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Posts Tagged ‘Connor Cook’

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 12

Thursday, November 26th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

Well, the biggest week of the Big Ten season so far has come and gone, leaving two clear contenders with a direct path to Indianapolis. Barring a massive upset, Iowa and Michigan State will play for the Big Ten crown.

But as a whole, the Big Ten has emerged as the top conference in college football. LSU and much of the SEC has been exposed as overhyped and the Big Ten put four teams in the College Football Playoff top 10.

Now the microscope shifts from the top of the league to the middle, where four teams need a victory to get to six wins. Will the Big Ten send only seven teams to the postseason? Or could it be as many as 11? All 14 teams will hit the turf Saturday (or Friday) for six meaningful games (and one Maryland-Rutgers pillow fight).

East Division
1. Michigan State (10-1, 6-1) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat #3 Ohio State 17-14 This Week: Sat Penn State (7-4, 4-3), 3:30pm, ESPN

Mark Dantonio did it again. Nobody gave Michigan State a chance to win in Columbus, especially when star quarterback and future first-round draft pick Connor Cook was ruled out. If the Spartans knock off Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 5, they should be a top two seed in the playoff.

2. Michigan (9-2, 6-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Penn State 28-16 This Week: Sat vs #8 Ohio State (10-1, 6-1), 12pm, ABC

Saturday was a perfect representation of how far Michigan has come under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines dominated Penn State in Happy Valley, electing to take a knee inside the five instead of winning the game by 19 points. The victory gave Michigan a perfect 4-0 road record in conference play and a fourth straight win since the crushing defeat against MSU. If Michigan played Utah or Michigan State today, it would probably win both games. Instead, the Wolverines have a chance to clinch a New Year’s Six bowl game if they can take care of Ohio State at the Big House.

3. Ohio State (10-1, 6-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to #9 Michigan State 14-17 This Week: Sat at #10 Michigan (9-2, 6-1), 12pm, ABC

You don’t really find out about the character of a team until it faces some adversity, and the Buckeyes didn’t handle it well. After their first loss in over a calendar year, Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott unceremoniously declared for the NFL Draft and Elliott blamed the entire loss on play calling. Then, Urban Meyer seized control of his team by…basically cowering at Elliott’s feet during his weekly press conference. Elliott does not deserve to miss game time for his comments, but the way he attacked his coaching staff created a crack in the seemingly impenetrable wall Meyer built in Columbus. Now that the Buckeyes have a loss, the rest of their resume is fair game for criticism. Ohio State’s best win came at home against a mediocre Penn State team and then it lost its only competitive game to a team with two backup quarterbacks. I think Michigan is going to see an angry, ultra-motivated Buckeye team in Ann Arbor this weekend.

4. Indiana (5-6, 1-6) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Maryland 47-28 This Week: Sat at Purdue (2-9, 1-6), 12pm, BTN

Indiana has been the anti-Ohio State this season: Losing close games against very tough competition. The Hoosiers have played five of the top six teams in the conference and nearly knocked off four of those teams. But now it’s time to give Indiana some love. Despite falling behind Maryland 21-3 in the first quarter, Kevin Wilson’s team didn’t fall apart, instead scoring the next 27 points and running away with a 47-28 win. That first conference victory gives the Hoosiers a great chance to clinch a bowl Saturday in West Lafayette.

5. Penn State (7-4, 4-3) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #12 Michigan 16-28 This Week: Sat at #5 Michigan State (10-1, 6-1), 3:30pm, ESPN

Is Penn State any good? I’m really not sure. James Franklin heads into the final game of the season without a single win over a winning power five team. PSU’s best win came against Indiana and it hasn’t won a road game on the year. Christian Hackenberg missed some open receivers by a wide margin Saturday against Michigan and looks beaten down by a terrible offensive line’s ineptitude.

6. Rutgers (4-7, 1-6) – Even
Last Week: Beat Army 31-21 This Week: Sat vs Maryland (2-9, 0-7), 12pm, BTN

Rutgers won at Army by 10 points to snap a four-game losing streak on Saturday. Luckily, the Scarlett Knights get to close out the season against Maryland this weekend.

7. Maryland (2-9, 0-7) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Indiana 28-47 This Week: Sat at Rutgers (4-7, 1-6), 12pm, BTN

It seems like some strong head coaching candidates are strongly considering that Maryland job, which is the first good news the football program has heard all season. Luckily, the Terrapins get to close out the season against Rutgers this weekend.

B1G East Week 12

 

West Division
1. Iowa (11-0, 7-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 40-20 This Week: Fri at Nebraska (5-6, 3-4), 3:30pm, ABC

With a foot of snow piled on every row of bleachers, Iowa looked like it would give fans an excuse to watch the second half from the warmth of their living rooms Saturday. But a 20-point lead was trimmed to just seven early in the second half after a 13-0 Purdue run. The Hawkeyes woke up just in time to win 40-20 and jump into the top four of the playoff rankings. Iowa already clinched the Big Ten West Division, but it’ll need a win in Nebraska on Friday night to stay alive for the playoff.

2. Northwestern (9-2, 5-2) – Even
Last Week: Beat #25 Wisconsin 13-7 This Week: Sat vs Illinois (5-6, 2-5), 3:30pm, ESPNU

Another week, another reason Northwestern should be ranked much higher than it actually is. The Wildcats went into Madison and held Wisconsin to seven points to add another quality win to a loaded resume. It’s a shame that losses to a pair of top 10 teams took a very deserving Northwestern team out of the New Year’s Six conversation.

3. Nebraska (5-6, 3-4) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 31-14 This Week: Fri vs #4 Iowa (11-0, 7-0), 3:30pm, ABC

It’s been a season full of shock for Nebraska fans: Shocking losses, shocking wins and, most prominently, shocking endings. Mike Riley is two-thirds of the way through the 3-0 finish he needed to make a bowl game. It’s fitting that the Cornhuskers will need a shocking win over undefeated Iowa to polish it off.

4. Wisconsin (8-3, 5-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #20 Northwestern 7-13 This Week: Sat at Minnesota (5-6, 2-5), 3:30pm, BTN

Wisconsin played three games against teams without losing record this season and lost all three, scoring an average of 10 points. All eight of Wisconsin’s wins came against teams with five or fewer wins. That makes an SEC non-conference schedule look almost respectable.

5. Minnesota (5-6, 2-5) – Even
Last Week: Beta Illinois 32-23 This Week: Sat vs Wisconsin (8-3, 5-2), 3:30pm, BTN

Coming off three straight losses to current top-10 teams, Minnesota got its first win under Tracy Claeys Saturday against Illinois. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Golden Gophers knock off Wisconsin at home to sneak into the bowl season. Minnesota is one of those pesky teams you don’t want to play in the postseason.

6. Purdue (2-9, 1-6) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to #5 Iowa 20-40 This Week: Sat vs Indiana (5-6, 1-6), 12pm, BTN

This is going to sound strange, but Purdue might be the best 2-9 team in the country. The Boilermakers have come within a possession of knocking off three teams with at least nine wins and gave Iowa a bit of a scare in the 3rd quarter Saturday. A rivalry win against bowl-hopeful Indiana would end the season on a positive note.

7. Illinois (5-6, 2-5) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Minnesota 23-32 This Week: Sat vs #16 Northwestern (9-2, 5-2), 3:30pm, ESPNU

Illinois had a perfect opportunity to clinch a bowl win Saturday in Minnesota, but laid an egg in a 32-23 loss. Now it’ll take an upset over an excellent Northwestern team on Senior Night to extend the season for Bill Cubit’s group.

B1G West Week 12

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 11

Thursday, November 19th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

The Big Ten featured six games this weekend and none of those ended in an upset, though many were too close for comfort.

Now, with only two weeks remaining, the Big Ten will watch a three-horse race in the East Division unfold as the top four teams duke it out. The highly-anticipated Michigan State-Ohio State game is finally here, with more than a chance at the conference title on the line.

Tuesday’s rankings kept six Big Ten teams in the top 25, but some of them are clearly being devalued by a questionable committee.

Here’s how the conference stacks up with two weeks to play.

East Division
1. Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Illinois 28-3 This Week: Sat vs #9 Michigan State (9-1, 5-1), 3:30pm, ABC

This year’s battle for Illibuck was one to forget, as Ohio State rolled the hapless Illini, 28-3, to take home the trophy. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns to pace a Buckeye offense that welcomed starting quarterback J.T. Barrett back to the field. Now OSU faces the two toughest competitors in the East, starting at home against Michigan State.

2. Michigan (8-2, 5-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Indiana 48-41 (2OT) This Week: Sat at Penn State (7-3, 4-2), 12pm, ABC

The road date with Indiana smelled like danger from a mile away, and it took heroic efforts from Jake Rudock and Jehu Chesson to keep Michigan’s slim Big Ten title hopes alive. Rudock threw for 440 yards and six touchdowns. Chess on caught 10 passes for 207 yards and four touchdowns. Unfortunately, the defense allowed 41 points to a Jordan Howard-led offense that bullied the Wolverines at the point of attack. If it takes two overtimes to beat the 4-6 Hoosiers, next weekend’s matchup with Penn State looks that much tougher.

3. Michigan State (9-1, 5-1) – Even
Last Week: Bear Maryland 24-7 This Week: Sat at #3 Ohio State (10-0, 6-0), 3:30pm, ABC

The Spartans got back on track Saturday, smacking Maryland by 17 despite playing most of the second half with Connor Cook on the sideline. Cook injured his throwing shoulder and looked like he was battling significant pain on the sideline. Luckily for MSU, Perry Hills was dreadful for the Terps, who mustered only one score, which came on their first drive. If Michigan State knocks off OSU in the Horseshoe, it’ll erase memories of that ugly loss to Nebraska.

4. Penn State (7-3, 4-2) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs #12 Michigan (8-2, 5-1), 12pm, ABC

Penn State took a late bye week to prepare for incoming Michigan on Saturday. The Nittany Lions are coming off a two-point loss to Northwestern and looking to finish strong against two top 12 teams in Michigan and MSU. Christian Hackenberg is likely playing his final game in Happy Valley, and he has the skill set to go out with a huge bang.

5. Indiana (4-6, 0-6) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #14 Michigan 41-48 (2OT) This Week: Sat at Maryland (2-8, 0-6), 12pm, BTN

Indiana might be the best 0-6 conference team in the country, but it’s obvious why this group is struggling to finish an upset. It took Michigan three plays to score two overtime touchdowns, the second of which came without a single defender in the same area code as Amara Darboh. All the offense in the world, even from Howard, couldn’t make up for those defensive lapses.

6. Rutgers (3-7, 1-6) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Nebraska 14-31 This Week: Sat vs Army (2-8), 12pm, CBSSN

Rutgers stuck with Nebraska for awhile, but a late push from the superior Cornhuskers ultimately crushed the Scarlett Knights’ slim bowl hopes.

7. Maryland (2-8, 0-6) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #13 Michigan State 7-24 This Week: Sat vs Indiana (4-6, 0-6), 12pm, BTN

Not only is Maryland awful, the revolving door at quarterback makes the Terps nearly impossible to watch. The defense kept the game close for most of the first half, but Perry Hills just couldn’t make any throws after an up-tempo touchdown drive to kick things off.

 

B1G East Week 11

West Division
1. Iowa (10-0, 6-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 40-35 This Week: Sat vs Purdue (2-8, 1-5), 12pm, ESPN2

The undefeated Hawkeyes were the latest group to get a score from a pesky Gophers team. Despite exploding for 40 points against a solid defense, Iowa needed 13 fourth-quarter points to hold off the Fighting Tracy Claeys. Saturday’s battle with Purdue will be a nice tuneup for a season finale that’s looking much more interesting now that Nebraska’s turned its season around.

