the season has truly begun now
[NOTE: Heiko will be bringing you a report from the presser soon. Due to unexpected Hello post for Norfleet and Alex Kozan's vision quest extending the liveblog, a couple promised posts are pushed off until tomorrow.]
You are aware of Michigan, and you're likely aware that a combination of Urban Meyer apotheosis and the total implosion of the Penn State program has rescued what was looking like a very shaky Ohio State class in spectacular fashion. Those two classes are neck and neck for the top in the league. OSU class fear factor is 10.
Moving on, there's… well… there's… er.
The Huskers have a couple of four-star JUCOs at LB and DB plus a few low four-stars out of high school: OH DE Greg McMullen, CO OL Paul Thurston, and IL WR Jordan Westerkamp were all vaguely on Michigan's radar early in the year without much else developing. They grabbed a four-star ATH out of LA on signing day as well. The rest of their small class (14) is composed of three stars with decent but not great offer lists.
Guy Michigan could use: Thurston. He's probably a guard but he's a highly-rated one.
All-name teamer: UT LB Jared Afalava.
Fear factor: 5. Cycling through those jucos on a yearly basis gives Nebraska a leg up on most Big Ten teams, and they managed to squeeze into the top 25 classes on Rivals as of publication. But where are the people?
Yes, Purdue. The Boilers grabbed a couple of four stars, most intriguingly 6'7", 215 athlete and spectacular name-bearer Carlos Carvajal. Carvajal is a prep kid from Milford and the "best tight end [they've] ever had" there. Prepare to be annoyed by third down conversions, except Michigan probably won't play him much after Purdue rotates of the schedule next year.
Purdue also grabbed a four-star Good Counsel (Blake Countess's alma mater) DE, Ryan Watson. They filled out the rest of their large class with three star guys.
Guy Michigan could use: Carvajal. Mmmmm 6'7" tight end.
All-name teamer: Also Carvajal.
Fear factor: 3. This qualifies as good for Purdue.
State watched as Michigan pillaged the state (with the Norfleet switch M took 7 of the state top ten with one of the escapees not likely to qualify) and a listing Ohio State snatched up a bunch of sleeper-type Ohio dudes who would have been prime Dantonio targets most years.
Their consolation was big-time DE Se'Von Pittman, who made the world's least-inspiring commitment. He told Rivals "I am making sure I have a place," essentially, and took about six seconds to decommit for OSU once Meyer was hired. This, has started a hilarious recruiting "rivalry" in which MSU will offer Ohio players and OSU will take whichever ones they want.
In the aftermath, their four star haul is WR Aaron Burbridge, the guy with the dodgy grades, Southfield DE Jamal Lyles, and recent addition Demetrius Cox, a safety out of Pennsylvania. Their three star guys are relatively high end as three-stars go, FWIW. They also grabbed DeAnthony Arnett as a transfer.
Guy Michigan could use: OH WR Monty Madaris. Michigan's on-again, off-again pursuit of Madaris seemed to turn him off and he never ended up visiting. Madaris is a three/four star tweener sort who would slightly calm fears about Michigan's post-Stonum WR corps.
All-name teamer: FL WR Macgarret Kings Jr.
Fear factor: 4. If you want to count Arnett (and you probably should somewhere) this is a receiver corps that's the best in the conference. But the lines are a blowout. Michigan State's one DL is a two-star out of Oregon; none of their linemen are even high three-stars on Rivals. Much hinges on Burbridge's ability to show up.
There's some quality at the top as Iowa did its usual mining of the Chicago areeas for a scattering of four-stars: DE Faith Ekakitie, RB Greg Garmon, DT Jaleel Johnson, and OL Ryan Ward. Then it's a blizzard of okay guys before the bottom drops out and you get eight-man football dudes.
It's a typical Iowa class, basically.
Guy Michigan could use: Garmon. Michigan showed some interest but things never got serious.
All-name teamer: IL DE Faith Ekakitie.
Fear factor: 6. Iowa has lived on classes like these forever. They use their superior knowledge of farm boys in and around their state to defy rankings like this on the regular, and this time around their top end guys don't seem like flakes. Unfortunately, Greg Garmon is about to be kidnapped by Colombian drug cartels.
The desolation here is amazing. OSU alone poached Armani Reeves, Camren Williams, Noah Spence (not a commit but widely projected to be PSU-bound), Joey O'Connor, and Tommy Schutt. Other schools sniped a prospect or two along the way and what's left looks more like a Purdue class than… uh… Purdue's class.
There are a couple of four-stars left over in PA WR Eugene Lewis and NJ DT Jamil Pollard. There's a further base of six or so quality three star types. Then it gets desperate. PSU essentially replaced each decommit with a two-star plucked from a non-BCS conference. There are six of them.
Guy Michigan could use: Lewis is a consensus four star who would help Michigan's WR depth in the aftermath of Stonum's departure.
All-name teamer: PA LB Nyeem Wartman.
Fear factor: 0. They'll get some players out of the depths here but there is going to be a major talent deficit bubbling up just as Penn State comes back on the schedule. QB Skyler Mornhinweg's (yes that Mornhinweg) decommitment to Florida is especially painful given the dearth of quarterback options on the Penn State roster. Their only hope is a kid out of Georgia they snatched from Rice. The next Penn State QB to even make an NFL camp is still in high school.
Wisconsin probably has the third-best class in the league in terms of bang for your scholarship slot, but the Badgers don't have anyone in it. They signed just twelve players. Losing OH OL Kyle Dodson on Signing Day was a major blow, and while they acquired a few four-star types signing twelve guys is not good.
I count 16 scholarship seniors on the roster, and it's unlikely Wisconsin has held on to every player they had at last year's signing day. They could have added anywhere from 4 to 8 more players. Instead it's going to be a scholarship festival for walk-ons. Given the Badgers' on-field success, this has to be the most disappointing class in the conference.
