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Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota’

M&GB staff predictions: Minnesota

Friday, September 26th, 2014


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Michigan enters Big Ten play 2-2 with losses against the only two power-five teams they’ve played. Minnesota comes to Ann Arbor 3-1 with wins over three cupcakes. Could the Gophers win for just the fourth time since 1968? Or will Michigan hold onto the Little Brown Jug for yet another year? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Minnesota
Justin 24 13
Sam 23 10
Derick 28 24
Josh 24 21
Joe 28 26
M&GB Average 25 19

Justin: Both teams are going to look to run the ball. That’s pretty much all Minnesota does and they’ll look to get David Cobb and redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Streveler going. Michigan’s run defense has been its strength in the early going, having held the last three opponents under 100 yards. Look for Greg Mattison to load the box and force Streveler to pass.

Michigan’s offense will also look to feed Derrick Green often, especially if Shane Morris gets the start. Don’t expect the offense to open up for him, but he can have success against Minnesota’s pass defense than has allowed three of four opponents to throw for more than 250 yards.

I expect a boring, low-scoring game that Michigan wins comfortably, but not a blowout.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 13

Sam: It only took until Rich Rodriguez’s third season at the helm of Michigan football to have fans speculate over who Michigan’s next head coach would be – despite a better record year-over-year. We are now early in Brady Hoke’s fourth year leading the Wolverines, but the widespread speculation over his impending firing has certainly begun – because of a worse record year-over-year and an increasingly inept offense.

After a dismal 26-10 loss against a Utah team that is probably not great and in which Michigan’s defense scored more points than its offense, the Wolverines find themselves standing at just 2-2 going into the first weekend of Big Ten play against lowly Minnesota. Is the Big Ten title still up for grabs? You bet. How are Michigan’s chances of reaching that goal? Maybe as good as Lloyd Christmas’s chances of ending up with Mary Swanson.

All signs point to a new starting quarterback tomorrow as Devin Gardner appears to be regressing, but Shane Morris has not shown much to-date. Minnesota is probably the worst team in the Big Ten, and they only managed to complete one pass last week, so Michigan should win, but I don’t think it will be pretty.

The first time Michigan reaches the red zone tomorrow (not to jinx it) would be the first time the Maize and Blue has gotten there against a real team all season. Unless the offense churns out 50 points, I’m ready to write the season off. Ultimately, though, I’ll take Michigan.

Michigan 23 – Minnesota 10

Derick: Michigan played one of its worst games since Brady Hoke took over as head coach Saturday, falling 26-10 to Utah at home. The team looked unprepared for a third straight week and is limping into the conference season opener against Minnesota.

The Little Brown Jug has been a staple in Schembechler Hall over the last decade, and Minnesota likely sees Saturday as its best chance in many years to bring the trophy back to Minneapolis. I think Michigan will have to really battle to fend off Minnesota, but will come away with a close win.

Michigan 28 – Minnesota 24

Josh: Coming into this season I had pretty low expectations (8-4) but after losses to Notre Dame and Utah yielded no offensive touchdowns and ZERO red zone trips I’ve all but checked out of football season (I wonder if John Beilein knows anything about developing football players). If the offense can’t even sniff the end zone against decent teams then the wheels have all but fallen off for Brady Hoke and crew. For now let’s enjoy Jabrill Peppers while we have him because he may very well bolt if (when) Hoke gets the boot.

Looking ahead at the schedule only two games pop out to me that can be chalked up as wins; Minnesota and Northwestern. Luckily for Michigan the Gophers are in town this weekend.

Minnesota can’t pass the ball to save their lives and while David Cobb is a very good running back, the run defense is the strength of Michigan’s defense. Sadly, defense is not the problem for Michigan. We’ll probably see Shane Morris starting at quarterback. While I like Devin Gardner, it is clearly time for a change, because he hasn’t progressed like he should have and his poor decisions have cost Michigan one too many games. I don’t see this one getting out of hand like most Minnesota games do (read: it won’t be a blowout) but I do think Michigan should be able to handle them. Then again I said that about Akron and UConn last year and they barely escaped, so who knows anymore.

Regardless of whether the quarterback is Morris or Gardner, I expect Nussmeier to keep the offense bare bones simple with some quick short throws and then pound the ball non-stop, with an occasional deep bomb off play-action to Devin Funchess. I’d be willing to bet Morris/Gardner still tosses a pick or two, and Minnesota will be in it far longer than the fans would care for. In the end I think Michigan will eek out a close one.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 21

Joe: I could not be more confused heading into the Big Ten opener against the Golden Gophers. I have no idea who will be under center for this one. Although, I have a feeling we may witness the start of the Shane Morris show on Saturday with a compliment of Gardner out wide. Just a hunch. If this is the case, it will be Green followed by more Green followed by Funchess and a little more Green.

I want to see the offense spread things around a little more. It’s becoming very predictable once again and that is never good. If Michigan is able to get everyone involved and keep Minnesota guessing, they will be able to move the ball with some level of success. This will allow the defense to stay fresh and contain a very weak passing attack. The Michigan run defense has been solid but will have its hands full with David Cobb.  Keep an eye on their running quarterback as well.

This game has been fun to watch for the last few years and should be another close one. I will give it the ol’ college try and predict with absolutely no level of confidence a Michigan victory. Now where are my BBQ tongs?

Michigan 28 – Minneeeesota 26

Michigan-Minnesota game preview

Friday, September 26th, 2014


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Michigan limps into conference play with a 2-2 record, but as Brady Hoke has said over and over again in the last couple of weeks, the goal of a Big Ten championship is still within reach. A turnaround in conference play can erase the futility of the first four weeks of the season and get back the fans that jumped off the bandwagon. It all starts tomorrow when Minnesota comes to town looking to beat Michigan for just the fourth time since 1968.