2. Northwestern (8-2, 4-2) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 21-14 This Week: Sat at #25 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1), 3:30pm, BTN

Survive and advance, or something like that! Northwestern looked sluggish Saturday against Purdue and needed a score with under five minutes in the game to grab a third straight victory. It shouldn’t still be in doubt, but the Wildcats can finally prove themselves Saturday if they win at No. 25 Wisconsin.

3. Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs #20 Northwestern (8-2, 4-2), 3:30pm, BTN

The only thing easier than Wisconsin’s schedule this season was their week off to prepare for No. 20 Northwestern this season. The Badgers have knocked off five straight cupcakes since losing the conference opener to Iowa and could pick up their first quality win of the season Saturday.

4. Nebraska (5-6, 3-4) – Even
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 31-14 This Week: Bye (11/27 vs Iowa)

Is Nebraska finally making its run? Mike Riley’s chances to make a bowl game looked so slim after a loss to Purdue dropped his team to 3-6, but wins over MSU and Rutgers have put the Cornhuskers in position to save the season, if they can knock off undefeated rival Iowa.

5. Minnesota (4-6, 1-5) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to #5 Iowa 35-40 This Week: Sat vs Illinois (5-5, 2-4), 12pm, ESPNN

In three weeks since Jerry Kill retired, Minnesota has played tough against Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa. Unfortunately, the Gophers fell short all three times. Illinois presents a much easier task on Saturday.

6. Illinois (5-5, 2-4) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #3 Ohio State 3-28 This Week: Sat at Minnesota (4-6, 1-5), 12pm, ESPNN

Wes Lunt and company just didn’t have it Saturday against Ohio State, managing just three points in the blowout loss. It’ll take a win over Minnesota or Northwestern for the Illini to play in December.

7. Purdue (2-8, 1-5) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #18 Northwestern 14-21 This Week: Sat at #5 Iowa (10-0, 6-0), 12pm, ESPN2

David Blough has been a nice surprise for Purdue this season, putting together another solid performance against Northwestern — 287 yards passing and a touchdown. Next up: An Iowa team fighting for a national championship and a Minnesota team fighting for a bowl game.

B1G West Week 11

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 7

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015


Power Rankings_header

It’s amazing how one play can affect the entire outlook of a conference season.

The ending to the Michigan versus Michigan State game on Saturday night took the inside track to Indianapolis right out of Michigan’s hands and planted the Wolverines firmly behind their two hated rivals in the Big Ten East Division.

In the West, Iowa made a definitive statement in routing Northwestern, 40-10, in Evanston to seize firm control of the division.

It was a crazy, and in many ways heartbreaking, week for a few Big Ten teams. Here’s a look at how the divisions line up heading into what should be a calmer Week 8.

East Division
1. Ohio State (7-0, 3-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Penn St. 38-10 This Week: Sat at Rutgers (3-3, 1-2), 8pm, ABC

It looked like Ohio State was in for a tough test Saturday as the streaking Nittany Lions came to town on a five-game winning streak. But Urban Meyer’s offense finally perked up, dropping 38 points on a Penn State defense that hadn’t allowed 30 all season. J.T. Barrett completed all four of his passes for 30 yards and two touchdowns and added 102 yards and two more scores on 11 rushing attempts. His four-touchdown performance earned Barrett the starting job heading into another easy stretch for Ohio State. The Buckeyes should roll through Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois and make it to mid-November with a chance to earn the No. 1 College Football Playoff seed. With Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed 27 times for 153 yards Saturday, and an apparently recharged Barrett, the Buckeyes should be able to overcome what has been a shaky defense so far this season.

2. Michigan State (7-0, 3-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat #12 Michigan 27-23 This Week: Sat vs Indiana (4-3, 0-3), 3:30pm, ABC

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but on the final play of the game Saturday, the Spartans were lucky and good. Yes, Michigan State was gifted a fumbled snap, but the Spartans returned it down the sideline for the winning touchdown and stayed perfect on the season. Is MSU a team of destiny? The Spartans have trailed or led by just one possession in six of their seven games, despite playing only one quality opponent. But on a day when their best player, Connor Cook, was not impressive – 18 of 39 for 328 yards and a touchdown – Michigan State found a way to win. Aaron Burbridge emerged as one of the best receivers in the country, beating lockdown corner Jourdan Lewis for nine catches and 132 yards on the night. Next up for the Spartans: An easy stretch against Indiana, Nebraska and Maryland.

3. Michigan (5-2, 2-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #7 MSU 23-27 This Week: Bye (10/31 at Minnesota)

Wow, that was… not good. Michigan led Michigan State for 60 minutes Saturday night but a touchdown with three zeroes on the clock took away the Wolverines’ chance to finally beat their in-state rival. Now Michigan’s hopes of winning the East Division are all but dead. Even a three-way tie with Michigan State and Ohio State would leave the Wolverines on the outside looking in, as they would certainly rank below one-loss MSU and OSU in the College Football Playoff rankings (the next Big Ten division tiebreaker). The most painful part of the loss is that Michigan had plenty of chances to put the Spartans away. The offense settled for three field goals and when it finally gave its reliable defense a two-possession lead, the defense gave up a 74-yard pass and coughed up that cushion in just two plays. Blake O’Neill, who dropped the snap that led to the shocking final touchdown, punted seven times, including an 80-yard bomb in the first half. At the end of the day, the only turnover of the game killed Michigan and created a steep uphill battle for the East.

4. Rutgers (3-3, 1-2) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Indiana 55-52 This Week: Sat vs #1 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0), 8pm, ABC

Rutgers isn’t the fourth best team in the East, but Penn State had to drop after its pitiful performance in Columbus. The Scarlett Knights were all but dead Saturday when they fell behind by 25 points to Indiana late in the third quarter. But Rutgers scored four straight touchdowns and a late field goal as the clock expired gave them their first conference victory. Chris Laviano was great under center, completing 28 of 42 passes for 386 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. Lente Carroo continued his assault of Big Ten defenses, catching seven passes for 157 yards and three touchdowns. Robert Martin had his best game of the season, rushing for 124 yards and three scores. Rutgers needed every one of those points as its defense allowed over 600 yards and 52 points in the first three quarters. But it stepped up in the fourth quarter, returning a fumble for a touchdown, making two interceptions and forcing a late three-and-out to set up the game-winner. The Scarlett Knights will go back to being a punching bag Saturday in Columbus.

5. Penn State (5-2, 2-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #1 OSU 10-38 This Week: Sat vs Maryland (2-4, 0-2), 3;30pm, ESPN

Penn State entered the Horseshoe on a five-game winning streak Saturday, but we quickly found out it wasn’t because the Nittany Lions are any good. Penn State got exposed by the Buckeyes after rolling over a stretch of cupcakes – Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army and Indiana – and bouncing back from an opening loss to Temple. Now it looks like Christian Hackenberg simply can’t play with the big boys as he was simply outmatched by a defense that surrendered 28 points to Maryland a week ago. Saquon Barkley was phenomenal, rushing for 194 yards on the night. He’ll lead the bounce-back effort this week against Maryland.

6. Maryland (2-4, 0-2) – Up 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Penn State (5-2, 2-1), 3:30pm, ESPN

Saturday was a bye for Maryland, the best possible option for a team that just fired its coach after three straight losses. Maryland has given up over 40 points three times and lost its last three games by a combined 88 points. The final two games – Indiana and Rutgers – are winnable for the Terrapins, but first they have to get through four straight winning teams.

7. Indiana (4-3, 0-3) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Rutgers 52-55 This Week: Sat a #7 MSU (7-0 3-0), 3:30pm, ABC

That’s right, Indiana slides in below the punch-less, coach-less dumpster fire that is 2015 Maryland football. The reason: Since falling just short of upsetting the No. 1 team in the country two weeks ago, the Hoosiers got sandblasted by Penn State and blew a 25-point lead in the final 18 minutes against Rutgers. Indiana did everything it could to lose the game: Allowing four straight touchdowns, including a 26-yard fumble return that really got the ball rolling for Rutgers. When you turn the ball over three times, hold the ball for fewer than 25 minutes and surrender nearly 600 yards you’ll rarely win in the Big Ten, no matter how many yards you gain.

B1G East Week 7

West Division
1. Iowa (7-0, 3-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat #20 Northwestern 40-10 This Week: Bye (10/31 vs Maryland)

The West Division title talks are definitely heating up in Iowa this month. The Hawkeyes went into Evanston on Saturday and crashed Northwestern by 30 points, and now Iowa is home free barring a huge upset. Victories over Wisconsin and Northwestern on the road have given Iowa a huge leg up on its two toughest contenders in the division. A win over Illinois even looks big for the Hawkeyes as the Fighting Illini have only one conference loss. If Iowa finishes at least 4-1 against Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska, the division is theirs.

2. Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Purdue 24-7 This Week: Sat at Illinois (4-2, 1-1), 3:30pm, BTN

Wisconsin wasn’t overly impressive in its 24-7 win over Purdue, but the Badgers have an easy road to the finish line and will probably finish second to Iowa in the West. That 10-6 home loss to Iowa is looking like the early decider in the West this season.

3. Nebraska (3-4, 1-2) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 48-25 This Week: Sat vs NW (5-2, 1-2), 12pm, ESPN2

Mike Riley picked up his first road win as Nebraska head coach Saturday as the Cornhuskers pounded Minnesota, 48-25. It’s an uphill climb for Nebraska, which dug itself into a 2-4 hole, but the four losses came by a combined 11 points. Nebraska is only four plays (three of them flukey plays) from being a perfect 7-0, so don’t sleep on this team if it figures it out down the stretch.

4. Illinois (4-2, 1-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Wisconsin (5-2, 1-2), 3:30pm, BTN

Illinois didn’t play this weekend, but took an extra week to prepare for a home date with Wisconsin. The Fighting Illini have played well since a 34-point loss to North Carolina and have a great shot to make it to a bowl game if they can win a few road games. Knocking off the Badgers would go a long way in making that bowl dream a reality.

5. Northwestern (4-2, 1-1) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to #17 Iowa 10-40 This Week: Sat at Nebraska (3-4, 1-2), 12pm, ESPN2

When it rains, it pours. Things have turned ugly quick in Evanston after a second straight loss by 30 or more points. The Wildcats didn’t respond well to their first loss of the season, wasting a chance to seize control of the West Division in their blowout loss to Iowa. Pat Fitzgerald’s vaunted defense allowed a combined 78 points to Michigan and Iowa and the schedule won’t get much easier going forward.

6. Minnesota (4-3, 1-2) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Nebraska 25-48 This Week: Bye (10/31 vs Michigan)

Bad Minnesota reared its ugly head again this weekend as the Golden Gophers found themselves on the wrong end of another blowout. Minnesota missed its chance at a crucial fifth win when Nebraska came to town this weekend and now, with Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa next on the schedule, it might be tough to clinch a bowl game.

7. Purdue (1-6, 0-3) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 7-24 This Week: Bye (10/31 vs Nebraska)

Purdue suffered a fifth straight loss Saturday, falling to Wisconsin, 24-7. Darrell Hazell’s seat is starting to get a little toasty as the Boilermakers fall farther and farther into the Big Ten cellar. Four of their losses have come by double digits and the best performance of the year came in a three-point loss to Michigan State. B1G West Week 7

#7 Michigan State 27 – #12 Michigan 23: Last second score stuns Wolverines

Saturday, October 17th, 2015


MSU TD(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

With ESPN College GameDay on campus and a top-12 matchup between hated instate rivals Michigan and Michigan State, college football was fun again in Ann Arbor on Saturday. Until it wasn’t.

