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Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin’

The numbers game: U-M’s smothering defense narrows gap between 2015 D’s big play pace

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

peppers-vs-penn-state(Dustin Johnson, Maize n Brew)

Previously: Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say noMichigan’s Harbaughfense will be more explosive in Year 2, Run game makes big plays in Week 1, While UCF loaded the box Michigan went to the air for big plays, Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks

I didn’t think Penn State would put up much of a fight but that was just embarrassing on their part. James Franklin seriously kicked a field goal to make a four score game a four score game. After he called a timeout to think it over. Wow. But enough about a once proud program who’ve fallen on hard times.

After the offense carried the way with big plays the last two weeks it was the Michigan defense that owned this game. Just four big plays were given up — three run and one pass.

On offense Michigan had nine big plays — eight runs and one pass — which was lower than their season average of 12 coming in. But we expected them to drop off as the season went on (I’m still sticking with my projection of eight or nine per game).

Through four games in 2016 the Michigan offense has averaged 7.5 big run plays per game (20th nationally) and 3.75 big pass plays per game (38th) for a total of 11.25 big plays per game (20th) with a big play percentage of 15.2 percent (24th). Their big play differential (percent of big plays for minus percent of big plays against) is 5.6 percent (18th). Their total toxic differential is 25 (good for 10th on a per game basis).

Contrast that to the 2015 Wolverine offense who, through four games, averaged 3.75 big run plays and 2.75 big pass plays for a total of 6.5 big plays with a big play percentage of 9.09 percent. Their big play differential was a paltry 0.58 percent and their total toxic differential was 4.

Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first four weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 28 17 45 15.20% 5.60% 25
2015 15 11 26 9.09% 0.58% 4
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 4.50 1.50 5.75 9.60% 5.60% 25
2015 4.00 1.00 5.00 8.51% 0.58% 4

As I mentioned last week, Michigan is faring so well in the toxic differential metric, not due to a huge turnover margin (plus-4 versus minus-2 at this time last year), but because of the offense’s giant leap forward in big plays (11.25 per game versus 6.5 per game).

I haven’t gone back and tracked all of 2015 by game yet but I’m willing to bet the 2016 offense will continue to be far ahead of them on a week by week basis.

On to the defense.

As I mentioned above, Michigan gave up only four big plays to Penn State. Not surprisingly, Saquon Barkley had three of them — two runs and one reception — but he fumbled on one of them. Thus far, Michigan’s defense has given up 4.5 big run plays per game (56th) and 1.5 big pass plays (8th) for a total of 6 big plays (21st) with a big play against percentage of 9.6 percent (33rd). It will be interesting to see how those numbers are affected now that cornerback Jeremy Clark is out for the year with a torn ACL.

Last year at this point the defense had given up four big run plays per game and one big pass play per game for a total of five big plays given up per game with a big play against percentage of 8.51 percent.

Yes, Michigan is giving up slightly more big plays per game through four weeks (6 versus 5). Yes, they’re giving up a higher percentage of big plays (9.6% vs 8.51%). But as we know, the offense is more than making up for it by almost doubling the amount of big plays as opposed to last year. So this shouldn’t be any cause for concern. Remember, giving up around six big plays per game will still have Michigan ranked around the top 10.

Michigan’s Week 4 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
1 3rd and 6 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 25 Pass
1 1st and 10 De’Veon Smith 39 Run
2 2nd and 10 Ty Isaac 11 Run
3 2nd and 1 De’Veon Smith 30 Run
3 1st and 10 Chris Evans 37 Run
3 1st and 10 Karan Higdon 10 Run
4 2nd and 11 Ty Isaac 10 Run
4 2nd and 15 Karan Higdon 40 (TD) Run
4 2nd and 10 Ty Isaac 25 Run
Penn State’s Week 4 big plays
2 1st and 10 Trace McSorley to Saquon Barkley 30 Pass
3 1st and 10 Saquon Barkley 33 Run
4 3rd and 14 Trace McSorley 13 Run
4 2nd and 7 Saquon Barkley 11 Run

However, since there has been more and more clamoring on the interwebs about the high risk/high reward nature and complaints about ALL the big plays we’ve given up, I dug up something interesting that should put all that nonsense to an end. If the big play numbers haven’t already.

It’s not a stat we track as part of our explosive play numbers feature but consider this: through 13 games last year Michigan had 88 tackles for loss (6.77 per game) and 32 sacks (2.46 per game). Through four games, Michigan already has 44 tackles for loss (11 per game) — half of their entire 2015 total — and 17 sacks (4.25 per game) — just over half of their 2015 total. Through just four games. Let that sink in for a moment. Seriously, go back and read it again.

On that same note, Michigan leads the country in both total tackles for loss and sacks and is tied for second in tackles for loss per game and third in sacks per game.

Don Brown’s defense is on pace to give up around six big plays per game — roughly the same as Michigan did last year (and about what his Boston College defense did as well). But they are also on pace to finish top five for both tackles for loss and sacks per game. High reward/LOW risk.

