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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.

week-1-12-power-rankings

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

 

The Numbers Game: As big play defense falls back to earth, U-M offense continues to soar

Friday, November 11th, 2016


evans-vs-maryland(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, U-M offense third most explosive, defense best at preventing big plays, MSU wins big play battle, Michigan wins the war,

For the third time this season, and all in the past four weeks, Michigan’s offense topped 16 total big plays. They’ve had double digit big plays in seven of their nine games and have never had less than nine total (twice). I don’t care who you’re playing; topping 16 big plays in a game is huge and Michigan has done it yet again. Harbaugh for President!

Now some bad news, after having only given up more than seven total big plays to their opponents just twice — UCF (7) and MSU (12) — Michigan’s defense surrendered eight to Maryland last week, the majority of which came on the edge via screen passes. However, the silver lining of having a weakness exposed, yet again, is that it means they’ll be all the better prepared for the showdown in the Toilet Bowl, err, Horseshoe, in a couple weeks.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first nine weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 73 41 114 17.17% 7.00% 69
2015 37 26 63 10.24% 0.69% 8

Michigan came out of this one with nine explosive runs and seven explosive passes. Chris Evans added his name to the list of players with both explosive runs and passes when he deftly handled a bobbled screen pass and scampered into the end zone from 57-yards out. Okay, fine, the officials said it was only 56-yards and he didn’t score, but you and I know (and most definitely Jim Harbaugh knows) that was a touchdown.

On the season, Michigan’s juggernaut offense is averaging 8.11 explosive runs (12th nationally) and 4.56 explosive passes (14th) for a total of 12.67 explosive plays per game (2nd). Yes, through 10 weeks of the college football season only ONE team averages more explosive plays per game than Michigan. And it ain’t Clemson.

Read that again, and then tweet it to Kirk Herbstreit and his ESPN cronies. This may be a pro-style offense but it is innovative and explosive, and we have the numbers to prove it.

To make their case even better Michigan’s big play percentage is a whopping 17.17 percent (4th). Not only do they average the second most big plays per game in the country but they also do so at the fourth-best rate, averaging one explosive play for every six plays (it’s actually one per every 5.8-ish but we’ll round up). Their big play differential is 7 percent (5th) and their total toxic differential — the stat that got this column started — is 69, good for FIRST nationally on a per game basis.

Both Michigan’s big play and toxic differential numbers are phenomenal. Strange, because that’s exactly what happened with Harbaugh’s teams in San Francisco too. Greatest football mind of our era? Perhaps.

Michigan is one of only two teams to average at least eight explosive runs and 4.5 explosive passes. Again, Clemson isn’t the other one. It’s still Louisville, by the way.

Garbage time

Only five of Michigan’s 16 explosive plays came during garbage time. For the year, 40.35 percent (46-of-114) of Michigan’s explosive plays have come during garbage time. They do most of their damage before the game is out of hand.

Last year at this time Michigan’s offense was starting to come into its own as the “Rudockening” (as MGoBlog calls it) was underway. They were averaging 4.11 explosive runs and 2.89 explosive passes for a total of seven explosive plays per game, right about where they ended up for the year. Their big play percentage was just 10.24 percent and their big play differential was 0.69 percent. Their total toxic differential was 8, or 0.89 on a per game basis.

Defensive big plays allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages through nine weeks
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 3.89 2.11 6.00 10.17% 7.00% 69
2015 3.56 2.22 5.78 9.56% 0.69% 8

On the other side of the ball Maryland did have those eight big plays of their own. I haven’t gone back to watch the game this week but I do remember Channing Stribling missing a tackle or two on the edge. This is where Jeremy Clark was a much better cornerback in my opinion. He could tackle and was excellent in run defense. But alas…

So far, Michigan’s defense, which took a bit of a step back in recent weeks, is giving up 3.89 explosive runs (27th) and 2.11 explosive passes (5th) for a total of six explosive plays per game (4th). Their big play against percentage is 10.17 percent (31st).

They’re right about where I thought they’d be in this new defensive scheme, and still among the elite defenses in stopping big plays. Don Brown for Secretary of Defense!

Garbage time

Five of those eight explosive plays came during garbage time. Math whizzes will tell you that means only three came before the game was out of hand, which is not bad. The Michigan defense has given up slightly more than half — 51.85 percent — of their big plays during garbage time.

