photo AnnArborGIFHeader_zps02670880.gif

Posts Tagged ‘Mark Dantonio’

Michigan-Michigan State game preview

Saturday, October 25th, 2014


Game Preview_Michigan State_banner

Ten years ago current Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was a part of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, but wearing the other colors. He felt the sting of one of the best Michigan wins in the history of the rivalry, on the losing end of what Michigan fans affectionately refer to as ‘Braylonfest’. Now he hopes to help Michigan recapture that magic.

But Michigan will need to reverse a disturbing trend that started on the day of that epic comeback. In each of the past 10 years, Michigan has scored fewer points against Michigan State than the previous year. From 45 in 2004 to 34 to 31 to 28 to 21 to 20 to 17 to 14 to 12 to six. The first four of those resulted in wins, as did the 12 points scored two years ago. But if that trend continues Michigan will lose for the sixth time in the last seven years.

UM-PennState-small-final
Quick Facts
Spartan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – ABC
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (8th season)
Coaching Record: 88-47 (70-30 at MSU)
Offensive Coordinators: Jim Bollman (2nd season)
Dave Warner (8th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Pat Narduzzi (8th season)
Returning Starters: 11 (7 offense, 4 defense)
Last Season: 13-1 (8-0 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: MSU 29 – UM 6 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 63-33-5
Record at Spartan Stadium: Michigan leads 17-13-1
Current Streak: Michigan State 1
Last 10 Meetings:  Tied 5-5
Last Michigan Win: 2012 (12-10)
Last Michigan Road Win: 2007 (28-24)

Michigan State has taken advantage of the instability of Michigan’s program since Lloyd Carr retired following the 2007 season. Since then, the Spartans have been the Big Ten’s most stable program, winning two of their eight all-time conference titles and three straight bowl games, including last year’s Rose Bowl.

This season has been no different as Michigan State leads the Big Ten East division with a 6-1 record overall and 3-0 record in conference play. The only blemish was a 46-27 defeat at third-ranked Oregon in Week 2. But aside from the Ducks, Michigan State’s schedule has been pretty light thus far with non-conference wins over Jacksonville State (FCS), Eastern Michigan, and Wyoming, and conference wins over #19 Nebraska, Purdue, and Indiana.

The Nebraska win was certainly a quality one as it stands as the Cornhusker’s only defeat to date. In that game, Michigan State held a commanding 27-3 lead at the end of the third quarter before allowing Nebraska to pull within five points after three straight fourth quarter touchdowns. Nebraska actually had the ball at the Michigan State 37 in the final minute, but Tommy Armstrong Jr was picked off to end the game.

Since then, the Spartans have struggled against two of the Big Ten’s bottom-feeders. Purdue scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to pull within seven points with six minutes remaining, and like Nebraska, had the ball in the closing minutes with a chance to tie it up. But Michigan State intercepted quarterback Austin Appleby and returned it for a touchdown to inflate the final score. Last week against an Indiana squad starting a true freshman quarterback in his very first collegiate action, Michigan State allowed the Hoosiers to hang around for the first half thanks to running back Tevin Coleman’s 132 yards on 15 carries. MSU pulled away in the second half for a comfortable win, but Indiana exposed some gaps in the Spartan defense.

So what does that all mean? For one, Michigan State isn’t as invincible as it seems. But can Michigan actually go into East Lansing and pull out a victory? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

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

The most surprising aspect of Michigan State this season has been its offense. Even MSU writers can’t believe how much progress has been made since the first half of last season when the Spartans offense looked much like Michigan’s has looked at times this season. Through the first seven games this season, Michigan State ranks third nationally in scoring (47 points per game), 12th in total offense (525.1 yards per game), 15th in rushing (260 yards per game), and 42nd in passing (265.1 yards per game). It also ranks first nationally in time of possession (36:22), first in sacks allowed (four), and 17th in third-down conversions (47 percent).

Connor Cook ranks second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency (Michael Hickey, Getty Images)

Connor Cook ranks second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency (Michael Hickey, Getty Images)

The main reason for the success of the MSU offense is the development of junior quarterback Connor Cook. While his completion percentage is down 2.7 percent from last season, Cook ranks second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency behind only Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and fourth in passing yards per game with 234.4.  He has thrown for at least 230 yards in five of seven games, and the only two he didn’t — against Eastern Michigan and Wyoming — he attempted fewer than 10 passes and backups Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry each saw extended action.

It certainly helps that Cook has a talented receiving corps to throw to, led by 6’3″, 185-pound senior Tony Lippett, who has caught 39 passes for 786 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s the only receiver in the Big Ten averaging over 100 yards per game (112.3) and he leads the conference in touchdown receptions and yards per catch (20.2). He has scored in every game except last week and he also had a 32-yard touchdown run against Nebraska. Sophomore tight end Josiah Price is the second-leading receiver with 15 catches for 244 yards and four touchdowns, while five other receivers have over 100 yards and at least one touchdown: Junior Aaron Burbridge (158 yards and one touchdown), junior Macgarrett Kings Jr (142 and one), senior Keith Mumphery (123 and one), sophomore R.J. Shelton (102 and one), and junior A.J. Troup (100 and two).

The backfield is led by talented senior running back Jeremy Langford who ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 94.9 rushing yards per game, though he’s a far cry from the top four. But Langford has eclipsed 100 yards in each of the last four games and scored three touchdowns last week. Unlike the four ahead of him, he shares the backfield, and while it’s not a complete share, his backfield mate, senior Nick Hill, has 76 carries for 465 yards and six touchdowns. Last week he recorded the first 100-yard performance of his career with 178 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Sophomore Delton Williams also plays a role as a home run threat, averaging 7.2 yards per carry, and five touchdowns on just 33 carries.

The offensive line had to replace three starters from last season, but the unit has done a great job of protecting Cook. The Spartans lead the nation in sacks allowed with just four in seven games. The only lineman to start every game at the same position this season is sophomore left tackle Jack Conklin. Fifth-year senior Travis Jackson has started six games at left guard and one at center, while regular center Jack Allen has started five and should return from an ankle injury this week. Junior Donovan Clark has started every game, six at right guard and one at right tackle, and sophomore Kodi Kieler has started six at right tackle.

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

Defense is how Mark Dantonio built Michigan State into a power over the past few years, and while this year’s version is good, it’s not quite at the elite level it has been recently. Pat Narduzzi’s defense ranks 34th nationally in scoring (21.6 points per game), ninth in total defense (292.7 yards per game), eighth in rush defense (100.3 yards per game), and 19th in pass defense (192.4 yards per game). Statistically, it’s very comparable to Michigan’s defense which most Michigan fans have been down on. The two areas that are considerably better than Michigan’s are third-down defense (25 percent compared to 36) and sacks (26 compared to 18).

Narduzzi had to replace seven full-time starters, but returned a solid core including junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun, senior end Marcus Rush, and senior linebacker Taiwan Jones. Calhoun and Rush have combined for 14 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. The interior of the line is new this season, but juniors Joel Heath and Lawrence Thomas have held up well, but have given up some big runs up the middle the past few weeks.

Jones leads the linebacking corps with 30 tackles, 7.5 for loss, and three sacks, but junior SAM linebacker Ed Davis leads the team with six sacks and eight tackles for loss. Junior Darrien Harris rounds out the group at the STAR spot with 25 tackles, 1.5 for loss, half a sack, and an interception.