Fun fact: In 2015 Brown’s BC defense finished second in total tackles for loss (Clemson was first but played three more games) and first in tackles for loss per game.

Wisconsin comes to town this weekend having just knocked off a top-10 Michigan State team. Yes, they also beat a top-five LSU team earlier this season, but seeing as LSU is not even ranked anymore it’s not as impressive as it once looked. Still, the Badgers are a tough, well-coached team who will give Michigan all they have.

Michigan & Wisconsin offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 28 17 45 16.00% 6.00% 26
WIS Off. 19 13 32 10.63% 1.99% 15
Michigan & Wisconsin defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 18 6 24 9.60% 6.00% 26
WIS Def. 9 10 19 8.64% 1.99% 15

Wisconsin’s offensive numbers, as far as explosive plays, are rather pedestrian: 4.75 big run plays per game (82nd) and 3.25 big pass plays per game (65th) for a total of eight big plays per game (89th) with a big play percentage of 10.63 percent (101st).

However, their defense is where they hang their hats. They allow 2.25 big run plays per game (8th) and 2.5 big pass plays (36th) for a total of just 4.75 big plays given up per game (8th) with a big play against percentage of 8.64 percent (22nd). A very solid defense indeed. Their big play differential is 1.99 percent (60th) and their total toxic differential is 15 (good for 29th on a per game basis).

Saturday’s game should be a good one.

Big Ten power rankings 2016 – Week 4

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016


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

Ohio State and Michigan remain in the top two spots for the fourth straight week. Ohio State gained all the No. 1 votes and Michigan gained all the No. 2s. Wisconsin leaped two spots after their 30-6 thumping of Michigan State, who fell two spots to fifth. Nebraska remained fourth. Minnesota moved up one spot after a respectable non-conference win over Colorado State, while Iowa fell after an uninspiring 14-7 win over Rutgers. Maryland and Indiana both jumped Penn State, who was throttled by Michigan. Like Minnesota, Purdue picked up a nice non-conference win over Nevada and moved up two spots to 11th. Might as well give Darrell Hazel a contract extension at this point. Rutgers dropped one spot after losing to Iowa. Northwestern and Illinois round out the standings. The Illini earned all of the last place votes.

Big Ten power rankings – Week 4
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Ohio State (3-0) Even Bye Sat. vs Rutgers (2-2, 0-1), 12pm, BTN
2. Michigan (4-0, 1-0) Even Beat Penn State 49-10 Sat. vs #8 Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0), 3:30pm, ABC
3. Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0) Up 2 Beat #8 MSU 30-6 Sat. at #4 Michigan (4-0, 1-0), 3:30pm, ABC
4. Nebraska (4-0, 1-0) Even Beat Northwestern 24-13 Sat. vs Illinois (1-2), 3:30pm, ESPN2
5. Michigan State (2-1, 0-1) Down 2 Lost to #11 Wisconsin 6-30 Sat. at Indiana (2-1, 0-0), 8pm, BTN
6. Minnesota (3-0, 0-0) Up 1 Beat Colorado St. 31-24 Sat. at PSU (2-2, 0-1), 3:30pm, BTN
7. Iowa (3-1, 1-0) Down 1 Beat Rutgers 14-7 Sat. vs Northwestern (1-3, 0-1), 12pm
8. Maryland (3-0, 0-0) Up 1 Bye Sat. vs Purdue (2-1, 0-0), 3:30pm, BTN
9. Indiana (2-1, 0-0) Up 1 Lost to Wake Forest 28-33 Sat vs. #17 MSU (2-1, 0-1), 8pm, BTN
10. Penn State (2-2, 0-1) Down 2 Lost to #4 Michigan 10-49 Sat. vs Minnesota (3-0, 0-0), 3:30pm, BTN
11. Purdue (2-1, 0-0) Up 2 Beat Nevada 24-14 Sat. at Maryland (3-0, 0-0), 3:30pm, BTN
12. Rutgers (2-2, 0-1) Down 1 Lost to Iowa 7-14 Sat. at #2 Ohio State (3-0, 0-0), 12pm, BTN
13. Northwestern (1-3, 0-1) Up 1 Lost to #20 Neb. 13-24  Sat. at Iowa (3-1, 1-0), 12pm
14. Illinois (1-2, 0-0) Down 2 Bye Sat. at #15 Neb. (4-0, 1-0), 3:30pm, ESPN2

Tailgate Tuesday: Tomato pie

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016


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

Previous: Cedar planked scotch eggs, Pork tenderloin sliders with grilled cheese, Chicken street tacos, Sausage and cheese poppers
Full Archive here.

Joe is taking an early bye week, so I’m pinch hitting. This week’s recipe may scare off some simply by the name, but I assure you it’s a worthy side to add to your next cookout. It’s full of flavor and an easy way to get your serving of veggies — nevermind that they’re covered in cheese and mayo.

