply because there’s no reason to expose him to abuse on offense in any game coming up until OSU, and maybe not even then. Plus, I’m not sure college football is quite ready for the only two defensive Heisman winners to come from one school, even if Peppers is unquestionably one of the top 2-3 players in the country right now. He changes the game with his mere presence on the field, and I hope every fan watching is enjoying his performance every week. Very soon UM fans will be referring to every recruit as the “next Peppers”, just as they used to unrealistically call players the “next Woodson”.
Meh: A Confusing Speight To Behold
I don’t know if there’s much to take away from this game for Speight. He played about a half of football, threw a couple of okay balls, struggled with his accuracy early on in the rain, and generally looked serviceable. He did look more comfortable as the game progressed, but he also had some issues throwing the ball downfield. His toss to Chesson was fantastic, but he also left a deep ball to Darboh hang up a bit such that he had to readjust and fight off a DB for the catch. He faced a decent amount of pressure early on and that led to some scrambling and mixed results throwing, but pretty early on it was clear this team could just run over Rutgers basically at will and that became the focus of the offense. O’Korn and Morris also got snaps but only three 3 times the rest of the day (O’Korn did throw a TD on a nice ball to Hill. Morris’s one pass was initially thought to have been a pick-six by the referees, and if it had stood I assumed Shane would have been told to walk home for breaking the shutout.
But otherwise, I’m not sure what you can take from this game in terms of passing. The receivers let a couple of catchable balls gets away from them, but they were rarely called upon and it still looks like they might be working out some kinks with Speight. I sort of wonder if the offense is expanding the playbook a bit and that might be contributing to some of the issues, but who knows. It is still a passing offense that doesn’t try to over-exert itself too much but can deliver downfield when called upon. I doubt we’ll see much against Illinois, but if you see Speight putting it on the face of MSU’s corners for 4 quarters, I wouldn’t be surprised.
These are all of UM’s runs in the 2nd half of this game:
3, 5, 5, 3, 3, 57, 15 (TD), 2, 4, 0, 15, 3, 5, 6, 11, 1, 10, 13 (TD), 5, 2, 44 (TD), 7, 9, 6, 3, 4, 0, 34 (TD).
That’s 275 yards, no negative plays, and absolutely 0 regard for human life. Rutgers knew UM was going to run them over in that second half and really had no defense.
Basically everyone but Smith had great days running the ball, though I thought Higdon really stood out with how aggressively he hit holes. He’s not the biggest or fastest guy on the roster, but he follows his blocks pretty well and runs decisively, and oftentimes that’s all you need to be successful in a Harbaugh offense. Evans was fantastic in space, and was dined a couple of scores by mere yards. Isaac just looks like a different player compared to last year, running with an authority that hasn’t always been present for a guy so talented. I’m still a bit surprised he hasn’t been integrated more into the passing game, but I assume those packages are there and UM hasn’t really felt the need to utilize them. As for Smith, he fumbled during the rainiest part of the game but also wasn’t needed much once the game got out of hand; I assume he sat mostly for the same reason Speight did. He still seems to be the feature back, though, especially when passing.
But yeah, 486 yards, a school-recrd 9 TDs, and around 9 ypc are video game numbers, and yet I wouldn’t be surprised if they did something similar to Illinois, at least in terms of the overall domination. It isn’t quite a peak Harbaugh offense, but the past couple of weeks have unearthed a rushing attack that is increasingly opponent-agnostic. UM averaged around 4.5 ypc against one of the best defenses in Wisconsin, then squashed Rutgers for nearly double that. If the offensive line can stay healthy and increase their comfort with the rush, UM should be able to mash a whole lot of teams coming up on the schedule.
