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

Monday, August 28th, 2017


(Dustin Johnson)

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

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

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

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

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 17th, 2017


(Sean M. Haffey, Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Ten power rankings 2016: Pre-bowl

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016


power-rankings_header

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

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

*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Big Ten power rankings 2016 — Week 12

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016


power-rankings_header

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

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

week-12-power-rankings

*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big Ten power rankings 2016 — Week 11

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016


power-rankings_header

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

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

week-11-power-rankings*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Big Ten power rankings – Week 10
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Ohio State (9-1, 6-1) Up 1 Beat Maryland 62-3 Sat. at MSU (3-7, 1-6), 12pm, ESPN
2. Michigan (9-1, 6-1) Down 1 Lost at Iowa 13-14 Sat. vs Indiana (5-5, 3-4), 3:30pm, ESPN
3. Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2) Even Beat Illinois 48-3 Sat. at Purdue (3-7, 1-6), 12pm, ABC
4. Penn State (8-2, 6-1) Even Beat Indiana 45-31 Sat at Rutgers (2-8, 0-7), 8pm, BTN
5. Nebraska (8-2, 5-2) Even Beat Minnesota 24-17 Sat. vs Maryland (5-5, 2-5), 12pm, ESPNN
6. Iowa (6-4, 4-3) Up 3 Beat #3 Michigan 14-13 Sat. at Illinois (3-7, 2-5), 12pm, BTN
7. Minnesota (7-3, 4-3) Down 1 Lost at #19 Neb. 17-24 Sat. vs N’western (5-5, 4-3), 3:30pm, BTN
8. Indiana (5-5, 3-4) Down 1 Lost to #10 PSU 31-45 Sat. at #3 Michigan (9-1, 6-1), 3:30pm, ESPN
9. Northwestern (5-5, 4-3) Down 1 Beat Purdue 45-17 Sat at Minnesota (7-3, 4-3), 3:30pm, BTN
10. Maryland (5-5, 2-5) Even Lost to #5 OSU 3-62 Sat. at #18 Neb. (8-2, 5-2), 12pm, ESPNN
11. Michigan State (3-7, 1-6) Up 2 Beat Rutgers 49-0 Sat vs #2 OSU (9-1, 6-1), 12pm, ESPN
12. Illinois (3-7, 2-5) Down 1 Lost at #7 Wisc. 3-48 Sat vs Iowa (6-4, 4-3), 12pm, BTN
13. Purdue (3-7, 1-6) Down 1 Lost to N’western 17-45 Sat. vs #7 Wisc. (8-2, 5-2), 12pm, ABC
14. Rutgers (2-8, 0-7) Even Lost to MSU 0-49 Sat. vs #8 PSU (8-2, 6-1), 8pm, BTN

After holding the top spot for three weeks, Michigan falls back to two after a heartbreaking 14-13 loss at Iowa. Ohio State regains  top billing, which the Buckeyes held for the first seven weeks of the season. Wisconsin, Penn State, and Nebraska remain in the same order from three to five after wins over Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota, respectively. Interestingly, the top five all face opponents ranked in the bottom half of the conference this Saturday.

Iowa takes the biggest leap of the week, moving up three spots after shocking Michigan. They leap ahead of Minnesota, Indiana, and Northwestern, all of whom moved down one spot. Maryland remains in the 10th spot despite a 62-3 loss to Ohio State — the second straight week the Terrapins have remained the same after losing big. I guess that says a lot about the bottom four. Speaking of, Michigan State avoided the Big Ten cellar, proving that they’re better than at least one team in the conference with a 49-0 win over Rutgers. Illinois and Purdue each dropped a spot after losing to Wisconsin and Northwestern, while Rutgers remains in distant last with all five last-place votes for the fifth straight week.

Three of the bottom four face top-10 opponents this Saturday with Michigan State hosting 2nd-ranked Ohio State, Purdue hosting 7th-ranked Wisconsin, and Rutgers hosting 8th-ranked Penn State.