After not trailing for 59 minutes and 50 seconds, Michigan needed only to execute a successful punt to take back the Paul Bunyan trophy and down the Spartans for just the second time in eight years. Instead, ecstasy turned to heartbreak when punter Blake O’Neill fumbled the snap, tried to pick it up and kick it, and the ball bounced right into the hands of Jalen Watts-Jackson who raced 38 yards to the end zone. Technically, Michigan State hadn’t held a lead for the entire 60 minutes as the game-winning score came after the clock hit zero, but the result was a stunning one indeed.

UM-MSU-small-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Michigan St.
Score 23 27
Record 5-2 (2-1) 7-0 (3-0)
Total Yards 230 386
Net Rushing Yards 62 58
Net Passing Yards 168 328
First Downs 10 20
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 8-70 5-44
Punts-Yards 7-312 5-186
Time of Possession 29:49 30:11
Third Down Conversions 4-of-15 3-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-4 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 3-29 3-10
Field Goals 3-for-3 0-for-0
PATs 2-for-2 3-for-3
Red Zone Scores-Chances 5-of-5 2-of-2
Full Box Score

Michigan State’s bench raced to the North end zone to pile on Watts-Jackson in celebration, while the once festive Michigan Stadium crowd of 111,740 stood speechless. Jim Harbaugh described it as “very unfortunate circumstances.”

It took a while for either team to get going, and while Michigan State gained 92 yards on 22 plays in the first quarter, it was Michigan that struck first with a 2-yard Sione Houma touchdown run two minutes into the second quarter.

Michigan State got the break it needed two possessions later when quarterback Connor Cook was stopped three yards short of the first down line on 2nd-and-9. Senior Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden was thrown down on top of Cook and flagged for targeting, not only giving Michigan State 15 yards and a first down, but also kicking Bolden out of the game. Harbaugh referred to the penalty and ejection as “hard to fathom.”

Two plays later, Michigan State ended Michigan’s shutout streak with a 11-yard L.J. Scott touchdown run.

Michigan came right back with a 49-yard kickoff return by Jabrill Peppers to set up the offense with great field position. Jake Rudock connected with Jehu Chesson for 23 yards, but the offense stalled and Kenny Allen kicked a 38-yard field goal. Michigan took a 10-7 lead into the half.

Neither team managed anything on their first possessions of the second half, but Michigan again got great starting field position, this time because the Spartans failed to convert a fake punt. On Michigan’s ensuing drive, Jabrill Peppers took a pop-pass 28 yards to the Michigan State 3-yard line and Houma punched it in three plays later to give Michigan a 17-7 lead.

Michigan State answered right back with a 5-play, 75-yard drive that included a 13-yard completion to Aaron Burbridge, a 27 yards pass to R.J. Sheldon, and a 30-yard touchdown pass to Macgarrett Kings.

Back to back Kenny Allen field goals put Michigan ahead by nine, but once again Michigan State refused to go away. On the very first play of the ensuing possession, Cook found fullback Trevor Pendleton wide open for 74 yards to the Michigan one. Scott carried it in on the next play to bring Michigan State within two at 23-21.

Trying to hold on to its lead, Michigan’s offense went three-and-out on two straight possessions, but the defense came up big with a fourth down stop. Michigan took possession with 1:47 remaining, needing only one first down to seal the win. But three straight De’Veon Smith runs gained just eight yards and 10 seconds were all that separated Michigan from a win before the botched punt occurred.

Despite not leading until the very end, Michigan State outgained Michigan 386-230, and for just the fourth time in the last 46 meetings, the team that rushed for more yards didn’t win. Michigan finished with 62 rushing yards to Michigan State’s 58. Rudock completed 15 of 25 passes for 168 yards. Smith led the way on the ground with 46 yards on 19 carries, while Houma added 30 yards and two touchdowns on three carries. Chesson caught four passes for 58 yards and Amara Darboh caught three for 52.

For Michigan State, Cook completed 18 of 39 passes for 328 yards and one touchdown. Gerald Holmes rushed eight times for 33 yards, while Burbridge led all receivers with 132 yards on nine receptions.

At 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan gets a week off before traveling to Minneapolis to face a Gophers team that has lost two of its last three and also has a Week 8 bye. Michigan State remains undefeated with Indiana coming to town next Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Kenny Allen (3-for-3 field goals, 2-2 PATs)
While no one on Michigan’s offense had a great game on Saturday, punter Kenny Allen was his usual consistent self, calmly nailing three field goals. The first came with 5:34 remaining in the first half, from 38 yards out, after Michigan State had tied the game. It gave Michigan a 10-7 halftime lead. The second came from 21 yards out with 2:06 remaining in the third quarter, and he followed it up with another 38-yarder on Michigan’s next possession to give Michigan a 23-14 lead with 9:25 left in the game. A position that has been a question mark the past few years has become consistent this season with Allen earning a scholarship and converting 10 of 12 attempts through seven games. He is perfect inside 40 yards.

Previous:
Week 1 – Jake Butt (8 rec for 93 yards and 1 TD)
Week 2 – De’Veon Smith (23 carries for 126 yards, 3 TDs)
Week 3 – Ty Isaac (8 carries for 114 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — De’Veon Smith (16 carries for 125 yards and 1 TD)
Week 5 — Drake Johnson (13 carries for 68 yards, 1 TD, 1 rec for 31 yards, 1 TD)
Week 6 — Mason Cole, Ben Braden, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson

Game Ball – Defense

Willie Henry (5 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU)
Michigan didn’t get a lot of pressure on Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, but when it did it was usually Willie Henry providing it. The redshirt junior recorded two of Michigan’s three sacks, knocked down a pass, and stopped a running back in the backfield. He also provided pressure off the edge on 3rd-and-19 in the closing minutes, forcing Cook to get rid of the ball sooner than he wanted. Henry now leads the team with nine tackles for loss and six sacks through seven games.

Previous:
Week 1 – Chris Wormley (5 tackles, 3 TFL)
Week 2 – Chris Wormley (6 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack)
Week 3 – Jourdan Lewis (3 tackles, 4 PBU)
Week 4 — Ryan Glasgow (3 tackles, 2 TFL)
Week 5 — Desmond Morgan (9 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
Week 6 — Jourdan Lewis (4 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 touchdown, 1 PBU)

Final Individual Stats
Passing Comp-Att Yds Avg. TD INT Long Sack
Connor Cook 18-39 328 8.4 1 0 74 3
Jake Rudock 15-25 168 6.7 0 0 32 3
Rushing Car. Yards Avg. TD Long
De’Veon Smith 19 46 2.4 0 8
Gerald Holmes 8 33 4.1 0 7
Sione Houma 3 30 10.0 2 27
L.J. Scott 8 16 2.0 2 11
Delton Williams 8 15 1.9 0 4
Aaron Burbridge (WR) 1 9 9.0 0 9
Tyler O’Conner 1 7 7.0 0 7
Ty Isaac 2 5 2.5 0 4
Karan Higdon 2 3 1.5 0 2
R.J. Shelton (WR) 1 3 3.0 0 3
Damion Terry 1 2 2.0 0 2
Joe Kerridge 2 2 1.0 0 1
Jehu Chesson (WR) 1 1 1.0 0 1
Jake Rudock (QB) 3 -10 -3.3 0 0
Blake O’Neill (P) 1 -15 -15 0 -15
Connor Cook (QB) 4 -23 -5.8 0 6
Receiving Rec Yds Avg. TD Long
Aaron Burbridge 9 132 14.7 0 28
Trevon Pendleton (FB) 1 74
74.0 0 74
R.J. Shelton 4 58 14.5 0 27
Jehu Chesson 4 58 14.5 0 23
Macgarrett Kings Jr. 3 57 19.0 1 30
Amara Darboh 3 52 17.3 0 32
Jabrill Peppers 2 35 17.5 0 28
A.J. Williams 2 20 10.0 0 21
Josiah Price 1 7 7.0 0 7
Jake Butt 1 4 4.0 0 4
Karan Higdon (RB) 1 3 3.0 0 3
De’Veon Smith (RB) 1 -1 -1.0 0 -1
Jake Rudock (QB) 1 -3 -3.0 0 -3
Kicking FG Pct Long XP Pts
Kenny Allen 3/3 100.0 38 2/2 11
Michael Geiger 0/0 N/A 0 3/3 3
Punting No Yds Avg TB In 20 Long
Blake O’Neill 7 312 44.6 0 3 80
Tyler O’Conner 4 153 38.2 1 0 36
Jake Hartbarger 1 33 33.0 0 0 33
Kick Returns No Yds Avg Long TD
Jabrill Peppers 3 81 27.0 49 0
R.J. Shelton 2 50 25.0 29 0
Jehu Chesson 1 25 25.0 25 0
Punt Returns No Yds Avg Long TD
Jabrill Peppers 3 48 16.0 34 0
R.J. Shleton 2 4 2.0 3 0

M&GB staff predictions: Michigan State

Friday, October 16th, 2015


StaffPicks_banner2015

Dantonio

After losing six of seven to Michigan State, Michigan made a huge splash when it hired Jim Harbaugh last December. That, coupled with MSU’s loss of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, has flipped the script as the two teams meet at 3:30pm tomorrow. It is Michigan that features the top defense in the nation and the better running game — the two biggest keys to the annual showdown for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Can Michigan turn that into a victory? Here are our picks:

Justin:

If Michigan’s passing game featured Chad Henne, Braylon Edwards, and Jason Avant going up against this Michigan State secondary it would be easy to pick Michigan to win big. But Jake Rudock has yet to show he can throw deep, and it won’t matter if Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh get behind the safeties if Rudock can’t hit them. Yet history tells us that this rivalry is won on the ground. In the last 45 meetings, the team that rushed for more yards has won 42 of them and that’s another advantage Michigan has in this game.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Michigan St.
Justin 31 13
Derick 24 21
Sam 24 7
Josh 28 24
Joe 24 14
M&GB Average 26 16

De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson can take advantage of Michigan State’s aggressive defensive line, allowing Michigan to sustain drives and keeping the Spartans from loading the box. That should give Rudock time to hit the short and intermediate routes that he has done a pretty good job of so far.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan State is essentially a three-man team: Cook, Smith, and Burbridge. Fortunately, Michigan’s defense matches up really well. Jourdan Lewis has become one of the best corners in the nation and will lock down Burbridge. Michigan’s front seven hasn’t allowed anyone to run on it all season, ranking third nationally against the run. That means Shelton and Kings are going to have to come up big against Jabrill Peppers, Jeremy Clark, and Channing Stribling if he’s healthy enough to return from injury. That’s a big if to rely on.

Michigan’s defense will control the line of scrimmage against a banged up MSU offensive line, and although the shutout streak will end, Michigan State won’t be able to put up enough points to keep up. Michigan’s offense will be effective enough to grind out yards, move the chains, and test the shaky secondary. Michigan wins going away and puts Ohio State on notice.

Michigan 31 – Michigan State 13

Derick:

This is the biggest matchup between Michigan and Michigan State since 1999, when both teams were ranked in the top 11. Saturday’s game holds implications for the state, the conference and maybe even the country. The winner will, in some form, enter the College Football Playoff conversation while the loser will probably play for second place in the East.

The biggest matchups will come in the trenches. Michigan’s offensive line has given Jake Rudock more than enough time on pass plays and opened holes for the entire running back unit in the rushing attack. But Shilique Calhoun and Malik McDowell lead a defensive that already has 21 sacks on the season and hope to disrupt that rhythm. Whoever wins that battle will likely come away with a win.