Guy Michigan could use: M was a finalist for LB Vince Biegel and wanted him as much or more than any of the guys they actually got.
All-name teamer: FL DB Hugs Etienne, winner of the B10 name of the year by a landslide.
All-name teamer II: QB Bart Houston, who will be called a gunslinger as frequently as Brock Osweiler was noted to be tall.
Fear factor: 3. The next time Michigan plays Wisconsin this class will be their seniors/redshirt juniors. IE: they're going to be really young.
The eternal mystery will always be why WDE Ifeadi Odenigbo had an academics-focused final five including Stanford, Northwestern, and Vanderbilt but never even gave Michigan a sniff. And then the kid picked Northwestern, which… just… man. That kid is serious about academics.
Northwestern's other big catch is DT and Kyle Kalis teammate Greg Kuhar, who probably had a Michigan offer at one point. From there it's Northwestern dudes for Northwestern's offense.
UPDATE: Oh right, and five-star USC transfer Kyle Prater. The transfer takes a some of the shine off that fifth star because Prater couldn't find his way on the field at USC (Arnett did not have that problem)… but not nearly all of it.
Guy Michigan could use: Odenigbo would look pretty sweet on Michigan's commit list as a WDE.
All-name teamer: Odenigbo.
5. 6. Northwestern with a solid to excellent defensive line… alarming. The secondary still seems reliably Northwestern-y, though.
Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois
Guy Michigan could use: MN WR Andre McDonald is a rangy 6'3" and claimed an OSU offer; even if he didn't have that he seems like the guy who you'll think "hey, that guy is pretty good" in the midst of a 58-0 beatdown.
All-name teamer, Minnesota: FL DT Yoshoub Timms and TX DE Lincoln Plsek. Oh, and MN WR Isaac Fruechte.
All-name teamer, Illinois: FL RB Dami Ayoola.
All-name teamer, Indiana: JUCO CB Tregg Waters.
Fear factor: 0.
I like me some stats, boy howdy, but there's a few things I'm not sure about. One is applying Pythagorean wins to football. For those of you who don't know the name of Data's brother, some smart baseball types realized that baseball teams pretty much try to score runs all the time. This means you can predict future performance better with run differential than record.
It works in basketball, too, because basketball teams pretty much try to score baskets all the time. A team leading may try to suck a possession or two out of the game by stalling late, but that effect is extremely minor. It works in hockey because hockey teams pretty much try to score goals all the time. A team leading late will take fewer risks but that effect is minor, too. Futz with the exponents and it's cool.
You can do this for football as well, but Lloyd/Tresselball observers can tell you that football teams do not try to score points all the time. This is because football has more state—primarily the line of scrimmage—than the other sports, and that state is simultaneously applicable to offense and defense. There is never any reason to not score in baseball or basketball. In football trying to score is riskier than running three isos up the middle and punting in a way that missing a jumper is not. Because of this, lots of personnel turnover, and wildly varying schedules, I don't think raw Pythagorean wins is a particularly useful predictive device. It does correlate some. I just don't like it. I acknowledge this is a Murray Chass sort of criticism.
I bring it up because BHGP has a long post featuring Pythagorean wins that eventually kind of discards the concept by way of praising Northwestern for consistently exceeding expectations. There's a table I'll post a bit later showing eight years of Big Ten performance versus expectations followed up by this:
The fact that most teams have such consistent "luck," when coupled with the fact that close wins and losses appear to be the strongest factor in where a team appears on the list, means this list may not be a measure of "luck," per se, but rather the simple ability to win close games. Since such ability is presumably based in large part on things like on-field experience, efficient playcalling, and clock management, the list could be considered a measure of a coach's in-game ability. Is it any wonder that the conference's biggest late-game buffoon and a geriatric who doesn't even wear a headset sit at the bottom of the list? …
It's also a credit to Pat Fitzgerald and the late Randy Walker at Northwestern. Even in its worst years, jNWU has outperformed its pythagorean expectations. In every year included in this study, Northwestern had a positive overall pythagorean margin, and in all but one the LOLcats had a positive margin in conference play.
There is an objection to this based on stock-picking monkeys.
Seriously. In 1999, a six-year-old female monkey named Raven threw darts at a selection of tech stocks that subsequently returned 213 percent. This was a bubble environment but even in that context her performance was impressive—22nd amongst thousands of funds. If you had 64 monkeys do that every year half of them would be discovered to be frauds by not beating the market, but you would expect at the end of that eight year period there would be one very lucky monkey who beat the market for eight consecutive years.
Any normally distributed set of data is going to have a lucky monkey and Ron Zook. I present a lucky monkey and Ron Zook:
Wins – Pythagorean expectation, 2002-2010
|Rank||Team||Ov +/-||Conf +/-|
Except… that is not a normally distributed lucky monkey. In conference (which is a more interesting number to me because nonconference schedules are so unbalanced), Northwestern accounts for nearly 70% of the deviation from perfectly Pythagorean records by itself. Lloydball advocates Michigan, OSU, and Wisconsin follow in order, and BHGP points out that Michigan State would be the second luckiest monkey if only the Dantonio era—more MANBALL—was considered. There seems to be something non-monkey there.
But I'm uncertain if that's good or bad if you're a fan. Does this mean manball is good at closing out games, as BHGP suggests the chart shows? It's a possibility. The other possibility (24-21 vs SDSU, 10-7 vs Utah, falling behind by 14 in the Orange Bowl before suddenly remembering David Terrell exists, etc.) is that Lloydball-type play shuts off the offense once it gets a narrow lead or until it falls behind significantly, thus leading to a lot of tight games generally slanted towards wins.
