"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Wisconsin is the origin of Leinenkugel’s, cows, and the directional state motto (forward). The school over there has a football team that is favored to win the Woody Division. This means that should Michigan beat out Sparty and Big Red for Bo, Michigan fans should expect the other half of the Lucas Oil be jumping around sometime at the end of the third quarter of the title game.
The conditions for the Badgers to reach Indianapolis in 2012 are favorable, but that doesn’t mean they’re a compelling contender. They lose key pieces of their offense, including their quarterback, top receiver, and half of their offensive line. They also lose a significant chunk of a defense that ranked a disappointing 60th in the nation against the run last year. While the acquisition of former Maryland QB Danny O’Brien and the return of star RB Montee Ball will be a significant boon, it’s easy to see Wisconsin being, at best, slightly worse this season than they were in 2011. That they are favored to win their division is less a compliment to them than it is an indictment of their division.
- Sept. 1, Northern Iowa
- Sept. 8, @ Oregon State
- Sept. 15, Utah State
- Sept. 22, UTEP
- Sept. 29, @ Nebraska
- Oct. 6, Illinois
- Oct. 13, @ Purdue
- Oct. 20, Minnesota
- Oct. 27, Michigan State
- Nov. 3, WIFEDAY
- Nov. 10, @ Indiana
- Nov. 17, Ohio State
- Nov. 24, @ Penn State
Wisconsin’s consumption of nonconference cupcakes continues, although the 2012 batch has a little more substance than in years past. Northern Iowa and Utah State, for instance, both had winning records. A visit to Oregon State is a nice gesture, except Oregon State went 3-9 last season. Regardless, Corvallis is a great destination. I used to live there.
The B1G schedule is the B1G schedule. Wisconsin misses Michigan (yeah she’s married now) but plays Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State, two of them on the road. Keep an eye on the Nov. 17 game. The brawl in Madison should take the edge off a Buckeyes team gearing up for their season finale against the Wolverines.
This schedule is as favorable as: Watching a horror movie. You'll probably make it -- it'll just be somewhat unpleasant.
Your uniform makes rest of us vomit into our mouths, too.
Leaving: QB Russell Wilson (72.8%, 3,175 yards, 33 TD, 4 INT), WR Nick Toon (64 rec, 926 yards), RG Kevin Zeitler, C Peter Konz
Returning: RB Montee Ball (1,923 yards, 6.3 ypc, 33 TD), RB James White (713 yards, 5.1 ypc, 6 TD), TE Jacob Pederson (30 rec, 356 yards, 8 TD), LT Ricky Wagner.
I take some of that back: losing half of their NFL-caliber linemen may not be that big of a deal. There is plenty of protein, grain, and beer available in Madison to turn their next crop of linemen into run-blocking pâté.
Losing Russell Wilson, however, IS a big deal. He ran the Badgers offense with remarkable efficiency as a transfer. That kind of ability is rare. O’Brien is a lot less talented than Wilson and has already shown that he isn’t great with transitions. In light of the loss of their one elite receiver, I predict O’Brien will be a slightly worse version of former Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien.
Player you’ll probably see on Sportscenter: Montee Ball
Doing what? Loitering in the end zone. Like a bawss.
This offense is as frightening as: “The Ring” -- with the lights on. Fear level = 7.5.
His smile makes me believe this was from a pre-game presser.
Style: 4-3 over, coverage not guaranteed if the game is on the line.
Leaving: DT Patrick Butrym (55 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 4 sacks), CB Antonio Fenelus (42 tackles, 4 INT, 9 PBU), S Aaron Henry (55.5 tackles, 7 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 4 INT, 7 PBU)
Returning: MLB Chris Borland (103.5 tackles, 19 TFL, 2.5 sacks), WLB Mike Taylor (105 tackles, 9 TFL, 2 sacks), CB Marcus Cromartie (34 tackles, 3 PBU)
Linebacking should be fine. The secondary will take a hit. The defensive line needs some work.
Also, really gotta do something about this:
Player you’ll probably see on the BTN: Chris Borland.
Doing what? Getting called a “throwback.”
This defense is as frightening as: “House on Haunted Hill” 1999 remake. Has its moments; I have no idea what's going on during the last two minutes. Fear level = 4.
Overall: 9-3, 5-3 B1G
Their chances of making it to Indianapolis are as good as: Making it through a double feature of “The Ring” and “House on Haunted Hill.” You are with your grandpa, your neighbor’s little brother, your stepsister, and a bunch of their middle school friends. Your uncle was there but got caught bringing in outside food and got kicked out of the theater.
-----BIG SECTION BREEEAAAAAAKKKK-----
Bold prediction: This statue stays.
Let's not talk about the elephant. Let's talk footbawwww, and in terms of footbaw Penn State should be okay for the season. New head coach Bill O'Brien is going to install his superinnovative Patriots offensive scheme, and it's going to be great. No more field goal fests against Iowa. Enough guys are coming back that the Nittany Lions won't feel the effects of their abysmal 2012 recruiting class for another year at least. If it weren't for all the Penn State Awful Thing stuff going on, there might actually be some sense of optimism. It's like the football version of finally getting crisp, clean sheets after years of bedridden awfulness.
Unfortunatelly, Penn State Awful Thing.
- Sept. 1, Ohio (Bobcats)
- Sept. 8, @ Virginia
- Sept. 15, Navy
- Sept. 22, Temple
- Sept. 29, @ Illinois
- Oct. 6, Northwestern
- Oct. 13, WIFEDAY
- Oct. 20, @ Iowa
- Oct. 27, Ohio (Buckeyes)
- Nov. 3, @ Purdue
- Nov. 10, @ Nebraska
- Nov. 17, Indiana
- Nov. 24, Wisconsin
Penn State has a relatively soft nonconference schedule and doesn’t face either of the Michigans. They get division primary foes Wisconsin and Ohio State at home. If they had either an offense or, you know, program stability, they’d be slightly favored over Wisconsin. We’ll see if O’Brien can work on the former, but there’s nothing to be done about the latter. Regardless, the Nittany Lions come in close second to the Badgers in the preseason division rankings. You never know. With a few lucky bounces they might just end up in Indianapolis.
This schedule is as favorable as: A sturdy lifeboat in the middle of a hurricane.
Sure. Why not.
Style: New England
Leaving: WR Derek Moye (40 rec, 654 yards, 3 TD)
Returning: QB Matt McGloin (54.1%, 1571 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT), RB Silas Redd (1241 yards, 5.1 ypc, 7 TD), WR Justin Brown (35 rec, 517 yards, 2 TD), C Matt Stankiewitch
Penn State has some issues at quarterback again with ginger walk-on extraordinaire McGloin, perennially unfinished attic Rob Bolden, and founding father (John) Paul Jones, but McGloin seems to be in best position to lead the charge. The tradeoff of having a low ceiling is the fact that he maybe kinda understands how plays work. Redd's return to the backfield will be helpful regardless of who starts.
Whether O'Brien's massive overhaul of the offense will be effective is unknown. The Nittany Lions were awful last year, and not enough of the personnel has changed to suggest that they won't be again. Playcalling was probably a weakness in 2011, but playcalling is usually dictated by talent and execution. Unless you're Jim Bollman.
Player you’ll probably see in a flashback nightmare: Matt McGloin.
