We are half-way through the regular season, and that brings mixed emotions. On one hand, we are getting into the thick of things and the heart of Big Ten play. On the other, we only have half the season left. But we will stay in the “half-full” side and break down what we have seen through six games so far.
*note all stats and records are prior to Saturday’s games.
QB Dwayne Haskins (so)- OSU… 71.7% comp., 319.8 ypg passing, 25 TDs, 4 INTs… The guy just doesn’t seem to get rattled easily and with a plethora of playmakers around him, it seems easy to be so chill. A Heisman finalist as we stand right now.
RB Jonathan Taylor (so)- WISC… 6.7 ypc, 169.8 ypg rushing, 8 TDs… He makes the big runs seem easy and has played well against Big Ten opponents so far, including defensively stout Iowa. He also passed a test this Saturday against Michigan, rushing for 101 yards on just 19 carries.
RB Miles Sanders (so)- PSU… 6.2 ypc, 107.6 ypg rushing, 6 TDs… He’s a hard runner that hits the hole quick and also provides a good outlet out of the backfield. He and McSorely make up quite the backfield, keeping Happy Valley, well… happy.
WR Parris Campbell (sr)- OSU…35 rec (14.3 ypc); 83.5 ypg receiving, 7 TDs… He is the most dynamic player on this offense and can hurt you by catching, running, OR catching and then running. Had a big game against Penn St, followed by Indiana after that.
WR JD Spielman (so)- NEB… 32 rec (14.4 ypc); 92.2 ypg receiving, 6 TDs… He is a very good offensive player on one of the Big Ten’s worst teams. His quarterback does not get much time to throw, but when he finds Spielman, good things happen. Mark it down, he will be a Heisman candidate next year!
TE Zach Gentry (sr)- MICH… 20 rec (15.3 ypc); 51 ypg receiving, TD… Gentry is a BIG target (6-foot-7) and a great compliment to their running game. He provides a sound option when U of M’s outside threats clear the zone.
O-Line- WISC… The Badger front is paving the way for 287 rush yards per game (4th in the nation) and have only given up 8 sacks to a quarterback who is not known for his mobility. Oh, and all five are likely to play in the NFL.
DE Chase Winovich (sr)- MICH… 3 sacks, 10.5 TFLs, 3 QB hurries, PBU, PD… He’s as wild as his hair. Winovich is just a force, motoring on every play as though each one is his last. Many O-tackles probably wish it were…
DE Kenny Willekes (jr)- MSU… With 4 sacks, 8 TFLs, 4 QB hurries, and a FF, Willikes scares the jillikers out of offensive coaches and quarterbacks. He and the next guy are a big reason for the nation’s number 1 run defense.
DT Raequon Williams (jr)- MSU… 6 TFLs, 3 PBUs, 3 PDs, QB hurry… Williams doesn’t often get the media love he should for being the anchor in the middle of the defensive front that is tops against the run (only allowing 40 yards per game).
DT Dre’mont Jones (jr)- OSU… Jones is having the best season of any Big Ten D-lineman. He’s accounted for 4.5 sacks, 7.5 TFLs, 2 QB hurries, 2 FRs, and a pick six against TCU. Dude is a presence among some pretty quality line mates!
LB Devin Bush (jr)- MICH… 6.7 tkls per game, 2.5 sacks, 5 TFLs, 2 PBUs, 2 PDs, 1 FF… There may not be a more feared linebacker in the Big Ten. Bush plays nasty and hits the point of attack in a hurry. Faster than a LB but stronger than a DB, this D.B. is A1.
LB Markus Bailey (jr)- PUR… 8 tkls per game, 3.5 sacks, 5.5 TFLs, PBU, PD, FF… For a defense that seems to be on the field quite a bit, Bailey makes the most of his time there. He’s quicker than people expect, which allows him to occupy opposing backfields.
