Given extensive work commitments and a second “career” within the 80s synth music revival scene, I had decided to forego the annual diary series this year. But with multiple diary series AWOL, I figured I what the heck.
This year I’ll be reviewing the week’s best and worst performances in the conference, using boxing as a metaphor.
All contests fall into one of four categories:
- KOs, TKOs and Unanimous Decisions (i.e. emphatic wins/upset wins)
- Split Decisions (i.e. wobbly wins)
- Moral Victories (i.e. losses you can take heart in)
- Out Cold (i.e. losses that make pandas sad)
Note: this is a week-by-week thing, not a power ranking type thing. Previous performances only come into play when ranking within these categories. I will, however, comment on the team’s overall performance and outlook in the comments.
[Rankings in parentheses.]
KOs, TKOs and Unanimous Decisions
1. OSU (3) beats Oklahoma (14) 45-24 on the road.
Whether OSU is really that good or Oklahoma is just worse than expected is a matter of debate; as far as I’m concerned, it’s both. Oklahoma certainly has not looked like a playoff contender so far, and that probably contributed to the way this game played out. That said, this young OSU team actually looks better than they did a year ago this time, when the roster was heavy with NFL-bound upperclassmen. They may still drop an egg at some point, but this was a big test and the Buckeyes passed it with ease. A potentially/hopefully momentum-killing bye week beckons, after which Rutgers offers itself up for ritual sacrifice.
2. MSU (12) beats Notre Dame (18) 36-28 on the road.
MSU’s anemic victory over Furman led a lot of people to question whether this Spartan team lived up to the standard set by the last three. But even if this Notre Dame team was overrated going into the game, a road victory over a ranked team is no small feat—especially considering ND’s recent success in the series. Simply put, had MSU played like they did against Furman, they would have lost. Instead, MSU’s offense clicked and the defense got just enough plays out of its experienced linebacking corps to hold off a last ditch comeback attempt. We’ll see whether this was a one-off performance or something more sustainable when they play Wisconsin at Camp Randall.
3. Nebraska (NR) beats Oregon (22) 35-32 at home.
Nebraska has a good roster...by Big 10 West standards. They did last year as well, and probably should have won 8-9 games. Unfortunately, they were really, really unlucky, leaving them with a 5-7 record instead. Things seem to be going better in the fortune department now, as evidenced by this close win over a not-quite-what-they-used-to-be-but-still-ranked (barely) Oregon team. 9-3 seems attainable for the Huskers, who get Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue over the next four games.
4. Michigan (4) beats Colorado (NR) 45-28 at home.
By far the wobbliest of the four convincing victories, and a game in which a better-than-expected Colorado spent two quarters looking like they were primed for the upset. Then Colorado’s QB got hurt and Michigan wreaked its horrible vengeance upon the Buffaloes. Fans can either take refuge in the fact that the team has the skill and heart to recover from early adversity, or worry endlessly about the erratic safety, OL and QB play, all of which seemed to confirm preseason anxieties about those positions. Both are legitimate reactions to a victory that never seemed as emphatic as the final score implies. Next up: a mediocre Penn State team with one very scary running back.
Split Decision Wins
5. Maryland (NR) beats UCF 30-24 on the road.
Not a great win by any stretch of the imagination, but UCF is at least okay and Maryland were playing on the road. So that’s something I guess. Next up: a game.
6. Penn State (NR) beats Temple 34-27 at home.
Penn State decided to memorialize the man who allegedly kept quiet for decades about a serial child molester by eking out a home win against Temple. Can’t we just trade them to the ACC already?
7. Northwestern (NR) beats Duke (NR) 24-13 at home.
Northwestern finally gets a win—over a bad Duke team, sure, but hey—a win is better than another loss, I guess.
10. Wisconsin (9) beats Georgia State (NR) 23-17 at home.
It’s getting hard to remember that Wisconsin beat a top 5 SEC West team just two weeks ago. The Badgers looked downright bad as they barely scraped by winless Georgia State, and the murderers’ row portion of their schedule looms large. Will fans remember the opener if they go 6-6?
9. Rutgers (NR) beats New Mexico (NR) 37-28 at home.
Another week, another bad performance by Rutgers, who may not win another game all year.
