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Posts Tagged ‘Big Ten’

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2016: Defense

Monday, August 28th, 2017


(Dustin Johnson)

A few weeks ago, we outlined the returning offensive production throughout the Big Ten, which showed that last year’s Big Ten champion, Penn State returns the most production in the conference and Michigan finds itself just inside the top half. Today, we take a look at the defensive side, which will show a much different story for the Wolverines.

A year ago, Purdue returned the most defensive production, but finished just 91st nationally in total defense, going just 3-9 overall. Conversely, Michigan returned the fourth-fewest defensive production and finished with the best defense in the nation, and Ohio State returned the second-fewest and finished with the nation’s sixth-best total defense.

The story was different in 2015 as Ohio State entered that season with the most returning defensive production and backed it up with the conference’s third-best defense.

So what does this year have in store? Let’s take a look at the Big Ten’s returning defensive production. At the end, we’ll tie it all together with the offense to see if there are any indications of who will capture the Big Ten title this December.

Defense

Returning defense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Total Defense Rating
Maryland 78% 77
Indiana 78% 45
Iowa 74% 23
Rutgers 72% 97
Wisconsin 71% 7
Penn State 71% 37
Ohio State 69% 6
Northwestern 67% 60
Nebraska 59% 30
Purdue 59% 91
Minnesota 53% 21
Michigan State 51% 32
Illinois 46% 61
Michigan 40% 1

As a whole, there is more returning defensive production throughout the Big Ten than there was a year ago, which is contrary to the other side of the ball which seems less offensive production returning than there was in 2016. Like last year, a weak defensive team leads the way in returning production as Maryland brings back 78 percent if its 77th-ranked defense. The Terps went 6-7 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten in D.J. Durkin’s first season at the helm, but look to improve on that with their top three tacklers, top five in tackles for loss, and four of their top five sacks returning. They’ll have to create more turnovers if they want to see improvement, as Maryland forced a Big Ten-worst 12 turnovers last season and only seven of those are returning.

Indiana brings back the second-most production for the second straight season and there might just be something there for once. The Hoosiers improved significantly from 120th in 2015 to 45th in 2017 under Tom Allen, who became the head coach when Kevin Wilson was fired this offseason. In the first few seasons of Wilson’s guidance, defense was an afterthought to the electric offense, but Allen changed that last fall. It’s a safe bet to assume the Hoosiers will be more defense-oriented under Allen, especially with the pieces he has coming back, most notably linebacker Tegray Scales, who lead the Big Ten with 126 tackles and 23.5 tackles for loss. Safety Jonathan Crawford, who lead the team with seven takeaways, and corner Rashard Fant, who lead the Big Ten with 20 passes defended, are also welcome returns.

Top returning Big Ten defensive linemen by production
Name (Yr.) Team Tackles TFL Sacks
Gelen Robinson (Sr.) Purdue 61 8 5
Dre’Mont Jones (RS So.) Ohio State 52 4 0
Jesse Aniebonam (Sr.) Maryland 46 14 9
Sam Hubbard (RS Jr.) Ohio State 46 8 3.5
Matt Nelson (RS Jr.) Iowa 43 6.5 5.5
Kingsley Opara (5th) Maryland 41 11.5 3

Iowa, Rutgers, Wisconsin, and Penn State each return just over 70 percent of their defenses this fall. The Hawkeyes have 74 percent of the nation’s 23rd-best defense returning, most notably linebacker Josey Jewell, the Big Ten’s second-leading returning tackler. Iowa’s defense really tightened the reigns during the second half of the 2016 season, allowing just 16.2 points per game over their last five, but they were destroyed by Florida, 30-3, in the Outback Bowl. And now they return seven starters including the entire linebacking corps, which figures to be one of the best in the conference.

