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M&GB staff predictions: Florida State

Friday, December 30th, 2016


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Justin (3)

Unless Michigan’s offensive line has improved significantly over the past month, it’s going to be difficult to get a consistent running game against Florida State’s defensive front. As Josh detailed in yesterdays The Numbers Game, FSU is susceptible to the big play, so it’s likely that Michigan will move the ball in fits and spurts rather than with much consistency. And it’s also likely that it will be mostly through the air against a Florida State pass defense that has allowed half of its opponents to throw for more than 200 yards. Walker will probably wreck a drive or two, but if Wilton Speight is healthy after a month off he can carve apart the Florida State secondary.

Staff Predictions
Michigan    Florida St   
Justin 31 23
Derick 27 21
Sam 24 14
Josh 21 13
Joe 28 20
M&GB Average 26 18

Defensively, Michigan will have to stop — or at least slow down — Cook. We shouldn’t be too worried about Francois and the passing game beating Michigan’s top-ranked pass defense. But Cook will present some issues in the passing game out of the backfield. Michigan’s defense has had a knack for giving up big plays to running backs out of the backfield this season and Cook is the best they’ve faced this season. Don Brown faced Cook last season when he was at Boston College and held him to just 54 yards on 15 carries and two catches for three yards. If he can draw up a game plan to come close to repeating that performance Michigan will win. If the Michigan defense can stuff Cook on first and second down consistently, letting the pass rush loose on the porous FSU offensive line, it will be a big day for the Wolverines.

Overall, I see a game dominated by the defensive lines both ways, preventing either team from rushing consistently. Both teams will hit some big plays, but Michigan has the edge in the passing game and also on special teams. Expect a close game throughout with Michigan pulling it out late in the game.

Michigan 31 – Florida State 23

Derick (1)

Michigan routed Florida last season after a month of preparation, but Florida State is a tougher test in the Orange Bowl.

Michigan had an outside chance at the playoff, but now that it’s settling for a New Year’s Six bowl, how will it come out?

I think these are two of the best defenses in the country, with tons of NFL talent on both sides.

I think Michigan can at least limit Dalvin Cook and make enough plays in the secondary to pick up win No. 11 by a 27-21 score.

Michigan 27 – Florida State 21

Sam (3)

After narrowly missing out on a spot in the College Football Playoff, Michigan’s consolation prize is a trip to Miami to face the Seminoles of Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Something tells me that the crowd will not be overly kind to the Wolverines, but we’ll see how well the fan base travels south.

As for the matchup, there looks to be a case of strength versus weakness in Michigan’s pass rush facing a porous FSU offensive line, while Seminole running back Dalvin Cook could cause fits with his explosiveness in the running game. Wilton Speight’s health is still in question after gutting out a so-so performance against Ohio State a month ago, and a potent Florida State defensive line could cause more issues there.

If there’s one intangible for all bowl games, however, it’s the desire to be playing, and I don’t think Jim Harbaugh stands for anything less than full effort. With a star-studded senior class (and the biggest star of them all in Jabrill Peppers) playing in its last game in the Maize and Blue, I like the Wolverines to pull it out in a defensive showcase.

Michigan 24 – Florida State 14

Josh (1)

For me, Michigan is not in the playoff for one simple reason: they do not have a championship OL and if FSU wins that’ll be why. That lack of an elite OL could spell doom against the likes of DE DeMarcus Walker, who also lines up inside, and NT Derrick Nnadi. Mason Cole has struggled against the better NT’s Michigan has faced and Kyle Kalis has whiffed on far too many blocks to count (remember Walker lines up inside too). No team gets to the QB better than FSU (on a per game basis). However, oddly enough two of FSU’s three losses came to teams that aired it out on them. UNC put up 405 yards and Clemson 383. Clemson’s QB/WR combo is much better than Michigan’s, I’d give Michigan the WR edge over UNC, but not at QB. But what this does show is that if the OL can give the QB some time, FSU can be exploited through the air.

On the other side of the ball FSU brings in the best RB Michigan has faced all year, and one of the best in the country. His balance of speed, power, balance and vision is why he’s a surefire first-round pick. The key here is the edge, if Cook gets to the edge consistently I don’t like Michigan’s chances. He’s a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. BUT, if Michigan can keep Cook somewhat contained and limit his chances for breakaway plays (read: MUST TACKLE) then Michigan will be in good shape.

Even better for Michigan’s chances is the fact that FSU struggles mightily to protect their RS Freshman QB, Deondre Francois. He gets hit and goes down a lot, 2.83 sacks per game, one of the worst in the nation. This bodes well for Michigan since they’ve spent quite a good deal of time introducing themselves to opposing QB’s and they themselves have one of the best front fours in the country. FSU has given up 2+ sacks in nine of eleven games against Power 5 teams, and 3+ in six of those, including 4 to BC and 6 to Clemson. Michigan has had at least 2+ sacks in eleven of twelve games, 3+ sacks in nine of twelve and 4+ sacks in six of twelve. They should have no problem getting to Francois multiple times.

If the Michigan OL can protect long enough and Speight is hitting the deep ball like he did the first 9 games, this should be a win, but if the Iowa or OSU version of this offense shows up, Michigan will head home with a loss. If FSU can force Michigan into 3rd and longs and unleash Walker and Nnadi on Speight it will be a long day. While the FSU run defense isn’t as stout as their pass rush, I’m not a huge fan of Michigan’s run blocking (in their 2-losses they were held under 100 yards AND under 3 yards per carry) so I think this game will come down to Speight and the OL pass blocking versus the FSU pass rush and coverage. Derrick Nnadi has to be double teamed, but that can become problematic with DeMarcus Walker also there.

Overall I think both defenses are the better units for each team, and better than the opposing team’s offense. However, I think the advantage Michigan’s defense has over FSU’s offense is slightly bigger than FSU’s defense vs. Michigan’s offense. That said, stranger things have happened and we don’t know how healthy Wilton Speight is.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Michigan will get to Francois four or five times. Where I pause is Dalvin Cook. He has 47 runs of 10+ in 268 carries, better than one for every six carries. Way more than anyone else Michigan has faced and Michigan has had some issues tackling this year, though they did a fairly good job bottling up Barrett/Samuels. It all boils down to whether Michigan can contain Dalvin Cook, and not many have. He’s had eight games of at least 120+ all-purpose yards and six of at least 179+, only three times was he held to under 6 yards per touch. The silver lining for Michigan? Both times Dalvin Cook faced Don Brown (at BC) he was held under 90 total yards, and just 57 last year.

Don Brown should be able to whip up a scheme to keep Cook in check, relatively, and the DL should have its way with Deondre Francois. The defense will do its job, this game will hinge on whether Michigan’s offense, the OL specifically, can get enough push for run game and give Speight enough time to survey the field. The OSU game left a bad taste in my mouth but this team is resilient and looking to go out on a high note, that and I don’t think FSU’s defense is as good as OSU’s.

It’ll be a very close game until the 4th when Michigan pulls away.

Michigan 21 – Florida State 13

Joe (6)

This is going to be a fun one to watch. I think this game boils down to 1 big matchup. The Michigan defensive front vs. FSU’s Dalvin Cook. This is most likely the best RB we’ve seen all year and can control the game if he gets going. I have confidence that he won’t as Michigan is healthy and itching to end the season on a high note. Michigan will control the clock and throw the ball often against a suspect FSU defense. Look for dominate performance along the lines with Michigan winning 28-20.

Michigan 28 – Florida State 20

Orange Bowl preview: #6 Michigan vs #11 Florida State

Friday, December 30th, 2016


(Dustin Johnson, Maize ‘n Brew)

Ten years ago Michigan entered the Ohio State game at the end of the regular season needing just a win to clinch a spot in the BCS Championship game. Ohio State won a shootout in Columbus, securing their own spot, but many felt the Wolverines deserved a chance at a rematch. However, Florida head coach Urban Meyer successfully lobbied for the Gators, sending Michigan to the Rose Bowl.

Quick Facts
Hard Rock Stadium – 8p.m. ET – ESPN
Florida State Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (7th season)
Coaching Record: 77-17 (all at FSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Randy Sanders (4th season)
Lawrence Dawsey (10th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Charles Kelly (4th season)
Last Season: 10-3 (6-2 ACC)
Last Meeting: FSU 51 – UM 31 (1991)
All-Time Series: Tied 1-1
Record in Bowls: First meeting
Jim Harbaugh vs FSU First meeting
Last Michigan win: 1986 (20-18)
Last Florida State win: 1991 (51-31)
Current Streak: Florida State 1
Florida State Schedule to date
Opponent Result
#11 Ole Miss W 45-34
Charleston Southern W 52-8
at #10 Louisville L 20-63
at USF W 55-35
North Carolina L 35-37
at #10 Miami W 20-19
Wake Forest W 17-6
#3 Clemson L 34-37
at N.C. State W 24-20
Boston College W 45-7
at Syracuse W 45-14
#13 Florida W 31-13

On New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Michigan played like a dejected team that would have rather been in Glendale and was embarrassed by USC, 32-18.