Worst: The Morality Surrounding All the Scoring
You know it wouldn’t be a blowout without a couple of people complaining about Harbaugh (a) going for 2 up 27, (b) going for it on 4th down on the ensuing possession to push the score to 36-0, and (c) dropping 78 on a team in general. I’ve never had a problem with coaches calling their offense in the regular course of the game. The 2-point conversion seemed a little weird mostly because it didn’t seem necessary, but in the press conference after the game it sounded like that play was always available and the special teams could run it if given the right formation. And let’s be honest; there are few situations where a team can practice a conversion in a live game; the fact UM put this on tape really shouldn’t be a concern, as most teams should already be prepared for the “run into the massive hole” playcall.
As for the rest of the scoring, going up 36-0 late in the 2nd quarter was the only option Harbaugh really had. He could have kicked a FG, but 4-and-goal from the 1 is a weird place to do so, and in fact it at least gives the defense a chance to keep a team off the board completely. If it had been the 4th quarter and UM could have just taken a knee to run out the clock, then sure, but there was still a half+ of football to play, and to paraphrase Herm Edwards, you play to win the game with half a game to go, regardless of the score.
As for the final score, I’m not sure what else could have been done. During Higdon’s final run, you almost saw him slow up at the goalline a bit, but if the defense is going to give up huge runs there’s not much you can do. UM was playing incredibly vanilla offensively and defensively in that 2nd half; this wasn’t UM sending the house on blitzes or breaking out a flea flicker up 40. This was just…a beating. Harbaugh had some nice words for Ash and his team after the game, and I’m sure at some point Rutgers will be better and use this game for motivation. But losing 136-0 over 2 weeks probably takes the starch out of anyone’s motivation.
Around the League
I caught a couple of other games along the way yesterday, so here are a couple of quick takes.
- Saquon Barkley is really good (over 200 yards rushing), and Maryland probably isn’t as good as their record dictates. That said, both PSU and Maryland looked competent yesterday, which is sort of amazing given how bad they’ve looked recently.
- Iowa is bad and has lost whatever magic they had from 2015. Why the state of Iowa continues to worry about someone else wanting to poach their 61-year-old coach who has won 10+ games exactly twice in the past 11 seasons has always astounded me, but the man beat Minnesota 14-7 so pay him his money.
- OSU may have beaten Indiana by 21 in the end, but this was a game well into the 4th quarter. If IU had been able to score deep in OSU territory after picking off Barrett down 17-31, it could have been an interesting finish. For the game, Barrett followed up a string of strong passing performances to go 9/21 for 93 yards, and even that was goosed by a 37-yard TD throw for OSU’s final score. This remains the Achilles heel for this team, and if OSU struggles to throw the ball against IU’s secondary I’m not liking their chances against UM in that department. We’ll know a lot more next week against Wisconsin; my sense is this level of mediocrity is a blip, but it’s still a team that relies so heavily on Barrett to keep the chains moving that I could see them being stymied by a defense that can force him to throw into small windows.
- Finally, MSU lost to BYU 31-14, their third loss in a row. MSU made a switch Damion Terry in the 4th quarter and while that did lead to a score, it also led to a pick and creeping realization in most MSU fans that this year is going to be one of near-constant pain, even in wins. It was a pretty ugly game all around, but BYU averaged 5.3 yards a run compared to 2.7 for MSU, and BYU just dominated time of possession (34:34 to 25:26) and number of plays (around 100 for BYU compared to around 60 for MSU). I know people keep saying that MSU will play differently against UM, and maybe passion and hatred will fuel them for a half, but this is a Sparty team without much talent/production in the defensive backfield, under center, or along the offensive line. They have vanishingly few playmakers, and guys like LJ Scott and RJ Shelton haven’t come close to their preseason hype. But again, not disrespect.
Next Week: Bye!
I need a break, and I assume the team does as well. After Illinois, UM finishes against a pretty decent slate (@MSU, Maryland, @Iowa, IU, @OSU) that will define their season. That last game could well be for a CoFoPo playoff spot, and maybe even the loser could get a bid if a couple of other teams stumble. But right now, UM is one of the best teams in the country and are only getting better.