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Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Wolverines’

Register for RunTough for chance to win Michigan-Ohio State tickets

Thursday, September 7th, 2017


The 4th Annual RunTough for ChadTough is quickly approaching and The ChadTough Foundation is offering a pair of tickets to the Michigan vs. Ohio State football game on Nov. 25 to one lucky winner. All you have to do is register for RunTough between now and Friday, September 15 at 11:59pm ET.

Everyone who registers — regardless of age or location — is eligible to win. Each registration counts as one entry into the drawing. The ChadTough Foundation will announce the winner on Mon., Sept. 18 on the organization’s Facebook page and will reach out to the email address associated with the winner’s registration to coordinate ticket delivery.

RunTough is a family-friendly 5K and 1M Fun Run that can be done in Saline, Mich. or virtually anywhere in the world.

All proceeds from the run will go to The ChadTough Foundation, whose mission is to fund research and raise awareness for pediatric brain cancer with an emphasis on Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).

This event will celebrate Chad’s birthday while rallying to cure pediatric brain cancer.

Visit the RunTough page on the foundation’s website for more information.

Tailgate Tuesday: Steak tacos nortenos with bacon fat flour tortillas

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017


Tailgate Tuesday is our weekly contribution from our resident pitmaster, Joe Pichey from GoBlueBBQ. Joe has limited time this season, so we will be tag-teaming the weekly recipes. These tailgate recipes will be posted each Tuesday throughout the football season and will feature a variety of appetizers, main courses, and sides to help you be the king of your next tailgate. Gentry’s BBQ, a Orlando, Fla. based BBQ and catering company, sponsors this season’s feature by providing their killer rubs and sauces for use in the recipes. Buy them here. In addition, Fogo Charcoal provides charcoal to use in each recipe. Buy it here.

Previous: Gator kabobs
Recipe Archive

This week’s recipe is one I found online this summer and had to try it, and it sure didn’t disappoint. It’s easy enough to make on a grill, so it’s tailgate friendly, and it’s a different and extremely tasty twist to the standard tailgate food. Give it a try and take your next tailgate to the next level.

Ingredients

Tortillas:
• 1 pack of bacon
• 2 TBSP + 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
• 1 1/4 cups whole milk, divided
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
• 3 cups all purpose flour

Filling:
• Hangar or skirt steak
• Gentry’s Beef Brigade BBQ Rub
• 2 TBSP olive oil
• 2 large onions
• 10 garlic cloves
• 4 serranos or jalapenos
• 4 tomatoes
• 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
• Monterey jack cheese
• Limes

Directions

Start with the tortillas, which will need space on a prep table in order to roll out the dough. Start with cooking the bacon in a skillet, ideally cast iron, on your grill until brown and crisp. Remove the cooked bacon and save for later. Pour out 2 TBSP of bacon fat and set aside for the tortillas. Save the remaining bacon fat in your skillet.

In another pan, combine the vegetable oil, 3/4 cup whole milk, and the 2 TBSP of bacon fat and bring to a simmer (not boil) in the saucepan on your grill. Then immediately remove it from the grill. In a bowl, whisk in the baking powder, salt, and flour, then pour in the hot milk mixture and add the remaining 1/2 cup of cold whole milk. Mix with your hands until a shaggy dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes. Wrap in plastic, and let rest at room temperature.

Season your steak with Gentry’s Beef Brigade BBQ Rub and a marinade if you wish. For this recipe I used a cilantro lime marinade because I had it in the cupboard, but with all the other flavors in this recipe you certainly don’t need it. Grill your steak until nicely browned and medium rare, approximately 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes, then slice against the grain.

Add your skillet back to the grill and heat the reserved bacon fat, then add onions and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the serranos or jalepenos and cook another 5 minutes until the chiles are softened and the onions are brown. Add the chopped tomatoes until they are soft and begin to make a sauce, about 10-15 minutes. Mix in the steak slices and juices, the sliced reserved bacon, and some chopped cilantro and cook until the meat is heated through. Top with monterey jack cheese until melted.

If you’re doing this at a tailgate, transfer that whole filling mixture into a serving bowl and put your cast iron back onto the grill. Divide your rested dough into approximately 16 ping pong size balls. One at a time, roll out to approximately 6 inches each. Cook on the skillet until brown spots form on the bottom and air bubbles form on the surface, about 2 minutes. Poke large bubbles to release steam. Flip and cook another 1-2 minutes. Cook one or two at a time until done.

Fill tortillas with the steak filling, top with cilantro, and squeeze a little lime juice, and enjoy! These have a deep, rich flavor and the soft bacon fat flour tortillas will be an instant hit, full of flavor and thick enough to hold the heartiness and juiciness of the filling. You’ll probably never go back to store bought tortillas again.

Sure, it’s a little more work than grilling burgers and brats, but oh so worth it. Your tailgate guests will be asking for more.

Visit Gentry’s to purchase their great rubs and sauces. You can follow them on Twitter at @gentrysbbq and you can also follow our resident pitmaster Joe at @mmmgoblubbq.