Michigan appears to have the more well-rounded team on the field, as Jim Harbaugh tighened up the special teams and offense after a tough loss to Utah. MSU has also surrendered two kick returns of over 70 yards this season, so Jehu Chesson could play a huge role in the return game, which establishes field position in this type of defensive battle. Field position will be everything.

Rudock also has to take care of the ball and put the defense in good position to succeed. If Connor Cook has a short field, he’ll find a way to put points on the board. This is the first real test for the defense and Rudock has to do his part in keeping the scoreless streak alive.

I find myself giving Michigan a strong edge in special teams and the secondary, but Michigan State has a stronger defensive line and passing game. The Spartans have played in so many big games under Cook, but does Michigan have the experience to win a close game on a stage of this magnitude.

My instincts tell me that Michigan State might find a way to win this game, but nothing we’ve seen in the field through six games supports that idea. I’ll go with Michigan, at home, in front of 111,000 fans.

Michigan 24 – Michigan State 21

Sam:

When this season began, most Michigan fans had already penciled in losses in the Wolverines’ two biggest home games of the year. My, how things change. Michigan State has dominated this series of late, but their control over the series is in serious jeopardy with the way Jim Harbaugh has his team clicking on all cylinders. And with a severely banged up offensive line – perhaps their biggest strength heading into the season – the Spartans have to be shaking in their boots at the prospect of Ryan Glasgow, Willie Henry, Taco Charlton, and company living in their backfield all evening. Connor Cook is a great quarterback – but I don’t think he’s better than this collective Michigan defense. De’Veon Smith should be healthier and ready to roll while Jake Rudock’s safe but efficient throws will rip apart a porous Michigan State secondary; pair that with another dominant defensive performance, and I’ll take Michigan again.

Michigan 24 – Michigan State 7

Josh:

Who would have thought this game would be a battle of top 15 teams and Michigan would not only have a chance to win but actually be favored? Not me, until last week’s performance. Complete domination by the defense, it really speaks to the staff we now have in place and their ability to teach and prepare these kids week in, week out. But this week offers a new test, something this defense has not seen yet; an NFL-caliber quarterback/receiver combo in Cook and Burbridge. As Harbaugh noted, Cook is 29-3 as a starter (let that sink in for a moment) so he will not be rattled by mere pressure and he won’t waver in the pocket like Tanner Mangum, Caleb Rowe, and Clayton Thorson did. He is a veteran quarterback on a veteran team and while they may not have lived up to the hype as of late they will be prepared and bring their A++ game to Ann Arbor (don’t look at this game and think ‘escapes against Purdue and Rutgers’, think along the lines of ‘Michigan vs OSU in 2013’). Make no mistake about it (injury riddled or not) this is the best team Michigan has faced thus far, and it’s not close.

On defense: I have full confidence that our defensive line will completely shut down the run on just about everyone in the Big Ten outside of maybe Ezekiel Elliot, so I expect this weekend to be no different than the past few; little to no big plays and a general stifling of the run game. However, what does worry me is Connor Cook and I think his play is the key to the game. Just hurrying him won’t get the job done, he needs to be hit and sacked, period. If Michigan can’t put him on his butt multiple times he has the ability to move the ball and put some points on the board.

Yes, Sparty’s offensive line is riddled with injury (and that is going to be their excuse if we beat them; but give them the RR/Hoke awful coaching excuse and its not valid but anyway) but this is still a team that has a mountain-sized chip on its shoulder, despite their past success against Big Brother. Dantonio will NEVER live down that Mike Hart quote, so disrespectful.

Cook and Burbridge will test this secondary, and they will put points on the board, but how many will be determined by how much pressure the defensive line gets. If they can get to Cook and hit him, not just hurry, then it makes the secondary’s job all the easier, but if they cannot then it will truly test how good these guys are. Opposite Lewis I’m not so sure Stribling/Clark can give enough to consistently get the job done. Speaking of Jourdan Lewis, while playing great so far, has not seen a receiver half as good as Aaron Burbridge and he will be tested. If he can keep Burbridge in check and not allow anything over his head or much YAC then we’ll be in good shape. This week will show us if this Michigan defense truly is elite. I’m close to buying in but not quite yet, if they win then I’m on board but until they beat a team with a better than average quarterback I just can’t say they’re elite.. elite is the 1997 defense and that will always be my measuring stick.

Takeaway: hit Cook frequently and we win, let Cook stand in ‘clean’ pockets and throw wherever he wants, we probably don’t win.

On offense: This is where I still have some concern, if you can call it that, about this team. Sparty will not let us run the ball down their throats (just based on their base defense they essentially ‘stack’ 9 in the box on all downs) so that makes Jake Rudock all the more important to this game than he has been all season. Can Rudock beat this defense with his arm? I am not so sure he can. Yes, he can hit the short/medium routes but you’re likely not going to dink and dunk this defense all afternoon and score enough points to win. Without the threat of the deep ball Michigan’s offense becomes much easier to stop. I’m not going to go so far as to say Sparty is gonna whoop on us but I am concerned that the offense is just not dynamic enough yet to beat a team of this caliber. Of course, each week we’ve seen new wrinkles in the offense and the genius that is Jim Harbaugh. If Rudock can get just enough help from the run game and plays a clean game without any turnovers then Michigan will be in good shape to win this one.
Takeaway: Don’t make Rudock win this game with his arm, if that’s the case it’s going to be very tough to beat Sparty.

Prediction: Wow, I’m not sure about this game. Sparty hasn’t looked good all year, but that doesn’t mean much to me because I know they’ll be prepared for this one. Michigan hasn’t seen a QB/WR this good all year, on the other hand Sparty hasn’t seen a defense like this all year AND their O-line is decimated with injuries… ugh, this is a tough call but in the end the difference is going to be coaching/preparation. The #HarbaughEffect is going to be in full, well, effect. Good guys win and let the (legitimate) talk of the playoff begin! Go Blue, Beat State!

Michigan 28 – Michigan State 24

Joe:

This just keeps getting better and better. The best part about watching this team week after week is the overall improvement we are seeing. Not only are they gaining confidence every time they take the field, these wolverines are dominating solid opponents. The defense is swarming to the ball and beating teams up. Once we get to the 2nd half, the opposition is playing for “PRIDE”. This week will be much different as MSU is solid across the board. I don’t care that the last few games have ended closer than everyone thinks they should. Dantonio will have them geared up and will match Michigan in the toughness department. This will be a battle in the trenches and an old school “slobber-knocker”. This could come down to which QB makes the least number of mistakes. Connor Cook is extremely dangerous and Rudock is like a Rudock. Not flashy, but not explosive. Manage this thing and let the defense do their thing. Michigan pulls this one out in the trenches.

Michigan 24 – Michigan State 14

#12 Michigan vs #7 Michigan State game preview

Friday, October 16th, 2015


Game Preview_MSU_banner

The fact that Michigan State has won six of the last seven in the series means nothing when the two hated rivals set foot on the Big House turf tomorrow afternoon. Nor does Michigan’s 68-34-5 all-time series lead. What matters is how the two teams are playing right now. Despite Michigan State’s higher ranking (7th to Michigan’s 12th in the AP Poll) it is Michigan that is favored by at least a touchdown and receiving most picks to win by college football experts.

UM-MSU-small
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – ESPN
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (9th season)
Coaching Record: 99-48 overall (81-31 at MSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Dave Warner (3rd season)
Jim Bollman (3rd season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Mike Tressel (1st season)
Harlon Barnett (1st season)
Last Season: 11-2 (7-1)
Last Meeting: MSU 35 – UM11 (2014)
All-Time Series: UM leads 68-34-5
For the Paul Bunyan Trophy: UM leads 35-25-2
Record in Michigan Stadium: 34-18-3
Jim Harbaugh vs MSU: 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 2012 (12-10)
Last MSU win: 2014 (35-11)
Current Streak: Michigan State 2

Michigan State’s record is unblemished but the way in which the Spartans arrived at 6-0 certainly isn’t. A 31-28 win over then-No. 7 Oregon in Week 2 looked great at the time. But Oregon’s meteoric fall from the rankings since then have cast doubt on just how good Mark Dantonio’s squad really is. Oregon is just 2-2 the last four weeks with wins over Georgia State and Colorado, a 62-20 throttling at the hands of Utah, and a 45-38 embarrassment on their home field by Washington State. Suddenly, Michigan State’s best win looks about as good as  spelling bee win over an illiterate person.

But it’s not so much what Michigan State’s opponents have done outside of their matchup, it’s what Michigan State hasn’t done to them: win convincingly. Of their six wins, only one — a 35-21 Week 3 win over Air Force can be considered convincing. In the season opener, Western Michigan pulled within 10 points early in the fourth quarter and racked up 383 total yard — 365 through the air — against MSU’s defense. That remains WMU quarterback Zach Terrell’s best game of the season. In Week 4, Central Michigan was within seven until the Spartans scored two touchdowns in the final 8:37 to pull away. The following week against Purdue, Michigan State jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead but then had to hold on as the Boilermakers — winless against FBS competition — nearly made it into position for a game tying field goal in the final minute. Last week, the Spartans needed a touchdown with 43 seconds left to stave off mighty Rutgers, which is just 1-3 against FBS competition.

So what does that mean? It means they are ripe for the picking; they just haven’t played anyone good enough to do it just yet. Their six opponents are a collective 13-20 (.394) and five of those 13 wins have come against FCS schools. Michigan, meanwhile, is playing as well as anyone in the country since a season opening loss to now-No. 4 Utah. Michigan’s six opponents are a combined 20-14 (.588) with four of those wins against FCS schools. And in the past five weeks Michigan has left no doubt about who the better team was on the field.

So what can we expect when Michigan and Michigan State meet tomorrow? Let’s take a look at the Spartans.

When Michigan State has the ball

In the third season with Jim Bollman and Dave Warner sharing offensive coordinator role, Michigan State ranks 72nd nationally and sixth in the Big Ten in total offense (397.3 yards per game), 67th and 9th in rushing offense (173.3 yards per game), 72nd and 6th in passing offense (224 yards per game), 24th and 2nd in passing efficiency (151.2), and 56th and 4th in scoring offense (31.3 points per game).

The past few years the Spartans have relied on their running game with Jeremy Langford rushing for about 1,500 yards in each of the past two seasons, Le’Veon Bell with 1,800 in 2012 and a hair under 1,000 in 2011, and Edwin Baker with 1,200 in 2010. But that’s not exactly the case this year as Michigan State brings the Big Ten’s ninth-best rushing offense into tomorrow’s matchup.

The load is shared between freshman L.J. Scott and redshirt freshman Madre London. Scott, who has drawn comparisons to Bell, leads the team with 418 yards and six touchdowns on 70 carries (6.0 yards per carry), while London leads with 95 carries for just 399 yards (4.2 ypc) and three touchdowns. But London suffered an injury against Rutgers last week and may not be available tomorrow. That takes away the one-two punch, leaving sophomore Gerald Holmes (21 carries for 120 yards and three touchdowns) and junior Delton Williams (two carries for six yards) to spell Scott.

While the running game hasn’t been its usual self this season, the passing game has been better. Still, it ranks just sixth in the Big Ten and 72nd nationally, but has an experienced senior quarterback in Connor Cook who doesn’t make mistakes and relies on the big play. Cook ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 1,334 passing yards (222.3 per game) and is tied with Nebraska’a Tommy Armstrong for the conference lead with 12 passing touchdowns against just two interceptions. He’s second behind Rutgers’ Chris Laviano in pass efficiency, though his 59.9 percent completion percentage ranks sixth, including behind Jake Rudock. He had a big night against Rutgers last Saturday, completing 23 of 38 for 357 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick.

