I actually didn't make this, so I won't claim it, but it also doesn't look like it's been posted yet either. Found it while watching Luke's new one in the youtube suggestions. Too good not to share. Please claim it if it's yours though so we can give you MOAR UPVOTES.
The inspiration for my wallpaper this week is a little bit out of left field. Some of you may be aware that Wisconsin once tried to steal the "Mitten State" slogan from Michigan. In the winter of 2011, a Wisconsin tourism campaign used the image of a mitten stretched in the shape of Wisconsin. Some Michiganders were outraged, but most thought it was hilarious.
This is not what a mitten looks like. The "thumb" is an incredibly generous interpretation of what the state actually looks like. I don't want to see the hand that fits in that mitten.
My takeaway from the situation was that Wisconsinites aren't very good at drawing hands. In fact, maybe people from Wisconin just aren't good at drawing in general. So what would it look like if the head coaches from Wisconsin and Michigan were asked to draw their respective mascots? See for yourself below.
Best: An Ass Kicking
Usually I write these recaps top-to-bottom; I construct a general narrative and then fill in the details as I go along. But not this week. This week, the game itself wasn’t all that illustrative. UM is a significantly better team than PSU. PSU would absolutely get housed by Colorado and I think UCF would give them a run for your money. The Nittany Lions have some talented players, but they’ve played like an entertaining mid-major for most of this year, not a sleeping giant like they’ve been portrayed as in the past.
And so, trying to glean much from this game was difficult. From that first drive when UM nearly got a safety and just crushed the world around Trace McSorley every time he dropped back, it felt like this was 3+ hours.
I thought this would be a nice test for the Wolverines, a good barometer for how they’d fare against the middle of the conference. If this is the case, then woo boy, watch out Maryland and Rutgers. But who knows what this game means, except that a woman being kicked by her own foot in a fake fight is the best distillation of this game, and really this series since James Franklin took over at PSU.
Best: No, Seriously, Just an Ass Kicking
Pour one out for poor Les
UM picked up 326 yards on the ground at 6.7 yards per carry, with 6 TDs, and if you throw out a couple of kneel downs it was closer to 7.2 ypc. Smith led the way with 107 yards on 12 carries and a TD, while Higdon, Isaac, and Evans all added at least one run over 25 yards and a TD. It was so dominating a performance on the ground that Peppers didn’t have a carry and nobody really noticed. Also, all the backs helped keep Speight clean in the pocket, especially Smith, who really is great at picking up blitzers and blocking them to a stand still. About the only down spot was McDoom’s first sweep getting snuffed out immediately by an over-active linebacker; Brian mentioned earlier in the week the Nittany Lions were terrified of those plays and they definitely showed it there.
And I loved some of the play calling as well; Evans’s TD run came on a long 3rd down where they ran a delayed handoff and Evans had lots of space to operate. The line seemed better at opening up holes compared to last week, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the limited depth for PSU and the fact nobody on the Nittany Lions was a fully-operational battle station. They’ll be challenged next week by an active Wisconsin team (especially T.J. Watt), but this was a nice bounce-back.
I still don’t know what the “real” Michigan rushing game is; it’s probably somewhere between UCF and this game, trending a bit more toward UCF. PSU is so undermanned in the front 7, I would have been disappointed had UM not been able to mash them up, though doing so to this degree was a bit surprising. We’ll know a lot more after next week’s game; if UM can string together some solid runs like they did here, that will go a long way toward keeping teams honest defensively.
Worst: Depths of Excuses
Before we go too much farther, I do want to point out a bone of contention I had with PSU fans continually claiming their mediocre performance is due to the ongoing recruiting issues stemming from the scholarship reductions. While it’s true PSU was limited somewhat on the recruiting trail, it’s not been a barren wasteland. Here is a chart of PSU’s recruiting numbers these past 5 years, taken from 24/7:
|Year||National Ranking||Conference Ranking||# of recruits|
Yes, Penn State had some limitations in terms of class size, but this wasn’t a team unable to recruit solid players to their program. And yet, the offensive line remains, at best, below average, with additional depth issues along the defensive line. Nobody can prepare for losing all 3 starting LBs, but this is a team that seemed to live off the last couple years of Joe Pa’s tenure and Bill O’Brien’s first year without properly replenishing the stock at key positions. Over Franklin’s first 3 years, they’ve recruited a total of 12 offensive linemen, exactly 3 in the top-250. Offensive line is always a bit of a crapshoot, but at least some of their issues do come from ineffective recruiting on the offensive line and, to a lesser extent, the linebackers and defensive line. The sanctions are all gone and their effects, whatever they are, should be mostly gone by now. I just don’t buy that their struggles keeping their QB upright is mostly due to a couple of missed scholarships.