The 2015 defense through nine games was allowing 3.56 explosive runs and 2.22 explosive passes for a total of just 5.58 explosive plays per game. Their big play against percentage was 9.56 percent. Remember, those numbers did not hold over the course of the season though, as Michigan ended up giving up over seven big plays per game when it was all said and done.

Sacks and tackles for loss

Michigan’s defense had a party in the Terrapin backfield last week, racking up three sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Their season totals are now 30 sacks (8th) for 3.33 per game (7th) and both their 83 total tackles for loss and 9.22 TFL per game are ranked first. Through just nine games they are only five tackles for loss and two sacks shy of matching their 2015 season 13-game totals.

Big plays by down

Michigan has registered 114 total explosive plays on offense — 73 run and 41 pass. They surpassed last year’s season total of 95 after the Michigan State game (98) but I forgot to add it in.

um-offense-big-plays-by-down-week-10

An explosive play is slightly more likely on second down (51) than it is on first down (47). An explosive run is more likely on second (37) than first down (31) and an explosive pass play is slightly more likely on first (16) than second down (14). Third down is highly unlikely to see an explosive run (only 6.85 percent of explosive runs happen on third down) but better than a quarter (26.83 percent) of the explosive pass plays happen on third down.

opp-big-plays-by-down-week-10

On defense, Michigan is more likely to give up an explosive play on second down (22) than first down (20) with third down a good deal behind (11). They’ve only surrendered one fourth down explosive play. Almost half of the explosive runs given up happen on second down (18), followed by first (11), and then third (6). Explosive pass plays are more likely to occur on first down (9) than second (4), third (5) and fourth (1) downs.

Big play percentage of total yards

The Michigan defense has given up 967 total rushing yards and 720 of them (74.46 percent) have come via explosive play. They give up just under 20.57 yards per explosive run carry. On carries that do not yield an explosive run Michigan gives up just 0.89 yards per carry. Of the 311 rushing attempts Michigan has seen they have given up an explosive run on just 35 of them (10.17 percent) or roughly one out of every ten opponent carries.

In the passing game, 53.6 percent of the yardage Michigan surrenders comes via explosive pass (670 of 1,250 total). They yield 35.26 yards per explosive pass completion but just 7.44 yards per non-explosive pass completion.

Overall, 62.7 percent of the yards Michigan gives up come via explosive play, at 25.74 yards per play.

Big play scoring drives

Maryland had six drives with at least one explosive play against Michigan, but only scored on one (16.67 percent) of those. Michigan had just nine drives with at least one explosive play but scored on eight of them (88.89 percent). For the year, Michigan has had 72 total drives in which they’ve had at least one explosive play, and they’ve scored on 53 of them, or 73.61 percent of the time. On defense, they’ve surrendered just 13 scores on 33 drives with an explosive play — just 33.33% of the time. What this means is that two-thirds of the time an opponent has a drive with an explosive play (which doesn’t happen often) they still can’t score on this Michigan’s defense. Remember, teams are likely to score 75 percent of the time they have an explosive play on a given drive.

Next opponent
Michigan & Iowa offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 73 41 114 17.17% 7.00% 69
UI Off. 73 18 91 16.37% 3.99% 17
Michigan & Iowa defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 32 14 46 9.89% 7.00% 69
UI Def. 56 18 74 12.37% 3.99% 17

This weekend is a game I had circled and predicted would be a loss in the preseason. My, how a couple months will change all that. Iowa is not who we thought they’d be and Michigan is far better than most thought. Still, Iowa City at night is a scary venue. At least we know Harbaugh will never be satisfied and will always seek to be improving each and every day. This team, and every Harbaugh team, will be absolutely prepared for every single game. Let’s look at the Kirk Ferentz-led Hawkeyes’ numbers, keeping in mind he was signed to a 10-year extension (essentially a lifetime coaching gig).

The Iowa offense is averaging 4.56 explosive runs per game (97th) and 2.89 explosive passes (81st) for a total of 7.44 explosive plays per game (99th). Yikes. Their big play percentage for is 12.16 percent (68th). Their big play differential is 2.04 percent (41st) and their total toxic differential is just 8, good for 54th on a per game basis.