Tonight, Michigan faces a similar scenario, having been left out of a spot in the College Football Playoff. Rather than a semifinal in Glendale or Atlanta, the Wolverines face Florida State in the Orange Bowl in Miami. Like that 2006 postseason, this team has a wealth of seniors playing in their last game, but rather than a end-of-career Lloyd Carr at the helm, Michigan has an enthusiasm-unknown-to-mankind Jim Harbaugh keeping them focused.

Last year, after suffering a humbling home loss to Ohio State in the regular season finale, Michigan responded by throttling a Florida squad, 41-7, that many thought was the better team. This week, all the talk from the Michigan camp has focused on this being a business trip.

“As long as coach Harbaugh is here, any bowl game we ever play in will be a 100 percent business trip,” said senior tight end Jake Butt. “You won’t see a lot of messing around. I can guarantee you that. It’ll be that way again this year.”

Senior defensive end Chris Wormley echoed that sentiment.

“It worked last year,” defensive end Chris Wormley said. “We beat a team by 34 points, and I’m guessing they went out and got to enjoy Orlando a little more than we did. But we got the win, and that’s what we’re here to do.

“I don’t think I’d be wrong to say that I’d want to be at the beach. But at the end of the day, winning the bowl game is what we’re here to do.

“We didn’t come here to go to the beach. We didn’t come here to go bowling, or to sing karaoke. I don’t have a good voice anyway, so that wouldn’t be entertaining.”

In Thursday’s press conference, ESPN’s Janine Edwards tried to bait Harbaugh into a soundbite with a ridiculous question about players wanting to see bikinis, but he wasn’t biting.

“I don’t have any thoughts on that,” he responded to the first question.

“I don’t know about that. I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he responded to the followup.

And it awkwardly continued for three more followups.

It’s clear that Harbaugh is concerned with removing distractions and focusing singularly on the task at hand: beating Florida State to send the seniors off with a win and springboard the younger players into 2017.

Florida State, meanwhile, is looking for a fifth straight 10-win season after finishing the regular season with a 31-13 thumping of rival Florida. The Seminoles had an interesting regular season, getting blown out by 43 points at Louisville, but nearly knocking off No. 3 Clemson. They also suffered a bad home loss to North Carolina and only beat Miami, Wake Forest, and N.C. State by a combined 16 points. But they finished the season hot with four straight wins to climb back from 23rd nationally to 11th.

Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Florida State has the ball

Florida State’s offense ranks 24th nationally in total offense (474.3 yards per game), 32nd in scoring (35.2 points per game), 38th in rushing (206.8 yards per game), and 29th in passing (267.6 yards per game). None of those numbers is outstanding, but advanced stats like the Seminoles much more, as S&P+ ranks the FSU offense sixth nationally.

The unquestioned dangerman offensively is junior running back Dalvin Cook, who ranks eighth nationally with 1,620 rushing yards. As we discussed on Monday, he’s accounted for 65 percent of the team’s rushing yards on 55 percent of the team’s carries. Remove quarterback from the equation and Cook accounts for 71 percent of rushing yards and 70 percent of carries. By comparison, Michigan’s leading rusher, De’Veon Smith, accounts for just 30 percent of the team’s rushing yards and 31 percent of the carries.

Cook eclipsed 100 yards rushing in eight of 12 games including eight of the last nine with a season-high of 267 yards against South Florida. He also topped 200 yards against Syracuse with 225 and ranked sixth nationally with 18 rushing touchdowns. He’s also a weapon out of the backfield as the team’s second-leading receiver in terms of yards with 30 receptions for 426 yards and one touchdown. His 35.5 receiving yards per game would rank fourth on Michigan’s team this season. He had two 100-yard receiving games out of the backfield, but his receiving production tailed off in the second half of the season when he averaged just 1.7 receptions for 13.5 yards per game in the last six games.

Behind Cook, sophomore running back Jacques Patrick has rushed for 348 yards and four touchdowns on 5.8 yards per carry.

Quarterback Deondre Francois is the team’s third-leading rusher with 189 yards and four touchdowns, though that includes the yards lost on more than 30 sacks. He has been much more dangerous through the air with a 60.6 percent completion rate for 3,128 yards, 18 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. The redshirt freshman had his two worst performances in the losses to Louisville and Clemson, completing just 24-of-53 passes (45.2 percent) for 387 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks. His next worst performance came against Florida’s third-ranked pass defense, which held him to just 138 yards, a touchdown, and an interception on 57.7 passing. Of the teams he had big games against, none ranks higher than 35th in pass efficiency defense. Florida and Clemson have pass defenses similar to Michigan’s caliber, so that bodes well for the Wolverines.

Junior Travis Rudolph is the team’s leading receiver with 807 yards and seven touchdowns on 53 receptions, nearly identical to Amara Darboh’s output this season (826 yards, seven touchdowns, 52 receptions). Rudolph had a monster game against Wake Forest with 13 catches for 238 yards, but averaged fewer than four catches per game in the other 11 games. Senior Kermit Whitfield has 33 catches for 372 yards, but has found the end zone just once this season, while sophomore Auden Tate leads all regular receivers with 16.4 yards per catch. He has 409 yards and six touchdowns on just 25 receptions. Senior Jesus Wilson is the other receiver of note with 30 receptions for 390 yards and one score.

The offensive line has been lackluster this season, ranking 108th nationally with 34 sacks allowed, which is nearly double the 18 that Michigan has given up. Junior left tackle Roderick Johnson is the best of the bunch as a first-team All-ACC performer each of the past two seasons.

When Michigan has the ball

Florida State’s defense isn’t quite as good as the offense. Charles Kelly’s squad ranks 29th nationally in total defense (357.2 yards per game), 41st in scoring defense (24.4 points per game), 38th in rush defense (131.2 yards per game), and 68th in pass defense (225.9 yards per game). But like the offense, the Seminoles’ defense looks much better according to S&P+ which ranks them 18th nationally.

There’s no question who the star of the defense is. Senior strong side defensive end Demarcus Walker leads the nation with 15 sacks and was a second-team AP All-American. He also leads the team with 64 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. But he’s not the only stud on the line. Freshman weak side end Brian Burns has 9.5 sacks of his own, which is one more than Michigan’s leader, Taco Charlton. On the interior, junior nose guard Derrick Nandi has 5.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and 44 total tackles, which ranks fifth on the team.

Behind the line is a bunch of athleticism that hasn’t produced at a high level just yet. The linebackers are okay, lead by sophomore Buck linebacker Josh Sweat, who has 38 tackles, 10 for loss, 5.5 sacks, and a team-high six quarterback hurries. Will linebacker Matthew Thomas is the second-leading tackler with 62 and has 7.5 behind the line of scrimmage, while redshirt junior Mike linebacker Ro’Derrick Hoskins has 45 tackles, 3.5 for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Sam linebacker Jacob Pugh has the second most sacks of the linebacking corps with 3.5.

The secondary is the weakest link. Sophomore cornerback Tarvarus McFadden is a good corner with plenty of upside and makes plenty of plays. He lead the team with eight interceptions (which also leads the nation), 13 passes defended, and five pass breakups. He’ll be a touch matchup for Darboh and at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds he has the size to stack up. After McFadden, things go downhill. The other starting corner is senior Marquez White, who has 22 tackles, two interceptions, and three pass breakups. The safeties, sophomore A.J. Westbrook and junior Trey Marshall have a combined 86 tackles, three for loss, one sack, and seven pass breakups. Neither are more than average.

The other third

Freshman kicker Ricky Aguayo made 17-of-24 attempts this season with a long of 47, but was pulled in favor of fellow freshman Logan Tyler after missing two of three against Florida. Tyler hit 1-of-2 this season, though that one was from 53 yards out. Tyler is the team’s punter, averaging just 40.6 yards per punt. He has downed 11 of 46 punts inside the 20 with two touchbacks. He has only allowed 13 punt returns, but opponents have averaged 21.5 yards per return, so if Jabrill Peppers gets one that is returnable, it could be a game-changer.

Whitfield is the main kick returner, averaging 22.9 yards per return. Wilson is the main punt returner with an average of 17.2 yards and one return for touchdown.

Prediction

Unless Michigan’s offensive line has improved significantly over the past month, it’s going to be difficult to get a consistent running game against Florida State’s defensive front. As Josh detailed in yesterdays The Numbers Game, FSU is susceptible to the big play, so it’s likely that Michigan will move the ball in fits and spurts rather than with much consistency. And it’s also likely that it will be mostly through the air against a Florida State pass defense that has allowed half of its opponents to throw for more than 200 yards. Walker will probably wreck a drive or two, but if Wilton Speight is healthy after a month off he can carve apart the Florida State secondary.