The secondary is led by senior safety Kurtis Drummond, whose 33 tackles, six passes defended, and two interceptions lead the team. The strong safety, freshman Montae Nicholson, is young and prone to mistakes, while junior safety R.J. Williamson, ranks second with 30 tackles to go along with five passes defended and a pick. Junior cornerback Trae Waynes is a star and definitely one of the top corners in the Big Ten. He has 23 tackles, two for loss, one sack, six passes defended, and two interceptions. The field corner is sophomore Darian Hicks and he’s much more vulnerable than Waynes.

Special Teams: The other third

Sophomore kicker Michael Geiger is solid, having converted 7-of-11 this season with a long of 42, although he’s just 2-of-5 from 40-plus. Senior punter Mike Sadler has been around forever and ranks 10th in the Big Ten with an average of 40.6 yards per punt. He has downed 11 of 31 inside the 20 while only two have gone into the end zone.

The return game is pretty lackluster, ranking 60th nationally on kicks and 89th on punts. Shelton ranks sixth in the Big Ten with an average of 22.2 yards per kick return, while Kings Jr ranks fifth with an average of 6.9 yards per punt return.

Prediction

Of course the most vulnerable Michigan State defense in several years gets to face the worse Michigan offense in several years. On Thursday, Spartan Tailgate writer Chris Vannini told us that he thinks Michigan will be able to make some big plays as teams have done on MSU this season. Apparently he hasn’t watched Michigan much as the Wolverines have struggled to make big plays against anyone other than Appalachian State.

Michigan’s defense will be one of the best Michigan State has faced this season, similar to Nebraska’s which held MSU to just 27 points, their fewest of the season. But unlike last week when Michigan was able to pressure Christian Hackenberg all day, the Spartan offensive line will protect Cook. That will allow him to pick apart the secondary just like Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and Rutgers’ Gary Nova did.

Expect Michigan to hang around through the first half, but with the inability to make big plays Doug Nussmeier’s offense will have a hard time stringing together enough scoring drives. Michigan State will pull away in the second half with efficient, time consuming drives and keep the Paul Bunyan Trophy in East Lansing for the sixth time in seven years.

Michigan State 33 – Michigan 13

M&GB staff predictions: Michigan State

Friday, October 24th, 2014


StaffPicks_banner

Beating up on Michigan State used to be a yearly occurrence that we looked forward to, but over the past few years we have come to dread Michigan State week as Michigan’s offense continues to score fewer and fewer points against the Spartans than they did the previous year. Tomorrow, Michigan State is the heavy favorite and no one gives Michigan a chance, but there’s a reason they play the games. Can Michigan reverse the trend and roll into East Lansing with a big upset? Or will MSU win for the sixth time in the last seven years? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Michigan State
Justin 13 33
Sam 16 33
Derick 14 35
Josh 0 49
Joe 14 42
M&GB Average 11 38

Justin: Stay tuned for my full game preview later this afternoon, but essentially I think Michigan will stay within striking distance into the second half, but just won’t be able to make enough big plays to take advantage of a Michigan State defense that has been giving them up in droves this season.

Defensively, Michigan will stuff the run and force Connor Cook to beat them with his arm, which he will. Michigan State’s offensive line is great at protecting Cook, so his performance will be more like Gary Nova’s than Christian Hackenberg’s. Michigan State pulls away for a comfortable win.

Michigan State 33 – Michigan 13

Sam: The Paul Bunyan trophy is one of the ugliest rivalry trophies out there, and came about in a very inorganic way – an attempt by Michigan’s governor at the time to try to make Michigan consider Michigan State as more of a rival than a, let’s face it, little brother – but it still belongs in Ann Arbor.

Unfortunately, the lumberjack has had to endure a longer-than-expected stay of late in the town just east of the state’s capital. And it appears that he will have to survive one more year with the younger sibling in this series.

Michigan comes into this weekend’s game with Michigan State off what I suppose you would call a win over Penn State and then a bye last Saturday, but things don’t look pretty. The majority of the fan base has been left to speculate over new head coaching candidates rather than enjoy this season and the team on the field just looks bad.

The Spartans, on the other hand, don’t appear quite as dominant defensively as last season, but still will be licking their chops at a matchup with a Wolverine offense that struggles immense to move the ball. Offensively they will look to assert their run game early and then take to the air against a shaky Michigan secondary.

I don’t anticipate the nightmare that was last year, but I still have no idea why I’m going to this game.

Michigan State 33- Michigan 16

Derick: This rivalry matchup has never looked more one-sided than it does in 2014. Michigan is coming off a tough win to break a losing streak, and the No. 8 Spartans have won five in a row.

Michigan’s trip to East Lansing didn’t go well last season as MSU waxed the Wolverines 29-6. This year Michigan has played much worse, and the Spartan offense is the third best in the country in terms of points per game.

Anything can happen in rivalry games, but Michigan is simply outmatched this weekend. Michigan State will pull away early and cruise to a 35-14 win.

Michigan State 35 – Michigan 14

Josh: Coming into the season I didn’t think Michigan had a chance to beat Sparty. After the first seven games I am convinced that this might be one of the worst beat downs in Michigan’s long history. Considering Sparty took it to Michigan 29-6 and held us to -48 rushing yards last year, and Notre Dame and Utah (of all teams) both kept Michigan out of the red zone earlier this year and I have come up with a predicted score of 732-0. Just kidding, but only slightly.

Sparty’s defense, while still impressive, isn’t quite what they’ve been the past few years. Sadly, as we all know, Michigan’s offense is beyond horrendous and now without its starting running back, Derrick Green. I don’t think MSU will hold Michigan to negative rushing yards but I don’t think we’ll hear “The Victors” much, if at all, during the game. On the other side of the ball, Sparty has somehow managed to be one of the highest scoring teams in the nation. Yes, the NATION. The silver lining here, if there is one, is that Michigan’s defense (at least on paper) hasn’t allowed many yards. However, Blake Countess is still a major fixture on the back end and it’s pretty much a guaranteed touchdown when you throw at him these days.

I don’t think Michigan has a snowball’s chance in hell to win this game. I do, however, think they ‘could’ get hyped up for this one and play well for a while. If they can eliminate turnovers then they can keep it within three touchdowns, but I don’t think that’ll happen so this one is going to get ugly.

Michigan turns it over early and often and Connor Cook has a field day throwing at Blake Countess who has gone from All-Big Ten performer to All-Big Ten…well, whatever the opposite of that is. Sparty wins big and continues their reign of dominance over Big Brother.

Michigan State 49 – Michigan 0

Joe:  No matter how disappointing this season has been and is likely to continue to be, we can usually count on big rivalry games like this one to be competitive. For a half at least. Our guys will be fired up and playing on emotion and will stick with Sparty for the first few series. Devin Funchess should get the gang going early but I think that emotion will start to fade as the green and white running game starts to roll. The Spartans are very impressive up front and will wear our defensive line down over time. Connor Cook will take advantage of this in the second half and open things up, tossing two touchdown passes and running for another. After two close games in their last three, “Little Brother” wants to post some big numbers to sway some voters. I’m not sure we can do anything to stop em from accomplishing this goal. Sparty wins going away.