The most haunting stat from the Carr era is this: Carr was actually more likely to win a game if he entered the fourth quarter with a narrow deficit than a narrow lead. Since the point of football is to win more games, period, not more games than you were expected to based on the final score, the excellence of your coaching is bound up with your record. Exceeding expectations as Ohio State means your manball is working (until you get into a championship game). Doing so as Michigan, but never beating Ohio State, means something different.
There's too much weird stuff tied up in scoring points in football to draw many conclusions from a look at just margins. Primarily this comes down to wanting to score, which is a complicated decision based largely on your faith in the defense. This is hard when your defense is good-ish (Michigan) but not when it's terrible (Northwestern) or awesome (Ohio State). OSU and Northwestern rarely make the wrong decisions because theirs are obvious. Michigan (and Iowa, and Penn State) fans are haunted by the the decisions that turned out wrong.
BONUS GUESS ON NORTHWESTERN: Why would the Wildcats consistently exceed expectations? Guess: they feature in games with lots of points. Their spread has been as consistently effective as their secondary has been flailing, so a lot of Northwestern games feature large scores. If NW is consistently winning 42-35 that will look different to the formula than OSU grinding out 17-10 wins.
BONUS LOCALLY RELEVANT SECTION: FWIW, only one Michigan team shows up at the margins. If you think about it you'll probably figure it out:
Of course, using the full schedule allows for statistical variance based on strength of non-conference scheduling. If we look solely at Big Ten play, as close to a level playing field as we can get, Sparty still wins. It's just not 2010 Sparty:
Rank Team Py +/- 1 2008 Michigan State +2.16 2 2004 Northwestern +1.77 3 2010 Michigan State +1.69 4 2004 Michigan +1.63 5 2009 Northwestern +1.53
That 2008 Spartan squad went 9-4 (6-2) despite a total margin of victory of +28 and an in-conference margin of -7. In fact, 2008 Michigan State was one of just five teams since 2002 to post a winning record in the Big Ten despite being outscored in conference play.
The 2004 team that went to the Rose Bowl despite deploying a freshman quarterback thanks to things like nailcoeds.exe outperformed Pythagorean expectation significantly. You might be all like "a HA!" because the next year Michigan slumped to 7-5 in 2005, but they went 11-2 the year after that—there's just so much noise.
Now that Michigan has a solid number of early commitments, this won't be a depressing exercise. Since most recruiting sites don't have full rankings out yet, this will be a bit... incomplete.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||ESPN Avg|
As I said, it looks pretty incomplete. I'm considering switching all rankings to 5-star scale, instead of using the RR ratings for rivals, and the numeric ratings for ESPN (which I did last year). I also might add 24/7 Sports' rankings to the chart.
|#1 Ohio State - 5 Commits|
The greatest number of commits, and the only team with multiple 5-stars.
|#2 Notre Dame - 5 Commits|
Irish had a pretty big weekend with a couple commits.
|#3 Penn State - 6 Commits|
Nittany Lions start strong after having a poor beginning to the 2011 recruiting class. Jarron Jones is listed as a soft commit.
|#4 Michigan - 4 Commits|
A pair of linemen and a pair of linebackers for Brady Hoke's first full class.
|#5 Wisconsin - 2 Commits|
Badgers have an excellent offensive lineman and a nondescript runner to start the class of 2012.
|#6 Northwestern - 2 Commits|
A couple commits for Northwestern.
|#7 Minnesota - 4 Commits|
I'll be the first to admit I may be underrating the Gophers' class to date. We'll see what happens when some of the other sites have rated their prospects.
|#8 Nebraska - 1 Commit|
Ho-hum to start the class for the Huskers.
|#9 Iowa - 1 Commit|
An offensive lineman kicks off Iowa's class.
|#9 Illinois - 1 Commit|
Unrated WR starts Illinois's class.
|#9 Purdue - 1 Commit|
In-state commit for the Boilers.
Indiana and Michigan State are tied for last with 0 commits.
So the Indiana game was water torture interspersed with electric Japanese schoolgirl sex. The latter was great but the former was almost 75% of the game, and against teams with non-theoretical defenses a repeat will mean sad faces and rage. How likely is this? Eh… pretty likely at some point. But maybe not consistently.
Indiana is probably the most competent—and is definitely by far the most deployed—passing offense in the Big Ten. Last year Indiana was the only team other than Purdue to pass more than half the time. They did so at a 54% clip. This year they're up to 58% with the return of their entire passing offense, and that's despite a big chunk of the schedule being against tomato cans in which clock-killing runs are plentiful.
A look at Michigan's opponent and what they're likely to do to Michigan's secondary:
Pass Percentages: 50% in 2009, 40% in 2010.
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins, a
senior redshirt junior returning starter.
Last year's performance: Cousins split time with Keith Nichol, with the two combining to go 20/29 for 220 yards and two interceptions.
Last year's run/pass split: 49 rushes and 29 passes, though a number of the MSU rushes were QB scrambles.
Cousins had a strong junior year, finishing 25th nationally in pass efficiency. He seems to have made the incremental improvement you'd expect him to; this year he's 13th and in two games against actual opponents he completed about two thirds of his passes for about 250 yards with a solid or better YPA. He also threw three interceptions.
However, State is an old-school I-form heavy conventional offense that looks almost identical to Lloyd Carr's and they set up a lot of their passing yards by running play action. Cousins isn't going to come anywhere near 64 attempts and MSU isn't going to pass 75% of the time. How the run defense holds up against this is an open question, but that's not what this post is about.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: bunny : somewhat unreliable wood chipper
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 4 of 5. Michigan State was balanced last year, and that was with a terrible running game. This year they've got a stable of impressive backs and somewhat iffy hands in the receiving corps, so the bigger threat is probably getting gashed all day on the ground. Hurrah?
