All Wolverine faithful are familiar with Mike Hart’s “little brother” jab and the indignation it generated among the MSU fans and their football coach. But why did that comment produce so much more resentment among fans of the green and white than all the other epithets (cow college, Spartoons, CMU punching bag) thrown at them over the years? In order to understand this, we need to do an objective comparison between the two institutions. Following mgoblog tradition, this comparison can best be viewed in chart form.
Michigan Michigan State
Founded in 1817 as the University of Michigan
Founded in 1855 as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan
Home: Ann Arbor, the intellectual capital of Michigan
Home: East Lansing, a suburb of Lansing, the dysfunctional political capital of Michigan
Nickname: Wolverine, the state animal of the state of Michigan, known for its strength and ferocity.
Nickname: Spartan, named after a city state 5,000 miles away that ceased to exist in 195 BC.
Criminal notoriety: Hash Bash
Criminal notoriety: Burning sofas
Founding member of Big 10 conference in 1896 [Edit, from 1885 typo]
Joined Big 10 in 1949, replacing the University of Chicago when the latter quit intercollegiate athletics.
Most wins in college football history
Some good football teams back in the 1960’s
Defeated Stanford in first Rose Bowl game (1902) by a score of 49-0
Defeated UCLA in 1955, their first Rose Bowl, by a score of 28-20
20 Rose Bowl appearances, most recently in 2007
4 Rose Bowl appearances, most recently in 1988
3 Heisman trophy winners
No Heisman trophy winners
Mascot: None, thank goodness.
Mascot: “Sparty” a roided-up hulk made of plastic and felt, wears a skirt.
Fight song: The Victors, “The greatest college fight song ever written” said John Philips Sousa.
Fight song: MSU Fight Song, the tune is based on the hymn “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus.”*
The most famous helmet in all of football.
Helmet design changes periodically, most recently in 2007
Home field: The Big House, capacity 106,201 this year, 108,000+ next year
Home field: Spartan Stadium, capacity 75,005
We could go on, but you see the point. Whatever MSU does, Michigan has done it first, and better, just like an older brother. It’s not about one game, or even one season. It’s about all of the ways that Michigan is superior to MSU. And this is why the little brother epithet is so devastating. Because deep down, in the depths of the Spartan soul, they know that it’s true. They are the little brother!
And here’s what makes it even worse for Sparty. MSU is a pretty good school, with a successful basketball program, renowned academics in such areas as veterinary medicine and agriculture, and an enrollment of over 40,000 students. In fact, in many states in this country MSU could be the leading public university.
But…they are in Michigan…where they will always be second… to the Wolverines…and it DRIVES THEM CRAZY!!!
So, Michigan fans, enjoy
the game on Saturday, which I am confident will be another Michigan victory. But no matter what happens, keep your head
high and remember “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine” and not the little
Then came the 4th quarter and again something changed. Tate got a different look about him. Important adjustments were made and Michigan began to take control of the game. Drives continued to stall but the field position battle started to swing in our favor. Then we broke through on a beautiful touchdown drive capped by Tate learning to fly. Two point conversion is good. There was a lot of time left but we had been holding them to field goals for a while, right? Maybe they could tie it up but...
One play later I was looking at my feet, feeling sorry for myself and this team. I was sure the game had been lost with that TD run by that F^&%@&! Indiana back that gashed us all day and looked like he should be slow but we couldn't catch up to him?!! Somebody get him! The sanity of the universe depends on it!!! NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!
We three and out. It's over...
Indiana three and out. But Tate is wounded. But we already had our chance...
Then it happens. Tate takes the field with a right arm that dangles loosely, seemingly useless at his side. And he leads us. He makes great reads, scrambles for first downs, and hands off to two senior running backs that will not be denied. Third and six with Denard Robinson in the game. Maybe Shoelace can be the hero this week. Really can't blame Tate, dude's obviously hurting badly. Wait, is that Tate coming back on the field?
He takes the snap and scans downfield. Where is the quick hitch just past the sticks? Forget that, there is still magic in that boy's arm. As he releases it I catch my breath; that arm is hurt and that pass looks floated, and interception, and I can't LOOK, and, and, and...