 

week-1-11-power-rankings

 

Big Ten power rankings 2016 – Week 10

Thursday, November 10th, 2016


power-rankings_header

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

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

week-10-power-rankings*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Big Ten power rankings – Week 10
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Michigan (9-0, 6-0) Even Beat Maryland 59-3 Sat. at Iowa (5-4, 3-3), 8pm, ABC
2. Ohio State (8-1, 5-1) Even Beat #10 Neb. 62-3 Sat. at Maryland (5-4, 2-4), 3:30pm, ESPN
3. Wisconsin (7-2, 4-2) Even Beat N’western 21-7 Sat. vs Illinois (3-6, 2-4), 3:30pm, ESPN2
4. Penn State (7-2, 5-1) Up 1 Beat Iowa 41-14 Sat at Indiana (5-4, 3-3), 12pm, ABC
5. Nebraska (7-2, 4-2) Down 1 Lost at #6 OSU 3-62 Sat. vs Minn. (7-2, 4-2), 7:30pm, BTN
6. Minnesota (7-2, 4-2) Up 3 Beat Purdue 44-31 Sat. at #19 Neb. (7-2, 4-2), 7:30pm, BTN
7. Indiana (5-4, 3-3) Up 1 Beat Rutgers 33-27 Sat. vs #10 PSU (7-2, 5-1), 12pm, ABC
8. Northwestern (4-5, 3-3) Down 2 Lost to #8 Wisc 7-21 Sat. at Purdue (3-6, 1-5), 12pm, BTN
9. Iowa (5-4, 3-3) Down 2 Lost at #12 PSU 14-41 Sat vs. #3 Michigan (9-0, 6-0), 8pm, ABC
10. Maryland (5-4, 2-4) Even Lost at #3 Michigan 59-3 Sat. vs. #5 OSU (8-1, 5-1), 3:30pm, ESPN
11. Illinois (3-6, 2-4) Up 1 Beat MSU 31-27 Sat at #7 Wisc. (7-2, 4-2), 3:30pm, ESPN2
12. Purdue (3-6, 1-5) Up 1 Lost at Minnesota 31-44 Sat vs N’western (4-5, 3-3), 12pm, BTN
13. Michigan State (2-7, 0-6) Down 2 Lost at Illinois 27-31 Sat. vs Rutgers (2-7, 0-6), 12pm, BTN
14. Rutgers (2-7, 0-6) Even Lost to Indiana 27-33 Sat. at MSU (2-7, 0-6), 12pm, BTN

While there wasn’t much movement in last week’s power rankings, the middle of the conference shook up quite a a bit this week. The top three remained the same with Michigan capturing all five first-place votes, Ohio State taking four of the five second-place votes, and Wisconsin four of the five third-place votes. Penn State continued its ascent up the rankings with a 41-14 win over Iowa. It’s hard to believe that back in Week 4 — after Michigan beat Penn State 49-10 — the Nittany Lions ranked 10th in these power rankings. Now they’re 10th in the College Football Playoff rankings!

Nebraska dropped one spot in our power rankings after a 62-3 shellacking at the hands of Ohio State. They face an important matchup with Minnesota this Saturday. The Gophers made the biggest jump this week, up three spots after their fourth straight win. Northwestern and Iowa each fell two spots after losing to ranked teams — Wisconsin and Penn State, respectively, while Indiana moved up to seventh. The Hoosiers host Penn State this Saturday for a chance to become bowl eligible.

Maryland held serve in the 10th spot despite a 59-3 loss at Michigan. Illinois and Purdue both leapfrogged Michigan State after the Illini handed MSU their seventh straight loss. The Spartans are now 13th in our power rankings and host 14th-place Rutgers this Saturday to try to avoid being the last team without a conference win.

