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Michigan-Ohio State game preview

Friday, November 28th, 2014


Game Preview_OhioState_banner

For many years, Michigan and Ohio State ended the regular season with a clash that decided the Big Ten title. When the two rivals meet tomorrow afternoon in Columbus, they’ll both have something to play for beyond just bragging rights, but their goals couldn’t be more different.

Michigan missed an opportunity to gain bowl eligibility with a 23-16 loss to Maryland last Saturday, which means the Wolverines will have to beat the Buckeyes to extend their season. Ohio State, on the other hand, is still vying for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

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Quick Facts
Ohio Stadium – 12 p.m. EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 138-26 (34-3 at Ohio State)
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Herman (3rd season)
Defensive Coordinators: Chris Ash (1st season)
Luke Fickell (9th season)
Returning 2013 Starters: 11 (4 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 12-2 (8-0 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: OSU 42 – UM 41 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 58-46-6
Record in Columbus: Michigan leads 27-25-2
Record in Ohio Stadium: Ohio State leads 24-21-1
Brady Hoke vs OSU: 1-2
Last Michigan win: 2011 (40-34)
Last UM win at OSU: 2000 (38-26)
Current Streak: Ohio State 2

Ohio State already has the Big Ten East division wrapped up, but trails Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, Mississippi State, and TCU in the rankings. Only the top four will get in. Ohio State will get a chance for another big win in next week’s Big Ten Championship game, but if they struggle with a 5-6 Michigan squad at home, it would be hard to make a case for moving the Buckeyes ahead of any of those other teams unless they lose.

TCU took care of business on Thursday night with a 48-10 win over Texas, and only has Iowa State remaining. Mississippi State visits in-state rival Ole Miss tomorrow, but the Rebels have lost three of their last four after opening the season 7-0. Unless Alabama loses to Auburn tomorrow, MSU won’t reach the SEC Championship game. If the Crimson Tide can top Auburn, they’ll face Missouri or Georgia next week for the SEC title. Oregon, like Ohio State, faces a 5-6 team, Oregon State, and then the Pac-12 Championship game. That leaves Florida State, the reigning national champion and the only unbeaten team.

A lot can happen this week and next, but in order to avoid getting left out, Ohio State has to beat Michigan and look good doing it. Playoff committee chair Jeff Long started a controversy when releasing this week’s rankings by describing the committee’s use of “game control” as an evaluation metric, which is essentially rewarding teams for running up the score. A 42-41 win over Michigan like last year will not win Ohio State any points in that category, so Urban Meyer will look to keep his foot on the gas pedal and send Brady Hoke packing.

As fans on both sides are fully aware, anything can happen in a rivalry of this magnitude. Because of this, OSU fans are approaching tomorrow’s matchup with caution, despite having won 11 of the last 13. Michigan fans, meanwhile, have already set their sights on Jim Harbaugh and can’t wait until the game is over to close the book on yet another lost season.

Does Michigan have a chance to knock off the Buckeyes in Columbus for the first time since 2000? Or will Ohio State simply take care of the inevitable, ensuring Michigan a third losing season in the last seven years? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs Ohio State offense: When Ohio State has the ball

Although they lost running back Carlos Hyde, Ohio State entered the season with high hopes offensively, mostly because of senior quarterback Braxton Miller who would be entering his fourth season as a starter. The two-time defending Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year was near the top of most preseason Heisman trophy watch lists. But after re-injuring his throwing shoulder in fall camp, Miller was forced to spend the season on the sidelines.

Enter J.T. Barrett.

The redshirt freshman, who hadn’t seen the field since his junior year of high school thanks to a senior-year injury of his own, was thrust into action much earlier than expected. And while there were some early-season hiccups that resulted in a loss to Virginia Tech — which could ultimately cost the Buckeyes a shot at the national title — he has had one of the most impressive seasons in the country. The Wichita Falls, Texas native has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 2,658 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, and has rushed for 849 yards and nine scores. Two more solid performances and he will likely earn an invitation to New York at season’s end.

Barrett ranks second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game, first in passing efficiency, and first in total offense. He may not match Miller’s 2012 rushing total of 1,271 yards, but he has far and away surpassed Miller’s best numbers.

But it hasn’t been a one man show in Columbus. Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott picked up right where Hyde left off with 1,061 yards through 11 games. He ranks sixth in the Big Ten in rushing with 96.5 yards per game and fifth with 5.9 yards per carry. He has topped 100 yards in five of the last eight games, including a 23-carry, 154-yard, two-touchdown performance against Michigan State.

Ohio State doesn’t have a receiver that ranks in the top ten in the conference in yards or receptions, but the Buckeyes have a group of very solid receivers. Senior Devin Smith is the big-play receiver, leading team with 610 yards on just 25 receptions. Sophomore Michael Thomas has 12 more catches, but five fewer yards. Both have eight touchdowns. Freshman Jalin Marshall has emerged as a threat as the season has gone on. He caught just six passes for 39 yards and two touchdowns in the first five games, but has 18 for 308 yards and four scores in the last six. Elliott has actually caught the second-most passes on the team (25) for 201 yards. Tight end Jeff Heuerman, who caught a touchdown against Michigan last season, doesn’t have nearly the production he had a year ago but is still a threat with 16 catches and two touchdowns.

The offensive line was a major question mark entering the season, but has progressed pretty well throughout and has had the luxury of starting the same group all 11 games. After giving up eight sacks in the first two games — seven in the Virginia Tech loss alone — the Bucks have allowed just 15 in the last nine games. Some of that has to do with the progression of Barrett, but the line has done its part. Left tackle Taylor Decker is the anchor alongside redshirt freshman Billy Price, junior center Jacoby Boren, redshirt sophomore guard Pat Elflein, and fifth-year senior right tackle Darryl Baldwin.

Michigan offense vs Ohio State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Last season, Ohio State’s defense didn’t do much to help its offense, but new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has helped shore it up. While it’s still not where Meyer wants it to be, it ranks 30th nationally in scoring defense (22.5 points per game), 41st against the run (147.8 yards per game), 15th against the pass (182.5 yards per game), and 19th overall (330.4 yards per game). It also ranks 18th in sacks (32).

It all starts up front for the Buckeyes with one of the best defensive lines in the nation. The group took a hit when last year’s sack leader, defensive end Noah Spence, was suspended for failing a drug test after last season’s Big Ten Championship game. Slated to miss the first two games of the season, he failed another test and was summarily suspended for the entire season. The other end, sophomore Joey Bosa, has been an absolute star, leading the Big Ten with 11.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. Spence’s replacement, senior Steve Miller has recorded six tackles for loss and one sack.

In the middle, Ohio State is led by senior Michael Bennett and junior Adolphus Washington. Bennett finished fourth in the Big Ten with 15 tackles for loss in 2013, but has fallen off that pace this season with 7.5 so far and three sacks. Washington has seven and 2.5.

The linebacking corps had to deal with the loss of Ryan Shazier to the NFL, but has developed great cohesion with the same three players picking up 32 of the possible 33 starts. Junior weak side linebacker Joshua Perry leads the team with 99 tackles to go along with 8.5 for loss, three sacks, an interception, and two passes defended. Redshirt freshman strong side linebacker Darron Lee ranks fourth on the team with 50 tackles but second with 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, and also has two interceptions. Senior middle linebacker Curtis Grant has 47 tackles, three for loss, and one sack.

The secondary was the unit that got torched over and over again last season, but has fared much better this year. Cincinnati and Michigan State both passed for over 350 yards on Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have held five of 11 opponents below 150 yards through the air. Redshirt freshman Eli Apple and senior Doran Grant are the starting corners and have five interceptions and 18 passes defended between them. Sophomore safety Vonn Bell is the team’s second-leading tackler with 68 and also has three picks, while the other safety, redshirt sophomore Tyvis Powell, ranks third with 57 and also has three takeaways.

Special Teams: The other third

True freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger has made just 10 of his 16 field goal attempts on the season with a long of 49 yards. Interestingly, he has yet to attempt a field goal between 30 and 39 yards or over 50 yards all season. He is 5-of-6 from 20-29 yards and 5-of-10 from 40-49 yards. Punter Cameron Johnston, on the other hand, ranks third in the Big Ten with an average of 43.6 yards per punt. He has downed 19 of his 31 punts inside the 20-yards line and booted nine of them over 50 yards with just three going into the end zone.

The Buckeyes rank 18th nationally in punt returns and 19th in kick returns. Marhsall ranks second in the Big Ten with an average of 13.6 yards per punt return and has taken one to the end zone. Dontre Wilson ranks fourth in the conference with 24 yards per kick return — 0.1 more than Dennis Norfleet — but a broken foot suffered against Michigan State has sidelined him for the rest of the regular season.

Prediction

There are two likely scenarios for Michigan on Saturday. Either the team plays with nothing to lose, inspired by its soon to be former head coach and gives Ohio State a run for its money, or it packs it in at the first sign of distress and gets pushed around for 60 minutes resulting in the worst defeat in the history of the rivalry.

Michigan had no business nearly beating Ohio State last season, but came within a failed two-point conversion from doing just that. But heading into that game there was at least an indication that Michigan’s offense could outscore the Buckeyes. This year, however, Michigan’s offense has been stuck in neutral, failing to score 20 points in seven of 11 games. Ohio State hasn’t scored fewer than 21 points in a game all season and averages more than twice that.

The only hope Michigan has is if its defense plays its best game of the season, contains Barrett’s legs, and pressures him into mistakes that he — like any first year starter and freshman — can be prone to make. But that’s certainly no easy task and one that even Michigan State’s defense couldn’t do. And even if the defense can do that, Michigan will have to avoid costly turnovers that have plagued the offense all year. And even if both of those things happen, Michigan will need Dennis Norfleet to break a return that doesn’t get called back. In other words, Michigan needs a perfect storm.

Michigan has allowed just nine first half points in its last three games combined, and will hang with Ohio State early on. But Michigan won’t be able to keep the Bucks at bay for long, and if they can’t find the end zone themselves, will see the game slip away in a hurry. Expect a fairly close game at halftime that Ohio State blows wide open in the second half with a couple of deep balls to Smith or Thomas and the running combo of Elliott and Barrett wearing the defense down. Meyer goes for two at the end to get to 50 and earn style points with the playoff committee, Hoke is fired shortly after, and Jim Harbaugh comes home to reignite the rivalry.

Ohio State 50 – Michigan 13

Big Ten power rankings: Week 2

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


Power Rankings_header

It was a dreadful week for the Big Ten as a conference, as the top teams crumbled against strong competition and the rest of the teams struggled against weak teams. Purdue and Northwestern both fell to MAC schools and Iowa barely escaped Ball State. Nebraska, Illinois, and Maryland were favored by multiple scores but all only won by a single possession. At night the conference’s supposed top three teams lost by a combined 64 points in a week that may have eliminated the Big Ten from playoff contention.