Best: A Rudockian Performance
The good news in that Wilton Speight bounced back from last week’s struggles against Colorado; he completed 62% of his throws for almost 200 yards and a TD. He wasn’t sacked though he was under pressure a bit; he largely responded well, running for a 1st down on a 4th-and-7 play, throwing a dart on another 4th down that was dropped, and generally keeping his eyes downfield while on the move. He’ll never remind you of a Gardner or even an Andrew Luck on the run, but one of his really underrated traits is Speight’s focus downfield as he moves. He isn’t necessarily a threat to run, but since he always seems capable of making a throw downfield you keep pressure on defenders to stay on receivers, which led to some nice completions. At some point in the 3rd quarter, he had been 7/7 on 3rd down, picking up 4 FDs in the process. He also showed a bit more zip on the ball, which leads to an issue I saw a couple of times.
For whatever reason, Speight struggled a bit guiding balls to receivers on pretty simple throws. He threw a ball very low to Khalid Hill on third down on UM’s first scoring drive; he was bailed out by Hill digging it off the turf for a first. But had that ball been higher, Hill might have scored. Later on in that first half, he miffed another ball high to Butt on a screen that probably would have led to UM walking in for another score.
This wasn’t a game where Speight was asked to do much and you could tell the game plan was simplified a bit once it became clear that UM could run all over the undermanned PSU front. But I definitely left this game believing Colorado was a bit of a fluke, buoyed a bit by how they played in Oregon. It’ll be interesting to see how Speight handles Wisconsin’s pressure, but he definitely seems more comfortable back there than Rudock was at this point last year.
Meh: Catchy Guys
I can’t tell how much was play calling and how much was the defense, but I’m a bit concerned UM continues to struggle a bit throwing the ball downfield. Chesson hasn’t really taken the top off of teams recently, and in this game he had 1 catch for 18 yards, which is an improvement over last week’s no-catch outing. In his stead Darboh and Butt had good games, but UM’s offense needs that playmaker outside, and Chesson not getting deep (and dropping another catchable ball) is a bit troubling.
On the more positive end, I thought Darboh played great in this game. There was a 3rd-down conversion in the first half where Speight threw the ball 6-7 yards short of the sticks and let Darboh fight off his defender and run for the first. Normally I’m not a fan of passes short of the line on 3rd down, but this was a perfect play call because it took advantage of everything Darboh does well: solid hands in coverage and the power and speed to fight off a tackler. And Grant Perry had a couple of nice catches as well, as he seems to be growing into the slot position. And Jake Butt is Jake Butt; he’s the best pass-catching TE in the country and he remains a matchup nightmare for teams. I know PSU was down their entire LBs, but Butt basically got open at will all day.
So overall, a fine day for the receiving corps, but I am definitely hoping Chesson can integrate himself back into the passing game soon.
Best: Simple, Unrelenting Pressure
At some point in the first half of this game, I legitimately wondered if James Franklin didn’t understand that getting his QBs crushed for 4 quarters was probably why all of them seemed to struggle. At halftime, Trace McSorley had been sacked 5 times, hit probably another 4-5 times, and barely had enough time to set his feet before he had to run for his life. And Michigan was doing this at most with 5 rushers; on that first drive UM sacked McSorley twice with straight 4-man rushes. After years of hearing about how the defensive line wanted to “earn” the right to rush 4, this year’s team has garnered such rights in droves.
Officially, UM had 13 TFLs for 45 yards, including 6 sacks for 27. In reality, they probably would have broken 20 had they not took their foot off the gas a bit in the 4th. Taco Charlton picked up right where he left off before his leg injury, recording 1.5 sacks and adding some nice edge control when PSU tried to run outside. Mo Hurst had a big sack where he just ran past the center, showing that burst we all heard about when he came to UM. And Wormley nearly got a safety on the opening drive when he just drove the PSU tackle back a half-dozen yards.
