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Big Ten power rankings: Week 9

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014


Power Rankings_header

East Division
1. Michigan State (7-1, 4-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Michigan 35-11 This Week: Bye (Nov. 11 vs #16 Ohio State)

Michigan State played a below-average game against their in-state rival Wolverines this weekend, but a late score helped the conference favorite cover the spread and stay undefeated in the league.

2. Ohio State (6-1, 3-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Penn State 31-24 (2OT) This Week: Sat vs Illinois (4-4, 1-3), 8pm, ABC

In a near disaster, the Buckeyes let Penn State force overtime after leading by 17 points for much of the game. But a defensive stand in double overtime gave new life to what could be a top-10 matchup for the division crown in East Lansing on Nov. 8.

3. Maryland (5-3, 2-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 7-52 This Week: Sat at Penn State (4-3, 1-3), 12pm, ESPN2

It says a lot about the strength of the East Division after MSU and OSU that Maryland, who got waxed in Madison 52-7 Saturday, falls in at No. 3. The Terrapins didn’t carry any momentum from upsetting Iowa into Wisconsin as they got pounded from the start.

4. Penn State (4-3, 1-3) – Up 2
Last Week: Lost to #13 Ohio State 24-31 (2OT) This Week: Sat vs Maryland (5-3, 2-2), 12pm, ESPN2

October has turned into a total disaster for Penn State, as an upset bid fell just short Saturday night during Happy Valley’s signature white out game. Three straight losses have eliminated the Nittany Lions from any hope of staying relevant.

5. Rutgers (5-3, 1-3) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #16 Nebraska 24-42 This Week: Sat vs Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1), 12pm, ESPN

Rutgers got another taste of the Big Ten’s heavy hitters Saturday as Nebraska welcomed the Scarlett Knights to Lincoln and crushed them by 18. They’ve allowed 98 points in their past two games.

6. Michigan (3-5, 1-3) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #8 Michigan State 11-35 This Week: Sat vs Indiana (3-4, 0-3), 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

Nobody expected Michigan to come out of East Lansing with a win, but it was shocking how easily the Spartans handled the Devin Gardner-led offense. Now the Wolverines can only hope to salvage three wins in the final four weeks to earn a bowl invitation.

7. Indiana (3-4, 0-3) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Michigan (3-5, 1-3), 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

Indiana took a bye week to prepare for Michigan in the Big House this weekend, but Illinois’ upset win over Minnesota left the Hoosiers as the only winless team in the Big Ten.

B1G East Week 9

West Division
1. Nebraska (7-1, 3-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 42-24 This Week: Sat vs Purdue (3-5, 1-3), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

Nebraska has silently put together a nice 7-1 record in the shadow of Michigan State, the Big Ten’s most talented team. The Cornhuskers are more than capable of winning the rest of their games and setting up a potential rematch in Indianapolis.

2. Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Maryland 52-7 This Week: Sat at Rutgers (5-3, 1-3), 12pm, ESPN

It took three weeks for Wisconsin to put together a complete performance in the Big Ten, but a 52-7 win over Maryland has the Badgers in great position with two winnable road games coming up. If Melvin Gordon can lead his team over Nebraska on Nov. 15, the Badgers will become the West Division favorites again.

3. Minnesota (6-2, 3-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to Illinois 24-28 This Week: Bye (Nov. 8 vs Iowa)

It was only a matter of time before Minnesota surrendered a slim lead in the West Division, but few thought it would come at the hands of the winless Fighting Illini. Iowa comes to town after the bye.

4. Iowa (5-2, 2-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Northwestern (3-4, 2-2), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Iowa had a bye week this weekend after a tough loss to Maryland ended a modest winning streak. The next three games are winnable for the Hawkeyes before Wisconsin and Nebraksa round out the season.

5. Illinois (4-4, 1-3) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 28-24 This Week: Sat at #16 Ohio State (6-1, 3-0), 8pm, ABC

Illinois finally got its first Big Ten win Saturday, knocking off the first-place Gophers 28-24. The last four games will be difficult for Tim Beckman.

6. Northwestern (3-4, 2-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Iowa (5-2, 2-1), 12pm, Big Ten Network

The Wildcats got a much-needed week off after losing two straight conference games. Now a tough road matchup in Iowa City is looming.

7. Purdue (3-4, 0-3) – Down 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at #15 Nebraska (7-1, 3-1), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

Purdue is tied for last place in the West Division, and upcoming games against Nebraska and Wisconsin should keep the Boilermakers near the bottom in the future.

B1G West Week 9

2014 Big Ten basketball preview: Part one

Monday, October 27th, 2014


2014-15 B1G BBall Preview-Part1

Over the past few years an incredible change has passed over the Midwest, which was long praised for elite football programs like Michigan and Ohio State and largely uncompetitive on the hardwood with Michigan State taking the cake nearly every season. Now, the sports landscape has been turned on its head, as Big Ten football struggles to keep three teams ranked in the Top 25 while the basketball conference continues to solidify itself as the best in the nation.

Last season was another great campaign for the conference as a whole. Wisconsin fought its way through a tough West regional to reach the Final Four, while Michigan and Michigan State were just seconds away from doing the same, eventually losing to the two National Championship competitors. Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska were also selected for the Big Dance, giving the Big Ten six teams that made the cut. Minnesota also had a successful postseason, winning the NIT championship.

The Big Ten has climbed to the top of the basketball world by featuring a deep slate of teams led by a few legitimate Final Four contenders. This season will be no different, even as the conference welcomes two new teams that have struggled in recent years.

Below is part one of our Big Ten preview. Although there are no divisions in basketball, we’re splitting our preview up into the Big Ten West and Big Ten East football divisions for the sake of organization. Part two will be posted later this week.

Note: In the 2013 Stats & Rankings tables for each team, the darker the shade of maize, the better that team was in that category; the darker the shade of blue, the worse that team was in that category.

Illinois Fighting Illini IllinoisLogo
Head Coach: John Groce (3rd season)
2013-14: 20-15, T-8th in Big Ten (7-11), No postseason
Returning starters: 4 (Nnanna Egwu, Rayvonte Rice, Malcolm Hill, Kendrick Nunn)
Recruiting class rank: (according to 247 Sports): #47 (Leron Black, Michael Finke)
Key non-conference games: Dec. 2 at Miami, Dec. 9 vs Villanova, Dec. 13 vs Oregon

Jon Groce took a major step backwards in his second season in the Big Ten, missing the NCAA Tournament and falling to Clemson by one point in the second round of the NIT. Illinois received a major blow during the offseason when Tracy Abrams tore his ACL, putting the senior point guard out of commission for the entire year.