10. Iowa (13) loses to North Dakota (NR) 23-31 at home.
Uninspired and uninspiring performance by the presumptive Big 10 West favorites. Iowa still has plenty of time to recover, but expectations for the season have officially been tempered. Iowa’s next two opponents—Rutgers and Northwestern—offer Kirk Ferentz a great pair of opportunities to right the ship and start earning that $48m extension.
11. Illinois (NR) loses to Western Michigan (NR) 34-10 at home.
Granted, WMU is a good MAC team, but they are still a MAC team, and any game in which you get steamrolled—at home—by a MAC team is a bad, bad game. Illinois is bad and should feel bad.
BYES: Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue
Among other things, a list of proposals the Big 10 wants to see adopted:
• We must guarantee the four-year scholarships that we offer. If a student-athlete is no longer able to compete, for whatever reason, there should be zero impact on our commitment as universities to deliver an undergraduate education. We want our students to graduate.
• If a student-athlete leaves for a pro career before graduating, the guarantee of a scholarship remains firm. Whether a professional career materializes, and regardless of its length, we will honor a student's scholarship when his or her playing days are over. Again, we want students to graduate.
• We must review our rules and provide improved, consistent medical insurance for student-athletes. We have an obligation to protect their health and well-being in return for the physical demands placed upon them.
• We must do whatever it takes to ensure that student-athlete scholarships cover the full cost of a college education, as defined by the federal government. That definition is intended to cover what it actually costs to attend college.
Indiana Wide Receiver Isaac Griffith was in a serious water accident over Spring Break. Apparently he was caught in a rip tide, and is now in a medically induced coma to allow his lungs to function properly. His parents Shannon and Kim are at his side in the ICU, and ask prayer that Isaac's lungs would heal properly.
This is one of those reminders that there are things more important than sports rivalries.
In a past diary last week, I examined the advanced statistics published by Football Outsiders in their context within the B1G. The new statistics have been released for all games through October 19th, et voilà (click to embiggen):
Some tentative conclusions based on these statistics:
- Michigan's offense and defense are slightly better than they were last week, according to the advanced statistics. This has to do with a lot of things -- these statistics take into account strength of schedule, so things like a Notre Dame victory presumably affect how our offense and defense are judged. Presumably then, the awesomeness of Indiana's offense (best in the B1G!) doesn't adversely affect our defense despite the fact that they hung 47 on us. Likewise our record offensive performance isn't so impressive to the advanced statistics, because Indiana's defense is awful.
- Michigan and Wisconsin are the most balanced teams in the B1G, with good offenses and defenses. But there are many teams with a lot of variance between the two sides of the ball: Michigan State has a great defense and a below-average offense (duh), Indiana has a wonderful offense and a pitiful defense (duh), and Ohio State's offense is very good while its defense is barely above-average.
- Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern are all pretty mediocre according to the advanced stats. This makes me feel better about this November.
- Michigan State and Ohio State are both excellent but have weaknesses (their offense and defense, respectively). According to the advanced stats, we are moderately better overall than Michigan State and Ohio State is much better overall.
- Purdue is very, very bad.
EDIT: I've also added a chart with all the B1G teams plus M's opponents in 2013:
This will be a bit of an abbreviated post because, well, 59-9 tells a pretty compelling story. Sure, I will try to tease out some larger trends from the game, but the biggest takeaway is that UM destroyed a MAC team in the way you expect the winningest program in college football history to do so, and nobody really seemed that surprised. Given the relative struggles the past half-dozen years, that’s the biggest Best I can point out.
Best: The least sexy 59 points you’ll ever see
As Brian noted in his “Five Questions, Five Answers” preview, the Al Borges offense we’re going to see is not the spread that was trotted out under RR and limped along until the end of the Denard era. While I take issue with the “wrong side of history” supposition of this decision, I agree with Brian that Borges’s offense will remain dynamic and creative enough that the ghost of Mike Debord will stay in his comically 90’s room for the foreseeable future.