I first heard of tomato pie from my parents who had it at the Tomato Shed Cafe at Stono Market in Johns Island, S.C., just outside of Charleston. They raved about it, but I’ve never been a huge fan of tomatoes, so I thought how good could it possibly be? Finally, they took me to the Tomato Shed last summer and I saw what they had been raving about. So much flavor. It just pairs perfectly alongside your pulled pork or ribs or brisket. So naturally, I thought, if it’s so good like this it has to be even better smoked. So I went home and gave it a try, and lo and behold it is.


• 6-8 tomatoes (any variety will work but I prefer heirloom)
• 1 yellow onion
• Fresh basil (can also use dried)
• Fresh chives
• 1 cup mayo
• 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
• Biscuit dough
Lane’s BBQ Sweet Heat Rub
• Salt and pepper


This one is much better suited for a cookout at home rather than tailgating at the stadium since it involves so much cutting and the ingredients don’t really lend themselves to making ahead of time. Also, it takes just about as long to prep as it does to actually cook.

Start by baking your biscuit dough. If you want to really go for it, you can make your own biscuits, but for ease I like the Pillsbury Grand’s flaky layers butter tastin’ biscuits. One tube is likely enough. Just line the bottom of your pan with them, flatten them and bake until golden brown. It won’t look pretty at this point, but it doesn’t need to.


Next, slice up your tomatoes, sprinkle them with salt and let them rest for a few minutes. You can use any kind of ripe tomatoes you can find, and most will likely recommend red juicy ones. But I prefer multicolored heirlooms because I think they are sweeter and the variety of colors looks great. After a few minutes, lay out a layer of sliced tomatoes on top of the baked, flattened biscuits. Add a thin layer of sliced onion, some fresh basil and chives, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Keep repeating this process in layers until you run out of tomatoes and onions.

Mix your mayo and cheese together in a separate bowl. Folks down south swear by Duke’s mayo — it’s the only mayo on the market without any natural or artificial sweeteners — but if you live in Big Ten country it’s pretty much impossible to find. Any mayo will do just fine.

Take your mayo and cheese mixture and slather it on top of your tomatoes, onions, basil, and chives. Make sure to rub it all over so it covers the top. Then sprinkle some Lane’s BBQ Sweet Heat Rub on top of the mayo. I like the small amount of kick this gives to complement the sweetness of the tomatoes and the pepperiness of the basil.


Toss your tomato pie into the smoker at 300-350 for 30-45 minutes with some hickory wood. You want the mayo and cheese to be nice and melty and the tomatoes and onions to soften. Since you’re cooking it in a cast iron skillet or a pan, that topping will absorb most of the smoke. You can also just as easily make this in the oven, but I love the extra touch the smoke adds. After about 45 minutes it should be done and you can cut and serve.


The biscuits at the bottom ground the pie with a nice buttery texture — just make sure you bake them beforehand or else they’ll just become mushy. The sweetness of the tomatoes and onions, the pepperiness of the basil, the creaminess of the mayo and cheese, the kick of the Sweet Heat Rub, and the touch of smoke just make this a fantastic side. Your guests will love it despite their initial misgivings.

Visit Lane’s BBQ to purchase their fantastic line of rubs and sauces. You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Visit Fogo to purchase their premium lump charcoal. You can follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

After growing up in Michigan, Joe now lives in North Texas where he can barbecue year ’round. He cooks mostly on Big Green Eggs and some Webers and has competed in BGE competitions. When he’s not watching Michigan football, he also teaches BBQ classes at a local grilling store and does some catering. You can follow Joe on Twitter at @mmmgoblubbq and Instagram at @gobluebbq.

Five-Spot Challenge 2016: Wisconsin

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Congratulations to JD Mackiewicz for winning last week’s Five-Spot Challenge. His deviation of 96 was 13 points better than second place Wolfetd. JD Mackiewicz was only one away from Jabrill Peppers’ all-purpose yards (54), six away from Saquon Barkley’s rushing yards (59), and 16 away from Penn State’s second half total yards (141). He wins a prize box of product from our sponsors, Lane’s BBQCultivate Coffee & Tap House, and Chayder Grilling Company.

Tooty_pops and Wolfetd were the closest to Barkley’s rushing yards (four away). HTTV137 and Jaeschke were both just one away from Penn State’s second half yards. Nobody correctly predicted that Matt Godin (number 99) would record Michigan’s first sack. Zigmun and Maizenblu62 were the closest with their predictions of 96 (Ryan Glasgow). Chris Wormley had the most predictions (10 of 33). Finally, DBenney09 was the only contestant to correctly predict the length of Kenny Allen’s longest punt (44 yards).

All 33 contestants picked Michigan to win by an average score of Michigan 42 – Penn State 17. No one correctly predicted the score, but BadBlu was the closest with his prediction of 49-13. Had Penn State kicked another field goal he would have had his highest deviation reduced to zero and moved all the way up to fourth place for the week.

The weekly results and season standings have been updated.

This week, Michigan hosts No. 8 Wisconsin in what should be a tough defensive battle. Here are this week’s questions.