Cook’s receivers are talented, but it’s clear that senior Aaron Burbridge is the top dog and the rest are the supporting cast. The 6-foot-1, 208-pound Burbridge ranks second in the Big Ten in receptions per game (5.7) and yards per game (93.3). He has caught 35 passes for 570 yards (16.3 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. No other receiver on the team has half as many receptions or yards. Junior R.J. Shelton is second with 17 receptions for 166 yards and one touchdown, while senior Macgarrett Kings has caught 14 passes for 179 yards and a score. Junior tight end Josiah Price is tied with Burbridge for the team lead with four touchdowns — one in each of the first four games — but missed the last two games with an ankle injury. He’s hopeful to return tomorrow and as the Spartans’ all-time leader in tight end touchdowns, he’ll pose a big threat to Michigan’s defense.

Three starters from 2014 returned along the MSU offensive line, but it has been banged up this season. Junior left tackle Jack Conklin, who entered the season with 26 career starts, missed the last two weeks with an injury, while fifth year senior center Jack Allen — a first team USA Today All-American in 2014 — injured his knee last week against Rutgers. The status of both is up in the air, but Michigan is preparing as if they will play. If not, that leaves numerous configurations the Spartans could use, as described by The Only Colors. Senior right tackle Donovan Clark and sophomore Brian Allen — Jack’s brother — are the two who have started every game this season. If Jack Allen can’t go, Brian will likely man the center spot. Junior Kodi Kieler is the other who will play at one of the tackle spots, depending on whether Conklin is healthy or not.

When Michigan has the ball

Michigan State’s calling card during the Dantonio era has been its defense, which has ranked among the nation’s best the past few seasons. But the architect of that defense, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi took the head coaching job at Pittsburgh in the offseason leaving Mike Tressel and Harlon Barnett to step up and assume the job. While both had been on the staff, they haven’t managed to maintain the level that Narduzzi left.

Six games into the season the Spartans rank 56th nationally and 9th in the Big Ten in total defense (372.2 yards allowed per game), 34th and 7th in rush defense (130.2 rushing yards allowed per game), 88th and 10th in pass defense (242 passing yards allowed per game), 81st and 10th in pass efficiency defense (132.3), and 43rd and 9th in scoring defense (21.3 points allowed per game).

The problem is not the front four which are as good as any in the Big Ten. Senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun has been a first team All-Big Ten and second team All-American each of the past two seasons. He leads the team with six tackles for loss and five sacks so far this season and is a terror as a pass rusher. The other end is senior Lawrence Thomas, who has a lot of experience and has 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks this season. Sophomore tackle Malik McDowell is the disrupter in the middle with five tackles for loss and three sacks, while senior Joel Heath has three and one.

Junior Riley Bullough leads the team with 55 tackles as the middle linebacker. He’s effective as a blitzer with 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. The outside linebackers are missing senior Ed Davis, who is out for the season, and was an All-Big Ten performer in 2014. Sophomore Jon Reschke took his place and ranks second with 38 tackles, while senior Darien Harris mans the other outside spot and ranks third with 37 tackles. Both Reschke and Harris have 2.5 tackles for loss.

Beyond the front seven is where things get dicey for Michigan State’s defense. A lockdown corner was a staple of Narduzzi’s defenses, but Trae Wayne’s departure to the NFL hasn’t been able to be replaced. Senior Arjen Colquhoun and Darian Hicks are the starting corners, but Hicks suffered a head injury last week and it is still unknown whether or not he will be able to suit up tomorrow. Colquhoun has 21 tackles, 1.5 for loss, one sack, and three pass breakups, while Hicks has 13 tackles, a half of a tackle for loss, and two pass breakups. If Hicks can’t go, junior Jermaine Edmonson will get the nod. He replaced Hicks against Rutgers, but was a liability on several plays.

The secondary is also missing safety R.J. Williamson and corner Vayante Copeland, both of which suffered season ending injuries. That led to junior Demetrious Cox moving from corner to safety this season, where he has 32 tackles and leads the team with five passes defended. Sophomore Montae Nicholson has struggled big time this season and has been benched twice.

The other third

Junior kicker Michael Geiger is in his third year on field goal duty. After setting an MSU single-season record by making 15 of 16 in 2013, he made just 14 of 20 last season and is 5 of 9 so far this year. His long this season is 47 and he has had two blocked. Redshirt freshman Jake Hartbarger is the punter, averaging 42.7 yards per punt with nine of his 22 punts traveling more than 50 yards and eight downed inside the 20. Shelton handles kick return duties were he is averaging 19.5 yards per return, while Kings is the punt returner, though he has only one return all season and it went for just a yard.

Prediction

If Michigan’s passing featured Chad Henne, Braylon Edwards, and Jason Avant going up against this Michigan State secondary it would be easy to pick Michigan to win big. But Jake Rudock has yet to show he can throw deep, and it won’t matter if Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh get behind the safeties if Rudock can’t hit them. Yet history tells us that this rivalry is won on the ground. In the last 45 meetings, the team that rushed for more yards has won 42 of them and that’s another advantage Michigan has in this game.

De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson can take advantage of Michigan State’s aggressive defensive line, allowing Michigan to sustain drives and keeping the Spartans from loading the box. That should give Rudock time to hit the short and intermediate routes that he has done a pretty good job of so far.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan State is essentially a three-man team: Cook, Smith, and Burbridge. Fortunately, Michigan’s defense matches up really well. Jourdan Lewis has become one of the best corners in the nation and will lock down Burbridge. Michigan’s front seven hasn’t allowed anyone to run on it all season, ranking third nationally against the run. That means Shelton and Kings are going to have to come up big against Jabrill Peppers, Jeremy Clark, and Channing Stribling if he’s healthy enough to return from injury. That’s a big if to rely on.

Michigan’s defense will control the line of scrimmage against a banged up MSU offensive line, and although the shutout streak will end, Michigan State won’t be able to put up enough points to keep up. Michigan’s offense will be effective enough to grind out yards, move the chains, and test the shaky secondary. Michigan wins going away and puts Ohio State on notice.

Michigan 31 – Michigan State 13

Five Spot Challenge: Michigan State

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015


FiveSpotChallenge-Banner2015

Congratulations to Jim Mackiewicz for winning last week’s Five Spot Challenge. His deviation of 170 was five points better than second place tooty_pops. Consistency was key for Jim as he wasn’t closest to any individual question but wasn’t far away from any either. His prediction of 100 Clayton Thorson passing yards was just six away and second closest. He was also fourth closest to the total combined offensive yards (548) and fourth closest to the minutes to Northwestern’s first touchdown (they didn’t score one, so it was 60).

Boggie, Northsider7, and saline_ian were all just two away from the combined total yards with their predictions of 550. Nobody correctly predicted that Jehu Chesson’s No. 86 would score Michigan’s first touchdown. BigHouseBrandon was the closest with his prediction of 97, which must have been a Jake Rudock pass to Amara Darboh. The most common prediction was De’Veon Smith’s No. 4, which 10 of 26 contestants chose. Ericcarbs, Ebenszac, tooty_pops, HTTV136, and BigHouseBrandon all predicted that Northwestern wouldn’t score. Grahambino007 and jaeschke were both just one away from Thorson’s passing yards, while jaeschke and MEKMichigan were the closest to Blake O’Neill’s punting yards (190), just 12 away.

Nobody got the final score correct, and in fact, only one contestant, bluwolf77, thought Michigan would score as many points as it did. He predicted a score of 38-17. The average score prediction was Michigan 21 – Northwestern 11. All 26 contestants picked Michigan to win.

The weekly results have been updated and I’ve finally added the overall standings.

This Saturday is the big one against Michigan State and it presents a great chance for Michigan to turn the tables on their hated in-state rival. Here are this week’s picks.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 4

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

The non-conference season is finally (mostly) over. Besides a game each for Penn State and Rutgers, which both have matchups left against Army, the rest of the season will pit Big Ten against Big Ten as the road to Indianapolis officially begins.

So where does the Big Ten rank, now that the judgement period has come and gone? As a conference, the Big Ten finished just 7-8 against other power five teams, losing two of three to the Big 12, splitting 3-3 with the ACC, beating the Pac-12 3-2 and falling in the only Big Ten-SEC battle.

But the difference in the conference this season is the strength of a middle class that’s lagged behind the rest of the country in recent seasons. Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin still bear the flag for the Big Ten, but now they have company on the national stage. Five Big Ten teams went a perfect 4-0 through the non-conference schedule and two of the one-loss teams are ranked in the top 25. It looks like as many as six teams have a chance to win nine games this season.

Unfortunately, the Big Ten’s bottom-feeders are still very, very bad. Purdue managed just one win in the non-conference season after losing to Marshall and Bowling Green and getting bombed at home by Virginia Tech. Maryland has been an embarrassment, falling to Bowling Green and West Virginia by a combined 60 points. Illinois and Rutgers are a combined 5-2 in the non-conference, but neither team played anyone better than Washington State.

The East Division certainly emerged as the stronger half of the Big Ten, despite the presence of Maryland and Rutgers in the cellar. Ohio State and Michigan State hold the top spots in the national rankings and Michigan has morphed into a potential threat under Jim Harbaugh. East teams finished 5-3 against power five teams and 22-6 overall during the non-conference schedule, while the West went just 2-5 against power five teams and 20-8 overall.

In the national landscape, the Big Ten is right there with the Pac-12 and the SEC for top conference in the FBS. The preseason rankings gave the SEC an unearned head start, but that couldn’t save pretenders like Auburn and Arkansas from quickly falling out of contention. Teams like South Carolina, Missouri and Tennessee aren’t where they were expected to be. Without that depth below juggernauts like Alabama and LSU, the SEC’s rein atop college football is vulnerable.

The PAC-12 is headed in the other direction. UCLA and Utah are legitimate top 10 teams, which helps lessen the blow of Oregon’s fall from grace. If Stanford, USC and Arizona can bounce back from early losses, the conference might be the deepest in the nation.

But over the next eight weeks, each conference will turn its attention inward as the battle for conference championships begins. Here’s how the Big Ten stacks up heading into conference play.

East Division
1. Ohio State (4-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat W. Michigan 38-12 This Week: Sat at Indiana (4-0), 3:30pm, ABC

Surprise! Ohio State regained the top spot this week with an easy victory over Western Michigan. The 38-12 win was less important to the Buckeyes than Cardale Jones’ bounce back from a two-interception effort against Northern Illinois. Jones threw for 288 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on Saturday to solidify his grip on the starting job. The Broncos couldn’t handle Ezekiel Elliott either, watching him run for 124 yards on just 16 carries. Ohio State gained over 500 yards of offense, but interceptions are still a problem. OSU has thrown the 10th-most picks in college football through Week 4, a surprising number from a team expected to field two All-Big Ten quality quarterbacks. The Buckeyes have an insanely easy path to Indy, with no tough games on the schedule until Nov. 21. But teams like Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois hung around against the Buckeyes, so the top team in the country is certainly beatable.