LB Tre Watson (sr)- MD… 9.8 tkls per game, 1 sack, 2 TFLs, 2 INTs, 3 PDs… Tre moves all over the field and is a big part of Maryland’s much improved defense this season, which BEAT Texas, by the way. Some people forget that. Watson was a big part of that W.
CB Amani Oruwariye (sr)- PSU… 7 PDs, 5 PBUs, 2 INTs, 20 tkls… Seeing 21 come up on Penn State’s defense has the same outcome as at the Casino- sometimes it’s a push, but mostly you’re beat!
CB Terrell Smith (fr)- MINN… 7 PDs, 6 PBUs, INT, 26 tackles and a TFL… Smith keeps getting better for a defense that has quietly been one the league’s best, especially against the pass- Smith is a big reason why.
SAF JR Pace (so)- NU… 6 PDs, 5 PBUs, 3 TFLs, 32 tackles, INT… Pace is relieving many Wildcat fans’ worries in the secondary with good cover skills and a hitter in the back end. He must keep Pace (bad pun) with some good receivers in the next four weeks.
SAF Scot Nelson (fr)- WISC… 6 PDs, 5 PBUs, 2.5 TFLs, 25 tkls, INT, FF… Nelson is a free safety that thinks like a quarterback, hits like a linebacker, and just LOOKS like a Badger! He will be a guy, who four years from now, will be the one that every opposing fan reluctantly says, “he’s STILL playing?!”
PK Emmit Carpenter (sr)- MINN… 8/9 FGs, long of 53 yards… Carpenter has been Mr. consistent, connecting on 83% of his kicks coming into this season. This Carpenter will be just the right one to hammer the final nail in an upset against any ranked power opponent that allows the Gophers to hang around long enough.
P Will Hart (jr)- MICH… 51.7 ypp, 7 inside the 20, 13 of 50+… Hart has been a great aid to Michigan’s great defense, as his punts literally put opponents on the opposing side, booting it half-the-length of the field each time.
KR Ty Johnson (sr)- MD… 29.5 ypr avg., 98-yd TD… Johnson is electric with the ball in his hands, and like a RB should, he hits the seam NOW, often too fast for opposing tacklers.
PR J-Shun Harris (sr)- IND… 13.8 ypr avg., 86-yd TD… Harris looks as though the punt coverage unit is moving so slowly, allowing him time to make the necessary cuts and moves to give his offense good field position.
Coach Lovie Smith- ILL… Kudos to Lovie Smith, for sticking to his rebuilding plan; establishing a core of players, and getting these players ready to play this season. Sitting at 3-2, his team is playing much better than they did last year, in nearly every category. They can run the football, they’re winning the turnover battle, and we’re seeing all the parts starting to work together, which is the most important thing. Their two losses are to #23 USF and #8 Penn State- both games they led in the 3rd quarter. The key will be sustaining this early success by keeping players on the field and finishing…and playing better defense will help too.
Top Newcomer on Offense
Rondale Moore (fr)- PUR… 41 rec (11.1 ypc), 91.4 ypg, 4 TDs… He’s a threat anytime the ball’s in his hands. He and quarterback David Blough have the awakened Boilermakers on the rise for this second half of the Big Ten season. And to think, they are just eight points (and a couple bad penalties) away from possibly being undefeated.
Top Newcomer on Defense
Terrell Smith (fr)- MINN… 7 PDs, 6 PBUs, INT, 26 tackles and a TFL… Minnesota currently has the nation’s 35th-best pass efficiency defense and Smith is a big part of it. He neither looks, nor plays like a freshman- he’s a leader in that secondary. A big test coming against the Buckeyes this Saturday, but if they can stop the Buckeye passing attack, it will be in part because of Smith.
Trending UP: Michigan… After many (even Michigan fans) were so quick to dismiss the Wolverines as a contender this season following a shut-down loss to Notre Dame, their play has gotten much better. With the exception of Northwestern, they have dominated their opponents and the offense is a lot more multi-directional. By the way, that Notre Dame team they lost to “ain’t that bad” now are they? Big tests coming up, though, starting with Wisconsin this Saturday.