Doing what? Victimizing J.T. Floyd.
This offense is as terrifying as: An Xbox made with disassembled Atari components. Fear level = 3.
No. 42 LB Michael Mauti
Style: 4-3 under
Leaving: DT Devon Still (42 tackles, 17 TFL, 4.5 sacks), DE Jack Crawford (29 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks), LB Nate Stupar (59.5 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT), CB Chaz Powell (35 tackles, 2 PBU, 2 INT), S Nick Sukay (48 tackles, 8 PBU, 3 INT)
Returning: DT Jordan Hill (37.5 tackles, 8 TFL, 4 sacks), LB Michael Mauti (injured for most of 2011), LB Gerald Hodges (76 tackles, 10 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 INT), S Malcolm Willis (25 tackles, 1 INT)
Player you’ll probably see on ESPN: Gerald Hodges.
Doing what? Getting drafted, wishing he’d left a year earlier.
This defense is as terrifying as: A refurbished Xbox made with Xbox components. Fear level = 8.
Overall: 9-3, 5-3 B1G
Their chances of reaching Indianapolis are as good as: Getting a LAN game to work with aforementioned Xboxes.
-----BIG SECTION BREEAAAAAAAAKKKKKKKKK-----
I have only one word for Indiana’s outlook for 2012: Hoosierquest.
- Sept. 1, Indiana State
- Sept. 8, @ UMass
- Sept. 15, Ball State
- Sept. 22, WIFEDAY
- Sept. 29, @ Northwestern
- Oct. 6, Michigan State
- Oct. 13, Ohio State
- Oct. 20, @ Navy
- Oct. 27, @ Illinois
- Nov. 3, Iowa
- Nov. 10, Wisconsin
- Nov. 17, @ Penn State
- Nov. 24, @ Purdue
Playing UMass on the road is so Indiana.
This schedule is as favorable as: The Ann Arbor Art Fair is to traffic.
Style: 4-out, 1-in Motion.
Leaving: Some dudes.
Returning: PG Tre Roberson (57%, 937 yards, 3 TD, 6 INT), SF Kofi Hughes (35 rec, 536 yards, 3 TD), PF Ted Bolser (14 rec, 165 yards, 1 TD)
Indiana is still figuring out why the term “basketball on grass” isn’t more literal. They are currently adjusting to the oblong shape of the ball and learning that traveling is okay.
Player you’ll probably see during a live update: Tre Roberson.
Doing what? Getting pwned.
This offense is as frightening as: Modern art; Why is your running back facing backward? What is the symbolism of having just four guys on your offensive line? The abstract shape of your I-formation evokes the image of a bowl of red jello about to get thrown against a window. How uncompromisingly postmodern. Fear level = 1.
Replogle, left; Black, right
Leaving: LB Jeff Thomas (57.5 tackles, 1 sack), LB Leon Beckum (42.5 tackles, 2 sacks)
Returning: DT Larry Black (48 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks), DT Adam Replogle (38.5 tackles, 7 TFL, 4 sacks)
Yes, Larry is Jibreel’s older brother. He is decent (massive Indiana caveats abound), so maybe Jibreel will be too.
Player you’ll probably see on Sportscenter: Adam Replogle.
Doing what? Getting dragged into the end zone by Montee Ball.
This defense is as frightening as: Pottery exhibits; they take up space, but are liable to fall over and break on contact. Fear level = 2.
Overall: 1-11, 0-8 B1G
Their chances of making it to Indianapolis are as good as: Finding an item at the Art Fair that is both aesthetically pleasing and reasonably priced.
Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College
Domestic violence is very bad, mmk. Ohio State's backup middle linebacker Storm Klein was arrested a week ago after his ex-girlfriend, who is the mother of his child, said that Klein "violently and purposely grabbed" her and slammed her into their front door during an argument. She sustained a minor scrape and swelling on her forehead and abrasions on both forearms. He was charged with domestic violence and assault.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, who is fighting a reputation for being soft on his players' legal problems, dismissed Klein from the team shortly thereafter. Meyer released a statement saying the charges "violate the core values of the Ohio State Football Program ... it has been made very clear that this type of charge will result in dismissal." It was consistent with his actions earlier in the year when he dismissed DBs Dominic Clarke and DerJaun Gambrell for run-ins with the law. Gambrell, incidentally, was charged with assault.
In the same statement, however, Meyer said he would "re-evaluate" Klein's status with the team pending the status of his charges, leaving the door open for reinstatement. As of earlier this week, Klein's lawyer (who was Terrelle Pryor's defense attorney a year ago) was optimistic about Klein's future with the team (parenthetical punctuation mine):
"I believe when this is said and done. this will be resolved in Storm's favor, with an exclamation (!) mark."
So after opening with a strong gesture by dismissing Klein, Meyer is now deferring to the legal system. Perhaps he is remorseful for what happened with Clarke and Gambrell, as neither of them received the benefit of reconsideration after trial. But their fair and speedy banishment opened up a scholarship for Armani Reeves, so it was a net positive.
Perhaps Meyer feels unfit to judge the truth. Unfortunately domestic violence is notoriously difficult to tackle in court, however, and charges frequently get reduced or dropped because victims have a hard time prosecuting their own family members, signficant others, or in this case, their baby's daddy. The verdict rarely reflects what actually transpired, so relying on it to determine whether Klein did something to violate Ohio State's "core values" is a bit disingenuous.
Or ... perhaps that depth chart at middle linebacker is looking awfully thin, and it would be a shame if months later an "innocent" Klein weren't available on the two-deep to fill in for Curtis Grant after Taylor Martinez breaks his ankles.
I'm not saying Klein should be kicked off the team without the benefit of due process. For the arrest and initial charges -- "violating team rules" -- Ohio State should hand out a suspension but leave room for additional consequences pending the result in court. But I believe in being consistent. Suspension until further notice would have been acceptable for Klein had Meyer afforded it to Clarke and Gambrell in January. But alas, Armani Reeves. To make matters worse, Klein has a previous arrest record, so it's hard to imagine that external pressure will allow Meyer to relent, especially given the precedent. There's no way he can reinstate Klein without suffering significant backlash.
The Klein saga isn't over yet, so I'll withhold judgment of how Meyer ultimately handles it until then. But if Klein is in a Buckeyes uniform ever again, the chance that Meyer and Ohio State actually have any "core values" of their own approaches zero.
The Actual Preview Part
Jim Davison / the-Ozone.net
1000-foot view. Ohio State is banned from the 2012 postseason, but that isn't going to stop them from trying to go all USC on everyone. The installation of Urban Meyer's fearsome spread offense and the renewal of their defense under former head coach/co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and DC Everett Withers has caused all of the analysts to project them to sweep the majority of their schedule.
Can they? Probably. The Buckeyes benefit from returning a whole bunch of starters and maintaining a roster stacked with four-star talent. Moreover, Meyer has declared himself an Ohio State man, which has made it easy for the players, staff, and fanbase to buy into his program. Yes, this is in direct contrast with the Rich Rod transition.
I believe there are two factors -- one tangible, one not so much -- that will determine whether they can reach their full potential this season. The first is whether QB Braxton Miller can stay healthy. In Meyer's spread, the magnifying glass over the quarterback position is a lot bigger. Whether Miller holds up over the course of a season will be critical to their success. With him in a game, the Buckeyes have a shot to beat any team on their schedule. Without him, not so much.