First Look: #8 Wisconsin

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Sep 5, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; The Wisconsin Badgers mascot Bucky Badger takes the field before the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-226178 ORIG FILE ID: 20150905_lbm_am8_089.JPG

Michigan throttled Penn State in their Big Ten opener on Saturday and now faces their biggest test of the early season when eighth-ranked Wisconsin comes to town. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare four games into the season.

Wisconsin & Michigan statistical comparison
Wisconsin | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 30.8 | 52.0 63 4
11.8 13.8 7 | 11
Rushing Yards 737 919 322 490
Rush Avg. Per Game 184.2 229.8 58 29
80.5 122.5 10 40
Avg. Per Rush 3.9 | 5.4
3.2 3.4
Passing Yards 905 952 786 589
Pass Avg. Per Game 226.2 238.0 70 65 196.5 147.2 39 12
Total Offense 1,642 1,871 1,108 1,079
Total Off Avg. Per Game 410.5 467.8 75 40 277.0 269.8 12 11
Kick Return Average 21.4 15.7 67 121 14.6 20.0 6 | 52
Punt Return Average 6.8 23.6 76 2 17.5 17.5 119 119
Avg. Time of Possession 37:01 32:26 3 31 22:59 | 27:34
3rd Down Conversion Pct 45.2% | 54.4% 43 7
23.9% | 12.0% 11 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 6-30 | 5-34
39 | 29
11-65 | 17-144 32 | 4
Touchdowns Scored 14 28
5 | 7
Field Goals-Attempts 8-9 4-6
4-5 | 2-5
Red Zone Scores (14-18) 78%|(22-24) 92% 89 | 31
(5-7) 71%|(3-5) 60% 21 9
Red Zone Touchdowns (11-18) 61%|(18-24) 75% (3-7) 43%|(2-5) 40%
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ 27.7 36.6 80 23 14.6 9.1 6 2

Michigan and Wisconsin haven’t met since the 2010 season when Bret Beilema beat Rich Rodriguez 48-28. Jim Harbaugh was in his fourth and final season at Stanford and Paul Chryst was Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator. After a brief stint as Pitt’s head coach, Chryst returned to Madison last season and has maintained the success where Bielema and Gary Andersen left off.

While Michigan has played a weak schedule to date, Wisconsin has beaten two top-10 teams already. The Badgers knocked off 5th-ranked LSU, 16-14, in the season opener in Lambeau Field and blasted 8th-ranked Michigan State in East Lansing this past Saturday, 30-6. In between, they beat Akron (54-10) and Georgia State (23-17).

Wisconsin has done it mostly with its defense, which ranks 12th nationally in total defense (277 yards per game), seventh in scoring defense (11.8 points per game), 10th in rush defense (80.5 yards per game), and 39th in pass defense (196.5 yards per game).

The Badger defense has held three of four opponents under 100 yards rushing. LSU was the only one that cracked 100 behind Leonard Fournette’s 138 yards, but he didn’t find the end zone. Michigan State managed just 75 rushing yards on 27 carries. Georgia State is the only team to score a rushing touchdown against Wisconsin, but that came in a 28-carry, 33-yard performance.

The pass defense hasn’t been quite as dominant as the past two opponents have thrown for at least 250 yards. Georgia State went 20-of-30 for 269 yards and a touchdown, while Michigan State went 20-of-43 for 250 yards, but the Badgers were able to pick off MSU quarterback Tyler O’Conner three times.

Like Michigan, Wisconsin’s defense excels in getting off the field on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 23.9 percent, which ranks 11th nationally. Michigan is the nation’s best, allowing just 12 percent.

Offensively, Wisconsin is statistically comparable to where Penn State was entering last week’s game. The Badgers boast the Big Ten’s eight-best total offense (410.5 yards per game), eighth-best scoring offense (30.8 points per game), seventh-best rushing offense (184.2 yards per game), and ninth-best passing offense (226.2 yards per game).

Wisconsin features a better running game than Penn State, but a weaker passing game. The Badgers rushed for 294 yards and four touchdowns against Akron, but then again, Appalachian State rushed for 307 on the Zips. In the other three games, Wisconsin has averaged 147.7 rushing yards per game and just 3.4 yards per rush. Michigan State’s defense limited the Badger running game to just under three yards per carry on Saturday.

The passing game is pretty much a mirror of the running game. It had a big game against Akron — 292 yards and three touchdowns — but has averaged just 204 passing yards per game in the other three. It didn’t crack 200 yards against MSU on Saturday.

Special teams is an interesting area that Michigan may be able to take advantage of. Wisconsin isn’t dangerous returning kicks or punts, ranking 67th and 76th nationally, and has allowed a punt return for a touchdown. Jabrill Peppers leads the nation in punt return yards by a wide margin and already has one return for a touchdown — and barely missed another one last week.

Overall, Wisconsin is a solid team that is lead by its defense. That alone will keep the game much closer than Penn State was able to, as Michigan won’t be able to rush for 300 yards. Michigan boasts the nation’s fourth-best scoring offense, but expect a much lower scoring contest this Saturday.