That’s like, totally your opinion
But 52 points were scored by this offense without much in the way of trickeration or going for 2 points on the first two TDs, you twerp. It was an efficient, dominant performance with wrinkles here and there but also a consistent scheme that was frankly missing during the Transition. As Ace noted there are questions about the line, but Kalis MANBALLED a couple of guys and held up well; I expect Miller to struggle at times but should improve with more reps to at least competent. This offense will undoubtedly struggle at times when teams are able to collapse the inside of the line, and the WRs need to create more separation than they did today, but overall it felt like the type of performance one expected from this unit. It should be the best in the conference unless OSU figures out how to block people, and even then I think the plethora of backs and TEs will continue to keep Devin reasonably clean and away from too many hits running the ball.
Best: Who needs redshirts?
The usual suspects played – Morris, Smith, and Green on offense; Charlton and Thomas on defense. Not unexpected burning men like Gedeon, Butt, and Stribling also suited up, and while I’m a little annoyed if Gedeon only plays on special teams this year, you have to think the coaches like what he brings on defense to push him into a more prominent role. Lewis is a bit of a head scratcher, but Norfleet had some troubles early on with returns and Lewis is a shifty guy in space. But overall, I’m not a fan of redshirting except when the guy in question really wouldn’t help you (i.e. most linemen, small-ish WRs, anybody in the secondary unless they are unbelievable), and basically everyone who played acquitted himself well enough to warrant more playing time in some capacity.
So yeah, the defense looked REALLY fast out there. Thomas on the punt block practically yanked the ball out of the punter’s hands, and throughout the game CMU players were hit as soon as they touched the ball. Early on it seemed like Countess was playing off the WRs too much, but then every time the ball was sent their way he stuck the receiver almost immediately. Other than one or two plays toward the end, the secondary kept everyone in front of them and rarely did you see much separation. Under Hoke, it sometimes felt like Mattison and co. had to gameplan teams into spots to compensate for a lack of athleticism at certain positions; at least after today it looks like those limitations are disappearing quickly. It isn’t quite LSU/Alabama speedsters out there quite yet, but this is another check in the “good recruiting” checklist for this staff.
Worst: We can’t have nice things
Listen, I’m as neurotic and cynical as the next guy when it comes to sports, but at some point it just gets old. I will admit to being a bit down about the early play calling and will remain a Borges questioner until such time as I learn how college offenses work, but at some point the liveblog became one big bit*hing session+ once it was clear UM was going to run away with the game. All of a sudden you have people questioning Derrick Green’s ability to run through contact, Frank Clark’s inability to get to the QB (I will admit to being in this group initially), and every non-TD run or non-intercepted completion as proof that some component of the team wasn’t “working” or was a point of concern. The hive mind of the liveblogs can adopt misguided stances and I get that it shouldn’t be taken seriously, but the team just scored 59 points against a bowl team, held them to a couple of field goal attempts with 3(!) of 14 drives longer than 30 yards, and averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 10.5 yards per attempt. They played pretty well folks; let’s enjoy the win for at least a day before we all try to Gladwell our way through trends from one game.
+ I never understand *’ing out the vowel in a cuss word. I think we all know that “f*ck” doesn’t refer to one-time Tiger’s first basemen Robert Fick, yet everyone apparently thinks removing the ‘i’ in sh*t is going to throw everyone off the scent. Either blot out the whole word or leave it alone. /HOTSPORTSTAKE
Had 106 yards on 4 returns, and was a couple of broken tackles away from housing at least 1 of those returns. He also recorded 38 yards on his one run, and overall looked like a dynamic component of the offense. He’ll never be an every-down back and I doubt he’ll reach the heights of Breaston (who seemingly was both faster a bit more elusive in small spaces), but he gives this team a legitimate return man for the first time since, I don’t know, McGuffie, and the type of guy who can take those once-a-game Ronald Bellomy WR runs and make them work because the other team can’t immediately assume that’s why he’s on the field.
Worst: Out of Nowhere!
