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Posts Tagged ‘Penn State’

#2 Penn State 42 – #19 Michigan 13: Hapless Michigan outplayed, outcoached in State College

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017


(Patrick Barron)

Michigan entered Saturday night’s matchup with No. 2 Penn State with a chance to make a statement in front of a Beaver Stadium whiteout and a primetime national television audience. They did make a statement, but not the kind they wanted, falling 42-13 and dropping out of the Top 25.

Final Stats
Michigan  Penn State
Score 13 42
Record 5-2 (2-2) 7-0 (4-0)
Total Yards 269 506
Net Rushing Yards 103 224
Net Passing Yards 166 282
First Downs 16 25
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 6-59 1-10
Punts-Yards 6-233 2-99
Time of Possession 32:56 27:04
Third Down Conversions 6-of-16 4-of-7
Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 2-11 7-49
Field Goals 0-for-0 0-for-0
PATs 1-for-2 6-for-6
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 4-of-5
Red Zone TDs-Chances 2-of-2 4-of-5
Full Box Score

It was all Penn State from the outset as the Nittany Lions scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives while Michigan went three-and-out on their first two.

Heisman Trophy frontrunner Saquon Barkley didn’t waste any time making his statement, taking the game’s second play 69 yards for a touchdown. On Penn State’s second possession, it took just four plays to move 78 yards for another touchdown.

Michigan cornerback David Long intercepted Trace McSorley on Penn State’s third possession — which was threatening to score once again — and that allowed Michigan to show a little life. John O’Korn led a 11-play, 59-yard touchdown drive that was capped with a 1-yard Karan Higdon touchdown run. But freshman kicker Quinn Nordin, who was once committed to Penn State before flipping to Michigan, missed the extra point to a chorus of boos.

Michigan’s defense forced a three-and-out, but the offense wasn’t able to do anything. Penn State’s next possession stalled at the Michigan 33-yard line on a failed fourth-down conversion, and Michigan took advantage with a 8-play, 67-yard drive capped off by a 6-yard Ty Isaac touchdown run to pull within 14-13.

But it was all downhill from there. Penn State drove for another touchdown to take back the momentum just before the half and when Michigan couldn’t put points on the board on the first possession of the second half, Penn State put the nail in the coffin with a 9-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to go up 28-13. From there, the only drama was whether or not James Franklin would try to top the 49 points that Michigan hung on Penn State in Ann Arbor a year ago. They didn’t quite get there, but the damage was done.

Penn State gained 506 yards on a Michigan defense that was allowing just 223.8 yards per game. Penn State rushed for 224 yards on a rush defense that was allowing just 85.5 yards per game. Penn State scored 42 points on a defense that was giving up just 14.7. Barkley rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns on 7.2 yards per carry and also caught three passes for 53 yards and a score. McSorely completed 17-of-26 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown and added 76 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 6.9 yards per carry.

Michigan, meanwhile, failed to top 20 points in regulation for the third straight week, managed just 269 total yards, and gave up seven sacks. O’Korn went 16-of-28 for 166 yards but failed to throw a touchdown pass for the third straight game. Higdon rushed for 45 yards on just three yards per carry, while Grant Perry led the way in the air with three receptions for 46 yards.

It was an outcome that most expected, even die-hard Michigan fans, but the matter with which it happened was a worst-case scenario. And now it has a chorus of hot takes and Twitter crusaders calling for Jim Harbaugh’s head. It will die down a bit if Michigan can take care of business the next three weeks against Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland, but it won’t go away completely until he wins a big game. With Wisconsin and Ohio State scheduled to close the regular season, he’ll get that shot, but unless there is significant improvement between now and then, it’ll likely just turn up the noise.

Michigan returns home to face Rutgers (3-4, 2-2) next Saturday at noon. The game will be televised by Big Ten Network.

Game Ball – Offense

None
Higdon averaged just 3.0 yards per carry. Issac averaged 6.0 but got just six carries. O’Korn threw for just 166 yards with no touchdowns and was sacked seven times. Kekoa Crawford made a nice catch, but it was his only one. Donovan Peoples-Jones got involved in the passing game but dropped a bubble screen that had potential for a huge play. Eddie McDoom is probably the best candidate for this week’s game ball with three receptions for 29 yards and a rush for eight yards, but it didn’t have much impact on the game. The offensive line was horrendous. So no game ball is being given out on offense this week.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
Week 5 — Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)
Week 6 — Karan Higdon (25 carries for 200 yards, 3 touchdowns, 8.0 yards per carry)

Game Ball – Defense

Khaleke Hudson (7 tackles — 4 solo — 1 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 pass breakup)
Michigan’s defense had its worst game of the season defensively as Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead did a great job of picking on matchups where the Nittany Lions had advantages. That mostly involved getting Barkley matched up with linebacker Mike McCray who couldn’t keep up, but it also involved utilizing slot receivers against Michigan’s safeties. Hudson certainly wasn’t perfect himself, but he made his impact felt with a tackle for loss and a pass breakup that was nearly an interception in the end zone early in the game.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
Week 5 — Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)
Week 6 — Rashan Gary (7 tackles — 3 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries)

#19 Michigan at #2 Penn State game preview

Friday, October 20th, 2017


(Kirthman F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

A year ago Penn State opened Big Ten play with a visit to Ann Arbor and left with a humiliating 49-10 defeat. It got so bad that, trailing 28-0 in the third quarter and facing 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line, James Franklin elected to kick a field goal shorter than an extra point simply to put points on the board rather than try to make a comeback.

Quick Facts
Beaver Stadium – 7:30p.m. EST – ABC
Penn State Head Coach: James Franklin (4th season)
Coaching Record: 55-30 (31-15 at PSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Moorhead (2nd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Pry (4th season)
Last Season: 11-3 (8-1 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 49 – PSU 10 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 13-7
Record in State College: Michigan 6-4
Jim Harbaugh vs PSU 2-0
Last Michigan win: 2016 (49-10)
Last Penn State win: 2013 (43-40)
Current Streak: Michigan 3
Penn State schedule to date
Opponent Result
Akron W 52-0
Pitt W 33-14
Georgia State W 56-0
at Iowa W 21-19
Indiana W 45-14
at Northwestern W 31-7

Somehow, that lifeless group of guys went on to win their next nine games, capturing the Big Ten title and narrowly missing out on the College Football Playoff. They knocked off Ohio State and then topped Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game before losing a shootout to USC in the Rose Bowl.

If anything, that performance gives hope to Michigan to pull off a similar feat this season. The Wolverines’ offense looked inept in a 14-10 loss to rival Michigan State two weeks ago and then they survived an overtime game at Indiana last week. Penn State followed up their loss to Michigan last season with an overtime win over Minnesota before tearing through the rest of the schedule.

Penn State carried enormous expectations into this season and they have so far lived up to them, breezing through the first six games with one of the nation’s best scoring margins, winning by an average of 30.7 points per game. That’s 2.5 more points than Michigan averages per game.

But the Nittany Lions haven’t exactly played anybody yet. The highest-ranked team they’ve beaten, according to S&P+, is Iowa, which is 38th, and it took a last-second touchdown pass to escape Iowa City. The other wins have come over Indiana (44th), Northwestern (69th), Pitt (96th), Georgia State (106th), and Akron (112th).

Penn State is favored by more than a touchdown, but they haven’t faced a defense like Michigan’s or a team with as much talent and athleticism yet this season. Michigan’s young team, however, hasn’t faced an atmosphere like a Beaver Stadium whiteout. So what will give? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Penn State offense

(Gordie Jones, NBC Sports)

Joe Moorhead’s offense ranks 17th nationally and second in the Big Ten in scoring (39.7 points per game), 66th and eighth in rushing (165.0 yards per game), 22nd and second in passing (291.2 yards per game), and 33rd and third in total offense (456.2 yards per game). It’s a potent offense no doubt with a Heisman candidate running back and a dynamic quarterback, but let’s take a moment to consider the defenses it has faced thus far. Iowa and Indiana’s defenses rank 23rd and 22nd, respectively, in S&P+. The Hawkeyes held Penn State to just 21 points — seven coming on the game’s final play. Michigan’s defense ranks No. 2 behind only Alabama. Every other defense Penn State has faced ranks no higher than 44th.