UM-Minnesota-small-final
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – ABC
Minn. Head Coach: Jerry Kill (4th season)
Coaching Record: 147-95 overall (20-22 at Minn)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover (4th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys (4th season)
Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 8-5 (4-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: Michigan 42 – Minnesota 13 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 73-24-3
Record at Mich Stadium Michigan leads 33-10-1
Last 10 Meetings: Michigan leads 9-1
Current Streak:  Michigan 6

Minnesota entered Jerry Kill’s fourth season on an upward swing, having gone from 3-9 to 6-7 to 8-5 the past three seasons. If they can improve their record again this fall — a tall order, to be sure — Kill will have done something that hasn’t been done since the 1940s — improve Minnesota’s record for three straight seasons. Minnesota’s legendary coach, Bernie Bierman, was the last to do it from 1945-48. Glen Mason had a chance to achieve the feat twice during his tenure, but each time fell back to earth. He did, however, reach 10 wins in 2003, and Kill will hope to parlay the momentum he has built into a similar outcome.

Kill got a nice vote of confidence in the offseason in the form of a new contract that bumps his salary up from $1 million per year to $2.3 million through 2018.

Minnesota enters Ann Arbor winners of three of their first four this season, the only loss a 30-7 defeat at the hands of TCU. The Gophers beat Eastern Illinois 42-20, Middle Tennessee 35-24, and San Jose State 24-7. Unlike Michigan, who has out-gained all four of its opponents offensively, Minnesota has actually been out-gained in three of its four games.

Michigan has had Minnesota’s number the last half century, winning the last six, 22 of the last 23, 30 of the last 32, and 41 of the last 46 since 1964. The Little Brown Jug basically lives in Ann Arbor these days, and even during Michigan’s 3-9 season in 2008, the Wolverines found a way to beat the Gophers. So how do the teams match up this season? Let’s take a look.

Michigan defense vs Minnesota offense: When Minnesota has the ball

Through the first four games, the Minnesota offense averages a field goal more per game than Michigan (27 points). The Gophers rank 104th in total offense (336 yards per game), 29th in rushing (236.2 yards per game), and 121st in passing (99.8 yards per game). The also rank 95th in third down conversions (37 percent) and 90th in red zone scores (10-of-13).

David Cobb is averaging 134.8 yards per game so far this season

David Cobb is averaging 134.8 yards per game so far this season

Senior David Cobb is one of the best running backs in the conference. Our former feature writer Drew Hallett ranked him seventh-best in his preseason Big Ten position rankings. He came out of nowhere to rush for 1,202 yards on 5.1 yards per carry in 2013, becoming the first Gopher to eclipse 1,000 yards since 2006. He was held to just 22 yards on seven carries against Michigan, but had six 100-yard games, including against Michigan State. So far this season, Cobb has been the Gopher offense, averaging 134.8 yards per game on the ground. But he has gained most of that yardage in just two of the four games — 220 yards against Middle Tennessee and 207 against San Jose State last week. TCU held him to just 41 yards on 15 carries in Week 3 and you can be sure Michigan will load the box to do the same.

Cobb is the workhorse with 92 carries, but three other running backs have double-digit carries. Berkley Edwards, the younger brother of former Michigan star receiver Braylon, has 16 carries for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Rodrick Williams and Donnell Kirkwood each have 10 carries for just 35 and 24 yards, respectively.

With last year’s starting quarterback, Phillip Nelson, gone the man who supplanted him by the end of 2013 was supposed to grab the reigns. Redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner threw just 78 passes for 619 yards and three touchdowns last season. About a third of that came in the bowl game in which he completed 11-of-22 for 205 yards and two scores. He also saw extensive action against Michigan, completing 14-of-21 for 145 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He was much more of a running quarterback last season, rushing 102 times for 407 yards and seven scores.

But after starting the first three games this season and completing just 48.1 percent of his passes for 362 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions, he missed last week’s game with turf toe. In his place was redshirt freshman Chris Streveler, who threw just seven passes and completed just one for seven yards. On the other hand, Streveler rushed 18 times for 161 yards and a touchdown. He’s likely to be the starter tomorrow.

The receiving corps is young, led by tight end Maxx WilliamsDrew’s second-best tight end in the conference this fall, who caught 25 passes for 417 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. Williams leads the team with six catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns so far, also missed last week’s game with an injury, but should play tomorrow. Last year’s leading wide receiver, Derrick Engel, is gone, leaving Donovahn Jones, K.J. Maye, and Drew Wolitarsky to step up. Jones has six catches for 92 yards and a score, while Maye has two for 65, and Wolitarsky has four for 31.

Experience isn’t an issue with the offensive line. Of the nine linemen that started a game last season, seven returned, and those seven started a combined 55 games in 2013 and 124 in their careers. Left guard Zac Epping is the most experienced of the bunch, having started 38 career games. While none of Minnesota’s linemen rank among the Big Ten’s best, and the line as a whole won’t be the best, it has paved the way for a powerful running game.

Michigan offense vs Minnesota defense: When Michigan has the ball

Defensively, Minnesota has allowed exactly the same number of points as Michigan has, 20.2 per game. The total defense ranks 66th nationally (383.8 yards per game), the rush defense ranks 51st (131.5 yards per game), and the pass defense ranks 82nd (252.2 yards per game). In addition, the Gophers are allowing opponents to convert 40 percent of their third downs, which ranks 72nd nationally. By comparison, Michigan allows 33 percent.

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

The main loss from last season is a big one in nose tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the NFL Draft. He led Minnesota with 13 tackles-for-loss in 2013 and also recorded two sacks. Defensive tackle Roland Johnson, who added 5.5 tackles-for-loss, also departed, leaving a big hole in the middle of the defense.