Despite the loss of Abrams, the Illini offense will have to improve on an average of 64.6 points per game last season, which was good for 311th in the nation. Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice joined Illinois and led the team in scoring with 15.9 points per game last year, but he’ll need help from young players like Kendrick Nunn to give the team a chance to play deep into March in 2015.

Player to watch: Rayvonte Rice. He led the team in scoring in his first Big Ten season, shooting 43 percent from the field and grabbing six boards per game.

Best-case scenario: Rice continues to improve his offensive game, and Nnanna Egwu becomes a defensive force in the paint, leading Illinois to an NCAA Tournament berth.

Worst-case scenario: The team feels the loss of Abrams and lets that set a defeated tone for the season, which carries into the gauntlet Big Ten schedule and Groce’s team ends up in a second straight NIT.

Projected finish: 8th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 64.2 11 303
Scoring Defense 62.2 2 19
Field Goal Percentage .411 11 303
Field Goal Percentage Defense .421 9 94
3-pt FG Percentage .317 11 292
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .343 11 164
Free Throw Percentage .733 6 59
Rebounding Margin +0.5 8
Assist/Turnover Ratio 10.0/10.4 = 1.0 10 209
Steals 6.1 6 155
Blocked Shots 3.6 9 164

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Iowa Hawkeyes Iowa logo
Head Coach: Fran McCaffery (5th season)
2013-14: 20-13, 6th in Big Ten (9-9), First round NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 3 (Adam Woodbury, Aaron White, Mike Gesell)
Recruiting class rank: #72 (Brady Ellingson, Trey Dickerson, Dominique Uhl)
Key non-conference games: Nov. 20 vs Texas, Dec. 3 at UNC, Dec 12 vs Iowa State

Iowa returns most of a team that put together one of the most confusing resumes in the country last season, ultimately finishing with 20 wins and squeaking into an NCAA Tournament first-round game. The only major loss is that of Roy Devyn Marble, who was the most dangerous offensive player for Fran McCaffery last season.

On offense the Hawkeyes ranked in the top 15 in points, rebounds and assists per game a year ago. At the same time, the defense ranked 12th in rebounds, 37th in blocks and 54th in steals per game, combining to form one of the most impressive statistical resumes in the country. But a 1-6 finish to the regular season set up the overtime loss to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and sent Iowa home as an afterthought.

This year the team will rely heavily on do-it-all man Aaron White and an athletic backcourt of Mike Gesell and junior college All-American transfer Trey Dickerson to lead a lethal offense. Center Adam Woodbury will be asked to anchor the defense as a junior.

Player to watch: Trey Dickerson. McCaffery brought in Dickerson to give the offense an element of speed, which helped him earn All-American honors in junior college. He could be a huge addition to this deep Iowa rotation.

Best-case scenario: With a balanced offense returning, the Hawkeyes learn from their late-season collapse and put together a complete season, finishing near the top of the Big Ten and priming themselves for a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Worst-case scenario: The loss of Marble puts too much of the load on White and the offense takes a step back, exposing an overmatched defense. Iowa fights through an inconsistent conference season and lands on the wrong side of the bubble in March.

Projected finish: 6th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 81.5 1 8
Scoring Defense 70.3 11 175
Field Goal Percentage .463 3 51
Field Goal Percentage Defense .415 6 68
3-pt FG Percentage .350 5 135
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .317 5 47
Free Throw Percentage .735 5 52
Rebounding Margin +7.0 2
Assist/Turnover Ratio 16.1/11.2 = 1.4 4 20
Steals 7.1 3 53
Blocked Shots 5.0 2 35

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Minnesota Golden Gophers Minnesota-Logo
Head Coach: Richard Pitino (2nd season)
2013-14: 2013-14: 25-13, 7th in Big Ten (8-10), NIT Champions
Returning Starters: 4 (Maurice Walker, Joey King, Andre Hollis, Deandre Mathieu)
Recruiting class rank: #71 (Nate Mason, Jr., Carlos Morris, Josh Martin, Bakary Konate, Gaston Diedhiou)
Key non-conference games: Nov 14 vs Louisville, Dec 2 at Wake Forest

Minnesota put together quite a run to end the 2014 season, winning five straight games by single digits to take home the NIT crown. As the best of the teams that didn’t make the tournament, Minnesota proved that it probably should have received an invite to the Dance.

Now, Richard Pitino returns three of his four leading scorers, including the explosive Andre Hollins, to an offense that must improve on its 71.2 points per contest from last season. Top rebounder Elliot Eliason is also back, and joins Hollins and Deandre Mathieu to form a solid core in Minnesota.

Pitino will have to fill the void left by Austin Hollis, who did a little of everything for the Gophers, averaging 12.4 points, 2.4 assists, five rebounds and two steals per game. Minnesota should be back on the bubble for an NCAA Tournamnt berth, if it can finish .500 in the Big Ten.

Player to watch: Deandre Mathieu. The Morehead State transfer burst onto the Big Ten scene last season, averaging 12 points and 4.2 assists per game for the Golden Gophers. If he can improve on his numbers as a season, he could become an even better version of Austin Hollins.

Best-case scenario: Mathieu clicks, Andre Hollins makes smart decisions as an upperclassman, and Pitino leads his team to double digit conference wins in his second year with Minnesota.

Worst-case scenario: The consistency and playmaking ability of Austin Hollins is sorely missed and the committee of talented guards in Minnesota struggles to fill that gap. Minnesota ends up back in the NIT with a chance to defend their bittersweet title.