The second factor will be how the current roster adapts to an up tempo spread. Under previous offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, fans have been treated to some of the most boring offenses even by Big Ten standards. While there were some spread elements in that offense, hence the recruitment of dual threat quarterbacks like Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor, and Miller, the bigger element in those offenses was a running back oriented ground game that wore defenses down slowly over the course of a game. "Zippy" or "Jack-rabbity" were not words often used to describe Ohio State players. What's Meyer going to do with a bunch of 230 lb. running backs? While the talent in Columbus is there, how it molds to Meyer's system and how the system molds to them will be something to keep an eye on.
- Sept. 1, Miami (OH)
- Sept. 8, UCF
- Sept. 15, Cal
- Sept. 22, UAB
- Sept. 29, @ Michigan State
- Oct 6, Nebraska
- Oct. 13, @ Indiana
- Oct. 20, Purdue
- Oct. 27, @ Penn State
- Nov. 3, Illinois
- Nov. 10, WIFEDAY
- Nov. 17, @ Wisconsin
- Nov. 24, Michigan
Ohio State has a decent number of tough-ish games as well as some easily winnable ones. While there are just four road games, three of them will be tough. Their bye comes rather late in the schedule on Nov. 10.
It's hard to predict how the Buckeyes will play this season against opponents who are also experiencing significant changes. Michigan State, Penn State, Illinois, and Wisconsin are all debuting new quarterbacks or head coaches. Ohio State isn't necessarily a lock to beat all four, but with the defense they return this season, they should have enough firepower to keep that possibility open.
The game to watch other than vs. Michigan is the one vs. Purdue. The Boilermakers have given Ohio State some trouble in the past, but only within the confines of West Lafayette. This year could be different because they may field one of the more complete teams in their division. Not that winning the division will matter all that much the Buckeyes, but Purdue will certainly be looking to legitimize their candidacy for the Woody Division crown, and beating Ohio State will go far in making a statement.
X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes
QB Braxton Miller: "I paid for this!"
Key losses: RB Dan Herron (675 yards, 5.0 ypc, 3 TD), WR DeVier Posey (12 rec, 162 yards, 2 TD), C Mike Brewster, LT Mike Adams, RT J.B. Shugarts
Top returners: QB Braxton Miller (54.1%, 1159 yards, 13 TD, 4 INT), RB Jordan Hall (405 yards, 4.1 ypc, 2 TD), RB Carlos Hyde (566 yards, 5.3 ypc, 6 TD), FB Zach Boren (1 twitter hissy fit), WR Corey Brown (14 rec, 205 yards, 1 TD), TE Jake Stoneburner (14 rec, 193 yards, 7 TD), LT Jack Mewhort
So the biggest development since I previewed Ohio State for HTTV was Jordan Hall stepping on some glass and severing a tendon in his foot. He'll likely miss a couple games and won't be able to practice up until then. This is a blow to their run game, especially since Meyer was planning to use him the way he used Percy Harvin back in the day.
In other news, Jack Mewhort and Jake Stoneburner peed in public, ran from some cops, and then got suspended "indefinitely." They won't miss a snap.
Anyway, the skinny on the Buckeyes offense is that Braxton Miller returns to commandeer an offense much more suited to his strengths. Their spring game put that system on display rather well, and a few playmakers emerged, most notably WR Michael Thomas, who had like 12 catches for a bazillion yards during that game. How this offense does against anyone else remains to be seen. They were rather turnover prone as all the quarterbacks threw interceptions during their spring game.
The run game would have been find had Hall stayed healthy, but with him gone, all that's left is a bunch of burly 230-pounders who are probably thinking longingly about all the other college offers they had and wondering why they didn't commit to a school where being a little hefty was a good thing. (Looking at you, Brionte Dunn.) Yes, yes, I'm sure Meyer will find a way to use his bigger running backs. Warming the bench in November is a start.
Their group of receivers will be okay if they learn to run their routes correctly. None of them seem to be elite space players, but sometimes just catching the ball is enough.
And of course, their offensive line has been subject to a lot of debate. They're big since Tressel recruited them for hulking running backs to run into. I imagine that they will spend the offseason dieting so that they at least pass the eye test for what a lithe spread offensive line looks like.
DE John Simon: "I did this one myself."
Style: 4-3 under, some kind of nickel package.
Key losses: LB Andrew Sweat (missed most of the season due to injury), DE Solomon Thomas (basically nothing. These guys are not really key losses at all. Just here to fill some space.)
Top returners: All of the defense!
I'm gonna block quote myself. Blockquotesturbation!
Fickell will run the same 4-3 Under Michigan uses, and which Jim Heacock deployed in Co- lumbus for years, switching to a 4-2-5 over (i.e. nickel) against spread offenses. The last game of 2011 (Michigan) and this year’s spring game saw them come out in a lot of cover 4 (quarters) coverage, very much like what Virginia Tech used to good effect in last year’s Sugar Bowl.
Wow, sounds smart! What can you tell me about their players?
Their secret is talent, having recruited more 4- and 5-star defensive players than any team but Alabama (30—tied with FSU and Texas) in the last five classes. The Ohio State defensive line, the strength of their 2011 defense, will again be the strength in 2012. Massive nose guard Johnathan Hankins (6’3, 325 lbs) and tackle Garrett Goebel (6’3, 290 lbs) will anchor the interior line. While Hankins was overshadowed by any number of Big Ten tackles during his sophomore season, he is the type of plugger who can hold his own against double teams and make a few athletic plays here and there. If Hankins continues to develop, he could be a persistent nuisance for teams that like to run straight up the middle and vie for All-Conference honors. Strongside defensive end Adam Bellamy and weakside end John Simon will bookend the line. Simon, who earned First Team All-Big Ten honors last season, gave Ohio State fans a pleasant surprise when he chose to stay in Columbus for his senior season; he is probably the best player on their roster.
You are a really good analyst. That defensive line sounds scary. How do you feel about their linebackers, though?
The linebackers, on the other hand, will require some work if they are to live up to their potential this year. MLB Curtis Grant was a highly touted recruit who became an exciting fresh- man, and seemed to lock down the starting job this spring before a ding kept him out of their spring game. Also sitting out was his main competition, awesomely named Storm Klein, who started for a time last year.
Hahaha. Storm Klein. He's a funny guy. I remember they had a really good linebacker named... um ... Razor? Shazor?
Shazier! That's the one.
WLB Ryan Shazier erupted late last season as a true freshman—Penn State fans and Michigan fans might remember him being all over the field doing his best impression of NFL second- round draft pick Lavonte David from Nebraska. The problem with being liable to show up anywhere—and this is true of the entire linebacking corps in general—is he just as likely to apparate in completely the wrong place. Michigan fans will remember SLB Etienne Sabino quickly dropping into four-deep coverage on a 3rd and 11 (very good), carrying Hemingway too far to open up Odoms (not good), and turning around to put a perfect block on strong safety C.J. Barnett as Odoms gratefully walked into the end zone (explode!). Given the proper coaching, this could become a dominant group, but as it stands they are an unruly troupe of goblins, equally capable of nuking an opponent as each other.