The workhorse is junior running back Saquon Barkley, who may be the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy at this point in the season. He leads the team in both rushing and receiving with 649 yards and six touchdowns on 6.4 yards per carry and 395 yards and two touchdowns on 13.6 yards per reception. In fact, he ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing (108.2 yards per game), tight for fourth in receptions per game (4.8), and seventh in receiving (65.8 yards per game). Yes, only a handful of receivers catch more passes for more yards than Penn State’s running back.

Beyond Barkley, however, only one other player has more than 63 rushing yards and that is quarterback Trace McSorley. The senior leads the Big Ten and ranks 27th nationally with 266.2 passing yards per game, but he’s also effective with his feet with 178 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He also leads the conference with a 67.0 percent completion rate and has a 13-to-4 touchdown to interception ratio.

Even though Barkley leads the team in rushing, it doesn’t mean he’s the only talented pass catcher. Redshirt sophomore Juwan Johnson ranks ninth in the Big Ten with four receptions per game, averaging 50.5 yards per game, while fifth-year senior Daesean Hamilton ranks eighth in the conference with 61.0 yards per game. However, Hamilton has just one game with more than three receptions and that was a nine-catch, 122-yard, three-touchdown performance against Indiana. Johnson, meanwhile, has caught at least four passes in four of six games, including a total of 19 in the last three. Senior tight end Mike Gisecki was a second-team All-Big Ten performer last season and is a good safety valve for McSorley. He has four touchdowns on the season, but hasn’t had one since Week 2.

Penn State defense

(Rich Barnes, USA Today Sports)

Defensively, Penn State’s numbers are pretty impressive in the first half of the season. The Nittany Lions lead the nation in scoring defense (9.0 points per game), rank fifth in the Big Ten and 24th nationally in rush defense (117.3 yards per game), second and ninth in pass defense (167.8 yards per game), and fourth and ninth in total defense (285.2 yards per game).

But while Penn State’s offense hasn’t faced a top-tier defense, its defense hasn’t even faced a competent offense. Northwestern’s 73rd ranked offense (per S&P+) is the best so far. Despite Michigan’s offensive struggles, it’s right on par with that (76th). Penn State allowed the nation’s 113th-best (Pitt), 104th (Georgia State), and 92nd (Indiana) rushing offenses to each rush for over 150 yards. Michigan’s running game, while not a world-beater by any means, ranks 49th, so it should be able to have some success on the ground.

Make no mistake; this is a deep and talented defense. It seems that Penn State always has solid linebackers, and although they had a couple injured in last year’s meeting, that’s true again this year. Senior middle linebacker Jason Cabinda is the team’s leading tackler with 40 tackles, three for loss, and one sack. WILL linebacker Manny Bowen and SAM linebacker Koa Farmer (a converted safety) are both experienced and have combined for 50 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

The defensive front is deep and strong similar to Michigan’s. Redshirt sophomore end Shareef Miller leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and also has 2.5 sacks and three quarterback hurries, while fellow redshirt sophomore end Ryan Bucholz has two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and two quarterback hurries. The combination of fifth-year seniors Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren create a formidable interior. The latter was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season.

Saving perhaps the best unit for last, the secondary is one of the best in the conference. Senior free safety Marcus Allen has been around forever and has been an All-Big Ten performer in each of the past two seasons. He ranks second on the team with 35 tackles, second with four tackles for loss, and also has a sack and an interception. Senior strong safety Troy Apke has 24 tackles and an interception. Corners Christian Campbell and Grant Haley are very good defenders and have a combined 17 passes defended, 14 pass breakups, and three interceptions.

Penn State special teams

Senior kicker Tyler Davis made 32 of his first 34 field goals in 2015 and 2016, earning All-Big Ten second-team honors last season. But he has struggled so far this season, making just 6-of-13 with a long of 47. Sophomore punter Blake Gillikin ranks second in the conference with an average of 44.2 yards per punt. He has booted seven of his 26 punts over 50 yards and has downed 16 of 26 inside the 20.

In addition to rushing and receiving, Barkley is a dynamic kick returner, averaging 32.2 yards per return with one touchdown. Redshirt junior receiver DeAndre Thompkins is the main punt returner with an average of 17.1 yards per return and has also scored a touchdown.

Prediction

There’s a reason Penn State is a heavy favorite and nearly everyone is writing Michigan off. With backup quarterback John O’Korn under center due to Wilton Speight’s injury, Michigan’s offense has struggled immensely against Michigan State and Indiana the past two weeks. Penn State is very good on both sides of the ball and is one of the hottest teams in the nation dating back to last season’s matchup in Ann Arbor. A primetime whiteout is not the type of environment that one of the nation’s youngest teams playing with a backup quarterback can feel confident about going into and earning a win.

But there are a couple of factors working in Michigan’s favor. With Don Brown’s defense playing as perhaps the nation’s best — only Alabama can have an argument about that — the Wolverines will have a great chance to keep the game within striking distance. Even more, it matches up well with Penn State’s offense. As dynamic as the Nittany Lions are, they’ve struggled in a couple areas: third downs and allowing sacks.

Guess what.

Michigan’s defense leads the nation in third-down defense and ranks sixth in sacks. Penn State ranks 77th nationally with a 37.8 percent third-down conversion rate, while Michigan’s defense allows conversions at just a 20.5 percent clip. Penn State ranks 101st nationally with 16 sacks allowed — the same number Michigan’s offense has allowed — and Michigan’s defense is averaging more than three sacks per game. Penn State has allowed 14 of those 16 sacks in the last three games. Iowa, who recorded just eight sacks in its other five games, had four against Penn State. Indiana, who recorded nine its other five games, recorded five against Penn State. And Northwestern, who got to the quarterback eight times in its other five games, sacked McSorley five times.

Additionally, for as good as Penn State’s offense is, they aren’t dynamic in terms of big plays. They average just five explosive runs per game (fewer than Michigan) and 4.3 explosive pass plays per game (Michigan averages three) for a total of 9.3 total explosive plays, which ranks just 40th nationally. They also give up 8.3 tackles for loss per game, a number that only 12 teams nationally can top.

So there’s hope that Michigan’s defense can considerably slow down the Penn State offense. The question is whether Michigan’s offense can put up enough points to make it count. I certainly wouldn’t expect the Wolverines to move the ball consistently, but I’d look for a big night from kicker Quinn Nordin, who chose the Wolverines over Penn State. Michigan will get a touchdown, but will settle for field goals, which in a game like this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Points are good. I see this game going down to the wire with Penn State scoring a touchdown late to pull out a win.

Score Prediction: Penn State 23 – Michigan 19

Tailgate Tuesday: Western style chopped pork and red slaw

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017


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

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Recipe Archive

A couple weeks ago I had a work trip to Atlanta that included a one-day excursion to Charlotte. Since I got five days in the South on the company dime, I decided to visit as many barbecue restaurants as I could. I ended up visiting seven, but I was most intrigued with the Western (or Piedmont) style barbecue that I tasted at Lexington Barbecue in Lexington, N.C. and Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge in Shelby, N.C. I’ve always known of the style, but it has never been one of my favorites (I prefer Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas style BBQ). However, after visiting Lexington and Red Bridges, both of which rank highly in most “Best BBQ in the nation” lists, I had to try making it myself.

Ingredients
6-7 pound bone-in pork butt
2 Onions
1 Cup apple cider vinegar
4 Cups apple cider
2 Cups water
1/2 Cup brown sugar
1/4 Cup Kosher salt
3 tsp Gentry’s Smoke Stack BBQ Rub
Red pepper flakes
Buns
1 large bag chopped cabbage
1/3 Cup ketchup
2/3 Cup Gentry’s Roscoe’s Mop Sauce
1/2 Cup sugar
Salt to taste
Directions

For the second straight week the weather got the best of me. I meant to do this on the Big Green Egg, but last Saturday was a monsoon in the Chicagoland area, so I had to keep the cook indoors, and with a hungry crowd coming over for the game, I couldn’t put it off until Sunday. Making pulled pork in the crock pot isn’t as good as on the smoker, but when out of necessity it can still turn out a good product.