2. Michigan State (4-0, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat C. Michigan 30-10 This Week: Sat vs Purdue (1-3), 12pm, ESPN2

The Spartans didn’t fall from the top of the East because of Oregon’s performance; they fell because they struggled to close out another MAC foe. Central Michigan trailed by only a touchdown midway through the 4th quarter before a pair of late Spartan touchdowns sealed the deal. Michigan State struggled to put Western Michigan, Oregon and Central Michigan away during the non-conference season, despite the combined 4-8 record of those opponents. Unfortunately, Oregon’s rapid demise erased the only quality win on MSU’s resume, sapping the luster from its non-conference resume. Connor Cook was solid again in the 30-10 victory Saturday, completing 11 of 19 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. Madre London continued to impress, averaging 4.9 yards on 15 carries. Defensively, Michigan state allowed CMU to complete 26 of 39 passes and gain 340 total yards. The Spartans have allowed 396 yards per game and rank just 77th in the country in total defense.

3. Michigan (3-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat BYU 31-0 This Week: Sat at Maryland (2-2), 8pm, BTN

Don’t look now, but there’s a buzz coming from Ann Arbor. Michigan was the Big Ten’s biggest winner on Saturday, crushing then –No. 22 BYU, 31-0, in the Big House. Jake Rudock led the show on offense, throwing for 194 yards, rushing for 33 more and scoring three total touchdowns. What caused his sudden turnaround? The offensive line. Rudock had more time than he knew what to do with on Saturday and even had time to scramble for positive yards after going through his progressions. Tim Drevno has turned the line into a strength and everybody on the offense – especially De’Veon Smith – is benefiting. Smith turned in his second 100-yard game Saturday, rumbling his way to 125 yards on 16 carries. Smith’s best run came in the second quarter, when he disappeared into the pile only to reappear, spin out of a tackle and dash into the end zone 60 yards later. Amara Darboh was the other offensive hero, making an Odell Beckham-like grab to set up Michigan’s first touchdown and finishing with four catches, 57 yards and a touchdown.

The Wolverines’ defense was even better, holding BYU to 105 yards and picking up that elusive first shutout. Players were frustrated last week when UNLV scored in the 4th quarter to end a shutout bid, but this week they finished the job against a much better offense. Tanner Mangum passed for only 55 yards, while the team’s leading rusher, Adam Hine, got only eight carries for 33 yards. Harbaugh insists the team is still a work in progress, but the improvement since Week 1 has been incredible. If this defense keeps it up, and Rudock takes care of the football, Michigan will have something to say in the East race.

4. Indiana (4-0, 1-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Wake Forest 31-24 This Week: Sat vs #1 OSU (4-0), 3:30pm, ABC

In the first three weeks of the season, Indiana knocked off an FCS school and a pair of Conference USA schools by an average of six points to jump out to a fluky 3-0 start. The Hoosiers finally picked up a solid victory Saturday when they went to Wake Forest and earned a road win over a power five team. Jordan Howard put the Indiana offense on his back, running for 168 yards and a score on 33 carries. Nate Sudfeld was steady in the passing game, passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns. In the upset of the week, Indiana’s defense held a team under 400 yards, allowing Wake Forest to rush for only 99 on the ground. The Hoosiers are undefeated to begin conference play, but don’t expect that to last long. The defense allows 499 yards per game, which ranks 117th in the nation. That’ll never hold up against a schedule with offenses like Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa on the horizon.

5. Penn State (3-1, 1-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat SDSU 37-21 This Week: Sat vs Army (1-3), 12pm, ESPNU

Christian Hackenberg played his best game since freshman year Saturday when he completed 60 percent of his passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Penn State’s offense, which scored just 21.67 points per game over the first three weeks, exploded for 37 points as the Nittany Lions rolled over San Diego State. Penn State dominated on both sides of the ball, outgaining SDSU 400-242 and recovering three fumbles. Is Penn State a contender or a pretender in the East this season? After an embarrassing loss at Temple to start the year, James Franklin’s team bounced back with three fairly easy wins. The defense, which allowed the second fewest yards per game in the FBS last season, will pace the Nittany Lions as Hackenberg and the offense battle to keep up. If freshman running back Saquon Barkley, who’s already rushed for 373 yards on 42 carries (8.9 yards per carry), can take the reins of the offense away from the passing game, Penn State will be a tough team to play.

6. Rutgers (2-2, 0-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Kansas 27-14 This Week: Bye (10/10 vs #2 MSU)

Do I have to rank the last two teams? Yes? Fine, I’ll go with Rutgers at No. 6. The Scarlett Knights are an embarrassment off the field, but they did manage to beat one of the worst power five teams in the country Saturday. Josh Hicks ran all over the Kansas defense, picking up 113 yards and two touchdowns. Rutgers gained over 500 yards of total offense despite turning the ball over three times to the Jayhawks. Kyle Flood’s team already got blown out in their Big Ten opener in Week 3 and probably won’t be favored to win a game until it hosts Maryland in the final game of the season.

7. Maryland (2-2, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to W. Virginia 6-45 This Week: Sat vs Michigan (3-1), 8pm, BTN

If you thought Michigan’s shutout win over BYU was a massacre, just wait until you hear about Maryland’s trip to West Virginia. Week 4 was a total disaster for the Terrapins. A painful, turnover-riddled disaster that, of course, ended with Maryland failing to convert a two-point conversion that would have pulled it within 37. Yes, it was as ugly as it sounds. West Virginia scored touchdowns on its first three drives, none of which lasted more than three minutes. The Mountaineers scored 45 unanswered points to start the game, picking up 601 yards and 37 first downs. The Terrapins only held the ball for about 23 minutes, but that was enough time to throw five interceptions and turn the ball over six times. Caleb Rowe, who took over as starting quarterback after the team’s disastrous Week 2 loss to Bowling Green, threw four picks and completed just 10 of 27 passes. Only Brandon Ross, who gained 130 rushing yards on 15 carries, came to play for the Terps. Maryland needs to get the turnovers under control soon as two strong defensive teams (Michigan and Ohio State) come next on the schedule.

West Division
1. Northwestern (4-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Ball State 24-19 This Week: Sat vs Minnesota (3-1), 12pm, BTN

Things got a little hairy for the Wildcats Saturday when Ball State hung around until the final drive of a 24-19 Northwestern win. For the first time this season, Pat Fitzgerald’s defense showed a chink in the armor, allowing 359 yards to the Cardinals offense. Riley Neal completed only 14 of 35 passes against Northwestern, but a handful of big plays allowed him to rack up 178 yards and two touchdowns. Ball State also averaged more than five yards per carry against a front seven that was rock solid against Stanford and Duke earlier in the month. But Justin Jackson wouldn’t let the Wildcats’ perfect record go up in flames, leading the team with 184 rushing yards. Clayton Thorson bounced back from a terrible performance at Duke to throw for 256 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The Big Ten opener will be a big one for Northwestern as Minnesota visits Evanston to set up a heavy defensive battle.

2. Iowa (4-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat N. Texas 62-14 This Week: Sat @ #19 Wisconsin (3-1), 12pm, ESPN

Iowa coasted through a much-needed break Saturday after two straight wins over power five opponents. The offense erupted against North Texas, scoring 48 points on 488 yards. Iowa also returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the second half, polishing off a 62-16 masterpiece. C.J. Beathard continued to dominate under center, completing an incredible 18 of 21 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns. Jordan Canzeri bullied a weak North Texas front seven for 115 yards and four touchdowns, giving him eight scores on the year. There’s no way Beathard will complete over 68 percent of his passes in Big Ten play, but he looks like a definite upgrade at quarterback and an excellent complement to Canzeri. With a strong defense and an offense that’s averaging 37.75 points per game, Iowa is a real threat in the West. But all three games against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska are on the road, so the Hawkeyes will have to be just as good away from Kinnick to compete. Perhaps the greatest hurdle comes Saturday in Madison.

3. Wisconsin (3-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Hawaii 28-0 This Week: Sat vs Iowa (3-1), 12pm, ESPN

Wisconsin rolled over its third straight cupcake opponent Saturday, shutting out Hawaii 28-0. Freshman running back Taiwan Deal built on his 84-yard performance in Week 3 with 147 rushing yards on 25 carries. He’s scored four touchdowns for the Badgers this season and looks like the best option in the backfield heading into Big Ten season. Joel Stave enjoyed a typical, steady non-conference season, completing over 66 percent of his passes for 830 yards, seven touchdowns and two picks.  Thanks to an efficient offense and a defense that allowed just three points in the last three games, the road to the West Division title still runs through Wisconsin.

4. Nebraska (2-2, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Southern Miss 36-28 This Week: Sat at Illinois (3-1), 3:30pm, BTN

Nebraska’s rise to No. 4 in the West is more of an indictment on the rest of the division than an endorsement of the Cornhuskers’ body of work. Tommy Armstrong moved past his devastating overtime interception that doomed Nebraska in Week 3 to throw for 368 yards. He also rushed seven times for 63 yards and scored three total touchdowns in the game. Jordan Westerkamp is one of the conference’s toughest matchups at wide receiver, heading into conference play with 26 catches for 351 yards and four touchdowns in four games. Nebraska is looking to score its way through the Big Ten this season after allowing 12 touchdowns over the four games. Turnovers and penalties have also been a major issue during the rocky start. Poor defense, poor ball security and poor discipline is a dangerous recipe against a defensive-minded division.

5. Minnesota (3-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Ohio 27-24 This Week: Sat at #16 Northwestern (4-0), 12pm, BTN

Since coming within a play of knocking off No. 2 TCU in the opener, Minnesota has beaten three weak opponents by a field goal each. This week, the Ohio Bobcats fell victim to the Gophers’ late heroics as a Shannon Brooks touchdown run gave Minnesota the lead with 30 seconds left on the clock. For the first time all season the Gophers got into a rhythm on offense, gaining 268 yards, picking up 24 first downs and scoring three touchdowns. Mitch Leidner threw for 264 yards, but all three Minnesota scores can on the ground – One by Leidner and two by Brooks. Ohio set a new high against Minnesota’s vaunted defense, scoring 24 points but falling short on a Hail Mary pass from the 41-yard line. A delay of game penalty after a time out pushed a potential 53-yard field goal attempt out of range and erased the Bobcats’ chance to tie the game. If the Golden Gophers can only beat Colorado State, Kent State and Ohio by three points, it’s hard to see them competing in the Big Ten.

6. Illinois (3-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Middle Tenn. 27-25 This Week: Sat vs Nebraska (2-2), 12pm, BTN

In the wake of Illinois’ beat down at the hands of North Carolina, Middle Tennessee State nearly went into Champaign and poured salt in the still-festering wound. Illinois needed a 51-yard field goal from Taylor Zalewski with 2:09 left on the clock to escape the Blue Raiders, thanks to a missed 43-yarder that would have flipped the script with eight seconds to go. The Fighting Illini won their first two games by a combined 93 points, but a 34-point loss to UNC exposed them as frauds. Conference wins will be tough to come by for Illinois this season.

7. Purdue (1-3, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Bowling Green 28-35 This Week: Sat vs at #2 MSU (4-0), 12pm, ESPN2

Ah, yes. The only Big Ten team with a losing record. Purdue capped off a terrible non-conference season with a home loss to Bowling Green, giving up over 30 points for the third time. The Big Ten slaying Falcons passed for over 400 yards and converted 11 of 16 first downs to outlast Purdue in the final seconds of the game. Travis Greene’s 11th carry of the game went for a 12-yard touchdown that capped an 80-yard drive and sealed Purdue’s fate. New starting quarterback David Blough played a solid game, completing 29 of 39 passes for 340 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. The freshman got no help from his running backs, who averaged just 2.4 yards per carry. When it boils down to it, the Boilermakers don’t have much firepower heading into a difficult month of October. The beat down begins Saturday in East Lansing.