First Look: Cincinnati

Monday, September 4th, 2017


All the talk heading into Michigan’s season opener was about the Wolverines’ inexperience after losing 15 starters including 10 from the defense alone. But there was plenty of young talent remaining to shut down Florida’s offense and capture a 33-17 victory. It was an important first road block cleared by the baby Wolverines and now they get a few games against less talented teams to refine things before the meat of the schedule begins.

Cincinnati is the first victim — I mean, opponent — and the early line has Michigan favored by 33 points. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Cincinnati & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
26.0 81st 33.0 55th PPG 14.0 34th 17.0 44th
97 215 Rush Yds 224 11
97.0 89th 215.0 44th Rush/Gm 224.0 99th 11.0 3rd
3.3 4.4 Rush Avg 3.7 0.4
151 218 Pass Yds 89 181
151.0 99th 218.0 68th Pass/Gm 89.0 12th 181.0 46th
248 433 Total Off. 313 192
248.0 107th 433.0 58th Total Off./Gm 313.0 48th 192.0 17th
20.5 58th N/A N/A KR Avg 19.3 63rd 17.8 50th
10.5 29th 8.0 42nd PR Avg 1.0 58th N/A N/A
22:19 113th 34:13 25th Avg TOP 37:41 25:47
27% 100th 33% 80th 3rd Down% 19% 18th 15% 14th
0-0 1st 5-22 112th Sacks-Yds 1-6 69th 6-35 3rd
4 3 TDs 2 2
0-1 (00%) 4-6 (67%) FG-ATT 0-0 (–%) 1-2 (50%)
4-5 (80%) 74th 3-4 (75%) 84th Red Zone 2-4 (50%) 25th 0-0 (–%) 1st
4-5 (80%) 1-4 (25%)  RZ TD 2-4 (5-%) 0-0 (–%)
OFEI/DFEI
S&P+

Cincinnati won its opener against Austin Peay 26-14 on Saturday in the head coaching debut of former Ohio State defensive coordinator and interim head coach Luke Fickell. Austin Peay is an FCS team that went 0-11 last season, has a 28-game losing streak, and featured the third-worst (120th-ranked) total defense in FCS. The Governors allowed 506.6 total yards per game last season and held Cincinnati to just 248 yards on Saturday. They were also dead last in FCS in scoring defense, allowing 47 points per game, and they held Cincinnati to 26. Either they’ve made major improvements defensively, or Cincinnati’s offense is pretty bad this year.

The Bearcats went 4-8 in 2016 and had the nation’s 99th-ranked offense, but still compiled at least 80 yards more in each game last season than they did on Saturday. Now they have to face a Michigan defense that held Florida to just 191 total yards and 11 yards rushing. Cincinnati managed just 97 yards on the ground on Saturday against a run defense that allowed 257.8 yards per game in 2016. Cincinnati had the nation’s 117th-ranked running game a year ago and it doesn’t appear to be much better this fall.

Quarterback Hayden Moore completed 17-of-28 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns, which is a positive for the Bearcats. He had a career touchdown to interception ratio of 20-to-18 entering Saturday.

Defensively, Cincinnati allowed Austin Peay to compile 313 total yards including 224 on the ground. The Governors ran the ball 60 times compared to just 19 passes, but clearly they felt they could run on the Bearcats’ defense, which bodes well for Michigan’s running game this week. In fact, first-year Austin Peay head coach had an interesting comment after the game.

“There’s nothing that Cincinnati did that stopped us on offense,” quarterback JaVaughn Craig said after the game. “We stopped ourselves. I do give credit to Cincinnati’s defense. They’re very physical, they run to the ball and they play hard. I just feel like we can control and do things a lot better on the offensive side of the ball.”

Yes, a quarterback of a team that has the longest losing streak in the nation — FBS or FCS — played the “we stopped ourselves” card. Michigan ran for 215 yards on a stout Florida defense and should run all over Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati pass defense allowed just 89 passing yards on 9-of-19 passing, but the Bearcats ranked 74th against the pass last season. Fickell is a defensive coach, but Michigan’s passing game will get a chance to give the young receivers plenty of work.

Cincinnati.com opined that Fickell may have been holding back on Saturday given the opponent so as to not show Michigan and future opponents much of anything. That’s a bit hard to believe since it was a six point game until five minutes left. Even if it’s true, there’s only so much the Bearcats can improve, and Michigan presents the toughest test they’ll face all season.

#11 Michigan 33 – #17 Florida 17: Second half surge, dominant defense carry U-M

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017


(Kevin Goheen, Land of 10)

The first game of the season is always a bit of a mystery as teams break in new players and work out some kinks as they hit the field for the first time after months of preparation. Ohio State struggled with Indiana in the first half before pulling away in the second. Washington struggled with Rutgers and Wisconsin struggled with Utah State on Friday night before both pulled away.

Michigan was one of the few ranked teams nationally to face a ranked power-five opponent, and despite having their share of struggles in the first half, dominated the second half to claim a resounding 33-17 win.