Start with your pork shoulder and trim off any gnarly pieces of fat. You don’t want to trim off the fat cap because that provides nice moisture, and if you’re smoking it, it provides a nice heat barrier. You want to start this well in advance to give yourself time to brine your pork before you cook it. Brining helps keep your pork moist during a long, low and slow smoke. In a large bowl, add one cup of apple cider vinegar, four cups of apple cider, and two or three cups of water. Stir in a half cup of brown sugar and a fourth cup of Kosher salt so it dissolves, then add a few shakes of red pepper flakes. Now put your pork shoulder in and make sure the liquid covers it. Put this in the fridge, covered, overnight or for several hours.

A pork shoulder usually takes an hour to an hour and a half per pound to cook, so for a six pounder you’ll want to allow at least six hours and potentially up to about 10. For a larger shoulder, it’ll take even longer. This is also true whether you’re cooking in the smoker or on low in a crock pot. So make sure to time it right so you start your cook with enough time before you’re ready to eat.

Fire up your smoker to 225 degrees and use whatever type of wood you prefer. I like a mix of hickory and oak for pork, but fruit woods like apple or cherry are good as well. Pull your pork from the fridge, take it out of the brine and give it a rinse in the sink. Now pat it dry and rub it all over with your Gentry’s Smoke Stack BBQ Rub. Once it’s ready, put it in the smoker (or the crock pot set to low) and forget about it for a few hours.

During this time, you can start making your slaw. You can do it the hard way and chop a whole cabbage yourself, but why do that when you can buy it pre-chopped in bags. Just make sure to buy the bags that don’t already have sauce on it. We’re going for Western style red slaw here, so even though it’s already chopped it’s likely not fine enough, so pour it onto a cutting board and chop it up a little more.

Put it all into a large bowl and add 1/3 cup of ketchup, 2/3 cup of Gentry’s Roscoe’s Mop Sauce, and a half cup of sugar and mix it all up. Depending on the size of slaw bag you bought, you might need to adjust these measurements. Just make sure it’s all mixed well and all of your chopped cabbage is covered. You don’t want it too runny, but you don’t want it dry. Go ahead and stick it in the fridge, covered, for several hours to let the flavors meld.

If you’re smoking your pork, once you get about halfway through, you can start spritzing it with apple cider or water to help keep it moist. Remember that from about 150-160 internal temp, it hits what is called “the stall” so it’ll take a while for your thermometer to keep climbing up. Don’t worry because this is normal. You may be tempted to crank up the heat, but resist! As long as you have a nice, low and slow fire, you’ll get through the stall and start climbing towards your target temp of 193 to 203. If you’re cooking in the crockpot, you don’t need to worry about spritzing as the moisture inside will keep it moist.

Once it’s up to temp, pull it from the smoker, wrap in foil and towels, and let sit for at least 30 minutes, up to a couple hours if it’s in a cooler (without ice). You’ll be tempted to start shredding it right when you take it off the smoker, but you want to let it sit to allow the juices to redistribute inside. When you’re ready, you’re going to chop it instead of pull it since this is Western style BBQ. Pull off a large chunk onto a cutting board, take a large knife, and start chopping until it’s nice and chopped up. I actually prefer chopped pork to pulled because it makes each bite more consistent.

Now you’re ready to eat! Put the chopped pork onto a bun and drizzle some of the Gentry’s Roscoe’s Mop Sauce overtop. Spoon some of the red slaw onto your plate or on top of your pork and dig in! Traditionally, Western style red slaw uses ketchup, cider vinegar, sugar, and hot sauce, but the Roscoe’s Mop Sauce contains all of those things and makes for a perfect red slaw and also a perfect sauce for your pork. It’s a different taste than what you’re used to, but give it a try. My wife was very skeptical, but she loved it and it was a big hit with our entire crowd.

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

First Look: Penn State

Monday, October 16th, 2017


Michigan got back in the win column on Saturday, topping Indiana 27-20 in overtime to advance to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten. Their reward? A trip to State College to face the No. 2 Penn State Nittany Lions in a primetime “White Out” game.

A year ago, Michigan humiliated Penn State in Ann Arbor to the point where James Franklin kicked a field goal on 4th-and-goal from the Michigan 2-yard line in the third quarter while trailing 28-0. Penn State went on to win the Big Ten despite that 49-10 loss and you can bet Franklin hasn’t forgotten that game. The Nittany Lions have won 15 of their last 16 games and had a bye week this Saturday to prepare. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Penn State & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
39.7 17th 27.2 79th PPG 9.0 1st 14.7 8th
990 1,110 Rush Yds 704 515
165.0 66th 185.0 49th Rush/Gm 117.3 24th 85.8 6th
4.8 4.4 Rush Avg 3.1 2.6
1,747 1,148 Pass Yds 1,007 828
291.2 22nd 191.3 94th Pass/Gm 167.8 9th 138.0 3rd
2,737 2,258 Total Off. 1,711 1,343
456.2 33rd 376.3 86th Total Off./Gm 285.2 9th 223.8 1st
30.9 1st 18.5 104th KR Avg 18.6 40th 13.9 2nd
15.8 12th 8.7 49th PR Avg 1.3 12th 8.0 72nd
29:56 63rd 33:12 11th Avg TOP 30:04 26:48
38% 77th 32% 116th 3rd Down% 34% 41st 20% 1st
16-99 101st 16-102 101st Sacks-Yds 17-111 19th 20-145 6th
31 17 TDs 7 10
6-13 (46%) 14-16 (88%) FG-ATT 2-4 (50%) 6-10 (60%)
23-27 (85%) 58th 17-18 (94%) 10th Red Zone 6-10 (60%) 4th 10-12 (83%) 67th
19-27 (70%) 6-18 (33%)  RZ TD 4-10 (40%) 7-12 (58%)
OFEI/DFEI
22.4 3 27.6 76 S&P+ 21.7 22 15.3 8

Penn State is the nation’s hottest team with 15 wins in their last 16 games since their loss at Michigan last September. The only loss was a 52-49 defeat by USC in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2 to end last season. They’re 6-0 so far this season and have looked dominant in doing so, but how good are they really?

The non-conference slate featured Akron (now 3-3), Pitt (2-5), and Georgia State (3-2). Penn State handled those three by a combined score of 141-14. The Nittany Lions opened Big Ten play with Iowa, nearly getting tripped up, but scoring from seven yards out on the final play of the game to pull off a win. They then beat Indiana 45-17 and Northwestern 31-7.

Have they looked better than Michigan this season? Of course. But are they unbeatable? Absolutely not, as proven by the near defeat in Iowa City. Iowa is a good team, but isn’t the team it has been the past few seasons. But the next three weeks will decide Penn State’s fate. Michigan comes to town and then they travel to Ohio State and Michigan State in back to back weeks. Get through that gauntlet unscathed and they’ll have a date with Wisconsin for the Big Ten title for the second straight year. But that’s easier said than done.

Penn State features the best offense Michigan has faced yet this season but also the best defense. The Nittany Lions have a scoring margin of 30.7 points, which is one of the best nationally, behind Alabama, Ohio State, and UCF. They have two shutouts, have held three of six opponents to a touchdown or less, and haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 19 points yet this season. Their offense, meanwhile, hasn’t scored fewer than 21 points and has topped 45 points in three of six games.

They do it mostly through the air with the 22nd-best passing offense, averaging 291.2 passing yards per game. By comparison, Michigan’s nearly nonexistent passing offense is averaging 100 yards fewer. Quarterback Trace McSorely leads the Big Ten and ranks 27th nationally with 266.2 passing yards per game and he carries a 13-to-4 touchdown to interception ratio and leads the conference with a 67 percent completion rate. Penn State has thrown for at least 300 yards in three of their six games with a high of 360 against Georgia State, but Pitt’s 110th-ranked pass defense held the Nittany Lions to just 164 passing yards on 5.9 yards per attempt.