Projected finish: 7th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 71.1 7 149
Scoring Defense 67.7 9 106
Field Goal Percentage .447 7 121
Field Goal Percentage Defense .426 10 110
3-pt FG Percentage .352 4 118
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .343 10 170
Free Throw Percentage .742 3 45
Rebounding Margin +0.6 7
Assist/Turnover Ratio 13.9/11.7 = 1.2 5 71
Steals 7.6 2 36
Blocked Shots 4.1 7 115

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Nebraska Cornhuskers Nebraska logo
Head Coach: Tim Miles (3rd season)
2013-14: 19-13, 4th in Big Ten (11-7), Second Round NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 5 (David Rivers, Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford, Shavon Shields, Tai Webster)
Recruiting class rank: #87 (Jake Hammond, Tarin Smith)
Key non-conference games: Dec 1 at Florida State, Dec 7 vs Creighton, Dec 13 vs Cincinnati

After an 0-4 start to the Big Ten season landed Nebraska at 8-8 on the season, rumblings of a tournament bid completely died in Lincoln as the team featured no quality wins and two terrible losses. But then, in perhaps the most unlikely turnaround in the country, the Cornhuskers won 11 of their last 14 regular season games before being bounced out of the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament on consecutive Fridays.

The X-factor for Nebraska was obvious: Tim Miles’ team simply didn’t lose in the brand-new Pinnacle Bank Arena. In 16 games at home, Nebraska went 15-1 with a last-second loss to the conference champion Wolverines in early January. With that type of home court advantage this season, the Cornhuskers should be well on their way to another tournament appearance.

Of the nine players that averaged over 10 minutes per game for Miles, seven of them are returning, including two of the top offensive players in the conference: Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. The two forwards make up perhaps the most dynamic duo in the Midwest and figure to lead this team as it enters the season with something new surrounding the program: Expectations.

Last season it was a miracle for Nebraska to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, but this year it will be a massive letdown if they don’t return.

Player to watch: Terran Petteway. This guy is a legitimate contender for conference player of the year. He averaged 18.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season while leading the underdog Cornhuskers to fourth place in the best conference in basketball.

Best-case scenario: Nebraska returns with all the magic from last season and puts together a complete campaign, winning 25 plus games and challenging Wisconsin for the Big Ten crown.

Worst-case scenario: Shields and Petteway can’t match their 2013-14 level of play and the team spends the whole season searching for a leader. In March Nebraska sits near the middle of the pack in the Big Ten and on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble.

Projected finish: 4th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 66.8 10 263
Scoring Defense 65.2 6 50
Field Goal Percentage .427 9 235
Field Goal Percentage Defense .420 8 88
3-pt FG Percentage .333 7 210
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .315 3 42
Free Throw Percentage .717 8 117
Rebounding Margin -1.9 11
Assist/Turnover Ratio 9.5/10.9 = 0.9 11 284
Steals 6.9 4 72
Blocked Shots 3.1 11 213

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Northwestern Wildcats NorthwesternLogo
Head Coach: Chris Collins (2nd season)
2013-14: 14-19, T-10th in Big Ten, No postseason
Returning starters: 4 (Alex Olah, Sanjay Lumpkin, JerShon Cobb, Tre Demps
Recruiting class rank: #54 (Vic Law, Bryant McIntosh, Scott Lindsey, Gavin Skelly, Johnnie Vassar)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Georgia Tech, Dec 6 at Butler

The hire of Chris Collins from Duke University sparked a buzz around the Northwestern program last season, and the team did show signs of competing within the Big Ten. In fact, with a 5-5 conference record on the first day of February, the Wildcats were in fourth place in the conference with just 10 games to go. Unfortunately, those 10 games didn’t go well.

Northwestern lost their next seven games and eight of their last 10 to finish just a game out of the cellar. Now Collins has to move forward without his best all-around player Drew Crawford, who has taken his talents to the NBA. Crawford led the team in scoring and rebounding and was among the top three in assists and blocks last season.

The team will feature much of the same core in 2014-15, with guards JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps leading the charge from the backcourt. Seven-foot center Alex Olah is back after a solid sophomore season, and Dave Sobolewski will have to step up as a senior coming off the bench. Vic Law was a top 100 recruit and should give the team a future to build around going forward.

Player to watch: Vic Law. The freshman forward should grow into a significant role this season and play a big part in what Collins hopes to do at Northwestern. The team is deep in the backcourt, but could really use a breakout season from Law on the wing.

Best-case scenario: Northwestern’s starting lineup gels and keeps them in most of their games, thanks to career seasons from Cobb and Demps and a solid freshman campaign from Law. The Wildcats enter the final weeks of the season with an opportunity to put themselves on the bubble.

Worst-case scenario: Big Ten defenses no longer have to worry about Crawford, so the host of Wildcat guards are slowed by more focused defenses.

Projected finish: 12th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 59.5 12 347
Scoring Defense 63.4 3 30
Field Goal Percentage .396 12 335
Field Goal Percentage Defense .411 3 55
3-pt FG Percentage .306 12 318
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .315 4 45
Free Throw Percentage .700 10 177
Rebounding Margin -4.5 12
Assist/Turnover Ratio 11.0/10.9 = 1.0 9 175
Steals 4.3 12 335
Blocked Shots 3.7 8 162

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Purdue Boilermakers Purdue logo
Head Coach: Matt Painter (10th season)
2013-14: 15-17, 12th in Big Ten (5-13), No postseason
Returning starters: 3 (A.J. Hammons, Kendall Stephens, Rapheal Davis)
Recruiting class rank: #34 (Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson, Jacquil Taylor)
Key non-conference games: Nov 24 vs Kansas State, Dec 2 vs NC State, Dec 20 vs ND

It took a truly impressive collapse from Matt Painter’s team to finish with a losing record last season, as Purdue stood at 13-5 midway through the season. A 2-12 finish certainly wasn’t what Painter had in mind, and losing his top two scoring threats for this season won’t help.

When two-time MVP Terone Johnson graduated and moved on to play professional ball in Greece, his brother, Ronnie decided to transfer and take his talents to Houston. With the loss of the Johnson brothers Painter waved goodbye to a total of 22.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game. The only saving grace is that starting center A.J. Hammons is ready to take over the team as a junior, much like JaJuan Johnson did under Painter as a sophomore five years ago.

Hammons will be joined by returning guards Kendall Stephens and Bryson Scott, who played major roles for Purdue last season. Transfer Jon Octeus could be the most important player for the Boilermakers this season after he averaged 13.4 points and 4.7 rebounds out of the backcourt for Colorado State last season.

Player to watch: A.J. Hammons. When Purdue was a Big Ten powerhouse under Painter, the centerpiece was a dominant big man inside. Now Hammons looks like the team’s only chance to get back to that level of success following a last-place finish.