Senior Cameron Botticelli is now the main man in the middle and leads the team with 3.5 tackles for loss. He also has one sack. Nose tackle Steven Richardson has started the last two games and has eight tackles, 2.5 for loss, and one sack. The ends are redshirt junior Theiren Cockran, who ranked third in the Big Ten last season with 7.5 sacks, and senior Michael Amaefula, who recorded 19 tackles for loss a year ago. The two have combined for 12 tackles, three for loss, and a sack so far this season. Sophomore Hendrick Ekpe started the first two games and has 10 tackles, three for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

Two of the top three linebackers from last season are gone, but middle linebacker, senior Damien Wilson, returns. He was Minnesota’s second-leading tackler last season with 78, and had the third-most tackles-for-loss with 5.5. He currently leads the team with 44 tackles and also has three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Junior De’Vondre Campbell, who started three games last season, is the second leading tackler with 21 to go along with one tackle for loss. The Gophers have gone with more nickel the past two weeks, but when they use a third linebacker it is usually redshirt sophomore Jack Lynn, who is third on the team with 20 tackles and two for loss.

The strength of Minnesota’s defense was supposed to be the secondary, despite the loss of cornerback Brock Vereen, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round. The other starting corner from last season, Eric Murray, led the team with 10 pass breakups, which ranked sixth in the Big Ten. Just a junior this fall, Murray has 16 tackles, one interception, and two pass breakups so far. The other corners are junior Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who tore his ACL last season, and senior Derrick Wells, who was hampered most of 2013 with a shoulder injury. Boddy-Calhoun leads the team with two interceptions and five pass breakups so far.

The safety spots are filled by Cedric Thompson — last season’s leading tackler — junior Antonio Johnson, and junior Damarius Travis. Johnson and Travis each have a pick so far this season.

Special Teams: The other third

Redshirt freshman kicker Ryan Santoso was rated the seventh-best kicker in the 2013 class by ESPN and is replacing Chris Hawthorne, who made 14-of-18 last season. Santoso has made just 1-of-3 so far this season with a long of 38. Redshirt junior punter Peter Mortell is a nice weapon to have after ranking third in the Big Ten with a 43.3-yard average a year ago. He’s currently averaging 46.2 yards, which ranks second in the conference, behind only Nebraska’s Sam Foltz.

Defensive back Marcus Jones ranked sixth in the Big Ten in kick returns last season, averaging 24.9 yards per return. He’s currently right on pace, averaging 24.4 yards. He’s also handling most of the punt return duties with six returns for an average of eight yards.

Prediction:

Minnesota is going to try to run the ball, run the ball some more, and run the ball some more. The good news is that plays right into Michigan’s defensive strength. Expect Greg Mattison to load the box to stop the run and force Streveler to try to make big plays with his arm. He has completed just 4-of-11 passes for 37 yards in his career, so that’s a good thing for Michigan’s young corners, Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers.

Offensively, Michigan is also going to try to run the ball a lot with Derrick Green, but given the success teams have had passing on the Gophers so far, Michigan can have some success through the air. Could this be Shane Morris’ coming out party? I wouldn’t go that far, but I am looking forward to seeing what he can do as the (presumed) starter.

Expect a fairly low-scoring game with neither team able to pull away. Michigan will win, and while I don’t think it will be decisively, it won’t be too close for comfort either.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 13

Minnesota Q&A with JDMill of The Daily Gopher

Thursday, September 25th, 2014


Minnesota Q-A_banner

Each Thursday throughout the season we collaborate with that week’s opponent blog to get some questions answered by the guys who know more about their team than we do. This week, we partnered with JDMill of the Minnesota SB Nation blog, The Daily Gopher. He was kind enough to answer questions about the stagnant Gopher passing game, whether Minnesota can run on Michigan’s defense, how Minnesota fans view the Michigan current state of affairs, and more. You can follow The Daily Gopher on Twitter at @TheDailyGopher and you can follow JDMill at @jdmill.

1. What’s up with the Minnesota passing game? Less than 100 yards a game? Only seven yards last week? What’s the deal?

What came first, the chicken or the egg? That’s kind of the deal with the Gophers. Do they not pass very often because the running game is so good, or do they not pass very often because the passing game is so bad?

If you ask the coaches, they will tell you that the running game has been working, so there hasn’t been a need to pass. I think the fans are a little bit more nervous. Take a look at the TCU game. The Gophers were forced to pass because they got behind early and the run game wasn’t as effective as needed. As such, Mitch Leidner threw 26 times, completing just 12 for 151 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Not. Pretty.

So while the coaches will tell you that if the running game is working there is no reason to pass, they have also admitted this week that they are going to need to be able to throw the ball more effectively to keep teams honest now that we’re hitting the conference schedule.

2. The running game on the other hand has been pretty good, especially David Cobb. Michigan’s rush defense has only allowed one of its four opponents (Appalachian State in Week 1) to rush for over 100 yards. Do you think Minnesota will be able to run on Michigan?

I do think we’ll be able to run a bit on Michigan, but we’ve been averaging over 230 yards rushing per game in the non-con, and I don’t think we’ll be able to do that against the Wolverines. The trump card, however, is quarterback Chris Streveler. With him behind center the Gophers have a true, fast addition that seems to be able to run the read-option pretty effectively. I could see a scenario where Minnesota puts up 150 yards rushing with at least half of that coming from the quarterback.

3. Minnesota also has a pretty good run defense, but three of the four opponents have thrown for over 250 yards. Michigan’s offense has had well-publicized problems against the only power-five teams it has played (Notre Dame and Utah). Do you think Minnesota’s defense can force Michigan’s offense into those same types of mistakes?