Rutgers returns 72 percent of its defensive contributions and eight of 11 starters, but the Scarlet Knights still have a long way to go. In Chris Ash’s first season, the Rutgers defense ranked 97th nationally in total defense and 116th in scoring defense, giving up 37.5 points per game. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State beat Rutgers by a combined 224-0 — an average of 56 points allowed. Ash was Ohio State’s defensive coordinator prior to taking the job in New Brunswick, so a betting man would be wise to expect an improvement over last year, but just how much is the question. Nearly the entire back seven returns, in addition to Michigan transfer Ross Douglas, who may win a starting job as a hybrid linebacker.

Top returning Big Ten linebackers by production
Name (Yr.) Team Tackles TFL Sacks
Tegray Scales (Sr.) Indiana 126 23.5 7
Josey Jewell (5th) Iowa 124 6 1.5
Jermaine Carter Jr. (5th) Maryland 110 9 6
Shane Cockerille (5th) Maryland 108 8 3
Tre Watson (RS Jr.) Illinois 102 4.5 0
Trevor Morris (Jr.) Rutgers 102 3.5 1

Wisconsin and Penn State both return 71 percent of their defensive production from 2016. Whereas the Badgers posted one of the nation’s best defenses — seventh in total defense and fourth in scoring defense — Penn State was an above average defense, ranking 37th in total and 47th in scoring. Wisconsin has to replace T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel at outside linebacker, though Garret Dooley got significant playing time while Biegel was injured a year ago. The inside linebackers, Jack Cichy and T.J. Edwards, are among the Big Ten’s best. The biggest losses in the secondary were safety Leo Musso and cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who accounted for 10 of the team’s 28 takeaways.

Penn State somehow came out of nowhere to win the Big Ten last season after starting the season 2-2 including a 49-10 blowout loss at Michigan. Now, with the most offensive production returning from what became an explosive offense, the Nittany Lions are in great shape in 2017 if the defense improves even slightly. Six starters return along with 71 percent of the defensive production. Free safety Marcus Allen lead the team with 110 tackles a year ago and he’s back to lead a secondary that has some questions marks. Penn State has a strong linebacking corps returning with Jason Cabinda and Manny Bowen bringing back 149 tackles 12.5 for loss, and three sacks.

Ohio State and Northwestern return 69 and 67 percent of their defensive production, respectively, but Ohio State featured the nation’s sixth-best defense and Northwestern had an uncharacteristically bad 60th-ranked unit. The Buckeyes bring back six full-time starters including most of their front seven. Dre’Mont Jones, Sam Hubbard, and Tyquan Lewis lead what most pundits are calling the best defensive line in the Big Ten — though Michigan’s should have something to say about that — while Jerome Baker and Chris Worley return at linebacker. The main question mark is the secondary which returns only free safety Damon Webb, but has a lot of talent filling in.

While Northwestern’s total defense wasn’t great in 2016, it’s scoring defense ranked 24th, giving up just 22.2 points per game. The Wildcats lost three games that its defense played well enough to win and that was the difference between a good season and a mediocre season. Now, seven starters return including three from the line and three from the secondary. Safety Godwin Igwebuike lead the team with 108 tackles last season, while fellow safety Kyle Queiro and cornerback Montre Hartage return. The three combined for 11 takeaways a year ago. Nate Hall is the only returning starter at linebacker, and Pat Fitzgerald will have to find a replacement for Anthony Walker, who was one of the Big Ten’s best linebackers in 2016.

Nebraska and Purdue both return 59 percent of their defensive production. The Cornhuskers return six starters from the nation’s 30th-best total defense and 33rd-best scoring defense. Most of the secondary returns to form what should be one of the Big Ten’s best secondaries this fall. Only four teams nationally allowed fewer passes per game of 20-plus yards than Nebraska’s 2.2, and most of their interceptions return. Safeties Aaron Williams, Joshua Kalu, and Kieron Williams and cornerback Chris Jones combined for 234 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and 12 takeaways and all are back for more.