Best-case scenario: Hammons takes the reins and runs with them, drawing double and triple teams to help out the trio of potential breakout guards. Purdue fights its way into the top 10 in the conference and gives the top teams headaches in February and March.

Worst-case scenario: Purdue continues to trend downward and finishes at the bottom of the league once again. Hammons isn’t ready to be a go-to scorer and Painter’s seat gets ever hotter.

Projected finish: 13th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 72.2 5 109
Scoring Defense 71.7 12 208
Field Goal Percentage .427 10 239
Field Goal Percentage Defense .419 7 83
3-pt FG Percentage .327 8 239
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .326 7 77
Free Throw Percentage .671 12 271
Rebounding Margin +3.5 4
Assist/Turnover Ratio 13.1/12.3 = 1.1 7 140
Steals 5.6 8 229
Blocked Shots 5.3 1 28

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Wisconsin Badgers Wisconsin logo
Head Coach: Bo Ryan (14th season)
2013-14: 30-8, T-2nd in Big Ten (12-6), Final Four NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 4 (Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser)
Recruiting class rank: #108 (Ethan Happ)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Duke, Dec 6 at Marquette, Dec 22 at California

Wisconsin has finished in the top four of the Big Ten standings each year since 2001, but this season, the Badgers are the favorites to land on top and return to the Final Four. Bo Ryan’s returns Big Ten preseason player of the year Frank Kaminsky along with fellow starters Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser.

The Badgers used an eight-game winning streak near the end of the Big Ten season to position themselves as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A one-point overtime win against top-seeded Arizona sent Wisconsin to Arlington, where a one-point loss to Kentucky ended a 30-win season.

Now Ryan enters the 2014-15 season with lofty expectations, thanks to a team that lost little more than Ben Brust during the offseason. Wisconsin should be one of the top teams in the Big Ten and battle for a No. 1 seed in March.

Player to watch: Frank Kaminsky. The seven-footer averaged just 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season, but his strong second half was enough to earn him preseason player of the year honors heading into his senior season.

Best-case scenario: Wisconsin picks up where it left off, blazing through the Big Ten and storming back to the Final Four behind Kaminsky and a more mature Dekker.

Worse-case scenario: Wisconsin’s veteran players take a step back and the team ends up in the fourth or fifth spot in the conference, earning a middling seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Projected finish: 1st

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 73.5 4 77
Scoring Defense 64.0 4 36
Field Goal Percentage .459 4 73
Field Goal Percentage Defense .429 11 118
3-pt FG Percentage .376 3 57
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .341 9 152
Free Throw Percentage .746 2 27
Rebounding Margin +1.5 5
Assist/Turnover Ratio 12.3/8.1 = 1.5 1 8
Steals 4.8 10 302
Blocked Shots 3.3 10 195

Big Ten power rankings: Week 8

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014


Power Rankings_header

East Division
1. Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Indiana 56-17 This Week: Sat vs Michigan (3-4, 1-2), 3:30pm, ABC

Indiana stuck around for most of the first half against MSU, but the Spartans’ high-powered offense eventually took over and gave them another conference win. Michigan State will welcome Michigan to town before another bye week.

2. Ohio State (5-1, 2-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 56-17 This Week: Sat at Penn State (4-2, 1-2), 8pm, ABC

Rutgers was the best surprise of the Big Ten through six games, but Ohio State gave them a rude awakening on Saturday with a 56-17 blowout win.

3. Maryland (5-2, 2-1) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Iowa 38-31 This Week: Sat at Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Maryland got back on track Saturday, bouncing back from a big loss to Ohio State to beat Iowa 38-31. Fourteen fourth quarter points helped the Terrapins pick up their biggest conference win so far.

4. Rutgers (5-2, 1-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #13 Ohio State 17-56 This Week: Sat at #16 Nebraska (6-1, 2-1), 12pm, ESPN2

Rutgers’ winning streak came to a screeching halt in Columbus on Saturday as the Scarlett Knights lost by 39 points. A grueling schedule looms in the second half, and could erase the strong start of the season.

5. Michigan (3-4, 1-2) – Down 2
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at #8 Michigan State (6-1, 3-0), 3:30pm, ABC

Michigan’s first bye week came in Week 8 after a big home win over Penn State. The Wolverines got two weeks to prepare for the heavily favored Spartans in East Lansing this Saturday.

6. Penn State (4-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs #13 Ohio State (5-1, 2-0), 8pm, ABC

Penn State didn’t play in Week 8, getting some much needed rest after losses to Michigan and Northwestern. It won’t get any easier for the Nittany Lions as Ohio State comes to town this weekend.

7. Indiana (3-4, 0-3) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #8 Michigan State 17-56 This Week: Bye (11/1 at Michigan)

Without starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld, upsetting Michigan State was merely a pipe dream for Indiana on Saturday. The Hoosiers took a late first half lead in the game, but collapsed in the following minutes.

BIG East Week 8

West Division
1. Minnesota (6-1, 3-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 39-38 This Week: Sat at Illinois (3-4, 0-3), 12pm, ESPNU

Minnesota just kept rolling on Saturday against Purdue, grinding out a close game to stay unbeaten in Big Ten play. With matchups against Illinois and Iowa coming up, the Gophers could be atop the division for a few more weeks.

2. Nebraska (6-1, 2-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Northwestern 38-17 This Week: Sat vs Rutgers (5-2, 1-2), 12pm, ESPN2

Though Minnesota is in first place, Nebraska is clearly the class of the Big Ten West. A close loss to MSU is the only blemish on the Cornhuskers’ resume, and a Nov. 22 meeting in Lincoln could decide if Minnesota is really good enough to play in Indianapolis.

3. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Maryland (5-2, 2-1), 12pm, Big Ten Network

It was a good week to be idle in the West Division, as Wisconsin sat at home and watched both Iowa and Northwestern fall in the standings. The Badgers will be back in action against Maryland this weekend.

4. Iowa (5-2, 2-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Maryland 31-38 This Week: Bye (11/1 vs Northwestern))

Iowa suffered a disappointing loss to Maryland on Saturday as it continued to play with fire and finally got burned in conference. Maryland dropped 38 points on the Hawkeye defense and knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten.