While the running game is just middle of the pack statistically (66th nationally, averaging 165.0 yards per game), it does feature one of the nation’s top running backs in Saquon Barkley, who ranks third in the Big Ten with 108.2 yards per game. He leads the conference with 217.0 all-purpose yards per game — nearly 50 more than the next-best — as he factors heavily into the run game, pass game, and kick return game. But there’s not much in the way of a run game beyond Barkley. Penn State topped 200 yards rushing twice in six games, against Iowa’s 57th-ranked and Akron’s 69th-ranked rush defenses. But PSU managed just 39 yards on 37 carries against the same Indiana team that Michigan thrashed for 271 yards on Saturday. Barkley averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on 20 carries with a long of eight yards. Last week at Northwestern, they failed to break 100 yards for the second straight game, managing just 2.5 yards per carry.

Defensively, opponents have been able to have some success on the ground as Pitt, Georgia State, and Indiana all rushed for at least 150 yards, though they did so on 3.4 yards per carry. But none of those three have highly-ranked running games. Indiana’s is the best at 92nd nationally, while Georgia State’s ranks 104th, and Pitt’s ranks 113th. The other three opponents — Akron, Iowa, and Northwestern — averaged just 74 yards per game, though all four rank in the 90s nationally as well, which means that Michigan’s 49th-ranked running game will be twice as good as any running game Penn State has faced this season, which isn’t saying much.

The pass defense is another story. Penn State hasn’t allowed a 200-yard passing game yet this season and they boast the nation’s ninth-best pass defense, allowing an average of 167.8 yards per game. By comparison, Michigan’s third-ranked pass defense allows about 30 yards fewer per game. With the exception of the season opener, when Akron threw for just 85 yards, the last five opponents have been pretty consistent against Penn State, throwing for 187, 170, 191, 175, and 198 yards. Michigan’s passing game has been anemic the past couple weeks since the injuries to Wilton Speight and Tarik Black — John O’Korn threw for just 58 yards against Indiana on Saturday — so I wouldn’t expect the Wolverines to have much more success through the air than Akron did.

In the special teams game, Penn State ranks pretty highly across the board, leading the nation in kick returns with an average of 30.9 yards and ranking 12th in punt returns, averaging 15.8 yards. The good news is that Michigan ranks second nationally in kick return defense and a big reason for that is James Foug’s ability to kick it deep and prevent returns.

There are a couple of reasons for hope that Michigan’s defense can slow down Penn State’s offense. First, the Nittany Lions rank 77th nationally in third-down conversion rate (38 percent) and the Wolverines defense leads the nation, allowing just a 20 percent clip.

The other area is sacks, where Penn State has allowed 16 just like Michigan, a total that ranks 101st nationally and 10th in the Big Ten. They’ve given up 14 sacks in the last three games (four to Iowa, and five each to Indiana and Northwestern). Outside of their matchup with Penn State, those teams have averaged 1.6, 1.8, and 1.6 sacks per game against their other opponents. Michigan’s defense leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally in sacking the opposing quarterback, averaging 3.3 per game.

Finally, when Penn State has been forced to settle for field goals, which it has attempted more than anyone else in the Big Ten except for Michigan, it has made just 6-of-13 — worst in the conference. Kicker Tyler Davis is just 2-of-8 from beyond 30 yards and has had two blocked.

So if Michigan can stop Barkley on early downs, force Penn State into long passing downs and pressure McSorely, and hold the Nittany Lions to field goal attempts, they’ll have a chance to pull off the upset on Saturday night.

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2016: Defense

Monday, August 28th, 2017


(Dustin Johnson)

A few weeks ago, we outlined the returning offensive production throughout the Big Ten, which showed that last year’s Big Ten champion, Penn State returns the most production in the conference and Michigan finds itself just inside the top half. Today, we take a look at the defensive side, which will show a much different story for the Wolverines.

A year ago, Purdue returned the most defensive production, but finished just 91st nationally in total defense, going just 3-9 overall. Conversely, Michigan returned the fourth-fewest defensive production and finished with the best defense in the nation, and Ohio State returned the second-fewest and finished with the nation’s sixth-best total defense.

The story was different in 2015 as Ohio State entered that season with the most returning defensive production and backed it up with the conference’s third-best defense.

So what does this year have in store? Let’s take a look at the Big Ten’s returning defensive production. At the end, we’ll tie it all together with the offense to see if there are any indications of who will capture the Big Ten title this December.

Defense

Returning defense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Total Defense Rating
Maryland 78% 77
Indiana 78% 45
Iowa 74% 23
Rutgers 72% 97
Wisconsin 71% 7
Penn State 71% 37
Ohio State 69% 6
Northwestern 67% 60
Nebraska 59% 30
Purdue 59% 91
Minnesota 53% 21
Michigan State 51% 32
Illinois 46% 61
Michigan 40% 1

As a whole, there is more returning defensive production throughout the Big Ten than there was a year ago, which is contrary to the other side of the ball which seems less offensive production returning than there was in 2016. Like last year, a weak defensive team leads the way in returning production as Maryland brings back 78 percent if its 77th-ranked defense. The Terps went 6-7 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten in D.J. Durkin’s first season at the helm, but look to improve on that with their top three tacklers, top five in tackles for loss, and four of their top five sacks returning. They’ll have to create more turnovers if they want to see improvement, as Maryland forced a Big Ten-worst 12 turnovers last season and only seven of those are returning.

Indiana brings back the second-most production for the second straight season and there might just be something there for once. The Hoosiers improved significantly from 120th in 2015 to 45th in 2017 under Tom Allen, who became the head coach when Kevin Wilson was fired this offseason. In the first few seasons of Wilson’s guidance, defense was an afterthought to the electric offense, but Allen changed that last fall. It’s a safe bet to assume the Hoosiers will be more defense-oriented under Allen, especially with the pieces he has coming back, most notably linebacker Tegray Scales, who lead the Big Ten with 126 tackles and 23.5 tackles for loss. Safety Jonathan Crawford, who lead the team with seven takeaways, and corner Rashard Fant, who lead the Big Ten with 20 passes defended, are also welcome returns.

Top returning Big Ten defensive linemen by production
Name (Yr.) Team Tackles TFL Sacks
Gelen Robinson (Sr.) Purdue 61 8 5
Dre’Mont Jones (RS So.) Ohio State 52 4 0
Jesse Aniebonam (Sr.) Maryland 46 14 9
Sam Hubbard (RS Jr.) Ohio State 46 8 3.5
Matt Nelson (RS Jr.) Iowa 43 6.5 5.5
Kingsley Opara (5th) Maryland 41 11.5 3

Iowa, Rutgers, Wisconsin, and Penn State each return just over 70 percent of their defenses this fall. The Hawkeyes have 74 percent of the nation’s 23rd-best defense returning, most notably linebacker Josey Jewell, the Big Ten’s second-leading returning tackler. Iowa’s defense really tightened the reigns during the second half of the 2016 season, allowing just 16.2 points per game over their last five, but they were destroyed by Florida, 30-3, in the Outback Bowl. And now they return seven starters including the entire linebacking corps, which figures to be one of the best in the conference.

Rutgers returns 72 percent of its defensive contributions and eight of 11 starters, but the Scarlet Knights still have a long way to go. In Chris Ash’s first season, the Rutgers defense ranked 97th nationally in total defense and 116th in scoring defense, giving up 37.5 points per game. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State beat Rutgers by a combined 224-0 — an average of 56 points allowed. Ash was Ohio State’s defensive coordinator prior to taking the job in New Brunswick, so a betting man would be wise to expect an improvement over last year, but just how much is the question. Nearly the entire back seven returns, in addition to Michigan transfer Ross Douglas, who may win a starting job as a hybrid linebacker.