Michigan State 42 – Michigan 14

Michigan State Q&A with Chris Vannini of SpartanTailgate.com

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014


MSU Q-A_banner

Each Thursday throughout the season we collaborate with that week’s opponent blog to get some questions answered by the guys who know more about their team than we do. This week, we partnered with Chris Vannini, writer for SpartanTailgate.com, part of the 247 Sports Network. He was kind enough to answer questions about the way Michigan State fans view Michigan at the moment, how the MSU offense got so good, what — if anything — Michigan’s offense can exploit on Saturday, and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVannini.

1. Michigan State has five wins in the past six years, and is big favorites again this week. It’s got to be getting old, right?

It’s certainly something no one saw coming, having only happened once before, when MSU went 6-0-2 from 1956-63. Yet even in the build-up to this week, it’s clear more intensity is coming from one side, and that’s the MSU side. Now, part of that is certainly because of U-M’s struggles and a developing apathy amongst U-M fans, but this won’t last forever, so MSU fans are making sure they enjoy as much as they can.

2. But seriously, how do Michigan State fans view the current state of the Michigan program and Coach Hoke? With glee, with pity, or what?

More than anything, I think it’s a feeling of, “I told you so.” When Hoke came in and started cleaning up in recruiting, many stories were written about the second coming of a 10-Year War between U-M and OSU, especially after MSU’s 2012 struggles. But it turned out that was an anomaly, and a program that had developed players for five years continued to do so. No one is wondering if MSU can sustain under Mark Dantonio anymore. Years of top recruiting classes and fast starts followed by players not developing and seasons falling apart have taken away any benefit of the doubt U-M receives, while MSU is getting that benefit for the first time, as shown by their high ranking despite the Oregon loss.

3. Since Mark Dantonio took over, the Spartans have had great defenses and average offenses. What’s different about this season? How did the offense get so good, especially after how bad it was the first half of last season?

I’ve never seen a unit improve as much as MSU’s offense did throughout last season, and I don’t think I ever will again. Even MSU’s offensice coaches were surprised, because the offseason is typically when that development happens. With where things ended last year, and with all the skill players coming back (other than Bennie Fowler), we figured the offense could have to carry the team early in the season. But we didn’t see this coming, an offense that is on pace to be the most prolific in school history.

The passing game and Connor Cook continued where they left off, and Cook has played himself into NFL first-round pick consideration. Replacing holes on the offensive line was the question mark. They’ve dealt with some injuries, and aren’t as deep as a year ago, but the results have been promising. MSU is still a solid, not great, running team, and MSU has allowed the fewest sacks per game in the country. Cook has time, and he can find his bevy of receivers, especially Tony Lippett, who has gone from being benched early last season to being one of the best receivers in the country this year, catching everything.

4. By now, we’re used to a vaunted MSU defense, but it seems that MSU has taken a minor step back defensively so far this season. Michigan is actually allowing 0.2 fewer points per game and fewer rushing yards per game. Is there anything that Michigan’s offense has any hope of exploiting this week?

The biggest issue for this defense has been big plays, and it’s because the safeties have struggled. Kurtis Drummond has been inconsistent, and RJ Williamson and true freshman Montae Nicholson have been sharing time at the other safety spot. MSU has allowed 19 plays of at least 30 yards, which is No. 103 nationally. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they’ve been really bad at getting explosive plays on offense. But it’s something most teams have been able to do to MSU this season. The defense as a unit has gone from “elite” to “good,” and the big plays are the biggest problem.

5. Where do you see Michigan State having the biggest advantage this week, and why?

I think it has to come down to MSU’s defensive line against U-M’s offensive line, as it did a year ago. Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush are both playing great on the outside, and Lawrence Thomas, Joel Heath and Malik McDowell have the tackles more disruptive than a year ago. I don’t expect minus-48 rushing yards, but I think Michigan will have trouble getting anything going on the ground, especially with Derrick Green out.

6. Finally, what’s your prediction and how will it happen?

I’m going to go with a 38-24 MSU victory. With the weather looking nice, I think both teams will be able to move the ball (yes, including U-M). MSU will be able to move up and down with the pass, and I think U-M will be able to hit some big plays. Everyone has done it to MSU this year. I don’t see why U-M won’t. But I think it’ll be MSU’s offense that’s the difference in this one, unlike years past.

First Look: Michigan State

Monday, October 20th, 2014


FirstLook-MichiganState

Two weeks ago Michigan stopped the bleeding with a 18-13 win over Penn State, allowing the Wolverines to head into a bye week with momentum. But now the toughest game of the season so far awaits, a trip up I-96 to face rival Michigan State, which enters 6-1 and 3-0 in the Big Ten. It’s no secret that the rivalry has turned in the last six years. Does Michigan have a chance to win back Paul Bunyan? Or will Michigan State continue its recent domination? Let’s take a look at how the teams compare through the first seven games of the season.

Michigan State Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Michigan StateMichigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 47.0 | 21.7 3 | 105
21.6 | 21.4 T34T30
Rushing Yards 1,820 | 1,149 702 | 655
Rush Avg. Per Game 260.0 | 164.1 15 | 64 100.3 | 93.6 8 | 4
Avg. Per Rush 5.4 | 4.7
3.4 | 2.7
Passing Yards 1,856 | 1,231 1,347 | 1,452
Pass Avg. Per Game 265.1 | 175.9 42 | 108 192.4 | 207.4 19 | 36
Total Offense 3,676 | 2,380 2,049 | 2,107
Total Off Avg. Per Game 525.1 | 340.0 12 | 110 292.7 | 301.0 9 | 10
Kick Return Average 21.1 | 19.1 60 | 97 20.9 | 19.5 70 | 44
Punt Return Average 6.9 | 7.8 89 | 68 13.7 | 14.4 115 | 117
Avg. Time of Possession 36:22 | 30:38 1 | 45
23:38 | 29:22
3rd Down Conversion Pct 47.0% | 41.0% 17 | 62
25.0% | 36.0% 3 | 44
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 4-15 | 15-96
T1 | T82
26-186 | 18-150
T4 | T41
Touchdowns Scored 44 | 18
20 | 16
Field Goals-Attempts 7-11 | 8-12
4-5 | 13-14
Red Zone Scores (33-38) 87% | (16-17) 94% 41 | 8
(15-17) 88%(20-22) 91% T94 | T105
Red Zone Touchdowns (28-38) 74% | (13-17) 76% (11-17) 65% | (11-22) 50%
Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) .246 | -.015
36 | 67 -.269 | -.163 39 | 50

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a power in recent years through a punishing and aggressive defense, but this year’s team is getting it done with its offense which ranks third nationally in scoring (47 points per game), behind only Baylor (49) and Marshall (47.4). The Spartans have scored 56 or more points in three of seven games and 45 in two of the other four. The other two were both 27-point outputs in a loss to Oregon in Week 2 and a win over Nebraska in Week 5. UCLA, Arizona, and Washington State each scored more than 27 against Oregon, while the 27 MSU scored on Nebraska are the second-most the Cornhuskers have allowed this season.