Defensively, Michigan will have to stop — or at least slow down — Cook. We shouldn’t be too worried about Francois and the passing game beating Michigan’s top-ranked pass defense. But Cook will present some issues in the passing game out of the backfield. Michigan’s defense has had a knack for giving up big plays to running backs out of the backfield this season and Cook is the best they’ve faced this season. Don Brown faced Cook last season when he was at Boston College and held him to just 54 yards on 15 carries and two catches for three yards. If he can draw up a game plan to come close to repeating that performance Michigan will win. If the Michigan defense can stuff Cook on first and second down consistently, letting the pass rush loose on the porous FSU offensive line, it will be a big day for the Wolverines.

Overall, I see a game dominated by the defensive lines both ways, preventing either team from rushing consistently. Both teams will hit some big plays, but Michigan has the edge in the passing game and also on special teams. Expect a close game throughout with Michigan pulling it out late in the game.

Michigan 31 – Florida State 23

Big Ten power rankings 2016: Pre-bowl

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016


power-rankings_header

Each Wednesday throughout the season we will release our Big Ten power rankings. These are voted on individually by the five members of our staff and then each team’s ranking is averaged to reach our power rankings. As these are simply power rankings, they are based on each team’s performance to date, not what happened last season or what will happen in the future.

Previous: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10, Week 11, Week 12

*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Big Ten power rankings – Pre-Bowl
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Ohio State (11-1, 8-1) Even Beat Michigan 30-27 2OT CFP Semifinal – Fiesta Bowl
Sat. vs #2 Clemson (12-1, 7-1), 7pm, ESPN
2. Michigan (10-2, 7-2) Even Lost at #2 OSU 27-30 2OT Orange Bowl
Fri. vs #11 FSU (9-3, 5-3), 8pm, ESPN
3. Penn State (11-2, 8-1) Up 1 Beat #6 Wisconsin 38-31  Rose Bowl
Mon. vs #9 USC (9-3, 7-2), 5pm, ESPN
4. Wisconsin (10-3, 7-2) Down 1 Lost to #7 PSU 31-38 Cotton Bowl
Mon. vs #15 WMU (13-0, 8-0), 1pm, ESPN
5. Nebraska (9-3, 6-3) Even Lost to Iowa 10-40 Music City Bowl
Fri. vs #21 Tenn. (8-4, 4-4), 3:30pm, ESPN
6. Iowa (8-4, 6-3) Even Beat Nebraska 40-10 Outback Bowl
Mon. vs #17 Florida (8-4, 6-2), 1pm, ABC
7. Minnesota (8-4, 5-4) Even Lost at #6 Wisc 17-31 Holiday Bowl
Tue. vs WSU (7-5, 7-2)
8. Northwestern (6-6, 5-4) Up 1 Beat Illinois 42-21 Pinstripe Bowl
Wed. vs Pitt (8-4, 5-3)
9. Indiana (6-6, 4-5) Down 1 Beat Purdue 26-24 Foster Farms Bowl
Wed. vs Utah (8-4, 5-4)
10. Maryland (6-6, 3-6) Even Beat Rutgers 31-13 Quick Lane Bowl
Mon. vs Boston College (6-6, 2-6)
11. Illinois (3-9, 2-7) Up 1 Lost at NW 21-42 Season Over
12. MSU (3-9, 1-8) Down 1 Lost at #7 PSU 12-45 Season Over
13. Purdue (3-9, 1-8) Even Lost at Indiana 26-24 Season Over
14. Rutgers (2-10, 0-9) Even Lost at Maryland 13-31 Season Over

Heading into the heart of bowl season, Ohio State and Michigan hold onto the top two spots despite neither making the Big Ten championship game. Both face tough bowl games this weekend with Michigan playing 11th-ranked Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Friday night and Ohio State facing 2nd-ranked Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal on Saturday night.

Penn State leapfrogs Wisconsin thanks to a 38-31 win over the Badgers in the Big Ten championship game. The Nittany Lions will try to continue their late-season momentum with a Rose Bowl win over 9th-ranked USC on Monday. Wisconsin, meanwhile, gets a no-win situation against 15th-ranked Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl on Monday. Beat the Broncos and it just shows the difference in the level of competition. Lose to the Broncos and it’s a black eye for the program even though WMU is one of just two undefeated teams.

Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota hold onto the five through seven spots, though the first two are tied for fifth. Nebraska holds a one-game advantage in the standings, but Iowa throttled the Cornhuskers 40-10 in the regular season finale. They both get to face SEC foes in their bowl games with Nebraska seeing 21st-ranked Tennessee on Saturday and Iowa taking on 17th-ranked Florida on Monday. Minnesota beat Washington State in the Holiday Bowl this past Tuesday, but that was not factored into this week’s power rankings.

Northwestern and Indiana flip spots after regular season ending wins over Illinois and Purdue, respectively. The Wildcats upset Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday afternoon (not factored into this week’s rankings) and Indiana played 19th-ranked Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl Wednesday night.

Maryland held onto the 10th spot after topping Rutgers 31-13. They lost to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl on Monday night, though it also is not factored into this week’s rankings.

Illinois, Michigan State, Purdue, and Rutgers round out the rankings as the only four non-bowl eligible teams in the Big Ten. All four lost their season finale. They’ll look to rebound in 2017.

 

First Look: #11 Florida State

Monday, December 26th, 2016


Michigan may be one of the four best teams in the country, but just missed out on a College Football Playoff spot after losing two of their final three games. On Friday, the Wolverines have a chance to make a statement that they deserved to be selected.

When Michigan narrowly lost by three to Ohio State in the 2006 “Game of the Century” and didn’t get awarded a rematch in the BCS National Championship game they mailed in their Rose Bowl matchup against USC, falling 32-18 in a largely uncompetitive game. It’s hard to see Jim Harbaugh letting that happen with a senior-laden squad this season.

Florida State comes in with a 9-3 record overall and 5-3 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Seminoles lost by 43 points to Louisville in Week 3 and then suffered a bad loss at home to North Carolina, but played Clemson tough — falling 37-34 — and won their final four games, most notably a 31-13 thumping of rival Florida.

Let’s take a look at how the teams compare through the regular season.

Florida State & Michigan statistical comparison
Florida State | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 35.2 | 41.0 32 12
24.4 12.5 41 2
Rushing Yards 2,481 2,679 1,575 1,401
Rush Avg. Per Game 206.8 223.2 38 30
131.2 116.8 38 13
Avg. Per Rush 5.1 | 5.0
3.7 3.1
Passing Yards 3,211 2,593 2,711 1,631
Pass Avg. Per Game 267.6 216.1 29 81 225.9 135.9 68 1
Total Offense 5,692 5,272 4,286 3,032
Total Off Avg. Per Game 474.3 439.3 24 46 357.2 252.7 29 2
Kick Return Average 21.2 18.6 52 108 17.9 21.0 13 | 74
Punt Return Average 8.3 15.6 59 | 8 21.5 7.3 127 57
Avg. Time of Possession 33:31 32:57 12 16 26:29 | 27:03
3rd Down Conversion Pct 46% | 44% 23 | 34
34% | 21.0% 16 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 34-279| 18-119
108 27
47-292 44-274 1 2
Touchdowns Scored 53 63
37 | 18
Field Goals-Attempts 18-26 16-21
12-17 | 8-16
Red Zone Scores (52-54) 96%|(58-64) 91% 1 | 15
(32-41) 78%|(17-25) 68% 29 2
Red Zone Touchdowns (41-54) 76%|(43-64) 67% (25-41) 61%|(11-25 44%
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ 40.4 36.1 6 26 21.0 | 5.1 18 1

Statistically speaking, Florida State is probably the second best team Michigan has faced this season behind Ohio State. That’s debatable, as a case could be made for Wisconsin or Penn State (now, not at the time they played) but the Seminoles do rank ninth in S&P+, ahead of Penn State (12th) and Wisconsin (16th).

Offensively, Florida State ranks 24th nationally in total offense (474.3 yards per game), 32nd in scoring (35.2 points per game), 38th in rushing (206.8 yards per game), and 29th in passing (267.6 yards per game). Although the running game as a whole is good but not great — statistically, it’s about equal to Maryland’s (averaging about a yard more per game) — it does feature one of the nation’s top running backs in junior Dalvin Cook, who ranks eighth nationally with 1,620 rushing yards.

Cook has accounted for 65 percent of FSU’s rushing yards so far this season. By comparison, Michigan’s leading rusher, De’Veon Smith, has accounted for just 30 percent of the Wolverines’ yards on the ground. Cook’s percentage is roughly equal to that of Smith, Chris Evans, and Karan Higdon combined.

Florida State had just four games in which they rushed for at least 200 yards during the regular season (Michigan had six). The Seminoles had a high of 478 rushing yards against USF’s 92nd-ranked rush defense and had 334 against Syracuse’s 108th-ranked rush defense. But they did close the regular season with 249 yards on 6.2 yards per carry against Florida’s respectable 35th-ranked rush defense.