Top returning Big Ten linebackers by production
Name (Yr.) Team Tackles TFL Sacks
Tegray Scales (Sr.) Indiana 126 23.5 7
Josey Jewell (5th) Iowa 124 6 1.5
Jermaine Carter Jr. (5th) Maryland 110 9 6
Shane Cockerille (5th) Maryland 108 8 3
Tre Watson (RS Jr.) Illinois 102 4.5 0
Trevor Morris (Jr.) Rutgers 102 3.5 1

Wisconsin and Penn State both return 71 percent of their defensive production from 2016. Whereas the Badgers posted one of the nation’s best defenses — seventh in total defense and fourth in scoring defense — Penn State was an above average defense, ranking 37th in total and 47th in scoring. Wisconsin has to replace T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel at outside linebacker, though Garret Dooley got significant playing time while Biegel was injured a year ago. The inside linebackers, Jack Cichy and T.J. Edwards, are among the Big Ten’s best. The biggest losses in the secondary were safety Leo Musso and cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who accounted for 10 of the team’s 28 takeaways.

Penn State somehow came out of nowhere to win the Big Ten last season after starting the season 2-2 including a 49-10 blowout loss at Michigan. Now, with the most offensive production returning from what became an explosive offense, the Nittany Lions are in great shape in 2017 if the defense improves even slightly. Six starters return along with 71 percent of the defensive production. Free safety Marcus Allen lead the team with 110 tackles a year ago and he’s back to lead a secondary that has some questions marks. Penn State has a strong linebacking corps returning with Jason Cabinda and Manny Bowen bringing back 149 tackles 12.5 for loss, and three sacks.

Ohio State and Northwestern return 69 and 67 percent of their defensive production, respectively, but Ohio State featured the nation’s sixth-best defense and Northwestern had an uncharacteristically bad 60th-ranked unit. The Buckeyes bring back six full-time starters including most of their front seven. Dre’Mont Jones, Sam Hubbard, and Tyquan Lewis lead what most pundits are calling the best defensive line in the Big Ten — though Michigan’s should have something to say about that — while Jerome Baker and Chris Worley return at linebacker. The main question mark is the secondary which returns only free safety Damon Webb, but has a lot of talent filling in.

While Northwestern’s total defense wasn’t great in 2016, it’s scoring defense ranked 24th, giving up just 22.2 points per game. The Wildcats lost three games that its defense played well enough to win and that was the difference between a good season and a mediocre season. Now, seven starters return including three from the line and three from the secondary. Safety Godwin Igwebuike lead the team with 108 tackles last season, while fellow safety Kyle Queiro and cornerback Montre Hartage return. The three combined for 11 takeaways a year ago. Nate Hall is the only returning starter at linebacker, and Pat Fitzgerald will have to find a replacement for Anthony Walker, who was one of the Big Ten’s best linebackers in 2016.

Nebraska and Purdue both return 59 percent of their defensive production. The Cornhuskers return six starters from the nation’s 30th-best total defense and 33rd-best scoring defense. Most of the secondary returns to form what should be one of the Big Ten’s best secondaries this fall. Only four teams nationally allowed fewer passes per game of 20-plus yards than Nebraska’s 2.2, and most of their interceptions return. Safeties Aaron Williams, Joshua Kalu, and Kieron Williams and cornerback Chris Jones combined for 234 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and 12 takeaways and all are back for more.

Top returning Big Ten defensive backs by production
Name (Yr.) Team Tackles TFL Takeaways
Marcus Allen (Sr.) Penn State 110 6 2
Godwin Igwbuike (5th) Northwestern 108 6 3
Brandon Snyder (RS Jr.) Iowa 85 3 5
Patrick Nelson (RS So.) Illinois 75 2.5 1
Jonathan Crawford (Jr.) Indiana 71 0.5 7
Tony Fields (Sr.) Indiana 70 0.5 2

Purdue also has six returning starters, but its defense ranked 91st nationally last season and 117th in scoring. It wasn’t quite Rutgers bad, but it was close, giving up 38.3 points per game. Defensive tackle Gelen Robinson is the conference’s top returning defensive lineman in terms of production with 61 tackles, eight for loss, and five sacks. Linebackers Markus Bailey and Danny Ezechukwu should form the strength of the defense, while a pair of additions to the secondary — T.J Jallow from East Mississippi Community College and Josh Okonye, a grad transfer from Wake Forest — will add some depth to an inexperience secondary.

Minnesota and Michigan State return 53 and 51 percent of their 2016 defensive production, respectively. Both ranked in the top 32 nationally last season, but the Gophers are breaking in a new head coach. Landing P.J. Fleck, who took Western Michigan to a New Year’s Six bowl, was a big coup for the program but he has to replace about half of his defensive production and six starters. Michigan State, meanwhile, felt the sting of losing defensive coordinator, falling from 25th in scoring defense in 2015 to 61st last season, allowing 27.8 points per game. To make matters worse, the MSU defense lost its best player, Malik McDowell, to the NFL and the team has been dealing with arrests and suspensions all offseason.

Illinois and Michigan return the least production this fall with the Illini bringing back 46 percent and Michigan just 40 percent. Illinois had just the 61st-best total defense and 94th-best scoring defense in Lovie Smith’s first season last fall. The former NFL head coach was known as a defensive minded coach and he added former NFL cornerback Donnie Abraham to his staff this summer. Linebacker Tre Watson is the fifth-leading returning tackler in the Big Ten and safeties Stanley Green and Patrick Nelson are good pieces to build around.

Michigan had the nation’s best defense in Don Brown’s first season running the unit and most expect a big dropoff this fall. The Wolverines lost 10 of 11 full-time starters, eight of which were drafted, including Heisman Trophy candidate Jabrill Peppers. But although it seems hard to believe, this year’s defense figures to be faster and more athletic than the one that was made up of Brady Hoke recruits a year ago. Replacing Peppers will be no easy task, but that’s a spot that Brown has proven he can mold playmakers to succeed in throughout his career. Rashan Gary is a popular pick for a breakout season on the line and a host of young but talented defensive backs are ready to step in. The Wolverines may not lead the nation in defense in 2017, but the dropoff won’t be as big as many expect.

Conclusion

Since we began analyzing returning production four years ago, the eventual Big Ten champion fell within a very similar range when offensive and defensive returning production numbers were plotted on a chart. Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State all fell within the grey oval in the chart below.

As you can see, no teams fall within that zone this season, but the closest are Rutgers and Wisconsin. It’s a pretty safe bet that Rutgers won’t win the Big Ten, but Wisconsin has a very real chance to do so. If the Badgers were in the East they’d have a tougher road, but they’re the clear favorite to win the West with a favorable conference slate that has them traveling only to Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota. They host Northwestern, Iowa, and East crossover Michigan.

The Badgers have approximately the right mix of returning production on both sides of the ball to make a run at the Big Ten title, and if the past three years hold true they very well may do so this December.

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2016: Offense

Monday, July 17th, 2017


(Sean M. Haffey, Getty Images)

Independence Day has come and gone, which means fall camp kicks off in a couple weeks and college football season will be here before we know it. While Michigan doesn’t have quite the hype it had entering last season the Wolverines still find themselves ranked in the top ten in most preseason publications.

It’s time to kickoff our preseason coverage with a look at how each team in the Big Ten compares in terms of returning production. It’s certainly not the end all be all when it comes to determining how each team will fare, but in the three years that we’ve been tracking this, it has produced some interesting results. All three years, the eventual Big Ten champion returned nearly the exact same mix of offensive and defensive production.

In 2014, Ohio State returned 60 percent of its offense and defense and won the conference. In 2015, Michigan State returned 54 percent of its offense and 67 percent of its defense — roughly 60 percent overall — and won the league. Last season, Penn State returned just under 60 percent of its total production and, you guessed it, won the Big Ten.

Could that sweet spot hold true again this year? We’ll get to that, but let’s start with the offense.