Schedule
Date Opponent Result
Aug. 29 Jacksonville State W 45-7
Sept. 6 at #3 Oregon L 27-46
Sept. 20 Eastern Michigan W 73-14
Sept. 27 Wyoming W 56-14
Oct. 4 #19 Nebraska W 27-22
Oct. 11 at Purdue W 45-31
Oct. 18 at Indiana W 56-17
Oct. 25 Michigan
Nov. 8 #13 Ohio State
Nov. 15 at Maryland
Nov. 22 Rutgers
Nov. 29 at Penn State

What’s more is that the Spartans are equally effective on the ground and through the air as opposed to recent years when the running game carried the offense. The running game ranks 15th nationally, averaging 260 yards per game, while the passing game ranks 42nd, averaging 265.1 yards per game. Michigan State has been held below 200 yards rushing just twice — 123 yards against Oregon and 188 against Nebraska. But while the running game didn’t work against Oregon, the Spartans racked up 343 yards through the air, their second-best passing performance of the season. Likewise, the two biggest rushing games — 336 yards against Eastern Michigan and 338 against Wyoming — were the two lowest passing performances — 160 and 195.

While the offense is balanced, it has the ability to control the ball, as evidenced by the fact that Michigan State ranks first nationally in time of possession, averaging 36:22 per game. In addition, the Spartans have allowed only four sacks all season, tied with Duke and Wisconsin for the fewest in the nation. So the Michigan State offense is dangerous on the ground and through the air, doesn’t let opposing defenses get to the quarterback, and possess the ball better than anyone in the country. Doesn’t sound like Michigan State does it?

It’s a good thing for Dantonio that the offense took such a big leap forward this season because his defense isn’t nearly as stout as it has been the past couple years. It’s allowing virtually the exact number of points per game as Michigan (21.6 versus 21.4), has a slightly better pass defense and a slightly worse rush defense. Aside from giving up 46 points to Oregon, State’s defense allowed 31 to Purdue two weeks ago and let Indiana to run all over them last week. Granted, the latter two both resulted in wins, but not thanks to the defense.

Michigan State held four of the first five opponents under 100 yards rushing — Oregon’s 173 yards was the exception — but Purdue and Indiana have both had success the past two weeks. Purdue averaged 5.2 yards per carry and Indiana averaged 6.4. Perhaps they have found something they can exploit. Of course, neither Purdue nor Indiana possessed a defense capable of holding Michigan State’s offense in check, so they both lost. Last season, only four of 14 opponents eclipsed 100 yards and they were four of the final five games of the season.

Four of seven opponents have passed for over 200 yards against the Spartans, but MSU’s pass defense numbers look much better after holding Indiana to just 11 passing yards last week on 5-of-16 passing. That shouldn’t be a surprise, however, as Indiana was starting a true freshman quarterback for the first time — the first playing time of his career — after losing starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld for the season. Oregon threw for 318 yards, Nebraska for 282, Jacksonville State for 222, and Purdue for 211.

While Michigan State’s offense and defense are both very good, the special teams leave something to be desired. MSU ranks 60th in kick return average, 89th in punt return average, 70th in kick return defense, and 115th in punt return defense.

Unlike Indiana and Purdue, Michigan has a defense that can allow it to remain in the game if its offense can find a way to put up points. But it will take a flawless performance in order to do so.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Average/Game
Connor Cook 108-176 1,641 16 5 234.4
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Average/Carry
Jeremy Langford 125 664 7 36 5.3
Nick Hill 76 465 6 76 6.1
Delton Williams 33 239 5 80 7.2
R.J. Shelton 15 127 1 30 8.5
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Average/Game
Tony Lippett 39 786 8 71 112.3
Josiah Price 15 244 4 67 34.9
Aaron Burbridge 13 158 1 22 22.6
Macgarrett Kings Jr. 14 142 1 29 20.3
Keith Mumphery 9 123 1 43 17.6
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Kurtis Drummond (S) 29 4 33 2.0-6 0-0 (2 INT, 6PD)
Taiwan Jones (LB) 15 15 30 7.5-20 3.0-11
Ed Davis (LB) 14 14 28 8.0-31 6.0-25
Marcus Rush (DE) 17 8 25 6.5-40 3.5-34
Shilique Calhoun (DE) 16 6 22 7.5-81 5.0-70
Kicking FG Made FG Att Long XP Made XP Att
Michael Geiger 7 11 42 43 43
Punting Punts Yds Avg. In-20 50+
Mike Sadler 31 1,259 40.6 11 2
Full Stats

Stay tuned for more on Michigan State in the coming days.

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Michigan State

Monday, October 20th, 2014


Five-SpotChallenge_Banner1

Congratulations to Hazel Parker for picking up his first win of the season. He won twice last season and three times in 2011. He was the only contestant under 100 points last week with a deviation of 96, topping second place tooty_pops by 42. As is usually the case, Hazel Parker wasn’t the closest in any single category, but was the most consistent across the board. He was third-closest to Christian Hackenberg’s passing yards (52 away), sixth-closest to Michigan’s rushing yards (28 away), second-closest to the minutes until Michigan’s first turnover (three away), and third-closest to the longest field goal (three away). He wins a $20 M Den gift card.

Kashkaav correctly predicted that the longest field goal would be 45 yards, while Maizenblu62 was only one away. Kfarmer16 was the closest to Devin Gardner’s longest completion, only one away with his prediction of 44 yards. Bigboyblue and BigHouseBrandon were the closest to the minutes until Michigan’s first turnover. It happened 16 minutes into the game and they both predicted 17. MEKMichigan’s prediction of 67  yards was the closest to Michigan’s rushing total (64), while Kashkaav’s guess of 180 was the closest to Hackenberg’s passing yards (160).

No one correctly predicted the final score, although MichiganMack was the closest with his prediction of Michigan 20 – Penn State 12. The average score prediction was Michigan 24 – Penn State 23 and 14 of the 21 contestants picked Michigan to win.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated.

After a bye week, Michigan heads up the road to face rival Michigan State. Here are this week’s questions.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 1

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014


Power Rankings_header

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 15th, 2014


Big-Ten-position-rankings-header-Coaches

This week, as part of our summer-long preview of Michigan football in 2014, we at Maize and Go Blue are ranking who will be the top head coaches in the Big Ten this upcoming season. This may be bending the definition of “position,” but this series has already listed who will be the best offensive, defensive, and special-teams players in the Big Ten in 2014. The head coaches included in this top 10 are whom we believe have been the best coaches recently and will be next season, not necessarily those who have had the best overall careers. Yesterday, we revealed the Big Ten head coaches ranked No. 6 through No. 10. If you missed it, we encourage you to catch up here. Done? Perfect! On that note, let’s unveil who will be the five best head coaches in the Big Ten this fall.