Tate is the real deal folks, able to play through obvious pain and make amazing plays.
There is still a lot of time on the clock but the anxiety ends mercifully quickly. Did Indiana get hosed on that call? I certainly thought so at the time, but I didn't care. This game was already ugly and I would take the win no matter how tainted. Michigan fans won't let it sit like that and so we get further analysis like this from Maize 'N' Brew:
So let me adjust these Maize and Blue glasses a bit... Yep! No doubt a clean pick! We win! Yay!
4-0. Such a difference a year makes.
- Shootouts are an exciting way to win games and this team is well equipped to win more than their fair share. Michigan has speed on offense like it has never seen and can strike at any time. They can exchange blows and cover up mistakes by the defense. But in crunch time they need Tate Forcier to win these games. Please be just a bruise.
- The defense has issues, we already suspected this. They did show a lot of heart though in holding Indiana to all of those field goals. One or two touchdowns instead would have made this into a blowout loss. The good news is that with the offense clicking, every small improvement by the defense will be magnified. Please GERG, don't suck. We need continuity.
- Being so thin on defense is very stressful. Every gimpy limp between plays makes me hold my breath. Who didn't groan when Martin had to be looked at? I am impressed with RR and staff for making something out of walk-ons, Jordan Kovacs made some nice plays on blitzes, but their lack of 1-A level speed leads to plays like that Willis run.
- Stonum was crazy awesome on KO returns to the tune of 218 yards on 7 attempts (31.1 yds/per). He set us up in great field position over and over again. Hats off to him. I still like Mathews on punts though.
- The adjustment to taking snaps under center late in the game was a good one. It got the offense back in sinc and allowed for the first comeback TD drive. Moosman may get a little better at the shotgun snap but will probably continue to be a liability.
Michigan now heads into the meat of their schedule. They have showed what this offense is capable of and will surprise no one with their ability. The defense needs badly to get healthy and stay healthy if there is to be any hope for a New Year's Day bowl. I don't think Michigan will be shut out of the post season this year at least. Yesterday was a great day for watching football and based on what I saw, here are my impressions of the next stretch:
@Michigan State: I give this one 50:50 just based on the situation. Sparty has wounded pride, is playing at home, and probably needs a W more than us. This will be a true test of this team's character. Win this and the sky's the limit.
@Iowa: Scary D-line Kill Mr. Forcier? I think this is a real concern considering how much they got to Clark last night. I don't expect us to win this one but just coming out with both QBs intact would be nice.
Penn State: A little far out to be looking at but maybe we can take this one. It won't look anything like last night's game if we do.
I expect we will have no problems with DelSt. and will probably get to at least 7 wins at this point. If Tate can remain healthy I say 8-9 wins still. Awesome.
I hope that everyone was able to enjoy this game and that everyone made it home safe and sound. Have a great week.
This was a bad game. Really bad. Really really bad. Did I say how bad? Quite bad. The defense, you realize, has basically gotten shredded every week since the opener. Can't stop the run, not good against the pass. If they invent some new third thing (e.g., skipping, rolling the ball forward to someone, etc.), this defense would be bad against that too, probably.
GERG, where are you? You and your white-haired glory somehow are not getting our boys into the mindset of a good big-ten defense. It has been SO LONG since we had a good defense! OK OK, 2006 was good, but then somehow that all went to shit in those last two games. I still wake up with nightmares of Crable flying headfirst into Troy Smith to gift them what would become the winning TD. After waking up, I vomit. My wife is getting tired of this, especially now that the kids are grown and don't throw up so much anymore.
The offense didn't look too great either. Tate F., who may become the goddamn clutchiest clutch QB we've ever had (he is that clutchy), didn't look super sharp. Lots of missed targets and lots of scrambling that wasn't super effective. By "wasn't super effective" I mean "sucked because he ran around instead of just throwing the damn ball." Is he hurt, you might ask? Probably. But get used to it. You think this kid is EVER going to get through a season of BIG TEN FOOTBALL without getting hurt, at least somewhat? I'm sorry, when you are 6'1" and weigh 170 lbs, you get hurt when you go to the bathroom, much less on the field of play.