 

week-1-10-power-rankings

 

Big Ten power rankings 2016 – Week 9

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016


power-rankings_header

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

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

week-9-power-rankings*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Big Ten power rankings – Week 9
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Michigan (8-0, 5-0) Even Beat MSU 32-23 Sat. vs Maryland (5-3, 2-3), 3:30pm, ESPN
2. Ohio State (7-1, 4-1) Even Beat Northwestern 24-20 Sat. vs #10 Neb. (7-1, 4-1), 8pm, ABC
3. Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2) Even Beat #7 Nebraska 23-17 Sat. at N’western (4-4, 3-2), 12pm, ABC
4. Nebraska (7-1, 4-1) Even Lost to #11 Wisc. 17-23 Sat. at #6 OSU (7-1, 4-1), 8pm, ABC
5. Penn State (6-2, 4-1) Even Beat Purdue 62-24 Sat. vs Iowa (5-3, 3-2), 7:30pm, BTN
6. Northwestern (4-4, 3-2) Up 1 Lost at #6 OSU 20-24 Sat. vs Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2), 12pm, ABC
7. Iowa (5-3, 3-2) Down 1 Bye Sat. at #12 PSU (6-2, 4-1), 7:30pm, BTN
8. Indiana (4-4, 2-3) Up 2 Beat Maryland 42-36 Sat. at Rutgers (2-6, 0-5), 12pm, BTN
9. Minnesota (6-2, 3-2) Even Beat Illinois 40-17 Sat vs. Purdue (3-5, 1-4), 3:30pm, BTN
10. Maryland (5-3, 2-3) Down 2 Lost at Indiana 36-42 Sat. at #3 Michigan (8-0, 5-0), 3:30pm, ESPN
11. Michigan State (2-6, 0-5) Even Lost to #2 Michigan 23-32 Sat at Illinois (2-6, 1-4), 12pm, ESPNN
12. Illinois (2-6, 1-4) Even Lost to Minnesota 17-40 Sat vs MSU (2-6, 0-5), 12pm, ESPNN
13. Purdue (3-5, 1-4) Even Lost to #24 PSU 24-62 Sat. at Minnesota (6-2, 3-2), 3:30pm, BTN
14. Rutgers (2-6, 0-5) Even Bye Sat. vs Indiana (4-4, 2-3), 12pm, BTN

There wasn’t a lot of movement in the rankings compared to last week as the top five remained the same and the bottom four remained the same. Michigan holds the top spot as the only unbeaten team remaining in the conference. Ohio State stayed at No. 2, although Wisconsin gained ground on the Buckeyes — 2.6 compared to OSU’s 2.4 — after knocking off Nebraska.

Northwestern and Iowa flip-flopped in the six and seven spots after the Wildcats took Ohio State to the brink and Iowa had a bye week. Indiana leapfrogged Minnesota and Maryland after beating the Terrapins 42-36. Michigan State remained 11th, stopping a five week drop in the rankings, and actually gained 0.8 points despite losing to Michigan. That’s because Illinois, Purdue, and Rutgers are even worse. Illinois has a chance to jump the Spartans next week as the two face off on Saturday.

 

week-1-9-power-rankings

The Numbers Game: U-M offense third most explosive, defense best at preventing big plays

Thursday, October 27th, 2016


speight-vs-illinois(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Previously: Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say noMichigan’s Harbaughfense will be more explosive in Year 2, Run game makes big plays in Week 1, While UCF loaded the box Michigan went to the air for big plays, Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks, UM’s smothering defense narrows gap between 2015 D’s big play pace, U-M offense maintains big play pace versus tough Wisconsin D, Michigan out-big-plays Rutgers 16 to 1, Michigan’s big play stats continue to tell good news

One game after Michigan put up a season high 16 explosive plays on lowly Rutgers they came back and put up 17 on Illinois. They did however, give up four explosive plays to Illinois, which was three more than Rutgers managed.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first seven weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 58 29 87 16.38% 7.78% 60
2015 28 19 47 10.00% 1.52% 11

Those 17 explosive plays were fairly evenly distributed between 10 runs and seven passes. Coming in, Michigan had 22 total explosive passes through six games. The offensive outbursts over the last two games have vaulted Michigan up in the offensive rankings nationally. How high, exactly? Let’s dig in and see.