This is a defense that gives up a fair number of yards, but not a lot of points. The Gophers give up 122 yards per game more than Michigan, but we’ve allowed the exact same number of points. In fact, Minnesota has given up more yards than it has produced in three out of our four games this season so far.

The Gopher defense is opportunistic and that’s an important characteristic for a team that is going to struggle to throw the ball. The defense has given this team points and short fields, and I believe they will continue that trend and win the turnover battle with Michigan.

4. What’s your view on the current state of the Michigan program? Things are falling apart at the seams here, but what does it look like from the outside? And do Gopher fans enjoy seeing Michigan struggle like this?

Well, from the outside it looks like things are falling apart at the seams

I think the biggest eye-opener for everyone else in the conference was when Notre Dame took the Wolverines behind the wood shed. For me, anyway, that was just shocking. We expect Michigan to at least be competitive and they just didn’t even show up. And then to follow that up with the effort against Utah…well, you guys lived it so I won’t go on.

I’m hard pressed to say that Gopher fans enjoy it. I mean, I think schadenfreude is always alive and well in the B1G and Michigan has beaten the tar out of us for 45 years, so it certainly doesn’t hurt us to see this happening and I think Gopher fans smell blood in the water and a chance to get a trophy back. But the reality is that a competitive Michigan is good for the B1G, and I think deep down we know that.

The interesting piece of the puzzle here is that Brady Hoke is who many Gopher fans wanted as coach when Minnesota got Jerry Kill. The rumor is that Hoke turned down the job knowing that the Michigan job was probably in his grasp.

5. What’s your prediction, and why?

I REALLY want to predict a Gopher win here. I REALLY want to believe that Michigan is down on itself enough that Minnesota will be able to take advantage, dominate defensively, and do enough on offense to put up some points. In order for that to happen I think we’d be looking at a 17-10 type of game and one of the Gopher touchdowns would be from defense or special teams.

However, I’ve been around long enough to know that weird things happen to Minnesota when we play Michigan. Things fall apart for the Gophers. Michigan wakes up. Quarterbacks have career days against our defense. And knowing the history of this rivalry, my fragile psyche just won’t let me predict a Gopher win. To paraphrase the Gin Blossoms, if I don’t expect to much of the Gophers I might not be let down.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 17.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 4

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014


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Week 4 was a much-needed good week for the Big Ten with all but two teams picking up wins. Those two teams were Michigan and Ohio State. The bad news for Michigan fans is that Ohio State had a bye week, which means Michigan was the only conference team that lost last Saturday.

East Division
1. Penn State (4-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat UMass 48-7 This Week: Sat vs Northwestern (1-2), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Penn State stayed hot this weekend, dominating UMass 48-7. With the rest of the conference struggling, the newly bowl-eligible Nittany Lions have emerged as the toughest competition for Michigan State in the East.

2. Michigan State (2-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Eastern Michigan 73-14 This Week: Sat vs Wyoming (3-1), 12pm, ESPN2

The Spartans bounced back from the tough loss at Oregon by pounding Eastern Michigan following the bye week. The Spartans defense is as strong as it’s ever been heading into a conference slate littered with teams that struggle to score.

3. Indiana (2-1, 0-0) – Up 4
Last Week: Beat #18 Missouri 31-27 This Week: Sat vs Maryland (3-1), 1:30pm, Big Ten Network

Indiana pulled off the biggest win of the non conference schedule for the Big Ten by beating SEC contender Missouri on a last minute score. The Hoosiers came out of nowhere for the win, proving that an elite offense will give them a chance to stay in every game going forward.

4. Maryland (3-1, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Syracuse 34-20 This Week: Sat at Indiana (2-1), 1:30pm, Big Ten Network

Beating power conference opponents on thr the road is always a good way to build a stronger resume, and Maryland did just that this weekend, pounding Syracuse by two touchdowns.

5. Ohio State (2-1, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Cincinnati (2-0), 6pm, Big Ten Network

Ohio State took a week off after bouncing back from a loss to Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes should finish near the top of the East standings, but they won’t contend with Michigan State.

6. Michigan (2-2, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to Utah 10-26 This Week: Sat vs Minnesota (3-1), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

Saturday turned into a disaster for Michigan when the team failed to show up against a talented Utah team. The program is under siege from the fanbase and Brady Hoke is clinging to his job by a thread heading into the Big Ten season.

7. Rutgers (3-1, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Navy 31-24 This Week: Sat vs Tulane (1-3), 12pm, ESPNNews

Rutgers turned in an impressive performance against Navy on Saturday, beating the Midshipmen on the road. Rutgers has to consider the 3-1 start a success, but a brutal conference schedule leaves little hope for the team in the big picture.

West Division
1. Nebraska (4-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Miami 41-31 This Week: Sat Illinois (3-1), 9pm, Big Ten Network

It wasn’t always pretty for Nebraska in the preconference schedule, but in a year when so many if their Big Ten rivals were upset, Bo Pelini will gladly take a spotless 4-0 start to 2014.

2. Minnesota (3-1, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat San Jose State 24-7 This Week: Sat at Michigan (2-2), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

Minnesota put in a strong defensive effort to stay perfect Saturday against San Jose State. The Gophers will take their show on the road this weekend in the battle for the Little Brown Jug in Ann Arbor.

3. Wisconsin (2-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Bowling Green 68-17 This Week: Sat vs South Florida (2-2), 12pm, ESPN2

Melvin Gordon and the Badger offense put on a rushing show Saturday against a Bowling Green team that upset Indiana last weekend. The team rushed for over 600 yards in the contest and demonstrated why it is favored to win the West.

4. Iowa (3-1, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Pittsburgh 24-20 This Week: Sat at Purdue (2-2), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Iowa put in its best effort of the season Saturday, beating Pittsburgh on the road. The Hawkeyes played inconsistent football throughout the preconference schedule and were fortunate to come out with three wins.