Top returning Big Ten defensive backs by production
Name (Yr.) Team Tackles TFL Takeaways
Marcus Allen (Sr.) Penn State 110 6 2
Godwin Igwbuike (5th) Northwestern 108 6 3
Brandon Snyder (RS Jr.) Iowa 85 3 5
Patrick Nelson (RS So.) Illinois 75 2.5 1
Jonathan Crawford (Jr.) Indiana 71 0.5 7
Tony Fields (Sr.) Indiana 70 0.5 2

Purdue also has six returning starters, but its defense ranked 91st nationally last season and 117th in scoring. It wasn’t quite Rutgers bad, but it was close, giving up 38.3 points per game. Defensive tackle Gelen Robinson is the conference’s top returning defensive lineman in terms of production with 61 tackles, eight for loss, and five sacks. Linebackers Markus Bailey and Danny Ezechukwu should form the strength of the defense, while a pair of additions to the secondary — T.J Jallow from East Mississippi Community College and Josh Okonye, a grad transfer from Wake Forest — will add some depth to an inexperience secondary.

Minnesota and Michigan State return 53 and 51 percent of their 2016 defensive production, respectively. Both ranked in the top 32 nationally last season, but the Gophers are breaking in a new head coach. Landing P.J. Fleck, who took Western Michigan to a New Year’s Six bowl, was a big coup for the program but he has to replace about half of his defensive production and six starters. Michigan State, meanwhile, felt the sting of losing defensive coordinator, falling from 25th in scoring defense in 2015 to 61st last season, allowing 27.8 points per game. To make matters worse, the MSU defense lost its best player, Malik McDowell, to the NFL and the team has been dealing with arrests and suspensions all offseason.

Illinois and Michigan return the least production this fall with the Illini bringing back 46 percent and Michigan just 40 percent. Illinois had just the 61st-best total defense and 94th-best scoring defense in Lovie Smith’s first season last fall. The former NFL head coach was known as a defensive minded coach and he added former NFL cornerback Donnie Abraham to his staff this summer. Linebacker Tre Watson is the fifth-leading returning tackler in the Big Ten and safeties Stanley Green and Patrick Nelson are good pieces to build around.

Michigan had the nation’s best defense in Don Brown’s first season running the unit and most expect a big dropoff this fall. The Wolverines lost 10 of 11 full-time starters, eight of which were drafted, including Heisman Trophy candidate Jabrill Peppers. But although it seems hard to believe, this year’s defense figures to be faster and more athletic than the one that was made up of Brady Hoke recruits a year ago. Replacing Peppers will be no easy task, but that’s a spot that Brown has proven he can mold playmakers to succeed in throughout his career. Rashan Gary is a popular pick for a breakout season on the line and a host of young but talented defensive backs are ready to step in. The Wolverines may not lead the nation in defense in 2017, but the dropoff won’t be as big as many expect.

Conclusion

Since we began analyzing returning production four years ago, the eventual Big Ten champion fell within a very similar range when offensive and defensive returning production numbers were plotted on a chart. Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State all fell within the grey oval in the chart below.

As you can see, no teams fall within that zone this season, but the closest are Rutgers and Wisconsin. It’s a pretty safe bet that Rutgers won’t win the Big Ten, but Wisconsin has a very real chance to do so. If the Badgers were in the East they’d have a tougher road, but they’re the clear favorite to win the West with a favorable conference slate that has them traveling only to Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota. They host Northwestern, Iowa, and East crossover Michigan.

The Badgers have approximately the right mix of returning production on both sides of the ball to make a run at the Big Ten title, and if the past three years hold true they very well may do so this December.

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2016: Offense

Monday, July 17th, 2017


(Sean M. Haffey, Getty Images)

Independence Day has come and gone, which means fall camp kicks off in a couple weeks and college football season will be here before we know it. While Michigan doesn’t have quite the hype it had entering last season the Wolverines still find themselves ranked in the top ten in most preseason publications.