Pass Percentages: 46% in 2009, 40% in 2010.
Quarterback: Ricky Stanzi, a senior returning starter.
Last year's performance: Found breathtakingly open tight ends but was erratic, going 20 of 38 for 284 yards and two TDs. Did deliver a Rick Six directly unto Donovan Warren.
Last year's run/pass split: 34 rushes, 38 passes. It should be noted that due to a Jewel Hampton ACL injury Iowa was thin at tailback oh wait that happened again this year except worse nevermind.
Stanzi's primary game of note this year was a 18/33, 278 yard 3TD-1INT game at Arizona where he was almost literally the Iowa offense. The Hawkeyes ran for 29 yards on 26 carries, and though plenty of sacks distort that the two tailbacks combined to average under 2 YPC. He was also efficient against PSU (16/22, 227 yards, 1TD-1INT) on a day when after a couple of quick touchdowns Iowa put it in neutral since they correctly believed Penn State could not score.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: raccoon : sports car with gore-smeared grill that spends a lot of time in the garage
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 4 of 5. Stanzi may not be headed for NFL riches but he's been around the block and seems to have shaken his touchdown entitlement program. He's top ten in pass efficiency against a pretty decent schedule featuring Penn State, Arizona, and an Iowa State team that just won a Big 12 game (yay!!!). Here, it's the same story as Michigan State: they might be able to replicate it but the old-school coach is likely to split run and pass down the middle instead of letting fly most of the time.
And Now A Picture Of Denard For No Reason
Pass Percentages: 46% in 2009, 49% in 2010.
Quarterback: True freshman Robert Bolden.
Last year's performance: N/A
Last year's run/pass split: 40 runs, 27 passes as Darryl Clark had four touchdowns in just 27 attempts.
Surprise! Penn State's quarterback situation is terrible. The Nittany Lions are 103rd in passer efficiency. To be fair they've gone up against the brutal defenses of Iowa and Alabama, but Bolden threw two interceptions against Kent State and a pick-six against Iowa on a day when people say he could have thrown four or five.
Their offensive line is really hurting, the tight ends are all injured, and Penn State will probably avoid passing too much as long as it remains relatively close.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: eucalyptus tree : koala bear
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 1 of 5. Penn State's offensive line gets more hypothetical by the day and now they're down to freshmen or wide receivers at tight end. Meanwhile, Bolden is talented but error-prone, the perfect thing against a Michigan defense that is pretty good at watching others succeed or fail without having much impact either way. Expect gentle chewing.
Pass Percentages: 40% in 2009, 33% in 2010.
Quarterback: Redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase.
Last year's performance: N/A
Last year's run/pass split: 11 passes, 56 runs, dead kittens all over the state.
Illinois was already wildly run-biased but they've managed to slide further away from the mean despite graduating half-Desmond, half-duck quarterback Juice Williams. A man named Scheelhaase might sound like a 6'5" pocket passer with a background in soccer and the mobility of John Navarre, but he's actually a highly-rated dual-threat quarterback with FAKE 40 times in the 4.5 range. The play distribution makes some sense.
It also makes sense because in three games against I-A competition Scheelhaase's best outing is 8 of 16 for 70 yards against Northern Illinois. In his first start against Missouri he put up an amazing, amazing stat line: 9 of 23 for 81 yards, a TD, and three INTs. If Michigan gets shredded by Illinois it won't be in the air.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: confused goat : equally confused goat.
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 0 of 5. If Michigan can contain one passing offense this year, it will be this one.
Pass Percentages: 54% in 2009, 47% in 2010.
Quarterback: Redshirt freshman Robert "Rob" Henry, at least until such time as Angry Purdue ACL-Hating God gets bored.
Last year's performance: N/A
Last year's run/pass split: 39 passes, 29 runs as Joey Elliot went for almost 400 yards.
Henry is Purdue's second-stringer, and to add injury to injury (to injury) he'll be operating without his top receiver, top tailback, and possibly his third option at WR if Justin Siller can't make it back from a badly sprained ankle. Information on him is limited. In most of a game against Toledo he was 17 of 31 for 140 yards, a TD, and an INT. He's probably not that good if he was behind Robert Marve to start the year, especially since he's apparently a much better runner.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: chicken : fox with three peg-legs and eyepatches over both eyes hyyyarrr.
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 2 of 5. Purdue is still a passing spread but their offensive line is in shambles and by the time the Michigan game rolls around they might be starting Random Student somewhere.
Pass Percentages: 37% in 2009, 35% in 2010.
Quarterback: Senior returning starter Scott Tolzien.
Last year's performance: Fire and brimstone falling from the sky as Tolzien averaged 10 YPA on 24 attempts, throwing 4 touchdowns to one INT and causing me to swear bloody revenge on Jay Hopson. Yes, again.
Last year's run/pass split: 52 rushes, 24 passes.
This was a complete debacle last year, causing me to fear Wisconsin even after they almost blew it against Arizona State; I'm still swallowing hard at the idea of going up against them again. Tolzien was awful against MSU but very good against ASU. In the games against patsies he's been efficient… and seldom used… kind of like he was last year against Michigan.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: abdomen : scalpel
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 4 of 5. Yes, this again: efficient senior game manager who carved up Michigan's crap defense a year ago and has a good shot at doing it again.
Pass Percentages: 36% in 2009, 40% in 2010.
Quarterback: Terrelle Pryor, junior returning starter.
Last year's performance: Did virtually nothing: 9/17, 67 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
Last year's run/pass split: 53 runs, 17 passes.