Speaking of which, are those classic urinal troughs all gone now? Who doesn't enjoy taking a leak next to a bunch of old MICHIGAN MEN whose aim has deteriorated to the point where basically they are peeing on your feet? Admit it, you miss it. It was a piece of the charm that is now gone, forever lost to the annals of the time. I am keeping all the old shoes I have worn to games over the years, just so I can remember.
I didn't understand much of the player substitution pattern over this game either. Carlos Brown's hair was on fire and basically scored every time he touched the ball early in the game. The response: put other guys in. It was confusing. Here was CARLOS, ready to have the monster 400-yard GAME OF HIS LIFE and we kept going with other guys. I don't know about you guys, but I think: you go with what works. For me, what was working was that Hungry Howie's pizza they have at the game. So I kept going with it (4 or 5 pieces). For Michigan, it was CARLOS F'IN BROWN. But they didn't go with him, much. After-game stomach cramps tell me there may be another story here: don't go with Hungry Howie's, even if it is "working".
So where are we now, four games into this miracle of a rebirth? Hard to say after that one. Let's recap:
- Western: Clearly kind of sucks more than people thought. However, they did beat Hofstra.
- Notre Dame: Squeaks by both Purdue and MSU. Problem is: Purdue and MSU stink. Thus, ND, much like their coach, is not looking too pretty right now.
- Eastern: Clearly sucks.
- Indiana: Probably will not win a lot of games in the Big Ten.
But the overall feeling I got at the game yesterday is that we still have a long ways to go. Until some defensive talent finds its way onto this team, winning the BIG TEN and hopes of relevance on the national stage are pretty far away.
So the lot that I park in for all home games always has a group of people in Mesko jerseys. I've wanted to ask them what relation to him they are, but didn't want to be "that" guy. I've also seen a guy that looked like Zoltan with them a few times after the games, but once again didn't want to approach him.
Well today someone went up to him and asked for an autograph and a picture and he said sure, so I decided that I should ask. I told him that he's had a hell of a season, but I also had a few questions:
Do you have a "Space Emperor" shirt?
He laughed and said "no, not yet"
What was your average today? fifty what?
He said "naw, it was only the high forties"
What happened to the rugby punting? You have the speed to make the corner"
"Aww yeah, that new punting rule. We had to change things up"
I thanked him for this autograph and wished him luck in the season and going for the Ray Guy award and then I asked..
Oh..do you know how Tate's arm is?
"He's tough, he'll be fine"
I had to bite my tongue not to say anything about the banner incident, but he seems like a nice guy and down to earth.
I did find a New York Times article concerning Xenith Helmets. However, their site is all Flash driven. The site has been linked, if you're interested. I think I've observed their helmets in the NFL and NCAA but they seem few and far between.
This is the helmet that I consider to be the "basic" football helmet that we're all come to know so well.Riddell markets it to the NFL, College and High School teams. It features an exclusive Polycarbonate shell. It has an inflatable liner with two outside inflation points: back-neck-side and crown. Tried and True.
Introduced in 2002, the Riddell Revolution was the first major football helmet innovation in 25 years. Since that time, more than half a million youth, high school, college and pro players have made the switch. Today, research shows that players wearing the Riddell Revolution are 31% less likely to suffer a concussion when compared to traditional football helmets. For athletes who had never suffered a previous concussion, wearing the Riddell Revolution decreased their relative risk of concussion by 41%. It's considered to be "Top of the line" for NFL, College and High School. It contains (standard) Z-Pads, extended Tru-Curve shell and Isolater Faceguard System (it can be upgraded to inflatable Z-pads).
- Exclusive Polycarbonate shell.
- Inflatable Back/Neck/Side liner.
- Six vent holes
Based on the Revolution (see above) the Revolution IQ contains Concussion Reduction Technology.
- deal Fit Liner System with TruCurve back and front pads.>
- Inflatable back and crown pads.
- Standard Z-Pads (can be upgraded to inflatable Z-Pads).
- It has a Quick Release Face Guard System.>
- Exclusive Polycarbonate Shell.
- Six vent holes.