Final Stats
Michigan  Florida
Score 33 17
Record 1-0 0-1
Total Yards 433 192
Net Rushing Yards 215 11
Net Passing Yards 218 181
First Downs 19 9
Turnovers 2 3
Penalties-Yards 7-55 5-45
Punts-Yards 3-82 6-328
Time of Possession 34:13 25:47
Third Down Conversions 6-of-18 2-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 1-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 6-35 5-22
Field Goals 4-for-6 1-for-2
PATs 3-for-3 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-4 0-of-0
Full Box Score

Florida took the opening kickoff and went 46 yards in six plays for a 46-yard field goal, but Michigan’s defense held the Gators to just 146 total yards and no points the last 57 minutes of the game. It was a performance that put to rest — at least for now — the notion that the Wolverines’ defense would take a step back after losing 10 starters. The new look defense recorded six sacks, forced five turnovers (three recovered), and held Florida to just 192 total yards and only 11 yards on the ground. Florida’s offense wasn’t held below 200 yards all season a year ago.

Michigan’s offense, meanwhile, had its highs and lows but ultimately turned in a positive performance against one of the best defenses they’ll face all season. The first drive of the season yielded points on a 25-yard Quinn Nordin field goal that capped a 14-play, 68-yard drive. On the next possession, Chris Evans broke loose for a 29-yard run and on the very next play, Wilton Speight connected with freshman receiver Tarik Black for a 46-yard touchdown.

But the fun didn’t last for long as Speight threw back to back interceptions returned for touchdowns and suddenly the Wolverines trailed 17-10. Two possessions later, with John O’Korn in for Speight, Nordin showed off the big leg that earned him the top kicker of the 2016 class ranking, nailing a 55-yard field goal. Florida’s normally reliable kicker, Eddy Pinero, missed a 47-yarder on the ensuing possession and Florida took a 17-13 lead into the half.

The second half was all Michigan as the Wolverines took the first possession 75 yards on 10 plays for a 3-yard Karan Higdon touchdown to retake the lead. Freshman Ambry Thomas forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and Michigan tacked on a 30-yard Nordin field goal.

Michigan’s defense forced its second fumble of the game three plays later when Josh Metellus stripped quarterback Feleipe Franks and Lawrence Marshall recovered at the Florida 31-yard line. The offense was unable to move the ball and Nordin kicked a 50-yard field goal, becoming the first kicker in Michigan history to boot two field goals of 50 yards or more in the same game.

In the fourth quarter, Nordin missed from 52 yards and 32 yards to keep Florida within reach, but the Michigan defense closed it out with a Chase Winovich sack of backup quarterback Malik Zaire, who fumbled and Noah Furbush recovered in the end zone for a Michigan touchdown.

All told, the Michigan offense put up 433 total yards in a balanced effort, rushing for 215 yards on 4.4 yards per carry against a stout Florida front seven and passing for 218. Speight completed 11-of-25 passes for 181 yards, one touchdown, and two picks. Ty Isaac led Michigan on the ground with 114 yards on just 11 carries (10.4 yards per carry), while Evans 78 yards on 22 carries (3.5 ypc). Black caught two passes for 83 yards and one score. Grant Perry had the most receptions with four for 46 yards.

Defensively, Devin Bush was all over the field, finishing with seven tackles (five solo), three tackles for loss, and two sacks. Winovich, Mike McCray, Josh Uche, and Khaleke Hudson all recorded a sack as well.

Michigan hosts Cincinnati in its home opener next Saturday at 12pm. The Bearcats, under first-year head coach Luke Fickell, beat Austin Peay 26-14 to open the season.

Game Ball – Offense

Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
One of the big question marks for Michigan entering the season was the special teams play, especially at kicker where the reliable Kenny Allen had to be replaced. I said in my game preview that Florida had a big edge in this category, but Nordin put those fears to rest by nailing his first three field goals of the day, two of which were from 50 yards and beyond. Sure, he missed two in the fourth quarter, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt after his performance prior to that. The Michigan career record for field goals of 50 or more yards is four by Hayden Epstein from 1998-2001. In his first career game, Nordin made half of that, tying him with Mike Gillette, J.D. Carlson, Mike Lantry, and Jay Feely for third all-time.

Game Ball – Defense

Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
With only one returning starter on defense, Michigan needed some of its young talent to emerge and Bush did just that. He looked good in limited time as a true freshman in 2016, but shined in his first start. It almost didn’t happen as he was flagged for a late hit on the game’s first play. The play was reviewed for targeting, which would have ejected him form the game, but the officials ruled that it wasn’t. Good thing, because he was all over the field, recording seven tackles, three for loss, and two sacks.

Four Bold Predictions Results

Two good:
• Wilton Speight looks solid and throws for 250 yards as Michigan’s passing game looks exciting 
– Speight was up and down, making a nice 46-yard touchdown pass to Tarik Black on Michigan’s second possession, but then throwing two pick-sixes. The first wasn’t necessarily his fault — it was a little high but should have been caught by Kekoa Crawford — but the second was a straight overthrow. That led directly to 14 Florida points, the only two touchdowns the Gators scored. Speight finished with 181 yards but completed just 44 percent of his passes. The good news is that he gets to face a few less than stellar defenses in the coming weeks to gain his rhythm heading into the meat of the schedule.