That line from last year might have been more interesting if Tate Forcier wasn't busy throwing the game ball at various members of the Ohio State pass defense. As it was OSU had the Tresselball on full throttle. This year Pryor's nuked the patsies (though he did throw a couple interceptions against Ohio) and been somewhat limited against real opposition. Take out a shovel pass to Dan Herron that went for 47 yards and Pryor was 11 of 26 for 186 yards against Miami, with 62 of those on a single bomb to DeVier Posey. Last week against Illinois Pryor had another epic Tresselball stat line: 9/16, 76 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT. Apparently it was windy or something.
While I can totally see that Posey bomb happening against Michigan, I'd rather this defense give up a big touchdown and then a bunch of nothing than get Chappelbombed.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: London : V1 rocket
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 2 of 5. Tressel will probably Tressel it, leaving Pryor a spectator and runner most of the day. Also… wind or not, his stats are not indicative of a guy who anyone is going to put a game on in a Chappell sort of way. Doubt he even gets to 25 attempts against M.
With Michigan having dispatched its major nonconference foes, it's time to survey the rest of the league for indications as to how tough their sledding will be as they try to reach one of those bowl things.
First, and just to be whiny:
Vanderbilt: W 23-21
Illinois State: W 37-3
This is probably going to be the suckiest year at Northwestern in a while. They were considerably outgained by Vandy and only won on an egregious call that the Big Ten later apologized for, except they didn't. So of course they're off the schedule.
MTSU: W 24-17
South Dakota: L 38-41
With the Big Ten moving to divisions next year comes the functional end of one of the most-hated traditions in Michigan football: always missing the worst team in the league. Minnesota fans are here after they lost by two scores to South Dakota, completing their collection of humiliating losses from teams in a Dakota:
Tim Brewster isn't getting canned anytime soon.
I'd be fine with it happening today. I have zero faith he's going to turn this around this year because there has been no evidence in his four seasons here that he's capable of doing it. Still, it's not going to happen because as much as the season feels like it's over right now, it's not. Look no further than the Kansas Jayhawks: last week they lost to NDSU (remember how that felt?) 6-3 in what has to be the ugliest football game ever played. Not a great way to start off the Turner Gill Era. Yesterday, the hosted #15 Georgia Tech- AND WON! Talk about a shocker. Talk about a turnaround. It's one example, but it's proof the season isn't over yet. No matter how much you may hate Brewster and mistrust the coaching staff this morning, it's still very possible we turn this around.
Regardless, even if we lose to USC next week and NIU the week after AND Northwestern the week after that...we're still mathematically bowl eligible at 1-4.
Gopher bloggers are now declaring 1-11 a "distinct possibility" and asserting the upside to be 3-9. So, yeah, of course they're off the schedule.
To teams on the schedule:
Towson: W 51-17
A win over a I-AA team doesn't mean much, though Towson did just squeak by Coastal Carolina in five(!) overtimes. Chances are Michigan won't have any read on how competitive Indiana is going to be before they head to Bloomington. Their next two games are against Western Kentucky (0-12 last year, lost to Nebraska 49-10 and Kentucky 63-28) and Akron (lost to Syracuse 29-3 and I-Aa Gardner-Webb 38-37).
Stock: even by reason of virtual bye and actual bye.
Western Michigan: W 38-14
Florida Atlantic: W 30-17
Not a ton to learn from the first two games. Western hung tight for a quarter but let the game get away in the second, finishing 160 yards back by the game's end. FWIW, Western was bad last year and will probably be worse this year without Hiller—his replacement looked like Nate Montana.
The FAU game was slightly uncomfortable as the Owls were driving to pull within one score late until Howard Schellenberger exclaimed "suspenders!" and kicked a field goal; total yardage was 367-301. State's offense consisted of big plays including an 80-yard touchdown from Edwin Baker, 42 and 30 yard receptions from Keshawn Martin and BJ Cunningham. If there's something to be concerned about it's a seeming lack of progress in the passing game; Notre Dame will provide much more information along those lines.
Eastern Illinois: W 37-7
Iowa State: W 35-7
Iowa State is certainly awful by virtue of being Iowa State, but Ferentz has struggled against his cross-state rivals so a righteous pounding seems like a step forward even if last year's game was 35-3. Another step forward is a lack of Stanziball, though Iowa State did not provide a major test. Stanzi only had to throw 18 times. Iowa bloggers seem happy, at least.
Stock: up slightly, since the chance they'd have a meh game against Iowa State has gone by the wayside. Considerably more information coming this weekend when they travel to Arizona.
@ Penn State
Youngstown State: W 44-14
Alabama: L 24-3
The eeee Bolden hype after he did not self destruct against penguins (seriously, YSU is the Penguins) was a bit much, and indeed the Penn State offense came to a screeching halt at Alabama. Penn State blew two early opportunities to punch in touchdowns, came away with only three points for the whole game, and finished with just 283 yards of offense. Freshman quarterback in Tuscaloosa against Saban and his merry band of guys good enough to not get cut, but that's a worst-case scenario any way you slice it. Bolden was 13/29 for 144 yards, 5 YPA, and two interceptions.
Perhaps more disturbingly for Penn State, Evan Royster had a Michigan-tailback-esque day against 'Bama, putting up 32 yards on 9 carries. That follows a 11 carry, 40 yard performance against Youngstown State on a day when Penn State averaged just 4.6 YPC against a I-AA opponent, and only managed because Kevin Newsome's ELECTRIC RUNNING went for 21 yards on 3 carries. Initial diagnosis of Penn State OL: ass.
Defensively, it's also not so good. Bama was efficient on the ground and in the air, with Trent Richardson averaging 6.5 YPC and Greg McElroy 9.5 YPA. A lack of corresponding scoring seems attributable to 'Bama stretching out in the luxury of a three-score lead against an opponent with a freshman quarterback.
Stock: down. Right now this looks winnable, though not probable.