Designed for performance with Revolution Technology built-in. The ‘Revo’ Speed comes with a new shell design, and a comfortable anti-microbial over liner. It features a new face mask system designed from the ground up to optimize sightlines. Attaching the cage is Riddell's exclusive Quick Release Face Guard System for rapid and easy access to the player.
- Revolution Concussion Reduction Technology.
- Aggressive Revo Speed shell profile.
- Inflatable back/neck/side liner and crown liner.
- Standard with Inflatable S-pads.
- Removable moisture wicking, antibacterial overliner.
- Oversized vent holes.
Revolution IQ H.I.T.S.
I thought the following was really cool. I'd love to see the data: For the first time in history, every player can now monitor the number and severity of impacts received during game and practices, thanks to Riddell's patented Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS). On-board electronics record every impact, allowing players to upload and evaluate each occurrence on their home computers. ‘HITS’ also provides the guidance necessary to understand and address a suspect impact if it is detected. MX Encoder: MX Encoders are sensors built into every HITS helmet to automatically record impacts.
- Available already installed in a standard Riddell Revolution IQ helmet (see above).
- Patented MX Encoder fits in the stock helmet and records the location, magnitude, duration and direction of up to 100 impacts (patented).
- Includes Riddell's Red Zone Software for charting data.
- Includes 2 MX Encoder battery packs and battery charging station.
- MX Encoder can be removed for cleaning.
- Riddell HITS Desktop Antenna connects to any desktop or laptop computer with a USB port and is suitable for use with multiple HITS-equipped helmets.
Considering the amount of heat related injuries (and some unfortunate deaths), this is promising technology, too: The H.O.T. (Heat Observation Technology) System is an early warning detection system for heat stroke and other heat related injuries. The system uses a sensor placed inside a player’s football helmet to monitor the player’s body temperature. That data is wirelessly transmitted to a PDA on the sideline where it can be monitored in real-time by a certified athletic trainer or other sideline personnel. When a player’s temperature spikes and doesn’t come back down, an audible and visual alert is sounded, with the intention of getting that player off the field before a serious, perhaps fatal, injury occurs.
- Sensor is the size of a dime and weighs less than an ounce.
- Sensor will fit inside any football helmet.
- Proprietary PDA can monitor hundreds of athletes within signal range.
- Wireless range is 300 yards.
- Up to 1000 athletes can be monitored by one PDA.
- Sensor is weather proof.
- Alert temperature can be customized for each player.
The Schutt ION 4D is unlike any helmet that’s ever been designed before. The styling of the shell includes the Schutt Energy Wedge faceguard attachment system. The faceguard is integrated right into the shell and is stronger and more durable than classic faceguards. The ION 4D also features TPU cushioning eliminating any break-in period. The Schutt ION 4D comes with a two-piece SUREFIT inflatable air liner system. It’s made from an anti-microbial material to resist the growth of mold, mildew, fungus and other bacteria. Energy Wedge: Exclusive to the Schutt ION 4D, it acts as a shock absorber for the helmet, absorbing up to 15% more force from frontal impacts to the faceguard. The Schutt ION 4D features a wide panoramic view. Chin straps can be attached to the Schutt ION 4D in a variety of manners, including Schutt Short ‘N Long or 4-Point High. Schutt recommends, however, mounting the chin strap through the ION 4D Energy Wedge faceguard, as this gives sideline-to-sideline field of vision and also eliminates a high contact area on the helmet shell and prolongs helmet life.
The Schutt AiR XP is a traditional shell helmet with that familiar, spherical shape. It contains a unique combination of tradition with state-of-the technology. It has a two-piece SUREFIT inflatable air liner system treated with an anti-microbial to resist the growth of mold, mildew, fungus and other bacteria. Additionally, it has six large ventilation holes in the crown maximize air flow.
First introduced in 2003, it provides better impact absorption (compared to traditional foam padding), better heat management and better hygienics. It's highly resistant to mold, mildew, fungus and bacteria, while providing a barrier against MRSA and staph concerns. It has a two-piece SUREFIT inflatable air liner system treated with an anti-microbial to resist the growth of mold, mildew, fungus and other bacteria. Dart-shaped large ventilation holes in the crown maximize air flow.
