So much can happen on the first Wednesday of every February, keeping up can be hard, so here’s a look at some of the things that went down in the Big Ten.
I think this will be one of the better Big Tens we’ve seen in the past decade or so, but I’m not sure there is an elite team in the league. There should be depth, and that could set things up for a strong 2015, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Ohio State is rebuilding on defense, but that unit could hardly be worse than it was when the ’13 season concluded, so it’s hard to count that as a negative. Michigan State’s offense was a sore spot early last season but finished on a high and returns almost everyone of consequence. They’ll have some new faces on the offensive line, but that unit wasn’t great anyway so they can probably get by with an average front again this season all things considered. Teams may play them differently now that Connor Cook is a known commodity, though. How he responds to that will tell a large part of the tale this season. Recent conference history is littered with quarterbacks who looked good early in their career but plateaued.
Michigan State is, pardon the pun, green in some spots on defense, and it is unlikely the Spartans will be as tough there regardless of how good coaches Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi have proven to be on that side of the ball. The same can be said of Ohio State’s offensive line, though, so it all could be a wash when the teams play Nov. 8. Continue reading 2014 Big Ten football picks
Earlier we took a look at the East. Now comes the West, which should have an interesting race.
Iowa and Minnesota both showed great improvement last season while Nebraska and Wisconsin have questions but remain contenders. Continue reading Big Ten West spring football review
In case you were wondering, Nick Saban is still the worst secondary coach in Ohio State history – at least statistically.
The 2013 Buckeyes came close to setting a record for most passing yards allowed per game at 268.0 but fell short of the mark of 273.1 yielded in 1981.
Saban was Ohio State secondary coach that season as well as in 1980, when the Buckeyes allowed a school-record 621 yards passing in a game to David Wilson of Illinois. The only other 500-yard passing game by an Ohio State opponent also happened under Saban’s watch in ’81 at Purdue via quarterback Scott Campbell.
Head coach Earle Bruce fired Saban (along with defensive coordinator Dennis Fryzel and line coach Steve Szabo) after the ’81 campaign, but the Kent State graduate recovered nicely, as you may have heard.
He got his revenge on Ohio State in 1998 when as head coach at Michigan State he led an upset of what for my money is the best Buckeye team of the past 25 years at least. Oh yeah, then he won a total of four national championships at LSU and Alabama. Saban also was head coach at Toledo and served four seasons as defensive coordinator of the Browns before becoming the big boss of the Spartans.
As for his time in Columbus, Saban told the American Football Coaches Association convention last month the most memorable victory of his career was the Buckeyes’ 14-9 upset of No. 7 Michigan in 1981. Saban’s secondary was key in that victory as safety Todd Bell’s late interception prevented the Wolverines from adding to a 9-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Art Schlichter then engineered the game-winning touchdown drive for the Buckeyes.
I’m among those who thought hiring Hazell, who was the epitome of class when dealing with the media as an Ohio State assistant who regularly turned out NFL-quality receivers for six seasons in Columbus, was a good move by the Boilermaker brass, and that could still turn out to be the case. It’s early yet in his tenure, and I’m sure there was a lot to work on after the dysfunctional Danny Hope era.
But the offense has been, to put it mildly, a disaster this season, and perhaps this is why:
Yeah, I guess using only 10 guys is a good way to get to 90th in the nation in passing yards and 118th or worse in pretty much every other major statistical category.
How does this happen? That’s a good question. There are plenty of options to fill out that last spot. While Wisconsin would probably go with another tackle, Purdue could list a third receiver or a second tight end – maybe even a fullback since Hazell seems to want to move toward more of a pro-style attack.
Did they forget about fullbacks after all those years of pass-happy spread offenses under the Joe Tiller? There are a few guys listed on the roster as fullbacks, so that can’t be it.
Is this depth chart is a simple protest from a spread offense loyalist in the sports information department, or are they just waiting for the next donation check from Mike Alstott to clear?
Of course there are plenty of other things for Hazell to worry about when it comes to restoring the Purdue program, but hopefully we can get to the bottom of this sooner or later.
Earlier, I took an overview of the Big Ten and what it needs to bounce back from a very poor 2012 football season. I take a lot more from the regular season than the bowls, but another sub-.500 record in the postseason certainly doesn’t help the cause of the league.
As far as the games themselves, I’m not sure we learned a whole lot.