So far, Michigan has put up 8.29 explosive run plays per game (9th nationally) and 4.14 explosive pass plays (25th) for a total of 12.43 explosive plays per game (3rd). Yes, you read that right, only two teams in the country average more explosive plays per game than Michigan: Louisville (15.57) and Army (12.57). I think we can begin to put to rest the notion that this offense is a slow, plodding, pro-style offense.

Their big play percentage is 16.38 percent (9th), their big play differential is 7.78 percent (3rd), and their total toxic differential is 60, good for No. 1 nationally on a per game basis. Remember, teams that fare well in the toxic differential metric are usually the ones left standing at the end of the season.

Through seven games last season, the 2015 team — Harbaugh’s first — was averaging just four explosive run plays and 2.71 explosive pass plays for a total of 6.71 explosive plays — almost half of what the 2016 team is doing. Their big play percentage was 10 percent, their big play differential was 1.52 percent, and their total toxic differential was 11 (1.57 per game). I’ve hit this nail before but I’m going to keep hammering it: Jim Harbaugh is an offensive genius, and perhaps the greatest of our era. What he’s done with Michigan in just his second year is nothing short of miraculous.

Garbage time

Just under half (eight) of Michigan’s 17 explosive plays versus Illinois came during garbage time. So far this season, 41 of their 87 total explosive plays (47.13 percent) have come during garbage time. That means that more than half of Michigan’s explosive plays happen before the game is out of hand.

Defensive big plays allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages through six weeks
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 3.43 1.43 4.86 8.61% 7.78% 60
2015 3.14 1.71 4.86 8.15% 1.52% 11

Michigan gave up four total explosive plays to Illinois last week, which is just below their new season average of 4.86. If you’ll recall what I’ve said previously: anything under six explosive plays per game is in elite territory. Michigan is well below five.

Overall, Michigan is giving up 3.43 explosive run plays per game (16th) and 1.43 pass plays (2nd) for the aforementioned total of just 4.86 explosive plays per game (1st). The next best is Auburn and LSU with 5.43 allowed per game. Michigan’s big play against percentage is 8.61 percent (7th).

Last year at this time Michigan was just coming off the last second collapse against Michigan State and didn’t fare too well against that team, giving up seven total explosive plays, six in the passing game. Their totals through seven games in 2015 were 3.14 explosive run plays and 1.71 pass plays for a total of 4.86 explosive plays given up. Exactly what it is this year. Unfortunately for the 2015 defense, injuries took their toll and they could not maintain that pace, finishing with 7.2 explosive plays given up per game, which was still an impressive 24th nationally. I don’t want to jinx this team but even if they slow their pace (doesn’t look likely with the remaining schedule) they should still finish with fewer than six explosive plays given up per game.

Garbage time

Michigan gave up three of its four explosive plays to Illinois during garbage time last week. So far this season, 20 of the 34 explosive plays Michigan has given up (58.82 percent) have come during garbage time. That means that most of Michigan’s explosive plays given up come after the game is well in hand and the other team is highly unlikely to come back and win. Only Penn State (3-of-4) and Wisconsin (5-of-5) put up most of their explosive plays before garbage time kicked in (there was no garbage time vs Wisconsin).

Sacks and tackles for loss

Michigan only registered one sack last Saturday, but their season total and per game average are still up there. After eight weeks Michigan has 25 total sacks and is averaging 3.57 per game, both good for fourth nationally. They have 63 total tackles for loss (4th) and average nine per game (3rd). Remember, Michigan only averaged 2.46 sacks and 6.77 TFL per game last year. This season, they’re averaging over one more sack per game and almost three more tackles for loss per game, all while giving up the fewest big plays per game in the nation. The “high risk/high reward” nonsense has been laid down in a wooden box, pending the final nails in the coffin.