Big Ten power rankings 2016 – Week 3

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016


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


*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Michigan and Ohio State remained the top two this week, but the Buckeyes earned all five first place votes, while Michigan State gained some ground on the Wolverines. Nebraska made the biggest leap from 6.0 to 4.0. Wisconsin and Iowa both fell a couple of spots after squeaking by Georgia State and losing to North Dakota State, respectively. Minnesota, Penn State, Maryland, and Indiana all stand roughly equal in the middle of the rankings. Rutgers jumps two spots to 11th, just ahead of Illinois and Purdue, while Northwestern stays in the cellar despite a win over Duke.

Big Ten power rankings – Week 3
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Ohio State (3-0) Even Beat #14 Oklahoma 45-24  Bye
2. Michigan (3-0) Even Beat Colorado 45-28 Sat. vs Penn State (2-1), 3:30pm, ABC
3. Michigan State (2-0) Up 2 Beat #18 ND 36-28 Sat. vs #11 Wisconsin (3-0), 12pm, BTN
4. Nebraska (2-0) Up 1 Beat #22 Oregon 35-32 Sat. at Northwestern (1-2), 7:30pm, BTN
5. Wisconsin (3-0) Down 2 Beat Georgia State 23-17 Sat. at #8 Michigan State (2-0), 12pm, BTN
6. Iowa (2-1) Down 2 Lost to NDSU 21-23 Sat. at Rutgers (2-1), 12pm, ESPN2
7. Minnesota (2-0) Even Bye Sat. vs Colorado State (2-1), 12pm, ESPNU
8. Penn State (2-1) Up 1 Beat Temple 34-27 Sat. at #4 Michigan (3-0), 3:30pm, ABC
9. Maryland (3-0) Up 1 Beat UCF 30-24 2OT Bye
10. Indiana (2-0) Down 2 Bye Sat. vs Wake Forest (1-0), 3:30pm, BTN
11. Rutgers (2-1) Up 2 Beat New Mexico 37-28 Sat. Iowa (2-1), 12pm, ESPN2
12. Illinois (1-2) Down 1 Lost to WMU 10-34 Bye
13. Purdue (1-1) Down 1 Bye  Sat. vs Nevada (2-1), 12pm, ESPNN
14. Northwestern (1-2) Even Beat Duke 24-13 Sat. vs #20 Nebraska (3-0), 7:30pm, BTN

Big Ten power rankings 2016 – Week 2

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016


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.

big-ten-power-rankings-week-2*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

The top six remain the same from last week, but Week 3 provides an opportunity for movement with Ohio State visiting 14th-ranked Oklahoma, Michigan State visiting 18th-ranked Notre Dame, and Nebraska hosting 22nd-ranked Oregon. Penn State and Northwestern were the biggest losers from Week 2, each falling two spots with losses to Pittsburgh and Illinois State, respectively. Northwestern finds itself in the cellar as the Big Ten’s only two-loss team.

Big Ten power rankings – Week 2
1. Ohio State (2-0) | Even | Beat Tulsa 48-3 | This week: Saturday at #14 Oklahoma (1-1), 7:30pm, FOX
2. Michigan (2-0) | Even | Beat UCF 51-14 | This week: Saturday Colorado (2-0), 3:30pm, BTN
3. Wisconsin (2-0) | Even | Beat Akron 54-10 | This week: Saturday vs Georgia State (0-2), 12pm, BTN
4. Iowa (2-0) | Even | Beat Iowa State 42-3 | This week: Saturday vs NDSU (2-0), 12pm, ESPN2
5. Michigan State (1-0) | Even | Bye | This week: Saturday at #18 Notre Dame (1-1), 7:30pm, NBC
6. Nebraska (2-0) | Even | Beat Wyoming 52-17 | This week: Saturday vs #22 Oregon (2-0), 3:30pm, ABC
7. Minnesota (2-0) | Up 1 | Beat Indiana State 58-28 | This week: Bye
8. Indiana (2-0) | Up 1 | Beat Ball State 30-20 | This week: Bye
9. Penn State (1-1) | Down 2 | Lost to Pittsburgh 39-42 | This week: Saturday vs Temple (1-1), 12pm, BTN
10. Maryland (2-0) |Up 1 | Beat FIU 41-14 | This week: Saturday at UCF (1-1), 7pm, CBSSN
11. Illinois (1-1) | Down 1 | Lost to North Carolina 23-48 | This week: Saturday vs WMU (2-0), 4pm, ESPNN
12. Purdue (1-1) | Up 1 | Lost to Cincinnati 20-38 | This week: Bye
13. Rutgers (1-1) | Up 1 | Beat Howard 52-14 | This week: Saturday vs New Mexico (1-1), 12pm, ESPNN
14. Northwestern (0-2) | Down 2 | Lost to Illinois State 7-9 | This week: Saturday vs Duke (1-1), 8pm, BTN

Big Ten power rankings 2016 – Week 1

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016


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.