The defense is a little better, but not much. The Hawkeye defense surrenders four explosive run plays per game (31st) and 3.22 explosive passes (67th) for a total of a not un-respectable 7.22 explosive plays per game (31st). Their big play against percentage is 10.12 percent (29th).

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

 

Five-Spot Challenge 2016: Iowa

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016


Congratulations to TheZachster for winning the Five-Spot Challenge for the second time in the past three weeks. His deviation of just 17 beat out bigred‘s total of 41. TheZachster didn’t have a single answer that was more than eight points off the actual. His prediction of 80 rushing yards for Maryland was just two away, tied with GrizzlyJFB. He was closest to Maryland’s longest play, just two away, and closest to Kenny Allen’s longest field goal, just one away. He wins a prize box of product from our sponsors, Lane’s BBQCultivate Coffee & Tap House, and Chayder Grilling Company.

DBenney09 was the closest to Amara Darboh’s 77 receiving yards with his prediction of 78. Ebenszac and artayay were both just one away from the total combined points scored (62).

Michigan Mack was the closest to the final score with his prediction of Michigan 56 – Maryland 0. The average score prediction among the 29 contestants was Michigan 46 – Maryland 10.

The weekly results and season standings have been updated.

This week, Michigan travels to Iowa City looking for their first win since 2005. Here are this week’s picks.

#3 Michigan 59 – Maryland 3: Speight shines as Michigan spoils Durkin’s return

Sunday, November 6th, 2016


speight-vs-maryland(mgoblue.com)

If there was any fear of a post-rivalry win letdown on Saturday, Michigan wasted no time erasing those fears. The Wolverines found the end zone on all five first half possessions while holding Maryland scoreless and cruised to a 59-3 win.

Michigan started with the ball and drive 91 yards on 10 plays as Wilton Speight connected with Amara Darboh for a 34-yard touchdown to start the scoring onslaught.

After forcing a Maryland punt, Michigan needed only six plays to march 84 yards — most notably a 40-yard pass from Speight to Jehu Chesson. Speight capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.

Maryland put together a decent drive, but missed a 29-yard field goal, and Michigan took advantage with a 7-play, 80-yard scoring drive. On the second play of the drive, Speight hooked up with Jake Butt for 37 yards, and a few plays later, De’Veon Smith scored from three yards out to put Michigan ahead 21-0.

um-maryland_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan Maryland
Score 59 3
Record 9-0, 6-0 5-4, 2-4
Total Yards 660 337
Net Rushing Yards 273 78
Net Passing Yards 387 289
First Downs 31 19
Turnovers 0 2
Penalties-Yards 6-62 6-46
Punts-Yards 0-0 2-84
Time of Possession 32:12 27:48
Third Down Conversions 3-of-5 6-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-1 0-of-3
Sacks By-Yards 3-15 1-1
Field Goals 1-for-1 1-for-2
PATs 8-for-8 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 7-of-8 1-of-2
Red Zone Scores-TDs 6-of-8 0-of-2
Full Box Score

Maryland got to midfield, but Michigan’s defense stood strong on a 4th-and-3 conversion attempt and the offense took over once again. On the fifth play of the drive Speight threw deep to Drake Harris down the sideline. Harris made a great catch inside the 10-yard line, but was flagged for offensive pass interference. On the very next play, 2nd-and-34, Speight threw a screen pass to Chris Evans, who, after bobbling the catch, scampered 56 yards to the 1-yard line. Khalid Hill finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.

A Maryland three-and-out gave Michigan the ball back with 2:33 left before the half and the Wolverines went 61 yards in less than two minutes. Speight connected with Chesson for a 33-yard touchdown to widen Michigan’s lead to 35-0 at the half.

Delano Hill intercepted Maryland quarterback Caleb Rowe on the first possession of the second half and Michigan’s offense quickly reached the red zone yet again. But this time the Wolverines couldn’t punch it into the end zone and had to settle for a 29-yard Kenny Allen field goal.

Maryland made it to the Michigan 35, but once again Michigan’s defense stopped the Terrapins on a fourth down attempt. This time, Michigan’s offense was unable to put points on the board for the first time all game. The Wolverines made it to the Maryland 14-yard line, but Khalid Hill was stuffed on 4th-and-1. But the Michigan defense stood strong again with another fourth down stop as Jabrill Peppers and Ben Gedeon combined to tackle running back Lorenzo Harrison for a 5-yard loss on 4th-and-2.