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 3

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015


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After a disastrous Week 1 (8-6) and an outstanding Week 2 (12-2), the Big Ten levelled out a bit in Week 3, finishing with a 9-3 record in out-of-conference games. Penn State and Rutgers kicked off the conference schedule two weeks early as the Nittany Lions picked up the first official Big Ten win of the season.

But the biggest news of the week came on Sunday, when Ohio State and Michigan State were named Nos. 1 and 2 atop the new AP Poll. Though neither team was dominant over the weekend, they treaded water while the rest of the top 10 crashed and burned. So now the Big Ten has a strong hold atop college football.

With most of the nonconference schedule ending this weekend, it’s nearly time to draw some solid conclusions about the state of the 2015 Big Ten. Here’s where the teams stand after Week 3.

East Division
1. Michigan State (3-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Air Force 35-21 This Week: Sat vs Central Michigan (1-2), 12pm, BTN

While Ohio State kept its hold on the No. 1 spot in the national polls, it’ll have no such luck in these power rankings. Michigan State underwhelmed in a 35-21 win over Air Force, but the combination of an emotional Week 2 win over Oregon and a first look at the true Triple Option offense makes the Spartans’ lackluster performance more understandable. Connor Cook enjoyed by far his best game of the season, throwing for 247 yards and four touchdowns on just 23 pass attempts. Eight of his 15 completions went to Aaron Burbridge, who picked up 156 receiving yards and three scores. The defense is definitely a concern for Michigan State as the conference season nears. After Western Michigan and Oregon racked up 383 yards and 432 yards of total offense, respectively, in Weeks 1 and 2, Air Force outgained MSU 428-324. Luckily for the Spartans, it doesn’t have to be pretty. If they win the rest of their games by a point each, they’ll find themselves comfortable in the four-team playoff.

2. Ohio State (3-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat N. Illinois 20-13 This Week: Sat vs W. Michigan (1-2), 3:30pm, ABC

Ohio State, like MSU, struggled against an inferior opponent on Saturday. But Ohio State, unlike MSU, has no good wins to fall back on. The Buckeyes limped to a 20-13 win at home over Northern Illinois, which gained fewer than 200 yards of offense and averaged an awful 2.5 yards per play. The Huskies did not play well, completing just 14 of 31 passes, turning the ball over twice and gaining just 2.6 yards per rush, but had a chance in the final moments to knock off the No. 1 team in the country. Ohio State entered the season with a pair of potential All-Big Ten quarterbacks duking it out for the starting job, but now neither one wants to take it. Cardale Jones looked terrible in the first half, completing four of nine passes and tossing two picks. When J.T. Barrett took over, he was wild as well, completing 11 of 19 for a touchdown and an interception. Ohio State’s defense held NIU to just 190 yards, if the star-studded offense keeps turning the ball over, one of these upset bids is bound to turn into an actual upset.

3. Michigan (2-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat UNLV 28-7 This Week: Sat vs BYU (2-1), 12pm, ABC

Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines flew under the radar this weekend as the winless UNLV Rebels came to town. Michigan’s offense struggled again, scoring just 28 points, but it did rack up 377 yards. Jake Rudock threw his fifth interception of the season and averaged just 5.6 yards per pass as the downfield attack continued to be nonexistent. But Ty Isaac and Jehu Chesson finally made a pair of big plays for the Wolverines, each running down the left sideline for long touchdowns. Chesson’s 36-yard dash put Michigan up 14-0 in the second quarter and Isaac’s 76-yard score came just two drives later. Week 2 hero De’Veon Smith took a step back against the Rebels, gaining just 33 yards on 13 carries. The story for Michigan continued to be the defense, which held UNLV to just seven points and 235 yards. Keith Whitely (13 carries for 29 yards) couldn’t get anything going on the ground against Michigan’s front seven, but the secondary was just as strong, breaking up five passes and intercepting two. Jourdan Lewis returned from a Week 2 concussion to break up four passes in coverage. Since allowing 337 yards to Utah in the opener, Michigan has given up just 373 total to Oregon State and UNLV. The team will face its second ranked opponent of the season Saturday when No. 22 BYU visits the Big House.

4. Penn State (2-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 28-3 This Week: Sat vs San Diego State (1-2), 3:30pm, BTN

Is there something about that Indiana air that prevents teams from playing defense? Only Purdue (106) has allowed more points than Indiana (104) in the Big Ten through three nonconference games. But Indiana has done so against two Conference USA opponents and an FCS team. This week’s shootout came against Western Kentucky, which fell to the Hoosiers despite gaining 568 yards of offense. Quarterback Brandon Doughty threw for 484 yards and three touchdowns to mask an ineffective running game (3.2 yards per carry) for the Hilltoppers. Indiana picked up a season high 639 rushing yards, led by Jordan Howard’s 203 rushing yards and Nate Sudfeld’s 355 passing yards. The Hoosiers haven’t played defense for years now, and last year they mustered just four wins all season. They’ll have a chance to reach that mark, and polish off an undefeated non-conference season, at Wake Forest Saturday.

5. Indiana (3-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat W. Kentucky 38-35 This Week: Sat at Wake Forest (2-1), 12:30pm

Penn State dominated Rutgers in the first conference matchup of the season, scoring 21 points in the second quarter and cruising to a 28-3 win. Saquon Barkley paced Penn State with 195 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Akeel Lynch accounted for the team’s third rushing touchdown with a 75-yard dash in the second quarter. Christian Hackenberg put in another uninspiring performance, completing 10 of 19 passes for 141 yards and an interception against a shaky Rutgers defense. Hackenberg has completed fewer than half of his passes this season and has just one touchdown.

6. Maryland (2-1, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat USF 35-17 This Week: Sat at West Virginia (2-0), 3pm, FS1

Maryland bounced back from an embarrassing home loss to Bowling Green with a comfortable win over South Florida in Week 3. The transition to Caleb Rowe at starting quarterback had its ups and downs. Rowe threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns, but turned it over three times to keep USF in the game. The Terrapins gained over 400 yards on offense and allowed a season-low 17 points. They’ll face a big test Saturday in West Virginia.

7. Rutgers (1-2, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Penn State 3-28 This Week: Sat vs Kansas (0-2), 12pm, BTN

The Scarlet Knights picked up right where they left off Saturday, losing their second straight game and falling to 0-1 in the Big Ten. Rutgers couldn’t get anything going on offense, averaging a terrible 1.3 yards per carry and turning it over three times. Penn State ran for 330 yards against the front seven, leading an anemic offense to 471 total yards. The Scarlet Knights have a great chance to finish the non-conference schedule even as Kansas comes to town this weekend.

West Division
1. Northwestern (3-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Duke 19-10 This Week: Sat vs Ball State (2-1), 8pm, BTN

Though the opening week win over a ranked Stanford team was the coming out party for this Northwestern team, a road win over previously-undefeated Duke made an even louder statement. Northwestern struggled to move the ball, gaining just 271 yards of offense, but its defense is legit. The Wildcats forced three turnovers and held Duke to 3.8 yards per pass en route to a 19-10 win. Solomon Vault made the big play for Coach Pat Fitzgerald, returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to give Northwestern the lead for good. It might not be pretty, but the Wildcats’ defense has passed its first three tests and should lead the way to a 4-0 start Saturday against Ball State.

2. Iowa (3-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Pitt 27-24 This Week: Sat vs N. Texas (0-2), 3:30pm, ESPNU

While most of the conference hosted teams like Northern Illinois, UNLV and Troy, Iowa returned home to play its second straight power five team. It was a back and forth battle, and Pitt completed off a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive with 52 seconds left in regulation to tie it at 24. But a trio of C.J. Beathard runs put the Hawkeyes in Panther territory and Marshall Koehn nailed a 57-yard field goal to seal the deal. Iowa picked off two passes and shut down Pittsburgh’s rushing attack (2 yards per carry) to put itself in position for the walkoff win.

3. Wisconsin (2-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Troy 28-3 This Week: Sat vs Hawaii (2-1), 8pm, BTN

The Badgers have bounced back nicely from an opening week loss to Alabama, beating Miami (OH) and Troy by a combined score of 86-3. Joel Stave is on cruise control at the helm and completed 13 of 17 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown against Troy. Wisconsin’s offense takes on a whole different look without a 100-yard rusher, but the team did average 5.7 yards per carry behind a stout offensive line. On defense, Wisconsin held Troy to 255 yards, but surrendered 19 first downs and lost the time of possession battle, which is unusual for the Badgers.

4. Minnesota (2-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Kent State 10-7 This Week: Sat vs Ohio (3-0), 3:30pm, BTN

Week 3 was a major disappointment for Minnesota, which opened some eyes with a near upset of No. 2 TCU in Week 1 and a road win over Colorado State in Week 2. Luckily for the Gophers, an outstanding defensive performance kept a disappointing week from becoming a disastrous week. Kent State gained just 142 yards in the game, going 3-17 on 3rd down and averaging fewer than 2.5 yards per play. On offense, Minnesota was terrible, scoring 10 points, committing three turnovers and eight penalties. Rodney Smith ran the ball 30 times but gained just 73 yards to pace the ground attack. Mitch Leidner completed 17 of 27 passes for 184 yards, but threw a pair of picks that helped Kent State stick around. Jerry Kill’s defense looks like one of the best in the country, but if Leidner can’t lead the offense back to respectability, Minnesota won’t compete for the West.

5. Nebraska (1-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Miami 33-36 This Week: Sat vs Southern Miss (2-1), 12pm, ESPNN

It’s only Week 3, but Nebraska has already lost a pair of heartbreakers this season. Miami was blowing the Huskers out of the water in the fourth quarter before Tommy Armstrong led three straight touchdown drives (two of which ended in successful two-point conversions) to tie the game at 33 in the final minute. But the 23-0 run ended when Armstrong threw a pick in overtime and the Hurricanes kicked a game-winning 28-yard field goal. Nebraska’s defense really struggled Saturday, allowing 511 totals yards in Miami. If Mike Riley hopes to compete in his first year in the Big Ten, that’ll have to turn around quickly.

6. Illinois (2-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to N. Carolina 14-48 This Week: Sat vs Middle Tenn. (2-1), 4pm, ESPNN

Illinois could only hide behind weak competition for so long, and North Carolina exposed the Fighting Illini in a big way Saturday. Running back Elijah Hood averaged over eight yards per carry for the Heels and quarterback Marquise Williams rushed for 105 yards of his own as Illinois got steam rolled right out of North Carolina. West Lunt completed fewer than half of his passes and posted a quarterback rating of 14.3 as the Fighting Illini scored just twice in the contest. Josh Ferguson was the lone bright spot, rushing for 133 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Illinois will host another cupcake Saturday as Middle Tennessee State comes to Champaign.

7. Purdue (1-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Virginia Tech 24-51 This Week: Sat vs Bowling Green (1-2), 12pm, BTN

Purdue couldn’t have looked much worse than it did Saturday against Virginia Tech in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers were outgained by over 200 yards, committed three turnovers and went just 2-15 on third down. Virginia Tech held the ball for over 38 minutes and held Austin Appleby to nine completions on 28 pass attempts. Appleby was a nonfactor on the ground too, rushing 13 times for 11 yards. Purdue is a candidate for an ugly loss in Week 4 as it hosts Bowling Green, a team that already stomped Maryland.

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 1

Thursday, September 10th, 2015


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You see the excitement everywhere you go. Fans are sporting their favorite schools on their chests, talking about fantasy drafts and predictions and looking forward to Saturday tailgates and kickoffs. Rece Davis has taken over as host of College Gameday. Recruits are taking to Twitter to support their final schools. Jim Harbaugh is back in Ann Arbor to face off with Urban Meyer and Dark Dantonio. Finally, football is back.