Big Ten power rankings – Week 1
1. Ohio StateBeat Bowling Green 77-10 | This week: Saturday vs Tulsa (1-0), 3:30pm, ABC
2. MichiganBeat Hawaii 63-3 | This week: Saturday vs UCF, 12pm, ABC
3. WisconsinBeat #5 LSU 16-14 | This week: Saturday vs Akron (1-0), 3:30pm, BTN
4. IowaBeat Miami (OH) 45-21 | This week: Saturday vs Iowa State (0-1), 7:30pm, BTN
5. Michigan StateBeat Furman 28-13 | This week: Bye
6. NebraskaBeat Fresno State 43-10 | This week: Saturday vs Wyoming (1-0), 12pm, ESPN2
7. Penn StateBeat Kent State 33-13 | This week: Saturday at Pittsburgh (1-0), 12pm, ESPN
8. MinnesotaBeat Oregon State 30-23 | This week: Saturday vs Indiana State (1-0), 12pm, ESPNN
9. Indiana – Beat Florida International 34-13 | This week: Saturday vs Ball State (1-0), 3:30pm, ESPNN
10. IllinoisBeat Murray State 52-3 | This week: Saturday vs North Carolina (0-1), 7:30pm, BTN
11. MarylandBeat Howard 52-13 | This week: Friday at Florida International (0-1), 7:30pm, CBSSN
12. NorthwesternLost to Western Michigan 21-22 | This week: Sat. vs Illinois St. (1-0), 3:30pm, BTN
13. PurdueBeat Eastern Kentucky 45-24 | This week: Saturday vs Cincinnati (1-0), 12pm, BTN
14. RutgersLost to #14 Washington 13-48 | This week: Saturday vs Howard (0-1), 12pm, BTN

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2015: Defense

Friday, July 29th, 2016

Don Brown Michigan

Yesterday we outlined how each team’s returning offensive production compares throughout the Big Ten. Today, it’s time to take a look at the defensive side of the ball and tie it all together.

A year ago, Ohio State returned the most defensive production with 74 percent of its 2014 tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and takeaways back. It paid off as the Buckeyes finished third in the Big Ten in total defense and second in scoring defense. However, the team right behind them with 71 percent returning — Illinois– finished just ninth in total defense and eighth in scoring defense. The top two defenses in the conference, Wisconsin and Michigan, began the year with just 61 percent (seventh-most) and 63 percent (fifth-most) of their 2014 production returning.

Aside from Illinois, the teams with the most returning defensive production fared better than those with the least. The seven worst defenses in the conference were the same seven that returned the least from 2014.

Interestingly, the opposite was true the previous season. Maryland, Indiana, and Rutgers returned the most production from 2013, but produced three of the four worst defenses in the conference. Conversely, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State returned the lease production and turned out four of the top six defenses. So what does that tell us? (Shrug).

Let’s take a look at what this season looks like.


Returning defense
Team Percent Returning 2015 Total Defense Rating
Purdue 79% 110
Indiana 77% 120
Nebraska 69% 64
Michigan State 65% 26
Wisconsin 64% 2
Northwestern 63% 13
Iowa 63% 22
Minnesota 60% 24
Penn State 59% 14
Rutgers 59% 111
Michigan 54% 4
Maryland 52% 90
Ohio State 46% 9
Illinois 40% 30

Entering this season, two of the three worst defenses in the Big Ten a year ago return the most production by far. Purdue, which ranked 110th nationally in total defense and 111th in scoring defense, returns 79 percent including a whopping 88 percent of its tackles for loss and 83 percent of its sacks. Indiana, which ranked 120th in total defense and 116th in scoring defense, returns 77 percent including 80 percent of its total tackles and 19 of 22 takeaways. However, the Hoosiers do have to replace defensive end Nick Mangieri, who led the team in tackles for loss and sacks.

Nobody expects Purdue or Indiana to factor into the Big Ten race for obvious reasons, but the next few teams with the most returning defensive production certainly will. Nebraska returns 69 percent of its defense which ranked 64th nationally last season. Five of the top six tacklers return as do all but three takeaways. But the Cornhuskers ranked ahead of only Michigan in takeaways.

Michigan State (65 percent), Wisconsin (64 percent), Iowa (63 percent), and Northwestern (63 percent) were all ranked among the top 26 defenses in the country and return two-thirds of that production. Wisconsin has to replace linebacker Joe Schobert, who ranked second in the Big Ten with 19.5 tackles for loss and fourth with 9.5 sacks, and safety Tanner McEvoy, who ranked second in the conference with five interceptions and also added two fumble recoveries. Michigan State has to replace defensive end Shilique Calhoun’s 10.5 sacks and 15 TFLs but returns four of its top five tacklers. Iowa lost tackles for loss leader, defensive end Nate Meier, and three of its top four tacklers but returns all but three of its 27 takeaways — a number that ranked second only to MSU’s 28 a year ago. Northwestern returns leading tackler, linebacker Anthony Walker, who led the Big Ten in tackles for loss, but will have to make up for the loss of defensive end Deonte Gibson, its sack leader, and the next three leaders in TFLs.