Missouri: L 23-13
Southern Illinois: W 35-3
SIU was a pretty good I-AA team a year ago, losing to Marshall by just 3 in their opener and then going undefeated against the rest of their schedule until going down to William & Mary in the I-AA playoffs. Illinois outgained them by almost two to one and clobberated them. So that's okay.
The loss to Mizzou was grim, though. After hopping out to a 13-3 lead it was all Missouri in the second half; the Tigers ended up outgaining Illinois 379-281. Throw in a –3 turnover margin thanks to the exceptional generosity of Nathan Scheelhaase and it's a wonder this didn't get out of hand. Scheelhaase was 9/23 for 81 yards, a TD, and 3 INTs, but did add 76 rushing yards on 16 carries. Denard Robinson thinks that's cute, kid.
Mikel Leshoure looks like a legit Big Ten feature back and Illinois controlled Missouri's ground game pretty well, but initial returns on the post-Juice era are looking a lot like returns on the Juice era, hopefully minus Mike Williams exploding.
Stock: probably even since no one expected much from Illinois; Michigan is probably feeling better given the passing performance against Mizzou.
Notre Dame: L 23-12
Western Illinois: W 31-21
Purdue struggled against Notre Dame and did worse relative to level of competition against Western Illinois. Despite being 1-10 in I-AA last year, WIU was tied at 7-7 late in the second quarter when they went for it on fourth and one by bombing it deep. It was incomplete, Purdue executed a two-minute drill for a touchdown, the ensuing kickoff was fumbled with 13 seconds left in the half, and Purdue was able to pull away… for a while, anyway. Total yardage ended up 406-402, Western Illinois.
In the aftermath, Hammer and Rails says "I haven't seen so much negativity around here since Robbie Hummel went down." Problems unsurprisingly include the OL:
I liked the comment I saw in last night's game wrap pertaining to our line being a sieve. BenJapal responded with, "Calling our offensive line a sieve is to imply that a small amount was being restrained."
He's exactly right. Peters Drey had a pretty bad game. I think there was at least one bad snap, and he somehow managed to commit three penalties on two plays. Nick Mondek is whiffing on blocks left and right at right tackle. I thought he was supposed to be the best guy there! What happened to Trevor Foy and Ryan Prater?
After two games Purdue is averaging a Sheridan-esque 5.1 yards per attempt. Fans now seem to be hoping for 7 or 8 wins, a significant step back from mutterings about being a darkhorse contender in the BIg Ten this year.
Stock: considerably down. Michigan should be a favorite despite being on the road, not something that would have been the case before the season.
UNLV: W 41-21
San Jose State: W 27-14
Wisconsin has been dominant statistically but sloppy in its first two. They put up what might be the most impressive non-UConn box score in the Big Ten by outgaining UNLV 475-217. Ground: 50 carries, 278 yards, 5.6 YPC. Air: 15/20, 197 yards, 9.9 YPA. San Jose State was closer as Wisconsin threw away chances to break away and lost focus late. It's still a start about on par with what was expected.
(PS: bet you're wishing you didn't cancel that Virginia Tech series now, eh?)
Stock: even. Not getting my hopes up here.
@ Ohio State
Marshall: W 45-7
Miami: W 36-24
The Marshall demolition looks a lot better now that the Herd coulda-woulda-shoulda taken down West Virginia for the first time ever, especially since total yardage in that game was pretty close to even. Against OSU the final tally read Basically A Billion-Zero.
The Miami game was deeply strange, with Jacory Harris throwing 4 INTs and Ohio State coverage units giving up two(!) return touchdowns. OSU outgained the 'Canes by about 60 yards, but Terrelle Pryor's 12 of 27 performance has to be worrying.
Stock: even. Very good team with Qs about Pryor is exactly what the deal was before the season.
[Editor's note: "F/+" is an advanced metric put together by Football Outsiders that combines a drive-centered efficiency metric with a play-centered one, adjusts for schedule strength, and comes up with a number that seems more accurate than just yards. For example, Big Ten offenses and defenses last year:
That seems more right than a measure of offensive efficiency that had Michigan's offense 9th in the league last year because they didn't play two below-average defensive teams. More about this later. The numbers below will differ from the numbers above slightly since the scatterplot is just Big Ten play and the below numbers take nonconference games (but not I-AA ones) into account.
You can get your fill of F/+ and everything else with the Football Outsiders Almanac, BTW. On with Tim's show:]
|Ohio State at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||68|
|Offensive Starters Lost||2|
|2009 Defense Rank||5|
|Defensive Starters Lost||5|
|Program F/+||45.3 (3rd)|
The story on offense for Ohio State this season starts and ends with Terrelle Pryor. If he can take the next step as a quarterback, the skill players around him, including wideouts DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher and running backs Dan "Boom" Herron and Brandon Saine, will see him to put up big numbers. Returning five offensive linemen from the conference's third-best rush offense should help pave the way and keep Pryor's jersey clean.
All of this depends on Pryor's continued development as a passer, and a willingness from Jim Tressel to open the playbook for his star. Pryor's "breakout performance" in the Rose Bowl was much more a product of the latter, as Terrelle's 37 pass attempts was by far the most of his season, and while his efficiency was above his season average, it would have ranked 44th in the nation - behind many player's without Pryor's threat of running (or supporting cast).