• Chris Evans starts and runs well, but Karan Higdon leads the Wolverines in rushing 
– I’m giving myself a push on this one as I was right that Evans wouldn’t lead the team in rushing, but I predicted the wrong guy. Higdon did record Michigan’s lone rushing touchdown, but he was third with 28 yards gained on seven carries. Ty Isaac led the way with 114 yards on 111 carries, while Evans tallied 78 yards on 22 carries. Isaac was the surprise of the game offensively, looking like a much stronger runner than he did last season.

Two bad: 
• Michigan’s young secondary struggles but the pass rush, led by Chase Winovich, mitigates the damage 
– I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt on this one. The defense performed admirably all game, holding Florida to just three points and 192 total yards. But if there is one nit-pick it is that the young secondary gave up a few deep balls. Brandon Watson and Lavert Hill each got beat a couple of times by Florida’s receivers. Franks is far from the best quarterback the Wolverines will face this season, so they’ll have to shore that up before heading to Happy Valley in mid-October. The pass rush got to Florida quarterbacks six times including the game-sealing sack and forced fumble by Winovich that resulted in a Michigan touchdown.

• Two missed Michigan field goals keep the game closer than it should be 
– This appeared to be a bad prediction through the first three quarters when sophomore kicker Quinn Nordin nailed his first three field goals, two of which were from 50 yards or beyond. But he came back down to earth a bit in the fourth quarter with two missed field goals that did keep Florida in the game. Nordin did, however, ease some concerns about the placekicking job in Kenny Allen’s absence.

#11 Michigan vs #17 Florida game preview

Friday, September 1st, 2017


The long offseason is finally over. When we wake up tomorrow morning College Gameday will fill our TV screens and college football will be upon us. Sure, it started last weekend with a few tomato can games and Ohio State and Indiana gave us a nice little appetizer on Thursday night, but tomorrow is the first full Saturday of the season. Most importantly, it’s the first Michigan football game of the season.

Quick Facts
AT&T Stadium – 3:30p.m. EST – ABC
Florida Head Coach: Jim McElwain (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 41-24 overall (19-8 at UF)
Offensive Coordinators: Doug Nussmeier (3rd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Randy Shannon (1st season)
Last Season: 9-4 (6-2)
Last Meeting: Michigan 41 – UF 7 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 3-0
Record in regular season: First meeting
Jim Harbaugh vs Florida 1-0
Last Michigan win: Jan 1, 2016 (41-7)
Last Florida win: Never
Current Streak: Michigan 3

For the second straight game, Michigan faces a team from the state of Florida. The Wolverines closed the 2016 season with a 33-32 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl and now faces Florida to open the 2017 season. Michigan is 3-0 all-time against the Gators with the most recent win coming at the end of the 2015 season when Michigan throttled Florida 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl. This will be the teams’ first regular season meeting as they also faced off in the 2003 Outback Bowl and the 2008 Capital One Bowl.

Florida has had an eventful offseason that will leave them shorthanded on Saturday. Seven players were initially announced as suspended when news came of a debit card scheme involving using school-issued funds and then trying to claim them lost or stolen. Starting wide receiver Antonio Callaway was among them. Then, just this week, two more players were announced as suspended for the same issue, including starting running back Jordan Scarlett. Freshman wide receiver was suspended for a separate incident involving marijuana possession.

That leaves ten Gators on the sidelines for Saturday and puts Michigan in a bad position. If the Wolverines win, pundits will place an asterisk next to it because Florida wasn’t at full speed. Remember last December when Michigan was penalized for beating Colorado without Sifo Liufau — who the Wolverines knocked out of the game — and beating Penn State without a couple of starting linebackers. If the Wolverines lose, it won’t go down as a “good loss” at the end of the season, but rather, will look worse since Florida was depleted.

Regardless, Michigan can do only what it can control, and that is win the game by as many points as possible; leave no doubt who the better team is, suspensions be damned.

Most national pundits have been predicting a Florida win based on the number of starters and production Michigan lost to the NFL in the offseason. But Jim Harbaugh’s third squad figures to be faster and more athletic than his first two and there is still plenty of talent — albeit young — remaining to keep the Wolverines in the hunt for the Big Ten title. Tomorrow’s game won’t change that, but it has a chance to set the tone for the season and put the college football landscape on notice. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Florida offense

Michigan fans will remember Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who coordinated the Michigan offense in Brady Hoke’s final season. He was the big hire in the 2014 offseason out of Alabama as Hoke’s final attempt to right the ship, but his offense failed to produce a winning season. He hasn’t had much success at Florida either, guiding the Gators to the 111th and 116th-best total offense and 100th and 107th best scoring offense in his first two seasons.

Nussmeier finds himself in a quarterback quandary entering 2017 and will start redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who has yet to play a college game. The 6-foot-6, 219-pound Crawfordville, Fla. native threw three interceptions in his first four passes in the 2016 spring game, but had a much better spring this year, completing 8-of-14 for 119 yards and a touchdown. With good size, he also has decent mobility and reportedly has a big arm, and that was enough for head coach Jim McElwain to name him the starter over Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire and upperclassman Luke Del Rio. It’s a pretty good bet to assume that Zaire will see the field as well due to his experience.