5. Northwestern (3-4, 2-2) – Down 4
Last Week: Lost to #19 Nebraska 17-38 This Week: Bye (11/1 at Iowa)

Northwestern couldn’t pull of a second straight Evanston upset on Saturday, falling to Nebraska 38-17. The Wildcats have overachieved with their 2-2 Big Ten record, but they’re far from contenders.

6. Purdue (3-5, 1-3) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Minnesota 38-39 This Week: Bye (11/1 at #16 Nebraska)

Purdue had a real chance to pull even in conference play against Minnesota, but fell a point short on Saturday in a 39-38 loss. The loss dropped the Boilermakers to 1-3 with Nebraska and Wisconsin on the horizon.

7. Illinois (3-4, 0-3) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Minnesota (6-1, 3-0), 12pm, ESPNU

Illinois took a bye week in the midst of a losing streak during Week 8. The Fighting Illini are the only winless team left in the West.

BIG West Week 8

Michigan fifth in preseason Big Ten basketball media poll

Thursday, October 16th, 2014


Beilein(Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Michigan has become one of the most consistent basketball schools in the Big Ten conference under head coach John Beilein. Over the past four seasons the Wolverines have racked up a 104-41 record en route to four NCAA Tournament appearances, two Elite Eights and a national championship game.

Michigan has been equally dominant within the Big Ten during that span, winning the conference by three games last season for its second title in three years. Beilein’s group is averaging over 12 wins in the Big Ten per season since 2010-11, never finishing below fourth place.

But an exodus of talent to the NBA and graduation has raised questions about the upcoming Michigan season. Sixty percent of the starting lineup is gone, including the team’s leading scorer and passer (Nik Stauskas) and top three rebounders (Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan and Glenn Robinson III).

The uncertainty is reflected in the Big Ten preseason media poll, released on Wednesday as the conference descends upon Chicago for Big Ten Media Day, which pinned Michigan at No. 5 in the league. Above Michigan are Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Nebraska.

You can see the full rankings, along with the point totals, below:

Preseason media poll
Rank Team Points
1 Wisconsin 378
2 Ohio State 322
3 Michigan State 305
4 Nebraska 299
5 Michigan 286
6 Minnesota 226
7 Iowa 214
8 Illinois 196
9 Indiana 163
10 Maryland 162
11 Purdue 95
12 Penn State 84
13 Northwestern 78
14 Rutgers 27

Wisconsin, the unanimous No. 1 team, returns nearly every major contributor from last season’s Final Four team. Ohio State struggled in 2014 and fell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to 11th-seeded Dayton, but brought in one of the top freshmen classes in the country. Michigan State, like Michigan, lost in the Elite Eight in March and waved goodbye to three of its starters: Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling. Nebraska was knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Baylor, but returns most of the team that finished the regular season 8-1.

Michigan fans can reasonably argue that the team should rank just behind Wisconsin, as Beilein has proven this team to be a mainstay among the top teams in the Big Ten. But it looks like the country wants emerging stars like Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. to prove themselves this season before investing in this team.

Perhaps the skepticism stems from the lack of size on Michigan’s roster. Freshmen Rocky Doyle and Mark Donnal check in at 6-foot-9, the tallest listings on the team. If they can hold their own next to a slew of talented guards, Michigan should finish much higher than fifth in the Big Ten standings.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 7

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014


Power Rankings_header

East Division
1. Michigan State (5-1, 2-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 45-31 This Week: Sat at Indiana (3-3, 0-2), 3:30pm, ESPN

Purdue stayed much closer to the top-10 Spartans than most fans expected, scoring 31 points on the vaunted MSU defense. But Michigan State escaped by scoring 45 points and stayed perfect in the Big Ten

2. Ohio State (4-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Rutgers (5-1, 1-1), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

Ohio State had a week off to prepare for Rutgers this weekend after dropping 52 points on Maryland Oct. 4. The Buckeyes are likely the only team with a chance to battle Michigan State for the East Division.

3. Rutgers (5-1, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at #13 Ohio State (4-1, 1-1), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

After storming the field to celebrate the school’s first Big Ten win, Rutgers students took a week of rest before a difficult end to October. Rutgers will go on the road to face Ohio State and Nebraska before welcoming Wisconsin to town on Nov. 1.

4. Michigan (3-4, 1-2) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Penn State 18-13 This Week: Bye (10/25 at Michigan State)

Michigan sorely needed a victory to end a three-game losing streak, and it did so in dramatic fashion, holding on to beat Penn State 18-13 on Saturday night. The four teams that have beaten Michigan so far this season have a combined record of 20-3 and an average AP ranking of 22.5.

5. Maryland (4-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Iowa (5-1, 2-0), 12pm, ESPN2

A sellout crowd couldn’t have been more ready for Maryland’s first Big Ten home game last weekend, but the Terrapins were smashed by 28 points at the hands of the Buckeyes. Maryland will now battle Iowa at home following its bye week.

6. Penn State (4-2, 1-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to Michigan 13-18 This Week: Bye (10/25 vs Ohio State)

Penn State has fallen mightily from its 4-0 start, dropping two straight conference games by a combined score of 47-19. Penn State will have the week off before a tough matchup against OSU.

7. Indiana (3-3, 0-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Iowa 29-45 This Week: Sat vs #8 Michigan State (5-1, 2-0), 3:30pm, ESPN

Indiana is 3-0 outside the Big Ten, but got blown out by both Maryland and Iowa. The Hoosiers are proof that it’s tough to win in this conference without a capable defense.

BIG East Week 7

West Division
1. Minnesota (5-1, 2-0) – Up 4
Last Week: Beat Northwestern 24-17 This Week: Sat vs Purdue (3-4, 1-2), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Minnesota is on top of the West division after another victory, this time over a Northwestern team that just upset Wisconsin a week earlier. With Purdue and Illinois up next, Minnesota could stay atop the standings for a few more weeks.

2. Nebraska (5-1, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Northwestern (3-3, 2-1), 7:30pm, Big Ten Network

Nebraska didn’t play in Week 7 after losing to Michigan State in Week 6. The Cornhuskers looked sluggish for much of three quarters against MSU, but should still battle Wisconsin for the West crown.

3. Iowa (5-1, 2-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Indiana 45-29 This Week: Sat at Maryland (4-2, 1-1), 12pm, ESPN2

Iowa finally blew out an opponent this weekend, crushing Indiana 45-29. The Hawkeyes could realistically win every game left on their schedule and contend for the first West Division championship, but they have to put together some complete games.

4. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Illinois 38-28 This Week: Bye (10/25 vs Maryland)

Illinois played Wisconsin tough on Saturday despite four touchdowns from running back Melvin Gordon. The Badgers just haven’t been impressive during the Big Ten season with a loss to Northwestern and a 10-point win over last-place Illinois.

5. Northwestern (3-3, 2-1) – Down 4
Last Week: Lost to Minnesota 17-24 This Week: Sat vs #19 Nebraska (5-1, 1-1), 7:30pm, Big Ten Network

Coming off of two straight upsets to shake up the Big Ten standings, Northwestern couldn’t stay unbeaten in the conference this weekend, falling to Minnesota by a touchdown.

6. Purdue (3-4, 1-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #8 Michigan State 31-45 This Week: Sat at Minnesota (5-1, 2-0), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Michigan State may have walked into West Lafayette looking past the lowly Boilermakers, but  Purdue still put up an impressive fight, racking up 31 points against the conference’s top defense.

7. Illinois (3-4, 0-3) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 28-38 This Week: Bye (10/25 vs Minnesota)

Illinois stuck with Wisconsin for much of the game Saturday, but just didn’t have the firepower to match Gordon’s outburst. The Fighting Illini are the only West team winless in the Big Ten.

BIG West Week 7

Big Ten power rankings: Week 6

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014


Power Rankings_header

Big Ten conference play is in full swing and last week saw its first big-time matchup of the season with Michigan State and Nebraska. It also saw Rutgers get its first ever Big Ten victory and Northwestern pull off its second upset in as many weeks. Here are this week’s rankings.

East Division
1. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat #19 Nebraska 27-22 This Week: Sat at Purdue (3-3, 1-1), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

In maybe the biggest conference matchup of the season on Saturday, Michigan State took down Nebraska, the lone undefeated team in the Big Ten, to cement itself as the runaway favorite to win the conference. Michigan State is one win over Ohio State away from likely playing in the first college football playoff.

2. Ohio State (4-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Maryland 52-24 This Week: Bye (10/18 vs Rutgers)

Many thought Maryland’s talented defense would give the Buckeyes a battle last weekend, but the Terps couldn’t hold up against Urban Meyer’s resurgent squad, and OSU blew Maryland out of its own building 52-24.

3. Rutgers (5-1, 1-1) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Michigan 26-24 This Week: Bye (10/18 at #15 Ohio State)

Rutgers picked up its first conference win as a member of the Big Ten with a close victory over a reeling Michigan team on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights are 5-1 halfway through this season.

4. Penn State (4-1, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Michigan (2-4, 0-2), 7pm, ESPN2

Penn State took a week off after an awful loss to Northwestern at home. The Nittany Lions will travel to Ann Arbor for a chance to get back on track this weekend in the first ever Big Ten night game in Michigan Stadium.

5. Maryland (4-2, 1-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to #20 Ohio State 24-52 This Week: Bye (10/18 vs Iowa)

Just when Maryland was gaining some momentum, Ohio State ended the modest two-game winning streak by putting up 52 points on the “vaunted” Terrapin defense.

6. Indiana (3-2, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat North Texas 49-24 This Week: Sat at Iowa (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPNU

Indiana finished up the non-conference season a week later than most, smashing North Texas at home 49-24.  This weekend will bring a challenge as the Hoosiers travel to Iowa City.

7. Michigan (2-4, 0-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Rutgers 24-26 This Week: Sat vs Penn State (4-1, 1-1), 7pm, ESPN2

It’s disappointing for Michigan fans that perhaps the team’s most complete effort of the first half of the season came in a loss to Rutgers. Turnovers, third down defense, consistency in the rushing game, field goal kicking, and any semblance of a kick return weapon are among the qualities lacking for the Wolverines thus far.

BIG East Week 6

West Division
1. Northwestern (3-2, 2-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat #17 Wisconsin 20-14 This Week: Sat at Minnesota (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, BTN

Northwestern’s resurgence since Week 2 has been one of the most shocking developments in the Big Ten. One week after waxing Penn State on the road by 23, the Wildcats took down the mighty Wisconsin Badgers to take an outright lead in the West.

2. Nebraska (5-1, 1-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #10 Michigan State 22-27 This Week: Bye (10/18 at Northwestern)

Michigan State handed Nebraska a tough first loss of the season Saturday night, after the Cornhuskers failed to show up for much of the first three quarters of the game. But MSU is the most talented group in the conference, so Nebraska still owns the inside track to a rematch in Indianapolis.

3. Iowa (4-1, 1-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Purdue 24-10 This Week: Sat vs Indiana (3-2, 0-1), 12pm, ESPNU

Week 6 was a resounding success for Iowa. Though the Hawkeyes had the week off, they sat at home and watched both Wisconsin and Nebraska drop their first conference games of the season.

4. Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to Northwestern 14-20 This Week: Sat vs Illinois (3-3, 0-2), 12pm, ESPN2

A quiet trip to Evanston turned very ugly for Wisconsin as it dropped its first conference game after scoring just 14 points. The Badgers rushing attack hasn’t been enough to manufacture points in important spots this season, and now the West Division favorite has fallen to 3-2 overall.

5. Minnesota (4-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Northwestern (3-2, 2-0), 12pm, BTN

Minnesota took an extra week off to celebrate the return of the Little Brown Jug. The 4-1 Gophers welcome the first-place Wildcats to town this weekend.

6. Purdue (3-3, 1-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Illinois 38-27 This Week: Sat vs #8 Michigan State (4-1, 1-0), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

Purdue took perhaps its only chance at a Big Ten victory this season and ran with it Saturday, topping Illinois on the road 38-27.

7. Illinois (3-3, 0-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Purdue 27-38 This Week: Sat at Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1), 12pm, ESPN2

A tough start to the season got much worse Saturday when Illinois fell to Purdue at home to remain winless in the Big Ten. A quick glance at the remaining schedule raises the distinct possibility that Illinois could finish 3-9.

BIG West week 6

The Michigan Medley breaks silence on the Brady Hoke/Shane Morris situation

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014


Hoke

I have refrained from posting or commenting about the fallout from the Minnesota game, both on this site and on Twitter to this point. It’s not because I didn’t want to or had nothing to say. As happens every now and then the real world stole my time, and since this is such a hot-button topic, I felt I would be doing it a disservice by commenting on it if I couldn’t commit my full attention to it. What a week for that to happen, huh?