Fair warning: this section is going to be one big wrestling analogy. Since I was around 6 years old, I’ve been a huge fan of professional wrestling. I watch it on television, Hulu, and Youtube every chance I can. I once rented every Wrestlemania (9 of them at the time) and watched them straight, without blinking, and probably lost a gallon of water with the drool that fell from my mouth. I loved Jake Roberts and Damien so much I cried when Earthquake “squished” him during their feud. I was a little Hulkster, then a member of the Warrior nation, followed by a heartbroken Rocker fan (seeing Shawn kick Marty Jannetty and throw him through the barbershop window taught me to never trust anyone in a leather jacket). I was a fan of the Dangerous Alliance and marked out so hard when Stunning Steve became Stone Cold and ushered in the Attitude Era along with DX, the Rock and Sock Connection, Kurt Angle, and washed-up MMA guys like Tank Abbott and Ken Shamrock. Hogan creating the NWO with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall set the world on fire for a bit, and Goldberg speared anyone with a pulse into next Tuesday. TLC wasn’t a way to treat a lady or a TV channel with weird shows about future diabetes sufferers; it was a brutal contest with enough splintered tables and broken limbs to remind you how fragile the human body is. Innovators like Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio showed you little guys could rise to the top, and Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit shed the “Vanilla Midgets” label to become champions even though their careers ended suddenly (and in Benoit’s case, horribly). Even with the relatively fallow period that followed Brock Lesnar’s departure to NFL training camps and, ultimately, the UFC, I still enjoyed watching Batista, JBL, Orton, John Cena, and the rest soldier on. And with the ascension of “Indy” guys likes CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, plus the healthy growth of the development system and the indy feds like ROH, PWG, CZW, and the like, it is a good time to be a fan.
Over this time, I’ve seen the medium evolve and grow, and mostly for the better. Guys train harder and take better care of their bodies, match quality is higher, and storytelling has evolved to the point where major sports blogs have writers dedicated to covering it. It isn’t necessarily still real to me, but I definitely see it maintaining a place in my sports life going forward.
One change I have noticed over the years, though, is the proliferation of “spontaneous” in-ring moments and moves that you just didn’t see back in the 80’s and early 90’s. It used to be when a guy was going to hit his “finisher”, he had some setup – Hogan gave you the big boot before running the ropes and dropping the leg; Ric Flair gave you the knee breaker and then actually had to lock in the figure-four; and even “quick hitters” like the Ultimate Warrior and Shawn Michaels still had some setup before they finished you off with their splash or superkick. But around the time Austin hit the scene, guys started in with the reversals and the quick finishers; Stunners to everyone, Diamond Cutters off chokeslams, Tombstones off cross bodies and Sweet Chin Musics off jumping attacks. Now every move was “out of nowhere”, culminating in Randy Orton RKO’ing literally everybody off ever-more convoluted triple-lindys. As Brandon Stroud of With Leather always laments, guys just need to stop jumping around Orton and they’ll win all the time.
So what’s my point? Well, one of the things that has changed about following college sports is that because of the multitude of mediums covering the games, you really aren’t “surprised” by anything before the teams step on the field. Sure, Gordon being suspended for the first game was relatively unknown, but even then there was a board post on the topic two hours before the game. I knew the vast majority of the depth chart weeks before it was released, heard the insider buzz about certain players stepping up while others floundered, and even knew the basic structure of the offense and defense, including quite a few wrinkles, despite the best attempts by the Fort to keep them under wraps. On one hand it makes fandom more engrossing and “fun” because my knowledge is more thorough and nuanced, but the “Christmas morning” feel of watching the team line up that first game is lost a bit when you’ve already read about the N64 and Easy-Bake oven in the nondescript box three weeks ago. And with all that information, expectations can explode to unreasonable levels; witness the post above with people complaining about the young running backs.
The inexorable march of progress is such that we’ll only get more insider information and in-depth analyses of players and recruits, and on the whole that is a positive for both fans and the game. To be a well-rounded fan, you need to read and keep up on your teams to an almost-unhealthy degree; otherwise you are basically Skip Bayless or Lou Holtz without the clothing budget. About the only time you can ever be surprised anymore is when you….
Best: Play the Game
For despite all of the predictions and charts, the acronyms and the tomes written about the game, nobody knows will happen during the game until the teams actually line up. Fitz looked great out there, making cuts and accelerating through holes opened up be a much-improved offensive line. Devin looked shaky earlier but played well in the end, accounting for over 200 yards in about 2.5 quarters of work. Morris, Green, and Smith all had their turns out there and showed promise. the depth on defense, previously a figment of the fevered imagination of our benevolent overlord, showed up in spades. Countess looked like the corner everyone expected last year before he was hurt, while Thomas, Wilson, Stribling, Morgan, Ross, and Gordon all stepped into more prominent roles and played well (I recognize Wilson blew at least one assignment). Even guys like Clark, whom I’m more down on than others, played reasonably well. I know it’s one game, but it was nice to be surprised by guys actually playing football in a game that mattered.