I consider this to be Schutt's version of Riddell's VSR4. Compare the pictures. The give away (in identification) is the slot (Schutt) behind the circular, raised ear hole. Riddell's helmet does not have this. Additionally, the Schutt has vent holes in the helmet crown. The Air Advantage is 12% lighter than the Pro-Air II, but still maintains the same durability. This helmet features a unique air liner system, which distributes the force of an impact then immediately returns to its original shape. That same liner system makes it easy to get a custom fit for each player. Component parts of this helmet are interchangeable. Large ventilation holes on the crown allow air to circulate in the helmet. The Air Advantage also features a third chinstrap snap location – for players who don’t fit or don’t like the standard setup. Single inflatable air liner is designed for optimum fit (color coded for easier identification of sizes). The liner is treated with an anti-microbial agent to resist the growth of mold, mildew, fungus and other bacteria. Six large ventilation holes in the crown maximize air flow.
- Expanded Polypropylene Liner.
- Standard 3/8” EVA Liner.
- Locking Edge System - Keeps the Liner in Place.
- Universal Jaw Pads.
- Temple Pods - Provide Secure Fit in Traditionally Hard to Fit Areas.
- Rear Helmet Shell Offset - Conforms to shape of rear skull.
- Energy Dispersement Ridge - Adds strength and stability and conforms to head contour.
- Newly Designed Polycarbonate Anatomically Correct Shape - Reduced weight for comfortable fit.
- Venturi Ports and Extended Ear Holes - Improve ventilation by allowing for air circulation and heat dissipation.
- Skeletal Sub Structure (SSS System) - Expanded Polypropylene - Light weight stiff skeleton supports shell and assists in attenuating impacts.
- Newly Designed Polycarbonate Anatomically Correct Shape - Reduced weight for comfortable fit.
- Energy Dispersement Ridge - Adds strength and stability and conforms to head contour.
- Rear Helmet Shell Offset - Conforms to shape of rear skull.
- Venturi Ports and Extended Ear Holes - improve ventilation by allowing for air circulation and heat dissipation.
- EVA Liner and Front EVA Liner - provides comfortable fit and energy management.
- Custom Air Liner with Left Rear Inflation Air-Port - a superb individual air-fit system with easy inflation on player.
- Front Pad Assembly - Soft pad for easy access to mount/remove face mask.
- Skeletal Sub Structure (SSS System) - expanded polypropylene - light weight stiff skeleton supports shell and assists in attenuating impacts.
(Diarist Note: Um, Kinda long. Warning. And this was a hard slate of games to pick. Not sure about this)
The Big 10 season is officially underway. I think we're headed for a crazy, improbable league season. I could see something shake out like the ACC last year where a new contender emerges every week. I just think the power teams OSU and PSU right now arent as good as last season. At least three teams chasing them already have showcased a significant upgrade at the QB position. While the best defense in the league may reside away from Columbus or State College for the first time in a couple of years. I could see both PSU and OSU with at least two league losses and tie breakers needed to separate three teams atop the standings a la 2000. I guess that's a long winded way of saying, I have no true idea what's going to happen in these games. So tread carefully following in my footsteps.
MICHIGAN STATE AT WISCONSIN, NOON, ESPN
LINES: WISCO -3, O/U 53.5
This game is tough to figure out. I think it is going to be a gas to watch. Both teams are equipped with some of my favorite skill position players in the league. Al Toon, David Gilreath and Jonathan Clay for the Badgers. Blair White, Mark Dell, BJ Cunningham for the Spartans. Both teams have fresh quarterbacks on the upswing that have improved the play at that position from a year ago. These are two of the better offenses in the Big 10. It's going to be fun, close and marked by big offensive plays.
But, it's a nightmare to handicap.
In one corner, you have Michigan State coming in on back-to-back losses. Rule #47: Beware of Sparty on a losing streak. You never know when you're stepping in the middle of a tailspin. You dont want your money swept away in that. These are the first signs of a patented Sparty No season killing slide in the Dantonio Era. How will he have his team respond? They are also in a killer sandwich spot a week after losing a bitter heartbreaker to rival Notre Dame and a week before their own personal Armagedon game with Michigan. Way too many emotional question marks to take the Spartans, right? Maybe not. Because . . . . .
