Central Michigan (6-6, 5-3 MAC)
Since we last spoke: Central Michigan 37, UMass 0; Central Michigan 42, Eastern 10
Pre-season Fear Level: None.
Hindsight Fear Level: 2
Best Win: Ohio (26-23)
Worst Loss: UNLV (31-21)
Season Recap: Central was not a good football team this year, but damned if they didn't get to 6 wins and bowl eligibility somehow. They won 5 of their last 7 games, but their opponents in those games were a combined 11-49. Their most impressive win over Ohio (YTO). They finished 110th out of 125 teams in FEI.
Bowls. There are too many of them.
The Michigan game in hindsight: Ah, when things were fun and the offense worked and hope was a thing.
Notre Dame (8-4)
Hope sprung eternal.
Since we last spoke: Notre Dame 23, BYU 13; Stanford 27, Notre Dame 20
Pre-season Fear Level: 7.5
Hindsight Fear Level: 7
Best Win: Arizona St (37-34)
Worst Loss: Pitt (28-21)
Season Recap: Notre Dame made a strong bid for ChaosTeam '13, beating some impressive opponents (Arizona State, Michigan State, Kiffin-exorcised USC) while losing to Michigan and Pitt and ALMOST losing to Purdue. Much-maligned quarterback Tommy Rees finished just south of 3,000 yards and 27 TDs against only 13 interceptions, but completed only 53% of his passes. TJ Jones and Davaris Daniels formed a solid 1-2 punch in the receiving corp, and Cam McDaniel led a running-back-by-committee that put up 5.2 yards per carry. You just found yourself jealous of Notre Dame, didn't you? That's a bad feeling. Don't do that again. Here. This will help.
This. Always this.
Coming into the year, we expected the defense to carry a somewhat mediocre offense. Instead, the defense may have actually been the weaker unit. The offense put up 27 points and almost 400 yards per game, and scored 20 or more points in every game other than USC (when Tommy Rees was hurt) and Michigan State (when obviously). The back seven of the defense, however, never really gelled, and they finished as a middle-of-the-pack team in most advanced stats (30th in defensive FEI, 51st in Def SP+).
The Michigan game in hindsight: Once again, Notre Dame played Lucy to Michigan's Charlie Brown. DAMNIT NOTRE DAME STOP GIVING US FALSE HOPE EVERY YEAR.
[after the jump: everyone else is better than you think except Michigan and the teams who beat them]
Akron (5-7, 4-4 MAC)
We didn’t listen…
Since we last spoke: Akron 31, Toledo 29 (W)
Pre-season Fear Level: 1.5
Hindsight Fear Level: 2.5
Best Win: Toledo (31-29)
Worst Loss: Louisiana-Lafayette (35-30)
Season Recap: Akron won 5 games, including 4 of their last 5 (albeit over 3 turrible teams and 7-5 Toledo). They even stayed within a score of Northern Illinois and played a respectable game against Ball State. Terry Bowden did a comparatively masterful job turning a perpetual cellar-dweller into the kind of team that might emerge from the cellar from time to time to grab a snack from the fridge.
The Michigan game in hindsight: You could argue that given what we know now, a loss to Akron would have only been terribly embarrassing rather than historically embarrassing. Yippee. But while the sheer terror of that 4th and goal from the 2 yard line was eventually displaced by the soul Novocain that was the Big Ten season, think back to that moment. That was freeking terrifying.
UConn (2-9, 2-5 AAC)
Since we last spoke: UConn 28, Temple 21 (W!), UConn 28, Rutgers 17 (W!!!)
Pre-season Fear Level: 2.5
Hindsight Fear Level: 1.5
Best Win: Rutgers (28-17)
Worst Loss: Towson (33-18)
Season Recap: UConn was never going to be a titan, but few would have expected them to be this abominable. Whereas the Akron nailbiter might look slightly better in the rearview mirror, the UConn nailbiter looks even worse. Despite a late-season dead cat bounce that took down Temple and Rutgers (I’m looking at you with Jim Delany face, Jim Delany), the Huskies’ season cost them their head ‘coach,’ Paul Pasqualoni, before October even arrived…
The Michigan game in hindsight: …and Michigan was down to these gomers by two touchdowns in the second half.
More than anything, I think this was the most damaging game of the year. Somewhere during or shortly after this game, it felt like the coaches determined that they had to rein in Devin Gardner because the turnover risks of a wide-open playmaking offense outweighed the rewards.
Minnesota (8-4, 4-4 B1G)
Since we last spoke: Wisconsin 20, Minnesota 7 (L); Michigan State 14, Minnesota 3 (L)
Pre-season Fear Level: 3.5
Hindsight Fear Level: 6
Best Win: Nebraska (34-23)
Worst Loss: sigh… Michigan (42-13)
Season Recap: What if I told you a team could ride a boring, one-dimensional, clock-murdering offense and a mediocre defense to an 8-win season? You’d tell me “this is the worst 30 for 30 ESPN has ever done.” Two years removed from Gopher
Quest, Minnesota showed real, actual progress. Despite Jerry Kill’s midseason hiatus to try to get his epilepsy under control, Minnesota ripped off consecutive wins over Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana, and Penn State.