That sounded an awful lot like Seth's writing.
Speaking of Barnett et al., the Buckeyes secondary was a solid but unremarkable group last year, and they should again be solid; ask again later for remarkability. Barnett is a budding star at safety, and linebacker-ish 5th year senior Orhian Johnson—you saw a lot of him versus Michigan—will keep the other safety spot a plus. Junior Christian Bryant will play the “star,”—Ohio State’s word for the nickel back—who will rotate in for Sabino on passing downs and against spread teams. Michigan fans who remember 2005-’08 S/CB Brandon Harrison will recognize Bryant’s role. At cornerback it gets a little thin. Travis Howard returns for his fifth year opposite redshirt sophomore Bradley Roby, but behind the starters are three “meh” sophomores before falling off into the pool of true freshmen. Meyer has acknowledged this lack of depth by stepping up his defensive back recruiting, but it may be several seasons before the reinforcements truly pan out on the field. Repeating a theme, elite talent is extant--Roby, Howard, Barnett, and Johnson are future NFL draft picks-- but whether it can come together to form an elite secondary depends on whether they can learn to complement each other and stay healthy.
That was definitely Seth, since you have no idea who Brandon Harrison is. You didn't write this preview! I call shenanigans.
This image never gets old.
They have a kicker on the Lou Groza Award watch list. Name's Drew Basil. Cool.
Overall: The way this preview started is very different from the way it ended. Huh. Not sure what happened.
Iowa fans: tweet your penitence to @AIRBHG.
Our God is an angry God / He rains destruction on running backs from heaven above. In case you missed it, Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God struck four times over the offseason:
- Marcus Coker, Iowa's starting tailback in 2011, is suspended for the Insight Bowl; transfers to Stony Brook in January.
- Backup Mika'il McCall endures a season in which he breaks an ankle, fumbles on his second carry back from injury, gets benched, and then gets suspended; transfers to Southern Illinois in January.
- Backup Jordan Canzeri suffers a torn ACL during spring practice; will likely miss the entirety of 2012.
- Incoming four-star recruit Greg Garmon is booked for weed possession after getting pulled over for an expired registration; status is up in the air, but the outlook is grim.
Iowa's tailback roster is currently decimated to the point where incoming three-star recruit Barkley Hill might get the starting nod on Sept. 1. If he's wise, he'll have asked to switch to linebacker by then.
So yeah, this sounds an awful lot like Michigan's secondary circa 2010, but the wrath of AIRBHG predates AMSHG by almost a decade. A Hawkeyenation.com post chronicles the smitten, beginning with Ladell Betts in 2001. AIRBHG's appetite for sacrifice is insatiable. By my count, no fewer than 27 Hawkeyes running backs come to judgment in the time since. Only Fred Russell made it through "unscathed" by leaving early for the NFL in 2003. He went undrafted.
The actual preview part
Ricky Stanzi approved this message.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz is in his 14th year at Iowa and has led his team to nine winning seasons, two shared B1G championships, and two BCS bowls. Since the miraculous 2009 season in which the Hawkeyes went 11-2 and won the Orange Bowl, however, Iowa has been cruising back to average. There's a real potential for the Hawkeyes to be below average this season.
Ferentz's $3.65 million contract goes through 2020. At the age of 56 (57 on Aug. 1 for those of you into sending e-cards), Ferentz will probably see his contract through before kicking the coaching bucket. But there's a chance he might not make it to then. No one wants a lame duck coach, and if Iowa doesn't start trending up within the next season or two it would be hard for him to avoid that label.
2012 might not save him. The schedule is on the favorable side and Iowa returns a quarterback who's had a year's worth of starting experience, but with a roster that returns just 11 starters (6 offense, 5 defense, 96th nationally) from units that were both pretty mediocre last year, along with the running back issues as mentioned above and a transition at both coordinator positions, it's hard to see the Hawkeyes being consistent enough to do much more than break even.
Still, nobody predicted Michigan to do as well as it did last season. If Ferentz is truly the coach he's reputed to be and his coaching hires prove to be the hires the program has needed, there may be some fight left in Iowa yet.
- Sept. 1, Northern Illinois
- Sept. 8, Iowa State
- Sept. 15, Northern Iowa
- Sept. 22, Central Michigan
- Sept. 29, Minnesota
- Oct. 6, WIFEDAY
- Oct. 13, @ Michigan State
- Oct. 20, Penn State
- Oct. 27, @ Northwestern
- Nov. 3, @ Indiana
- Nov. 10, Purdue
- Nov. 17, @ Michigan
- Nov. 23, Nebraska
At first look this schedule is relatively soft. Eight home games, no marquee non-conference opponents, just two tough road games, and no Wisconsin or Ohio State. Upon closer examination it's littered with trap games and underestimated obstacles.
Iowa opens at home against Northern Illinois, a MAC team that went 11-3 last season. Definitely not a gimme. Iowa State visits next, i.e. Steele Jantz returns to repeat his demolition of Iowa's defense. Northern Iowa is another team that finished at the top of a lesser conference (MVC) so again not a guaranteed win. Central Michigan is perhaps the only team that Iowa should comfortably beat at this point.
As far as B1G goes, Indiana is the only team that doesn't have a real shot at taking down the Hawkeyes. Minnesota beat them last year (A fluke? Maybe.) and should be better this year. Northwestern has made a habit of beating teams strongly associated with corn in recent years and has an offense that Iowa has a hard time dealing with. So does Purdue to a lesser extent, and Purdue should have a much better defense than many give them credit for.
Iowa might be able to squeeze a win or two out of the heavyweights, but it's not looking likely at this point.
This schedule is as favorable as: Vanilla paste.
X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes
I wonder if Adam Jacobi still thinks this is a thing. #ALLLOOKTHESAME
Style: MANBALL (with some no-huddle stuff that doesn't work very well) and PUNTOSAUR (except against Michigan).
Key losses: RB Marcus Coker (1384 yards, 4.9 ypc, 15 TD), RB Jordan Canzeri (114 yards, 3.7 ypc), WR Marvin McNutt (82 rec, 1315 yards, 12 TD), LT Riley Reiff, RG Adam Gettis
Top returners: QB James Vandenberg (58.7%, 3022 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT), WR Keenan Davis (50 rec, 713 yards, 4 TD), TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (16 rec, 167 yards, 3 TD), C James Ferentz
The biggest news for Iowa's offense not related to AIRBHG was the hire of Greg Davis from Texas to replace Ken O'Keefe, who left to coach wide receivers for the Miami Dolphins. Davis served as OC for the Longhorns during the Vince Young and Colt McCoy eras, but he is generally regarded as having as much to do with their success as Jim Bollman had to do with Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor's success.
Yes, Iowa has hired Jim Bollman, basically.
This development doesn't contrast that much with what Iowa already had going on, so we'll pretend nothing has changed. Vanilla Hawkeyes offense is vanilla.
Iowa's passing game shouldn't suffer too much this season despite losing about half of its receiver production from 2011. James Vandenberg returns a year wiser and a year more ready to deal with having no time to throw because his offensive line has occasionally forgets how to pass protect. Vandenberg was incredibly efficient last season as a first year starter, and there's no reason to believe he won't follow it up with at least a similar performance.