Wish Scarlett sidelined, Florida will turn to sophomore Lamical Perine, who rushed for 421 yards on 91 carries (4.6 yards per carry) and one touchdown last season. He was one of just eight FBS true freshmen to rush for 100 yards in multiple games against Power Five opponents last season when he recorded 105 against Kentucky and 106 against Missouri.

Even with Callaway suspended, Florida boasts a deep collection of talent at receiver that will test Michigan’s young and inexperienced secondary. Sophomores Tyrie Cleveland (14 catches, 298 yards, 2 touchdowns), Josh Hammond (14 catches, 177 yards), and Freddie Swain (8 catches, 118 yards, 2 touchdowns) are all former four-star recruits, and senior Brandon Powell (45 catches, 387 yards, 2 touchdowns) was the team’s second-leading receiver last season out of the slot. Both tight ends, senior DeAndre Goolsby (38 catches, 342 yards, 3 touchdowns) and junior C’yontai Lewis (18 catches, 184 yards, 2 touchdowns) are also back.

The Florida offensive line has been pretty poor the past few seasons but there is optimism around Gainesville for a step forward this fall. Junior Martez Ivey, the No. 2 overall player in the 2015 class, is locked in at left tackle, while Jawaan Taylor is back at right tackle after starting 12 games as a true freshman last season. Redshirt sophomore center T.J. McCoy started four games last season, while true freshman Brett Heggie has looked good in the offseason and junior Fredrick Johnson, who has 10 career starts, are the guards.

Florida defense

Like Michigan, Florida has boasted one of the nation’s best defenses the past couple years, but McElwain’s defensive coordinator from those two seasons, Geoff Collins, bolted for the Temple head coaching position in the offseason. Up steps Randy Shannon, who has been on the staff as associate head coach, co-defensive coordinator, and linebackers coach the past two seasons.

Shannon was perhaps college football’s best defensive coordinator in the 2000s, guiding Miami’s defenses to 6th, 7th, 2nd, 28th, 4th, and 7th from 2001-06. He became head coach in 2007 but had just middling success and has worked his way back up since then through TCU, Arkansas, and now Florida.

He inherits the nation’s 5th-best total defense and 6th-best scoring defense from 2016, but has some holes to fill, most notably in the secondary where cornerbacks Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson and safety Marcus Maye are gone. Another safety, Marcell Harris, who started eight games last season, tore his Achilles in the offseason is out for the year.

McElwain said on Thursday that there could be four freshmen playing at a time in the secondary on Saturday. Marco Wilson, a four-star recruit in the most recent class, is likely to be one of them getting the nod at one corner spot, while senior Duke Dawson is the elder statesman of the group, having started eight career games. Fifth-year senior Nick Washington, who has started 10 games over the past three seasons, and sophomore Chauncey Gardner, who started the final three games last season, are the likely starters at safety.

Linebacker is another position that has some holes to fill, replacing Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis, who combined for 113 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and five sacks. Farmington, Mich. native David Reese, and redshirt sophomore Kylan Johnson are the most experienced returning linebackers, having started the last four and five games of the season, respectively. Reese finished the season as the team’s fifth-leading tackler and is ready to step in as the middle linebacker. Johnson recorded 26 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in the final five games. Sophomore Vosean Joseph is the other assumed starter. He played mostly on special teams last season but earned his first career start in the Outback Bowl against Iowa and recorded six tackles and one for loss.

The defensive line is the most experienced position group returning, though it does have to replace tackles Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie. Redshirt junior Taven Bryan is in line to start at defensive tackle and has three starts under his belt the past two seasons, while fellow redshirt junior Khairi Clark should get the nod at nose tackle. Sophomore CeCe Jefferson and redshirt sophomore Jabari Zuniga are the starting ends. Jefferson was the No. 7 overall recruit in the 2015 class. Fifth-year senior Jordan Sherit, who recorded five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season, will also be a key part of the rotation.

Florida special teamsM

While Michigan lost both its kicker and punter, Kenny Allen, Florida returns two good ones in sophomore kicker Eddy Pinero and fifth-year senior punter Johnny Townsend. Pinero connected on 21-of-25 field goal attempts as a true freshman last season including all three tries from 50-plus. Townsend led the nation with a 47.9-yard punting average. Powell or redshirt freshman receiver Dre Massey will handle punt return duties in Callaway’s absence. Powell averaged 4.6 yards per return a year ago. Massey may be in the running to handle kickoff returns as well.

Analysis

As a new feature of our weekly game preview this year, we will break down each unit battle to determine where each team has an edge, and by how much. These will be graded on a 1-10 scale where five is a push, one is a clear advantage for Florida, and 10 is a clear advantage for Michigan.

Florida run game vs Michigan rush defense
Florida Michigan 

Even with Scarlett in the Florida backfield, Michigan’s stout rush defense would still hold the edge, but with Scarlett out the Wolverines should have no trouble shutting down the Florida running game. Michigan held eight of 13 opponents under 100 yards rushing last season and the Gators ranked 113th nationally in rushing.

