to play football, not to play trumpet
About Last Week:
I like curling.
I don’t watch it very often. In fact, I pretty much forget it exists for 206-week stretches at a time. But for two weeks during the Winter Olympics, I’m a curling fan. And when America is curling, I’m into it. I’m chastising a guy whose name I didn’t know the week before for a thing that I am only 80% sure was good or bad. This guy has been working without pay for this goal for the better part of his adult life, and guys like me swoop in when the big torchy thing goes poof and start screaming at the TV about BROOMING HARDER DAMMIT.
The wonderful thing about spectator sports is that you can select your level of emotional investment. Athletes don’t have that luxury. For them, emotional investment is a byproduct of the tangible, physical investment. For fans, deciding to go mentally in on a team is a conscious choice. And like any other wager, the more you bet on your team, the more you have to win or lose. Odds are that you, dear MGoReader, know this phenomenon well.
I drove the four and a half hours up to the Michigan-Indiana game on Saturday. I sat by some very nice, rather intoxicated Hoosier fans, and for the first couple of hours we made amusing small talk about Indiana’s #CHAOSTEAM nature. They exhibited the kind of gallows humor you would expect from a team that had been through what Indiana fans had been through this year. They had hope, of course, but it was the kind of guarded Charlie-Brown-kicking-the-football hope. Experience taught them to guard their soul dongs against the inevitable.
By late in the third quarter, they had stopped talking as much. They had started to believe again. Thrice bitten, they had yet found the way to come back for more. And by the time Delano Hill batted that fourth down pass down, they were inconsolable. They stared off into the cold, cruel evening as if searching for the deity who had wronged them again. No one would have blamed them if they had mailed this one in. But like a poker player who had taken multiple bad beats, they went all in one last time only to lose on the final card.
Sports are wonderful and terrible because we allow them to be so.
[After THE JUMP: some fear, mostly loathing]
About Last Week:
Drake… yo, Drake… MOM MADE PIZZA ROLLS
The Road Ahead:
Indiana (4-5, 0-5 B1G)
Last week: Lost to Iowa, 35-27
Recap: All in all, not a bad performance by Indiana. The Hoosiers gave up a 65 yard touchdown run on the second play of the game, but they managed to cut Iowa’s lead to 21-20 in the fourth quarter before the Hawkeyes pulled away and Indiana was unable to recover a late onside kick.
Still, Indiana had a rough parity in yards (they were outgained 467-407), and at no point did Iowa look like they one would expect from the #5 team in the CFP rankings when taking on a team that is winless in conference play. The Hoosiers have now played Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa close… and lost to Rutgers and played very tight games with Wake Forest, WKU, and Florida International, and SIU.
Can a team still be #CHAOSTEAM if they win the games they are supposed to win and lose the games they are supposed to lose, but they do each in chaotic fashion?
This team is as frightening as: Eh. Fear Level = 3.5
Michigan should worry about: Jordan Howard. Howard is averaging over 6.0 yards per carry, and has exceeded 20 carries and 145 yards in every game he’s played in which he has been remotely healthy. He shows really good balance, patience, and burst, and can find the holes that open up in front of him. That last fact is somewhat important, ya know?
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Indiana is last in the B1G in scoring defense, 13th in yards per play allowed, 13th in yards per pass allowed, 13th in yards per carry allowed, 13th in defensive S&P+, last in opponent first downs per game, last in opponent 3rd down conversion rate, and last in opponent scrimmage plays of >20 yards, >30 yards, >40 yards, >50 yards, >60 yards, >70 yards, and >80 yards.
When they play Michigan: This is what the Hoosiers are facing:
Some would see this as a reason to fire Kevin Wilson. I see it as the best argument for why they should keep Kevin Wilson, at least for another year. Right now, the Big Ten East is a group of haves and a group of have-nots. Selling Indiana to an up-and-coming coach at this point would be extremely difficult. Dino Babers and PJ Fleck aren’t going to jump at an opportunity that will put them in the same division as Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, and Mark Dantonio, especially in a year with this many job openings. Kevin Wilson’s program hasn’t been fantastic, but by Indiana standards it hasn’t been bad.