It’s time to kickoff our preseason coverage with a look at how each team in the Big Ten compares in terms of returning production. It’s certainly not the end all be all when it comes to determining how each team will fare, but in the three years that we’ve been tracking this, it has produced some interesting results. All three years, the eventual Big Ten champion returned nearly the exact same mix of offensive and defensive production.

In 2014, Ohio State returned 60 percent of its offense and defense and won the conference. In 2015, Michigan State returned 54 percent of its offense and 67 percent of its defense — roughly 60 percent overall — and won the league. Last season, Penn State returned just under 60 percent of its total production and, you guessed it, won the Big Ten.

Could that sweet spot hold true again this year? We’ll get to that, but let’s start with the offense.

Offense

Returning offense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Total Offense Ranking
Penn State 90% 49th
Northwestern 81% 73rd
Purdue 74% 80th
Ohio State 71% 31st
Indiana 64% 56th
Michigan 62% 58th
Illinois 61% 123rd
Rutgers 53% 128th
Wisconsin 50% 89th
Maryland 50% 95th
Minnesota 47% 107th
Michigan State 39% 75th
Iowa 30% 121st
Nebraska 22% 90th
Returning scoring offense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Scoring Offense Ranking
Penn State 88% 21st
Northwestern 82% 87th
Purdue 73% 101st
Ohio State 67% 13th
Michigan 65% 11th
Illinois 63% 122nd
Indiana 62% 88th
Minnesota 54% 63rd
Wisconsin 53% 67th
Rutgers 52% 127th
Maryland 50% 88th
Michigan State 38% 104th
Iowa 30% 95th
Nebraska 20% 79th

Penn State joins last year’s Nebraska, 2015’s Ohio State, and 2014’s Maryland as the teams with the most returning offensive production from the year prior. But that’s not necessarily good news for the Nittany Lions. None of those three won their division that fall as Nebraska finished third in the West at 9-4, Ohio State went 12-1 but finished second behind Michigan State in the East, and Maryland finished third in the East at 7-6.

Like Ohio State in 2015, Penn State is the returning Big Ten champion and only has to replace its top receiver. The Nittany Lions return the Big Ten’s top passer, Trace McSorley, and the second-leading rusher, Saquon Barkley. The pair accounted for nearly 5,500 yards of offense and 54 touchdowns in 2016. James Franklin will have to find a replacement for receiver Chris Godwin, who was drafted 84th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after leading the team with 982 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. But Gesicki is the leading returning tight end in the conference with 679 yards and five touchdowns a year ago and rising seniors DeAndre Thompkins and Saeed Blacknall combined for nearly 800 yards and four scores in 2016.

Top returning Big Ten quarterbacks by passing production
Name (Yr.) Team Comp/Att (%) Yards TDs
Trace McSorley (RS Jr.) Penn State 224/387 (57.9) 3,614 29
David Blough (RS So.) Purdue 295/517 (57.1) 3,352 25
Richard Lagow (5th) Indiana 253/438 (57.8) 3,362 19
Clayton Thorson (RS Jr.) Northwestern 280/478 (58.6) 3,182 22
J.T. Barrett (Sr.) Ohio State 233/379 (61.5) 2,555 24
Wilton Speight (RS Jr.) Michigan 204/331 (61.6) 2,538 18

After Penn State, Northwestern returns the second most offensive production with 81 percent of its offense and 82 percent of its scoring offense back for another year. The Wildcats finished fifth in the Big Ten West with a 7-6 overall record and a 5-4 conference record and their offense wasn’t the strength, finishing 73rd nationally in total offense and 87th in scoring.

Quarterback Clayton Thorson is the fourth-leading returning quarterback in the Big Ten after throwing for more yards (3,182) than any other sophomore in Northwestern history. Running back Justin Jackson lead the Big Ten in rushing last season, averaging 117.2 yards per game, and he’s back for his senior season. Like Penn State, Northwestern has to replace its top receiver, Austin Carr, who was far and away the Big Ten’s leading receiver a year ago. His 1,247 yards were 252 more than the next best. Junior Flynn Nagel is NU’s leading receiver with 447 yards and two touchdowns.