Big plays by down

um-offense-big-plays-by-down-week-8

Michigan has 87 total explosive plays on offense — 58 run and 29 pass. An explosive play is just as likely on first down as it is on second down (37 for each down). An explosive run is slightly more likely on second than first down (27 versus 26) and an explosive pass play is slightly more likely on first than second down (11 versus 10). Third down is highly unlikely to see an explosive run (only 8.62 percent of explosive runs happen on third down) but better than 27 percent of the explosive pass plays happen on third down).

opp-big-plays-by-down-week-8

On defense, Michigan is equally likely to give up an explosive play on first and second down (13 apiece) with third down a good deal behind (eight). Half of the explosive runs given up happen on second down (12), followed by first (seven) and then third (five). Explosive pass plays are more likely to occur on first down (six) than both second (one) and third (three) downs combined.

Big play percentage of total yards

I thought it might be fun to take a look at what percentage of yards Michigan gives up on explosive plays. It was eye opening when it came to what they do in the run game. Michigan has given up 672 total rushing yards and 501 of those came on just 24 explosive run plays. That means 74.55 percent of the total rushing yards Michigan has given up has come via an explosive run play at 20.88 yards a pop. So what are they giving up per play on non-explosive runs? A mere 0.83 yards per attempt.

To truly put that into some perspective consider this: Michigan has faced 231 total rushing attempts. Of those, 24 have resulted in explosive plays (501 total yards) and the other 207 rushes have yielded just 171 total yards. So what does this mean exactly? Michigan will give up an explosive run play about 10 percent of the time at just under 21 yards per rush. The other 90 percent of the time they give up just 0.83 yards per rush. You get a big gain once in a while, but most of the time you literally get almost nothing.

Let that sink in for a minute. Ninety percent of the time a team runs the ball against Michigan they average less than a yard per attempt.

On offense just over 63 percent of Michigan’s rushing yards come via explosive play and just under 53 percent of their passing yards come via explosive play. All in all, over 58 percent of Michigan’s total offensive yards come via explosive plays. I think they’ve come that long way already, eh Herbie?

Without the total explosive play yardage for the rest of the country we cannot see how Michigan compares. If you know how to get it without going through play-by-plays for every team/game hit me up at @jdemille9. But what we do know quantitatively is that Michigan has an explosive play 16.38 percent of the time — roughly one out of every six plays. Only two of the eight teams with a higher big play percentage than Michigan are in the playoff hunt — Washington (16.45 percent) and Louisville (20.11 percent). No, they are not quite in Louisville’s stratosphere percentage-wise, but their offense isn’t built to be basketball on grass.

UM’s big play leaders
Michigan’s 2016 big play leaders – Run
Name Number of Big Runs Average Gain Big Play Pct
De’Veon Smith 14 18.43 yards 17.72%
Chris Evans 11 23.55 yards 22.44%
Ty Isaac 10 14.82 yards 17.46%
Karan Higdon 9 25.11 yards 20.93%
Michigan’s 2016 big play leaders – Pass
Name Number of Big Receptions Average Gain Big Play Pct
Amara Darboh 11 35.00 yards 36.67%
Jake Butt 6 19.00 yards 23.08%
Jehu Chesson 5 28.40 yards 27.78%

With Chris Evans out with a concussion after just one carry, De’Veon Smith was able to climb back to the lead with 14 total explosive runs, he’s also the overall leader with 14. I’m still amazed that his explosive run average is so high (18.43 yards). It’s amazing what one can do when healthy. Karan Higdon took the opportunity presented in Evans’ absence and moved to the top in average per explosive run with 25.11 yards. As a team, Michigan is averaging 19.62 yards on 58 explosive runs.

Amara Darboh stayed atop the explosive pass play list for both total (11) and average yards per (35). As a team, Michigan is averaging 28.32 yards on 28 explosive pass plays. Overall, Michigan averages 22.45 yards on their 87 explosive plays.