Trending Down: Minnesota… A hot start that included a win over a good Fresno State team has been iced with a drubbing at the hands of Maryland and a loss to border rival Iowa. This week, they have Ohio State at “the Shoe”, and still have to play Nebraska on the road, in a game where the Huskers will have nothing to lose. Then they get a good Indiana team at home, and go to Illinois, who is trending up. They finish with Purdue, Northwestern, and Wisconsin- none of these games appear as “gimmes” and the boat-rowers need three more to be bowl eligible. p>
What we’ve learned through six games….
1. The Big Ten may be even better (and deeper) than we thought. The East currently has 3 teams ranked in the top 12, and if Michigan State knocks off the Nittany Lions in State College this weekend, they will surely jump back into the top 25, while the Nitts will drop, but stay ranked, giving the East four ranked squads. After Maryland’s victory over then-23rd ranked and currently 9th ranked Texas, they even gained some votes for the top-25 and don’t be surprised if they squeak in around the end of the season if they can beat the other East teams they play and knock off Michigan State or Penn State and finish with 8 wins.
In the West, Wisconsin, Iowa, and (don’t laugh at this) maybe even Northwestern or Purdue could be ranked at season’s end if they get hot and run a streak. Both the Wildcats and the Boilermakers will have some ranked opponents coming to their home fields in October and November, giving them fair opportunity to impress the voters with some hard-earned victories.
The Big Ten, in general, has five teams ranked in the top 15- the same as the SEC does and those teams have played a greater collective strength of schedule than the southeastern teams.
2. On that note, we know the Big Ten can hang with the other Power 5 conferences out there. As the two conferences are always compared, the Big Ten has a combined record of 7-6 (.543 win %) against Power Five conference teams, including Notre Dame. The SEC is 4-3 (.571 win %) against the same group. The SEC has the one head-to-head matchup when Missouri came into Ross-Ade Stadium and used a last-second FG to beat the Boilermakers in a classic. What’s most telling here is that the Big Ten is clearly unopposed to scheduling the big boys, as their 13 matchups nearly doubles the 7 that the SEC has shown.
3. Ohio State is the Big Ten’s only shot to make the College Football Playoff- but they’ll have to finish undefeated as the Big Ten Champion. Alabama looks unbeatable, and even if they do go down, it is likely going to be against a ranked team like LSU or Auburn, which may keep them out of the SEC Championship. But we have seen before, that can be almost a blessing to a team like Alabama who has blown everyone out of the water, and proven that even if they stumble, they’re clearly better than any other one-loss team in America, and quite frankly better than any other undefeated team as well.
I’m not sure the same can be said about Georgia, unless their stumble is to a team like Florida, and the Gators run the table all the way to the SEC Championship game, owning the tiebreaker over the Bulldogs. But if the ‘Dawgs win out and falter in the title game, does a 12-1 Georgia team, whose only loss comes to an undefeated Alabama team in the SEC title game deserve to go to the playoff? Would an undefeated Ohio State team get the nod over those one-loss ‘Dawgs in that scenario, if it’s Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and a one-loss Georgia vs. a one-loss Ohio State? My money says the committee takes UGA for an SEC rematch. Remember, there is that SEC bias…
4. Big Ten teams play defense. Nine of the conference’s 14 teams are in the top half of the country’s run defenses (three in the top nine), as well as nine in the top half in pass efficiency defense too, which measures how defenses limit the completions, explosive plays and touchdowns of an offense, while gaining interceptions too. Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State, and Minnesota are the cream of the Big Ten crop when it comes to making stops and they have proven they can do just that. Bubba Smith, Dick Butkus, Charles Woodson, and certainly Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald can still proudly say that this is a defensive conference.
Is this D-End?