Plus, UM was able to do this without getting a huge day from Peppers, at least on the stats sheet. He had 5 tackles and that huge punt return to start UM’s first drive, but otherwise he was relatively quiet. I sensed UM didn’t want to tip their hand much before Wisconsin, but it was pretty amazing to see them throttle an okay PSU offense with a standard front. They just dominated the individual matchups, and that doesn’t bode well for a lot of other offenses in this league if UM can get into the backfield this easily, this consistently.
And they front 7 largely held Saquon Barkley in check. He’s a great runner in space and has good size and hands, so the fact he finished with about 75% of PSU’s total yardage (77 in the air, 59 on the ground) shouldn’t surprise anyone. But beyond one nice little run that was helped quite a bit by Mike McCray getting picked off by a PSU WR he definitely wasn’t even looking for as he tracked Barkley, he could never get going and was taken out of the game quickly. After weeks of chasing around guys relying on misdirection and broken assignments, you could tell UM was prepared for the more “predictable” play calling from PSU, and I expect a similar level of play next week against Wisconsin.
Best: Nobody to Pick On
After Michigan ran out to that big lead and PSU realized that Barkley wasn’t going to be able to get much going on the ground, Penn State became very focused on trying to find a matchup in UM’s secondary they could use to move the ball down the field. They tried a slant or two at Lewis in the slot with minimal success, and outside of a couple of short balls to Gesicki they couldn’t get much going with their mid-distance passing game. So under heavy duress, McSorley tried to get the ball to Hamilton and Godwin downfield. It didn’t lead to much success, as they combined for 2 catches for 19 yards and a TD.
What I did notice was that PSU clearly went after Stribling more; before going out with an injury, PSU seemed to throw at him once with Godwin that was a failed circus catch and that was about it. They went after Stribling a bit harder, and he responded with two pass breakups and generally looked the part of a top corner. With Clark out he’ll be expected to take hold of that outside corner spot, and thus far this season he’s looked the part.
Worst: I Don’t Understand Penalties
This is nothing new, but it seems to happen every year that as soon as I think I have it down, the rules or their applications change.
So PSU’s walk-on-turned-starter Brandon Smith was ejected for targeting on a play where he tried to pick off a pass to a falling Grant Perry. Yes there was contact to the head, but Smith was absolutely making the play on the ball and that should be allowed. Michigan fans know all about questionable targeting calls, and it was hard to understand what else Smith could have done in that situation. Even on review it doesn’t look intentional or particularly dangerous, unless we are going to redefine what is a defenseless player to an extreme degree.
And the weirdness didn’t end there. UM got hit with at least two dubious pass interference calls in this game, one each on Clark and Stribling. In Stribling’s case, the ball was thrown yards short and both him and I believe Godwin were battling for position; it was the definition of rubbing in racing. Clark also got dinged for a similar play in which the ball was high and outside, and the PSU receiver sort of jumped into him and drew the call. Considering Chesson had gotten mugged only a bit earlier on a similar play, it was difficult to get a sense what the refs were seeing.
I do get that UM’s defense is so dominant that at times officials might feel the need to call a penalty to stem the aggressiveness, much like how Shaq was often officiated differently because he physically dominated players to a degree few had seen before. UM had 13 TFLs, including 6 sacks, and it took some garbage time for PSU to even crack 100 yards passing. And UM is a very “handsy” pass defense, in a similar vein to the way UM fans complained MSU did when their defense was dominant. But at the same time, if one team is just beating up another it doesn’t mean they are doing anything particularly wrong, only that they are better. It’s not some massive issue, but I do cock and eyebrow when the team that won by 39 was found guilty of 5 more penalties for nearly 70 yards than the opposition.
Worst: 6th Year Roulette
So Jeremy Clark injured his ACL on a kick return late in the game more notable for the hit put on Jourdan Lewis by PSU’s mammoth punter.