Worst: Big Ten!
Oh where to start. MSU struggled to move the ball against the other, other directional school last night, and no amount of BTN spit-shining will change that. As noted earlier, OSU went for 2 twice because (a) Meyer wanted to make a point, and (b) that point is that he is a *ick. And even with all of that early success, a 4-8 Buffalo team was touch-and-go with the #2 team in the country, at home, for most of the game. Illinois looked competent against Southern Illinois but still only won by 8, Cincy pounded Purdue by 35 as perennial Most Awesome Name candidate Munchie Legaux stood tall in the pocket. PSU held on against Syracuse but looked like it will be years until the effects of those sanctions allow them to regain their stronger position in the conference, and Wiscy ran over UMass like they always do against overmatched squads who are lactose intolerant. At least they can run the ball with James White. Oh yeah, and Iowa lost to NIU because of course they would. At time of this post teams like NW and Nebraska are still playing, but I doubt we’ll learn much about either team win or lose (though if they lose to Wyoming and/or Cal, I’m going to book my tickets for Indy tomorrow).
But overall, it was not a banner weekend for the conference. The Big 10 isn’t great at football outside of the top couple of teams; that’s been an annoying reality for a couple of years now. The conference isn’t dying or falling behind anyone not named the SEC, but the Big 2, Little 10 mantra is gaining traction every day, and I’m not seeing much evidence down the pipeline that it will change any time soon.
Best: UTL II
Hey, it might be fun…
During the past few summers when college conference expansion was all the rage, all I could think about was how the maneuvering and backstabbing going on was similar to George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I tweeted about it a long while back, but forgot about it until recently when I read an article comparing soccer teams to the great houses of Westeros. I figured with it being a quiet off season and HBO’s version of a Game of Thrones currently in its second season, I should revisit the idea and look at the Big 10 and some of college football’s other teams as if they were great houses. I’ve excluded Nebraska because they are too new to the Big 10 and have tried to avoid spoilers for people who have not read all the books. Feel free to add more in the comments. Enjoy!
Michigan: House Stark. Michigan is one of the oldest teams in the country and can trace their lineage back to the First Men (to play football). Like Winterfell, their keep is one of the oldest and largest in all the BCS Kingdoms, and like the Starks there must always be a Michigan Man in the Big House. One of the defining characteristics of House Stark is their dedication to honor, a trait that Michigan shares as well. Many other houses look upon this as folly, for it puts both Stark and Michigan at a disadvantage when dealing with other Houses who have no such restrictions. Both the Starks and Michigan share sigils of ferocious creatures that do not actually live on their lands. They are The School in the North.
Ohio State: House Bolton. If there is any house that can match the Starks in the North, it is House Bolton. While the power of Michigan has waned in the past years, Ohio State’s has risen under the watchful eye of their quiet leader, Jim Tressel. Like Roose Bolton, Tressel looked like a model banner man and Northerner, honorable and loyal, but deep down he only cared about winning. And win he did, dispatching Michigan and becoming the new Warden of the North. House Bolton is seen by many to be brutal and untrustworthy, but there is no denying their power or the intelligence of their leadership. While the rest of the North floundered, they flourished. Both Ohio State and Bolton now are dealing with new heirs who many people think are basically the scum of the earth.
Wisconsin: House Umber. While not the most powerful House, the Umbers have made a name for themselves for being brave warriors and immensely strong. They could never match the power of the Starks or the Bolton’s, but individually they are perhaps the strongest warriors in the BCS Kingdoms. Their sigil is a chained giant, and the men of the house look the part, simply overpowering any foe who stands before them. One of the members of House Umber is nicknamed “Whoresbane” which sums up Brett Bielma nicely.