Minnesota, Penn State, and Rutgers all return the same amount of production at 60, 59, and 59 percent, respectively, but one of these is not like the others. While Penn State’s defense ranked 14th nationally and Minnesota’s 24th, Rutgers’ was near the bottom at 111th. Minnesota brings back 70 percent of its tackles for loss, but lost two of the top three tacklers. Penn State has work cut out in replacing end Carl Nassib and tackle Austin Johnson, who combined for 34.5 tackles for loss and 22 sacks. Rutgers, meanwhile, returns all but three of its sacks, though the Scarlet Knights ranked dead last in that category last season.

Michigan brings back 54 percent of its fourth-ranked defense but has to replace its top three tacklers, linebackers Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan and safety Jarrod Wilson. But replacing tackles is much easier than replacing impact plays, and the Wolverines bring back three of their top four tackles for loss leaders and two of their top three sack leaders from 2015.

Maryland returns just over half of its 90th-ranked defense but lost linebacker Yannick Ngakoue and tackle Quinton Jefferson who were the Terps’ top two leaders in tackles for loss and sacks.

Ohio State, which returns the least offensive production, returns the second least on the defensive side thanks to six NFL Draft picks from that side alone. But like on offense, the cupboard is far from bare. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis led the team with eight sacks and was second only to Joey Bosa in tackles for loss. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan is a tackling machine who ranked fourth in the Big Ten last season. And while end Sam Hubbard only recorded 28 total tackles, 8 of them were behind the line of scrimmage, including 6.5 sacks.

Finally, Illinois returns just 40 percent of its 2015 defensive production, the least of any team in the Big Ten since at least 2014 when we started tracking. The Illini were a very respectable 30th a year ago, but lost the conference’s leading tackler, safety Clayton Fejedelem, as well as their next two leading tacklers. If there’s a silver lining it’s that 71 percent of their sacks are back, most notably linebacker Dawuane Smoot.

So what does it all mean? The following chart plots each team by both offensive and defensive production.

2015to2016 Returning Production Chart

If the trend of the past two seasons continues there are two teams in ideal position to win the Big Ten, plotting very similarly to Ohio State in 2014 and Michigan State in 2015. One is Penn State and the other is Michigan. And while both have room for optimism heading into the season Michigan is better positioned for two reasons: the two biggest weaknesses — quarterback and linebacker — have been addressed.

First, Jim Harbaugh did wonders for Jake Rudock in a short time a year ago and now he gets the luxury of having a quarterback — whether it be John O’Korn or Wilton Speight — who already has more than a year of his tutelage to build on. Looking at Harbaugh’s track record coaching quarterbacks, from Rich Gannon to Josh Johnson to Andrew Luck to Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick and most recently Rudock, it’s clear that he could essentially take a tackling dummy and turn it into a serviceable quarterback.

The second issue has been addressed by bringing in Don Brown, a.k.a. Dr. Blitz, to run the defense. He promptly moved the dynamic Jabrill Peppers to a hybrid linebacker position that perfectly complements Brown’s scheme and Michigan’s defensive strengths — the line and the secondary.

The biggest roadblock to Michigan’s title hopes is its schedule that takes the Wolverines to East Lansing, Iowa City, and Columbus in a span of five weeks. The good news is that those all fall in the latter half of the season, after Michigan works out any kinks it may have at the start of the season.

Does this mean Michigan will win the Big Ten? Absolutely not. Since we just started tracking returning production in 2014, it’s a very small sample size to draw any definitive conclusions from. And just because Michigan falls right within the returning production sweet spot that produced Big Ten champions each of the last two seasons it doesn’t guarantee anything. After all, Rutgers and Minnesota were within that sweet spot last season as well. But it should at least provide a little extra dose of optimism for a Michigan team that already enters the season with plenty of it.

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2015: Offense

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

MSU 2015(Joe Robbins, Getty Images)

With less than six weeks remaining until college football returns the Michigan hype train is in full force entering Jim Harbaugh’s second season at the helm. The main questions the Wolverines face are at the quarterback position — Harbaugh’s specialty — and linebacker where do-it-all burgeoning superstar Jabrill Peppers will step in. But how does Michigan compare to the rest of the Big Ten in terms of who’s coming back?

It’s time to take our annual look at how each team in the Big Ten compares in terms of returning production. Of course, this is just one metric to use to predict each team’s success in the upcoming season, not the be all end all, but we’ll take a look at how it panned out the past two years as well and see if we can make any predictions on outcomes this fall.

The first year we tracked this, 2014, eventual champion Ohio State returned 60 percent of both its offense and its defense from the previous season. Last season, Big Ten champion Michigan State returned 54 percent of its offense and 67 percent of its defense, or just over 60 percent of its total returning production from 2014.

The teams with the most returning production both years — Maryland in 2014 with 90 percent and Ohio State in 2015 with 81 percent — both failed to reach the Big Ten championship game. Maryland finished third in the East with a 7-6 overall record and a 4-4 conference record, while Ohio State finished second in the East with a 12-1, 7-1 record.

Will this season follow the trend of the past two? Let’s take a look at this year’s returning offensive production.