Top returning Big Ten running backs by production
Name (Yr.) Team Rush Att. Yards TDs
Justin Jackson (Sr.) Northwestern 298 1,524 15
Saquan Barkley (Jr.) Penn State 272 1,496 18
Rodney Smith (RS Jr.) Minnesota 240 1,158 16
Mike Weber (So.) Ohio State 182 1,096 9
Akrum Wadley (5th) Iowa 168 1,081 10
Ty Johnson (Jr.) Maryland 110 1,004 6

Purdue returns the third-most offensive production with 74 percent of the nation’s 80th-best offense and 73 percent of the 101st-best scoring offense coming back. Redshirt sophomore quarterback David Blough was one of the lone bright spots for the Boilermakers, who went just 3-9 overall and 1-8 in the Big Ten. Blough lead the conference with 279.3 passing yards per game and finished second with 25 passing touchdowns. His 517 passing attempts were 38 more than any other conference quarterback despite playing one fewer game.

Ohio State is an intriguing story this fall, returning the fourth-most offensive production from last season with 71 percent of their total offense and 67 percent of their scoring. But the big addition that isn’t shown in the returning production statistics is the offseason hiring of offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, the offensive guru who was Indiana’s head coach the past six seasons. His hiring was music to the ears of OSU fans who had become increasingly angered with Ed Wariner and Tim Beck’s erratic play calling.

Wilson will install his tempo-based spread attack into an offense that returns more than two-thirds of its production and that could be a scary thing. The Buckeyes do have to replace Curtis Samuel, who finished third on the team with 771 rushing yards and lead the team with 865 receiving yards, racking up 15 touchdowns in the process, but with Mike Weber returning from a 1,000-yard freshman campaign and J.T. Barrett back for another season behind center, Ohio State should take a step forward on offense this fall. The only question mark is at the receiver position where tight end Marcus Baugh is the leading returner with just 269 yards and two touchdowns.

Top returning Big Ten receivers by production
Name (Yr.) Team Receptions Yards TDs
Nick Westbrook (Jr.) Indiana 54 995 6
Malik Turner (Sr.) Illinois 48 712 6
Mike Gesicki (Sr.) Penn State 48 679 5
D.J. Moore (Jr.) Maryland 41 637 6
Jazz Peavy (5th) Wisconsin 43 635 5
Troy Fumagalli (5th) Wisconsin 47 580 2

Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois all return about the same amount of offensive production — in the low 60 percent — but Michigan stands out among the three for a couple of reasons. Whereas Michigan and Indiana both ranked about the same in total offense last season (Indiana 56th, Michigan 58th), Illinois had the nation’s 123rd-best offense. And Ohio State’s gain was Indiana’s loss with regards to Wilson. The Hoosiers’ offense is sure to take a step back under new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord.

Michigan, meanwhile, returns quarterback Wilton Speight — the first returning starter at the position since Harbaugh has been in Ann Arbor — and also returns plenty of experience at the running back position. Chris Evans is slated to assume the starter role which he shared with De’Veon Smith a year ago. Evans showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman and now looks to expand that into a full season this fall. Receiver is the main question mark for the Wolverines after losing Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Jake Butt to the NFL. But there is plenty of young talent ready to step up.

The next level of returning offensive production includes Rutgers, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Minnesota, who each return around half of last season’s production. Rutgers had the nation’s worst offense and second worst scoring offense last season, so they won’t factor into the discussion. Maryland had four different quarterbacks who passed for at least 200 yards last season and returns two of them, but also returns a 1,000-yard rusher in Ty Johnson. Minnesota has to replace quarterback Mitch Leidner, who passed for 2,169 yards and rushed for 366, but brings back the third-leading returning running back, Rodney Smith, who rushed for 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Wisconsin is the team that could be poised for another run at a Big Ten title this fall with solid talent returning. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook will take the reigns fully this fall after sharing with Bart Houston. The redshirt sophomore completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,262 yards, nine touchdowns, and seven interceptions a year ago. He has two of the Big Ten’s top six returning receivers to throw to in Jazz Peavy and tight end Troy Fumagalli, who combined for 1,215 yards and seven scores last season, but does have to find a replacement for Corey Clement in the ground game. Bradrick Shaw rushed for 457 yards on 5.2 yards per carry and the Badgers add Pitt transfer Chris James, who averaged five yards per carry in 2015.