Except for one thing: the biggest weakness in this offense is at the running back position, as already discussed at length. The Hawkeyes run the offense Brady Hoke talks about fondly whenever Denard's not in the room, and having a bruising tailback to run between the tackles is critical for their success. Not having one is a problem. If Iowa can't threaten the run, Vandenberg might get into a lot of trouble when his receivers get locked down in coverage on every down.
Something tells me however that Ferentz will find a way to get production out of whatever guy is in the backfield. Coaching the offensive line is his thing, and they've paved the way for guys like Adam Robinson (transferred to Minnesota-Duluth after 2010), a two star out of high school, to become All-Conference performers very early in their careers.
One more thing -- there's been a lot of buzz about C.J. Fiedorowicz lately, a.k.a. the "next great Iowa tight end." Maybe he is, maybe he isn't, but he is worth keeping an eye on.
Fear level = 4.
Hands go above the waist.
Style: 4-3, Cover 2. Always.
Key losses: DT Mike Daniels (49.5 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9 sacks), DE Broderick Binns (46.0 tackles, 12 TFL, 5 sacks), OLB Tyler Nielsen (53.5 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack), CB Shaun Prater (42 tackles, 3 PBU, 1 INT)
Top returners: MLB James Morris (81 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT), OLB Christian Kirksey (86 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT), CB Micah Hyde (60.5 tackles, 8 PBU, 3 INT), S Tanner Miller (64 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 PBU)
Coordinator change -- Norm Parker retired and got replaced by Phil Parker (no relation), who was defensive backs coach for the former Parker at Iowa. It's a significant loss, since Parker had been around for forever, but hiring someone internally means the philosophy won't change much, if at all. We'll see whether the level playcalling takes a hit.
On the player side of things, the Hawkeyes lose all of its significant production from its defensive line (sound familiar?), which bodes poorly for 2011's 62nd-ranked rush defense. Micah Hyde returns as the lone star in the secondary, and he'll certainly have his work cut out for him if Iowa hopes to improve from what their 58th-ranked pass defense from a year ago.
I don't have much else to say about the Hawkeye defense. They play cover-2 a lot. They don't often blitz (except against Michigan). They like taking two-star guys and milking every last drop of talent from them.
Yeah. Vanilla Iowa defense is vanilla.
Fear level = 4.
K Mike Meyer (14/20 FG) returns. Woo. I don't know why I still have this section. I think Iowa is replacing last year's punter with a dude from Australia, and I could not be bothered to look up who either of them are right now.
Record: Here's how it breaks down, I think.
- Likely wins: Central Michigan, Indiana;
- Close, but cigar: Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Minnesota;
- Close, but no cigar: Iowa State, Northwestern, Purdue;
- Likely losses: Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska
That comes out to about 6-6 overall, 3-5 B1G.
Against Michigan: Michigan's offense had an ill-advised game plan for Iowa last year and executed it horribly during Midwest Windstorm Part II. Things will be better offensively this year, as it will be in the Big House and Al Borges has resigned himself to zone running from shotgun at least for the time being. Michigan will have to be disciplined in the trenches on both sides of the ball as Iowa won a majority of those battles last year, and Michigan's front seven will have to get pressure on Vandenberg early. If Michigan gets to him their entire offensive plan is kaputt, but if Vandenberg gets in a rhythm, he and his receivers have the potential to take over the game.
I say Michigan ends its three-year drought against the Hawkeyes and wins 35-14.
Their chances of winning the B1G are as good as: KYRU... I BERIEVE IN YOUUUUU.
Allison Hall, home to yours truly for three weeks in 2000 and three weeks again in 2001. It was good times.
Downfield threat. Former USC player Kyle Prater, who was the best receiver from the 2010 recruiting class, made a lot of noise in January when he left the Trojans for Northwestern. Prater struggled with injuries and redshirted as a freshman. He emerged in 2011 only to see his spot taken by classmate Robert Woods and rookie dynamo Marqise Lee. Prater called it quits at the end of the season after amassing a singular reception for 6 yards during the OT loss to Stanford.
Currently the Wildcats are currently waiting on an NCAA waiver to allow Prater to play immediately in 2012. That decision should come sometime next month. If the ruling on Michigan State transferee DeAnthony Arnett is any precedent, Michigan fans should expect to see Prater in the Big House on Nov. 10. [Ed-myself: The family hardship thing makes Arnett's situation technically different. Not sure if Prater has as strong of a case as Arnett did, but you never know. Homesickness/buriedonthedepthchartness sounds pretty extenuating to me.]
What does Prater bring to the table? He's listed at 6-5 and around 215 lbs. While he's not reputed to have terrifying speed, that's about the only knock on him. Rivals has all of his other attributes tabbed as "blue chip" and compares him to former college standouts like Michael Floyd and Julio Jones.
For Michigan this should be somewhat of a problem. Brady Hoke is addressing the shortcomings of the Wolverines defensive backfield by recruiting corners like Gareon Conley and Channing Stribling, but that won't help the fact that J.T. Floyd (6-0, 185 lbs) will be Michigan's only starting corner taller than me this season.
The threat level can be tempered, however, by Floyd's admirable track record against opposing No. 1 receivers and simple logic saying that Prater is, at best, slightly worse Marqise Lee (1143 yards, 11 TDs) or Robert Woods (1292 yards, 15 TDs).
The Actual Preview Part
Northwestern's bid to become relevant ended when Heiman hopeful QB Dan Persa tore his Achilles against Iowa two years ago and was never quite the same after that. The Wildcats spent 2011 searching for the magic that once existed, but you could see in her eyes only unwaking embers where a warm light used to dance.
Persa's departure won't be such a huge blow. Northwestern has a great contigency plan on offense and should continue to put up points. If it's going to compete for prominence in the league, however, it'll need to address some issues on defense, although a lot of issues may be talent-related and won't be solved overnight.
In the meantime the Wildcats can continue to push the upper boundaries of so-so and lose bowl games to undermatched opponents.
- Sept 1, @ Syracuse
- Sept 8, Vanderbilt
- Sept 15, Boston College
- Sept 22, South Dakota
- Sept 29, Indiana
- Oct 6, @ Penn State
- Oct 13, @ Minnesota
- Oct 20, Nebraska
- Oct 27, Iowa
- Nov 3, WIFEDAY
- Nov 10, @ Michigan
- Nov 17, @ Michigan State
- Nov 24, Illinois
Northwestern opens on the road at Syracuse, who has another B1G matchup with Minnesota three weeks later. For the Wildcats it's actually sort of a solid nonconference schedule, what with three technically BCS (what a quaint and outdated system, makes me laugh) teams. If nothing goes horrendously wrong, I can see Northwestern winning three of those games, with a loss to the Orange the most likely.
The B1G schedule is neither great nor terrible. It's backloaded, but the Wildcats benefit from a bye on Nov. 3 to regroup before taking on the state of Michigan. And then they have perennial rival Illinois to close, but who knows how good the Illini will be.
A 4-4 B1G record would be an optimistic prognosis, but not too much so. A couple of the bottom feeder teams (Minnesota and the smoldering wreck that Illinois became) might be better than expected, but so might Northwestern, especially if Prater gets cleared. Conversely, some of the heavier hitters (Penn State, Iowa) might end up weaker than expected.