East Division
1. Penn State (2-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Akron 21-3 This Week: Sat at Rutgers, 8pm, Big Ten Network

What could be better than crushing Akron to move to 2-0 on the season for Penn State? How about learning that, after an offseason resigning themselves to literal championship irrelevance, the team will be eligible to play in the postseason after all? The news comes for a Penn State team that looks dangerous behind sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg and could make a run at the East Division crown.

2. Michigan State (1-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #3 Oregon 27-46 This Week: Bye (9/20 vs Eastern Michigan)

Very few teams in the country have the talent to beat Oregon on its own turf, and Michigan State is not one of those groups. But that doesn’t mean the Spartans can’t make a run at the first college football playoff. Losing by 19 points should never satisfy a fan base that hopes to support an elite program, but Michigan State certainly looked like the class of the Big Ten when it led 27-18 in Autzen.

3. Maryland (2-0, 0-0) – Up 4
Last Week: Beat South Florida 24-17 This Week: Sat vs West Virginia, 12pm, Big Ten Network

After demolishing James Madison in Week 1, Maryland still had everything to prove in its first year as a member of the Big Ten conference. On Saturday it was more of the same as the Terrapins went on the road and beat a South Florida team that finished 2-10 last season.

4. Indiana (2-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Bowling Green, 12pm, ESPNU

Scheduling a bye may have been the best possible move for Indiana in a week when nearly every Big Ten powerhouse lost by more than 10 points. The Hoosiers go on the road to face Bowling Green this week before a big matchup in Missouri.

5. Rutgers (2-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Howard 38-25 This Week: Sat vs Penn State, 8pm, Big Ten Network

Following a huge road win in Washington State to bring in the new season, Rutgers struggled with Howard when it returned back home. In the end, four touchdown passes from Gary Nova was enough to move Rutgers to 2-0.

6. Ohio State (1-1, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to Virginia Tech 21-35 This Week: Sat vs Kent State, 12pm, ABC/ESPN2

Week 1 against Navy was just a fluke, right? Unfortunately for Urban Meyer, his team proved that notion wrong on Saturday night when Virginia Tech walked into the Horseshoe and stomped his Buckeyes 35-21. J.T. Barrett was 9 for 29 with three interceptions in what turned out to be a disastrous performance. Would Ohio State be the best team in the conference with Braxton Miller? It’s certainly possible, but without the former Heisman candidate the team is revealing massive holes at more than just backup quarterback.

7. Michigan (1-1, 0-0) – Down 5
Last Week: Lost to #16 Notre Dame 0-31 This Week: Sat vs Miami (Ohio), 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

In the final matchup with Notre Dame on Saturday night, Michigan proved how much a team can change over the course of a week. After a nearly perfect showing against Appalachian State in the opener, the team completely collapsed in South Bend. Doug Nussmeier’s offense posted the school’s first scoreless effort in 30 years while Greg Mattison’s ‘more aggressive defense’ sat back and let Everett Golson pick it apart like a thoracic surgeon. One loss can’t derail an entire season, but the 31-0 shelling fans witnessed Saturday is as close as it gets. Brady Hoke’s best road win in four seasons at Michigan is over an Illinois team that finished 7-6 after scraping out a victory in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2011. Nothing short of wins in East Lansing or Columbus should save this coaching staff.

West Division
1. Minnesota (2-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Middle Tennessee 35-24 This Week: Sat at TCU, 4pm, Fox Sports 1

Minnesota’s presence atop the West Division standings says more about the rest of the conference than it does about the Golden Gophers. Minnesota has played two cupcake opponents at home, but through Week 2, beating those teams by double digits is enough to earn the top spot.

2. Wisconsin (1-1, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Western Illinois 37-3 This Week: Bye (9/20 vs Bowling Green)

Blowing a 17-point lead to LSU on the national stage almost came back to bite Wisconsin again, as it led Western Illinois just 9-3 at halftime. But the Badgers came back in the second half and scored 28 unanswered points and are the obvious favorite in the West Division.

3. Nebraska (2-0, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Beat McNeese State 31-24 This Week: Sat at Fresno State (0-2), 10:30, CBS SN

Nebraska highlights a host of teams that struggled to beat inferior opponents on Saturday. McNeese State fought the Cornhuskers to the bitter end in Lincoln, losing by just a touchdown.

4. Illinois (2-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Western Kentucky 42-34 This Week: Sat at Washington (2-0), 4pm, FOX

Though Illinois beat Western Kentucky by only eight points, quarterback Wes Lunt has emerged as a leader of the offense. Lunt has thrown for 741 yards and seven touchdowns through his first two weeks.

5. Iowa (2-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Ball State 17-13 This Week: Sat vs Iowa State (0-2), 3:30pm, ESPN

Iowa was a popular pick to challenge Wisconsin for the West Division title at the beginning of the season, but two poor showings have buried that belief despite a 2-0 start for the Hawkeyes. Ball State nearly upset Iowa in Iowa City, but fell just four points short.

6. Purdue (1-1, 0-0) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Central Michigan 17-38 This Week: Sat vs #11 Notre Dame, 7:30pm, NBC

Former Michigan running back Thomas Rawls shredded Purdue for 155 yards and two touchdowns as Central Michigan absolutely rolled the Boilermakers 38-17 in West Lafayette. Purdue trailed the whole game and is clearly inferior to mid-level MAC schools at this point of the season.

7. Northwestern (0-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Northern Illinois 15-23 This Week: Bye (9/20 vs Western Illinois)

Two losses to start the 2014 season have left Northwestern with a 2-9 record since the middle of last season as the program continues to unravel underneath Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats are the only team in the conference without a win.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 1

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014


Power Rankings_header

Week 1 could have been an outstanding start for a conference that really needs a lift. Rutgers, perhaps the worst team in the league, kicked the season off with a road victory against Washington State, and Wisconsin held a 24-7 lead over LSU in the third quarter.

Unfortunately, a couple games went south. Northwestern couldn’t hold on against California and Wisconsin hit a brick wall, handing the league a deceptive 12-2 start to the 2014 campaign. The league did pick up a few quality wins: Penn State beat UCF, the defending Fiesta Bowl champions; Ohio State beat a solid Navy team; and Rutgers picked up a road win. But the Big Ten is fighting an uphill battle to regain some respect, and another loss to the SEC won’t help the conference gain any ground.

The East Division certainly looks to be the stronger half of the Big Ten, as all seven teams took care of business to open the season. Here are the power rankings after the first week of college football.

East Division
1. Michigan State – Even
Last Week: Beat Jacksonville St 45-7 This Week: Sat. at #3 Oregon 6:30pm, FOX

If there were any questions about Michigan State’s defense after it lost Darqueze Dennard, Isaiah Lewis, Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, the Spartans took the first step toward answering them on Friday. Mark Dantonio’s team shut down the Gamecocks, allowing just one score. If fans think the performance was a fluke, a nationally-televised test against Oregon on Saturday should settle the matter.

2. Michigan – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Appalachian St 52-14 This Week: Sat at #16 Notre Dame, 7:30pm, NBC

The most important takeaway for Michigan at the start of 2014 was the improvement of an absolutely porous offensive line from a year ago. On Saturday the offense not only looked strong up front, it rushed for 350 yards, including over 100 each for Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith. Appalachian State’s defense may not be the best measuring stone, but Michigan running backs never averaged more than 10 yards per carry in a game last year. In week 1, both sophomores blew that number out of the water.

3. Penn State – Up 1
Last Week: Beat UCF 26-24 This Week: Sat. vs Akron, 12pm, ABC/ESPN2

When Penn State scheduled a game against Central Florida to begin the 2014 season, the team never imagined it would match up with a school coming off a Fiesta Bowl championship. But a last-second field goal gave the Nittany Lions a 26-24 win in Ireland and the most impressive showing for the conference last week.

4. Ohio State – Down 2
Last Week: Beat Navy 34-17 This Week: Sat. vs Virginia Tech, 8pm, ESPN

Experts have already started making excuses for Ohio State. After a close call in Week 1, the Buckeyes were praised for fighting through adversity against an underrated Navy team. In reality, Ohio State is supposed to be the best team in the conference, and shouldn’t struggle with the Midshipmen, with or without Braxton Miller. The effort was reflected in the most recent rankings, in which OSU fell below Michigan State to No. 8 overall.

5. Rutgers – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Washington St. 41-38 This Week: Sat. vs Howard, 12pm, Big Ten Network

Rutgers was one of the few Big Ten teams to challenge itself during week 1, heading across the country to battle Washington State. A balanced offensive attack helped the Scarlett Knights hang on for a 41-38 victory in their first game as a Big Ten school.

6. Indiana – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Indiana St. 28-10 This Week: Bye (9/13 at Bowling Green)

The Hoosiers put on a rushing show against Indiana State on Saturday, posting 455 yards on the ground and only attempting 18 passes. The electric offense seems to have returned from a year ago, but the defense will have to improve to help Indiana compete during Big Ten play.

7. Maryland – Down 2
Last Week: Beat James Madison 52-7 This Week: Sat. at South Florida, 3:30pm, CBS Sports Network

Maryland put on an impressive offensive show Saturday, scoring 52 points against James Madison. Fans won’t really know what to expect of Maryland until week 6, when it gets its first challenge against Ohio State.

West Division
1. Nebraska – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Florida Atlantic 55-7 This Week: Sat. vs McNeese State, 12pm, ESPNU

Florida Atlantic didn’t provide a huge test for Nebraska on Saturday, but the Cornhuskers still impressed by rushing for 498 yards and scoring a league-high 55 points. During a week in which much of the division struggled, Nebraska took care of business and landed in the top spot.

2. Minnesota – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Eastern Illinois 42-20 This Week: Sat. vs Middle Tennessee, 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

One year after breaking out for eight wins, Minnesota can keep the momentum rolling with four wins before the start of the Big Ten season. The Gophers cruised to a 22-point win in Week 1, despite a mediocre performance in the passing game.

3. Purdue – Up 4
Last Week: Beat Western Michigan 43-34 This Week: Sat. vs Central Michigan, 12pm, ESPNews

How did Purdue land in the top three of the West Division? Two Big Ten teams lost in Week 1 and two more struggled with FCS opponents. Meanwhile, the Boilermakers tied their win total from last season with a victory over Western Michigan.

4. Wisconsin – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to #13 LSU 24-28 This Week: Sat. vs Western Illinois, 12pm, Big Ten Network

Fans in Madison have to be pulling their hair out in frustration after the Badgers blew a 17-point halftime lead to LSU. Wisconsin faces just one more ranked opponent this season when Nebraska comes to town, but visions of an undefeated season vanished with the collapse.