Previously

Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two | Running Backs: Part One, Part Two | Wide Receivers: Part One, Part Two
Tight Ends: Part One, Part Two | Offensive Line: Part One, Part Two | Defensive Line: Part One, Part Two
Linebackers: Part One, Part Two | Cornerbacks: Part One, Part Two | Safeties:Part One, Part Two
Special Teams: Kicking Specialists, Return Specialists | Coaches: Part One

5. Gary Andersen, Wisconsin | Overall Record: 39-35 (6 yrs) – Record at Wisconsin: 9-4 (1 yr)
Big Ten Records Overall W/L Big Ten W/L Standing Bowl
2013 9-4 6-2 2nd (Leaders) Capital One (L)
Career Totals 9-4 6-2   0-1
(Brian Ebner, AP)

(Brian Ebner, AP)

Of all the head coaches in the Big Ten, Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen probably is the toughest to peg. Until this past season, Andersen had no experience coaching in a Power Five conference. He made his head-coaching debut at Southern Utah, a Division I-AA program, in 2003. He departed after the season to become an assistant at Utah—before it joined the Pac-12—where eventually he was promoted to defensive coordinator. He held that position when the Utes’ undefeated squad upset Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Andersen utilized that success to land the head-coaching gig at a floundering Utah State program. The Aggies had not won more than seven games in a season since 1979. Andersen’s first two years there were no different, but, thereafter, he took Utah State to unforeseen heights. The next two seasons, the Aggies totaled an 18-8 record, which included a program-best 11 wins in 2012. No longer was Utah State some bottom-of-the-barrel program. It now was a legitimate “mid-major” power.

Andersen’s achievements in college football’s lower levels were noticed after 2012 as Power Five schools with head-coaching vacancies came calling. One such school was Wisconsin, whom former head coach Bret Bielema had stunned by ditching the Badgers for Arkansas in the SEC. Bielema left behind a Big Ten powerhouse that won a share of the conference crown and appeared in the Rose Bowl each of his final three seasons in Madison. With Bielema no longer in the picture, someone needed to step in and maintain Wisconsin’s success; Andersen was tabbed to be that person. He did well in his first season with the Badgers last year, too. Although their streak of Big Ten championships ended, Andersen coached them to a 9-4 record and national rank of 19th in the F/+ Combined Ratings—a set of rankings which combines two advanced statistical algorithms. It was an encouraging sign that Wisconsin experienced little drop-off with Andersen holding the reins.

Yet this will be the season that really tests whether Andersen deserves to be considered one of the five best coaches in the Big Ten. While Wisconsin will benefit from possessing what should be one of the nation’s most explosive rushing attacks and a weak conference slate, the Badgers still must replace their entire starting front seven on defense and find answers—any answer—for their depleted receiving corps. The talent and depth that has bolstered Wisconsin in years past does not seem to be quite there in 2014. This means that Andersen’s coaching ability will need to be at the top of its game because Wisconsin will not be able to afford as many errors. Then, after the season, we will be able to evaluate Andersen’s performance and finally peg exactly where he should fall on this list.

4. James Franklin, Penn State | Overall Record: 24-15 (3 yrs) – Record at Penn State: 0-0 (0 yrs)
Record at Vanderbilt Overall W/L SEC W/L Standing Bowl
2013 9-4 4-4 4th (East) BBVA Compass (W)
2012 9-4 5-3 4th (East) Music City (W)
2011 6-7 2-6 T4th (East) Liberty (L)
Career Totals 24-15 11-13   2-1
(Matthew O'Haren, USA Today Sports)

(Matthew O’Haren, USA Today Sports)

James Franklin has been a collegiate head coach for only three seasons, but he has taken the nation by storm in that short span. Franklin made his head-coaching debut at Vanderbilt in 2011. Vanderbilt always has been one of the toughest coaching jobs in America due to its small enrollment, academic focus, and SEC membership. Since 1982, the Commodores had recorded only one winning season—a 7-6 record in 2008—prior to Franklin’s arrival and consistently found themselves near the bottom of the F/+ Combined Ratings. They were perennial losers, a team SEC powerhouses viewed as an automatic conference win. But Franklin changed all of that the instant he stepped on the Vanderbilt campus.

Under Franklin, the Commodores were no longer pushovers. In his first season in 2011, he coached Vanderbilt to a 6-7 record and only its second bowl appearance since 1982. The record was not flashy, but, unlike previous seasons, Vanderbilt actually was competitive against its tougher opponents, losing to Georgia, Arkansas, and Florida by a combined 13 points. It is no surprise that advanced statistics really liked what the Commodores offered in 2011, ranking them 39th in the F/+ Combined Ratings just one year after placing 101st. It was significant progress in just one season with Franklin in charge, but he was not finished. In each of the next two seasons, the Commodores posted a 9-4 record and no less than four SEC victories. The last time they had a nine-win season? 1915. And Vanderbilt just accomplished the feat two years in a row. In three seasons at Vanderbilt, Franklin tallied 24 wins overall, which tied the best three-year stretch in school history. Franklin’s stint at Vanderbilt was an overwhelming success as he was able to achieve things there that no one had done in decades and decades.

This translated into instant stardom for Franklin and made him a hot commodity as the coaching carousel spun and spun. Initially, it seemed like Franklin would remain at Vanderbilt for a fourth season. But, then, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien left Happy Valley for a shot at the NFL with the Houston Texans. The Nittany Lions, hoping to appease its disappointed fan base with a popular hire, traveled into SEC territory and persuaded Franklin to join them in the Big Ten. Since then, Franklin and Penn State have torched the recruiting trail. According to 247 Sports, Penn State already has 19 commits in the 2015 class, 12 of which are four-stars, and the sixth-best class in the nation. While Franklin’s recruiting prowess certainly has been noted, the real question is how Franklin will do on the sidelines in his first season at Penn State. The Nittany Lions still are dealing with the scholarship reductions and postseason ban handed to them in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Will Franklin continue to be a star and have immediate success at Penn State like he did at Vanderbilt? Or will the lack of talented depth at multiple positions be too much to overcome? My guess: Franklin’s star may not shine as bright after a 2014 season that will be a tougher challenge than most expect.

3. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern | Overall Record: 55-46 (8 yrs) – Record at Northwestern: 55-46 (8 yrs)
Big Ten Records Overall W/L Big Ten W/L Standing Bowl
2013 5-7 1-7 6th (Legends)
2012 10-3 5-3 3rd (Legends) Gator (W)
2011 6-7 3-5 5th (Legends) Meineke Car Care (L)
2010 7-6 3-5 T7th Ticket City (L)
2009 8-5 5-3 T4th Outback (L)
2008 9-4 5-3 T4th Alamo (L)
2007 6-6 3-5 T7th
2006 4-8 2-6 T8th
Career Totals 55-46 27-37   1-4
(US Presswire)

(US Presswire)

Similar to Penn State’s James Franklin, Pat Fitzgerald has built his coaching reputation by transforming what has traditionally been a down-in-the-dumps football program with lofty academic standards and limited resources into a respectable one. In 2006, Fitzgerald, a former All-American linebacker at Northwestern, was promoted by his alma mater from an assistant to head coach. Prior to Fitzgerald assuming the top spot on its coaching staff, Northwestern had managed an eight-plus-win season only three times since it had joined the Big Ten in 1953. Yet it took the Wildcats only the first seven seasons of Fitzgerald’s tenure to accomplish the same feat, recording nine wins in 2008, eight in 2009, and a program-best 10 in 2012. Not every season has been such a triumph for Fitzgerald’s Wildcats, but no longer are they an easy out for Big Ten opponents.