Unlike the chorus of sudden Twitter doctors I wasn’t going to rush to conclusions and shout accusations without facts. And unlike other sites I wasn’t going to post controversial snippets and rumors just for clicks. There’s certainly nothing wrong with asking questions and challenging those in the know for answers, but I believe in doing due diligence before speaking, especially on a subject such as this.

That said, here’s my stance on everything that has transpired over the last few days.

On Brady Hoke and the Shane Morris injury

There’s nothing wrong with criticizing Hoke’s results on the field, but the criticisms about his character are flat out wrong. We have seen some of his former players come out publicly in support of Hoke and to defend his character and love for his players:


Other former players I’ve talked to since Saturday have backed that up as well. One didn’t agree with the way Hoke prepared him for the next level, but stood up for Hoke’s character, describing Hoke and his staff as “some of the most kind-hearted people you can meet…loving and very welcoming.” I have yet to find a former player who didn’t share that sentiment.

It’s easy from a fan’s point of view to watch what transpired on TV on Saturday and claim that Hoke knew Morris was concussed and put him back in. We had the benefit of instant replay and commentators stating their disgust for the handling of the situation. I was listening to the radio broadcast in the car at the time and had no idea there was even the possibility of a concussion until I got home and looked on Twitter. Jim Brandstatter and Dan Dierdorf said nothing about a head injury or a hit to the head and kept talking about him limping because of his ankle.

Shane Morris

Morris is held up by Ben Braden after getting hit (Getty Images)

On the field, Hoke and the rest of the staff didn’t see the close-ups and replays that were shown on TV. So when Hoke says he was following the pass down the field and didn’t see the hit, that makes complete sense. And in the aftermath of the play, going from would-be fourth down to now first down because of a roughing the passer penalty, the likeliness of Hoke not knowing about the head injury, or seeing Morris stumble into Ben Braden, is very, very probable. Like he said in his Monday press conference, it’s his job to coach, and regardless of whether or not anyone feels he’s doing a good job at that, it’s the medical staff’s job to determine and evaluate injuries.

So if you take Hoke’s word that he didn’t see the hit and Morris stumble into Braden, then when Morris waved off offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, it would have been assumed that he felt he could still play based on his ankle injury. They pulled him one play later and he was evaluated by the trainers on the sideline.

As The Concussion Blog points out, coaches and trainers don’t step out onto the filed to remove a player that got up and “shook it off.” Had Morris stayed down, warranting an injury time out, the trainers would have come out, evaluated him, and removed him from the field. Or if he had come out after the hit and told the trainers his head hurt, this situation could have been avoided. But he didn’t. That’s not to say this was all his fault; that’s just the mindset of a player, especially when you consider that he was the backup quarterback getting his first start of the season, fighting to win the job. In retrospect, Morris should have stayed down or taken himself out in this instance, but you can’t fault him for not doing so. I have personally suffered a concussion in a high school soccer game many years ago and stayed in and finished the game. It’s in a player’s nature to shake off an injury and try to play through it.

So if Hoke didn’t see the Morris hit or see him stumble into Braden, and Morris waved off the staff trying to get him to come out of the game, when Devin Gardner had to come out for a play because of his helmet coming off, Hoke didn’t put Morris back in for a play to hand the ball off knowing he had a concussion. So let’s put to rest the vitriol directed towards Hoke about willingly playing a concussed player. If you want to argue whether or not he’s the right coach for Michigan, fine. But stop the baseless attacks on his character.

That said, there certainly was a breakdown in communication as someone should have seen the hit and stumble and relayed that to the training staff on the field. According to the statement released by Dave Brandon (more on that below), the team neurologist didn’t see the hit, but did see Morris stumble, and “determined he needed to head down to the sideline to evaluate Shane.” The breakdown appears to have been between the neurologist who saw the symptoms (stumble) and the team physicians who evaluated Morris for his ankle injury when he was taken out of the game a play after the big hit and determined he was okay to go back in the game for one play when Gardner’s helmet came off.

Brandon has promised changes to improve that communication in the future, such as having a dedicated physician staff in the box to review each play and look for injuries, and then be in contact with the on-field training staff about them. Hoke wearing a headset or not is irrelevant in the situation that occurred last Saturday. That, like this whole situation, is blown out of proportion because of the results on the field.

The public relations aftermath

The program did itself no favors in the aftermath of the situation, allowing it to balloon into a national story instead of getting out in front of it and killing it right away. Had the program or Brandon released a statement Saturday night or Sunday morning admitting the mistakes and promising to put new processes in place to prevent it from happening again, and allowed Hoke to be forthright in the Monday press conference, the story wouldn’t have gained so much traction.

As former Michigan athletic director Don Canham used to say, and John U. Bacon pointed out on Twitter, never turn a one-day story into a two-day story. Michigan turned it into a story that is still all over the mainstream media by waiting until after midnight on Monday to release the statement. It became less about the situation that happened, and more about the final straw for those already wanting Brandon and Hoke ousted. Waiting more than two days to release the statement, and allowing Hoke to go into a press conference not answering questions about the injury and promising a statement from the medical staff, lost the public’s trust and made it look like Michigan was trying to cover it up.

By not killing the story up front, they allowed people to speculate about Brandon trying to persuade the medical staff to lie, Brandon and Hoke’s job status, secret meetings between the regents, and more. And it led to a student petition calling for Brandon’s dismissal and a “Fire Dave Brandon” rally in the Diag, which culminated outside the house of new university president Mark Schlissel. Then, of course, ESPN sent Joe Schad to campus to report throughout the day from in front of Schembechler Hall.

All of it has amounted to a major black eye for the university and the football program that could have been avoided — or at least greatly reduced — if handled properly.

The student rally

Rally at the diag(Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Our own Derick Hutchinson attended the rally on Tuesday and wrote the following:

Hundreds of students milled around the diag on Tuesday evening to protest the actions of an athletic department that faces national scrutiny in the wake of Shane Morris’ handling against Minnesota. Students began the rally with chants of “Fire Brandon,” “We want Harbaugh,” and “Down with Dave.” By 6:20 there were at least 1,000 frustrated students in the small section of the Diag near the Graduate Library, some yelling and others walking around with signs.