Florida passing game vs Michigan pass defense
Florida  Michigan

Florida gets a very slight edge here because of their returning talent at receiver and tight end. Michigan has a lot of talent in the secondary, but at this point it’s unproven, so like Ohio State’s young corners on Thursday night, it could struggle a bit in the opener.

The reason Florida doesn’t have more of an edge is the uncertainty at the quarterback position. Feleipe is mobile and has a big arm, but has no experience and will have to deal with Rashan Gary and the rest of the Michigan pass rush. If Florida’s offensive line is able to hold it off, Florida could put up a big passing number on Saturday. But I’d say Michigan’s pass rush is able to keep Feleipe off balance enough to make this a close position battle.

Florida rush defense vs Michigan running game
Florida Michigan

I’m giving this one a push because the improvement of Michigan’s offensive line is one of the biggest question marks heading into the season. Florida doesn’t quite have the depth it had last year on the defensive line and the run defense wasn’t their strength anyway.

While the defense as a whole was one of the nation’s best, the run defense ranked just 38th nationally. Five of the final eight opponents last season rushed for over 200 yards against Florida, and although Michigan’s running game wasn’t outstanding, it still ranked 33rd and it should be better this year with a sophomore Chris Evans in addition to Karan Higdon, Ty Issac, and Kareem Walker. If Michigan’s offensive line is significantly improved, Michigan has the edge here, but that’s still an unknown.

Florida pass defense vs Michigan passing game
Florida Michigan 

This unit battle is an interesting one simply because of all of the unknowns. Michigan lost most of its receiving production in Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt, and Florida lost most of its top-notch secondary. But Wilton Speight gives Michigan the edge here as the one consistent piece of the passing game. He faltered down the stretch last season after suffering an injury against Iowa, but has the experience to help his new young receivers come along against a young and inexperienced secondary.

Florida special teams vs Michigan special teams
Florida  Michigan

If the game comes down to a last-second field goal, are we confident that sophomore Quinn Nordin can make it? He was the nation’s top kicker in the 2016 class and has a big leg, but has yet to see the field. He made a 48-yarder in the spring game, but that’s not the same as the atmosphere he will face on Saturday. Pinero, meanwhile, was ultra-reliable for the Gators last season, especially from long range.

Florida has the edge at punter as well with the nation’s top returning punter. The return game is anyone’s guess. Michigan will have to replace Chesson and Jabrill Peppers and Florida will be without Callaway. Because of experience in the kicking game, Florida has a good edge here.

Coaching
Florida Michigan 

Jim McElwain has had success everywhere he has been, turning Colorado State from a doormat to a Mountain West contender in three seasons, and then reigniting a stagnant Florida program with nine-plus wins in each of his first two seasons after the Gators had just one in the previous five. But Jim Harbaugh has a longer resume, having achieved similar rebuilding jobs at San Diego, Stanford, the San Francisco 49ers, and now Michigan. He took the 49ers to the Super Bowl, won a BCS bowl at Stanford, and lead Michigan to back-to-back 10-win seasons after inheriting a team that went 5-7 in 2014. Also, Harbaugh whipped McElwain in the 2016 Citrus Bowl so he holds the head-to-head edge as well.

Atmosphere and intangibles
Florida Michigan

Although AT&T Stadium is geographically closer to Gainesville than Ann Arbor, Michigan fans will travel well and represent the Wolverines in Dallas. The neutral site gives neither team the advantage. How each team responds to the big stage and the Jerry World dome will be interesting to watch, but both are young so neither team has the edge there either.

Edge Average: Michigan 5.3 – Florida 4.7
Score Prediction: Michigan 27 – Florida 16
Four bold predictions:

Two good:
• Wilton Speight looks solid and throws for 250 yards as Michigan’s passing game looks exciting
• Chris Evans starts and runs well, but Karan Higdon leads the Wolverines in rushing
Two bad: 
• Michigan’s young secondary struggles but the pass rush, led by Chase Winovich, mitigates the damage
• Two missed Michigan field goals keep the game closer than it should be

First Look: #17 Florida

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017


Michigan kicks off its 2017 campaign in just three short days, and unlike last year when the Wolverines hosted an underwhelming Hawaii squad there is plenty of anticipation for this year’s opener. Florida enters the season ranked 17th in the AP Poll and 16th in the Coaches Poll while Michigan finds itself slightly higher at 11th and 9th, respectively.

While we haven’t had a look at either team yet this season we can take a look at how last year’s stats stack up, though it should be taken with a grain of salt since neither team is the same as the one that finished last January.