For example, many may question Fitzgerald’s spot at No. 3 on this list following Northwestern’s underachieving 2013 campaign. Entering last season, the Wildcats were projected to build off their 10-win season in 2012 and possibly contend for a Big Ten championship. However, after sweeping its four non-conference foes, Northwestern suffered one bad break after the other. There was quarterback Kain Colter’s bobbled snap on fourth-and-one as Northwestern was driving for a game-winning score late in the fourth quarter against Ohio State. Then, there was the Hail Mary the Wildcats allowed to Nebraska on the final play of the game to lose by three points. There was also the hurried field goal Michigan somehow managed to kick before time expired to force overtime, which led to Northwestern losing in the third extra frame. And none of this bad luck even accounts for the countless number of Northwestern players that went down with injuries all season. Essentially, everything that could go wrong went wrong. Should Fitzgerald be responsible for some of this? Possibly. But most of the reasons why Northwestern had a 5-7 record last season were out of his control.

This is why Fitzgerald still is considered one of the best coaches in the Big Ten. He put Northwestern in a position to potentially contend for a Big Ten title before bad karma struck and struck hard. Do you know how many other coaches could put Northwestern in such a position? Very, very few. Fitzgerald very likely would experience much more success and more wins if he chose to leave Northwestern for a blue-chip, top-of-the-line college football factory that has exponentially more resources. But he has chosen to stay in Evanston and sustain Northwestern’s new reputation as a respectable program. This fall, even after the recent news that playmaker Venric Mark will transfer and top wideout Christian Jones suffered a season-ending knee injury, the Wildcats still have an outside shot at winning what will be a weak Big Ten West. And this is all possible because of Fitzgerald.

2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State | Overall Record: 128-25 (12 yrs) – Record at Ohio State: 24-2 (2 yrs)
Big Ten Records Overall W/L Big Ten W/L Standing Bowl
2013 12-2 8-0 1st (Leaders) Orange (L)
2012 12-0 8-0 1st (Leaders)
Career Totals 24-2 16-0   0-1
(Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

(Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

There is no doubt that Urban Meyer has the best resume of any head coach in the Big Ten and one of the best in the nation.  Meyer won at an astonishing level at each of his first three stops. When he was first hired as a head coach by Bowling Green in 2001, he took over a program that went 2-9 the previous season. But this did not prevent the Falcons from earning 17 wins in Meyer’s two seasons at the helm. Meyer then moved to the Mountain West Conference to become Utah’s head coach. Just like at Bowling Green, he was there for only two seasons. This time, though, Meyer coached the Utes to a 22-2 record and two conference championships, including an undefeated season and Fiesta Bowl victory in 2004. Meyer experienced the same type of success once he departed for Florida prior to 2005 and joined the “big leagues,” so to speak. In his six years with the Gators, he compiled a 65-15 record, three 13-win seasons, and two BCS national championships (2006 and 2008). In just a short decade, Meyer’s status skyrocketed from being a nobody to being considered one of the best coaches in the country.

After a one-year “reprieve” from college coaching in 2011 to “spend more time with his family,” Meyer dove back into it by taking the head job at Ohio State. The Buckeyes needed a new coach to guide the program after Jim Tressel resigned amid NCAA violations resulting from a tattoo-parlor scandal that saw the NCAA allege that Tressel had knowingly withheld information to maintain his players’ eligibility. Meyer decided he was the man to replace Tressel as the face of the prestigious program. His first two seasons have seen him win just like he has at every other stop he had as a head coach. The Buckeyes won their first 24 contests under Meyer and achieved a perfect season in 2012. Their only two losses were to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game and Clemson in the Orange Bowl last season. Given Ohio State’s current recruiting and Meyer’s astounding track record of winning, Ohio State does not seem like it will be slowing down any time soon.

Accordingly, you are probably wondering why Meyer is at No. 2 on this list rather than in the top spot given the accolades he has received throughout his head-coaching career. Once again, the purpose of this list is to rank who will be the best head coaches in 2014, not necessarily the ones who have had the best careers. There is no doubt that Meyer has had the best career among Big Ten coaches. No other Big Ten coach can claim winning a national championship, let alone two. And no other Big Ten coach can claim to have won 24 consecutive contests at any point of their head-coaching career. Nonetheless, there is another Big Ten coach who has been more impressive than Meyer recently, turning a mediocre program into a consistent contender despite having far less to work with in the cupboard.

1. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State | Overall Record: 82-46 (10 yrs) – Record at Michigan St: 64-29 (7 yrs)
Big Ten Records Overall W/L Big Ten W/L Standing Bowl
2013 13-1 8-0 1st (Legends) Rose (W)
2012 7-6 3-5 4th (Legends) Buffalo Wild Wings (W)
2011 11-3 7-1 1st (Legends) Outback (W)
2010 11-2 7-1 T1st Capital One (L)
2009 6-7 4-4 T6th Alamo (L)
2008 9-4 6-2 3rd Capital One (L)
2007 7-6 3-5 T7th Champs Sports (L)
Career Totals 64-29 38-18   3-4
(AP)

(AP)

Before Mark Dantonio left Cincinnati to assume command of the Michigan State football program in 2007, the Spartans were in a funk. Since the 1987 season, which had been the last time they had participated in the Rose Bowl, the Spartans had managed to win more than eight games only once—a 10-2 record in in 1999 with Nick Saban as head coach. Not only was Michigan State failing to win enough games to contend for conference championships, it also was struggling mightily against its premier rival Michigan. During that two-decade span, the Spartans were only 5-15 against the Wolverines from Ann Arbor. Accordingly, Michigan State was looked down upon by the Big Ten’s best, seen only as a middle-of-the-pack program that caused a minor inconvenience.

When Dantonio first arrived in East Lansing, there was not much to write home about. In his first three seasons at Michigan State, Dantonio’s Spartans put together only a 22-17 record, even though they did beat Rich Rodriguez-led Michigan twice. It was unclear whether Dantonio could take them to the top. It is not fuzzy anymore. In the past four seasons, Michigan State has been one of the best programs in the Big Ten. The Spartans have attained a 42-12 record and 77.8-win-percentage in those four years, which is second in the Big Ten only to Ohio State in that span, and won at least 11 games in three of those years. This increase in wins has brought the Spartans a share of two Big Ten championships—their first since 1990—and their first Rose Bowl victory since 1987. The Spartans now are surging under Dantonio.

So why is Dantonio slotted in the top spot ahead of Meyer? Michigan State’s win against Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game could be used as evidence, but let’s move that to the side for a minute. In the past four seasons, both Michigan State and Ohio State have 42 wins. Ohio State has a better winning percentage only because it has two fewer losses. It is that close. And, yet, Dantonio has achieved this with either loads of recruiting gems or less talented players than Ohio State. From 2009 to 2013, Michigan State’s recruiting classes’ average national ranking was 30.6 according to 247 Sports. Ohio State’s? 7.6. The Buckeyes have had much more raw talent at their disposal than the Spartans, but this has not stopped Dantonio, with the help of defensive wizard Pat Narduzzi, from putting out an equivalent product. No, Meyer has not been at Ohio State for the past four years, but he had much more to work with the moment he stepped foot in Columbus. And, despite this, Michigan State is on the same playing field as Ohio State, which is why Dantonio currently is the best head coach in the Big Ten.

So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with our list? Is Mark Dantonio currently the best head football coach in the Big Ten? Or should that honor belong to Urban Meyer? And what about Brady Hoke? Does he deserve to be in the top five? Please leave your thoughts below in the comments section.