On the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes lost a quartet of defenders to the NFL - though that hasn't stopped them from reloading in the past. Along the front line, defensive end Thaddeus Gibson took off for The League a year early and Doug Worthington graduated from OSU. All-Big Ten candidate Cameron Heyward (a first-team selection last year) will be relied upon more heavily; noted workout warrior John Simon will step into the middle. The Buckeyes lose linebacker Austin Spitler, but Ross Homan heads a talented group that shouldn't see too much dropoff. Despite losing Kurt Coleman, the Bucks should start three seniors in the secondary.
|Iowa at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||89|
|Offensive Starters Lost||6|
|2009 Defense Rank||10|
|Defensive Starters Lost||3|
|Program F/+||21.2 (22nd)|
Like the Buckeyes, Iowa has an enigmatic quarterback who is looking to make everything come together. Ricky Stanzi was a pick-6 machine last year, though he was a killer in crunch time. His supporting cast won't be nearly as strong as Pryor's, with four offensive linemen shuffling out of Iowa City, including first-rounder Bryan Bulaga. Stanzi's main options in the passing game are Darrell Johnson-Koulianos and converted QB Marvin McNutt. Tight end Allen Reisner replaces Tony "oft-injured but routinely open by 25 yards against Michael Williams" Moeaki.
A strong D is responsible for the Hawkeyes' optimism going into 2010. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn was a terrorbeast in the Orange Bowl, and he returns along with tackles Karl Klug and Christian Ballard, with sophomore LeBron Daniel manning the other end. The linebacker corps takes a major hit with the losses of Pat Angerer and AJ Edds, and the secondary lost Amari Spievey early to the NFL. Aside from the defensive front, this unit could be looking at a step back after finishing first in conference play a year ago.
|Wisconsin at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||30|
|Offensive Starters Lost||1|
|2009 Defense Rank||17|
|Defensive Starters Lost||4|
|Program F/+||19.5 (28th)|
The Badgers return the Big Ten's best rushing threat and last year's offensive player of the year in John Clay, Clay's entire offensive line from 2009, and one of the conference's most efficient passers in Scott Tolzien. Tolzien's efficiency may have been a product of being a mere complement to a dominating rush game, but with the Badgers are looking to repeat last year's gameplan he can do that again no problem. Deep threat Nick Toon headlines a good receiving corps, though tight end Garrett Graham has moved on to the next level. The offense, as per usual, will rely on enough play-action passing to keep defenses honest but the majority of Wisconsin's yardage will come on the ground.
The Badgers' defense was decent last year and possibly underrated. Wisconsin held Ohio State's offense to just 10 points last year, but lost thanks to three non-offensive touchdowns from the Buckeyes. Defensive End O'Brien Schofield and tackle Jeff Stehle are the big losses up front for Wisconsin, and linebacker Jaevery McFadden is gone after leading UW in tackles each of the past two years. The rest of the D is mostly intact, including last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year in linebacker Chris Borland, and safety Jay Valai, who seems like he's been around forever. It's the consistency in personnel that has many people projecting the Badgers to finish near the top of the conference, and that's the spoils of returning 19-ish starters from last year's Champs Sports Bowl winners.
|Northwestern at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||40|
|Offensive Starters Lost||5|
|2009 Defense Rank||47|
|Defensive Starters Lost||5|
|Program F/+||1.6 (57th)|
Mike Kafka quietly led the conference in total yardage last year, so losing him to the NFL(-ish) is a big deal. However, this isn't the Northwestern of old. The Wildcats can plug in Dan Persa, a redshirt junior with some experience under his belt. The run game is a much bigger question mark, as the Wildcats struggled on the ground last year. Kafka was the only player with more than 100 attempts, and leading rusher Arby Fields finished with just 302 yards on 3.6 yards per carry. What should help the running game this year is more experience. A green offensive line last year has grown up, which should also mean the Cats don't finish second-to-last in the Big Ten in sacks allowed this year.
Though Northwestern has become a program somewhat capable of reloading, replacing two NFL draft picks on defense is not something they're used to. Defensive end Corey Wootton and corner Sherrick McManus have left big shoes to fill, and safeties Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith have also graduated. That leaves linebackers Quentin Davie and Nate Williams and corner Jordan Mabin to be the stars of the show. I think they'll have trouble living up to last year's experienced defense, which was already in the bottom half of the conference by most measures.
|Penn State at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||37|
|Offensive Starters Lost||4|
|2009 Defense Rank||9|
|Defensive Starters Lost||4|
|Program F/+||40.1 (6th)|
Quarterbacks continue to be a theme among Big Ten teams, as Penn State will have to choose between an unimpressive sophomore, a walkon, or a true freshman to lead their team this fall. Nittany Lion fans are denying it's a Threet/Sheridan situation, but I'll believe PSU has a competent signal-caller when I see him. Of course, the supporting cast will be much better than Michigan's was in 2008, with Evan Royster willing to carry a big portion of the offense. The offensive line has plenty of talent and gained experience last year. Stefen Wisniewski is the headliner there, moving from center to guard. Tight end Andrew Quarless is the only significant departure from the receiving corps, though with a young quarterback, having no security blanket (backup Mickey Shuler has also moved on to the NFL) could be an issue. Penn State is also starting a 6'3" converted guard at left tackle.
The other side of the ball sees serious losses, including a first-rounder in defensive tackle Jared Odrick, and all three starting linebackers. Despite those, Penn State will still be able to field an experienced unit as the new linebackers are all seniors, as are three defensive linemen and both safeties. Even in Penn State's dark years, the defense was good, and that should be the case again.
|Michigan State at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||38|
|Offensive Starters Lost||5|
|2009 Defense Rank||73|
|Defensive Starters Lost||4|
|Program F/+||9.1 (43rd)|
The Spartan offense went from heavily run-biased in 2008 to pass-biased in 2009. With Larry Caper and Edwin Baker coming of age, there's bound to be more balance this year - which should only help Kirk Cousins continue his prolific passing. A couple starters on the the offensive line need to be replaced, along with leading receiver (by a country mile) Blair White, so I'm not willing to predict that the Spartans will be the top offense in the Big Ten, but they should be good or better. Former QB Keith Nichol will try to fill the "white wideout" void, and some people are projecting an All-Big Ten season from him... on the basis of two career catches. Still, there's a lot to work with in East Lansing, and Cousins is the lynchpin of this unit.