Offense

Returning offense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Total Offense Ranking
Penn State 90% 49th
Northwestern 81% 73rd
Purdue 74% 80th
Ohio State 71% 31st
Indiana 64% 56th
Michigan 62% 58th
Illinois 61% 123rd
Rutgers 53% 128th
Wisconsin 50% 89th
Maryland 50% 95th
Minnesota 47% 107th
Michigan State 39% 75th
Iowa 30% 121st
Nebraska 22% 90th
Returning scoring offense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Scoring Offense Ranking
Penn State 88% 21st
Northwestern 82% 87th
Purdue 73% 101st
Ohio State 67% 13th
Michigan 65% 11th
Illinois 63% 122nd
Indiana 62% 88th
Minnesota 54% 63rd
Wisconsin 53% 67th
Rutgers 52% 127th
Maryland 50% 88th
Michigan State 38% 104th
Iowa 30% 95th
Nebraska 20% 79th

Penn State joins last year’s Nebraska, 2015’s Ohio State, and 2014’s Maryland as the teams with the most returning offensive production from the year prior. But that’s not necessarily good news for the Nittany Lions. None of those three won their division that fall as Nebraska finished third in the West at 9-4, Ohio State went 12-1 but finished second behind Michigan State in the East, and Maryland finished third in the East at 7-6.

Like Ohio State in 2015, Penn State is the returning Big Ten champion and only has to replace its top receiver. The Nittany Lions return the Big Ten’s top passer, Trace McSorley, and the second-leading rusher, Saquon Barkley. The pair accounted for nearly 5,500 yards of offense and 54 touchdowns in 2016. James Franklin will have to find a replacement for receiver Chris Godwin, who was drafted 84th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after leading the team with 982 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. But Gesicki is the leading returning tight end in the conference with 679 yards and five touchdowns a year ago and rising seniors DeAndre Thompkins and Saeed Blacknall combined for nearly 800 yards and four scores in 2016.

Top returning Big Ten quarterbacks by passing production
Name (Yr.) Team Comp/Att (%) Yards TDs
Trace McSorley (RS Jr.) Penn State 224/387 (57.9) 3,614 29
David Blough (RS So.) Purdue 295/517 (57.1) 3,352 25
Richard Lagow (5th) Indiana 253/438 (57.8) 3,362 19
Clayton Thorson (RS Jr.) Northwestern 280/478 (58.6) 3,182 22
J.T. Barrett (Sr.) Ohio State 233/379 (61.5) 2,555 24
Wilton Speight (RS Jr.) Michigan 204/331 (61.6) 2,538 18

After Penn State, Northwestern returns the second most offensive production with 81 percent of its offense and 82 percent of its scoring offense back for another year. The Wildcats finished fifth in the Big Ten West with a 7-6 overall record and a 5-4 conference record and their offense wasn’t the strength, finishing 73rd nationally in total offense and 87th in scoring.

Quarterback Clayton Thorson is the fourth-leading returning quarterback in the Big Ten after throwing for more yards (3,182) than any other sophomore in Northwestern history. Running back Justin Jackson lead the Big Ten in rushing last season, averaging 117.2 yards per game, and he’s back for his senior season. Like Penn State, Northwestern has to replace its top receiver, Austin Carr, who was far and away the Big Ten’s leading receiver a year ago. His 1,247 yards were 252 more than the next best. Junior Flynn Nagel is NU’s leading receiver with 447 yards and two touchdowns.

Top returning Big Ten running backs by production
Name (Yr.) Team Rush Att. Yards TDs
Justin Jackson (Sr.) Northwestern 298 1,524 15
Saquan Barkley (Jr.) Penn State 272 1,496 18
Rodney Smith (RS Jr.) Minnesota 240 1,158 16
Mike Weber (So.) Ohio State 182 1,096 9
Akrum Wadley (5th) Iowa 168 1,081 10
Ty Johnson (Jr.) Maryland 110 1,004 6

Purdue returns the third-most offensive production with 74 percent of the nation’s 80th-best offense and 73 percent of the 101st-best scoring offense coming back. Redshirt sophomore quarterback David Blough was one of the lone bright spots for the Boilermakers, who went just 3-9 overall and 1-8 in the Big Ten. Blough lead the conference with 279.3 passing yards per game and finished second with 25 passing touchdowns. His 517 passing attempts were 38 more than any other conference quarterback despite playing one fewer game.

Ohio State is an intriguing story this fall, returning the fourth-most offensive production from last season with 71 percent of their total offense and 67 percent of their scoring. But the big addition that isn’t shown in the returning production statistics is the offseason hiring of offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, the offensive guru who was Indiana’s head coach the past six seasons. His hiring was music to the ears of OSU fans who had become increasingly angered with Ed Wariner and Tim Beck’s erratic play calling.

Wilson will install his tempo-based spread attack into an offense that returns more than two-thirds of its production and that could be a scary thing. The Buckeyes do have to replace Curtis Samuel, who finished third on the team with 771 rushing yards and lead the team with 865 receiving yards, racking up 15 touchdowns in the process, but with Mike Weber returning from a 1,000-yard freshman campaign and J.T. Barrett back for another season behind center, Ohio State should take a step forward on offense this fall. The only question mark is at the receiver position where tight end Marcus Baugh is the leading returner with just 269 yards and two touchdowns.

Top returning Big Ten receivers by production
Name (Yr.) Team Receptions Yards TDs
Nick Westbrook (Jr.) Indiana 54 995 6
Malik Turner (Sr.) Illinois 48 712 6
Mike Gesicki (Sr.) Penn State 48 679 5
D.J. Moore (Jr.) Maryland 41 637 6
Jazz Peavy (5th) Wisconsin 43 635 5
Troy Fumagalli (5th) Wisconsin 47 580 2

Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois all return about the same amount of offensive production — in the low 60 percent — but Michigan stands out among the three for a couple of reasons. Whereas Michigan and Indiana both ranked about the same in total offense last season (Indiana 56th, Michigan 58th), Illinois had the nation’s 123rd-best offense. And Ohio State’s gain was Indiana’s loss with regards to Wilson. The Hoosiers’ offense is sure to take a step back under new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord.

Michigan, meanwhile, returns quarterback Wilton Speight — the first returning starter at the position since Harbaugh has been in Ann Arbor — and also returns plenty of experience at the running back position. Chris Evans is slated to assume the starter role which he shared with De’Veon Smith a year ago. Evans showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman and now looks to expand that into a full season this fall. Receiver is the main question mark for the Wolverines after losing Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Jake Butt to the NFL. But there is plenty of young talent ready to step up.

The next level of returning offensive production includes Rutgers, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Minnesota, who each return around half of last season’s production. Rutgers had the nation’s worst offense and second worst scoring offense last season, so they won’t factor into the discussion. Maryland had four different quarterbacks who passed for at least 200 yards last season and returns two of them, but also returns a 1,000-yard rusher in Ty Johnson. Minnesota has to replace quarterback Mitch Leidner, who passed for 2,169 yards and rushed for 366, but brings back the third-leading returning running back, Rodney Smith, who rushed for 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Wisconsin is the team that could be poised for another run at a Big Ten title this fall with solid talent returning. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook will take the reigns fully this fall after sharing with Bart Houston. The redshirt sophomore completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,262 yards, nine touchdowns, and seven interceptions a year ago. He has two of the Big Ten’s top six returning receivers to throw to in Jazz Peavy and tight end Troy Fumagalli, who combined for 1,215 yards and seven scores last season, but does have to find a replacement for Corey Clement in the ground game. Bradrick Shaw rushed for 457 yards on 5.2 yards per carry and the Badgers add Pitt transfer Chris James, who averaged five yards per carry in 2015.

A trio of usual stalwarts bring up the rear in terms of returning production as Michigan State, Iowa, and Nebraska have the least returning this fall. The Spartans found themselves in the same position last year and their total offense went from 73rd nationally in 2015 to 75th in 2016, while their scoring offense fell from 60th to 140th. They do have running back L.J. Scott back, but have to replace their top four receivers and quarterback Tyler O’Connor. Brian Lewerke figures to start the season behind center, but Dantonio’s offense has as many question marks as any team in the conference.