Big Ten Media Days: Word clouding the Big Ten coaches

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014


All 14 Big Ten coaches got 15 minutes apiece at the podium in front of the assembled media in the Hilton Chicago on Monday. Each delivered an opening statement and then fielded a few questions. Typically, there isn’t much news to come out of these sessions. It’s more of a time to drum up excitement about the upcoming season and tout all the things they’re excited about. Every coach has fantasies about Big Ten titles this time of year and doesn’t want to reveal too much, so to spice things up a bit we took an idea that we really liked from the SEC SB Nation blog Team Speed Kills and applied it to each of the Big Ten coaches’ speeches.

We used Wordle to spit out a word cloud for each coach based on the transcript from his 15 minutes at the podium. The bigger the word, the more often it was used, so you can get an idea of what each coach places the most emphasis on. As a Maize and Go Blue exclusive, we also scrubbed away the coach speak and translated what each coach was really saying.

Brady Hoke – Michigan

Hoke

There must be something wrong with this thing. “Tremendous” doesn’t fill the entire page. Neither does “Well…” or “Fergodsakes”. And contrary to popular belief in Columbus and East Lansing, although “think” was his most-used word today, Hoke does “think” about more than just donuts. He didn’t even mention them once in his 15 minutes. But I wouldn’t blame him if he did. There’s a great donut shop a short walk from the Hilton.

Urban Meyer – Ohio State

Urban

I THINK we’re GOING to be GOOD you GUYS. Good enough to have a grand total of zero Big Ten titles and zero bowl wins in my first two seasons. You know what else is good? This Chicago pizza. Have you guys ever had this stuff? It’s JUST so cheesy and…deep. So much better than that other stuff.

Mark Dantonio – Michigan State

Dantonio

You know, we had a GREAT season last YEAR and it was all because of that one GAME when we beat Michigan. The way THINGS are GOING, we’re number ONE in the state as far as FOOTBALL is concerned. Oh, we won the Rose Bowl? Well, we beat Michigan. Where’s the threat?

Bo Pelini – Nebraska

Pelini

I THINK my cat is enjoying himself up in the room. As soon as I’m done talking about FOOTBALL, I’m GOING to take him to see a LOT of Chicago THINGS. It will MAKE his day. You know, it’s LOOKING like he’s the secret ingredient to the TEAM’s success this season. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.

James Franklin – Penn State

Franklin

I’m REALLY EXCITED about this PROGRAM. I THINK it’s GOING to be much easier than it was in the SEC. THINGS aren’t really comparable as far as facilities are concerned, but hey, it’s an OPPORTUNITY and I can’t wait to meet Sandy Barbour woman.

Gary Andersen – Wisconsin

Andersen

I’m glad to begin my second YEAR at Wisconsin. We don’t hear much about Brigham YOUNG around here and that’s always a GOOD thing. These cheese-loving folks are about as GOOD as it GETs. You know, the Packers have that tradition where they let the KIDS give the PLAYERS bike rides, and with the YOUTH we have I THINK that’s a good POSITION to take with this TEAM.

Pat Fitzgerald – Northwestern

Fitzgerald

I THINK it’s so GREAT that you GUYS haven’t asked about unions yet. We just want to play FOOTBALL. I’m not GOING to talk about the WAY our former QUARTERBACK tried to hurt our PROGRAM last YEAR by trying to unionize. These guys are a TEAM, not employees. LOOK, I won’t talk about it at all.

Kirk Ferentz – Iowa

Ferentz

It’s CERTAINLY a GREAT YEAR for Big Ten Media Days with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland. I’ve been coming to this THING for 16 YEARS and it has gotten stale. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve GOT some GOOD coaches in this conference but I THINK Kyle and Randy have what it takes to spice things up a little bit, kind of like Greg Davis and Phil Parker did for me in Iowa City last season.

Kevin Wilson – Indiana

Wilson

Wait, we can’t JUST PLAY offense in the Big Ten? Why didn’t you GUYS tell me that three YEARs ago? My boy Rich Rod told me that’s how you succeed in this conference. I’m starting to THINK he was just pulling my chain. I had to bring in a new defensive coordinator this offseason and he’s GOING to have to get the job done. Go big or go HOME, right?

Jerry Kill – Minnesota

Kill

I’ve GOT this program trending in the right direction, getting BETTER each YEAR, and I THINK that will continue. Have you guys seen that brown jug thing? My KIDS were asking about it, but I’ve GOTTA say, I don’t think that thing actually exists. If it does, our PLAYERS are going to GET it DONE this season. Oh, who am I kidding?

Randy Edsall – Maryland

Edsall

Crabcakes and football. That’s what MARYLAND does! We’re GOING to win the BIG East…I mean ACC…I mean American Athletic Conf…wait, what conference am I in now? Big TEN! That’s right. I THINK I’m gonna need Kirk to show me around.

Tim Beckman – Illinois

Beckman

FOOTBALL! We’ve got lots of PLAYERS, man. But with Scheelhaase gone we need a new QUARTERBACK, so this offseason I set up shop in Tallahassee when I heard Famous Jameis might be in trouble. I really WANT that guy. But it didn’t work out. Anyone else have sanctions going on this YEAR?

Kyle Flood – Rutgers

Flood

This is a cute city you midwestern folks have out here. I mean, REALLY, it’s cute, but it doesn’t compare to the BIG city we have in my part of the country. Chicago has one FOOTBALL team, New York have two, and you know what: they play in Jersey, home of RUTGERS, the school that started football.

Darrell Hazell – Purdue

Hazell

Alright you GUYS. THINGS are GOING just RIGHT for us this YEAR. Have you heard about our 6-foot-8, 400-pound PLAYER? We’ve got the biggest drum and now the biggest FOOTBALL player in the conference. That should guarantee us at least two wins this year.

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

Thursday, June 12th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header-RB

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

Previously: Quarterbacks part one, part two.

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

(Jay LaPrete, AP)

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

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

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

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

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

(Al Goldis, AP)

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

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

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

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

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

(Doug McSchooler, AP)

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

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

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

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

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

(Jamie Sabau, Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

(Morry Gash, AP)

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

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

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

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

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

Drew’s mailbag: The rival Michigan needs to beat, Crawford’s crazy courtship

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014


Below is another installment of Drew’s Mailbag, which will run every two weeks throughout the offseason, answering any questions you may have regarding Michigan athletics. You can submit your questions to Drew on Twitter (@DrewCHallett) or via email (drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com).

Which [rivalry game] do you want the most if [Michigan football] can [win] only one? – Josh (@josh_muhleck)

Why only one? Shouldn’t Michigan expect to beat all three of Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State next season? This is Michigan, fergodsakes. The leaders and best. The champions of the West. Michigan does not accept anything but first place. Etcetera, etcetera. Yada yada yada.

Okay. Now that that is out of my system, let’s be realistic. The truth is that it is highly unlikely that Michigan will defeat all three of Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State in the fall. The Wolverines are staring up at all three rivals at the moment. The Buckeyes are 24-2 in two seasons under Urban Meyer. The Spartans have won at least 11 games three of the past four seasons, which includes earning an outright Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl victory last year. The Fighting Irish are one year removed from an appearance in the national championship game. And this has all happened while Michigan has managed to have only one season with more than eight wins since 2007. The task of beating all three of its rivals is difficult enough when Michigan is at its peak, having done it only twice since 1991. Not even the biggest Michigan homer can expect the Wolverines to pull it off this year given the current state of these four programs.