Big play scoring drives
Michigan’s 2016 big play scoring percentage
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Offense 56 39 69.64%*
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Defense 26 8 30.77%*
*A drive with a big play typically yields points 75% of the time per recent NFL study

Against Illinois, Michigan had 10 drives in which they registered an explosive play and they scored on seven of those. Side note: one of those ten drives was the game ending drive in which Michigan ran out the clock, so that will skew the results downward slightly. Overall this season Michigan has had 56 drives with an explosive play and scored on 39 of them (69.64 percent). Just under 70 percent of the time they have an explosive play, they score on that drive. On a per game basis, they average eight drives with an explosive play and score on 5.57 of them.

On defense, Michigan surrendered four drives with explosive plays to Illinois and the Illini only capitalized on one of them. For the year Michigan’s defense has surrendered 26 drives with an explosive play and only allowed scores on eight of them. Opponents only score 30.77 percent of the time they register an explosive play. Remember, the NFL study we base this off of says that a team is likely to score on 75 percent of the drives on which they register an explosive play. Michigan gives up a score less than one third of the time. The Michigan defense is very good, in case you didn’t know already.

Next opponent
Michigan & Michigan State offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 58 29 87 16.38% 7.78% 60
MSU Off. 28 21 49 10.47% 1.36% 0
Michigan & Michigan State defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 24 10 34 8.61% 7.78% 60
MSU Def. 24 21 45 9.11% 1.36% 0

And now we take a look forward to our next opponent. This line from Star Wars always comes to mind when I think of East Lansing; “you won’t find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Unfortunately, Sparty isn’t who we thought they’d be, but they still consider this their championship game, a la Rutgers. We saw how well that worked out for the Scarlet Knights. For what it’s worth, Jim Harbaugh prepares for every team as if it’s a championship game. No one will ever say his Michigan teams weren’t prepared.

MSU is bad on offense — not Rutgers bad — but still very bad. They average four explosive run plays per game (102nd) and three explosive pass plays per game (75th) for a total of seven explosive plays per game (111th). Their big play percentage is 10.47 percent (101st) and their big play differential is 1.36 percent (53rd).

On defense it gets a little better, but not quite the Spartan teams of yesteryear. They give up an average of 3.43 explosive run plays per game (16th) — which is same as Michigan — and three explosive pass plays (53rd) for a total of 6.43 explosive plays per game (21st). Their big play against percentage is a decent 9.11 percent (15th) but their total toxic differential is a flat zero (70th). Still fairly solid on defense as far as explosive plays given up are concerned, but just awful on offense.

I expect Michigan State to bring their A-game this weekend. Unfortunately, their A-game is light years behind Michigan’s A-game. Don’t think Michigan’s players (or Jim Harbaugh for that matter) have forgotten last year and how the Spartans celebrated the way they did in Ann Arbor. I’ll have my full prediction tomorrow, but for now all I will say is that I fully expect something similar to 2009 Stanford versus USC to go down in East Lansing this Saturday.