As a whole, the FSU passing game is much better with nine of 12 games over 200 yards passing, five games over 300 yards, and one over 400. By comparison, Michigan’s passing game had eight, two, and zero this season. The season high of 419 passing yards came in a season opening win over Ole Miss. They also put up 372 passing yards on a season-high 11.6 yards per attempt against North Carolina’s 14th-ranked pass defense. It was by far the most passing yards the Tarheels allowed all season, about one-third more than the next closest, James Madison’s 286. UNC held seven of 12 opponents below 200 yards passing. Against a pass defense comparable to Michigan’s (Florida), Florida State managed just 138 yards on 15-of-26 passing with one touchdown and one interception.

One major area in which Michigan can exploit is the Florida State offensive line, which ranks 108th nationally in sacks allowed. They’ve given up nearly twice as many sacks as Michigan’s offensive line has this season (34 compared to 18), an average of almost three per game. Michigan’s defense ranks second in the nation in sacks, so count on defensive coordinator Don Brown to dial up some pressure on quarterback Deondre Francois.

Defensively, like offensively, the advanced stats like Florida State more than the traditional stats do. The Seminoles rank 29th nationally in total defense (357.2 yards per game), 41st in scoring defense (24.4 points per game), 38th in rush defense (131.2 yards per game), and 68th in pass defense (225.9 yards per game). None of those rankings is indicative of a top-10 team, but FSU’s defense ranks a more respectable 18th according to S&P+. Four of Michigan’s opponents this season — Ohio State (3rd), Wisconsin (5th), Colorado (11th), Iowa (12th), and Penn State (16th) — rank higher but it still means FSU has a very good defense.

It’s lead by the defensive line and most notably senior defensive end Demarcus Walker, who leads the nation with 15 sacks and ranks 18th nationally with an average of 1.5 tackles for loss per game. Fellow end Brian Burns has 9.5 sacks of his own, which is one more than Michigan’s leader, Taco Charlton. As a team, FSU leads the nation with 47 sacks — three more than Michigan.

But when the Seminoles don’t make it to the quarterback, they struggle to stop the pass. Six of 12 opponents have topped 200 yards passing and four of those topped 300 yards. One — North Carolina — threw for 405 yards, their third-highest of the season. Clemson had its second-best passing game of the season and best in terms of yards per attempts (14.0) against the ‘Noles with 378 yards. Michigan’s defense allowed two 200-yard passing games to Colorado and Maryland and none higher than the Terrapins’ 289 yards.

The rush defense is slightly better, having held six of 12 opponents under 100 yards rushing. They did give up 314 rushing yards to Louisville and 290 to USF in back to back weeks early in the season, but in their last eight games, their opponents topped 100 yards just twice with a high of 165 yards. They allowed just 77.4 yards per game over that span.

But that should be said with a caveat. In the last eight games of the season, FSU faced a lot of bad rushing offenses. Clemson’s 67th-ranked rush offense was the best they faced and the eight opponents averaged the nation’s 96th-best rushing offense. Those two that rushed for a combined 604 yards on 6.9 yards per carry? They rank 11th and 5th in rushing offense. Michigan’s running game isn’t quite on that level, but the Wolverine’s 30th-ranked rushing offense is considerably better than any of the final eight teams that FSU’s defense shut down.

Overall, Florida State is a dangerous team that should absolutely not be taken lightly. Just because Michigan descended on the Sunshine State and whooped the Florida Gators in last year’s Capital One Bowl doesn’t mean they’ll do the same to the Gators’ rival on Friday. Florida State is a more complete game than Florida was a year ago and they’re filled with young talent that will make the Seminoles a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. Michigan has the edge in experience and is probably the better team, but FSU has the athletes to make Michigan pay if they don’t come to play.

Michigan to face Florida State in Orange Bowl

Sunday, December 4th, 2016


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Michigan missed out on the College Football Playoff, but still earned a spot in one of the prestigious New Years Six bowl games and gets an intriguing matchup against another traditional power. The Wolverines will face 11th-ranked Florida State in the Capital One Orange Bowl on Dec. 30.

Meet the teams

At this time two years ago Michigan’s season was over and a coaching search was just beginning. The Wolverines would watch rival Ohio State run the table to a national championship, but not before luring Jim Harbaugh away from the NFL.dalvin-cook

In a short two years, Harbaugh has transformed the culture of the program the way his mentor, Bo Schembechler, did 45 years prior. Harbaugh proceeded to double Michigan’s win total in his first season and then match that again this fall, and on Dec. 30 he has a chance to improve upon that with an 11th win for just the 10th time in program history. In fact, it would be just the seventh time in program history that the Wolverines won at least 21 games in a two-year span.

Yet, the Orange Bowl feels like a letdown. Michigan had a legitimate argument for an inclusion in the College Football Playoff with two losses, both on the road and both on the last play of the game, by a combined four points, and as many top-10 wins as any team in the country. But when the CFP committee released its rankings on Sunday afternoon, one of those losses proved too much to overcome ACC champion Clemson and Pac-12 champion Washington, both of which had just one loss.

When Michigan got left out of the BCS championship game following the 2006 season they saw the Rose Bowl matchup with USC as a consolation prize and played like they didn’t want to be there. USC won 32-18. This time around, they’re taking the perceived snub as a chance to make a statement against another college football blueblood.

Florida State began the season ranked fourth nationally and quickly ascended to second after knocking off Ole Miss and Charleston Southern. Then, they ran into Louisville and the Cardinals kicked off a 3-3 stretch that saw FSU also lose to North Carolina and Clemson wrapped around wins over USF, Miami, and Wake Forest.

The Seminoles won four straight to close the season, topping N.C. State, Boston College, Syracuse, and Florida to climb back to the cusp of the top 10 entering bowl season.

Scouting report

As a team, Florida State’s offense ranks 24th nationally in total offense (345.1 yards per game), 32nd in scoring offense (35.3 points per game), 39th in rushing (206.8 yards per game), and 29th in passing (267.6 yards per game). The main weakness is the offensive line, which has allowed 34 sacks — the same number as Rutgers and more than only 16 teams nationally.

FSU is lead by junior running back Dalvin Cook, the nation’s seventh-leading rusher, who averages 135 yards per game. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in eight of the last nine games with two of those over 200.

Freshman quarterback Deondre Francois ranks 30th nationally with 260.7 passing yards per game and 36th nationally with a pass efficiency of 143.7 — one spot behind Wilton Speight.

Florida State’s defense ranks 29th nationally in total defense (357.2 yards per game), 43rd in scoring (24.4 points per game), 27th against the run (131.3 yards per game), and 65th against the pass (225.9 yards per game). Although those numbers aren’t great, the Seminoles are 16th in third-down defense (33.8 percent) and they lead the nation with 47 sacks — three more than Michigan.

Senior defensive end Demarcus Walker leads the nation with 15 sacks (14 solo) and ranks 18th with 17.5 tackles for loss. He’ll be a handful for Michigan’s offensive line.

Way too early prediction

Michigan opened as a 6.5 point favorite and should have a fully healthy offense with Wilton Speight getting a month to heal his left shoulder. That should allow the offense to function at full capacity — it’s clear that it wasn’t at Ohio State a week ago. Florida State’s pass defense has surrendered over 200 yards in half of their contests and over 300 yards four times. By comparison, Michigan’s defense has allowed over 200 yards passing twice with a high of 281 against Maryland. With a fully healthy Speight, I like Michigan’s chances of moving the ball.

Defensively, Michigan’s defense has done a good job this season of shutting down individual running backs. Cook may be the best they’ve faced this season, but they held Saquon Barkley to 59 yards on 15 carries, Corey Clement to 68 yards on 17 carries, and Mike Weber to 26 yards on 11 carries. L.J. Scott managed 139 yards, but that’s an outlier against 11 others. Francois isn’t a major threat to run the ball, so the Wolverines won’t have the same issues they faced against Ohio State. And Michigan boasts the nation’s best pass defense, allowing just 135.9 yards per game. With their pass rush and FSU’s porous offensive line, Francois won’t have much time to throw the ball.

Michigan has an edge on both sides of the ball and — like last year — it’s hard to pick against Harbaugh with a month to prepare. The Wolverines entered last year’s Citrus Bowl hoping to beat Florida and they demolished the Gators. I don’t expect as big a margin this time around, but there’s no reason not to expect a Michigan win.

M&GB staff predictions: The Game

Saturday, November 26th, 2016


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Previously this week: First Look: Ohio State, Tailgate Tuesday, Five-Spot Challenge, Big Ten power rankings, The Numbers GameGame preview

The day we look forward to all year is finally here. For the first time in 10 years both teams enter with enormously high expectations. Not only is a Big Ten championship game berth on the line, but a potential spot in the College Football Playoff is up for grabs. Win and you’re still alive. Lose and you’ll get a decent bowl game as a consolation prize.