A trio of usual stalwarts bring up the rear in terms of returning production as Michigan State, Iowa, and Nebraska have the least returning this fall. The Spartans found themselves in the same position last year and their total offense went from 73rd nationally in 2015 to 75th in 2016, while their scoring offense fell from 60th to 140th. They do have running back L.J. Scott back, but have to replace their top four receivers and quarterback Tyler O’Connor. Brian Lewerke figures to start the season behind center, but Dantonio’s offense has as many question marks as any team in the conference.

Iowa brings back just 30 percent of its total offense and scoring offense, both of which ranked among the Big Ten’s worst in 2016. Quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back LeShun Daniels, and receiver Riley McCarron are all gone, but Akrum Wadley does bring back his 1,081-yard, 10-touchdown performance.

Finally, Nebraska has just 22 percent of its 90th-ranked total offense and 20 percent of its 79th-ranked scoring offense returning. The Cornhuskers have to replace quarterback Tommy Armstrong, their top two rushers, and three of their top four receivers. Redshirt junior Tanner Lee and redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien will battle for the starting quarterback position and head coach Mike Riley will have to find playmakers everywhere to step up.

It’s shaping up to be an interesting Big Ten race this fall, at least as far as offenses are concerned, with a lack of top-flight quarterbacks and not many household names returning. The rich seem to be getting richer as Penn State and Ohio State have the clear advantage offensively. If the Nittany Lions can continue the torrid offensive pace that they closed 2016 with they’ll be a force to be reckoned with, and if Kevin Wilson can improve the Buckeyes’ offense, we could be looking at a two-team race.

Stay tuned as we take a look at the returning defenses later this week.

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.

 

Michigan to face Florida State in Orange Bowl

Sunday, December 4th, 2016


michigan-vs-florida-state-header

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.

Playoff or not, Michigan fans win at life by donating over $28k for ChadTough

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016


um-helmet-confetti(Tommy Gilligan, USA Today Sports)

A heartfelt thank you to the 675 individuals who contributed to the “Match Harbaugh’s fine with $10k to ChadTough” fundraiser this week. The total raised for The ChadTough Foundation was an astounding $28,507.

On Monday afternoon, we were driven to action by the Big Ten’s public reprimand of Jim Harbaugh and $10,000 fine issued to the university following Harbaugh’s comments about officiating in the Ohio State game. Partnering with Kerri of @SupportUofM, Craig Barker of The Hoover Street Rag, and Brad Muckenthaler of Maize & Blue Nation, we threw together a fundraiser to capitalize on the collective angst of the Michigan fanbase and bring it together for a good cause. The ChadTough Foundation was the natural beneficiary with its ties to the Michigan football family.

We set forth a three-part goal, hoping to raise $10,000 for ChadTough, then challenge the Big Ten to match it, then get the conversation to be extended during the Big Ten Championship Game. We achieved one of those, but really, that was the important one and everything else was icing on the cake. We felt good about raising $10,000 by Saturday night, but in reality, we surpassed the goal within 24 hours. We also know that some were driven to donate by our fundraiser, but donated directly to the foundation in order to get the tax write-off, which is perfectly fine with us. The true amount raised as a result of our fundraiser is over $30,000.

The story was picked up by The Ann Arbor News, the Detroit Free Press, CBS Detroit, and the AP. It helped create a conversation about The ChadTough Foundation and most importantly, it nearly tripled our goal with over $28,000 to help fight the especially ugly disease that is child cancer.