With a short field, Michigan’s offense needed eight plays to find the end zone right at the end of the third quarter. Smith crossed the goal line for the second time in the game to put Michigan ahead 45-0.

On Maryland’s first possession of the fourth quarter they finally ended the shutout with a 10-play, 55-yard drive that ended in a 37-yard field goal.

Michigan answered right back with a 53-yard Ty Isaac run on the first play of its ensuing possession. Two plays later, Smith scored from two yards out to make the score 52-3.

Delano Hill recorded his second interception of the game and John O’Korn led another Michigan scoring drive. The drive started with a 16-yard completion to freshman receiver Kekoa Crawford and ended with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Crawford — the first touchdown of his career.

Michigan’s offense piled up 660 total yards, their most in a game this season. Speight had the best game of his career, completing 19-of-24 passes for 362 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. De’Veon Smith topped 100 yards for the first time this season, finishing with 114 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries for an average of six yards per carry. Chesson led the way through the air with five receptions for 112 yards and a score. Butt had five for 76 and Darboh had four for 77 and a score. For the second game this season Michigan didn’t have to punt.

Michigan’s defense surrendered 367 total yards to Maryland’s offense, but just three points. Quarterback Perry Hills, who entered the game tops in the Big Ten in pass efficiency, completed 4-of-4 passes but was knocked out of the game in the second quarter. His replacement, Rowe, completed just 12-of-23 passes for 203 yards — mostly on screens — and two interceptions.

Now 9-0 overall and 6-0 in Big Ten play, Michigan visits Iowa next Saturday for a primetime matchup against the Hawkeyes (5-4, 3-3). Iowa lost to No. 12 Penn State, 41-14, on Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Wilton Speight (19-of-24 for 362 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 carries for 16 yards, 1 touchdown)
Speight gets the game ball for the third time this season after his best performance of the year. The redshirt sophomore started fast and never let up, completing 79.2 percent of his passes for 362 yards and two touchdowns. He looked cool and calm in the pocket, evading defenders like a seasoned veteran, and even saw an open running lane up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. After the game, Jim Harbaugh called his first half — in which he went 13-of-16 for 292 yards and two touchdowns — the best half of football he’s ever seen by a Michigan quarterback. Harbaugh also brought Speight’s name into the Heisman conversation. In reality, it’s too late for that, but if Speight keeps up this play, there’s no reason to think Michigan can’t win out and he’ll set himself up for Heisman consideration entering 2017.

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)
Week 7 — Wilton Speight (16-of-23 for 253 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 8 — Amara Darboh (8 receptions for 165 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Delano Hill (6 tackles (5 solo), 0.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions)
It seems like every week Ben Gedeon could be deserving of the defensive game ball, but narrowly misses out. This week was no different as he led the team with 11 tackles and three for loss. But strong safety Delano Hill gets the nod for his first two interception game of the season. The senior also recorded six tackles — five of them solo — including a half of a tackle for loss. His play in the secondary is important to Michigan’s defensive success as one of the unheralded stars. The defensive line gets a lot of hype, as do Peppers and Jourdan Lewis, but if Hill can consistently ball hawk from his spot, it makes the defense that much better.

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)
Week 7 — Mike McCray (3 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 2 quarterback hurries)
Week 8 — Jabrill Peppers (7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 two-point conversion fumble recovery for touchdown)

M&GB staff predictions: Maryland

Friday, November 4th, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Previously this week: First Look, Five-Spot Challenge, Tailgate Tuesday, Big Ten power rankings, The Numbers Game, game preview

Fresh off a win over rival Michigan State, Michigan returns home to host former defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin’s Maryland Terrapins. Maryland comes in with a 5-3 record, but has lost three of its last four. Could Durkin shock his former boss? Or will Michigan stay focused on the task at hand and take care of business?