To make matters worse, Michigan does not even have the luxury of hosting one of its rivals at Michigan Stadium this season. Instead, the Wolverines must face all three of Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State on the road for the first time in school history. This is a nightmare scenario for a program that has struggled on the road against quality competition. Michigan has lost its last 10 true road games against teams ranked in the AP Top 25. The last road win against such a foe was against No. 2 Notre Dame in 2006. Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State likely will be ranked in the AP Top 25 when Michigan steps on the gridiron with them. The idea that Michigan will end this extended road drought by sweeping them is ludicrous. Michigan fans should consider just one win versus its rivals this year as progress.

If Michigan can beat just one rival this fall, the pick should be the one in Columbus (Detroit News)

If Michigan can beat just one rival this fall, the pick should be the one in Columbus (Detroit News)

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s break down which rival Michigan fans should most want the Wolverines to beat this season:

Notre Dame: Nothing would be sweeter than getting the last word in a rivalry that has all but disintegrated. Notre Dame stuck it to Michigan by notifying athletic director Dave Brandon just minutes before the two teams kicked off in 2012 that the Fighting Irish were putting the rivalry on pause after 2014. This was a shock to Michigan. Earlier that summer, Michigan and Notre Dame jointly announced that there would a two-year hiatus in 2018 and 2019 to allow the schools to schedule some new, fresh competition. It was supposed to be a short recess, not a permanent vacation.

Yet this fall will be the last Michigan-Notre Dame clash for the foreseeable future. Michigan reportedly has locked in its premium non-conference opponents through 2023. None are Notre Dame. With the Big Ten adding a ninth conference game to the slate in 2016, Michigan likely will not seek to add a second premium non-conference opponent. And Notre Dame’s affiliation with the ACC limits its availability. Therefore, a win in September would give Michigan bragging rights over the Fighting Irish for the next decade or two.

Nonetheless, Notre Dames is a non-conference rival. It always is enjoyable to watch Michigan’s quarterbacks torch the Fighting Irish, but the wins have no impact on its goal to win a Big Ten championship. Yes, wins against Notre Dame provide the Wolverines an added boost heading into the conference season. However, the significance of those wins pales in comparison to Michigan’s wins against conference rivals, Michigan State and Ohio State. Plus, unlike MSU and OSU, Michigan has had Notre Dame’s number recently, winning six of the last eight meetings. While Michigan would like to make it seven of the last nine, a win here is not nearly as important is would be later in the season.

Michigan State: In 2007, after a fourth-quarter, comeback win against Michigan State, then-Michigan running back Mike Hart claimed that Michigan State was Michigan’s “little brother.” Yet, since those infamous words were spoken, Michigan State has had the upper hand on Michigan. The Wolverines have suffered defeat in five of the six meetings against MSU that followed. Michigan has not had this much trouble with its in-state rival since before Bo Schembechler first arrived in Ann Arbor in 1969.

Accordingly, Michigan State has seen its stock rise to levels it has not experienced in decades. The Spartans are piling up wins, conference championships, and even their first Rose Bowl victory since 1988. Whether Michigan fans want to acknowledge it or not, Michigan State has become a Big Ten power under Mark Dantonio. Even recruits are taking notice as some of Michigan’s top high school talent has begun to favor the Spartans over the Wolverines. This is a trend that Michigan needs to stop in its tracks instantly. The first step to doing so is to beat the Spartans in East Lansing this season.

However …

Ohio State: No matter how compelling an argument one can make that Michigan State is the most important game on Michigan’s schedule this season, no game is more important than “The Game.” A rival against whom Michigan has had a poor six-year stretch does not replace the rival with whom Michigan has created college football’s best rivalry as the most important on the schedule. Sorry. No chance. Yes, a Michigan win against Michigan State would be quite significant for U-M’s future prosperity, but it will never define an entire Michigan season like a win against Ohio State does.

So, if Michigan can beat only one rival this season, it is Ohio State. No ifs, ands, or buts. Of course, I would not mind if Michigan shocked the world and beat all three.

Should we consider [Michigan football commit] Shaun Crawford as good as gone? –Bill (@BillOffer)

Not yet. Initially, when it was confirmed that 2015 four-star defensive back Shaun Crawford had visited Notre Dame last weekend, it looked grim for Michigan. Brady Hoke has a well-publicized policy that discourages current commits from visiting other schools. The policy is simple, even if it has been misinterpreted repeatedly:

If a Michigan commit visits another school, the staff will no longer guarantee the prospect a spot in the class. This does not mean that Michigan will banish the prospect from being a member of its recruiting class, though, as some have claimed. In most cases, Michigan still will want that prospect to be in its class and “re-commit” as soon as he is sure he does not want to take anymore visits. But Michigan may look at other prospects to fill the new vacancy. Nothing is guaranteed. That is the risk of taking visits.

Despite a wandering eye, Crawford shouldn't be considered gone just yet (247 Sports)

Despite a wandering eye, Crawford shouldn’t be considered gone just yet (247 Sports)

With Crawford’s visit to Notre Dame, his spot in Michigan’s class was no longer guaranteed. Although this does not result in an automatic decommitment, most Michigan commits who visit elsewhere tend to decommit because their spot is no longer guaranteed anyway. However, multiple outlets reported that Crawford wanted to remain a Michigan commit despite his wandering eye. It appeared he still favored the Wolverines, but did not want to be forced out by a policy he felt was hypocritical. But Crawford had yet to speak with Hoke about visiting elsewhere. Once Crawford had that conversation with Hoke, I expected that Crawford would decommit and that it would be the beginning of the end.

Yet, according to Rivals’ Josh Helmholdt ($), Crawford stated that he spoke with the Michigan staff on Tuesday night and still is a Michigan commit. Crawford also told Helmholdt that he will continue to look at other schools, which includes a trip to Ohio State soon. It appears that Crawford has gotten what he wanted: to remain a Michigan commit while looking around.

This is good news for Michigan. If Michigan had forced Crawford to decommit, the odds of him recommitting would have been slim to none. Crawford likely would have become frustrated with Hoke’s no-visit policy and disillusioned with the idea of playing football for him in Ann Arbor. Instead, Crawford maintains his commitment with Michigan, which indicates the Wolverines still are the leader for his services. Of course, this could change down the road if Notre Dame, Ohio State, or even Miami (FL) persuades him to make a switch. But this is the life of recruiting. And the odds of this happening would have been much higher if Crawford had decommitted from Michigan.

Plus, Crawford is a commit Michigan wants to keep. Most recruiting services consider Crawford to be in the top 100 of the 2015 class or just outside of it. He is a talented player from the state of Ohio that grew up a Michigan fan. This is not the type of recruit that Michigan can afford to lose right now, especially when Michigan has already lost two other top-50 commits from the 2015 class in running back Damien Harris and wide receiver George Campbell. At the moment, Michigan does not appear to have lost Crawford, but this will be a recruitment we will need to keep our eyes on the next few months.

If you have any questions related to Michigan athletics that you want answered in the next mailbag, please tweet them to @DrewCHallett on Twitter or email them to drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com.