Big Ten power rankings 2016 — Week 8

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016


power-rankings_header

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

Previous: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7

week-8-power-rankings*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Big Ten power rankings – Week 8
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Michigan (7-0, 4-0) Up 1 Beat Illinois 41-8 Sat. at MSU (2-5, 0-4), 12pm, ESPN
2. Ohio State (6-1, 3-1) Down 1 Lost at PSU 21-24 Sat. vs N’western (4-3, 3-1), 3:30pm, ESPN
3. Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2) Up 1 Beat Iowa 17-9 Sat. vs #7 Nebraska (7-0, 4-0), 7pm, ESPN
4. Nebraska (7-0, 4-0) Down 1 Beat Purdue 27-14 Sat. at #11 Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2), 7pm, ESPN
5. Penn State (5-2, 3-1) Even Beat #2 OSU 24-21 Sat. at Purdue (3-4, 1-3), 12pm, ABC
6. Iowa (5-3, 3-2) Even Lost to #10 Wisc. 9-17 Bye
7. Northwestern (4-3, 3-1) Up 2 Beat Indiana 24-14 Sat. at #6 Ohio State (6-1, 3-1), 3:30pm, ESPN
8. Maryland (5-2, 2-2) Up 2 Beat MSU 28-17 Sat. at Indiana (3-4, 1-3), 3:30pm, ESPNU
9. Minnesota (5-2, 2-2) Down 2 Beat Rutgers 34-32 Sat at Illinois (2-5, 1-3), 12pm, BTN
10. Indiana (3-4, 1-3) Down 2 Lost to N’western 14-24 Sat. vs Maryland (5-2, 2-2), 3:30pm, ESPNU
11. Michigan State (2-5, 0-4) Even Lost to Maryland 17-28 Sat vs #2 Michigan (7-0, 4-0), 12pm, ESPN
12. Illinois (2-5, 1-3) Even Lost to #3 Michigan 8-41 Sat vs Minnesota (5-2, 2-2), 12pm, BTN
13. Purdue (3-4, 1-3) Even Lost to #8 Neb. 14-27 Sat. vs #24 Penn State (5-2, 3-2), 12pm, ABC
14. Rutgers (2-6, 0-5) Even Lost to Minnesota 32-34 Bye

For the first time this season Michigan has surpassed Ohio State for the No. 1 spot in our power rankings. After Ohio State’s 24-21 loss to Penn State, Michigan gained all five first place votes, while Ohio State slipped to a 2.4 average with just three of the five second place votes. Wisconsin’s quality win at Iowa pulled them over Nebraska, solidly in the third spot, while Nebraska sits at 3.8. Penn State remains fifth, but gained a full point, moving from 5.8 to 4.8.

There’s a big two-point gap after the Nittany Lions, where Iowa and Northwestern are tied for the six and seven spots at 6.8. Maryland is close by at 7.6 after handing Michigan State its fifth straight loss. Minnesota and Indiana both dropped two spots to nine and 10, while Michigan State remains 11th but dropped another 0.8 spots on average to 11.6. The bottom three remain the same with Illinois and Purdue tied at 12.2 and Rutgers still holding all last-place votes.

Week 9 will separate Wisconsin and Nebraska, who have been neck and neck in our power rankings all season. They face each other in Madison on Saturday as Wisconsin tries to hang in the Big Ten West race and Nebraska tries to stay in the College Football Playoff race.

 

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#3 Michigan 41 – Illinois 8: Michigan allows points, wins by 33

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016


um-vs-illinois(MGoBlue.com)

In front of a homecoming crowd on Saturday afternoon, Michigan picked up right where it left off prior to last week’s bye, scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions of the game to kickstart a 41-8 win over Illinois.

Michigan got the ball to start the game and looked like it hadn’t missed a beat, marching down the field in 10 plays and scoring on a 3-yard drag to Jake Butt after lining up in the “train” formation that Jim Harbaugh debuted against Wisconsin. On the drive, Jabrill Peppers lined up at quarterback, running back, and receiver, running for five yards and catching a five yard pass.

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Final Stats
Michigan Illinois
Score 41 8
Record 7-0, 4-0 2-5, 1-3
Total Yards 561 172
Net Rushing Yards 270 77
Net Passing Yards 291 95
First Downs 29 6
Turnovers 1 2
Penalties-Yards 5-41 5-45
Punts-Yards 2-65 7-287
Time of Possession 41:23 18:37
Third Down Conversions 7-of-14 2-of-10
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-2 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 1-13 2-17
Field Goals 2-for-2 0-for-0
PATs 5-for-5 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 5-of-5 0-of-0
Red Zone Scores-TDs 3-of-5 0-of-0
Full Box Score

The defense forced a three-and-out and Michigan started its second possession at the Illinois 44-yard line. Three plays later, Wilton Speight found Tyrone Wheatley Jr. for a 21-yard touchdown pass.