5. Iowa – Down 3
Last Week: Beat Northern Iowa 31-23 This Week: Sat. vs Ball State, 3:30pm, ESPN2

Iowa is favored by many to be the stiffest competition to Wisconsin in the West Division. But the Hawkeyes were underwhelming in Week 1, struggling to take care of the lowly Northern Iowa Panthers at home. Luckily, Iowa escaped with a win, but a defense that surrendered 23 points will have to figure things out before the conference season starts.

6. Illinois – Even
Last Week: Beat Youngstown St. 28-17 This Week: Sat. vs Western Kentucky, 12pm, Big Ten Network

Illinois also struggled with a FCS opponent, beating Youngstown State 28-17. If the offense can only rush for 78 yards against this type of competition, then the Fighting Illini stand little chance against talented Big Ten defenses.

7. Northwestern – Down 4
Last Week: Lost to Cal 24-31 This Week: Sat. vs Northern Illinois, 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

Another season got off to a disappointing start in Evanston Saturday, when Northwestern dropped the opening game to California 31-24. Coach Pat Fitzgerald felt the absence of Venric Mark right off the bat, as his offense rushed for just 108 yards.

Big Ten power rankings: Preseason

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014


Power Rankings_header

Three days from now we’ll be settling into our seats at the Big House or our favorite couch or chair getting ready to watch the Maize and Blue run out of the tunnel, leap up and touch the banner, and begin their quest toward a Big Ten championship. The bad news is that we all still have to make it through three more days. Welcome to our first Big Ten Power Rankings of the season, where we rank each team in the conference. Since no games have been played yet, this week’s power rankings are essentially predictions of where each team should be ranked. Beginning next week, and continuing throughout the season, the power rankings will be reflective of each team’s performance in the game(s) they have played.

As the dawn of college football season draws ever nearer, the Big Ten finds itself facing low expectations once again. Largely considered a three-team league, the Big Ten suffered a huge blow with the news that Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller would miss the entire 2014 campaign.

Now, teams on the brink of breaking through have to step up and help the Big Ten resurface as a power conference. Gone are the days when the automatic bid to the Rose Bowl would give the Big Ten a chance to shine on the national stage, because now the four-team playoff will act as the means by which conference strength is measured. Teams like Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan have to take that next step and give the conference the boost it needs to send a representative into that playoff.

If the Big Ten gets left out of the playoff this season, it will set the tone for a format that figures to rule the sport for the foreseeable future. At least six teams have a realistic shot at winning the Big Ten, and the conference needs each of them to perform in 2014.

East Division
1. Michigan State
Last Week: N/A This Week: Friday vs Jacksonville State, 7:30pm, BTN

The defending Big Ten champions became heavy favorites to repeat in 2014 after Ohio State’s Braxton Miller went down for the season. Michigan State lost plenty of talent to the NFL, but that defense still figures to be the best in the league.

2. Ohio State
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Navy, 12pm, CBS Sports Network

Miller’s season-ending injury put a damper on Ohio State’s championship aspirations, but Urban Meyer’s team is still strong enough to compete for the first Big Ten East Division championship. The Nov. 8 game in East Lansing is the biggest speed bump on the Buckeyes’ road to Indianapolis.

3. Michigan
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs. Appalachian State, 12pm, ESPN2

If Michigan finishes outside the top three in the division, then things need to change in Ann Arbor. Four straight years of strong recruiting has left Brady Hoke with a talented enough roster to win nine or more games. An underrated defense should give Michigan a chance in all 12 games.

4. Penn State
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs UCF, 8:30am, ESPN2

The Nittany Lions still can’t play in a bowl game this season, but new head coach James Franklin managed to hang on to talented quarterback Christian Hackenberg and a team that won seven games last year. Penn State could make a big splash in the standings on Oct. 25 when Ohio State visits Happy Valley, one of the hardest places for visiting teams to win at night.

5. Indiana
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Indiana State, 12pm, ESPNews

Much like they were last year, the Hoosiers are expected to be a group led by an elite offense. Unfortunately, the Big Ten is a difficult conference to win without a strong defense, and the Hoosiers gave up 38.8 points per game last season, good for 117th in college football.

6. Maryland
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs James Madison, 3:30pm, BTN

Maryland joins the Big Ten after a mediocre 7-6 record in the ACC last year. The Terrapins’ 85th-ranked offense will have a tough time scoring enough points in the Big Ten against defenses like that of Michigan State and Michigan, so don’t expect Maryland to compete for a division title in year one.

7. Rutgers
Last Week: N/A This Week: Thursday at Washington State, 10pm, FoxSports1

A 2-6 finish to the 2013 season will set the tone for Rutgers’ first season in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights lost six games by double digits last year during an average year in the ACC, so the powerful Big Ten East could be a rude awakening in 2014.

West Division
1. Wisconsin
Last Week: This Week: Saturday vs LSU, 9pm, ESPN

With Ohio State moving over to the East Division, Wisconsin sits firmly in the driver’s seat to represent the West in Indy this year. Melvin Gordon became the top Heisman candidate in the Big Ten after Miller’s injury and should lead a prototypical Wisconsin running attack that will tear apart opposing defenses.

2. Iowa
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Northern Iowa, 12pm, BTN

Iowa played good enough defense in 2013 to win the Big Ten and play in the Rose Bowl, but an inconsistent offense held the team to an 8-5 overall record. If the Hawkeyes post another top-10 defensive effort this season, they could find themselves matching up with Michigan State in Indianapolis in a low-scoring game.

3. Northwestern
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Cal, 3:30pm, ABC

Every season Northwestern looks primed for a breakout, but this year their talent is nowhere near the level of teams like Wisconsin or Iowa. The Wildcats lost four games by one possession last season, so they were close to living up to the preseason hype. But the loss of Venric Mark and a tough conference schedule will make things tough on Northwestern this year.

4. Nebraska
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Florida Atlantic, 3:30pm, BTN

The nation is expecting big things out of Nebraska after finishing a disappointing finish to the conference season last year. If this offense can rush for over 200 yards per game again this season, it has a chance to put the Cornhuskers in the hunt for the title.

5. Minnesota
Last Week: N/A This Week: Thursday vs Eastern Illinois, 7pm, BTN

Minnesota was one of the quietest surprises in the country last season, starting 8-2 before three hard-fought losses to end the year. This season will be a real test for the Gophers as they try to build off of what they started in 2013 and break a decade-long streak of irrelevance.

6. Illinois
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday at Youngstown State, 12:05pm, BTN

It could be another tough year for Illinois after finishing 4-8 with just one conference win last season. After a nonconference schedule that features three easy wins, the Fighting Illini will only be favored in one conference game: at home against the Purdue team they beat in 2013.

7. Purdue
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Western Michigan, 12pm, ESPNU

2013 was an abomination for Purdue, as it went 1-11 with a six-point victory over a division 1-AA opponent. Illinois was the only team that Purdue was within 10 points of beating. It won’t get any easier for the Boilermakers in conference this year.

The Michigan Medley says goodbye

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014


The past few days have held plenty of news, so it’s time to bring back our weekly news roundup feature, The Michigan Medley. This feature discusses the top news items from the past week, what they mean for Michigan, and my take on them. Today’s theme is saying goodbye, although for different reasons.

York dismissed

Csont'e York

(Daniel Mears, Detroit News)

On Monday afternoon, Michigan released a statement from Brady Hoke that sophomore wide receiver Csont’e York had been dismissed from the team as a result of an incident that occurred outside Scorekeepers Bar and Grille on July 18.

“Csont’e York has been dismissed from the Michigan football program,” Hoke said in the statement. “Representing the University of Michigan is a privilege and, while second chances are certainly deserved, sometimes it’s better for everyone if that happens somewhere else. Overall, I have been proud of how responsible our team has been this offseason and how hard they’ve worked to prepare for the season.”

On Aug. 3, Hoke suspended York indefinitely while he let the legal system play out, but last week Ann Arbor police released a grainy video of the incident showing York sizing up a victim and punching him in the side of the face. The victim didn’t appear to see it coming and collapsed immediately, ultimately resulting in a broken jaw and lost tooth. Once the video was released, it was only a matter of time before York was dismissed, even as he awaits arraignment on Sept. 8.

York was with teammate Da’Mario Jones that night and admitted to the cheap shot, but said he did it out of nervousness because the victim was threatening he and Jones. York and Jones fled the scene immediately afterward. Jones was not charged and remains on the team.

York is the second player to be dismissed from the team under Hoke and the second Hoke recruit to leave the team. Hoke dismissed Darryl Stonum, a Lloyd Carr recruit, in 2012 following a third alcohol-related driving offense. The only other Hoke recruit to leave the program was linebacker Kaleb Ringer, who voluntarily transferred to Ferris State after a knee injury kept him out for the 2012 season.

York played in just one game at receiver as a freshman in 2013 and did not record a catch.

My take: Once the video was released, Hoke absolutely made the right call to dismiss York, but I hope the Harper Woods, Mich. native can learn from his mistake, grow as a person, and lead a successful and productive life. Whether another school chooses to give him a second chance — and whether he makes the most of it — depends on how he grows and learns from his mistakes. Some, like Frank Clark, do make the most of their second chance, but some, like Stonum, don’t.

From a pure football standpoint, this isn’t a huge loss. Jones and Jaron Dukes were also receivers in the same class as York, while a trio of current freshmen — Freddy Canteen, Drake Harris, and Mo Ways — carry high expectations, so Michigan has plenty of young talent at receiver.

Miller hurt

Miller hurt

On Monday evening Columbus Dispatch reporter Tim May tweeted a report that Ohio State quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller had re-injured his shoulder in afternoon practice. ESPN’s Austin Ward confirmed the news and Buckeye blog Eleven Warriors reported that Miller left the practice facility with his arm in a sling.

Miller originally hurt his throwing shoulder in Ohio State’s loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl and had surgery to repair it in February. He had been held out of spring practice and was limited to begin fall camp. Miller reportedly reinjured the shoulder while throwing a routine pass during Monday’s practice and laid on the turf being tended to by trainers for several minutes. The senior will undergo an MRI on Tuesday morning to determine the severity of the injury, but judging by the lack of optimism coming out of Columbus, it doesn’t sound good. The school has yet to comment, but did cancel its media availability with coaches and players Tuesday morning.

If the injury does keep Miller out for the season, the Buckeyes will turn to J.T. Barrett, who has yet to throw a collegiate pass. The redshirt freshman from Wichita Falls, Texas completed 17-of-33 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. Barrett was a four-star recruit, rated as the third-best dual threat quarterback in last year’s class by 247 Sports. But he hasn’t played a down of competitive football in two years. He missed his senior year of high school due to a torn ACL.