Clark at least has the opportunity to apply for a redshirt because of the timeliness, if you will, of the injury; Mario Ojemudia missed out on the same opportunity despite a similar injury because it occurred one game later on the schedule. But Clark already took a redshirt his freshman year, and so the team will have to provide evidence he was actually injured then and not just a casualty of the depth chart and/or uncertainty for his position with the previous staff. While the NCAA can always amaze you with its decisions, it’s not a given that Clark will get another year. If he does come back in 2017, that provides a huge boost to that unit, as Clark was playing like an all-conference corner when he went down, and with his combination of size and speed he gives UM flexibility to put him on an island against basically anyone and hold his own.
How this injury affects the 2016 defense will depend heavily on how well freshmen like Lavert Hill and and David Long can take on their roles in this defense. You still have lots of veteran players in the defensive backfield, and getting back Jourdan Lewis is huge, but before Clark went down those young guys were a bonus; now, they are going to be expected to contribute. This is why I tend not to bemoan lost redshirts at positions where depth is an issue, but we’re going to learn pretty quickly how flexible this defense can be with a major contributor out.
Worst: Class Warfare
The internet is a terrible place. It’s terrible for all the reasons you’ve heard of: the misogyny, the racism, the violence, the “your vs. you’re” pedants, everything. It’s the place that reminds you that everyone you see at your office, your bus, your train, in your car on the road, at the grocery store squeezing melons is probably an asshole about something and you wouldn’t want to hang out with him or her if you knew.
Sports on the internet is probably right up there with politics as the fetid pond most attractive for the most navel-gazing, self-righteous, uninformed discussions on barely-hidden dog whistles and long-held grudges caused by long-forgotten wrongs. So much is wrapped up in the colors and logos people are wearing on the field, in the institutions and mentalities they represent, that you wonder sometimes if the outcome of the game really matters.
Now, I’m not going to discuss the decision of players regarding the national anthem; Harbaugh said it best in the press conference following the game: “My thoughts are there is a freedom of expression, and somebody can speak their mind.”* Nor am I going to talk anymore about PSU and their treatment of Joe Pa and all the fallout of Sandusky’s sexual assaults of children. The Onion pretty much gets it right. And then as I was writing this, Kirk Herbstreit, a man who I can only imagine gets vile shit thrown at him all day on Twitter, called out Taylor Lewan for a dumb play that happens in the NFL basically every weekend in the most internet way possible. All of these are terrible, but you aren’t here to read what some middle-aged guy thinks about them.
But the one trope I am going to talk about is the “classiness” of this game (in the eyes of some PSU fans) and sports generally. Here’s an example:
Really Harbaugh!?!!! Challenging a spot on a PSU first down deep in their own territory ... It's 35-3... Have some class clown. #PSUvsMICH
— The Sports Dad (@The_SportsDad) September 24, 2016
Now, I’m not a fan of a clearly-overmatched team being beaten into further submission for no good reason; I totally understood Clemson and South Carolina State using shortened quarters in the second half of that blowout. And you could make the argument that PSU’s injuries on the defense meant they had limited depth and you were possibly exposing kids to injuries in a game that was long decided. But at the same time, it didn’t feel like UM was being needlessly aggressive here; they weren’t sending the house on every down or throwing deep just to run up the score. They threw the ball 11 times in the second half, most of the time during the 3rd quarter when the game was still a reasonable 28-3. And challenging spots even when the game is decided is what Harbaugh does; he is going to ride an official in the 4th quarter as hard as in the first, and while “being right” can certainly be grating, most successful football coaches are wired that way. And on a more practical matter, gameday is one of the few times a coach and team can work on a lot of these finer points of football; with a limited number of practice hours and the necessity to keep guys healthy, even blowouts give you opportunities to analyze your team and recognize how they’ll respond in more pressing situations.
But what gets me is that fans (usually on the losing side of a contest) devolve to “classiness” as a means to denigrate others in the most trite way possible, the insinuation being that while you might be better on the field, we are better people because in some hypothetical world in which the situations were reversed, our coaches and players would show “mercy” or whatever insulting manifestation of pity that is a substitute for a little blue pill on Saturday. It puts so much emotion and biases into what is a pretty mechanical process; to think a coach has some metric in his or her head that says “below this number of points I play to win, above I show benevolence”. Coaches are paid to win games, and unless you are one of those weirdos who tries to prove a point, you are going to coach like every play matters.