Penn State: House Manderly. House Manderly was never originally from the North, instead they arrived a 1000 years ago after being chased away from the South. While they were accepted by the Starks and have lived in the North for some time, they are still viewed by many as outsiders, and not considered true Northerners. While this may not seem fair to Penn State, who have proven themselves time and again to be loyal subjects, it is the case regardless. Whiteharbor is the only port of size in the North and is the portal through which the rest of the North gains access to the fertile lands of the South. While Penn State is not the only way the Big 10 gains access to the East Coast, it does play a similar role.
Michigan State: House Karstark. The Karstarks are an offshoot of House Stark, started by a youngest son who would never have inherited anything. They are proud, but not particularly powerful in the grand scheme of things. No matter what they do, they forever live in the shadow of their more powerful, pure blood Stark cousin’s. And if they get out of hand, you can bet that big cousin is standing there ready to lop off their head.
Minnesota: House Mormont. Both Minnesota and House Mormont are exceptionally proud and incredibly poor. They hardly seem worthy of being part of the BCS nobility, seeing as they live in a wooden fort on an island with no resources, but they are. Their sigil is a bear which kind of looks like a gopher.
Iowa: House Reed. House Reed lives in a swamp far away from civilization. Iowa can be found in a cornfield far away from civilization. Every once in a while they do something interesting, but mostly they just sit far away from civilization.
Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana: House who cares. Seriously, no one cares about the minor houses in the books and no one cares about these teams.
Other Great Houses:
Notre Dame: House Targeryen. House Targeryen is not aligned with any of the old kingdoms, having arrived from Vallyria with dragons and conquering everyone. For centuries they lorded over the other BCS people as the undisputed kings, but recently have fallen on hard times. Inbreeding has basically left them insane, and a series of horrendous leaders have left them running around in the wilderness with no shoes eating horse hearts. One Targeyen named Viserys even got a pot of melted gold poured over his head. Like Targeryen, Notre Dame is not really seen as a threat to anyone, but there is a great deal of power still in the name. A capable person could turn them into a mighty force.
Texas: House Baratheon. Both are big, powerful, and pretty much assholes. They don’t really work with others, instead just tell them what to do. They were kings for a while, but recently have utterly collapsed, and aren’t really a force to be reckoned with. Baratheon’s sigil is a horned stag, which is similar to Texas’ Longhorn.
Alabama: House Lannister. Everyone hates the Lannisters/Alabama, but they are probably the most powerful force in the world at the moment. They have the money, don’t really play by the rules, and treat everyone like the peasants they are. When they play you, they don’t so much want to beat you but kill you, kill your family, and erase your names from the history books. It seems that every few years some sort of horrific scandal is coming out of Alabama/House Lannister, but people soon forget it after they crush some new foe. As far as leadership goes, both House Lannister and Alabama have the privilege of having a genius and bloodthirsty dwarf in command. While the sigil of House Lannister is a lion and Alabama has an elephant, House Lannister’s colors are gold and crimson, which fits in nicely for the Crimson Tide.
Oregon: House Baelish. House Baelish was a speck of a house on the ocean that had no great history or wealth. But through the genius and possibly ill-gotten wealth of one man, that has all changed. Oregon was nothing before Nike founder Phil Knight began making it rain dollars in the Pacific Northwest instead of, you know, rain. Through a combination of absurd wealth and some backroom deals, both Oregon and Baelish are now knocking at the doors of the elite. Plus, both have adorable birds as sigils.
Florida State: House Tyrell. Both Florida State and House Tyrell think they are royalty, but really both found themselves in very fertile grounds and got lucky. It is hard to fail when you have the richest lands to draw from; large populations on those lands, but surprisingly both Florida State and Tyrell seem to fall apart with some regularity. They have neighbors in Miami and House Florent who fell that they are superior and deserve the top spot, but no one else thinks so.
The Big East: The Iron Islands. You could look at individual teams and compare them to individual houses, but what’s the point. Both the Ironborn and the Big East live on the coast and like to think they are powerful and deserve respect, but most people ignore them until they get beaten. And when that happens, they turn around and smack them in the mouth until they run away. Both the Big East and the Ironborn like to claim great swathes of land, but have no hopes of actually holding on to any of it. It is tough to be surrounded by far more powerful kingdoms who could crush you with a sneeze.