Miller was the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year each of the past two seasons. He also won the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football trophy, given annually to the conference’s most valuable player. The news of his injury already sent shockwaves through the betting industry. Bovada downgraded Ohio State’s national title odds from 10-1 to 18-1, while 5Dimes dropped the Buckeyes’ odds to win the Big Ten to 3-1, behind Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Given Ohio State’s schedule, the injury shouldn’t have much of an effect early on. The Buckeyes open the season with Navy, and while the spread for that game has dropped since the news, it is still at 16.5. Virginia Tech, Kent State, and Cincinnati are the other non-conference foes and Ohio State opens the conference slate with Maryland and Rutgers with both bye weeks sprinkled in that six-game stretch. We likely won’t know how much Miller’s loss will affect the Buckeyes until they travel to State College on Oct. 25.

My take: I hate to see anyone get injured, especially a player with such a talent as Miller. It doesn’t matter if he plays for Michigan’s top rival or not, this is sad news, and any Michigan fan celebrating the injury should reexamine his or her priorities. The injury won’t change The Game much anyway. Barrett surely won’t be as explosive as Miller, but he’ll have 11 games under his belt by the time Michigan comes to town. If Michigan’s defense is as good as many hope this season, it will present quite the challenge for Barrett playing in his first Ohio State-Michigan game. But I’d rather both teams be at full speed. Here’s to hoping Miller can recover and continue his playing career, either at Ohio State next season or at the next level.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Running backs (part two)

Thursday, June 12th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header-RB

This week, as part of our preview series, we at Maize and Go Blue are ranking the Big Ten’s best running backs in 2014. Part One of the running back preview was posted yesterday; it ranked the running backs that I believe are No. 6 through No. 10 at their respective position in the conference. If you have not had a chance to read Part One yet, I encourage that you do so before reading Part Two herein. With that said, it is time to reveal who will be the five best running backs in the Big Ten this upcoming season.

Previously: Quarterbacks part one, part two.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State | Sophomore - 6’0”, 225 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 262 8.7 2 37.4 23 1
Career Totals 262 8.7 2 37.4 23 1
(Jay LaPrete, AP)

(Jay LaPrete, AP)

To the displeasure of Michigan fans, Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott cracks the top five. Many will be annoyed because Elliott is only a true sophomore and spent most of his freshmen season competing only on special teams. In their eyes, he should be much lower because other Big Ten running backs have already proven they are capable of 1,000-yard seasons. This is all true, but the purpose of this exercise is to rank the best Big Ten running backs in 2014, not those from previous seasons. Michigan fans may not want to admit it, but Elliott is a prime candidate to be one of the Big Ten’s breakout players this fall.

A breakout sophomore season for Elliott should surprise no one. In his first season in Columbus, he provided glimpses of the talent that made him a U.S. Army All-American in high school. He did not see many snaps at running back, earning only 30 carries, but he showcased his potential despite the small sample size. Elliott demonstrated the acceleration, top-end speed, and vision scouts raved about while he was in high school. His 8.73 yards per carry were the highest of any Big Ten player with more than 200 rushing yards last season. This may have been inflated by a 57-yard dash he had, but nine of his 30 attempts still were 10 yards or longer. It is proof that Elliott is more than just a running back that can move the chains. He also is a home-run threat.

It just remains to be seen if Elliott can remain a big-play threat against first-string Big Ten defenses. Similar to Wisconsin’s Corey Clement, 29 of Elliott’s 30 rushes last year were in the second half and when the Buckeyes led by more than 14 points. Further, nearly half of his carries were against Florida A&M, an FCS school, when he gained 162 yards and scored both of his rushing touchdowns. Although it is promising for Ohio State that Elliott prospered in garbage time and against inferior competition, he has not yet been truly tested.

In all likelihood, though, Elliott is too talented to fail in his current situation. Head coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense relies on a two-prong rushing attack with Heisman contender Braxton Miller as the focal point. Defenses know they must contain Miller first. Otherwise, they will spend their entire afternoon staring at the back of his uniform as he races away. This opens running lanes for the tailback. Just look at Carlos Hyde the past two seasons, during which he totaled 393 carries for 2,491 yards, 6.34 yards per carry, and 31 rushing scores. Guess who is the favorite to succeed Hyde as the starter? Elliott. He will have running room for days. Elliott may not bruise his way to first downs like Hyde did, but he will be a threat to score on every play. Expect Elliott to become a household name in 2014 as a 1,200-yard, 14-touchdown year is not out of the question.

4. Jeremy Langford, Michigan State | 5th-yr Senior – 6’0”, 205 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 1,422 4.9 18 101.6 157 1
2012 23 2.6 0 2.6 0 0
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 1,445 4.8 18 39.1 157 1
(Al Goldis, AP)

(Al Goldis, AP)

Head coach Mark Dantonio arrived in East Lansing prior to the 2007 season. He established quickly that he likes to execute a power-running offense that predominantly features one back. Accordingly, Michigan State has had a recent run of 1,000-yard rushers since Dantonio took the job. In 2007 and 2008, there was Javon Ringer with 1,447 and 1,637 rushing yards, respectively. In 2010, Edwin Baker ran for 1,201 yards. In 2012, it was Le’Veon Bell with 1,793 rushing yards after falling just 52 yards shy of 1,000 the previous season. And, in 2013, Jeremy Langford upheld the new tradition with 1,422 rushing yards.

Initially, it was not clear if Langford would join the 1,000-yard club. He may have been the early front-runner to be the starter, but there were concerns. Langford was looked over by most major college football programs as a high-school recruit. Michigan State and Colorado were the only schools in Power 5 conferences to offer him a scholarship. Did he have the raw talent to be a starter? No one really knew because Langford had seen very little live action in his first two seasons, carrying the ball only nine times. To be safe, Dantonio moved Riley Bullough from linebacker to running back in the preseason. When the first depth chart was released during fall camp, Langford and Bullough were listed as co-starters. Ultimately, Dantonio decided to give the first crack in Week 1 to Langford. Smart move.

After a relatively quiet first five games, Langford found his groove and established himself as one of the best running backs in the Big Ten. He broke a school record by gaining at least 100 rushing yards in eight straight games, including the Big Ten Championship Game. In these eight games, Langford ran the ball 197 times for 1,027 yards and 5.21 yards per carry. He also scored 13 rushing touchdowns during this stretch, finding the end zone in seven of those eight contests. What made Langford so effective was his patience. He will never be the fastest, most athletic, or strongest running back, but he found open space because he waited for his blocks to be set before selecting the correct hole. This propelled him to 1,422 rushing yards—third-best among Big Ten returners—and 18 rushing scores—by far the best in the Big Ten—last season. Despite the early doubts, Langford turned in one of the most productive seasons every by a Michigan State running back.

However, there is more to being a running back than picking up four to five yards every play. Because Langford does not have top-end speed or acceleration, he does not have the ability to make big plays. His 4.87 yards per carry were not even among the 20 best in the Big Ten. He also posted a 20-plus-yard run only 2.74 percent of time. For comparison, the next three players on this list had a 20-plus yard run 10.69, 7.28, and 6.05 percent of the time in 2013. The very best running backs have the capability to make big plays. So, while Langford likely will slowly pick his way through the trenches for another 1,350- to 1,500-yard season with the help of 300 carries, he could not be above the next three on this list.

3. Tevin Coleman, Indiana | Junior – 6’1”, 210 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 958 7.3 12 106.4 193 0
2012 225 4.4 1 18.8 49 0
Career Totals 1,183 6.5 13 56.3 242 0
(Doug McSchooler, AP)

(Doug McSchooler, AP)

It is no secret that Indiana is recognized for its spread offense and aerial attack. The Hoosiers have led the Big Ten in pass attempts three of the past four seasons and likely will do it for the fourth time in five seasons this fall. But this does not mean that they are without talent at running back. In fact, Indiana actually has one of the best tailbacks in the conference in Tevin Coleman.

As a sophomore in 2013, Coleman quietly pieced together a sensational season. He tallied 131 carries for 958 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. At first glance, this may not seem quite impressive given his failure to eclipse the 1,000-yard threshold when the Big Ten had seven 1,000-yard rushers. But Coleman fell short of 1,000 yards only because he had far fewer rushes than those that did gain 1,000 yards.  His lack of carries can be attributed to playing in an offense committed to the pass, splitting already limited carries with then-senior tailback Stephen Houston, and missing the final three games of the season with an ankle injury. There was little Coleman could do alter the first two sets of circumstances, but the injury robbed him of a quarter of his season and prevented him from being named to an All-Big Ten team.

A deeper dive into Coleman’s numbers reveals the significance of his impact as a playmaker in the Big Ten. First, Coleman averaged 7.31 yards per carry—the second-best among all returning Big Ten players that had no less than 100 rushes. Second, he rattled off 14 runs of at least 20 yards in only 131 attempts. This means he had a gain of 20 yards or more 10.69 percent of the time—the best among Big Ten players with a minimum of 100 carries. Third, Coleman notched 12 rushing touchdowns. While this would have been commendable if accomplished in a full season, he hit the mark in just nine games. His touchdown rate of 9.16 percent was the highest in the conference among those with at least 100 rushes. And, finally, seven of Coleman’s 12 rushing scores were longer than 20 yards, while six were longer than 40 yards. All of these statistics convey the same message: Coleman is one of the most electric ball carriers in the Big Ten.

But, whereas Jeremy Langford must be ranked no higher than No. 4 because he rarely breaks plays open, Coleman cannot crack the top two because he lacks the sufficient number of touches. Even if Coleman’s carries were extrapolated to a full 12-game season, he still would have had only about 175 attempts last year. If he wants to challenge the next two players on this list for the title as the conference’s best running back, he needs at least 200 carries. No less. While Coleman will benefit from Houston’s graduation, being the featured back will not cut it in Indiana’s passing attack. The Hoosiers set up the run with the pass rather than vice-versa like most teams. This will limit Coleman’s carries and place a ceiling on his potential. If Indiana wants to eradicate barriers placed on Coleman, it must make him a focal point of the offensive game plan in 2014.

2. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska | Senior – 5’9”, 195 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 1,690 6.0 9 130.0 232 2
2012 1,137 5.0 8 81.2 178 2
2011 150 3.6 3 11.5 11 0
Career Totals 2,977 5.4 20 74.4 421 4
(Jamie Sabau, Getty Images)

(Jamie Sabau, Getty Images)

There are two players that clearly will be the best running backs in the Big Ten. Heck, they are two of the best in the nation. There is very difference between them regarding their innate ability and the statistical production. They both are incredible ball carriers that will put up huge numbers and entertain fans through the nation, let alone the Midwest. No one doubts it. Rather than consider these two backs as No. 1 and No. 2 in the Big Ten, it is best they be referred to as No. 1a and No. 1b. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah is No. 1b.