Returning offense
Team Percent Returning 2015 Total Offense Ranking
Nebraska 88% 34
Minnesota 85% 103
Northwestern 82% 115
Rutgers 79% 84
Maryland 79% 87
Purdue 72% 95
Illinois 71% 88
Iowa 71% 72
Penn State 54% 105
Michigan 53% 69
Indiana 45% 14
Wisconsin 43% 79
Michigan State 38% 73
Ohio State 28% 41
Returning scoring offense
Team Percent Returning 2015 Scoring Offense Ranking
Nebraska 86% 43
Minnesota 85% 106
Maryland 78% 95
Northwestern 75% 114
Iowa 75% 54
Illinois 73% 103
Rutgers 72% 78
Purdue 69% 92
Wisconsin 60% 81
Penn State 54% 101
Michigan 54% 50
Michigan State 48% 60
Indiana 40% 24
Ohio State 32% 28

Nebraska is this year’s Maryland and Ohio State with the most returning production in the conference. That returning production falls in between the Terrapins and Buckeyes in terms of the previous season’s total offense rating (34th versus Ohio State’s 9th and Maryland’s 75th) and scoring offense rating (43rd versus OSU’s 5th and Maryland’s 84th). Both of those offensive units actually went backwards the following season even with so much returning production. Maryland slid 34 spots to 109th in total offense, while Ohio State slid seven spots to 41st. It is important to note that the Maryland comparison is apples to oranges since the Terps moved from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten between the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

The good news for Nebraska is that the offense returns quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who ranked second in the Big Ten in passing last season. In 2014, Maryland had to replace quarterback CJ Brown. Last season Ohio State returned J.T. Barrett, but Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tim Beck played musical chairs with he and Cardale Jones, which held the offense back from what could have been much more potent.

Minnesota returns the second most offensive production (85 percent) and scoring (85 percent) but ranked near the bottom nationally in both categories a year ago at 103rd and 106th, respectively. Aside from leading receiver K.J. Maye, everyone of importance is back for the Gophers offense. However, the offensive line returns just one player who started all 13 games, right tackle Jonah Pirsig. That means 115 career starts are gone and only a combined 37 return.

The next four teams with the most returning production are all pretty much in the same both. Northwestern (82/75 percent), Rutgers (79/72), Maryland (79/78), Purdue (72/69), and Illinois (71/73) return a lot of offense, but all five ranked between 84th and 115th nationally in total offense in 2015. All five return their primary quarterback, so that’s good news, but they all have too big a hill to climb to make a serious challenge for the Big Ten title.

Iowa returns 71 percent of its offense that ranked 72nd last season and 75 percent of its 54th-ranked scoring offense. Quarterback CJ Beathard figures to be one of the best in a down year at the position in the Big Ten, but the Hawkeyes have to replace leading rusher Jordan Canzeri and two of their top three receivers. Like Minnesota, Iowa has major losses to replace along the line with All-Big Ten performers, right guard Jordan Walsh and center Austin Blythe, taking 86 career starts with them to the NFL.

Penn State and Michigan are neck-and-neck in terms of returning offensive production this season. Penn State returns 54 percent of its offense and 54 percent of its scoring, while Michigan returns 54 and 53 percent, respectively. The big difference, however, is what that production accomplished in 2015. Michigan’s offense ranked 69th nationally and 50th in scoring, while Penn State’s ranked 105th and 101st. Both have to replace their starting quarterbacks, but all bets should be on Harbaugh to produce a better one than James Franklin. Michigan returns 72 percent of its rushing and 92 percent of its receiving, while Penn State returns 78 and 85.

Indiana and Wisconsin both return approximately the same (45 percent and 43 percent of offense respectively). Offense has never really been an issue for the Hoosiers under Kevin Wilson and there’s no reason to think this year will be much different. Defense is another story. More on that later. Wisconsin has to replace quarterback Joel Stave, more than 50 percent of its receiving production, and second-team All-Big Ten left tackle Tyler Marz.

Michigan State and Ohio State round out the returning offensive production. The Spartans bring back 38 percent of the nation’s 73rd-best offensive unit and 48 percent of the 60th-best scoring offense. They have to replace quarterback Connor Cook, 65 percent of their receiving production, and center Jack Allen and left tackle Jack Conklin’s combined 85 career starts. The three-headed rushing attack of L.J. Scott, Gerald Holmes, and Madre London will have to carry the load until the passing game finds its stride.

Ohio State’s mass exodus for the NFL leaves just 28 percent of its offense and 32 percent of its scoring behind. The good news for Meyer is that he still has Barrett behind center without Jones to muddle things and the Big Ten media picked Barrett as the preseason offensive player of the year. The other good news is that Meyer’s recruiting dominance over the past few seasons means he has plenty of talent waiting in the wings. Just how well it will step up is the question. Only 132 rushing yards return from the running back position (Barrett is the returning leader with 727) and only 19 percent of last season’s receiving yards return.

Stay tuned for our defensive breakdown and conclusions coming soon.