Let’s not waste any more time with the pleasantries. You know the stakes. Here are this week’s picks:

Justin (2)

I’ll start with a disclaimer. This prediction is based on Speight being able to play the whole game. If he’s unable to play, or if he’s knocked out of the game, I predict a Michigan loss. But I’m hedging my bets on his shoulder not being quite as bad as Harbaugh let on the past couple of weeks.

In a game like this where both teams rank among the nation’s best both offensively and defensively, and both teams will come in full of emotion in a rivalry game, I like to think that they’ll both keep doing what the are good at — what got them there.

Staff Predictions
Michigan    Ohio St   
Justin 26 24
Derick 14 24
Sam 17 24
Josh 13 27
Joe 21 20
M&GB Average 18 24

As we saw in this week’s The Numbers Game, Ohio State’s defense has been susceptible to big plays, especially in the run game where they rank 77th nationally, giving up 5.91 explosive runs per game. In fact, they’re slightly worse in that regard than Indiana, which entered last week surrendering 5.7 per game — 70th nationally. We all know what Michigan’s running game did to the Hoosiers, racking up seven explosive runs including De’Veon Smith’s scampers of 39, 34, and 25 yards. We also know that on drives in which Michigan has an explosive play they score 73 percent of the time.

Michigan’s offense averages 11.36 explosive plays per game and OSU’s defense surrenders 8.09 per game. Let’s say Michigan’s offense gets eight and scores points on 75 percent of those. Even if they’re all field goals, that’s 18 points. But Michigan will score at least one touchdown, so now we’re into the 20s. Two puts them at 26 points — two touchdowns and four field goals — and I think that’s enough to win the game.

Michigan’s defense surrenders just 6.09 explosive plays per game — fifth nationally — while Ohio State’s offense averages 11.09 (16th). The Wolverines haven’t surrendered more than nine explosive plays in non-garbage time this season. But even so, even if Ohio State’s powerful offense gets its average of 11, Michigan’s defense gives up points just 35 percent of the time. That equates to four scores and I doubt all four will be touchdowns as Michigan has surrendered just 14 all season. Three touchdowns and a field goal is 24 points.

Sure, it may be slightly ridiculous to base a prediction on explosive play stats, but they’ve been pretty accurate all season. And now we have 11 games worth of data to use. If Speight plays, Michigan’s offense will be able to move the ball well enough to put up some point on the Buckeyes, even if they settle for field goals. Senior Kenny Allen will come up big by making all of them. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will empty the kitchen sink trying to soften the Buckeye defense for Smith to get the running game going.

On the other side, Michigan will surrender a few big plays, likely including the 50-yard touchdown run up the middle that has become standard for OSU in this game. But by and large, the U-M defense will hold strong and keep the Bucks out of rhythm.

The game live up to its billing, going down to the wire. Allen boots a game-winning field goal, Michigan escapes the snake pit with its first win in 16 years, and heads to Indy for a rematch with Wisconsin. Of course, if Speight doesn’t play, this could be all moot.

Michigan 26 – Ohio State 24

Derick (1)

It’s finally time for the game everyone has been waiting for, and it’s even more important than we all imagined. Michigan and Ohio State will be fighting to stay alive in the College Football Playoff race, while the loser will be out of the running.

Last year, Michigan appeared to have a good chance to take down Ohio State at home, but the combination of J.T. Barrett and an excellent running back tore the Wolverines apart. Unfortunately for Michigan, that combination still exists.

Three weeks ago, I thought Michigan was the better team, but after a loss to Iowa and an awful offensive performance against Indiana at the home finale, that confidence has started to slip away.

I think Michigan is one of the three best teams in the country this season, but I think it will come up short on Saturday.

Ohio State 24 – Michigan 14

Sam (3)

So this is what it has all come down to. This, for all the marbles. A win for Michigan means a Big Ten championship game berth for the first time since its inception and one game closer to their first ever appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Unfortunately, I’m not nearly as hopeful about the outcome of this game as I was about three weeks ago when it looked as if the Wolverine offense was inching closer to their vaunted defense. One miserable performance and one quarterback injury later and the offense is looking fairly pedestrian of late while the defense continues to play about as well could be reasonably expected.

If the Maize and Blue are to have any shot it’s going to need to come in a defensive slugfest with a ground game that’s just good enough to put a couple scores on the board. I have an inkling that if Jabrill Peppers records his first ever interception, the visitors will walk away victorious. I also have an inkling that we we won’t be seeing that.

I trust Don Brown’s defense to hold the Buckeyes at bay for the most part but I have little faith that Michigan’s offense is going to be able to consistently churn yardage out against a stout OSU defense with what is likely to be a one-dimensional attack. In the end, J.T. Barrett will make the difference over John O’Korn to maintain Buckeye dominance of late in this yearly war and keep Harbaugh’s squad out of the final four. As much as it pains me to say it, give me Ohio State.

Ohio State 24 – Michigan 17

Josh (1)

I’ll just come out and say it: If anyone other than a close to 100 percent Wilton Speight comes out on the first series I don’t see Michigan winning this game. I said in my preseason prediction that Michigan would lose to Iowa (they did) and OSU. I also said that serious injuries to key players could derail the season. If Speight is out, Michigan loses; plain and simple. I just don’t see how John O’Korn can lead them to victory in Columbus.

That said, IF Wilton Speight does play I think Michigan has an excellent chance to win.

On defense, Michigan needs to have figured out how to stop the missed tackling issues and they need to seal the edge. If not, Curtis Samuel is going to run rampant downfield. J.T. Barrett doesn’t scare me if he’s forced to pass, the problem is when the defense loses contain. I’m interested to see what Don Brown has cooked up. Personally, I’d use the pass rush to contain him and just slowly close the pocket around him and trust the back end to do their jobs. But Don Brown is not exactly known for being a passive, sit back and wait coordinator. However, this is why he was brought in; to solve the problem OSU’s offense presents and to win The Game.

If they can keep Barrett from escaping pressure and finally seal the edge to keep Samuels and Mike Weber from breaking free for long runs then Michigan should be able to give the offense enough to work with to come out with the win.

On offense, Michigan needs to keep OSU honest with a balanced attack and they ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO hit a few deep balls so the running game doesn’t get bottled up. As much as I love the running backs Michigan has not one of them possesses all the skills of an elite back. Penn State’s Saquan Barkley and Michigan State’s L.J. Scott had some great games against this defense, but I don’t think any one back on Michigan is as good as either of those two. Every single guy who carries the ball has to bring his A-game for Michigan to win. OSU needs to be thinking about who is back there and what he can and cannot do, information overload.

Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson just need to keep being themselves but Jake Butt and his tight end cohorts need to be a bigger part of the passing attack. They are built to wreak havoc against OSU’s defense.

All signs point to O’Korn, not Speight, being the quarterback this weekend and I don’t see how he can improve that much from last week to be able to pull out a win in Columbus. I called this a loss in the preseason and unfortunately I am going to keep it that way.

Ohio State 27 – Michigan 13

Joe (6)

It’s finally here. The biggest game of the entire NCAA football season. This one will be special on all fronts. I’m not even going to go into all the different scenarios and player predictions. Let’s just say Michigan wins by one.

Michigan 21 – Ohio State 20

The Game preview: #3 Michigan at #2 Ohio State

Friday, November 25th, 2016


um-osu-game-preview-header(Dustin Johnson)

Ten years ago, No. 2 Michigan met No. 1 Ohio State on a crisp fall day in Columbus in what was being called The Game of the Century. With the Big Ten championship game and College Football Playoff still years away, the winner of The Game would earn a spot in the BCS Championship Game.

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Quick Facts
Ohio Stadium – 12p.m. ET – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (5th season)
Coaching Record: 164-28 (60-5 at OSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Ed Warriner (5th season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Greg Schiano (1st season)
Luke Fickell (12th season)
Last Season: 12-1 (7-1 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: OSU 42 – UM 13
All-Time Series: Michigan 58-48-6
Record in Columbus: Michigan 27-26-2
Jim Harbaugh vs OSU 0-1
Last Michigan win: 2011 (40-34)
Last Ohio State win: 2015 (42-13)
Current Streak: Ohio State 4
Ohio State Schedule to date
Opponent Result
Bowling Green W 77-10
Tulsa W 48-3
at #14 Oklahoma W 45-24
Rutgers W 58-0
Indiana W 38-17
at #8 Wisconsin W 30-23
at Penn State L 21-24
Northwestern W 24-20
#10 Nebraska W 62-3
at Maryland W 62-3
at Michigan State W 17-16

After delivering a rousing speech to the team on Thursday night, Bo Schembechler passed away on Friday morning, the day before the game. The loss of the patriarch of Michigan football sent shockwaves around college football and completely changed the tone of the game. Whether it made an impact on the outcome of the game will never be known, but the game turned out to be a shootout. Michigan marched down the field for the game’s first touchdown. Ohio State answered and took a 28-14 halftime lead. Michigan fought back to within four, but was unable to pull it out as Ohio State won 42-39.