Abdullah has been one of the Big Ten’s best for two seasons now. He put himself on the map in 2012 with a 1,137-yard, eight-touchdown campaign. He then followed it up in 2013 with even better numbers. His 282 carries were the second-most in the Big Ten. His 1,690 rushing yards were the most in the conference, and his average of 130 rushing yards per game was the sixth-best in the nation. He also increased his efficiency, upping his yards per carry to just north of six, and his scoring, posting nine rushing touchdowns. And Abdullah achieved all of this while Nebraska cycled through three quarterbacks for a variety of reasons. Abdullah delivered week in and week out, rushing for a minimum of 100 yards in 11 of 13 contests and for no less than 85 yards in any of them. Accordingly, Abdullah was named to the All-Big Ten first team and a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award. He also had the opportunity to be selected in the NFL Draft this past spring, but chose to return to Nebraska for one final season.

Abdullah has a wonderful chance to be the nation’s top back in 2014, but there are a few red flags that may hinder those odds. One is Nebraska trying to paste together a brand-new offensive line. The Huskers do return one starter in guard Jake Cotton, but they lost five offensive linemen to graduation. This is a devastating hit. It may take time for the offensive line to build chemistry, giving Abdullah more trouble than he can handle in the backfield. Plus, even if the line becomes cohesive, Abdullah may still see his prime touchdown chances cannibalized by his teammate Imani Cross. Cross had about 200 carries less than Abdullah last year, but still scored more touchdowns on the ground with 10 to Abdullah’s nine. Eight of Cross’ 10 touchdowns were in the red zone. There is a question as to whether Cross will continue to be rewarded for Abdullah’s work between the 20-yard lines.

While these concerns are relatively minor and likely will not affect Abdullah’s performance next season significantly, there is one that is too big to ignore. Abdullah has a fumbling problem. A bad one. In his first three seasons, Abdullah has fumbled the football 20 times, losing 15 of them. He was a bit better with his ball security last year, but still coughed it up five times. This is way too many. Abdullah has all of the tools to be the nation’s best running back: the speed, agility, footwork, strength, vision, instincts, etc. But, because he cannot maintain his grip on the football, he will not even be the best running back in his own conference.

1. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin | RS Junior – 6’1”, 207 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 1,609 7.8 12 123.8 10 0
2012 621 10.0 3 44.4 65 1
2011 98 4.9 1 32.7 0 0
Career Totals 2,328 8.1 16 77.6 75 1
(Morry Gash, AP)

(Morry Gash, AP)

Melvin Gordon will be the best running back in the Big Ten next season. Not only will he be the best ball carrier in the conference, Gordon may be on the verge of a really, really special season. Whereas Ameer Abdullah is considered No. 1b in the Big Ten because he has a few red flags, Gordon is No. 1a because he has no red flags. Everything appears to have fallen into place for Gordon to have the best season of his career. And, when one considers what Gordon has accomplished the past two years, something special is on the horizon.

As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Gordon was Wisconsin’s third-string running back behind future NFL draft picks Montee Ball and James White. Despite this, Gordon still earned 62 carries for 621 yards and three touchdowns. In case you did not pick on the math immediately, he averaged an unheard of 10.02 yards per carry. Yes, he averaged a first down every single time he rushed the football. And, unlike teammate Corey Clement or Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott last season, Gordon did not pad his stats by playing snaps exclusively in garbage time or against the dregs of college football. He did some of his damage against ranked opponents, including a nine-carry, 216-yard breakout performance against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship game. It was only a sign of things to come.

Last season, Gordon was promoted to the second spot on the depth chart and split most of the carries with White. The result? Gordon recorded the second-most rushing yards in the Big Ten with 1,609 on just 206 carries. He averaged 7.81 yards per carry. Yes, this may have been a dip from his 10.02 yards per carry in 2012, but this average was the best in the nation among all running backs with at least 200 carries and third among all rushers with a minimum of 100 carries. His yards per carry were so high because he led the Big Ten with 50 runs that were 10 yards or longer, which accounted for just shy of a quarter of all of his carries. Gordon also had no trouble using his combination of speed, size, and agility to reach the end zone. He scored 12 rushing touchdowns. Six of those were longer than 20 yards, and an astonishing three of them were longer than 60 yards. It was such a successful season for Gordon that some NFL executives claimed that he would have been a first-round pick in the most recent NFL Draft. And Gordon was not even the starter.

This is why 2014 can be so special for Gordon. He already has proven that he is one of the most explosive running backs in the country. His yards per carry speak for themselves. And Gordon has done all of this while splitting carries as the No. 2 or No. 3 running back on Wisconsin’s depth chart. Not anymore. White graduated after last season. Thus, for the first time in his career, Gordon will be the feature back. Although new backup Clement likely will see over 100 snaps in the backfield, Wisconsin may feed the ball to Gordon about 300 times this season. If one applies Gordon’s yards per carry to a potential 300-carry season, Gordon may be well on his way to a 2,000-yard, 18-touchdown season in Madison. Plus, he will have the luxury of running behind an offensive line that returns four starters from the line sprung him for over 1,600 rushing yards last year. With all of the pieces fitting together perfectly for Gordon, not only will he likely be a candidate to be the best running back in the nation, let alone the Big Ten, he will be a serious contender to win the most prestigious award given to the nation’s best college football player, the Heisman Trophy.

Do you agree with our list of the best Big Ten running backs in 2014? Where did we mess up? Who are your top five Big Ten running backs for this fall? Please let us know in the comments below. Next week, I will rank and preview the conference’s best wide receivers. Keep checking in to Maize and Go Blue as we continue to preview the 2014 football season daily.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Quarterbacks (part two)

Friday, June 6th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header_edited-1

Yesterday, we introduced Maize and Go Blue’s series that will rank the best Big Ten football players at each position in 2014. One position will be previewed each week in preparation for Michigan’s season opener in late August. These position previews will be thorough and in-depth, so the preview for each position will be split into two parts. Part One of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks was the first post of the series. It ranked the quarterbacks whom I believe are No. 6 through No. 10 at their position in the Big Ten. If you have not read it yet, I recommend that you do so before continuing below. On that note, let’s find out who are the five best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Here is Part Two:

5. C.J. Brown, Maryland | 6th-Yr Senior – 6’3″, 210 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,242 13 7 58.9 576 12
2011 842 7 6 49.4 574 5
2010 0 0 0 NA 12 0
Career Totals 3,084 20 13 55.4 1,162 17
(Jeff Vest, Icon SMI)

(Jeff Vest, Icon SMI)

After spending his first five seasons in the ACC, C.J. Brown will play his sixth and final season in the Big Ten. Not very often do we have sixth-year seniors in college athletics, but this is what happens when you have the injury misfortune that Brown has had. As a redshirt freshman, Brown suffered a fracture in his right shoulder that forced him to sit out the last 11 games of the season. Then, two years later, he tore his ACL in a non-contact drill in the preseason and missed the entire 2012 season. Because of the nature of his injuries and number of games missed, Brown petitioned that he receive a medical redshirt for a sixth year of eligibility. The NCAA granted his petition, allowing Brown to remain a Terrapin as Maryland relocates from the ACC into the Big Ten.

Brown is a dual-threat quarterback who can be a handful for defenses when healthy. Do not let the fact that his name was not as prevalent in the press as other ACC quarterbacks like Jameis Winston or Tahj Boyd fool you into thinking any differently. In 2013, Brown played 11 games, missing only two contests with a concussion. In those 11 games, Brown completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,242 yards, 13 touchdowns, and seven picks. He accumulated these numbers efficiently. He averaged eight yards per attempt—the highest by a Maryland quarterback since 2007—and maintained one of the lowest interception rates in the ACC (2.48 percent).

Yet, Brown causes more damage with his feet than his arm. Although he threw for only 13 touchdowns, which is relatively low, he compensated by add 12 rushing touchdowns to the scoreboard. His 12 rushing scores were tied for the fourth-most among all ACC players last season, including the running backs. Further, Brown’s rushing touchdowns did not result solely from quarterback sneaks and draws inside the ten-yard line. He actually is quite dangerous in the open field. Four of his rushing touchdowns were longer than 20 yards; the longest was a 49-yarder. Maryland provides Brown plenty of opportunities to break one, too. He earned almost 13 carries per game en route to 576 rushing yards and 4.1 yards per carry. If Brown finds open lanes, it can be a long day for the opposing defense.

There is a red flag, though, but it may relate to Brown’s injuries. There is a concerning disparity in Brown’s numbers in games against non-conference and conference foes last year. In five non-conference contests, he eviscerated the competition. He averaged 248.7 passing yards per game, completed 65 percent of his passes, averaged 10.1 yards per attempt, and threw nine touchdowns to two picks. On the other hand, in six conference contests, Brown averaged only 167 passing yards per game, completed 54.1 percent of this tosses, averaged 6.3 yards per attempt, and threw more picks than scores. Plus, his rushing yards per carry dropped from five to 3.4 against conference foes. The question is whether this decline should be attributed to improved competition accustomed to Brown’s tendencies or the concussion he suffered in the heart of ACC play. It is most likely the latter, but this is something on which to keep an eye. All in all, Brown likely will join Tre Roberson, Devin Gardner, and Braxton Miller as the most dynamic Big Ten quarterbacks. Brown just needs to remain healthy to do it.

4. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State | Sophomore – 6’4″, 220 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,955 20 10 58.9 -68 4
Career Totals 2,955 20 10 58.9 -68 4
(Evan Habeeb, USA Today Sports)

(Evan Habeeb, USA Today Sports)

In terms of pure NFL talent and potential, there is no better quarterback in the Big Ten than Christian Hackenberg. In fact, other than Jameis Winston, there may be no better NFL quarterback prospect in the nation than Hackenberg. He oozes NFL potential. At six-foot-four and 220 pounds, Hackenberg has the size and build that NFL executives desire in their franchise quarterback. He also has a big arm and clean release that allows him to complete deep outs without needing to put extra oomph into his them. He possesses all of the tools needed to have a long professional career. He exhibited them last season, putting together one of the best seasons a true freshman can have. Hackenberg completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 10 picks, and annihilated several school freshman records in the process. NFL personnel are giddy to see how Hackenberg nurtures and grows his professional potential during his sophomore season.