In this corner, we have the Wisconsin Badgers. Coached by Brett Bielema. Enough said. I could go on and on about some of the bizarre coaching moments Bielema and his coaching staff have brought us, but let's focus on the now. Their most talented offensive player is Jonathan Clay. Yet, earlier in the week Badgers coaches, notably OC Phil Chryst flat threw him under the bus all because he didn't like his reaction when informed he was finally starting a football game. Ok, whatever. It's your team, but why tell that tale to media, allowing them to write character assassination pieces? You dont beat Fresno without his game changing touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Maybe its better that he save his emotions until then? Just a thought. But, hey, if you think alienating your best player will light a fire under him, go for it. I guess declining wins for three years in a row cries out for new methods. Do what you have to do.
The Pick: Michigan State +3.......The Wisconsin coaches are selling their player out to the hack columnists. I cant get behind that. I could if I thought a quality head coach was behind the move, but that's just not the case. Dantonio might come off as a petulant grump at times, but I dont think he is in over his head the way Bielema is. Frankly, I dont sense the typical Sparty negativity that accompanies the familiar Green and White noise dive. Cousins looks good as a quarterback. How do we even know that Central and Notre Dame arent even better than Wisconsin? We dont, and in fact I think they are better in many ways. Wisconsin is an easier matchup for MSU's D than either of those squads, for example. I think Dantonio rallies the troops and gets the ship righted. Just in time for the Michigan game.
INDIANA AT MICHIGAN, NOON, ESPN2
LINES: MICHIGAN -205, 0/U 54
I have no credibility with any pick here. Last year, I sucked on Michigan games. I dont find it unacceptable that my team endured a rotten 3-9 season. I do find it UNACCEPTABLE that I didnt find a way to make any money off their historic collapse. There rests my 2008 sorrows.
Anyway, 2009 has obviously been a new year, not only for Michigan, but aslo their foe this week Indiana. The Hoosiers were downright awful last year. As Crimson Quarry John pointed out in yesterday's podcast last season was the least competitive season in Bloomington in a long, long time. But, IU is off to a nice 3-0 start and a win over Michigan would not only be historic, but also legitimize their bowl hopes. They have a nifty set of defensive ends, some playmaking ability in the secondary, an underrated stable of tailbacks and a big offensive line that will look to pummel Michigan's front while running out of the Pistol set.
We know what Michigan has. If Forcier keeps performing beyond his years, this offense will not be stopped by Indiana. The defense is shaky. We've been hoping for an injury free season, but we're going to the bench this week for safety help. Is that the first chink in the armour of the glorious 2009 ride? We'll find out.
This game will play out a lot like last weeks. Indiana's offensive line will block well enough against the smallish Michigan front to spring a few plays and move the ball down the field. Michigan's linebackers will be slow to react and Indiana will pick their way downfield and get a few scores. The last two Michigan foes tried and succeeded to a varying degree to run the football. Indiana will try to pound away as well and carve out yards in the early going. QB Chappell, however, does not play very well on the move. I think Michigan's pass rush has a vintage day tomorrow. That helps turn the tide in favor of Michigan's defense and eventually they'll get enough stops to enable the offense to roll to more points.
The Pick: Michigan -20.5, Over 53.....I dont think Indiana's defense has a shot here. I asked earlier in the week if Michigan could get the 38 points needed to maintain last season's scoring pace, but in half the games. I think they go Over that total. As for taking the total, I mentioned in the same column that the total has gon over in 10 of 15 games in the Rodriguez era. The way I see it, the over play is a hedge in case Indiana stays within the number. If they do, it wont be in a 20-16 game. No, instead it will be in a 45-31 game that gets us more freaked out about our defense than the Irish game did.
MINNESOTA AT NORTHWESTERN, NOON, BTN.
LINES: NW -1, O/U 49.5
I have watched a lot of both these teams this season thanks to the magic of DVR. I reviewed both of them play Syracuse. I caught NW playing Eastern as well as the other two games on Minnesota's slate against Air Force and Cal. From what I've seen, the Gophers are the better team. I'd have zero issue taking them to win this one on a nuetral field. On the road? In this case, yes, as I dont think the Wildcats have a real strong home field advantage. Not to mention with Minnesota now playing home games outdoors and on grass, there are no longer any worries about the dome team going outside anymore. At least that's what I have convinced myself.