Justin won our weekly predictions last week for his first win of the season with his prediction of Michigan 33 – Michigan State 13. Here are this week’s picks:

Justin (1)
Staff Predictions
Michigan Maryland
Justin 45 17
Derick 48 13
Sam 38 3
Josh 38 17
Joe 42 7
M&GB Average 42 11

Four straight opponents have rushed for at least 200 yards on Maryland’s defense — Indiana (414), Michigan State (270), Minnesota (229), and Penn State (372) and there’s no reason to believe Michigan will end that streak. Look for Harbaugh to give the ball to Michigan’s stable of backs over and over and over again with some jet sweeps mixed in. Of course, Durkin will know that Harbaugh will do this, but his defense won’t be able to stop it consistently.

On the other side of the ball, Maryland will probably hit a few explosive runs. Remember, the Terps actually have nine more explosive runs (10 or more yards) than Michigan does so far this season — which ranks sixth nationally — and Johnson and Harrison average 8.6 yards per carry. They won’t have consistent success against Michigan’s stout defense, especially without a major passing threat, but they’ll bust a few.

But it won’t be enough as Michigan is simply more talented and experienced on both sides of the ball. The Wolverines top 300 yards rushing and score pass just enough to keep the defense honest. Michigan’s defense gets to Hills a few times, but surrenders a few big plays and a couple of touchdowns. Michigan has the game in hand by halftime and cruises to a comfortable win.

Michigan 45 – Maryland 17

Derick

Michigan hasn’t covered two weeks in a row after covering easily throughout most of the first half. D.J. Durkin is returning to the Big House with a much-improved Maryland team and a reinvigorated Perry Hills at quarterback. But Michigan’s defense is a completely different monster, and the toughest test Hills will face all season. I think Michigan will handle the Terps’ defense fairly easily and cruise to a big win

Michigan 48 – Maryland 13

Sam (1)

On paper, this game looks a lot like the Illinois game to me. Sure, Maryland has been playing a bit better than the Fighting Illini, but they don’t have the players or schemes to give Michigan much of a challenge. Expect the Wolverines’ ground game to be on full display yet again while Speight throws a couple first half touchdowns before packing it in after halftime. Give me the Maize and Blue in yet another snoozer.

Michigan 38 – Maryland 3

Josh (1)

I haven’t seen Maryland play this year. I mean, why would I want to watch that? But from what I can glean from some breakdowns and the traditional and fancy stats, they’re a spread-y team in the mold of Ohio State — except without freak athletes. This should be a good test to see how Don Brown handles the power-spread that D.J. Durkin could not. As we saw in this week’s The Numbers Game, Maryland is better on the ground than through the air and very good at generating explosive run plays, averaging 9.13 per game (6th nationally). But they’re not so good at explosive pass plays, ranking 111th. On defense, their run defense isn’t very good but their pass D is, so it could be interesting to see what Harbaugh has in mind. Michigan should have their way with the Terrapin defense, especially on the ground.

Honestly, I’m a little nervous about Maryland. It’s a classic trap game, sandwiched between a rival and a brutal away game at night. Plus, last year’s OSU game looms large in the back of my mind and Colorado had some great success early on against Michigan with their spread-y ways.

Maryland doesn’t have the athletes that Michigan does but spreading out the defense and going with three wide receiver looks opens the middle up for big runs, which they are very good at and Michigan has traditionally struggled with. Yes, Michigan does have Don Brown and Jabrill Peppers, but I think Maryland will find some success running the ball much like MSU did last week.

I expect them to dink and dunk down the field and get a big gainer here and there on their way to double digit points. I have a sneaky feeling this game will be uncomfortably close for longer than Michigan fans would like, thus refueling the concern against OSU, despite them appearing to be mortal.

Maryland puts up 400 yards and a fair deal of points, relatively speaking, due to busts on big runs up the middle. I’m looking at you Dymonte Thomas. Michigan wins but it’s close enough where the media, and fans, will start to question the elite status of Michigan’s defense.

Michigan 38 – Maryland 17

Joe (5)

We’re in the home stretch and everything is going as planned. I’m intrigued with this game only because we’re facing a former coach who knows Harbaugh and our boys fairly well. Durkin knows that the only way to keep things close is by draining the clock and keeping the Michigan offense on the sidelines. Maryland and their top 15 rushing attack will rely on a strong ground game and ball control. The defensive front will be tested but will also be out to prove the fourth quarter from last week is not going to happen again. I see Michigan coming out pumped and looking to bury the Terps quickly, which they do starting in the second quarter. Michigan wins this one big.

Michigan 42 – Maryland 7