Florida 2016 team stats & Michigan comparison
Offense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank Defense Rank
23.9 107 40.3 11 PPG 16.8 6 14.1 2
1,667 2,768 Rush Yds 1,878 1,550
128.2 113 212.9 33 Rush/Gm 144.5 38 119.2 15
3.7 4.8 Rush Avg 3.8 3.2
2,805 2,756 Pass Yds 1,931 1,853
215.8 79 212.0 85 Pass/Gm 148.5 2 142.5 1
4,472 5,524 Total Off. 3,809 3,403
344.0 116 424.9 58 Total Off./Gm 293.0 5 261.8 1
22.3 39 18.7 110 KR Avg 23.6 110 22.1 91
7.6 72 14.3 8 PR Avg 9.8 96 6.5 47
31:13 38 33:03 15 Avg TOP 28:47 26:57
42% 55 43% 40 3rd Down% 35% 24 21% 1
28-221 68 22-145 40 Sacks-Yds 31-208 40 46-296 4
35 66 TDs 27 22
21-25 (84%) 19-24 (79%) FG-ATT 10-15 (67%) 10-18 (56%)
30-42 (71%) 126 62-68 (91%) 13 Red Zone 28-39 (72%) 4 20-28 (71%) 3
21-42 (50%) 44-68 (65%)  RZ TD 18-39 (46%) 14-28 (50%)
-.42 100 .81 11 OFEI/DFEI .95 6 .89 8
26.0 88 33.8 40 S&P+ 13.3 4 7.7 2

Florida went 9-4 overall last year and 6-2 in the Southeastern Conference, finishing the season on a high note with a 30-3 throttling of Iowa in the Outback Bowl. The Gators’ best win of the season was a 16-10 victory on the road over 16th-ranked LSU. But when they lost they lost bad, losing by an average of 21.8 points per game. Arkansas beat the Gators 31-10 and Florida State and Alabama beat them by a combined score of 85-29 to close the regular season.

The offense in Jim McElwain’s second season in Gainesville was among the nation’s worst, ranking 116th nationally in total offense and 107th in scoring. They topped 30 points just four times and 40 points once while being held to 16 or fewer points five times. SB Nation’s Bill Connelly describes Florida as “good against bad and bad against good” in 2016 and that seems right. That’s also good news for Michigan.

The good news for McElwain is that most of his offense returns from last season. The bad news is that leading receiver Antonio Callaway is among eight players that are suspended for the season opener. The question mark is the quarterback. Will Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire get the nod? Will McElwain go with redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks? Or will he turn to veteran Luke Del Rio?

Regardless of the quarterback, the running game is where Florida will need to improve. The Gators ranked 113th nationally in rushing last season and were held below 100 yards rushing four times including an astounding zero yards against Alabama and 12 yards against Arkansas. Michigan’s rush defense ranked 15th nationally last season and although it lost a lot of starters to the NFL, it returns plenty of talent with starting experience.

Defensively, Florida was nearly on Michigan’s level last season, ranking fifth nationally in total defense and sixth in scoring. The Gators held eight of 13 opponents to 10 points or less, but there wasn’t really any middle ground. In the four losses, they allowed 38.5 points per game. That’s good news for a Michigan offense that ranked 11th nationally in scoring a year ago.

The Gators return five starters, but have to replace nearly the entire secondary, and that secondary was second only to Michigan in pass defense a year ago. With Michigan’s young receiving corps that could make for an interesting matchup of young but unproven talent on both sides of the ball.

Florida’s rush defense wasn’t quite as good in 2016, ranking 38th nationally, and the pass rush was good but not great, recording 31 sacks for a national ranking of 40th. The first string should be good, but depth issues abound, especially when the suspensions come into play.

All told, Florida is returning a solid team that certainly won’t be an easy matchup for a Michigan team that has to replace a lot of production this season. Most experts seem to be overvaluing Michigan’s losses defensively and calling for a Florida win, but only time will tell.

Tailgate Tuesday: Gator kabobs

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017


Tailgate Tuesday_BowlWeek

Tailgate Tuesday is our weekly contribution from our resident pitmaster, Joe Pichey from GoBlueBBQ. These tailgate recipes will be posted each Tuesday throughout the football season and will feature a variety of appetizers, main courses, and sides to help you be the king of your next tailgate. Lane’s BBQ, a Bethlehem, Ga. based BBQ company, sponsors this season’s feature by providing their killer rubs and sauces for use in the recipes. Buy them here. In addition, Fogo Charcoal provides charcoal to use in each recipe. Buy it here.

For our first recipe of the season we’re taking the easy way out and reposting a recipe from a couple years ago. I mean, hey, it worked the last time Michigan played Florida so why reinvent the wheel? Grab yourself some gator meet and impress your friends with something a little different this Saturday.

Ingredients

1 pound gator tail meat (cut into 1-inch cubes)
Onions
Mushrooms
Polish sausage

Marinade:

1 cup OJ
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup of Meat Church Hot Honey Hog Rub
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 TBSP ground black pepper

Directions

Add marinade ingredients to deep bowl and mix well. Reserve a half cup for basting later. Add gator tail pieces. Let marinate in the fridge for at least six hours but no more than 12. The acid in the OJ will start to cook the meat if you leave it on too long.

The gator tail is nice pinkish color and will darken after hours in the marinade. Once you add the OJ and the gator, we officially have a “citrus bowl”.

After 6-12 hours in the saucy goodness, start to skewer with your favorite veggies. I love onions and mushrooms along with some polish sausage for this recipe. Once they pieces are all on a stick, sprinkle with some Meat Church Fajita Rub.

Gator Kabobs 1-2-3

Set your grill up for high heat. These will cook for about 5-7 minutes per side. These skewers get hot, so wear some gloves. Learn from my mistakes.

As the kabobs are grilling, baste with the reserved marinade. This will also add some flavor to the sausage and the veggies.