The Spartans will be led defensively by linebacker Greg Jones, who rejected an early entry to the NFL Draft to win a Big Ten Championship in East Lansing (or go to the Insight Bowl, either one). The Spartans' second-best defensive player last year, end Trevor Anderson, is off to the NFL, so the Spartans may have trouble replicating the pressure they put on opposing QBs last year. That's unfortunate, seeing as how MSU's secondary was - are you sitting down? - worse than Michigan's last year! Competent aerial attacks should shred the Spartans once more.
|Purdue at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||53|
|Offensive Starters Lost||5|
|2009 Defense Rank||69|
|Defensive Starters Lost||6|
|Program F/+||5.4 (51st)|
Robert Marve is sure getting a lot of hype for a guy who finished just inside the top 100 nationally in pass efficiency last time he played a live down. There's nothing (aside from the four stars next to his name in 2008) that suggests he'll be better than Joey Elliott was last year. Running back Ralph Bolden has a torn ACL, causing him to miss at least part of the season, and his backup, Al-Terek McBurse, has been dinged up during camp as well. The Boilermakers return top receiver Keith Smith, along with a couple other key pieces in the receiving game. They do, however, lose a couple offensive linemen from a mediocre unit, which could mean a step back.
The defensive leaders for Purdue will be a pair of seniors in defensive end Ryan Kerrigan and linebacker Jason Werner. The linebackers should be the same as last year, with Joe Holland filling one of the spots, and Chris Calrino and Dwayne Beckford battling for the final position. The secondary is almost entirely new, as Torri Williams, David Pender, Brandon King, and Dwight McLean are gone. The defense should be a serious weakness of the Boilermakers.
|Minnesota at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||109|
|Offensive Starters Lost||3|
|2009 Defense Rank||63|
|Defensive Starters Lost||8(!)|
|Program F/+||1.5 (58th)|
Adam Weber has had one of the more bizarre career arcs as a starting quarterback you'll ever see, with strong seasons as a freshman and sophomore followed by a disappointing 2009 (last in the conference in passing efficiency) and the threat of being replaced by a freshman in 2010. His struggles over the past couple years coincide with a number of coordinator and philosophy changes on offense for the Gophers, and if they return to more of a spread don't be surprised if Weber is replaced by MarQuies Gray. Running the ball, Duane Bennett should be better than he was last year, as he's had more time to improve from a 2008 knee injury. The top two receivers, Eric Decker and tight end Nick Tow-Arnett, are both gone. Gray might see time split wide when he's not behind center.
The Gophers' defense was middle-of-the-pack last year, and now the three starting linebackers are out the door (with one of the candidates to replace them, Sam Maresh, at a junior college instead of in St. Paul). The defensive backs should be a strength though, with Kim Royston, Kyle Theret, and Marcus Sherels all seniors, though Royston has had health issues with one of his legs. The defensive line was poor last year, and losing Eric Small and Cedric McKinley won't improve that. This defense should be awful.
|Indiana at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||72|
|Offensive Starters Lost||4|
|2009 Defense Rank||88|
|Defensive Starters Lost||7|
|Program F/+||-14.9 (84th)|
The pistol offense has worked out in Bloomington (sorta), as the Hoosiers finished fourth in the conference in passing offense—but they couldn't run the ball at all. Quarterback Ben Chappell and running back Darius Willis both return, forming a solid nucleus, though Willis's top two backups are gone. Wide receivers should be led by Damarlo Belcher and Terrance Turner until Tandon Doss returns from a groin injury. On the offensive line, a terrible unit running the ball loses an NFL second-rounder, and the Hoosiers aren't likely to replace Roger Saffold with an equally-talented player. A few other linemen depart, though not all starters. The offensive line should be the downfall of this offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Hoosiers lose two players to the NFL in seventh-rounders Jammie Kirlew and Ray Fisher at defensive end and corner, respectively. For a unit that finished second-to-last in both scoring and total defense last year, that's not a good sign, as the Hoosiers aren't exactly pumping out draft picks. Also departing are linebackers Matt Mayberry, Justin Carrington, and Will Patterson, along with defensive lineman Greg Middleton. This unit could be historically bad, unless there's a lot of talent that should have been on the field last year.
|Illinois at a Glance|
|2009 Offense Rank||47|
|Offensive Starters Lost||6|
|2009 Defense Rank||91|
|Defensive Starters Lost||4|
|Program F/+||-2.8 (65th)|
Out goes the Juice Williams era, and in comes... Nathan Scheelhasse? The Illini brought in Paul Petrino to be offensive coordinator, so look for a QB-centric, pass-heavy offense. Juniors Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford should do most of the rushing, but there's little proven talent in the receiving corps. Arrelious Benn, Chris Duvalt, Jeff Cumberland, and Michael Hoomanawanui are all gone, leaving behind little experience—and these aren't the talented prospects Zook was bringing in at the start of his tenure in Champaign. The Illini also lose an NFL pick on the offensive line in guard Jon Asamoah, along with aptly-named fellow starter Eric Block. They gave up a lot of sacks last year, and without the mobile threat of Juice (and with a move toward a downfield passing game), you can probably expect more of the same in 2010.
Defensive lineman Doug Pilcher is gone, as are defensive backs Donsay Hardeman and Dere Hicks, but the rest off Illinois's defense returns mostly intact. Of course, when that defense was dead last in the Big Ten in total, scoring, and pass efficiency defense, there's a legitimate question as to whether that is a good thing. Losing starting DBs off a horrible pass defense means more of the same is probably in order unless the Illini can do a better job getting to the quarterback. Unfortunately, they were - you guessed it - last in the conference in sacks last year. They have talent in the system, and if those players can grow up, there may be room for improvement (along with a return from Martez Wilson). However, there's a long way to go to even reach competency.