However, the point of this exercise to preview the Big Ten’s best players for 2014, not for the NFL Draft years down the road. Hackenberg certainly has the ability to be the best quarterback in this conference, but he may be headed for a sophomore slump instead. Hackenberg lost his superstar safety blanket in Allen Robinson, who arguably just had the best two-year stretch by any wide receiver in Penn State history. Last season, Robinson led the Big Ten with 97 catches and 1,432 receiving yards, accounting for 46 percent of his team’s production. With Robinson’s departure, it is unclear how Penn State will fill the void. The Nittany Lions’ three returning wideouts combined for only 35 catches and 398 receiving yards in 2013, and none of the four wideouts Penn State landed in its 2014 recruiting class are expected to make an instant impact. There is no sure candidate to move into the featured role on the perimeter. Penn State may be loaded at tight end, which will help alleviate the problem, but Hackenberg’s performance very well may dip next season unless a wide receiver or two elevates their game.

The problems do not end there for Hackenberg. He also must worry about a shaky, inexperienced offensive line. Penn State returns only two starting offensive linemen from last season, but that was before one of them—Miles Dieffenbach—tore his ACL in spring practice. With only one healthy returning starter on the offensive line, albeit his left tackle, Hackenberg may not have the time and protection he needs to make the throws he wants. And this is all happening while he tries to learn a new offensive system after head coach and quarterback guru Bill O’Brien left Penn State in the offseason for the Houston Texans. Hackenberg has all the talent in the world—possibly the most of any quarterback in the Big Ten—but circumstances out of his control may cause him to slump in 2014.

3. Connor Cook, Michigan State | RS Junior – 6’4″, 219 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,755 22 6 58.7 76 1
2012 94 1 1 52.9 -3 0
Career Totals 2,849 23 7 58.4 73 1
(AP)

(AP)

Early last season, Michigan State’s quarterback situation appeared to be in shambles. In the preseason, four candidates vied to be tabbed the starter—Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook, Tyler O’Connor, and then-true freshman Damion Terry. Yet, when the season opener arrived, none had separated themselves from the pack. Maxwell was the named the starter for Week 1, but it was only a formality. Multiple quarterbacks saw live game action the first few games as the competition spilled over into the season. It was not until Week 3 when Cook finally wrestled away the job and became the starter.

There will be no such mess this year. After leading Michigan State to its best season in over two decades, Cook is the clear-cut starter. Initially, there was not much about him that stood out. He was nothing more than a game manager. In his 10 regular-season starts, Cook averaged only 204.5 passing yards per game, and his completion rate exceeded 60 percent only four times. If there was one thing that did stand out, it was his ball security. Only four of his 277 pass attempts during those 10 starts resulted in picks, equating to a stellar interception rate of 1.44 percent. Cook’s dearth of costly errors allowed Michigan State’s emerging rushing attack and elite defense to win games comfortably.

Then, in the postseason, Cook demonstrated that he could be much more than a game manager when his team needed him to be. Facing top-five foes Ohio State and Stanford in the Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl, respectively, the Spartans needed him to be the best quarterback on the field. Cook delivered. He averaged 318 passing yards per game, 8.4 yards per attempt, and threw five touchdowns while completing 60.5 percent of his passes. It was the first time all season that Cook threw for more than 300 yards, and he accomplished the feat in back-to-back games against the toughest teams he had seen all year. It was the sign of a quarterback who can produce on the biggest of stages.

Now, the question is whether Cook can repeat his postseason display week after week this season. It seems possible. Michigan State returns its star running back Jeremy Langford, who rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns, and a solid corps of wide receivers. The biggest concern is the Spartans’ offensive line. Last season, Cook was so calm and poised in the pocket because his jersey remained fresh from grass stains. The Spartans’ offensive line allowed only 1.21 sacks per game—tied for the 14th-best in the nation. However, Michigan State lost three starters there. If the Spartans cannot reload at the position, Cook may be pressured into making the mistakes he did not make in 2013. Nonetheless, Cook is a safe bet to be one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten. However, the offense likely will rely more on pounding the rock with Langford than airing it out with Cook, which is why Cook falls behind the next two quarterbacks on this list.

2. Devin Gardner, Michigan | 5th-Yr Senior – 6’4″, 218 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,960 21 11 60.3 483 11
2012 1,219 11 5 59.5 101 7
2011 176 1 1 47.8 53 1
2010 85 1 0 70.0 21 1
Career Totals 4,440 34 17 59.7 658 20
(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

(Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

To the surprise of many, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke repeatedly claimed throughout the spring that Devin Gardner was in a quarterback competition with Shane Morris. After the Michigan spring “game,” during which Gardner struggled, Hoke stated the battle between Gardner and Morris was close and would continue into the summer and preseason camp. This news left media and fans speculating as to whether Morris could actually pass Gardner on the depth chart before August 30th.

In a word: no. Unless Gardner injures himself in fall camp, he will be the starter in Week 1 and for all of 2014. It is foolish to bench a fifth-year senior quarterback who just had one of the best statistical seasons in school history. Gardner totaled 3,443 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2013—both figures are the second-most by a Michigan quarterback in a single season. His 2,960 passing yards were the second-most ever by a Wolverine, too. They were also the second-most in the Big Ten last season.

Gardner did this efficiently, too. His 8.6 yards per attempt were the highest in the Big Ten—this number actually improved to 8.8 in conference play—and he maintained his place in the Michigan record books as the quarterback with the highest career efficiency rating.

Gardner showed off his legs as well, becoming one of only two Big Ten quarterbacks to rush for double-digit touchdowns (11) last year. And he did all of this without any sort of assistance from the ground game and behind arguably the worst Michigan offensive line ever. Gardner is a playmaker that can go off for 350 total yards and three touchdowns amid total and utter chaos on any given Saturday. Heck, he did it five times in 12 starts last year. This is how one of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks plays, not someone wearing a headset on the sideline or shifting out to wide receiver.

This does not mean Gardner is without faults. It is quite evident that Gardner has trouble with his decision-making and taking care of the football. Last season, with the entire weight of the offense on his shoulders, he understandably tried to force too many plays and locked onto his No. 1 receiver too often. This led to 11 interceptions. Although only three of those were in his final eight starts, there were too many other passes that should have been intercepted that were dropped (see: Northwestern). It does not help that Gardner also has a tendency to hold the ball like a loaf of bread when he scrambles. Consequently, he fumbled the ball 11 times, losing six of them—both of which were the worst in the nation. At this point of his career, it seems unlikely that Gardner will remedy this problem.

There are question marks around Gardner, too. How will an offensive line that allowed the most tackles-for-loss in the nation last season hold up after losing two tackles in Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield to the NFL? Will a running back finally emerge to take some of the load off of Gardner? Who will step up at wide receiver behind Devin Funchess? How quickly will Gardner learn and execute new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s system? They are all valid questions, but Gardner has already proven that he can be one of the most productive quarterbacks even when everything else is breaking down around him, including his own body. So, if these questions are answered in a positive light and Gardner is not forced to take a beating on every single play, well, that is a terrifying thought for the rest of the Big Ten.

1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State | Senior – 6’2″, 215 lbs
Passing Yds Pass TDs INTs Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2013 2,094 24 7 63.5 1,068 12
2012 2,039 15 6 58.3 1,271 13
2011 1,159 13 4 54.1 715 7
Career Totals 5,292 52 17 59.3 3,054 32
(Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports)

(Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports)

Although the placement of the previous nine quarterbacks on this list can be argued to no end, there is no debate at the top. Braxton Miller is the clear choice as the Big Ten’s best quarterback. Miller has terrorized defenses the past two years in Urban Meyer’s spread offense and undoubtedly will do it one last time as a senior in 2014. He does this because he is the most explosive quarterback in the Big Ten. He was the only one the conference to throw for more than 2,000 yards (2,090) and rush for more than 1,000 yards (1,068) in 2013. His 8.2 yards per pass attempt were the second-best in the Big Ten; his 6.3 yards per carry were by far the best among Big Ten quarterbacks.

In addition to yards, Miller has quite the knack for putting points on the scoreboard. His 36 total touchdowns—24 passing, 12 rushing—were a league best, and he did not even play a full season. Miller will never be the quarterback who can stand in the pocket and make all of the throws, even though he has improved his accuracy each season. But it does not matter. His playmaking ability is the reason why he is the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year.

Miller is not superhuman, though. He is fairly durable given his smaller stature, but he is very vulnerable to being on the wrong end of some vicious hits because Ohio State runs him so frequently. Accordingly, Miller has been knocked out of several games throughout his career, although the injuries usually are minor. However, a knee injury he suffered early against San Diego State not only kept him on the sidelines for the remainder of that contest, but also for the following two games. Miller missed enough time that backup Kenny Guiton attempted 109 passes last season. With Guiton gone, the Buckeyes no longer have the luxury of a rock-solid backup in case Miller goes down for a substantial period of time once again. Miller needs to have his healthiest season yet, but he likely will miss snaps at some point. The question is just how many.

Miller also must cope with personnel changes. Miller may not have the same protection he had last season as Ohio State replaces four starters on the offensive line. Generally, the Buckeyes reload at all positions, but their offensive line recruiting has been somewhat spotty in terms of maintaining depth. If the replacements struggle to perform to expectations, Miller may not have the same number of opportunities to make big plays like he did in 2013. Additionally, Miller’s rushing numbers may dip with the departure of bulldozing running back Carlos Hyde to the NFL.

Hyde, who topped 1,000 rushing yards last year, opened up holes for Miller because defenses had to pick their poison when Ohio State ran the read-option. Until one of Ohio State’s young, talented running backs proves he is worthy of such attention, defenses will focus on containing Miller. Nonetheless, even with these changes, it would be a surprise if Miller did not have another season with 3,000 total yards and 30 touchdowns. This is why he is the Big Ten’s best quarterback, the favorite to win his third straight Big Ten Player of the Year Award, and a Heisman Trophy contender.

Do you agree with our list of the best Big Ten quarterbacks in 2014? Where did we go wrong? Please let us know in the comments below. With the Big Ten’s quarterbacks ranked and previewed, we next will take a look at their teammates in the backfield: the running backs. Keep checking in to Maize and Go Blue as we continue to preview the 2014 football season each day until August 30th arrives.

Blow for blow: Ohio State 42 – Michigan 41

Monday, December 2nd, 2013


Braxton Miller completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Heuerman to put Ohio State ahead 35-21 with a minute remaining in the third quarter. Michigan was as good as dead. The Wolverines, 15-point underdogs, hung around valiantly through the first half, but we’ve seen this story before. The game was starting to slip away and everyone in the stadium and watching at home could feel it. Except the players in the maize and blue.

“I think the lasting impression you should take from Brady Hoke’s team is these guys are going to fight no matter what,” said Taylor Lewan after the game. “We’re bred to fight. We’ll fight, claw, scratch, get knocked down, but we’ll keep moving forward no matter what.”