After another Illinois punt, Michigan moved the ball right down the field for yet another touchdown, this time going 81 yards in 10 plays. Khalid Hill capped off the drive with a 1-yard scoring run.

Although Illinois crossed midfield, the defense held strong yet again and had a chance to pin Michigan’s offense deep. But this time Khaleke Hudson got a hand on the punt and Michigan got to start on its own 38. Eight plays later, De’Veon Smith found the end zone to put Michigan ahead 28-0.

Michigan’s next possession stalled at the 42 after 10 plays, but on the first play after a Kenny Allen punt, Dymonte Thomas intercepted Illinois quarterback Jeff George Jr. Smith got five straight carries as the first half clock ran down and Allen booted a 23-yard field goal to send Michigan into the half with a 31-0 lead.

The second half was much different as Michigan didn’t play with the same precision or intensity, but on their third possession of the half, they got on the scoreboard once again. Speight connected with Amara Darboh for 30 yards and Butt for 22 on the drive, and after stalling in the red zone, Allen kicked a 27-yard field goal.

Early in the fourth quarter, Illinois finally broke Michigan’s shutout streak after Michigan linebacker Ben Gedeon fumbled a fake punt attempt near midfield. The Illini capitalized on the great field position with a 43-yard strike from George Jr. to Malik Turner. After Michigan committed a penalty on the extra point try, they went for two and got it.

Michigan responded quickly with a 3-play, 61-yard touchdown drive as Karan Higdon raced 45 yards for the score to reach the final score of 41-8.

Michigan racked up 561 total yards and held Illinois to just 172. Speight completed 16-of-23 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns, looking poised and making accurate throws most of the game. Higdon led all rushers with 106 yards and a score on just six carries, while Smith added 76 yards Darboh caught five passes for 99 yards. Thirteen different Wolverines carried the ball and 11 different players caught a pass.

Defensively, Michigan limited Illinois to just 77 rushing yards — 45 coming on one run — and 4-of-15 passing for 95 yards — 43 coming on the one touchdown pass. Gedeon and Taco Charlton led the way with five tackles apiece while Maurice Hurst recorded the team’s only sack.

Michigan visits Michigan State (2-5, 0-4) next Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Wilton Speight (16-of-23 for 253 yards, 2 touchdowns)
This week’s game ball could have gone to Karan Higdon for his 6-carry, 106-yard, one touchdown performance, but Speight got the chance to throw the ball around and he did it well. He averaged 15.8 yards per completion and was right on the money most of the afternoon. He did get sacked twice, but didn’t turn the ball over. Harbaugh said after the game that he thought it might have been Speight’s best performance of the season. Statistically, the one against UCF was better, but it was good to see the first-year starter perform well in a conference game midway through the season and it bodes well for the Big Ten title hunt.

Previous
Week 1 — Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 2 — Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)
Week 3 — Jake Butt (7 receptions for 87 yards)
Week 4 — Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson (326 rush yards, 0 sacks allowed)
Week 5 — Amara Darboh (6 receptions for 87 yards, 1 touchdown)
Week 6 — Khalid Hill (2 carries for 2 yards and 2 touchdowns, 2 receptions for 19 yards and 1 touchdown)

Game Ball – Defense

Mike McCray (3 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 2 quarterback hurries)
Not one single player stood out on the vaunted Michigan defense this week, but the unit performed well collectively. If there was one player that was memorable more than others, it was McCray. He put pressure on George Jr., burst into the backfield to stop Illinois running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn for a 7-yard loss, and dove on a fumbled snap in the third quarter when Illinois was in field goal range.

Previous
Week 1 — Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Week 2 — Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)
Week 3 — Jabrill Peppers (9 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 kick ret. for 81 yards, 4 punt ret. for 99 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — Maurice Hurst (6 tackles, 3 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Week 5 — Channing Stribling (2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 pass breakups)
Week 6 — Taco Charlton (2 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)