5. Illinois (3-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Texas State 42-35 This Week: Sat at #21 Nebraska (4-0), 9pm, Big Ten Network

For the third time this season Illinois played with fire but escaped, moving to 3-1 on the year. This time the Fighting Illini pulled through in a shootout, winning 42-35 over Texas State.

6. Purdue (2-2, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Beat Southern Illinois 35-13 This Week: Sat vs Iowa (3-1), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Purdue pulled back to .500 Saturday by crushing a weak Southern Illinois team at home. The Big Ten will reap few victories for the Boilermakers this season.

7. Northwestern (1-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Western Illinois 24-7 This Week: Sat at Penn State (4-0), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Pat Fitzgerald followed up the bye week by getting the monkey off his team’s back, beating Western Illinois 24-7. It looks like it will be another difficult year for the Wildcats in 2014.

Smoked “Land of 10,000 lakes” catfish

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014


TailgateTuesday_banner-Week5

Tailgate Tuesday is our weekly collaboration with Joe from MmmGoBluBBQ. These will be posted each Tuesday throughout the season and each recipe will be themed around that week’s opponent. 

Previously: Hot-’n-Fast pulled pork with Carolina mustard slawIrish stout pepper beefSpatchcock RedHawk, Grilled Ravioli.

Bring on those Golden Gophers from the great state of Minnesota. Or, as they say, the land of 10,000 lakes. I wanted to venture out and try something new for the start of the Big Ten season. Since I didn’t have any moose meat laying around and didn’t know if gopher was even legal to eat, I decided to try some smoked fish. I went through the freezer looking for some walleye I had tricked into the boat last year on our Canadian fishing extravaganza but had no luck. The best I could do was a mess of fresh catfish filets a buddy of mine dropped off. They turned out to be extremely tasty and will be a staple moving forward for sure. Here is what you will need.

Ingredients:

• 1 Catfish filet (Per person)
• Buttermilk
• Hot Sauce (your favorite)
• Seasoning (your favorite BBQ rub will do)

Directions:

Cover and soak the fish filets in a mixture of buttermilk and your favorite hot sauce. I used about 1/8 cup of Franks Red Hot sauce and it came thru very mildly in the taste of the fish. Use as much or as little as you’d like.

After one hour in the buttermilk, remove the fillets and pat them dry with a paper towel. Season both sides with your favorite BBQ rub. Don’t be shy!

Catfish 1-2-3

Fire up the grill or smoker to 225-250 degrees. I love a good apple or pecan wood for fish as it won’t overpower the fish flavor. Set the grill up for indirect heat and add the wood chunks. Once the smoke is flowing, place the seasoned fillets on the greased grill grates and close the lid.

This is a short cook, so don’t plan on going far. After about 30 minutes, check the fish and make sure you are getting some good color. You will notice the fish is starting to sweat a little. This is a good thing.

After an hour, your fish should have a nice dark color with the edges starting to get a little crispy. We are about 15-30 minutes away from a finished Cajun smoked catfish dinner. After 90 minutes on the smoker, you should be able to poke the fish with your finger and it will flake. It should still be moist, but have some flakiness to it. This is when its done. I made some red beans and rice (out of the box) as a side and added some grilled lemon juice.

Catfish 4-5

Thanks again for reading and let me know if you have any recipes to you would like me to try. I am always interested in new and tasty grilled goodies. Go Blue!

For more great recipes, photos, and barbecue ideas, follow Joe on Twitter at @mmmgoblubbq. And don’t forget to check out his site, MmmGoBluBBQ, for recipes, product reviews, and more.

First Look: Minnesota

Monday, September 22nd, 2014


FirstLook-Minnesota

The heat in Ann Arbor has nearly reached the fiery furnaces of hell and it seems most Michigan fans think that’s where the football program is at this point. But there are still eight games to play, beginning with a team Michigan has dominated the last 45 years. Minnesota comes to town looking to capture the Little Brown Jug for just the third time since 1968. The Gophers have beaten Western Michigan, Middle Tennessee, and San Jose State, and lost to TCU. Let’s take a look at how Michigan and Minnesota compare through four games.

Minnesota Statistics & Michigan Comparison
MinnesotaMichigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 27.0 | 24.0 82 | T91 20.2 | 20.2 T33T33
Rushing Yards 945 | 844 526 | 321
Rush Avg. Per Game 236.2 | 211.0 29 | 37 131.5 | 80.2 51 | 9
Avg. Per Rush 5.1 | 5.6
3.7 | 2.5
Passing Yards 399 | 773 1,009 | 723
Pass Avg. Per Game 99.8 | 193.2 121 | 98 252.2 | 180.8 82 | 27
Total Offense 1,3441,617 1,535 | 1,044
Total Off Avg. Per Game 336.0 | 404.2 104 | 78 383.8 | 261.0 66 | 8
Kick Return Average 24.4 | 19.0 30 | T88 18.3 | 19.2 30 | T48
Punt Return Average 9.7 | 9.8 54 | T51 10.4 | 14.6 87 | 105
Avg. Time of Possession 31:18 | 32:42 35 | 22
28:42 | 27:18
3rd Down Conversion Pct 37.0% | 45.0% 95 | 47
40.0% | 33.0% 72 | 39
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 4-26 | 8-53
T22 | T80
8-54 | 7-67
T62 | T78
Touchdowns Scored 15 | 12
10 | 9
Field Goals-Attempts 1-3 | 4-7 4-8 | 6-7
Red Zone Scores (10-13) 77% | (10-10) 100% 90 | T1
(9-11) 82%(10-11) 91% T57 | T91
Red Zone Touchdowns (10-13) 77% | (8-10) 80% (6-11) 55% | (6-11) 55%

Michigan’s offense isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, but believe it or not, Minnesota’s is even worse. Sure, the Gophers are averaging three points more, but they haven’t played a team near Notre Dame or Utah’s level yet. Okay, TCU may be about Utah’s level, but Western Michigan, Middle Tennessee, and San Jose State are nowhere close.