We all know the long and painful story from there. Michigan went on to lost the Rose Bowl to USC, then lost the first two games of the next season to Appalachian State and Oregon. Lloyd Carr retired at the end of the season and Michigan suffered through seven seasons of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke.

Ohio State, meanwhile, went on to win four Big Ten championships, two BCS bowls, and play in three national championship games, winning one of them. During that span, they’ve beaten Michigan all but once, when the Wolverines pulled off a 40-34 win in Hoke’s first season, which was also a transition season between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer.

Jim Harbaugh returned to Michigan in December 2014 and immediately locked in a solid recruiting class in short time and then turned a 5-7 team into a 10-3 team that beat SEC East champion Florida in the Capital One Bowl. But he wasn’t able to beat Ohio State, falling 42-13 in Ann Arbor. Now, 30 years after his infamous guaranteed victory over the Buckeyes, he takes his Wolverines into Columbus to try to earn a spot in the Big Ten championship game.

Ohio State comes in with an identical 10-1 overall record and 7-1 conference record as Michigan. The Buckeyes’ only loss was a 24-21 defeat at Penn State just a couple weeks after Michigan beat the Nittany Lions by 39 points. But OSU has beaten now-8th-ranked Oklahoma and 6th-ranked Wisconsin, both on the road. Add in a 62-3 thumping of now-16th-ranked Nebraska, and Ohio State has proven it can play with anyone.

Like that Game of the Century a decade ago, this year’s matchup figures to be a monumental battle between two of college football titans. In college football’s greatest rivalry, what more could you ask for? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Ohio State has the ball

Despite losing their running back, quarterback, tight end, most of the receiving corps, and their left tackle to the NFL, Ohio State’s offense hasn’t really missed a beat. It leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth nationally in scoring (43.8 points per game), leads the Big Ten and ranks eighth nationally in rushing (263.1 yards per game), ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 68th nationally in passing (230 yards per game), and leads the Big Ten and ranks 21st nationally in total offense (493.1 yards per game).

That the Buckeyes lost last season’s quarterback is slightly overstated given that junior J.T. Barrett is back. He started his freshman season, going 11-1 in 2014 before ending his season against Michigan and watching Cardale Jones lead the team to the national title. Jones won the starting job last season, but Barrett saw ample playing time, including a four-touchdown performance in last year’s Michigan game.

This season, Barrett leads the Big Ten with 24 passing touchdowns, though he ranks sixth in yards per game (209.5) — one spot behind Wilton Speight’s 215.6 — and third in pass efficiency (147.7) — one behind Speight’s 148.9. He has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 2,304 yards and just four interceptions. But he’s coming off his worst passing performance of the season against Michigan State, in which he completed just 10-of-22 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. Still, he’s even more dangerous with his legs as he rushed for 105 yards. He has thrown for more than 200 yards in seven of 11 games, including a five-game stretch leading up to the MSU game, and he’s also tied for the team lead with eight rushing touchdowns.

Michigan fans will be familiar with redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber, the Detroit Cass Tech product who originally committed to Brady Hoke, decommitted in favor of Ohio State, and nearly switched back to Michigan after Harbaugh was hired. But he stuck with the Buckeyes and has rewarded them with a 1,000-yard season in his first campaign. He currently ranks fourth in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 95.1 yards per game. He has rushed for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry. But after opening the season with three 100-yard games in his first four, he has just one in the last seven games. He rushed for 111 yards on 14 carries at Michigan State last Saturday. Penn State and Wisconsin held him to a combined 3.6 yards per carry.

The receiving corps is lead by the dangerous H-back Curtis Samuel. The junior from Brooklyn, N.Y. has 61 receptions for 790 yards and seven touchdowns — all team highs — and he also has 84 carries for 650 yards and seven scores. His 14 total touchdowns rank third in the Big Ten (non-quarterbacks) and he ranks second in the conference behind Penn State’s Saquon Barkley with 132.5 all-purpose yards per game. Sophomore Noah Brown is the team’s second leading receiver with 27 catches for 345 yards and seven touchdowns, while senior Dontre Wilson has 26 for 343 and five. Junior tight end Marcus Baugh is the only other Buckeye receiver with 20 or more receptions with 21 for 242 yards and two scores.

Ohio State’s offensive line is good but not great. They’ve given up one more sack than Michigan’s has this season, but some of that success is a result of Barrett’s mobility. Senior center Pat Elflein and junior right guard Billy Price are the are the best linemen on the team. Elflein was a second-team All-American last season. Sophomore right tackle Isaiah Prince and freshman left guard Michael Jordan are the weaknesses on the line where Michigan’s talented defensive front will attack. Junior left tackle Jamarco Jones has improved throughout the season and is a solid bookend.

When Michigan has the ball

The Buckeye defense ranks second in the Big Ten and third nationally in scoring defense (13 points per game), fourth in the Big Ten and 18th nationally against the run (120.3 yards per game) second in the Big Ten and third nationally against the pass (159.5 yards per game), and second in the Big Ten and fourth nationally in total defense (279.8 yards per game).

Like on the offensive side, despite losing much of their defense to the NFL, the Buckeyes still present the best and most athletic defense Michigan has faced yet this season. But they’re not as great at getting to the quarterback as they have been in years past, ranking just sixth in the Big Ten and 57th nationally with 24 sacks — two-thirds of Michigan’s total. Junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis leads the way in that category with 7.5 sacks, while the other end, sophomore Sam Hubbard, has three. Reserve ends, junior Jalyn Holmes and freshman Nick Bosa, have another six combined. The interior of the OSU line is lead by redshirt freshman Dre’Mont Jones and junior nose tackle Michael Hill who have a combined 59 tackles and five tackles for loss, but no sacks. Freshman backup tackle Robert Landers is also talented with 7.5 tackles for loss and one sack on the season.

There’s no dropoff at linebacker where junior Raekwon McMillan is one of the best middle linebackers in the country. He’s Ohio State’s leading tackler with 71, has 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack, four pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He’s much more athletic than your typical middle ‘backer. Sophomore WILL Jerome Baker and junior SAM Chris Worley are solid with 103 combined tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, and six passes defended.

The secondary is lead by sophomore safety Malik Hooker, who leads the Big Ten with five interceptions and is dangerous with the ball in his hands, having returned two of them for touchdowns. He ranks third on the team with 60 tackles in addition to 4.5 tackles for loss, half a sack, and nine passes defended. He’s all over the field, both in coverage and run support. Junior Damon Webb — another Cass Tech star that got away from Michigan — is the other safety and he has 48 tackles, two for loss, one interception, and four passes defended. Junior Gareon Conley — a former Michigan commit — and sophomore Marshon Lattimore are the corners and both are very good.

The other third

Fifth-year senior punter Cam Johnston is one of Ohio State’s best weapons, leading the Big Ten in punting average by a whopping 4.5 yards! He’s averaging 46.3 yards per punt with 13 of 43 punts over 50 yards and nearly half (21) downed inside the 20. Senior kicker Tyler Durbin has been the Big Ten’s most reliable placekicker, converting 16-of-17 field goals, the only miss being the block at Penn State. But the former walk-on’s long all season has been 45 yards.

Sophomore receiver Parris Campbell is a dangerous kick returner even though he hasn’t taken one all the way yet. He averages 26.6 yards per return. Wilson is the main punt returner, averaging 6.3 yards per return.

Prediction

I’ll start with a disclaimer. This prediction is based on Speight being able to play the whole game. If he’s unable to play, or if he’s knocked out of the game, I predict a Michigan loss. But I’m hedging my bets on his shoulder not being quite as bad as Harbaugh let on the past couple of weeks.

In a game like this where both teams rank among the nation’s best both offensively and defensively, and both teams will come in full of emotion in a rivalry game, I like to think that they’ll both keep doing what the are good at — what got them there.

As we saw in this week’s The Numbers Game, Ohio State’s defense has been susceptible to big plays, especially in the run game where they rank 77th nationally, giving up 5.91 explosive runs per game. In fact, they’re slightly worse in that regard than Indiana, which entered last week surrendering 5.7 per game — 70th nationally. We all know what Michigan’s running game did to the Hoosiers, racking up seven explosive runs including De’Veon Smith’s scampers of 39, 34, and 25 yards. We also know that on drives in which Michigan has an explosive play they score 73 percent of the time.

Michigan’s offense averages 11.36 explosive plays per game and OSU’s defense surrenders 8.09 per game. Let’s say Michigan’s offense gets eight and scores points on 75 percent of those. Even if they’re all field goals, that’s 18 points. But Michigan will score at least one touchdown, so now we’re into the 20s. Two puts them at 26 points — two touchdowns and four field goals — and I think that’s enough to win the game.

Michigan’s defense surrenders just 6.09 explosive plays per game — fifth nationally — while Ohio State’s offense averages 11.09 (16th). The Wolverines haven’t surrendered more than nine explosive plays in non-garbage time this season. But even so, even if Ohio State’s powerful offense gets its average of 11, Michigan’s defense gives up points just 35 percent of the time. That equates to four scores and I doubt all four will be touchdowns as Michigan has surrendered just 14 all season. Three touchdowns and a field goal is 24 points.