And I’ll admit to being that guy sometime. I’d like to say I’ve tried to tamp that part of my down as I’ve aged and sports have come to occupy a normal-size part of my life, not the outsized part it did before life sort of stepped in, that I “matured” into someone with foresight. But that’s probably a bit of a lie; it’s more that maintaining that level of cognitive dissonance is just too draining. Being a UM fan doesn’t make me a better person than those who root for rivals, and even if there was some way to measure relative human quality, it wouldn’t have any bearing on what happens on the football field. It’s like when you read long arguments between Alabama and Ole Miss fans discussing which state is more “backwards” and “dirty” of a program. It’s a game of Calvinball without any of the charm and even less of a sense of reality.
But with a couple of rivalry games coming up against MSU and OSU, I’m not looking forward to more and more twitter eggs complaining over which side of a game that generates billions of dollars for old men in suits and large corporate entities “classily” beat the snot out of each other.
* And yes, I know all about this not being a Constitutional expression argument; I’ve seen XKCD.
Meh: They Are Who We Thought They Were
I wish I had more to say about this game, but I’m running out of gifs to convey how much of a an ass-kicking this was. Oh wait, I found one more.
So on to the rest of the weekend and next week.
OSU had the weekend off, but other UM opponents of interest had games this weekend, and it felt like we finally got some confirmation about their true identities. As always, you don’t want to read too much into the first week of conference play, but after the vast variability in quality of non-conference opponents, seeing teams like MSU, Iowa, and Indiana play teams we have some historical sense about is helpful in getting a solid read on their abilities.
Iowa barely got by Rutgers a week after failing to just get by NDSU. That Ferentz deal is looking like an even better decision right now than it was when they first made it. And the funny thing is, Iowa isn’t playing all that poorly in a lot of these games. It’s a very vanilla team on both sides of the ball, but Beathard is a good passer (60% completion, 8 ypa, 8:1 TD:INT), they can run the ball a bit with Wadley and Daniels Jr., and the pass defense is solid (#31 nationally). The one major drop-off is in rush defense, which is giving up about 50 yards more this year than last, but at least part of that seems to be due to sheer quantity vs. quality. They’ve held Miami (NTM), Iowa St., and Rutgers to around 3.6 ypc, with only NDSU getting close to 5 ypc. But against NDSU and Rutgers, they’ve also faced 102 rushing attempts, which is going to mess with your numbers a bit. Obviously, if a team feels like it can stay close then it’ll run the ball more and not take their chances against the Hawkeye secondary, but I’m not sure how much different this Iowa team is compared to last year save for a slight degradation in defensive performance. That still feels like a scary game. Rutgers is, well Rutgers, and they lost Janarion Grant in this game and it didn’t look pretty. It’s the team’s first road game and all so there’s obviously some uncertainty, but Chris Ash might not be sleeping all too soundly next week all the same.
The other half of the relevant undercard was Indiana battling Wake Forest. I caught the opening play, a 75-yard TD for IU and figured this would be a blowout. And based on the box score, it should have been; IU had 611 yards(!) of offense compared to Wake Forest’s 352, passing for 496 yards at 10.6 ypa and 3 TDs. Both teams averaged about 3.6 ypc, and neither team was particularly great on 3rd down conversions. But IU threw 5 picks, including 1 for a TD, and had 9 penalties for 84 yards. And the final score even made this game closer than it should have been; IU scored a TD with 11 seconds left to pull it within 5. Richard Lagow is an agent of chaos in and of himself, but until this game he was having a great season throwing the ball, and Devine Redding is still an incredibly dangerous back. And IU played reasonably solid defense against the Demon Deacons, at least given the opponent. They’ll still get plastered by UM, but this was just one of those weird games, I guess. Of interest here, the Hoosiers welcome the Spartans this week, and that laughter you hear is mine as I contemplate MSU’s corners trying to keep a wrap on IU’s wide receivers.