You will rarely find a more lopsided conventional offense than that run by 2013 Minnesota. They ran the ball 548 times and threw the ball 237. That’s a 70/30 split, and the reason was pretty clear: they ran for 4.4 yards per carry, and only threw for 7.2 yards per pass. And while their games were far from exciting, they lasted an average of about an hour and 40 minutes.
In the ‘names to watch next year,’ the name that jumps out is Maxx Williams. Williams is a hybrid tight end type who caught 20 passes (which was second on the team. Again. 20 catches. Second on the team) for 341 yards and 4 scores. Also, his name has 2 x’s
The Michigan game in hindsight: This actually looks pretty okay in hindsight. Michigan scored 5 touchdowns in 8 offensive possessions on a team that turned out to be above-mediocre. Although why Michigan keeps busting out their new stuff against Minnesota every year is beyond me. 2011 was the diamond/Fritz formation. 2012 was the Devin Gardner ill-advised double-back scramble that become a touchdown through magic beans of some kind. 2013 was the tackle over.
Penn State (7-5, 4-4 B1G)
Other guys played, too. Probably.
Since we last spoke: Nebraska 23, Penn State 20 (L); Penn State 31, Wisconsin 24 (W!?)
Pre-season Fear Level: 3/8
Hindsight Fear Level: 5
Best Win: Wisconsin (31-24)
Worst Loss: Indiana (44-24)
Season Recap: I didn’t really know what to make of Penn State at the beginning of the year. They had some top-flight talent (see: Allen Robinson, that one wide receiver, and Robinson, Allen), but had mediocre depth as a result of the sanctions. In the end, they ended up being pretty mediocre. They had one shocker over Wisconsin and one mildly impressive win over Michigan. Past that, their best win was probably Syracuse. They went to overtime against ILLINOIS. AT HOME.
The brightest spot for Penn State was, of course, Allen Robinson. Robinson caught 97 passes for 1432 yards and 6 TDs. The next guy on the list had 333 yards receiving. Zach Zwinak nearly hit the 1000 yard mark on the ground, and Bill Belton had 800 yards at over 5 yards per carry. Like I said, they had talent. They just weren’t a very good team.
The Michigan game in hindsight: What Michigan game? Never happened.
Indiana (5-7, 3-5 B1G)
Since we last spoke: Ohio State 42, Indiana 14 (L); Indiana 56, Purdue 36.
Pre-season Fear Level: 4
Hindsight Fear Level: 3
Best Win: Penn State (44-24)
Worst Loss: Navy (41-35)
Season Recap: WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
Indiana's last game pretty mucn encapsulated their season. Indiana put up 692 yards of offense and 56 points. But they allowed Danny "Danny Etling" Etling to throw for 485 yards and 4 TDs with no picks. Re-read those stats for a second. And remember to breathe. This kind of stuff can overpower your autonomic nervous system.
Indiana’s offense was a toddler who found the pixie sticks. The defense was that same toddler trying to do calculus while riding the dog like it’s a small horse. The offense finished 14th in offensive FEI. The defense finished 110th. Even GERG is staring at that split like ICP staring at a magnet.
The key to Indiana’s offensive success was their tempo. They were running a play every 20 to 25 seconds for good chunks of the season. As a team, they gained over 6,000 yards; 3600 through the air, and 2400 on the ground. The problem, though, was that every time Indiana scored, they would kick the ball to the other team, who would usually then score right back. They gave up at least 35 points in 10 of 12 games (against everyone but Penn State and Bowling Green).
The Michigan game in hindsight: “Maybe we should tighten up our coverage on the guy with 300 receiving yards in this game.”
Michigan State (11-1, 8-0 B1G)
Since we last spoke: Michigan State 30, Northwestern 3 (W); Michigan State 14, Minnesota 3 (W)
Pre-season Fear Level: 8
Hindsight Fear Level: 9
Best Win: Nebraska (41-28) or Michigan (29-6)
Worst Loss: Notre Dame (17-13)
Season Recap: Don’t let that preseason Fear Level fool you. We were laughing at Sparty a couple of weeks into the season. And we were laughing haaaaaard. Now, in our defense, holy crap did that offense look bad in the first two games against Western Michigan and South Florida. But then three things happened: Michigan State settled on a starting quarterback who was not Andrew Maxwell, they established a primary running back in Jeremy Langford, and they got better at their base sets through repetition (THERE IS A LESSON TO BE LEARNED HERE, METHINKS). As a result, their offense was able to move the ball. They still weren’t good, mind you (75th in offensive S&P+, 46th in offensive FEI), but they never needed to be. They just needed to be mediocre and let that defense do things.