Iowa brings back just 30 percent of its total offense and scoring offense, both of which ranked among the Big Ten’s worst in 2016. Quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back LeShun Daniels, and receiver Riley McCarron are all gone, but Akrum Wadley does bring back his 1,081-yard, 10-touchdown performance.

Finally, Nebraska has just 22 percent of its 90th-ranked total offense and 20 percent of its 79th-ranked scoring offense returning. The Cornhuskers have to replace quarterback Tommy Armstrong, their top two rushers, and three of their top four receivers. Redshirt junior Tanner Lee and redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien will battle for the starting quarterback position and head coach Mike Riley will have to find playmakers everywhere to step up.

It’s shaping up to be an interesting Big Ten race this fall, at least as far as offenses are concerned, with a lack of top-flight quarterbacks and not many household names returning. The rich seem to be getting richer as Penn State and Ohio State have the clear advantage offensively. If the Nittany Lions can continue the torrid offensive pace that they closed 2016 with they’ll be a force to be reckoned with, and if Kevin Wilson can improve the Buckeyes’ offense, we could be looking at a two-team race.

Stay tuned as we take a look at the returning defenses later this week.

Big Ten power rankings 2016: Pre-bowl

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016


power-rankings_header

Each Wednesday throughout the season we will release our Big Ten power rankings. These are voted on individually by the five members of our staff and then each team’s ranking is averaged to reach our power rankings. As these are simply power rankings, they are based on each team’s performance to date, not what happened last season or what will happen in the future.

Previous: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10, Week 11, Week 12

*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Big Ten power rankings – Pre-Bowl
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Ohio State (11-1, 8-1) Even Beat Michigan 30-27 2OT CFP Semifinal – Fiesta Bowl
Sat. vs #2 Clemson (12-1, 7-1), 7pm, ESPN
2. Michigan (10-2, 7-2) Even Lost at #2 OSU 27-30 2OT Orange Bowl
Fri. vs #11 FSU (9-3, 5-3), 8pm, ESPN
3. Penn State (11-2, 8-1) Up 1 Beat #6 Wisconsin 38-31  Rose Bowl
Mon. vs #9 USC (9-3, 7-2), 5pm, ESPN
4. Wisconsin (10-3, 7-2) Down 1 Lost to #7 PSU 31-38 Cotton Bowl
Mon. vs #15 WMU (13-0, 8-0), 1pm, ESPN
5. Nebraska (9-3, 6-3) Even Lost to Iowa 10-40 Music City Bowl
Fri. vs #21 Tenn. (8-4, 4-4), 3:30pm, ESPN
6. Iowa (8-4, 6-3) Even Beat Nebraska 40-10 Outback Bowl
Mon. vs #17 Florida (8-4, 6-2), 1pm, ABC
7. Minnesota (8-4, 5-4) Even Lost at #6 Wisc 17-31 Holiday Bowl
Tue. vs WSU (7-5, 7-2)
8. Northwestern (6-6, 5-4) Up 1 Beat Illinois 42-21 Pinstripe Bowl
Wed. vs Pitt (8-4, 5-3)
9. Indiana (6-6, 4-5) Down 1 Beat Purdue 26-24 Foster Farms Bowl
Wed. vs Utah (8-4, 5-4)
10. Maryland (6-6, 3-6) Even Beat Rutgers 31-13 Quick Lane Bowl
Mon. vs Boston College (6-6, 2-6)
11. Illinois (3-9, 2-7) Up 1 Lost at NW 21-42 Season Over
12. MSU (3-9, 1-8) Down 1 Lost at #7 PSU 12-45 Season Over
13. Purdue (3-9, 1-8) Even Lost at Indiana 26-24 Season Over
14. Rutgers (2-10, 0-9) Even Lost at Maryland 13-31 Season Over

Heading into the heart of bowl season, Ohio State and Michigan hold onto the top two spots despite neither making the Big Ten championship game. Both face tough bowl games this weekend with Michigan playing 11th-ranked Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Friday night and Ohio State facing 2nd-ranked Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal on Saturday night.

Penn State leapfrogs Wisconsin thanks to a 38-31 win over the Badgers in the Big Ten championship game. The Nittany Lions will try to continue their late-season momentum with a Rose Bowl win over 9th-ranked USC on Monday. Wisconsin, meanwhile, gets a no-win situation against 15th-ranked Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl on Monday. Beat the Broncos and it just shows the difference in the level of competition. Lose to the Broncos and it’s a black eye for the program even though WMU is one of just two undefeated teams.

Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota hold onto the five through seven spots, though the first two are tied for fifth. Nebraska holds a one-game advantage in the standings, but Iowa throttled the Cornhuskers 40-10 in the regular season finale. They both get to face SEC foes in their bowl games with Nebraska seeing 21st-ranked Tennessee on Saturday and Iowa taking on 17th-ranked Florida on Monday. Minnesota beat Washington State in the Holiday Bowl this past Tuesday, but that was not factored into this week’s power rankings.

Northwestern and Indiana flip spots after regular season ending wins over Illinois and Purdue, respectively. The Wildcats upset Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday afternoon (not factored into this week’s rankings) and Indiana played 19th-ranked Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl Wednesday night.

Maryland held onto the 10th spot after topping Rutgers 31-13. They lost to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl on Monday night, though it also is not factored into this week’s rankings.

Illinois, Michigan State, Purdue, and Rutgers round out the rankings as the only four non-bowl eligible teams in the Big Ten. All four lost their season finale. They’ll look to rebound in 2017.

 

New in Blue: 2017 LB Jordan Anthony

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016


(247 Sports)

Jordan Anthony – LB | 6-0, 220 | Bradenton, Fla. (IMG Academy)
ESPN4-star, #9 ATH Rivals: 5-star, #1 ILB 247: 4-star, #12 OLB Scout: 4-star, #13 OLB
247 Composite: 4-star #6 OLB, #107 nationally
Other top offers: Oklahoma, Auburn, Penn State, Clemson, Ohio State, Nebraska, Virginia Tech

Michigan continued its Christmas recruiting momentum on Thursday evening with a commitment from highly-rated linebacker Jordan Anthony. The IMG Academy star announced his commitment via a video shortly before 7:30pm Eastern time.

Anthony is a four-star according to ESPN, 247 Sports, and Scout, but Rivals has given him the extra fifth star. They rank him as the No. 1 inside linebacker in the class. ESPN ranks him as the ninth-best athlete, 247 as the 12th-best outside linebacker, and Scout as the 13th-best outside backer. All four sites rank Anthony among the top 250 overall recruits in the 2017 class with Rivals ranking him the highest at 26th. ESPN ranks him 123rd, Scout 185th, and 247 208th. He’s a four-star, the nation’s sixth-best outside linebacker, and 107th-best overall player according to the 247 Composite.

Anthony chose Michigan over a top group that also included Auburn, Oklahoma, Penn State, and Maryland. He also held offers from Clemson, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Virginia Tech, to name a few. Anthony officially visited Michigan the week of the Wisconsin game and received a visit from Michigan linebackers coach Chris Partridge on Dec. 6.

Scout lists Anthony’s strengths as athleticism, change of direction, and instincts while listing his areas to improve as pass coverage skills and strength. Scout’s Brian Dohn raves about his athleticism.

“Anthony does so many things well, but what stands above all else is his ability to tackle in space. If it 1-on-1 with a running back, he is winning it. He changes direction well, has the ability to find the ball carrier in traffic, and he gets off blocks well. He can blitz from the edge or the middle, and he can chance down on the backside. He has very good instincts and should be a tremendous weakside linebacker in college.”

Anthony is the 25th member of Michigan’s 2017 class and the 14th on the defensive side of the ball, joining Joshua Ross and Ben Mason as linebackers in the class. His commitment follows on the heels of defensive end Deron Irving-Bey, IMG teammate, center Cesar Ruiz, Detroit Cass Tech receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Connecticut receiver Tarik Black.

Big Ten power rankings 2016 — Week 12

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016


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Each Wednesday throughout the season we will release our Big Ten power rankings. These are voted on individually by the five members of our staff and then each team’s ranking is averaged to reach our power rankings. As these are simply power rankings, they are based on each team’s performance to date, not what happened last season or what will happen in the future.