Final Stats
Michigan Ohio State
Score 41 42
Record 7-5 (3-5) 12-0 (8-0)
Total Yards 603 526
Net Rushing Yards 152 393
Net Passing Yards 451 133
First Downs 31 23
Turnovers 1 2
Penalties-Yards 4-35 3-25
Punts-Yards 3-132 3-134
Time of Possession 33:21 26:39
Third Down Conversions 8-of-14 3-of-8
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-2 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 2-12 3-24
Field Goals 0-for-0 0-for-0
PATs 5-for-5 6-for-6
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-7 2-of-2
Full Box Score

And fight they did. Ten minutes later, the game was tied and Michigan kicked the ball back to the Buckeyes. Suddenly, the team that was given no chance had taken its punches – figuratively and literally – and gotten right back up.

Ohio State marched right down the field to re-take the lead with 2:41 remaining. But a Michigan offense that had been on life support the previous four weeks still had some fight left.

Gardner to Funchess, 14 yards. Gardner to Dileo, 13 yards. Gardner to Dileo, 11 yards. Gardner to Reynolds, 13 yards. Gardner to Hayes, seven yards. Gardner to Toussaint, 29 yards. Gardner to Funchess, two yards, touchdown.

Michigan was an extra point away from taking the untouchable Buckeyes to overtime. But on this day, in this situation, Hoke had other plans.

“Ohio State’s head coach called timeout,” Lewan said. “We went over and he (Hoke) asked us seniors, ‘Do you want to go for it?’ and I don’t think there was one guy that said no. Every single person said yes.”

Kicking the extra point would have been the conservative route and on any other day the smart choice. Instead, Hoke sent the offense back out for one final play to decide the game.

Gardner dropped back as three receivers stacked to the right started their routes. Funchess, the front man, raced toward the post. The middle man, Gallon, ran to a corner route. The back man, Dileo, ran a curl, sitting down a yard inside the goal line. Gardner, with a man in his face, fired it towards him. A completion sends shockwaves throughout the college football landscape, derailing Ohio State’s national title hopes and 23-game winning streak, and salvaging Michigan’s season.

Instead, Dileo never had a chance to catch it as a Buckeye corner stepped in front and picked it off, ensuring Ohio State a 24th straight win overall and a 10th win in the last 12 meeting with Michigan.

“We play the game to win,” Hoke said afterward. “I thought about it and we did it…we wanted to go win the football game.”

Michigan didn’t win the game and finishes the regular season with a disappointing 7-5 record. But on a day in which 17 seniors were honored – none of which came to Michigan to play for the current coaching staff – the Wolverines rose to the occasion and put a scare into its most bitter rival. Michigan matched the vaunted Buckeyes blow for blow, got knocked down, fought its way back, and fell one play short.

When Michigan is back to the Michigan of old, winning Big Ten championships and vying for national titles, whether it be next year or sometime in the near future, we can look back at this game as the catalyst. And we have guys like Lewan and Gallon and Dileo – the seniors of Team 134 – for saying yes, and Hoke, the coach who entrusted the game’s most important decision to his leaders, to thank.

M&GB staff predictions: Ohio State

Friday, November 29th, 2013


Michigan has lost three of four. Ohio State has won 23 straight. Most around the country don’t give Michigan a chance. The huge Vegas spread is evidence of that. One would think that a Michigan blog would be the most optimistic, so do any of us give the Wolverines a shot? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Justin: Now that The Game is finally here, Al Borges can finally open up his playbook that he has kept under wraps the past few weeks. No more letting defenders run through the line forcing Devin Gardner to think quickly. No more confounding runs ending up in loss of yards. No more three-and-outs. Michigan will move the ball with ease, torching an overmatched Buckeye defense and putting up 40 points in a big win.

Ok, so that would be fantasy land, right? In all reality, it will be more of the same as what we saw the last few weeks. Michigan will score some points, but the offense won’t simply move in spurts. The defense will do a good job of slowing down the Buckeyes, but it simply won’t be enough. Ohio State is the much better team and, while Michigan will put up a fight, the disparity will show.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Ohio State
Justin 24 38
Chris 17 31
Josh 13 31
Sam 3 31
Derick 14 47
Katie 21 35
Drew 13 34
M&GB Average 15 35

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 24

Chris: Ohio State 31 – Michigan 17

Josh: Let me set the table before we dig into this week’s prediction. I hate Ohio State, I always have and I always will, that’s a given. I never root for Ohio State, even if it’s in Michigan’s best interest, on those occasions I just hope they don’t lose so it benefits us but I never root for them, ever.

I lived in Ohio for almost two years and it made me hate them even more. I’ve been to Columbus for Michigan games on several occasions and those fans make me hate them more still. I hate that they have lying cheating coaches who skirt the rules and yet are still heralded by the school as if they did nothing wrong.

However, this year my hatred has seemed to fade a bit. Maybe it’s because I’m a grown man in my mid-30′s and I shouldn’t be harboring hatred towards a school and kids I don’t even know. But more likely it’s because a snowball has a better chance in hell (not the one in Michigan) than Michigan does this weekend. In the end I think I am just trying to temper my expectations and hatred so I don’t get too upset if we play horribly and lose by a ridiculous amount.

And now on to what I’d like to see from Michigan this week. Whether we see it is another story.

On Offense:

Michigan is pretty bad at protecting Devin Gardner and giving up sacks. Ohio is pretty good at sacking the QB. I’d just like to see Michigan keep Devin Gardner from getting hurt. We still have a bowl game to play and getting this offense more practices with their starting QB over the next month will only add to their growth heading into the offseason. If Gardner is injured and can’t practice much or at all I think that might slow down any progress this offense might make. I could be wrong but at the very least you don’t want a kid like Devin Gardner to get hurt.

Keep Fitz Toussaint on the bench. I know this sounds harsh especially since he’s a senior but with the line the way it is we cannot afford to have him dancing around and being tentative behind the line when he should just hit a hole and power through it. Derrick Green has shown some flashes of what he can be in the future and right now he needs as many touches as possible. He hits the hole and isn’t someone who can be arm tackled. Even when he doesn’t get much, as long as he gets back to the LOS, he falls forward and gets more yardage. The same cannot be said for Fitz.

Yes, he is a senior and yes not all of his issues are his fault but Michigan football is about putting the best eleven guys on the field and letting them play. He has yet to show me he is one of those eleven.

Find someone not named Jeremy Gallon or Devin Funchess when the going gets rough. Early on Jeremy Gallon was Gardner’s security blanket and for good reason but it became too predictable. As soon as he was in trouble he looked for #21. Once Funchess emerged he became a second outlet, then the top option for a while. But last week Gardner again went back to Gallon when he was pressured and flustered. Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell know this and will key on it. If Michigan is to stand a chance they need to get Jehu Chesson and others involved in the offense.

Take advantage of any positive situations. Michigan has been awful on third down and has failed to punch it in the end zone on numerous occasions when they’ve had short fields. Field goals won’t beat OSU, plain and simple. Michigan needs to take advantage of short fields, turnovers, even just solid field position and make it count.

Throw out the record and past failures of the season and play like this is our bowl game. No, it’s not really but it might as well be since we’ll end up with some mid major team in the bowl most likely. Ohio has locked up their Big Ten title game slot but a Michigan win would give them zero chance at the BCS title (if FSU and/or Bama lose) and that alone would be awesome.

This is not to say they won’t give their hearts and play with full effort, because I feel they already have been, but they need to bring out some nastiness and play like Michigan. I’ll spare you the Brady Hoke intro press conference reference but you know what I mean. If there ever was a game this year for them to play like Michigan, this is it.

On defense

Contain Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. Far easier said than done but if anyone can do it it’s Greg Mattison. By contain I don’t mean shut down, I mean slow down and limit their big plays. Big plays, as we all know, have hurt Michigan this year. The Buckeyes have an explosive offense and stopping all big plays is a tall task, but if Michigan can limit them they increase their chances of hanging with them.

Disrupt their rhythm. When high octane offenses, or any offenses for that matter, get in a rhythm they can be very tough to stop. Getting a few early stops and/or turnovers could slow down the OSU attack and give Michigan a chance to put some points on the board.

Play with reckless abandon. Michigan is already assured a bowl game and a winning season even if they lose their last two games. So why not throw out all the stops and play every down like it’s their last. The defense playing well may be Michigan’s only chance to win this game. Being aggressive and going for the pick instead of the deflection is risky but now is the time to be risky and go for gold. The defense is solid but they need to bring their A-game on every single play and go all out if they want to give the offense a chance.

On Special Teams

If there ever was a game where field position mattered it would be this one. This OSU team is going to score, they’re just too good not to, but at least make them work hard for it by driving the length of the field.

This may tie in more to the offense’s general ineptness than the special teams’ ability but giving OSU good field position all afternoon will spell doom and frustration for Wolverine nation.

From the Fans

I added this section because I think it’s important. I’ve been as hard on this team as anyone this year, and it’s because I expect a lot of Michigan. All through my grade school and high school years Michigan was a dominant team against OSU. They upset good OSU teams and then went on to win the national championship my senior year of high school. Those years led me to expect top defenses, punishing running games and Rose Bowl or bust. I’ve been critical of Al Borges, we all have, and even Devin Gardner and others but at the end of the day I still love Michigan football.

These kids ARE playing their hearts out, they ARE giving 100% effort and for anyone to question that is just disgusting. Expecting more from Michigan is one thing, but calling out players on Twitter or other media and questioning their heart and acting like jerks (or a more colorful word) isn’t cool. And it isn’t the Michigan way.

Win or lose I want Michigan fans to take the high road and not act like fools. Be disappointed if we lose, I will be, but don’t say hateful things to the players. These are 18-22 year old kids, they don’t need constant criticism from people outside the program, they need our support. And win or lose, that is what we should give them.

Prediction

As much as it pains me to say this I don’t think Michigan stands a chance. Yes, miracles do happen and I’ve seen bad Michigan teams beat good OSU teams before but I’m just not feeling that way this year. Unless the offensive line becomes great all of a sudden I’m not so sure we sniff the end zone much. Inability to convert on third downs, or even long downs could spell very short fields and numerous scoring opportunities for the Buckeyes. Above all else, OSU needs a statement win to impress the voters and Urbs will be looking to keep pouring it on a hated rival.

Ohio State 31 – Michigan 13

Sam: Do yourself a favor and try to stay away from the TV on Saturday if at all possible. The Game will not be much of a game this season in the blistering cold in Ann Arbor as Ohio State hammers one final nail into Al Borges’s coffin with a big win.

Ohio State 31 – Michigan 3

Derick: After completely forgetting about the second half of the game against Iowa,  Michigan has lost all confidence in it’s ability to move the ball. Though they put up 21 points in the first half, the team had less than 150 yards as a whole.

Unfortunately, an underrated and underrecognized defense is suffering from the offense’s  inability to get first downs, and it spends far too much time on the field.

Ohio State is the best team on Michigan’s schedule, and Michigan hasn’t handled the other 11 games well.