As Michigan awaits its bowl fate on Sunday afternoon, take a moment to pat yourselves on the back for a great week of fundraising. I know it took some of the sting off last week’s loss for me. People helping people; it’s powerful stuff.

Butt repeats as best tight end, 9 others earn All-Big Ten honors

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016


butt-vs-osu(Dustin Johnson, Maize ‘n Brew)

On Tuesday evening, Michigan’s defense cleaned up in the Big Ten defensive awards. On Wednesday night, the offense got in on the action.

Senior tight end Jake Butt captured the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award for the second straight season. It was the first time a tight end has repeated the award. Butt was Michigan’s second-leading receiver this season with 43 receptions (29 of which went for first down) for 518 yards and four touchdowns. He set Michigan program records for yards by a tight end (1,618) and receptions by a tight end (135).

Senior right tackle Erik Magnuson joined Butt on the All-Big Ten first team according to the coaches. Senior receiver Amara Darboh, junior center Mason Cole, senior right guard Kyle Kalis, and senior guard/tackle Ben Braden all made the second team, while junior quarterback Wilton Speight was the only Wolverine on the third team. Freshman left guard Ben Bredeson and senior running back De’Veon Smith earned honorable mention honors.

The media had the same breakdown and also added senior receiver Jehu Chesson to its honorable mention list.

All told, 24 of Michigan’s 25 starters earned All-Big Ten honors this season. Remarkably, senior fullback Khalid Hill was the only one left off despite scoring a team-high 12 touchdowns. The Big Ten does not include fullbacks on its All-Big Ten teams.

Like on the defensive side of the ball, Michigan lead all Big Ten teams in All-Big Ten honors on the first through third teams. The Wolverines had seven on offense, while Ohio State had six

A formal challenge to the Big Ten to donate $10k to ChadTough

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016


This afternoon, we sent the following letter to the Big Ten Conference, formally challenging them to match our donation with a $10k donation of their own to The ChadTough Foundation. If we get a response, we’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, keep donating, keep sharing, keep the conversation alive.

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Dear Big Ten Conference,

On behalf of the vast fan base and alumni network of the University of Michigan, we – Justin Potts of Maize and Go Blue, Brad Muckenthaler of Maize & Blue Nation, Craig Barker of The Hoover Street Rag, and Kerri Cortez – formally challenge you to match our crowdsourced donation to The ChadTough Foundation with a $10,000 donation from the Big Ten Conference.

As you know, The ChadTough Foundation was founded in honor of the grandson of former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr, who passed away on November 23, 2015 of Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). The Foundation funds research and raises awareness for pediatric cancer. As of 2:30pm Wednesday, our fundraiser is closing in on $23,000 raised.

We were driven to action by what we felt was a lack of accountability on the Big Ten’s part regarding officiating in last Saturday’s Michigan vs. Ohio State football game and hypocrisy in the statement issued to Coach Harbaugh. Instead of raising the money to cover Harbaugh’s fine, we chose a charity near and dear to the hearts of the Michigan family.

The conference publicly reprimanded Coach Harbaugh and fined the university $10,000, stressing the “integrity of competition” in your statement. Yet, at this time, there has not been a statement issued by the conference regarding the quality of officiating on Saturday. It would not be without precedence.

• Just this season, the Big 12 and Mid-American Conference suspended officials for two games for errors in the Central Michigan vs. Oklahoma State game.
• Mr. Delany himself has previously fired officials for “failing to meet Big Ten standards.”
• Incredibly, one of those four, Daniel Capron, served as the Head Referee on Saturday.

Additionally, Kevin Schwartzel, the Back Judge on Saturday’s crew, was previously disallowed from working the Michigan-Ohio State game because he’s a self-proclaimed Ohio State fan.

You are well within your right to fine Coach Harbaugh. But the Big Ten Conference should also be held to the same standards of accountability and “integrity of competition” that it expects from its member coaches and student-athletes. Whether Capron and Schwartzel officiated with bias or not on Saturday, the greatest conference in intercollegiate athletics should hold itself to a higher standard of integrity and transparency.