Previous: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10, Week 11

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*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Big Ten power rankings – Week 12
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Ohio State (10-1, 7-1) Even Beat MSU 17-16 Sat. vs #3 Michigan (10-1, 7-1), 12pm, ABC
2. Michigan (10-1, 7-1) Even Beat Indiana 20-10 Sat. at #2 OSU (10-1, 7-1), 12pm, ABC
3. Wisconsin (9-2, 6-2) Even Beat Purdue 49-20 Sat. vs Minn. (8-3, 5-3), 3:30pm, BTN
4. Penn State (9-2, 7-1) Even Beat Rutgers 39-0 Sat. vs MSU (3-8, 1-7), 3:30pm, ESPN
5. Nebraska (9-2, 6-2) Even Beat Maryland 28-7 Fri. at Iowa (7-4, 5-3), 3:30pm, ABC
6. Iowa (7-4, 5-3) Even Beat Illinois 28-0 Fri. vs #16 Neb. (9-2, 6-2), 3:30pm, ABC
7. Minnesota (8-3, 5-3) Even Beat N’western 29-12 Sat. at #6 Wisc. (9-2, 6-2), 3:30pm, ESPN
8. Indiana (5-6, 3-5) Even Lost at #3 Mich. 10-20 Sat. vs Purdue (3-8, 1-7), 12pm, ESPNU
9. Northwestern (5-6, 4-4) Even Lost at Minn. 12-29 Sat vs Illinois (3-8, 2-6), 12pm, BTN
10. Maryland (5-6, 2-6) Even Lost at #18 Neb. 7-28 Sat. vs Rutgers (2-9, 0-8), 12pm, ESPNN
11. Michigan State (3-8, 1-7) Even Lost to #2 OSU 16-17 Sat at #7 PSU (9-2, 7-1), 3:30pm, ESPN
12. Illinois (3-8, 2-6) Even Lost to Iowa 0-28 Sat at N’western (3-8, 2-6), 12pm, BTN
13. Purdue (3-8, 1-7) Even Lost to #7 Wisc. 20-49 Sat. at Indiana (5-6, 3-5), 12pm, ESPNU
14. Rutgers (2-9, 0-8) Even Lost to #8 PSU 0-39 Sat. at Maryland (5-6, 2-6), 12pm, ESPNN

As college football heads into the last weekend of the regular season, our Big Ten power rankings remained exactly the same as last week. Interestingly, the top seven teams all won while the bottom seven teams all lost in Week 12.

The top four — Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State — remained exactly the same with OSU gaining all five first place votes, Michigan garnering four of five second place votes, Wisconsin getting four of five third place votes, and Penn State securing four of five fourth place votes. Nebraska remained fifth, but slipped slightly from 5.0 to 5.2, while Iowa gained one of their fifth place votes, going from 6.2 to 6.0. Minnesota and Indiana remained at 7.2 and 8.0, respectively, despite the Hoosiers losing to Michigan.

Northwestern retained the ninth spot, but fell from 8.6 to 9.2 after losing to Minnesota, 29-12. There’s a large leap between the Wildcats and the 10-14 spots. Maryland comes in just ahead of Michigan State at 10.8, whereas the Spartans are 11.0 after nearly knocking off Ohio State. Illinois is also 11.0. Purdue and Rutgers round out the rankings.

As we head into this weekend, a lot is still at stake. Michigan and Ohio State face off to determine the Big Ten East division winner. If the Wolverines win, they head to the Big Ten championship game next weekend. If Ohio State wins they’ll have to wait for the outcome of the afternoon matchup between Penn State and Michigan State. A Penn State win would send the Nittany Lions to Indianapolis, while a MSU win would send the Buckeyes to Indy.

In the West division, Wisconsin has the inside track, needing just a win over Minnesota. The Badgers can also go to Indy with a loss and an Iowa win over Nebraska. Nebraska needs to beat Iowa on Friday and have Wisconsin lose the next day to advance.

So sit back and enjoy an exciting weekend of Big Ten football with nearly half the conference still in the title hunt. Unless Michigan loses. Then you can drown your sorrows.

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Big Ten power rankings 2016 — Week 11

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016


power-rankings_header

Each Wednesday throughout the season we will release our Big Ten power rankings. These are voted on individually by the five members of our staff and then each team’s ranking is averaged to reach our power rankings. As these are simply power rankings, they are based on each team’s performance to date, not what happened last season or what will happen in the future.

Previous: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10

week-11-power-rankings*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Big Ten power rankings – Week 10
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Ohio State (9-1, 6-1) Up 1 Beat Maryland 62-3 Sat. at MSU (3-7, 1-6), 12pm, ESPN
2. Michigan (9-1, 6-1) Down 1 Lost at Iowa 13-14 Sat. vs Indiana (5-5, 3-4), 3:30pm, ESPN
3. Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2) Even Beat Illinois 48-3 Sat. at Purdue (3-7, 1-6), 12pm, ABC
4. Penn State (8-2, 6-1) Even Beat Indiana 45-31 Sat at Rutgers (2-8, 0-7), 8pm, BTN
5. Nebraska (8-2, 5-2) Even Beat Minnesota 24-17 Sat. vs Maryland (5-5, 2-5), 12pm, ESPNN
6. Iowa (6-4, 4-3) Up 3 Beat #3 Michigan 14-13 Sat. at Illinois (3-7, 2-5), 12pm, BTN
7. Minnesota (7-3, 4-3) Down 1 Lost at #19 Neb. 17-24 Sat. vs N’western (5-5, 4-3), 3:30pm, BTN
8. Indiana (5-5, 3-4) Down 1 Lost to #10 PSU 31-45 Sat. at #3 Michigan (9-1, 6-1), 3:30pm, ESPN
9. Northwestern (5-5, 4-3) Down 1 Beat Purdue 45-17 Sat at Minnesota (7-3, 4-3), 3:30pm, BTN
10. Maryland (5-5, 2-5) Even Lost to #5 OSU 3-62 Sat. at #18 Neb. (8-2, 5-2), 12pm, ESPNN
11. Michigan State (3-7, 1-6) Up 2 Beat Rutgers 49-0 Sat vs #2 OSU (9-1, 6-1), 12pm, ESPN
12. Illinois (3-7, 2-5) Down 1 Lost at #7 Wisc. 3-48 Sat vs Iowa (6-4, 4-3), 12pm, BTN
13. Purdue (3-7, 1-6) Down 1 Lost to N’western 17-45 Sat. vs #7 Wisc. (8-2, 5-2), 12pm, ABC
14. Rutgers (2-8, 0-7) Even Lost to MSU 0-49 Sat. vs #8 PSU (8-2, 6-1), 8pm, BTN

After holding the top spot for three weeks, Michigan falls back to two after a heartbreaking 14-13 loss at Iowa. Ohio State regains  top billing, which the Buckeyes held for the first seven weeks of the season. Wisconsin, Penn State, and Nebraska remain in the same order from three to five after wins over Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota, respectively. Interestingly, the top five all face opponents ranked in the bottom half of the conference this Saturday.

Iowa takes the biggest leap of the week, moving up three spots after shocking Michigan. They leap ahead of Minnesota, Indiana, and Northwestern, all of whom moved down one spot. Maryland remains in the 10th spot despite a 62-3 loss to Ohio State — the second straight week the Terrapins have remained the same after losing big. I guess that says a lot about the bottom four. Speaking of, Michigan State avoided the Big Ten cellar, proving that they’re better than at least one team in the conference with a 49-0 win over Rutgers. Illinois and Purdue each dropped a spot after losing to Wisconsin and Northwestern, while Rutgers remains in distant last with all five last-place votes for the fifth straight week.

Three of the bottom four face top-10 opponents this Saturday with Michigan State hosting 2nd-ranked Ohio State, Purdue hosting 7th-ranked Wisconsin, and Rutgers hosting 8th-ranked Penn State.

 

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