Even so, Minnesota’s offense ranks 104th nationally, averaging 68 fewer total yards per game than Michigan’s. The one positive for the Gophers is the running game, which ranks 29th nationally, averaging 236.2 yards per game — 25 more than Michigan. Running back David Cobb is one of the best in the Big Ten and is currently sixth nationally with 539 yards, averaging 135 yards a game and 5.9 yards per carry. By comparison, Derrick Green has 391 yards, but 28 fewer carries.

Schedule
Date Opponent Result
Aug. 28 Eastern Illinois W 42-20
Sept. 6 Middle Tennessee State W 35-24
Sept. 13 at TCU L 7-30
Sept. 20 San Jose State W 24-7
Sept. 27 at Michigan
Oct. 11 Northwestern
Oct. 18 Purdue
Oct. 25 at Illinois
Nov. 8 Iowa
Nov. 15 Ohio State
Nov. 22 at Nebraska
Nov. 29 at Wisconsin

Even with the gaudy rushing numbers, the Gophers running game is vulnerable. In Week 1 against Western Michigan, Minnesota rushed for 182 yards on 40 carries — a decent 4.6 yards per carry, but not great, though that can be excused in the first game of the season. Against Middle Tennessee in Week 2, the Gophers gained 284 yards on 50 carries, and last week against San Jose State, they exploded for 380 yards on 58 carries. But against the only good defense they faced, TCU in Week 3, Minnesota was held to just 99 yards on 39 carries — just 2.5 yards per carry. Cobb only managed 41 yards on 15 carries in that game.

While the running game has had some success this season, the passing game is a different story. Minnesota is averaging less than 100 passing yards per game, which ranks 121st nationally, better than only four teams — Navy, New Mexico, Eastern Michigan, and Army. In two of the four games, Minnesota hasn’t even managed 100 passing yards, and last week the Gophers pass for just seven (!) yards.

Defensively, Minnesota has fared slightly better, holding opponents to an average of 20.2 points per game, the exact same as Michigan. The rush defense ranks 51st, allowing 131.5 yards per game, while the pass defense ranks 82nd, allowing 252.2 yards per game. None of the four opponents has rushed for more than 200 yards on the Gophers — Middle Tennessee had the most with 190 — but three of the four have thrown for over 250 yards.

Special teams-wise, Minnesota has made just 1-of-3 field goal attempts and average 44.2 yards per punt. They average five yards per kick return more than Michigan and about the same as Michigan per punt return.

There’s a lot of pessimism surrounding the Michigan football program right now, but there’s no reason to believe the Little Brown Jug won’t be staying in Ann Arbor for another year. If Michigan stops the run, Michigan wins. It’s as simple as that.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Average/Game
Mitch Leidner 26-54 362 2 4 120.7
Chris Streveler 4-11 37 1 1 9.2
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Average/Carry
David Cobb 92 539 4 48 5.9
Chris Streveler (QB) 31 219 1 30 7.0
Berkley Edwards 16 92 2 42 5.8
Mitch Leidner (QB) 21 77 2 10 2.4
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Average/Game
Maxx Williams (TE) 6 10 2 32 36.7
Donovahn Jones 6 92 1 35 23.0
Drew Wolitarsky 4 31 0 16 10.3
David Cobb (RB) 3 38 0 16 9.5
K.J. Maye 2 65 0 34 16.2
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Damien Wilson (LB) 22 22 44 3.0-13 1.5-9 (1 INT, 1FR)
De’Vondre Campbell (LB) 15 6 21 1.0-6 0-0 (1 FR)
Cam Botticelli (DL) 8 4 12 3.5-13 1.0-8
Briean Boddy-Calhoun (DB) 8 8 16 1.0-2 0-0 (2 INT, 3PD)
Hendrick Ekpe (DL) 7 3 10 3.0-11 1.5-9
Kicking FG Made FG Att Long XP Made XP Att
Ryan Santoso 1 3 38 15 15
Punting Punts Yds Avg. In-20 50+
Peter Mortell 22 1,017 46.2 5 9
Full Stats

Stay tuned for more on Minnesota in the coming days.

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Minnesota

Monday, September 22nd, 2014


Five-SpotChallenge_Banner1

Congratulations to freezer566 for an impressive win in this week’s Five-Spot Challenge despite an undesirable outcome on the field. His point differential of just 75 was the lowest of the season and 33 points better than second-place Boggie. Freezer566 wasn’t the closest in any single category, but was the most consistent across the board. He was just two short of Gardner’s first half passing total (100), nine short of Utah’s total yards (286), 12 over the minutes until Michigan’s first forced turnover (25), 18 short of Derrick Green’s rushing total (59), and 34 short of the longest kick or punt return (66). He wins a $20 gift card to The M Den.

Overall, there were a lot of close scores, as you can see in the weekly results. Second through sixth place were separated by just 17 points. KashKaav‘s prediction of 63 Derrick Green rushing yards was the closest to the correct answer for question one. BigHouseBrandon (66) was the only other contestant within single digits. Bluwolf77 was only one yard away from correctly predicting Utah’s total yards, while tooty_pops and kfarmer16 were both only six shy. Bigboyblue and Boggy were both the closest to guessing how many minutes into the game Michigan would record its first takeaway. Willie Henry’s pick-six occurred 25 minutes into the game and they were just four minutes off. MichiganMack correctly picked Gardner’s first half passing yards, while freezer566 and BigHouseBrandon were both only two away. Finally, JustJeepGear.com‘s prediction of 65 yards was the closest to the longest kick or punt return, which unfortunately, was Kaelyn Clay’s 66-yard punt return for touchdown in the second quarter.