Something we have seen so far is the abundance of good defensive ends in this league. Ohio State has Chase Young (and in injured, but not-for-long Nick Bosa). Michigan has Chase Winovich and Rashaun Gary (isn’t it great and so fitting that there are TWO defensive ends with the first name “Chase”). Iowa has Anthony Nelson and A.J. Epenesa. Michigan State has Kenny Willekes. Northwestern has Joe Gaziano. The list can go on and on and on, but for opposing quarterbacks, the list is too long. People talk about the speed and prowess of SEC defenses, and the ACC has some good ones too, but if you are a Defensive Line coach and you are looking for tape to use as coaching material to improve your guys, turn on BTN, Fox Sports, or ESPN when these guys line up. <�$�Z
A look back on my Bold Predictions from the 2nd quarter
“Northwestern will beat either Michigan or Michigan State”– Check. The Wildcats gave up a 17-point lead against Michigan to lose a frustrating 20-17 contest at home. And like I said, they came back the following week, on the road (where Northwestern has played well the past few years) and defeated a ranked Spartan team fair and square. That won’t doesn’t mean much, though, if the Wildcats can’t fix their anemic run game and gain some much needed and attainable victories these next two weeks before Wisconsin visits Evanston on Oct. 27th.
“Either Jeff Brohm or Scott Frost will be 0-fer after week five”– Check. While many of us thought there would be no way coaching demigod (a tip to you, Eyes on Big podcast) Scott Frost would start the season at 0-5, here we are. His ‘Huskers play at Northwestern this week (Northwestern’s Homecoming) and then go home to host Minnesota next week, who will likely be playing off a 3-game losing streak, hot and ready. It is feasible that “Frosty the no-win man” might have to wait until Bethune Cookman on October 27th for his first victory as the Cornhuskers’ coach. Pardoning the bad joke, I’m pulling for ya Coach- just after this week is all.
“Ohio State will be ranked #2 after week 6”- so close. The Buckeyes currently sit at #3 in the AP and USA Today Polls, receiving a #1 vote in each. It could be argued that the Buckeyes have played a greater strength of schedule than #2 Georgia, and have had a slightly greater margin of victory (29 pts per game) against that tougher schedule than Georgia (26.8 pts per game). Obviously there is voter bias in both directions, but an argument could certainly be made for the Buckeyes to be ahead of the Bulldogs at this point. Regardless, the Buckeyes may get a chance to move up this week, as they host a 3-2 Minnesota team that has lost two straight, while the Bulldogs have to travel to Death Valley to play a pissed off bunch of Tigers that lost their first game last week at Florida.
My Bold Predictions for the 3rd quarter
1. Penn State will lose at least once in the next three weeks. The Nittany Lions host Michigan State (and the nation’s top rush defense), travel to a dangerous Indiana team that played toe-to-toe for most of the game against powerful Ohio State, and then host Iowa. PSU looks good- very good- but again, the question is- aside from Ohio State, how much have they really been tested?
2. If Wisconsin beats Michigan this weekend, they will lose to Northwestern in week 9. The Wildcats have had the Badgers’ number in Evanston, winning four of the last five and have played them very close in the Paul Chryst era. Wisconsin is not as potent as they looked to be at the start of this season and you always have to wonder how Jonathan Taylor will do on that natural grass at Ryan Field in late October. Pat Fitzgerald is a master when his team’s back is against the wall and people are counting them out. But again, NU’s chances are actually much better if ‘Sconny comes in riding high on their victories over Michigan and Illinois.
3. Iowa will be the highest-ranked Big Ten West team after week nine. Even if they don’t beat the Nittany Lions on October 27th, there’s a good chance Wisconsin will drop down after either losing to Michigan or losing to Northwestern (see bold prediction #2) in the next three weeks. The Hawkeyes are probably the least talked about 4-1 team in the country and carry a nasty defense and an offense that’s gaining momentum. They are so close to being undefeated right now and should be ranked and 6-1 going into Happy Valley in three weeks. Ferentz may have the makings of a Big Ten West title team.
Chappy’s Big Ten Second Quarter Rankings
1. Ohio State
2. Penn State
7. Michigan State
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