Sure, it may be slightly ridiculous to base a prediction on explosive play stats, but they’ve been pretty accurate all season. And now we have 11 games worth of data to use. If Speight plays, Michigan’s offense will be able to move the ball well enough to put up some point on the Buckeyes, even if they settle for field goals. Senior Kenny Allen will come up big by making all of them. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will empty the kitchen sink trying to soften the Buckeye defense for Smith to get the running game going.

On the other side, Michigan will surrender a few big plays, likely including the 50-yard touchdown run up the middle that has become standard for OSU in this game. But by and large, the U-M defense will hold strong and keep the Bucks out of rhythm.

The game live up to its billing, going down to the wire. Allen boots a game-winning field goal, Michigan escapes the snake pit with its first win in 16 years, and heads to Indy for a rematch with Wisconsin. Of course, if Speight doesn’t play, this could be all moot.

Michigan 26 – Ohio State 24

Big Ten power rankings 2016 — Week 12

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016


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Each Wednesday throughout the season we will release our Big Ten power rankings. These are voted on individually by the five members of our staff and then each team’s ranking is averaged to reach our power rankings. As these are simply power rankings, they are based on each team’s performance to date, not what happened last season or what will happen in the future.

Previous: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10, Week 11

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*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Big Ten power rankings – Week 12
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Ohio State (10-1, 7-1) Even Beat MSU 17-16 Sat. vs #3 Michigan (10-1, 7-1), 12pm, ABC
2. Michigan (10-1, 7-1) Even Beat Indiana 20-10 Sat. at #2 OSU (10-1, 7-1), 12pm, ABC
3. Wisconsin (9-2, 6-2) Even Beat Purdue 49-20 Sat. vs Minn. (8-3, 5-3), 3:30pm, BTN
4. Penn State (9-2, 7-1) Even Beat Rutgers 39-0 Sat. vs MSU (3-8, 1-7), 3:30pm, ESPN
5. Nebraska (9-2, 6-2) Even Beat Maryland 28-7 Fri. at Iowa (7-4, 5-3), 3:30pm, ABC
6. Iowa (7-4, 5-3) Even Beat Illinois 28-0 Fri. vs #16 Neb. (9-2, 6-2), 3:30pm, ABC
7. Minnesota (8-3, 5-3) Even Beat N’western 29-12 Sat. at #6 Wisc. (9-2, 6-2), 3:30pm, ESPN
8. Indiana (5-6, 3-5) Even Lost at #3 Mich. 10-20 Sat. vs Purdue (3-8, 1-7), 12pm, ESPNU
9. Northwestern (5-6, 4-4) Even Lost at Minn. 12-29 Sat vs Illinois (3-8, 2-6), 12pm, BTN
10. Maryland (5-6, 2-6) Even Lost at #18 Neb. 7-28 Sat. vs Rutgers (2-9, 0-8), 12pm, ESPNN
11. Michigan State (3-8, 1-7) Even Lost to #2 OSU 16-17 Sat at #7 PSU (9-2, 7-1), 3:30pm, ESPN
12. Illinois (3-8, 2-6) Even Lost to Iowa 0-28 Sat at N’western (3-8, 2-6), 12pm, BTN
13. Purdue (3-8, 1-7) Even Lost to #7 Wisc. 20-49 Sat. at Indiana (5-6, 3-5), 12pm, ESPNU
14. Rutgers (2-9, 0-8) Even Lost to #8 PSU 0-39 Sat. at Maryland (5-6, 2-6), 12pm, ESPNN

As college football heads into the last weekend of the regular season, our Big Ten power rankings remained exactly the same as last week. Interestingly, the top seven teams all won while the bottom seven teams all lost in Week 12.

The top four — Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State — remained exactly the same with OSU gaining all five first place votes, Michigan garnering four of five second place votes, Wisconsin getting four of five third place votes, and Penn State securing four of five fourth place votes. Nebraska remained fifth, but slipped slightly from 5.0 to 5.2, while Iowa gained one of their fifth place votes, going from 6.2 to 6.0. Minnesota and Indiana remained at 7.2 and 8.0, respectively, despite the Hoosiers losing to Michigan.

Northwestern retained the ninth spot, but fell from 8.6 to 9.2 after losing to Minnesota, 29-12. There’s a large leap between the Wildcats and the 10-14 spots. Maryland comes in just ahead of Michigan State at 10.8, whereas the Spartans are 11.0 after nearly knocking off Ohio State. Illinois is also 11.0. Purdue and Rutgers round out the rankings.

As we head into this weekend, a lot is still at stake. Michigan and Ohio State face off to determine the Big Ten East division winner. If the Wolverines win, they head to the Big Ten championship game next weekend. If Ohio State wins they’ll have to wait for the outcome of the afternoon matchup between Penn State and Michigan State. A Penn State win would send the Nittany Lions to Indianapolis, while a MSU win would send the Buckeyes to Indy.

In the West division, Wisconsin has the inside track, needing just a win over Minnesota. The Badgers can also go to Indy with a loss and an Iowa win over Nebraska. Nebraska needs to beat Iowa on Friday and have Wisconsin lose the next day to advance.

So sit back and enjoy an exciting weekend of Big Ten football with nearly half the conference still in the title hunt. Unless Michigan loses. Then you can drown your sorrows.

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First Look: #2 Ohio State

Monday, November 21st, 2016


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Michigan rebounded from its loss to Iowa with a workmanlike win over Indiana on Saturday. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it showed resilience, and finding a way to win without starting quarterback Wilton Speight will give the Wolverines some confidence heading into Columbus on Saturday.

Ohio State comes in with an identical 10-1 record overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten. Like the classic Michigan-Ohio State battles of old, The Game will have a major impact on the Big Ten title race. If Michigan wins, the Wolverines head to Indianapolis to face Wisconsin (assuming the Badgers beat Minnesota). If Ohio State wins and Penn State beats Michigan State, the Nittany Lions will win the East and head to Indy. If OSU wins and Penn State loses, the Buckeyes will play for the title. In other words, Michigan just needs to win.

Let’s take a look at how the teams compare through the first 11 games of the season.

Ohio State & Michigan statistical comparison
Ohio State | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 43.8 | 42.3 5 11
13.0 10.9 3 1
Rushing Yards 2,894 2,588 1,323 1,195
Rush Avg. Per Game 263.1 | 235.3 8 19
120.3 108.6 18 10
Avg. Per Rush 5.7 | 5.2
3.4 3.0
Passing Yards 2,530 2,374 1,755 1,507
Pass Avg. Per Game 230.0 215.8 68 82 159.5 137.0 3 1
Total Offense 5,424 4,962 3,078 2,702
Total Off Avg. Per Game 493.1 451.1 21 38 279.8 245.6 4 1
Kick Return Average 24.1 17.3 14 121 18.4 21.0 25 | 78
Punt Return Average 5.2 16.0 96 6 3.1 7.6 11 63
Avg. Time of Possession 34:25 33:06 4 15 25:35 | 26:54
3rd Down Conversion Pct 51% | 44% 9 | 42
29% | 21.0% 7 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 17-100| 16-103
30 24
24-169 | 36-247 57 9
Touchdowns Scored 62 60
15 | 14
Field Goals-Attempts 16-17 14-19
13-15 | 7-13
Red Zone Scores (50-56) 89%|(53-58) 91% 29 | 16
(21-30) 70%|(13-19) 68% 8 5
Red Zone Touchdowns (37-56) 66%|(40-58) 69% (9-30) 30%|(8-19 42%
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ 38.6 36.1 14 25 15.1 | 5.6 7 1

I won’t sugarcoat anything. Ohio State is the best team Michigan has faced this season. That doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible — they almost lost to Michigan State this past Saturday — but there’s no denying that they’re a more talented team than Michigan has faced to date. And the numbers show that.

Wisconsin has a defense to rival Ohio State’s, but not the offense. Colorado has a top-30ish offense and defense, but not on OSU’s level. Same with Penn State.

The Buckeyes’ lone loss was a 24-21 defeat in Week 7 at Penn State. At the time, it looked to be a bad loss as the Nittany Lions were just 4-2 coming into that one with a loss to Pitt and a 39-point loss to Michigan. But Penn State has reeled off four straight wins since that upset of Ohio State and sits poised to capture the Big Ten East division crown if Ohio State beats Michigan on Saturday.

The Buckeyes rank fifth nationally in scoring offense, averaging 43.8 points per game — a point and a half more than Michigan. They have topped 60 points three times and surprisingly, none were against Rutgers, through they did score 58 against the Scarlet Knights. They’ve eclipsed 50 points in four of 11 games, but have been held to 30 or fewer points in four of their last six games. Their lowest point total of the season came this past Saturday when they managed just 17 points at Michigan State.