I like both QBs in this game. Unlike some of the grumbling fan base, I am a fan of Gopher QB Adam Weber. He is an improved passer, but this season he has better weapons around him. Mostly, this statement is supported by the presence of Erik Decker, who is not only a big time playmaker, but pound for pound the toughest WR in the league. The Cats could not contain Syracuse's passing attack, so you have to expect Weber and Decker to do a lot of damage. Unlike last year, however, there is more to the receving corps than Decker. I have liked the way Weber has spread it around in recent weeks and guys like Brandon Green and TroyStoudermire have added elements to the passing attack that demand attention away from Decker. And they've been delivering big time plays even if Decker still gets more than twice as many catches. Cal had a hard time keeping the Gophers from sustaining drives and checking this passing game. I think they can keep that up against a defense shredded by Greg Paulus.
I also like Minny's defense better. They are not a shut down unit, but they did an ok job getting penetration up front and some pressure on Cal. And, they appear to have that big play turnover mojo from last year still rocking. Kafka for NW will do some damage, and he killed the Gophers last year. But, in the end, I see Gohper LB Simoni Lawrence forcing a key turnover late, that if not returned for a score, will at least set up Minnesota for a swing score paving the way to a win.
The PICK: Minny +1.......the last two years have seen the Cats win dramatic contests in overtime and in the final seconds of regulation. Nothing is ever due in the sports world, but I think the karma in this series evens out a bit Saturday. A week after playing fast, athletic Cal, the Gophers will, as a result, be a step ahead of Northwestern all day. I am beginning to think the Gophers are improved from last season, while the Cats are not. We'll see.
ILLINOIS AT OHIO STATE, 3:30, ABC
LINES: OSU -14, O/U 49.5
I am intrigued by this game if for no other reason to see what kind of Illinois team will emerge. Its been three weeks since we've seen them take on a team with a pulse when they were routed by a Missouri team that might be much better than a lot of us thought. Since then, however, they've endured a funcional DNP play against a lowly FCS school, a bye week giving them two weeks off in advance of this game.
They've basically been able to run a second summer camp and work on the issues that plagued them in the opener. Of course, that begats the question of is having all that extra prep time a good thing when your coach is Ron Zook? The Zooker takes a lot of heat, but I think this will be a good development for a team many pegged as a Big 10 darkhorse. I think they come out more focused and ready than the opener and give the Bucks a decent game.
Throughout last year, Ohio State looked a little clunky, especially in front of their home crowd. Despite last week's curbstomp of Toledo, I still wonder about this team as heavy chalk. Do they have the offense to cover big spreads? Will the line be consistent enough? Will Tressel let the team stretch its legs and by that I mean let Pryor loose? They are only 4-10 ATS as a favorite at the Shoe the last two plus seasons. Ever since Troy Smith left town, the Bucks have mastered and showcased the art of slogging through boring games, keeping things close and forcing audible grumbles from the home crowd. I see that trend continuing tomorrow.
THE PICK: Illinois +15.....The Buckeyes settle for one too many field goals and their bugaboos with running quarterbacks give Illinois enough offense to stay within the number. OSU wins, but does not cover, 30-17.
NOTRE DAME AT PURDUE, 8:00, ESPN
LINES: ND -8, O/U 59.5
I dont trust either of these teams. Purdue has been terrible over the years against teams that eventually qualify for a bowl. Notre Dame's defense has been schooled by Big 10 offenses in consecutive weeks. I could see this playing out like either of the games these teams played in Brady Quinn's junior and seniors seasons when the Irish when they averaged 42 points per game. But, I could also see the improved Purdue offense lighting up Notre Dame the way they did to Toledo and Oregon. They have played ND tough over the years at Ross Ade Stadium.
The Pick: Over 59.5.........taking the easy way out and cheering for points. The loser in the ND and Purdue games this season have scored just over 21 points per game, but thats with that goose egg an awful and one dimensional Nevada team put up against ND in the opener. Whoever losses this game will beat that number by a touchdown.