If the 6-win bowl game requirement stands, expect Northwestern to go bowling this season.
This schedule is as favorable as: A hot dog eating contest to the casual hotdog enthusiast.
X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes
No. 2 QB Kain Colter vs. Nebraska
Style: Spa-ready-cat (cat cat cat cat cat)
Key losses: QB Dan Persa (passing: 73.4%, 2376 yards, 17 TD, 7 INT, rushing: 32 yards, 0.4 ypc, 1 TD), WR Jeremy Ebert (75 rec, 1060 yards, 11 TD), TE Drake Dunsmore (45 rec, 522 yards, 6 TD), LT Al Netter, C/G Ben Burkett
Top returners: QB Kain Colter (passing: 67.1%, 673 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT, rushing: 654 yards, 4.8 ypc, 9 TD, receiving: 43 rec, 466 yards, 3 TD), RB Mike Trumpy (182 yards, 5.2 ypc, 1 TD, tore ACL on Oct. 1 vs Illinois), WR Demetrius Fields (32 rec, 382 yards, 3 TD), LG Brian Mulroe, C Brandon Vitabile
Yes, Northwestern's top returning rusher and receiver are ... its quarterback. The Ultimate Triple Threat (c) FTW!*
Anyway, the point is the Wildcats should be just fine at the skill positions. Colter took a backseat to Persa at quarterback for most of the B1G schedule last season but was employed often as a receiver and a rusher from the wildcat (although is it really a wildcat if the guy is technically a QB?). When he did come on the field as a full-fledged QB, he beat Nebraska. He'll be all right.
Running back was a little iffy for Northwestern last season after Trumpy's injury. With a year to recover, though, he'll be able to work his way back into the rotation. Whether he can shoulder all the responsibilities of being a feature back may not matter -- the Wildcats seem to favor the passing game a little more, anyway, and they have a dangerous runner already in Colter.
The receiver situation is currently in limbo, as mentioned above, but assuming that Prater gets his waiver, Northwestern should have one of the better units in the B1G.
The real question is on the offensive line. They lose a stud offensive lineman in Ben Burkett, who spent most of his career at center and was even named to the Rimington watch list twice before sliding to guard last season. They also have to replace Outland Trophy candidate LT Al Netter.
The bad news for the Wildcats is that even with these two guys last season, their offensive line wasn't very good. BTN.com's Tom Dienhart ranks their 2012 unit a pitiful 10th in the conference.
*Now Nissan has to give me royalties for their new ad campaign.
This offense is as terrifying as: A slightly burnt hot dog bun. The outside and edges may burn you (and/or cause cancer), but middle is still nice and fluffy. Fear level = 6.
No. 24 S Ibraheim Campbell loses jumpball to Junior Hemingway.
Key losses: DT Jack Dinardo (34 tackles, 3 sacks), CB Jordan Mabin (62 tackles, 1 INT), S Brian Peters (91 tackles, 1 sack, 5 INT)
Top returners: DE Tyler Scott (31 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), LB David Nwabuisi (84 tackles, 1 sack), S Ibraheim Campbell (100 tackles, 2 INT)
Northwestern stands to benefit most from improving its defense, as it finished 80th overall (407.1 ypg) in total defense and 66th (27.7 ppg) in scoring defense. Those numbers aren't awful, but a slightly better defense, particularly in the secondary, would have been the difference between their 6-7 record in 2011 and 8-5.
It would seem that the Wildcats would have to stretch the limits of their abilities in order to get better, however. Lack of elite talent is a problem. Moreover, Fitzgerald was an All-American linebacker back in his day and subsequently coached defense before becoming head coach at Northwestern, so it's not like he's one of those darned "non-defensive-minded coaches" that we don't take kindly to in these parts.
Aside from getting a new defensive backs coach (which is unlikely since Jerry Brown is Northwestern's version of Fred Jackson (but less good)), there's not much they can do about it but wait for a light to come on.
To be fair, they did do an outstanding job defending against Michigan for the better part of three quarters last season, particularly in the run game. They used a series of run blitzes that limited Toussaint to 14 carries for 25 yards and made Denard pay for every inch of his 117 yards on 25 carries, eventually knocking him out of the game. You have to think that with the lack of quarterbacks on their 2012 schedule able to take advantage of overaggressive defenses, they're going to adopt this strategy more often.
This defense is as frightening as: An undersized, overtoasted hot dog bun. If your hot dog is long enough, there's no way it can cover all of it. ...
Fear level = 4.
KR/PR Venric Mark (yellow) poised for a big return behind his blockers (black) vs. Minnesota. / via Sippinonpurple.com
Northwestern is bad at kicking field goals (6/10).
But good at returning punts (11.4 ypr, 1st in B1G)!
Pat Fitzgerald demonstrates proper hot dog eating technique.
Record: 7-5 overall, 4-4 B1G
Against Michigan: If Michigan can limit Kyle Prater this shouldn't even be close. Michigan demonstrated that it was capable of defending against Northwestern's ground game with its various options and whatnot, so keeping a lid on their passing game (and bubble screens) will be a big priority. On offense Michigan might have trouble getting a steady ground game going if Northwestern stacks the box like they did last year, but if Denard's understanding of the offense and passing mechanics have truly improved over the offseason, I'd expect to see him recap his 2011 second-half eruption against them. 42-17 Michigan.
Their chances of winning the B1G are as good as: A casual hot dog enthusiast trying to win a hot dog eating contest where all the hot dogs are footlongs and all the buns are burnt. The name plate on the next seat over reads "Kobayashi."
Glory days. Once upon a time Minnesota was pretty good at football. During head coach Bennie Bierman's 18-year tenure in the WWII era, the Gophers claimed five national championships and seven conference titles. A decade later (1960) Minnesota claimed another national crown under Murray Warmath. They won a Rose Bowl a year later. And then the bottom fell out.
Since then, no Gophers coach has recorded a winning record (including Lou Holtz, who coached there in 1984 and 1985) until Glen Mason, who posted .535 and their first 10-win season since 1905. No coach has since recorded a winning record, either.
This is a circuitous way to say WHY WOULD YOU FIRE HIM???
The actual preview part
The Metrodome, which
unfortunately is not where this year's game will be played.
Last season sucked for the most part but ended with a ray of hope for the Minnesota football program. They stole a victory from Iowa and trounced Illinois, effectively ending GopherQuest, an unofficial pursuit to become the Worst Big Ten Team Ever.
So despite finishing 3-9, second year head coach Jerry Kill bought himself and his coaching staff time to rebuild the program. Whether Kill ever reaches the success of even the Mason era remains to be seen. He has a good track record as a coach, but taking a program like Minnesota from its previously moribund state into contention to even win the division will require a quantum leap. At the very least it will have to start with recruiting. For the Gophers, that currently isn't going so hot.
In the meantime Michigan fans can sit back and enjoy Minnesota's presence as the reputed "thorn in the side" of mid-major Big Ten teams -- the Iowas and the Illinoises, I suppose -- without Michigan itself being in any real danger of succumbing to the occasional upset.
Here's hoping for a Minnesota victory on November 24.