Now maybe somebody should tell the Big Ten.

It was a terrible opening weekend for the conference, which won only eight of 14 games over the extended weekend. There were losses on the national stage with the whole country watching, losses to schools that have no business beating Big Ten teams and even a loss to a backup quarterback on a final-play Hail Mary.

Here’s how the conference shapes up after Week 1:

East Division
1. Ohio State (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Virginia Tech 42-24 This Week: Sat vs Hawaii (1-0), 3:30pm, BTN

After being crowned the first unanimous No. 1 team to open a season in college football history, Ohio State kicked the year off with a comfortable drubbing of Virginia Tech on the road. Cardale Jones won the highly-anticipated starting quarterback job and underwhelmed, completing just 50 percent of his passes for 186 yards. But Ezekiel Elliott gained 122 yards on just 11 carries and Braxton Miller gained a total of 140 yards in his first game as H back. The Buckeyes are loaded with playmakers and will likely cruise through the next nine games with ease.

2. Michigan State (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Western Michigan 37-24 This Week: Sat vs #7 Oregon (1-0), 7pm, ABC

Michigan State did not impress during a 37-24 win over Western Michigan on Friday, allowing Zach Terrell to tear apart the Spartan secondary for 365 yards passing. Connor Cook completed just 48 percent of his passes, a disappointing start for the senior. So why did Michigan State land at No. 2? The defense held Western to 0.8 yards per carry and the offense gained 452 total yards. If the Spartans can beat Oregon at home this weekend, they’ll be home free until October.

3. Michigan (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Utah 17-24 This Week: Sat vs Oregon State (1-0), 12pm, ABC

How can Michigan be No. 3 after a loss to open the Harbaugh era? The Wolverines held Devontae Booker, one of the nation’s best running backs, to just 3.1 yards per carry, showed a pulse in the passing game with Amara Darboh and Jake Butt combining for 194 receiving yards and stuck with a top 25 team on the road. Jake Rudock had a disastrous debut for Michigan, tossing three interceptions and overthrowing two wide open receivers in the end zone. But the senior has a long track record of taking care of the ball, so his performance in one game isn’t likely to throw his entire season off the rails. The more pressing concern is Michigan’s running game, which picked up just 2.6 yards per carry with a long of seven yards. If the Wolverines want to compete, even in an average Big Ten, they have to be more effective in the ground game.

4. Maryland (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Richmond 50-21 This Week: Sat vs Bowling Green (0-1), 12pm, BTN

Maryland opened the season against an FCS opponent and took care of business, beating Richmond 50-21. Senior Brandon Ross stole the show, rushing for 150 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. As a team, Maryland gained 341 yards on the ground and just 138 yards through the air. We won’t know much about the Terps until Sept. 26, when they travel to Morgantown to clash with West Virginia. Once Big Ten season rolls around, Maryland will find it much tougher to average 7.6 yards per carry.

5. Rutgers (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Norfolk State 63-13 This Week: Sat vs Washington State (0-1), 3:30pm, ESPNU

The largest victory of the weekend went to Rutgers, which stomped a bad FCS team by 50 points. Quarterbacks Hayden Rettig and Chris Laviano scorched the Norfolk State secondary for 248 passing yards on just 15 total attempts for an average of 16.5 yards per attempt. On the ground, three running backs earned 10 or more carries and combined to gain 269 yards. Leonte Carroo enjoyed the second three-score game of his career, catching three passes (all touchdowns) for 129 yards. On defense, Rutgers held Norfolk State to an astounding minus 3 rushing yards on 23 attempts. The Scarlett Knights outgained the Spartans 539-196.

6. Indiana (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Southern Illinois 48-47 This Week: Sat vs FIU (1-0), 8pm, BTN

It looks like another long season is on tap for Indiana after a 48-47 home win over an FCS team that went just 6-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference last season. Jordan Howard stepped into Tevin Coleman’s shoes and ran for 145 and three touchdowns on 20 carries to lead the Hoosiers. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld contributed 398 total yards of his own to lead Indiana’s 595-yard offensive attack. But the defense, which allowed 32.8 points per game last season, surrendered 659 yards to the Salukis, including 517 to quarterback Mark Iannotti (411 passing, 106 rushing). Indiana came within a two-point conversion attempt of losing the home opener to Southern Illinois, which doesn’t forecast a strong 2015 season.

7. Penn State (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Temple 10-27 This Week: Sat vs Buffalo (1-0), 12pm, ESPN2

Remember Christian Hackenberg’s freshman season, when he completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions? Well, all of those numbers worsened during his sophomore season, and this year he’s off to a terrible start following his performance on Saturday. The former No. 1 recruit completed just 11 of 25 passes for 103 yards and an interception against Temple, good for a quarterback rating of 3.2. Penn State couldn’t get its running game going, either, averaging just 2.9 yards on 28 carries. The defense, which allowed the eighth fewest points per game (17.7 – fewest in Big Ten) in the country last season, let Jahad Thomas run for 135 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Temple also completed 76 percent of its passes and outgained the Nittany Lions 313-183. A 17-point loss to Temple in the season opener makes next week’s matchup with Buffalo look much less like a sure blowout win.

West Division
1. Northwestern (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Stanford 16-6 This Week: Sat vs N. Illinois (0-1), 3:30pm, ESPNN

Okay, obviously Northwestern isn’t the best team in the West, nor do I expect them to finish ahead of Nebraska or Wisconsin — both Week 1 losers — this season, but after a week one upset of No. 21 Stanford, the Wildcats earned the top spot. The game certainly wasn’t pretty, but nail-biters in Evanston rarely are (see Michigan vs. Northwestern, 2014). The Wildcats absolutely stifled the Stanford offense, allowing just a pair of field goals. Stanford’s vaunted rushing attack gained just 85 yards and Senior Kevin Hogan was held to 155 through the air. Northwestern was led by redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson, who threw for 105 yards and ran for 68 yards. Though he completed just half his passes, Thorson’s 42-yard touchdown run was the only non-field goal score of the game and ultimately led the Wildcats to their 10th opening week win in 11 seasons (lost to Cal, 31-24, in 2014). Northwestern has another tough matchup in Week 3 at Duke and will enter Big Ten play as one of the more battle-tested teams from its nonconference schedule.

2. Wisconsin (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Alabama 17-35 This Week: Sat vs Miami OH (1-0), 12pm, ESPNU

After Northwestern, the West didn’t have many inspiring efforts in the opening weekend. Wisconsin got pounded on the national stage by an incredibly talented Alabama team, looking nothing like the Wisconsin teams of the past decade. The team that sent running backs to the NFL each of the last three seasons (Montee Ball, James White, Melvin Gordon) was nowhere to be found against the Crimson Tide, running for just 40 yards on 21 carries. They were led by wide receiver Alex Erickson, who picked up 25 yards on just one carry. Joel Stave had a solid game to kick off his senior season, completing 26 of 39 passes for 228 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The story of the game with Derrick Henry, who ran all over the Badger defense for 147 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries. Wisconsin should roll through the rest of its nonconference schedule, but it missed its only regular-season chance for a statement win.

3. Minnesota (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to TCU 17-23 This Week: Sat at Colorado State (1-0), 3:30pm, CBSSN

Northwestern pulled off the biggest upset in the country on Saturday, but Minnesota came within a score of one-upping them on Thursday night. With the No. 2 team in the country visiting, the Golden Gophers fell a touchdown short of a win as TCU escaped by a score of 23-17. Minnesota’s defense wasn’t great, allowing 449 yards and 25 first downs. But it played well in its own territory and forced the Horned Frogs to kick three field goals, which kept the Gophers in the game. Mitch Leidner couldn’t get anything going in the passing game, throwing for just 197 yards 19 of 35 passing. Minnesota’s best weapon was Rodney Smith, who picked up 88 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Jerry Kill’s squad is coming off of back-to-back 8-5 seasons and could surpass that total thanks to a reasonable schedule.

4. Iowa (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Illinois State 31-14 This Week: Sat at Iowa State (1-0), 4:45pm, FOX

For the second straight year, Iowa opened the season against a Missouri Valley opponent in Iowa City. This time things went much smoother for the Hawkeyes. Iowa controlled the entire game, scoring midway through the fourth quarter to take a 31-0 lead and surrendering just a pair of garbage time touchdowns. Illinois State gained just 106 yards before those final two drives as Iowa’s defense held the Redbirds to 1.2 yards per rush. Ruduck’s replacement, C.J. Beathard, threw for 211 yards and a touchdown while LeShun Daniels carried 26 times for 123 yards. Iowa’s defense looked dominant coming off a season of allowing 24 points per game. The Hawkeyes will look to avenge last year’s home loss with a trip to Iowa State in Week 2.

5. Illinois (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Kent State 52-3 This Week: Sat vs W. Illinois (1-0), 12pm, BTN

If a team opens the season against a reigning 2-9 MAC opponent, it’d better end in a blowout victory. Luckily for Illinois, that’s just what happened Saturday against Kent State. The game was postponed Friday due to lightning, but that didn’t help the Flashes’ offense the following day. Illinois held Kent State to 245 yards and forced four turnovers in the 52-3 thrashing. Quarterback Colin Reardon had a miserable day, completing just 15 of 34 passes for 156 yards and three picks. The rushing game was no better, as Miles Hibbler led the team with 15 yards on eight carries. The Fighting Illini weren’t flashy on offense, either. Wes Lunt completed 11 of 19 passes for 162 yards and four touchdowns. The ground game picked up just 3.7 yards per carry, but five receiving scores were more than enough to bury Kent State. Next week’s matchup with Western Illinois should yield similar results.

6. Nebraska (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to BYU 28-33 This Week: Sat vs South Alabama (1-0), 8pm, BTN

The Cornhuskers’ last-second, Hail Mary defeat was both painful and untimely, but they definitely deserved it. Mike Riley’s team was sloppy in his first game under the helm at Nebraska, committing 12 penalties for 90 yards, turning the ball over twice and allowing BYU to gain 511 total yards. It looked like Big Red would come away with a win after knocking electric duel-threat quarterback Taysom Hill out of the game in the 4th quarter. But backup Tanner Magnum came into the game and scored 10 points in three drives to complete the come-from-behind win. His 42-yard Hail Mary to Mitch Mathews was poorly defended by Nebraska as the clock expired, and in the end, it was BYU receivers hugging the refs after a 33-28 win. Like Wisconsin, Nebraska struggled to run the ball after losing a starting running back to the NFL Draft. With Ameer Abdullah suiting up for the Detroit Lions, Riley couldn’t find a consistent rusher against a solid BYU front. Terrell Newby led the team with 10 carries and 43 yards, but the team’s 3.4 yards per carry wasn’t enough to erase a horde of penalties and miscues. Jordan Westerkamp was a rare bright spot in the loss, catching seven passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. He’ll have to be a consistent playmaker for the Cornhuskers if the running game continues to struggle.

7. Purdue (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Marshall 31-41 This Week: Sat vs Indiana State (1-0), 12pm, ESPNN

Coming off a winless second half to end the 2014 season, Purdue stretched its losing streak to seven games Sunday with a 41-31 loss to Marshall. Starting quarterback Austin Appleby showed flashes of brilliance early in the contest, but a pick six on the team’s first offensive play of the season would ultimately prove prophetic. Appleby threw four interceptions in the opener despite completing 31 of 48 passes for 270 yards. D.J. Knox and Markell Jones were a great one-two punch out of the backfield, combining for 174 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries. The Boilermakers outgained Marshall 454-397, but the four turnovers were too much to overcome. Purdue will finish the nonconference season with three straight home games.