No one correctly predicted the final score. In fact, no one was within two touchdowns of Michigan’s point total, as the closest guess was 24 points. Bigboyblue correctly predicted Utah’s total of 26. The average score prediction of the 22 contestants was Michigan 30 – Utah 24, while 19 of the 22 picked Michigan to win.

Kfarmer16 maintains his lead in the overall standings, though it shrunk to just two points over freezer566.

Michigan stays home to welcome Minnesota to town for the annual battle for the Little Brown Jug. Minnesota beat San Jose State 24-7 and is currently 3-1 with wins over Eastern Illinois (42-20) and Middle Tennessee (35-24) and a 30-7 loss to TCU.

Here are this week’s questions:

Big Ten power rankings: Week 3

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014


Power Rankings_header

Week 3 brought another horrendous performance for the Big Ten as a whole. The conference mustered only three wins in nine nonconference matchups and fell even further down the totem pole in terms of national relevance.

East Division
1. Penn State (3-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 13-10 This Week: Sat vs UMass (0-3), 4pm, Big Ten Network

Penn State kicked off conference play with a road victory, which can be difficult at any venue in the Big Ten. The offense struggled, managing just 13 points (all in the second half), but the defense stifled Rutgers and led the newest East contenders a 3-0 record.

2. Michigan State (1-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Eastern Michigan (1-2), 12pm, Big Ten Network

The Spartans had an off week to prepare for their third non-conference game against Eastern Michigan. Michigan State will steamroll the Eagles and enter conference play as the favorite in the East.

3. Ohio State (2-1, 0-0) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Kent State 66-0 This Week: Bye (9/27 vs Cincinnati)

Ohio State made a statement against an awful Kent State team, rolling to a 66-0 win. Unfortunately, a Virginia Tech loss to East Carolina at home makes Urban Meyer’s first regular-season loss in Columbus less forgivable.

4. Michigan (2-1, 0-0) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Miami (Ohio) 34-10 This Week: Sat vs Utah (2-0), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

Michigan jumps up to No. 4 on the list not as a result of playing well, but because of how much the rest of the division struggled. Miami (Ohio) stuck around for much of the game in Ann Arbor and Michigan struggled to move the ball against a team that hasn’t won in a calendar year.

5. Maryland (2-1, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to West Virginia 37-40 This Week: Sat at Syracuse (2-0), 12:30pm, ESPN3

Maryland took its first loss of the season Saturday when it surrendered 28 points to West Virginia in the first half and failed to dig out of the hole. Next week will provide another test as the Terrapins travel to Syracuse.

6. Rutgers (2-1, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Penn State 10-13 This Week: Sat at Navy (2-1), 3:30pm, CBS Sports Network

Rutgers kicked off the conference season with a tough home loss to Penn State. The Scarlett Knights carried a lead into the 4th quarter of the game, but couldn’t close the deal.

7. Indiana (1-1, 0-0) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Bowling Green 42-45 This Week: Sat at #18 Missouri (3-0), 4pm, SEC Network

The last thing the Big Ten needed was another loss to the MAC just seven days after one of the worst weeks in conference history. But Indiana traveled to Bowling Green and couldn’t stop the Falcons’ offense, falling 45-42.

West Division
1. Nebraska (3-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Fresno State 55-19 This Week: Sat vs Miami (2-1), 8pm, ESPN2

Nebraska erased the memory of a near loss to McNeese State on Saturday, pounding Fresno State 55-19 on the road. Though their nonconference season hasn’t been pretty, Nebraska has a great chance to finish 4-0 when the Miami Hurricanes come to town this weekend.

2. Wisconsin (1-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Bowling Green (2-1), 12pm, ESPN2

Wisconsin had a week off after bouncing back from a collapse against LSU. This Saturday, the Badgers will take on the same Bowling Green team that just topped Indiana, but expect this game to turn out much differently.

3. Minnesota (2-1, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to TCU 7-30 This Week: Sat vs San Jose State (1-1), 4pm, Big Ten Network

What? The Gophers are No. 3 in the division? Well, since four West teams lost on Saturday and Northwestern is still searching for a win, Minnesota’s loss on the road to TCU seems the most forgivable. Next up: San Jose State comes to town.

4. Purdue (1-2, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Lost to #11 Notre Dame 14-30 This Week: Sat vs Southern Illinois (3-0), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Purdue surprised the entire country by pushing Notre Dame into the second half on Saturday. The Boilermakers stayed within one possession of the Irish throughout most of the game, but eventually the same group that lost by 21 to Central Michigan showed its true colors.

5. Illinois (2-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Washington 19-44 This Week: Sat vs Texas State (1-1), 4pm, ESPNNews

Illinois finally got a chance to match up with some strong competition, and it didn’t go well for Tim Beckman’s group. Washington scored 44 points on the weak Illini defense and cruised to a 25-point victory.

6. Iowa (2-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Iowa State 17-20 This Week: Sat at Pittsburgh (3-0), 12pm, ESPNU

Iowa managed perhaps the most unimpressive 2-0 record of the year with one-possession wins over Northern Iowa and Ball State. But on Saturday a winless Iowa State team marched into Kinnick and beat the Hawkeyes 20-17.