After 10-12 minutes total, remove from the direct heat. I like to let these rest for about five minutes and serve over white rice. The flavor is a combo or chicken and pork and also has a very dense texture.

Gator kabobs 4-5

These were served my new Michigan platter from Wilton Armetale. They make some fantastic grill ware and have a huge selection of Michigan product. Check them out. Don’t forget to check out the selection of Meat Church rubs as well. He was a great sponsor a couple years and continues to make some fantastic rubs.

Gator kabobs 6-7

GO BLUE!!!

Visit Meat Church to purchase their new Bacon BBQ rub or any of their other great rubs and seasonings. You can follow them on Twitter at @MeatChurch and you can also follow Joe at @mmmgoblubbq.

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.

Holtmann hiring gives Ohio State a hero, not the villain it deserves

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017


(Getty Images)

Rivals are supposed to feature villains — unlikable characters who are easy to hate, who say and do all the wrong things, and who — of course — never play by the rules. So why is Ohio State actually trying to make me like them?

The hiring of Butler head coach Chris Holtmann to replace Thad Matta, which was made official on Monday, presents a major paradox for me. I now have to either root for Ohio State or root against a great guy whose career I’ve been following and rooting for since he was an assistant coach in the early 2000s at the alma mater we both share.

Many here may be surprised to learn that I don’t hold a Michigan degree, though my maize and blue blood runs just as deep as those who do. I grew up a Wolverine for life with a mom and grandfather who were both alums and my dream was to play soccer for the Maize and Blue. A knee injury that sidelined my junior season ended those dreams, and when it came time to choose a school, I narrowed my choice to two: pay full, out-of-state tuition to attend Michigan, or accept a soccer scholarship to my dad’s alma mater, Taylor University.

I chose the latter in order to pursue soccer, and when I arrived in tiny Upland, Indiana as an 18-year old freshman, Coach Holtmann was there to serve as my academic advisor. Still in his late 20s, Holtmann was just beginning his coaching career as an assistant at the school where he earned All-America honors as a player.

The following year, Holtmann left Taylor to take an assistant coaching position at Gardner-Webb, his first step into NCAA Division 1 basketball. I followed his career as he moved onto John Groce’s staff at Ohio University, then returned to Gardner-Webb to take his first head coaching position, where he produced the most wins in school history in his third season, earning Big South Coach of the Year honors.

The following season, he joined Brandon Miller’s staff at Butler and a year later became interim head coach when Miller took a leave of absence. Three months later, he was officially named head coach, and this past season he was named Big East Coach of the Year.

It was a quick rise from NAIA assistant to Big Ten head coach, but given his basketball pedigree, it’s not a complete surprise. His mentor, Paul Patterson, is the winningest coach in Indiana basketball history — and 11th-most at any level — notching 734 wins, 15 conference titles, 14 NAIA National Tournament appearances, one final four, 12 Conference Coach of the Year honors, and the 1991 National Coach of the Year award in 34 seasons at Taylor. He was a small school Bobby Knight and regularly landed high-character recruits who were talented enough to play at least lower-level Division 1.

From 1984-94, Patterson’s teams won 25 games in 10 straight seasons — including Holtmann’s entire playing career –, putting the Trojans in the company of UCLA, UNLV, and Lipscomb as the only men’s teams at any level of college basketball to accomplish the feat.

He coached a hard-nosed, defensive-minded, methodical style of basketball that is also evident in Holtmann’s teams. His coaching tree features branches that span all levels of basketball with Hotmann now being the farthest reaching to date. Groce, who was most recently the head coach at Illinois from 2012-17, was a teammate of Holtmann under Patterson in the early 90s. He’s now the head coach at Akron.

Others include: Michigan assistant coach Jeff Meyer, who is the all-time winningest head coach at Liberty University; Steve Brooks, who accumulated a 468-132 record and two NAIA Division II National Championships in 17 seasons as the head coach of Indiana Wesleyan’s women’s team; Ty Platt, who has averaged 17 wins a season in nine seasons at the helm at Huntington University; Dave Close, who has won more than 500 games as a high school coach in Stow, Ohio; Chad Tapp, the head coach at Lyon College; and current Taylor head coach Josh Andrews, who also coached Princeton High School to the 2009 Ohio state title game where they came up two points short to the Trey Burke- and Jared Sullinger- led Northland team.

For a small liberal arts school with less than one-tenth the undergraduate enrollment of Michigan and less than five percent that of Ohio State’s to produce two Big Ten head coaches and another top assistant is nothing short of remarkable. And while Groce didn’t quite work out in Champaign, it’s impossible not to root for Holtmann to succeed.

Ohio State was supposed to hire someone like LaVarr Ball to complement archenemy Urban Meyer — and Jim Tressel before him — with an easy-to-hate coach on the hardwood. The hiring of Holtmann is a dramatic plot twist, and although the rest of the Michigan fan base doesn’t share the same connection to Holtmann that I do, he will prove to be a rare Ohio State coach that is hard not to like.

I won’t be buying scarlet and grey any time soon, but on every day except when facing Michigan Coach Holtmann will have my support.