Discounting the first two Rich Rod years, this game would be the most surprising in my years as a Michigan fan if we pulled off an upset.

Ohio State 47 – Michigan 14

Katie: Maybe because this isn’t in The Shoe the Buckeyes won’t be lucky this weekend. Michigan could pull off the upset, but without a bit of good fortune and the full support of the crowd I don’t see it being a favorable outcome for the Wolverines. No, The Buckeyes have too potent an offense, and too resilient a defense. Miller is a great QB and a mobile threat as well. Their backup, Kenny Guiton, isn’t too bad either. That in combination with a powerful running game could mean some rather large issues for Michigan. If they have a weakness Michigan can exploit though, it will be in the passing game. The Maize and Blue will have to play their best defensive game of the year not only to keep OSU in check points wise, but to make sure that their fumbling offense won’t have too much of an uphill battle to overcome.

In this game I’m always for retaining that glimmering hope even when the outlook seems bleak. And if we get beat and beat badly, I hope that it will at least mean a change in coaching staff.

Ohio State 35 – Michigan 21

Drew: This week’s “Inside the Numbers” column detailed Michigan’s odds to upset third-ranked Ohio State in “The Game” tomorrow. To summarize those odds in one word: bleak. OSU has won a school-record 23 straight games. Michigan has lost four of its last six. Accordingly, OSU is a 15-point road favorite against U-M. Since 2000, the Wolverines are only 2-10 against the spread versus the Buckeyes. And, in the past three seasons, Big Ten teams that have been more than a two-touchdown underdog have won only five percent of their games.

In rivalry games, though, there is a general attitude that all rational thought and reason should be thrown out the window and that one should expect the unexpected. Michigan fans have experienced this many times before, witnessing the Wolverines record monumental upsets against their bitter rival from Columbus in 1969, 1993, 1995, and 1996 among others. So if Michigan was to surprise the world by handing Ohio State its first loss and salvage its season, it would not be a first.

But do not hold your breath, Michigan fans. It hurts to say it, but it will not happen tomorrow. The Wolverines will fight, claw, and do everything in their power to win tomorrow, but it will not be enough. The Wolverines will keep it close in the first half as Greg Mattison unleashes defensive schemes that confound Braxton Miller. However, an offense as explosive and dynamic as Ohio State’s will not remain dormant all game. The Buckeyes will blow it open in the third quarter, and Michigan’s offense—the one that has scored only 42 in its past four regulations—will not be able to keep pace. A long month of hardship finally will cease for the Wolverines. Unfortunately, it will be on a sour note.

Ohio State 34 – Michigan 13

______________________________________________________________________________

Links:

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Ohio State game preview; Monday’s First Look: Ohio State, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Katie took a look back at Michigan’s big upset of Ohio State 20 years ago; Drew (@DrewCHallett) says screw the numbers, beat Ohio; and a Thanksgiving salute to the seniors that will be playing their final game in Michigan Stadium tomorrow.

Yours truly participated in Yahoo Sports The Post Game’s The Loyalty Report. I provided the Michigan side of why Michigan will win tomorrow, while Johnny Ginter of Eleven Warriors did the Ohio State view.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue Nation, and The M Block.

From the other side, game preview from Eleven Warriors, as well as a roundtable.

Finally, tomorrow is the last day to donate to the indiegogo campaign for Vincent Smith, Martaveous Odoms, and Brandin Hawthorne’s Pahokee garden project. Help out a group of Michigan Men who are working to make their hometown a better place.

Michigan-Ohio State game preview

Friday, November 29th, 2013


Twelve times in the history of college football’s greatest rivalry have the Ohio State Buckeyes entered the annual season-ending showdown unbeaten. In nine of those they came away with defeat. Tomorrow will be lucky number 13 for the scarlet and gray, and with a school record 23-game winning streak Urban Meyer’s squad has its sights set on a national championship.

On paper it’s easy to see why the Bucks have had such success. They rank third nationally in points scored, eighth in points against, sixth in rushing yards, seventh in total offense, seventh in third down conversions, fourth in red zone percentage, sixth in rush defense, 12th in total defense, and second in sacks. Statistically, they’re about as complete a team as there is in the country. But there’s a reason they find themselves ranked third in the BCS standings entering the final week of the regular season: their strength of schedule.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 12pm EST – ABC
Ohio State Head Coach: Urban Meyer (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 127-23 (23-0 at OSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Tom Herman (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Luke Fickell (9th season)
Last Season: 12-0 (8-0, 1st Leaders)
Last Meeting: OSU 26 – Michigan 21 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 58-45-6
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 31-20-4
Record at Michigan Stadium: Michigan leads 23-18-3
Current Michigan Streak: Lost 1
Last Michigan Win: 2011

Michigan isn’t likely to help in that regard given that the Wolverines come in just 7-4, 3-4 in Big Ten play, having dropped three of their last for and four of their last six. Yet according to the Sagarin Ratings, Michigan (46th) is the third best team Ohio State has faced this season, behind only Wisconsin (4th) and Iowa (35th). Three Buckeye opponents are just downright terrible. California (117th) ranks near the bottom of the FBS; Purdue (157th) is behind several FCS schools; and Florida A&M (224th) is near the bottom of the FCS.

While Ohio State boasts an average winning margin of just over 30 points, the Bucks aren’t quite so invincible as it appears. Against teams ranked in the top 70 that winning margin is cut in third, to just over 20 points. Against teams ranked in the top 50, it drops to just 8.5, and both of those opponents were either tied or within one score in the fourth quarter.

Michigan falls within the top 50 and despite four losses has had a chance to win all but the Michigan State game down the stretch. The 15-point Vegas line may be too high.

Much has been made this week about the comparisons to 1969 when a 6-2 Michigan team upset a heavily favored unbeaten Ohio State squad. Comparatively, that Michigan team was better than this one, but the fact that the Wolverines pulled it off and did so again in 1993, ’95, and ’96 shows that anything can happen. Brady Hoke knows that which is why he played up the ’69 game this week, to instill confidence in a team that has lacked it the last few weeks.

Can Michigan pull off what would be an even greater upset than it was in ’69? Will Ohio State dominate as most are predicting? Or will the result lie somewhere in between – a great game that goes down to the final minutes? Honestly, all three are possible, but let’s take a look at how the teams compare.

Michigan defense vs Ohio State offense: When Ohio State has the ball

The offense is what makes the Buckeyes go, averaging nearly 50 points per game. It all starts with quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde. Miller’s improvement since Michigan’s win in 2011 has allowed the entire offense to keep expanding. He’s completing 67.7 percent of his passes, taking care of the football (only four interceptions), and averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

Hyde missed the first three games of the season due to suspension but last week became the first 1,000-yard rusher of Urban Meyer’s career. He has 1,064 yards in eight games, averaging a whopping 7.7 yards per carry. He has eclipsed 100 yards in each of the last six games.

Philly Brown and Devin Smith are talented receiving targets for Miller. Brown leads the Buckeyes with 49 receptions for 596 yards and nine touchdowns, while Smith has 40 for 591 and seven. Tight end Jeff Heuerman is the third leading receiver with 22 catches for 314 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Freshman Dontre Wilson is the jack of all trades that Meyer loves. He has 28 carries for 226 yards and a touchdown as well as 21 receptions for 215 yards and two scores. He also averages 25.8 yards per kick return. Meyer likes to get the ball in his hands in space to use his athleticism.

The offensive line is a veteran group that has done a great job of paving the way for the running game and has also protected Miller, allowing just 13 sacks. It is led by senior left tackle and captain Jack Mewhort who has started 36 straight games.

The Buckeye offense is versatile enough to run spread or power and also utilizes a lot of tempo. Michigan’s defense has struggled against tempo this season – most notably against Indiana – and hasn’t seen an offense this talented. You can bet Greg Mattison will be prepared to at least slow the Buckeyes down. But if the Michigan offense isn’t able to string together drives and give the defense some rest it could be in for a long day.

Michigan offense vs Ohio State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Ohio State’s defense ranks highly statistically in all areas except pass defense, but has been prone to giving up yards and points. Buffalo scored 20, Cal scored 34 – the most they scored all season against FBS opponents -, Northwestern scored 30, and Illinois scored 35.

The defense is led by linebacker Ryan Shazier who leads the team with 108 tackles, 47 more than the next best. He has 19.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

The line doesn’t have a single senior but is a very talented group that has a chance to help break the school’s single season sack record. The Bucks have 36 sacks so far and the school record is 47. End Noah Spence is the leader with 7.5 sacks, while the other end, Joey Bosa, has 5.5. The tackles, Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett, have 7.5 combined.

The secondary has been the one unit that has been picked on this season. Cornerback Bradley Roby is the one that gets all the attention. He could have gone pro last season but came back and has had an up and down season. The safeties, Christian Bryant and CJ Barnett, are also veterans, but Bryant was lost for the season with a broken ankle against Wisconsin. That has certainly caused some of the problems in the secondary.

Michigan can move the ball on the Buckeyes if and only if Al Borges utilizes a quick passing game with short and intermediate routes from the start. Long drops will put Devin Gardner in the same position he has found himself in the past few weeks: in the face of pressure, resulting in either sacks or poor decisions.

The other third: Special Teams

Kicker Drew Basil has three years of experience as the starting kicker. He has made 8-of-9 field goals this season with a long of 45. Punter Cameron Johnson averages 43.5 yards per punt with 21 of 34 ending up inside the 20.

Prediction

There’s no doubt about it, Michigan needs to play a perfect game in order to win. Even then, it will need some Ohio State mistakes and a bit of luck as well. Gardner has to be smart with the ball, not throw it away as he has been prone to, and not lose unnecessary yards when faced with pressure. The offensive line has to call the right protections and give Gardner time. Derrick Green has to hit the holes hard and run with a purpose. Jeremy Gallon, Devin Funchess, and Drew Dileo have to catch everything thrown their way. The defense has to prevent the big play but also take the pounding from Hyde without breaking.

The chance of all of these things happening is extremely low. I do expect Michigan to play inspired football, hoping to recapture the magic of 1969, but that will only carry them so far. It will come down to execution and playcalling. Will Borges feature a short passing game early on to keep the linebackers back? If not, Gardner will be running for his life like he has the past few weeks. Can Mattison have his defense ready at the time of snap when OSU goes into its tempo offense, but at the same time defend both the edge and the thumping it will receive from Hyde?

How the first quarter goes will determine the outcome of this one. If Michigan can have some offensive success and get a stop or two early on the Wolverines will gain confidence that they can compete. If they turn the ball over, get a couple of three-and-outs, and fall behind early, the floodgates will open. I think Michigan hangs around just enough into the second half to give some hope but is simply overmatched when all is said and done.

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 24