7. Northwestern (0-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Western Illinois (2-1), 12pm, ESPNNews

Northwestern took a much-needed week off after starting the season 0-2. The Wildcats will look to get their first victory at home against Western Illinois on Saturday.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 1

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014


Power Rankings_header

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Ten power rankings: Preseason

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014


Power Rankings_header

Three days from now we’ll be settling into our seats at the Big House or our favorite couch or chair getting ready to watch the Maize and Blue run out of the tunnel, leap up and touch the banner, and begin their quest toward a Big Ten championship. The bad news is that we all still have to make it through three more days. Welcome to our first Big Ten Power Rankings of the season, where we rank each team in the conference. Since no games have been played yet, this week’s power rankings are essentially predictions of where each team should be ranked. Beginning next week, and continuing throughout the season, the power rankings will be reflective of each team’s performance in the game(s) they have played.

As the dawn of college football season draws ever nearer, the Big Ten finds itself facing low expectations once again. Largely considered a three-team league, the Big Ten suffered a huge blow with the news that Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller would miss the entire 2014 campaign.

Now, teams on the brink of breaking through have to step up and help the Big Ten resurface as a power conference. Gone are the days when the automatic bid to the Rose Bowl would give the Big Ten a chance to shine on the national stage, because now the four-team playoff will act as the means by which conference strength is measured. Teams like Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan have to take that next step and give the conference the boost it needs to send a representative into that playoff.

If the Big Ten gets left out of the playoff this season, it will set the tone for a format that figures to rule the sport for the foreseeable future. At least six teams have a realistic shot at winning the Big Ten, and the conference needs each of them to perform in 2014.

East Division
1. Michigan State
Last Week: N/A This Week: Friday vs Jacksonville State, 7:30pm, BTN

The defending Big Ten champions became heavy favorites to repeat in 2014 after Ohio State’s Braxton Miller went down for the season. Michigan State lost plenty of talent to the NFL, but that defense still figures to be the best in the league.

2. Ohio State
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Navy, 12pm, CBS Sports Network

Miller’s season-ending injury put a damper on Ohio State’s championship aspirations, but Urban Meyer’s team is still strong enough to compete for the first Big Ten East Division championship. The Nov. 8 game in East Lansing is the biggest speed bump on the Buckeyes’ road to Indianapolis.

3. Michigan
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs. Appalachian State, 12pm, ESPN2

If Michigan finishes outside the top three in the division, then things need to change in Ann Arbor. Four straight years of strong recruiting has left Brady Hoke with a talented enough roster to win nine or more games. An underrated defense should give Michigan a chance in all 12 games.

4. Penn State
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs UCF, 8:30am, ESPN2

The Nittany Lions still can’t play in a bowl game this season, but new head coach James Franklin managed to hang on to talented quarterback Christian Hackenberg and a team that won seven games last year. Penn State could make a big splash in the standings on Oct. 25 when Ohio State visits Happy Valley, one of the hardest places for visiting teams to win at night.

5. Indiana
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Indiana State, 12pm, ESPNews

Much like they were last year, the Hoosiers are expected to be a group led by an elite offense. Unfortunately, the Big Ten is a difficult conference to win without a strong defense, and the Hoosiers gave up 38.8 points per game last season, good for 117th in college football.

6. Maryland
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs James Madison, 3:30pm, BTN

Maryland joins the Big Ten after a mediocre 7-6 record in the ACC last year. The Terrapins’ 85th-ranked offense will have a tough time scoring enough points in the Big Ten against defenses like that of Michigan State and Michigan, so don’t expect Maryland to compete for a division title in year one.

7. Rutgers
Last Week: N/A This Week: Thursday at Washington State, 10pm, FoxSports1

A 2-6 finish to the 2013 season will set the tone for Rutgers’ first season in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights lost six games by double digits last year during an average year in the ACC, so the powerful Big Ten East could be a rude awakening in 2014.

West Division
1. Wisconsin
Last Week: This Week: Saturday vs LSU, 9pm, ESPN

With Ohio State moving over to the East Division, Wisconsin sits firmly in the driver’s seat to represent the West in Indy this year. Melvin Gordon became the top Heisman candidate in the Big Ten after Miller’s injury and should lead a prototypical Wisconsin running attack that will tear apart opposing defenses.

2. Iowa
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Northern Iowa, 12pm, BTN

Iowa played good enough defense in 2013 to win the Big Ten and play in the Rose Bowl, but an inconsistent offense held the team to an 8-5 overall record. If the Hawkeyes post another top-10 defensive effort this season, they could find themselves matching up with Michigan State in Indianapolis in a low-scoring game.

3. Northwestern
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Cal, 3:30pm, ABC

Every season Northwestern looks primed for a breakout, but this year their talent is nowhere near the level of teams like Wisconsin or Iowa. The Wildcats lost four games by one possession last season, so they were close to living up to the preseason hype. But the loss of Venric Mark and a tough conference schedule will make things tough on Northwestern this year.

4. Nebraska
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Florida Atlantic, 3:30pm, BTN

The nation is expecting big things out of Nebraska after finishing a disappointing finish to the conference season last year. If this offense can rush for over 200 yards per game again this season, it has a chance to put the Cornhuskers in the hunt for the title.

5. Minnesota
Last Week: N/A This Week: Thursday vs Eastern Illinois, 7pm, BTN

Minnesota was one of the quietest surprises in the country last season, starting 8-2 before three hard-fought losses to end the year. This season will be a real test for the Gophers as they try to build off of what they started in 2013 and break a decade-long streak of irrelevance.

6. Illinois
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday at Youngstown State, 12:05pm, BTN

It could be another tough year for Illinois after finishing 4-8 with just one conference win last season. After a nonconference schedule that features three easy wins, the Fighting Illini will only be favored in one conference game: at home against the Purdue team they beat in 2013.

7. Purdue
Last Week: N/A This Week: Saturday vs Western Michigan, 12pm, ESPNU

2013 was an abomination for Purdue, as it went 1-11 with a six-point victory over a division 1-AA opponent. Illinois was the only team that Purdue was within 10 points of beating. It won’t get any easier for the Boilermakers in conference this year.