Students rally outside president Schlissle's house (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Students rally outside president Schlissel’s house (Derick Hutchinson, M&GB)

Perhaps the most noticeable fan stood in the center of the crowd with an Ohio State sweatshirt on in protest of his team’s AD, holding a standard “Fire Brandon” sign. Others brought bottles of Coke to mock the university’s ‘buy two Cokes get two tickets to Minnesota’ promotion.

Finally, the mass made its way over to the home of university president Mark S. Schlissel. Once there, the chants increased in intensity and frequency as one student took to the front steps with a megaphone. A police officer stood to the right of the steps, but the rally remained peaceful throughout as the students tried to make their points heard. At around 7:10 p.m. the students cleared out.

Though the turnout from the rally was substantial, the president’s statement that no further action will be taken has not changed. It’s strange that after doing nothing on the field started this mess, and doing nothing afterwards until 1 a.m. Tuesday made it much worse, that the president’s response to the national outrage is to do exactly nothing.

Moving forward

Michigan just released a statement outlining the new player-safety measures that will be in place beginning this Saturday at Rutgers. The new system will incorporate three measures:

1. Putting a certified athletic training professional in the press box to view the entire field and identify players that might need evaluation by a trainer on the field. This person will have access to the television video feed and direct communication with the trainers on the field.

2. Added two-way radio communication, which includes mandatory radios possessed by the individual in the press box and the trainers on the field, with hard-line phones and cell phone communication as backups.

3. Taking helmets from players determined to be unable to continue playing. The medical team will take the player’s helmet to ensure he cannot return to the game.

Those safety measures will hopefully ensure a situation like this doesn’t happen again. Saturday cannot get here soon enough and hopefully the players rally together around the adversity and do the only thing that can turn down the heat: win.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 5

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014


Power Rankings_header

After four weeks of non-conference play, Week 5 was the first week of conference games for most of the Big Ten. It is now when the best teams start separating themselves and the conference picture really starts to become clearer.

East Division
1. Michigan State (3-1, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Wyoming 56-14 This Week: Sat vs #19 Nebraska (5-0, 1-0), 8pm, ESPN

Michigan State finished the non-conference season with a flourish, whooping Wyoming for its third win of the year. The Spartans will face a huge test Saturday when undefeated Nebraska comes to town.

2. Maryland (4-1, 1-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Indiana 37-15 This Week: Sat vs #20 Ohio State (3-1, 0-0), 12pm, ABC

Maryland picked up a big in their first Big Ten matchup, routing Indiana on the road 37-15. If the Terrapin defense can hold Indiana’s high-powered offense to just 15 points, it will keep this team in most games this season. It faces another big test this week in Ohio State.

3. Ohio State (3-1, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Cincinnati 50-28 This Week: Sat at Maryland (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ABC

A tough Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech is long behind the Buckeyes, who seem to have worked out their offense in time for the conference slate. Look for OSU to at least put up a fight in the East.

4. Penn State (4-1, 0-1) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Northwestern 6-29 This Week: Bye (10/11 at Michigan)

A great start to the season came to a screeching halt Saturday when Northwestern pounded Penn State in Happy Valley, 29-6.

5. Rutgers (4-1, 0-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Beat Tulane 31-6 This Week: Sat vs Michigan (2-3, 0-1), 7pm, BTN

Rutgers finished off a perfect non-conference season Saturday and has a chance to inch within one game of bowl eligibility with a win over struggling Michigan this weekend.

6. Indiana (2-2, 0-1) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Maryland 15-37 This Week: Sat vs North Texas (2-2, 0-1), 2:30pm, BTN

After stunning Missouri the previous week, losing at home to Maryland by 22 was a major setback for the Hoosiers.

7. Michigan (2-3, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Minnesota 14-30 This Week: Sat at Rutgers (4-1, 0-1), 7pm, BTN

Michigan lost its second straight home game to an unranked opponent Saturday and now the off-the-field issues have blown up in the program’s face. Simply put, 2014 has been a disaster for the Wolverines.

West Division
1. Nebraska (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Illinois 45-14 This Week: Sat at Michigan State (3-1, 0-0), 8pm, ESPN

Nebraska is the only undefeated team remaining in the conference, and can cement itself as the favorite with a huge win in East Lansing on Saturday.

2. Wisconsin (3-1, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat South Florida 27-10 This Week: Sat at Northwestern (2-2, 1-0), 3:30pm, ESPN2

The Badgers cruised to a 3-1 record after a devastating loss to LSU and now control their own destiny in the Big Ten. If Wisconsin can run the table and beat Nebraska it will find itself on the fringes of playoff consideration.

3. Northwestern (2-2, 1-0) – Up 4
Last Week: Beat Penn State 29-6 This Week: Sat vs #17 Wisconsin (3-1, 0-0), 3:30pm, ESPN2

Pat Fitzgerald’s crew pulled off the shock of the week by storming into Penn State and blasting the undefeated Nittany Lions by 23 to kick of their conference season.

4. Iowa (4-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 24-10 This Week: Bye (10/11 vs Indiana)

It’s never pretty for the 2014 version of Iowa football, but in the end the Hawkeyes picked up their first Big Ten win in West Lafayette last Saturday, 24-10. Iowa will play a bunch of ugly games this season, but could be a pesky out in the West.

5. Minnesota (4-1, 1-0) – Down 3
Last Week: Beat Michigan 30-14 This Week: Bye (10/11 vs Northwestern)

The Gophers are off to another great start in 2014 with four wins before October and a victory over Michigan to reclaim the Little Brown Jug.

6. Illinois (3-2, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #21 Nebraska 14-45 This Week: Sat vs Purdue (2-3, 0-1), 12pm, ESPN2

Illinois played punching bag for Nebraska on Saturday, falling 45-14 to start the conference schedule. The Illini struggled throughout September and should finish near the bottom of the West.

7. Purdue (2-3, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Iowa 10-24 This Week: Sat at Illinois (3-2, 0-1), 12pm, ESPN2

The only other team in the Big Ten besides Michigan with a losing record might have a hard time picking up a win, even in a weakened conference.

M&GB staff predictions: Minnesota

Friday, September 26th, 2014


StaffPicks_banner

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


Game Preview_Minnesota_banner

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