This week: vs. Michigan, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
[After THE JUMP, nobody like Indiana]
About Last Week:
The Road Ahead:
Rutgers (3-5, 1-4 B1G)
Last week: Lost at Wisconsin, 48-10
Recap: Hayden Rettig is Rutgers’ backup quarterback. Rettig replaced starter Chris Laviano, and promptly posted a QBR of 2.9. And somehow, this was an improvement over Laviano’s 2.7.
Rutgers was outgained 426-165, and were more than doubled up in the air and on the ground. It wasn’t all his fault, Laviano was legitimately atrocious, going 4 of 14 for 31 yards (2.2 YPA) with no touchdowns and a pick. When you factor in rushes/sacks, Laviano’s 19 touches gained a total of 11 yards. That’s approximately two Subway sandwiches per pass attempt.
In conference play thus far, Rutgers is averaging 5.16 yards per play and surrendering 7.3 yards per play. That’s a negative differential of 2.14 yards per play, which is dead last in the B1G, more than a half-yard worse than second-to-last place Purdue and more than a yard worse than the likes of Indiana and Maryland. Part of that is because they have played four of the better offenses in the conference in Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. Part of it is because they are bad.
On the bright side, basketball season is right around the corner…
SI forecasts that Rutgers (288) will be the worst team from a BCS conference by a huge margin: The Scarlet Knights are the only BCS-conference team outside our top 200, and we project them to go 1-17 in the Big Ten. Rutgers' projections are so bleak that we would still have them finishing last if they were in the CAA.
This team is as frightening as: the prospect of facing Rutgers basketball once or twice per year for the foreseeable future. Fear Level = 2
Michigan should worry about: Leonte Carroo…
Michigan can sleep soundly about: ...has a bum ankle and is questionable for the game, and if he does play he’ll probably be lining up across from Jourdan Lewis.
When they play Michigan: Walls may not be necessary. Michigan will probably be able to get by with those nylon extend-o ropes that banks and airport security lines use.
This week: at Michigan, 3:30 p.m., BTN
[Hit THE JUMP.]
About Last Week:
It was a bye week, so for the second week in a row, NO FOOTBALL OF ANY KIND HAPPENED.
The Road Ahead:
Minnesota (4-3, 1-2 B1G)
Last week: Lost to Nebraska, 48-25; Bye
Recap: We’ve got to start this week on a serious down note. Jerry Kill, one of the fundamentally good dudes in a fundamentally un-dude profession, announced his immediate retirement on Wednesday morning. And this wasn’t a Steve Spurrier “eh, let’s go do something else that is more golf-adjacent” retirement. Kill’s presser made clear that he wanted to keep coaching, and that he has no idea what else he’s going to do, but for health reasons he just can’t coach anymore:
Seriously, watch that whole thing. Watch it twice.
Part of being a football fan is mentally divorcing the game you see from the toll it takes on the people involved. We tend to think of coaches as being above that fray. But these guys are a different breed, and take on an impossibly overwhelming task. It is no wonder that it breaks even the strong.
Kill was dealt an even more impossible task than making Minnesota football competitive in the 21st century. It's inspiring that he tried to do what he loved anyway. It's equally inspiring that he walked away from it when he couldn't do it right anymore. I vote anything with Paterno's name on it gets changed to Kill. Except Jay.
In a football sense, Minnesota is also in a rough place. After opening the year 4-1 and getting some honest-to-god votes in the polls, Minnesota is going to have to scramble to make a bowl game. The Gophers have to find two wins among home games against Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and road games at Ohio State and Iowa. All five of those teams are in the S&P Top 25, and Bill Connelly has them winning about one more game.
This team is as frightening as: a 30 cent water jug. Fear Level = 3
Michigan should worry about: Minnesota may be inspired by Kill’s departure and turn in an unexpectedly strong performance.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: They still need to, like, score points to win.
When they play Michigan: This is basically Michigan with Direct TV vs. Michigan with Cable.
This week: vs. Michigan, 7:00 p.m., ESPN
[After the JUMP, a lot of things to sleep soundly about]
About Last Week:
The Road Ahead:
#7 Michigan State (6-0, 2-0 B1G)
Last week: Won at Rutgers, 31-24
Recap: I can’t recall a team ever get ranked #2 in the country, win two consecutive conference games, and land at #7. Then again, I can’t recall a #2 team in the country playing back-to-back nailbiters against the likes of Purdue and Rutgers, so I guess I shouldn’t be shocked.