- Aug. 30 (Thursday), @ UNLV
- Sept. 8, New Hampshire
- Sept. 15, Western Michigan
- Sept. 22, Syracuse
- Sept. 29, @ Iowa
- Oct. 6, WIFEDAY
- Oct. 13, Northwestern
- Oct. 20, @ Wisconsin
- Oct. 27, Purdue
- Nov. 3, Michigan
- Nov. 10, @ Illinois
- Nov. 17, @ Nebraska
- Nov. 24, Michigan State
Non-conference will be interesting only because Minnesota hosts Syracuse, who has a running backs coach by the name of Tyrone Wheatley. Other than that, there's not much reason to tune into any of their first four games unless you're so jonesing for B1G football by August you'll watch Gophers in Nevada on a Thursday night.
Not much is particularly notable about their B1G schedule. Having both Wisconsin and Nebraska on the road isn't ideal, but I don't really think anyone's expecting the Gophers to win either of those games regardless of location. Also, the last four games will be rough.
Matchups to watch: at Iowa and Michigan State at home. Minnesota played both of those teams competitively last season and even managed to eke out the Iowa game. It will be interesting to see whether there is something inherent in the Gophers' playing style that's favorable against those two teams, who share similar systems, or whether they just played two really flukey games last year.
Minnesota should be able to get three wins out of non-conference and pull out a B1G win over Illinois (most likely) or Purdue or Northwestern (less likely).
This schedule is as favorable as: a half hour "hill workout" on a stairmaster.
X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes
No. 5 QB Marqueis Gray
Style: Spready McSpreaderson
Key losses: RB Duane Bennett (639 yards, 3.8 ypc, 3 TD), WR Da'Jon McKnight (51 rec, 760 yards, 4 TD), TE Collin McGarry (16 rec, 120 yards, 2 TD), RT Chris Bunders, RG Ryan Orton, C Ryan Winn.
Top returners: QB MarQueis Gray (50.7%, 1495 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT), WR Devin Crawford-Tufts (8 rec, 156 yards), WR Brandon Green (15 rec, 190, 1 TD), LT Ed Olsen, LG Tommy Olsen.
Everything anyone needs to know about Minnesota's offense begins with MarQueis and ends with Gray. Gopher fans say Gray is their Denard Robinson (or better than Denard Robinson). Really he's more their version of Devin Gardner, i.e. a super athlete with a less than accurate arm who's probably better off playing receiver if not for the dire QB depth situation.
Last year he ran Minnesota's offense about as well as you could expect him to. He started 11 games, missing the entirety of the Michigan game due to a broken thumb, and otherwise got spelled by backup QB Max Shortell in a three-game stretch before wresting the starting job back completely. With the help of some decent skill players like Bennett and McKnight around him, Gray put on a few commendable performances against Iowa, Michigan State, and Illinois late in the season.
The loss of Bennett, McKnight, and the entire right side of the offensive line means Minnesota should probably brace for some "growing pains" -- as Al Borges would say -- this season. They might be okay at receiver. They have a couple fast guys (Crawford-Tufts, WR Marcus Jones) who should be effective in the spread. The running back competition seems to be murky at this point, however. The Gophers don't really have a whole lot in the way of reinforcements since their recruiting hauls have been understandably meager the last few years. They're going to have to make up with heart what they lack in stars.
Unless the Gophers can get their other receivers and a running back to step up, it will be the MarQueis Gray show until he gets injured, at which point the Gophers should just crawl into a hole and hope they don't see any shadows next spring.
This offense is as frightening as: A one-legged pirate who became a one-limbed pirate after a recent case of gangrene. Fear level = Yarrr! (3)
No. 11 CB Troy Stoudermire
Key losses: S Kim Royston (123 tackles (2nd in B1G), 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU, 1 INT), MLB Gary Tinsley (87 tackles, 9 TFL 4 sacks, 3 PBU), DT Anthony Jacobs (26 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack).
Top returners: CB Troy Stoudermire (24 tackles, 3 PBU, 2 INT, missed 8 games due to injury), WLB Keanon Cooper (77 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU)
One major reason Michigan blew Minnesota out of the water last season was the absence of MarQueis Gray. Another, perhaps more easily forgotten reason is the fact that Troy Stoudermire was missing from the game as well due to a fractured wrist. Stoudermire was a converted receiver playing corner in 2011, but through four games he proved to be a pretty competent one.
While the loss of Gray obviously had the bigger impact, having Stoudermire in the defensive backfield may have kept Denard in the game longer and given Borges a better opportunity to test Denard's passing issues against a decent corner instead of pulling him after an impeccable first half and calling it a day. Could have helped with the first half against Northwestern is all I'm sayin'. Dawg.
This season Minnesota should be getting Stoudermire back from injury. Good thing, because the Gophers lose a big chunk of their defensive impact players. Like the offense, this defense isn't going to get by on talent; other than Stoudermire, you wouldn't call anyone else on the unit a "solid B1G starter."
That's not to say they aren't any good at all. If you take away the massive skewing effects of their scores vs. Michigan, Purdue, and Wisconsin, their defensive stats weren't all that bad, especially toward the end of the season. That is a rough estimate.
Even without massaging the numbers, Minnesota ended up above average in things like pass defense, which is to say that with the right coaching they can at least milk their talent to allow them to hover around mediocre in other categories as well. They'll have to start with the front seven -- they were horrible against the run last season, and Ace identified this obvious weakness in his FFFF, back when North Dakota State was averaging 5.0 ypc against them. Not good.
This defense is as frightening as: A one-limbed pirate who contracted frostbite in his remaining foot due to his inability to put on socks. Fear level = Yarr? (2)
Record: 4-8 overall, 1-7 B1G.
Against Michigan: They might actually score a touchdown. Michigan will score fewer touchdowns. 31-7 Michigan.
Their chances of winning the B1G are as good as: A one-limbed pirate with frostbite completing a half hour hill workout on a stairmaster.
Brian Santa, Ace and I thought it would be great if we could go to this game. We promise to be extra good this year.
Offense line matters. Toward the end of last season it became increasingly clear that you could use trench matchups (O-line vs. D-line, D-line vs. O-line) as a heuristic for how teams would do against each other. Which is to say that it wasn't a great year for the league's skill positions.
Nebraska was an outlier. Coming into the season the Huskers were the B1G's version of Virginia Tech. They were loaded at every skill position save wideout, but they were relatively mediocre on the lines, particularly on offense. Their issues became pronounced on defense early in the season when DT Jared Crick got injured against Washington and on offense later in the season when injury robbed them of their starting tight end and a guard or two.
By the time they got to Michigan they were doing things like this:
screencap via BWS
And then all of a sudden it didn't matter that they had a speedy running quarterback and a bulldozer of a tailback. The Wolverines defense could choke them to death three yards behind the line of scrimmage every other play.
Nebraska finished fifth in the conference in yards per game (379.9 ypg, 66th nationally) and fourth in scoring (29.2 ppg, 49th nationally), which was disappointing given the preseason advertising. Part of that comes from the intangible aspects of transitioning into a new conference, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that their offensive line wasn't very deep or very good even though they got by decently in the Big 12 where teams generally sit back on defense and try to outscore you on offense.
The point is the Huskers are going to have to recruit a lot more big uglies if they want to gain elite status in the B1G. So far they haven't really done that,
|#5 Nebraska - 8 Commits|
but I guess it is still only June.