The headliner for the weekend was obvious MSU-Wisconsin. The conceit was 2 fringe playoff contenders were meeting as (perhaps) a preview of an upcoming B1G championship game rematch. Wisconsin had taken down mighty LSU to open the year, while MSU shook off some early struggles against Furman in the opener to open a huge lead at Notre Dame, and ultimately held on for a “big” win that popped MSU into the top 10. It was going to be two smashmouth, defense-first teams, and to a subset of the viewing public it would be glorious. And for about a half, that was right. And then the wheels fell off, as Wisconsin’s aggressive defense returned an L.J. Scott fumble back for a TD, got another short field off a fumbled punt attempt, and MSU never really got going. I know MSU fans will point at the yardage total (MSU picked up 325 while Wisconsin finished with 317), ignore starting field position (Wiscy had a 7-yard advantage on average) and turnovers (4-2 for Wisconsin, with 1 of those two Badger turnovers an INT on a heave to end the first half) and claim this game was close. But I watched the second half of this game, and MSU simply could not move the ball consistently at all. They finished 4/13 on 3rd down, three 3 picks, and allowed a freshman QB (Hornibrook) go 16/26 for almost 200 yards and a TD, oftentimes leaving his receivers with cushions they could fall asleep in on third down. None of their receivers could consistently get open or pull in balls save for Corley, and he’s a freshman and got pushed around a bit in tight coverage. O’Connor doesn’t have the vision or arm strength of make the throws Cook did last year to bail them out, and Scott behind that offensive line feels like a bit like Barkley at PSU. And yeah, Duke just dropped 38 on the Domers, so it probably isn’t that impressive anymore MSU sorta stumbled into 36.
On the other side of the ball, it’s not a revelation to call MSU’s secondary subpar this year, but without anything resembling consistent a pass rush (only 3 sacks), that secondary is a mess. It’s just not a good team, and anyone thinking this is 2013 again hasn’t looked at the roster. They’ll be “fine” this year, but if you see a rapid drop in the number of people you didn’t know attend or care about MSU until 6 years ago talking up the Spartans, don’t be surprised.
As for Wisconsin, they look extremely tough defensively (at least against the run; O’Connor’s well-documented penchant for locking onto WRs and throwing into triple-coverage was on display in this game, making it hard to figure out where his bad play ended and solid coverage began), and their offense is definitely more comfortable with Hornibrook than under Houston. Wisconsin isn’t necessarily an aggressive team in the front 7; UM has more than twice as many TFLs (44) as the Badgers (21), and that’s with T.J. Watt’s national top-10 sack total (4.5 sacks). But they stop the run (about 80 ypg) and hold up reasonably well against the pass, though massive caveats apply as they’ve faced one pretty good passing attack in #19 Akron and then a bunch of bad to average attacks in #119 (LSU), #94 (Georgia St.), and #69 (MSU). UM’s opponents haven’t been much different (UCF and Hawai’i are bad, PSU average, Colorado good), but at least UM has throttled them with the exception of a couple of bombs to Colorado. If Speight can play within himself and the offense can get balls to Perry and Butt early to loosen up the corners, I could see UM having some passing success against the Badgers. Rushing will be a bit more of a slow go, but this also feels like a game that Harbaugh will gameplan a bit for.
And the guy looked poised out there; he dropped a ball between two MSU defenders for a 3rd-down conversion in the 4th quarter that was almost perfect, and he only forced a couple of bad throws all day. Of course, he’s also a freshman and the competition level on both sides of the ball is going to make a huge jump for them even if LSU’s defense is pretty good, but the Badgers be the first real defensive test for UM that they might not be able to just out-talent. If nothing else, the offensive line is going to be under a new level of pressure run blocking and pass protecting in this game. At the same time, LSU got significantly better throwing the ball when a failed Purdue QB took over, and they still hung in okay against the Badgers, so who knows.
Wisconsin is definitely better than I thought they’d be this year; the defense even with former DC Dave Aranda is solid, and their offense can run the ball a bit with Clement and Ogunbowale to protect Hornibrook a bit. At the same time, UM’s defense is built to eat up Wisconsin’s offense, and should be able to keep them behind the sticks for long 3rd downs most of the day. It’ll be a close-ish game because of the defenses involved, but I see UM being able to throttle Wisconsin far more effectively than the other way around, especially if the turnover battle stays close to even.
I will be traveling far away for a birthday party next weekend. There will be children, old people, and a strong chance of zero college football on the screen. I will DVR this game, but I make no promises this post won’t be a bunch of happy or sad gifs next week. Plan your bathroom breaks accordingly.
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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