IOWA AT PENN STATE, 3:30, ABC
LINES: PSU -10, O/U 40.5
Penn State defies the notion there is no preseason football in the college game. After all, what else would you classify their non conference slate and the manner in which they played those games. The Nittany Lions lined up Akron, Temple and Syracuse (these teams are 41-102 the last four seasons combined) and exercised controlled scrimmages in each contest. We learned absolutely nothing about Penn State, despite their 23-point average margin of victory in those games. They didnt cover the spread in any of those games and just scored 13 total second half points. Paterno could have named the score in any of those contests. Penn State appeared to treat each game like a live practice, getting reps on the field for the young and/or green talent replacing some big time veterans lost to graduation.
Is Penn State ready for live football? Are they ready to play four quarters of it? Personally, I doubt it. Penn State might be one of the most overrated teams out there right now. No team has done as little to deserve their top-10 ranking. Now they enter their toughest game of the season to date without a star defensive player and a depleted linebacker corps.
I still wonder how they're going to be offensively in a big game without those glitzy wideouts they've had the last four seasons. Do I trust Jay Paterno to call a game without the crutch of Derek Williams to lean on? Um, No. Don't forget in the fateful game with Iowa last year, Williams threw for a key first down on what looked to be the game clinching drive. A few plays later QB Darryl Clark threw a game changing interception. The scoring drives in the critical showdown with OSU were fueled by runs, direct snaps, throws and catches from Williams. In my mind, he is the hardest player to replace in the Big 10 this year, and I remain both curious and dubious that Penn State has shown they can do that when playing teams their size.
Their reshuffled offensive line has struggled to get a push so far this season. The running attack broke out a bit last week, but has been rather stagnant during the early season. Sixteen games into his career, I still doubt Clark. He has yet to make a successful big, money throw in a big spot. Like I said above, if you rewatch PSU games from a year ago, you would be taken aback at how often Williams had the ball in his hands in the game's bigger moments.
Iowa will push them fully to the limit tomorrow. Iowa has already been through a lot this season. They escaped an embarassing loss by blocking kicks on the final two plays against Northern Iowa in one of the goofiest endings we've seen in a while. Since then, they've trounced rival Iowa State and throttled Arizona, a Pac 10 Bowl winner from a year ago. The Hawks dominated them along the lines of scrimmage and won the game going away. They've had a lot of injuries on the offensive line, including an illness to their best blocker Bryan Bugula. But, Iowa's makeshift offensive line performed well against Arizona and, for comparison, has been better against better competition than PSU's reshuffled front five this season. The Hawks have played rotating tailback thanks to more injuries, but have run the football well in consecutive weeks and might have found their future go to guy in Adam Robinson. I think their running game can hammer away a bit at PSU tomorrow and keep them just off balance enough to allow Stanzi a chance at an efficient passing attack. They are rumblings too that Derrell Johnson-Koulianos will play after being out with an ankle injury and his addition to the game would obviously only make me like Iowa more.
Penn State's defense will be tough to penetrate. But so too will the Hawks. You can make a case they're the best defense in the Big 10 right now. They have playmakers rolling at all three levels. I think this defensive line will beat PSU at the point of attack. The Hawks are good in coverage and if the faster Arizona wideouts could not create separation and open looks, I doubt the green WR corps from PSU, in their first real test, will find a lot of room to move either. Clark could have enough in him to finally be the reason his team wins a big game, but I just dont think from top to bottom that this is an elite PSU team and one that can just roll to a double digit win over one of the better teams in the league.
THE PICK: Iowa +10........I dont expect the Hawks to pull out the win, but this game is going all the way down to the end. Just like last year. Penn State is not as good this season as they were last year, its just that people have not figured it out yet. Frankly, Iowa played a better and faster defense last week against Arizona, particularily in the secondary, and put together an efficient, effective and winning game. I would be shocked if they dont acquit themselves well. Ferentz has had the upper hand against Joe Pa in recent years, and I expect that to continue somewhat in a low scoring, 23-20 type of game.
Holy crap was I long winded with this one. Sorry. Hopefully the long read is worth it and these seven games give us more winners than losers. So the two Big 10 columns (here and here) during out of conference season netted a 10-3 record. Lets keep building.