That is why we are challenging the Big Ten Conference to turn this into a positive. We know the outcome of The Game won’t change. However, we are presenting you an opportunity to appease Michigan fans by matching our donation to a worthy cause within the Michigan family. With $249 million in revenue in 2015 and a $2.6 billion TV deal signed this summer, diverting Harbaugh’s $10,000 fine to a fantastic charitable cause is not only a drop in the bucket of the Big Ten wallet, but also the right thing to do.

Sincerely,fundraising-challenge-footer-copy

 

Peppers named top defender, entire defense earns All-Big Ten

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016


peppers-vs-osu(Dustin Johnson, Maize ‘n Brew)

While Michigan’s regular season ended with a loss on Saturday it was a big winner when the Big Ten announced its defensive awards on Tuesday night.

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jabrill Peppers was named the Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year, the Butkis-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year, and the Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year. He also joined Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan and Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt as first-team All-Big Ten linebacker.

Peppers is the first Michigan defender to claim the Defensive Player of the Year award since Larry Foote in 2006 and he’s the fourth one to do it. He was also the first Big Ten player to claim all three awards in the same season.

Peppers ranked third on the team with 72 tackles, lead the team with 16 tackles for loss, and fourth with four sacks. He also lead the team with eight quarterback hurries and recorded his first career interception against Ohio State on Saturday. On special team, he lead the Big Ten with 310 punt return yards, averaging 14.8 yards per return with one touchdown. His 310 punt return yards also lead the nation and his 14.8-yard average ranked fifth.

Senior defensive back Jourdan Lewis became the first Wolverine to win the Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year award since it became an award in 2011. Despite missing three games, Lewis ranked second on the team with 10 pass breakups, picked off two passes, and recorded 3.5 tackles for loss.

Lewis joined Peppers, senior defensive end Taco Charlton, and senior defensive tackle Chris Wormley on the All-Big Ten first team, matching Ohio State’s four. Senior tackle Ryan Glasgow, senior safety Delano Hill, and senior defensive back Channing Stribling were named to the second team, while senior linebacker Ben Gedeon earned a third-team selection. Senior kicker Kenny Allen, senior tackle Matt Godin, redshirt junior Mike McCray, and senior Dymonte Thomas were honorable mention. The eight players Michigan got on the first through third teams were more than any other team.

The media had a few slight differences, dropping Wormley to second team and Hill to honorable mention, but elevating Gedeon to second team.

Jim Harbaugh took the opportunity to showcase the fact that every defensive starter was named to the All-Big Ten team, something he and the rest of his staff will most certainly use on the recruiting trail between now and National Signing Day.

The offensive awards and All-Big Ten teams will be announced on Wednesday.

Let’s match Harbaugh’s fine with $10k for ChadTough

Monday, November 28th, 2016


harbaugh-chad-020116

In light of the Big Ten’s decision to fine and publicly reprimand Coach Harbaugh, we have partnered with Kerri from SupportUofM, Craig from The Hoover Street Rag, and Brad from Maize & Blue Nation to launch a fundraiser benefiting The ChadTough Foundation.

I’ve always been a believer in turning a negative into a positive, and this is the perfect opportunity to turn our collective disappointment in Saturday’s game into hope for the Carr family and other children who face similar challenges.

Our plan:
Step 1: Raise $10k for The ChadTough Foundation by kickoff of this Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game
Step 2: Once we raise $10k, let’s challenge the Big Ten to match the donation
Step 3: Let’s make this a conversation piece during the Big Ten Championship Game

We’re all part of a big Michigan family, so let’s show that when a family faces disappointment it can come together and make big things happen.

Visit the fundraiser to donate now. No amount is too large or too small. Then, once you donate, please share via social media to help generate awareness. Full details on the fundraiser page.

Go Blue!

Big Ten power rankings 2016 — Week 12

Wednesday, November 23rd, 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

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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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