Obligatory Taylor Martinez shotput Youtube clip:
If you ever want to know how to throw like this, grab a football and pretend there's a foot-long string connecting it to your ear.
The actual preview part.
I would get the presser transcripts done so fast if I were there.
Nebraska's B1G debut in 2011 didn't go completely according to plan. They lost three conference games -- at Michigan and at Wisconsin in spectacular blow-outs and vs. Northwestern in game that even Brady Hoke couldn't believe happened. Other than that they had the singular highlight of clobbering Michigan State. They also beat Ohio State, but I'm sure Huskers fans talk about what happened during that game the way Michigan fans talk about what happened during the Sugar Bowl.
If the Huskers want to prove that their are truly of the B1G elite as they were billed to be, they need to put on a more convincing show and reach Indianapolis this season. They need their defense to stop underachieving, and in addition to to keeping their offensive line healthy, they need their offense as a whole to learn how to deal with adversity. Nebraska was frankly underwhelming on defense last season despite the number of star players, and their offense crumbled often on the road whenever they fell behind in the count. Much of that can be attributed to problems in leadership and coaching, so whether or not Bo Pelini is worth his paycheck, his evaluation period begins now.
- Sept 1, Southern Miss
- Sept 8, @ UCLA
- Sept 15, Arkansas State
- Sept 22, Idaho State
- Sept 29, Wisconsin
- Oct 6, @ Ohio State
- Oct 13, WIFEDAY
- Oct 20, @ Northwestern
- Oct 27, Michigan
- Nov 3, @ Michigan State
- Nov 10, Penn State
- Nov 17, Minnesota
Another part of the problem last year was the scheduling -- Nebraska's B1G slate was ... shitty. The Huskers played all five of the Bigs: Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State, three of which were away games. No other B1G team faced more than four upper tier teams, even if you count Nebraska itself as one.
The matchups don't get any softer this season, but Nebraska will benefit marginally by having just two of those teams on the road and eight home games total. A well timed bye after Wisconsin and Ohio State should help the Huskers regroup for the bulk of the conference schedule.
Even with a visit to UCLA in week two, I see Nebraska sweeping their nonconference opponents. They'll likely lose to Ohio State and one if not both of the Michigans, but any more than three or four B1G losses would be highly surprising.
This schedule is as favorable as: Swimming 1000 yards, downstream.
X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes
"What was that?" "Idunno I've never seen that before."
Style: Spread/option, but a lot more option than spread.
Key losses: backup RB Aaron Green (105 yards, 4.4 ypc, 2 TD) , WR Brandon Kinnie (257 yards, 1 TD), C Mike Caputo, LT Yoshi Hardrick, RT Marcel Jones.
Top returners: QB Taylor Martinez (56.3%, 2089 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT), RB Rex Burkhead (1357 yards, 4.8 ypc, 15 TD), RB Ameer Abdullah (150 yards, 3.6 ypc, 3 TD), WR Kenny Bell (461 yards, 3 TD), WR Quincy Enunwa (293 yards, 2 TD), TE Ben Cotton (189 yards, 0 TD), TE Kyler Reed (257 yards, 1 TD).
Nebraska's offense was a lot like Michigan's offense last year -- frequently unstoppable on the ground, temperamental through the air -- but not quite as good. Like the Wolverines, the Huskers were adjusting to a new offensive coordinator with a second-year starting quarterback who was equally capable of breaking open the game or inciting a fan to break his TV screen on any given play.
Not much will change going into 2012. The offensive line may get better, which would allow Nebraska's talented and experienced backfield to do some fancier stuff, but the backbone of their offense -- option -- will be predicated on whether Taylor Martinez makes the right reads and decisions. Lots of offseason fluff has been devoted to his throwing mechanics and accuracy, which is silly. The bread and butter of the Huskers offensive identity is the option run game, and that's equal parts athletic talent/skill and decision-making. So far Martinez hasn't proven himself to be that good at the latter.
The good news for him is that Rex Burkhead, the quintessential workhorse that Nebraska can always feed the ball to from the I formation when all else fails, returns at tailback. The Huskers should be mindful of his mileage, though. 38 carries against Iowa was cool last season, but after Cody Green's transfer, Nebraska a high ankle sprain away from being Iowa.
On the "needs improvement" list: receivers. None of the Huskers receivers were that good last season, and it's pretty safe to say they won't be unearthing any new talent this fall. Again, because of the nature of their offense and the play-action potential, it may be unnecessary, but preventing opposing safeties from sucking up against the run every play would make things a lot easier.
This offense is as frightening as: A musket. Fear level = 6.
No. 94 Cameron Meredith
Key losses: DT Jared Crick, LB Lavonte David, CB Alfonzo Dennard, S Austin Cassidy (61 tackles, 2 INT)
Top returners: DT Baker Steinkuhler (25 tackles, 2 sacks), DE Cameron Meredith (56 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT), DE Jason Ankrah (17 tackles, 1 sack), LB Will Compton (69 tackles, 1 sack), LB Sean Fisher (21 tackles), CB Andrew Green (38 tackles, 1 INT), S P.J. Smith (33 tackles, 1 INT)
Nebraska's disappointing defense in 2011 was much weaker against the run (158.5 ypg, 64th) than expected. They suffered from the loss of DT Jared Crick, who tore his pectoral muscle against Washington and eventually sat out the remainder of the season after Ohio State two games later, but to be honest, they were underwhelming even before that happened.
Against the past they fared okay (192.2 ypg, 19th), but you can mentally adjust that for how good you think B1G passing offenses were last year.
This season they lose the stars -- Crick, David, and Dennard -- but return a solid squad. Cameron Meredith was impressive last year and should continue to trend up. There's not much to say about anyone else.
Perhaps the most intriguing development for this defense was the hiring of defensive coordinator John Papuchis to replace Carl Pelini prior to the Capitol One bowl. Papuchis was the D-line coach under Bo Pelini while he was defensive coordinator at LSU during the 2005-2007 seasons, the last of which ended with a national championship. The reuniting of the Papuchis/Pelini duo should rejuvenate the Huskers defense, and with a full offseason of coaching, there should be tangible results in 2012.
If anything, it adds some oomf to recruiting, which means that Nebraska could be very good in a few years.
This defense is as frightening as: a 12-year-old kid who wets his bed, is cruel to small animals, and likes starting fires. You are a 28-year-old woman who reminds him of his mother. Fear level = 7, trending up with time.
Loses ball in 3 ... 2 ...
Key losses: No one important.
Top returners: K/P Brett Maher (44.5 ypp, 19/23 FG), KR/PR Ameer Abdullah (29.3 yards/kickoff, 7.1 yards/punt)
They should be really good! When they're not fumbling kickoffs.
I would bring my fancy camera and take sweet wide-angle photos. If I were there.
Record: 9-3 overall, 5-3 B1G.
Against Michigan: Lincoln is a difficult stadium to play in, and Michigan has been pretty bad on the road, so I'll give Nebraska the edge for that. Without a Mike Martin ragdolling backup offensive linemen, the Huskers will probably put up more points than they did last year. Going out on a limb here -- if Michigan wins, it'll be really close, like 27-24.
Their chances of winning the B1G are as good as: Swimming 1000 yards, downstream, in a race vs. Michael Phelps, who has just donated blood.