And oh lawdy, that defense. 11.8 points per game. Turnovers. Defensive scores. General mayhem. As a result, Michigan State became the first Big Ten team to go 8-0 in conference and win all of its games by double digits since Michigan did it… in 1943. Someone offer Pat Narduzzi a job. I don’t care what it is or where it is or how much you have to pay him.
The Michigan game in hindsight: Sparty it’s said never gives up her dead when the winds of November come blowin’…
If the UConn game took the wind out of Devin Gardner’s sails, the Michigan State game snapped the mast in half and ran the ship aground on large, pointy rocks. As someone who attended that game, I felt genuinely bad for him. And for my eyeballs. This game probably cost Michigan a win the next week against Nebraska.
Nebraska (8-4, 5-3 B1G)
Since we last spoke: Nebraska 23, Penn State 20 (OT) (W); Iowa 38, Nebraska 17
Pre-season Fear Level: 7
Hindsight Fear Level: 6
Best Win: sigh #2… Michigan (17-13)
Worst Loss: Minnesota (34-23)
Season Recap: You get the feeling that Bo Pelini’s time on Nebraska’s sidelines is rapidly approaching a end. In fact, long-time Nebraska coach Bo Pelini suggested in a press conference that Nebraska might want to go ahead and fire Bo Pelini after their beat-down at the hands of Kirk Ferentz.
Nebraska wasn’t terrible. They won 8 games despite losing Taylor Martinez for much of the conference season. The defense turned out to be less abysmal than had been anticipated, though they couldn’t stop anybody… and I mean ANYBODY… from running the ball. Ameer Abdullah was probably the best running back in the Big Ten. But in Lincoln, 8 wins with a schedule that soft (one of which required a Fat Guy Hail Mary against Poor Damn Northwestern) just isn’t good enough.
The Michigan game in hindsight: Other than presuming that Akron and UConn would be blowouts, I probably made my worst Week One prediction in the Nebraska section:
“Devin Gardner might run for a billion yards”
Oops. I also predicted it to be a shootout. And I’m allowed to write about football. It’s like the credentialing process for the internet is lax or something.
Northwestern (5-7, 1-7(!) B1G)
Wha ha happen?
Since we last spoke: Michigan State 30, Northwestern 6 (L); Northwestern 37, Illinois 34 (W)
Pre-season Fear Level: 7
Hindsight Fear Level: 3.5
Best Win: Uh… Illinois (37-34)? Syracuse (48-27)?
Worst Loss: Minnesota (20-17)
Season Recap: Damned if anyone saw this coming. Northwestern was 4-0, ranked #16, and led #4 Ohio State in the 4th quarter. Two months later they had lost 7 straight.
Part of the reason everyone was so optimistic about this year was that last year they lost their three games in what seemed like terribly snakebitten fashion. But instead of reverting to the mean, they instead doubled down by insulting Jourdan Lewis’s gypsy. They had a bunch of chances to beat Ohio State. They lost by 3 to Minnesota. They lost in overtime to Iowa. They lost in quadruple overtime to Michigan after Michigan executed the #DileoPowerSlide circus clown field goal. And the coup de grace, they lost on a 50 yard hail mary on the last play of the game against Nebraska.
Part of it was schedule, as Northwestern’s crossover opponents were Wisconsin and Ohio State (i.e. the only two good teams in the Leaders division). Part of it was injury, as neither Kain Colter nor Venric Mark could get healthy. But whatever it was, the offense just never got going. After scoring 30+ in their first 5 games, they scored 6, 17, 10, 24, 9, and 6 points in regulation in their next 6 games before scoring 37 against Illinois (which translates to like 12 points worth of actual points)
The Michigan game in hindsight:
Iowa (8-4, 5-3 B1G)
Since we last spoke: Iowa 24, Michigan 21 (W); Iowa 38, Nebraska 17 (W)
Pre-season Fear Level: Giant Noodle. 4.5
Hindsight Fear Level: Giant Noodle. 6.5
Best Win: Nebraska (38-17)
Worst Loss: Northern Illinois (30-27)
Season Recap: Iowa turned out to be surprisingly decent-to-good. Their four losses were to Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and undefeated Northern Illinois. Hurray Iowa.
The Michigan game in hindsight: Why?
Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 B1G)
Since we last spoke: Ohio State 42, Indiana 14 (W); Ohio State 42, Michigan 41
Pre-season Fear Level: 8.5
Hindsight Fear Level: 8.5
Best Win: Wisconsin (31-24)
Worst Loss: Michigan in the alternate Universe where Devin Gardner had an extra beat and found Jeremy Gallon breaking open (43-42)
Season Recap: Won many games. Play one more this weekend against Michigan State. Let’s go meteor.
The Michigan game in hindsight:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;