Ohio State does it mostly with their rushing game, which ranks eighth nationally, averaging 263.1 yards per game. That’s about 28 yards more than Michigan averages. OSU has topped 200 rushing yards in nine of 11 games with only Wisconsin (185) and Penn State (168) holding them under 200. By comparison, Michigan has tallied under 200 yards five times, including against Wisconsin (130), but ran all over Penn State to the tune of 326 yards. Against common opponents, Ohio State has averaged 255 rushing yards, while Michigan has averaged 271.

The passing game isn’t nearly as dominant, despite a senior quarterback with a lot of experience. The Buckeyes rank 68th nationally with 230 passing yards per game. They average about 14 more passing yards per game than Michigan. But that’s a result of Wilton Speight’s injury forcing John O’Korn to play this past Saturday, as the Wolverines entered the IU game averaging 231.5. Ohio State has thrown for fewer than 100 yards twice and 152 yards or fewer in four of 11 games. They had a season-high 417 passing yards in the season opener against Bowling Green’s 110th-ranked pass defense. Their most impressive performance was a 352-yard output against a decent Nebraska defense three weeks ago. Against common opponents, Ohio State has thrown for three more passing yards per game than Michigan (206 versus 203).

Defensively, the Buckeyes feature an elite defense that isn’t quite on Michigan’s level, but not far behind. They rank third nationally in scoring defense, allowing 13 points per game. Only four opponents have scored more than 20 points and they’ve held five to 10 points or fewer.

The rush defense ranks 18th nationally, allowing 120.3 yards per game, about 12 more than Michigan’s 10th-ranked run defense allows. Wisconsin and Michigan State both topped 200 yards on the ground against the OSU defense with 236 and 207, respectively. Wisconsin averaged 5.1 yards per carry and Michigan State averaged 5.9 — both about a yard more per carry than their respective season averages. The Buckeyes have held six of 11 opponents under 100 rushing yards, but those six opponents have an average Rushing S&P+ ranking of 63. Michigan’s defense has held eight of 11 opponents under 100. Against common opponents, Ohio State has allowed 132 rushing yards per game, while Michigan has held opponents to just 89 rushing yards per game.

Ohio State’s pass defense allows just 159.5 yards per game, which is good for third nationally. It’s 22.5 yards more than Michigan’s top-ranked pass defense allows. Three of 11 opponents — Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Northwestern — have topped 200 passing yards. The Buckeyes held Rutgers to just 33 passing yards (Michigan held them to five) and also had the fortune of knocking Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong out of the game early, and thus, holding the Cornhuskers to just 126 passing yards. Against common opponents, OSU’s pass defense has allowed about six fewer passing yards per game than Michigan has.

On special teams, Ohio State is pretty solid all around, ranking 14th nationally in kick return average, 25th in kick return defense, and 11th in punt return defense. The one weak spot is that they rank 96th in punt returns, averaging 5.2 yards per return. Michigan ranks sixth in that category thanks to Jabrill Peppers’ average of 16 yards per return, which means he essentially gives the Wolverines an additional first-down worth of field position on each return. The Buckeyes are also consistent with field goals (16-of-17), red zone scoring (89 percent), and third down conversions (51 percent, ninth nationally).

As you can see, this game is destined to be a dog fight for 60 minutes. Michigan’s defense will keep the Wolverines in the game. The main question will be whether or not Wilton Speight is healthy enough to play. If he is — and has full mobility — the Michigan offense can move the ball similar to the way MSU did. But if Speight can’t go, Ohio State will do a much better job shutting down Michigan’s running game than Indiana did, and O’Korn will have to make plays with his arm. That’s not a good proposition for the Wolverines.

M&GB staff predictions: Indiana

Saturday, November 19th, 2016


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Previously this week: First Look: Indiana, Tailgate Tuesday, Five-Spot Challenge, Big Ten power rankings, The Numbers Game, Tribute to BoGame preview

Michigan suffered its first setback of the season last week at Iowa. With two game remaining, Michigan must win both to advance to the Big Ten championship game. They can’t get caught looking ahead to Ohio State next week as Indiana has presented a tough matchup in recent years. Michigan hasn’t lost to the Hoosiers in nearly 30 years, but if they’re not focused and prepared that streak could end.

Justin won last week’s picks for his second win of the season. If Michigan wins out and reaches the College Football Playoff Championship game, he could catch Joe, but like Michigan, he has no margin for error.

Here are this week’s picks:

Justin (2)

Last week I had a bad feeling about the Iowa game all week leading up to Saturday. It just felt like a trap game in every sense of the word and unfortunately, I was right. This week, I have the opposite feeling. Even with starting quarterback Wilton Speight out, Michigan is going to roll Indiana and gain a lot of confidence heading into Columbus.

Staff Predictions
Michigan    Iowa    
Justin 42 14
Derick 41 17
Sam 27 10
Josh 27 24
Joe 34 17
M&GB Average 34 16

Indiana’s offensive strength — its passing game — goes up against the best pass defense in the nation and won’t be able to move the ball consistently enough to score man points on Michigan. Sure, the Hoosiers passed for nearly 300 yards and scored 31 points against No. 10 Penn State last Saturday, but let’s not forget the PSU’s pass defense ranks in the bottom half of the Big Ten. Let’s also note that Indiana has trouble putting the ball in the end zone and finishing drives.

The Hoosiers rank dead last in the nation with a 68 percent red zone scoring rate. And they’ve scored touchdowns on just 47 percent of their red zone trips. Michigan has done so on 71 percent of theirs. In other words, when in the red zone, Michigan converts touchdowns more often than Indiana converts points. To make matters worse for Indiana, Michigan’s defense is the nation’s best in the red zone, holding opponents to just 65 percent scores and 41 percent touchdowns.

On offense, Michigan will move the ball just fine with John O’Korn’s mobility giving an added dimension that wasn’t there with Speight behind center. Indiana will surely try to force O’Korn to beat them with his arm, and he’ll do so against the second worst pass defense in the Big Ten. He’ll throw for over 200 yards, opening up the running game for another 200-plus as the offense gets back to its high-scoring ways.

Michigan 42 – Indiana 14

Derick (1)

Michigan is coming off its first loss of the season, so Indiana has a chance to jump on the Wolverines while their down. On top of that, Saturday is the definition of a trap game before Michigan’s showdown with Ohio State, and the Wolverines will be without starting quarterback Wilton Speight for the first time all season.

John O’Korn adds another dimension to the offense with his legs, but Indiana’s defense is much improved from last season and should be able to make Michigan notice Speight’s absence. If the Wolverines can’t stretch the field in the passing game, this could get a little uncomfortable.

That said, Michigan has been historically dominant at home this season, and is one game away from a perfect 8-0 mark in the Big House. Brady Hoke would be proud. I think Michigan will get the job done, although it might be a little closer than people expect. Indiana has been one of the most interception-prone teams in the nation, so whoever starts at quarterback will have to be very careful against a star-studded Michigan secondary.

I’ll take Michigan to outlast Indiana for a big win.

Michigan 41 – Indiana 17

Sam (2)

After a lousy performance last weekend in Iowa, Michigan comes back home for Senior Day to face a roller coaster of a ride in Indiana. With some potentially inclement weather in the forecast, Michigan’s defense should be well suited to shut down an offense that is extremely reliant on the passing game, while the Wolverines’ run game will look to be the difference.

Michigan 27 – Indiana 10

Josh (1)

After last week’s heartbreaking loss I fully expect this team to be 100 percent prepared and into it for this one. But because this is Indiana, chaos will ensue and that makes this game a tricky one to call. IU gashed Michigan last year with Ryan Glasgow out. He’s here now but there have been some epic missed tackling problems and teams have figured out Michigan is weak on the edges. IU will exploit that. Oh, and they started running a 270 pound running back at quarterback last week. So yeah. And Wilton Speight is out. I was on the O’Korn bandwagon and I’m sure he’ll be fine, but as we saw with Jake Rudock, chemistry takes time. At least it’s a home game.

I almost forgot, IU plays defense now. Actual, decent defense.

Adversity typically makes a team stronger and Harbaugh hasn’t lost back to back games (at the college level) for three and a half seasons — 43 games. Michigan should win, but I don’t think it’s going to be pretty. I’m gonna put this right out there, if Michigan cannot get it together and put on a dominating performance this week they will lose to OSU and Penn State will be headed to the Big Ten championship game. I’m not sure what this team is made of, the past two regimes have jaded me despite the urge to remain positive because Harbaugh. Michigan wins but leaves more questions than answers heading into the showdown in Columbus.

Michigan 27 – Indiana 24

Joe (6)

This week should be fun. I have no idea what to expect from this team with a new quarterback under center. O’Korn should come in and sync with Butt immediately. The running game will also get a lot of work as we rotate through a bunch of fresh backs. I can see this one being tighter than everyone hopes for as Indiana is a solid team with a solid offense. Look for Michigan to slowly assert themselves up front and win a close one.

Michigan 34 – Indiana 17