- The 2013 Capital One Bowl was really a quintessential 2012 Nebraska performance as the Cornhuskers gained 443 yards of offense but allowed 146 more than that. They put up 31 points (including an interception returned for a touchdown) but lost by two touchdowns. In short, the offense and defense were both spectacular, one good and one bad. I’d say personnel is the main explanation on both sides – Taylor Martinez progressed significantly (but still has more room to improve even more as a senior) and Nader Abdallah stepped up in the wake of I-back Rex Burkhead’s injury-plagued senior campaign. Aside from Burkhead (whom they’ve shown they can live without), the only real weapons they lose are a pair of talented tight ends, so the offense should continue to hum. Defensively, a bunch of seniors are walking out the door, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing. The talent has steadily dropped on that unit for three consecutive years, and the production has followed. Some new blood could be good, although I would rate Will Compton, Baker Steinkuhler and Eric Martin as players who will be missed. I also think the season and the game demonstrated the double-edged sword that is the multifaceted Bo Pelini (and coordinator John Papuchis) defense. A two-gap defensive line and pattern reading secondary gives the scheme a lot of flexibility, but it also leaves a lot of potential seams that can burst in the case of bad communication. To make matters worse, I don’t think Nebraska had enough guys with the talent to erase mistakes.
- Michigan’s defensive numbers were largely a mirage. I like their young linebackers a lot, but the defensive line needs a serious upgrade. The secondary was better than it had been two years ago, but that doesn’t say much. The gaudy numbers they had as a secondary in the regular season were mostly a result of the weakness of Big Ten passing games and the weakness of the Michigan defense of line. Teams were plenty happy to run on the Wolverines until they were stopped. I thought Al Borges bounced back with a better game plan against South Carolina and he did, although it could have used some more Denard Robinson. Devin Gardner has a lot of talent, but he is still raw. Michigan has a playmaking wide receiver in Jeremy Gallon, but it remains to be seen if anyone else will step up to join him. Who knows if they will find a playmaker in the backfield, but the offensive line could be a major liability. It will definitely be young. Getting Taylor Lewan back could be a good start, but he’s not actually as productive as his accolades would indicate. That’s probably why the Michigan coaching staff barely gave him any chances to match up one-on-one with Jadeveon Clowney, who only played about half his team’s snaps anyway.
- I suppose we learned Michigan State does not have unending confidence in Andrew Maxwell, but I guess that shouldn’t be a shock after the season he had. Of course he was made a captain before the season started. Are young quarterback in the expected to struggle, but I think the larger issue was with play calling that did not help them out. Of course, it’s hard to call plays when you can’t block anybody. The Spartans just have to get better up front if they want to be good enough to be an upper-echelon team. They should continue to be very good on defense next year even with the loss of William Gholston early to the pros. Depth is very good on the defensive line for MSU.
- Northwestern sucked it up and got it done, actually riding a hot start to a postseason victory for a change. The Wildcats’ woeful secondary feasted on Mississippi State for four interceptions and showed some playmaking ability with six tackles for loss, including three sacks. Kain Colter and Venric Mark are wonderful skill players around whom to build an offense, but the offensive line started three seniors who will be missed. The quarterback rotation seems to need some bugs worked out, but a win is a win, especially considering the program’s postseason history.
- Minnesota showed that it at least belonged in a bowl (for what that’s worth these days) but giving Texas Tech everything it wanted, but the Gophers couldn’t hang onto a late lead and lost on a last-second field goal. Only seven seniors started for the Gophers, who might have something in freshman quarterback Philip Nelson and sophomore running back Donnell Kirkwood. Leading tackler in the game Brock Vereen is due back at safety next year, as is defensive end Rashede Hageman (six tackles, one sack).
- Purdue was kind enough to leave no doubt it made the right move in letting go Danny Hope. My only other thought on that game was that it will be refreshing to evaluate their 2013 roster with the impression any apparent talents won’t be wasted like they were under the Hope regime, which was plagued by injuries and undisciplined play. There are some dangerous skill guys on the roster if they all come back to play for new head coach Darrell Hazell, a former Ohio State assistant.
- Rare is the Rose Bowl that feels like an afterthought, but it was hard to take much from Wisconsin’s loss to Stanford. Kudos to the Badgers for hanging tough after falling behind 14-0, but the Cardinal did not exactly lower the boom. Both teams were very conservative, owing to the total of 37 passes thrown and 34 points scored (not that I don’t love a good slugfest and the many varieties of running plays each team came out with). The game did serve as further validation to me of the improvement of the Wisconsin front seven, a group I was not high on at all entering the season but that turned in a really nice campaign. Most of it should be back, so that is a good building block for the new coaching staff in Madison. Nine seniors started on offense or defense for the Badgers, so they will be young and/or unproven at a lot of places in 2013.