If I’m a State fan, though, this game is a much bigger red flag than the Purdue game. Michigan State ran out to a 21-0 lead on Purdue, took its foot off the gas, and then when things started to tighten up forgot which one was the gas pedal and which one was the “do a Dukes of Hazzard ramp into a hay stack” pedal. This game was a close contest the entire way, with Rutgers holding the halftime lead after largely outplaying Sparty. Fortunately for Michigan State, Rutgers went Full Rutgers at the end of the game, but the feelings are not warm and fuzzy in East Lansing.
Sparty did outgain Rutgers 489-349, but once again struggled to run the ball, rushing for less than 3.5 yards per carry against the team that surrendered 330 yards rushing to Penn State. And despite the fact that Connor Cook played a hell of a game, the offensive line was on roller skates against a team that is not known for its pass rush. And this was almost entirely before losing their (in my opinion (which is correct)) most important lineman, Jack Allen, to a naaaaaasty-looking ankle injury. He’s listed as a co-starter with 37 other guys for the Michigan game, but he left the game after giving it one play, and he left the stadium in a cart, so who wants odds.
It should also be noted after last week’s heroics that Michigan State has the lowest touchback-on-kickoff percentage in the conference and they give up the most kickoff return yards in the conference. Just sayin’.
This team is as frightening as: A big brother, but after you hit a really sudden growth spurt that puts you a couple of inches taller and a few pounds heavier. It doesn’t mean you’ll win that next fight, but it makes you feel a hell of a lot better about your odds. Fear Level = 7
Michigan should worry about: Aaron Burbridge. He’s second in the conference to Geronimo Allison in receiving yards (on about 61,000 fewer targets), and has more than triple the receiving yards of anyone else on Michigan State’s roster.
Check out Burbridge’s stats compared to the rest of State’s receiving corps: (via Bill Connelly):
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Jourdan Lewis is… well, you know. The thing at the top of the page.
When they play Michigan: Well hello there, Natural Order of Things. Have a seat right over there. We’ll be with you in a moment. Can I get you something to drink?
This week: @ Michigan, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
[AFTER THE JUMP: If I told you it would spoil the surprise and you wouldn’t hit the jump]
Hey, I’m back. Sorry I missed last week. I tried to call, but it kept going straight to voicemail, and I didn’t want to leave a message because I figured I’d just see you Tuesday at the thing.
About Last Week:
The Road Ahead:
#13 Northwestern (5-0, 1-0 B1G)
Last week: Beat Ball State 24-19, Beat Minnesota 27-0
Recap: Northwestern is a thing. Probably.
They’re 5-0, they’re ranked in the top 15 for the first time 2001. They’ve given up the fewest points per game in the country (unless you’re just talking about points surrendered by the defense, in which case Michigan has the best scoring defense). They’re only giving up 4.0 yards per pass attempt, and have yet to surrender a 200 yard passing day to anyone.
But at the same time, the algorithms don’t like them very much (they’re #29 in the S&P+) and Vegas doesn’t trust them (they opened +12 against Michigan, which has since moved to about +8). And the reason is pretty obvious. They haven’t scored more than 24 points against any FBS opponents, and they’re #116 in the country in yards per play and #119 in passing yards per game.
Still, Northwestern remains a team about which we don’t know a lot, other than “defense good, offense bad.” Case in point: Northwestern bludgeoned Minnesota 27-0, which looks like a score indicative of an all-three-phases performance. But 14 of those points came on a fumble return for a touchdown and a punt return to the 5 yard line. Northwestern held Minnesota under 200 yards, but barely cracked 300 yards themselves.
This team is as frightening as: The upper end of the thing MInnesota was supposed to be. Fear Level = 7
Michigan should worry about: Northwestern is second in the conference in pretty much every major defensive category.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: They are second to Michigan in pretty much every major defensive category
When they play Michigan: Northwestern is what is known as a “fleet in being.” The problem isn’t that Northwestern is necessarily a good team. It that they are potentially a good team. Michigan plays Northwestern immediately before Michigan State, and I’m sure Harbaugh would prefer to treat this game much like they did UNLV; throw rock the whole time, not show anything interesting, and maybe set up the next opponent for a couple of counterpunches. But Northwestern looks real enough to have to take as a potentially serious game, thus losing the opportunity to play for the next move.
This week: @ #18 Michigan, 3:30, BTN
[AFTER THE JUMP: Monty Python, Kevin Bacon, and a rock]