We are three-fourths of the way through the regular season, and it seems like we just got started! A lot of shake-up in the Big Ten since the first half of the season, so we’ll break down what we’ve seen through nine games so far and forecast what’s to come in the next three weeks of the Big Ten season.
*note, statements, records, and stats were all written prior to Saturday’s games.
QB David Blough (sr)- PUR
RB Karan Higdon (sr)- MICH
RB Devine Ozigbo (sr)- NEB
WR Tyler Johnson (jr)- MINN
WR Rondale Moore (fr)- PUR
TE T.J. Hockenson (so)- IOWA
DE Yetur Gross-Matos (so)- PSU
DE Kenny Willekes (jr)- MSU
DT Raequon Williams (jr)- MSU
DT Parker Hesse (sr)- IOWA
LB Blake Cashman (sr)- MINN
LB Markus Bailey (jr)- PUR
LB Tre Watson (sr)- MD
CB Amani Oruwariye (sr)- PSU
CB Montre Hartage (sr)- NU
SAF Jacob Thieneman (sr)- PUR
SAF Andrew Dowell (sr)- MSU
PK Chase McLaughlin (sr)- ILL
P Joe Schopper (sr)- PUR
KR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (so)- IOWA
PR JD Spielman (so)- NEB
Coach Jim Harbaugh- MICH… Known for being somewhat eccentric, Harbaugh has been noticeably reserved and more focused this season, and it’s been paying off, as his team is currently the top-ranked Big Ten team, dominating their opponents and on course for the College Football Playoffs. In the last three games, they’ve beaten two ranked opponents, convincingly– Wisconsin and Penn State- and more importantly, he beat Michigan State. BUT, the biggest hurdle, and most resounding wish on the checklist, is beating that “team from the south”. They’ll get their chance in three weeks and if they do, they’ll have a chance to win their first outright Big Ten Title in 15 years.
Top Newcomer on Offense
QB Adrian Martinez (fr)- NEB
Top Newcomer on Defense
NB Sydney Brown (fr)- ILL
Trending UP: Michigan State… There was a time when there was a lot of concern about the Spartans. They had no running game, their QB play was poor, and injuries at WR and in the secondary were limiting their output. But in the last four weeks, they’ve beaten a top-ten opponent on the road, played current #4 Michigan tough through three quarters and held them to their second-closest margin of victory all season (14 points), and beat a Purdue team the week after they embarrassed #2 Ohio State. They also beat Maryland and, oh by the way, they still have the nation’s best run defense. If they can beat Ohio State at home and a rising Nebraska team on the road, they end with Rutgers and would wind up with 9 wins, which would be Dantonio’s greatest pure coaching job yet.
Trending Down: Minnesota… Sorry Gopher fans, but Minnesota gets this label for the second straight quarter. And much like the phrase “Ski-U-Mah” doesn’t actually translate to “Victory” (like 1880s Gopher Rugby players thought), neither does the current Gopher football team. Injuries in both backfields have really hampered this team, and I’ll echo what coach P.J. Fleck reminds us- they’re the youngest team in College Football (over half the active players are freshmen or sophomores). Still, not a lot of hope for this team heading into the final quarter of the season, with games against Purdue, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to close out Big Ten play.
What we’ve learned through ten games….
- The Big Ten West could have one of the “uglier” divisional champs in all of college football (tobe fair, the ACC Coastal and Pac 12 South look about the same). At the time of press, Northwestern has a beautiful 5-1 conference record, with their only blemish a 3-point loss to No. 4 jMichigan, in a game that the Wolverines had to win in the last two minutes of the game. But to look at their overall record of5-4, with home unimpressive home losses to Akron and Duke, and potentially one more loss on the horizon, the king of Big Ten West could limp into theChampionship game in Indianapolis with a 7-5 record. They currently rank near the bottom on the Big Ten in most offensive categories and their best win will have come over 7-win Purdue and Wisconsin teams and a 7-or-8-win Michigan State team. But ask the Northwestern coaches, players, and hungry fan base if they care about style points… winning is winning and playing for a Championship matters.
2. The Big Ten East Division is being seen- once again- as the power division they were branded at the beginning of the season. The results are not nearly as high as the expectations were to start 2018, but all four of the “Big Boys” are in the CFB top 20… for now. Michigan State and Ohio State play each other this Saturday, and Michigan already smoked Penn State, so there’s really just two teams, and they’re setting up for a big showdown at high noon on November 24th. If the dominoes fall the right way, both could be in the top six for the first time since that great 2006 game, when the two teams were ranked #s 1 and 2. Michigan State has the potential to win all three remaining games (that would mean they knock off Ohio State this Saturday) OR they could slip and finish 1-2 in the final trio. Penn State is likely to win out, as they host a hobbled Wisconsin team and then play at Rutgers and home vs. Maryland to finish the season. In all likelihood, the Big Ten East could finish the regular season with three teams in the top 20.
3. Something seems wrong with Urban Meyer and Ohio State. Meyer’s health has been under surveillance ever since a bad headache forced him to his knee, back in week 6 against Indiana. He later came out and divulged that he has a brain cyst that can cause these frequent headaches. Though he says he is learning to “manage” it, one has to wonder with the stress that the Zach Smith situation has caused him (see his reactions in Tom Rinaldi’s exclusive interview on ESPN) and any internal issues that may be going on surrounding all that’s happened this season with the Buckeyes, how “healthy” is Coach Meyer? He maintains he will be here and is frim on coaching in the 2019 season, but we all remember how abruptly his career at Florida ended and that was eight years ago.
A look back on my Bold Predictions from the 3rd quarter
1. “Penn State will lose at least once in the next three weeks”– Check. This came true just one day after the time of press, when the Nittany Lions were turned green by the Spartans in Happy Valley, 21-17. MSU coach Mark Dantonio proved he’ll do whatever it takes to get the win and is not afraid playing “high risk, high reward”. Turns out the Nittany Lions would also lose (badly) three weeks later at Michigan, sandwiched in between by some not-so-convincing wins against Indiana and Iowa. Like I predicted earlier in the year, they’re good, but still quite young in some spots.
2. “If Wisconsin beats Michigan this weekend, they will lose to Northwestern in week 9”– Partial Check. Wisconsin did NOT beat Michigan in week 7 (though I never called for a victory, I just said if), but they DID get beat by Northwestern in week 9. True, they were without Alex Hornibrook and a handful of key defenders, but Wisconsin is a deep team and Paul Chryst is a damn good coach- but then again so is Pat Fitzgerald. That win helped set the Wildcats up for a chance at the Big Ten West Title and if any coach in the Big Ten deserves a shot at a championship, it’s ol’ crew cut!
3. “Iowa will be the highest-ranked Big Ten West team after week nine”– Check. Iowa came in at #16 in the first College Football Playoff (CFP) Rankings on October 30th– the only West team even in the rankings. Even after losing on the road to Purdue, the 6-3 Hawkeyes sit at #21, but that position could change after this weekend as they host a hungry Northwestern team looking to claw their way to Indianapolis.
** This puts me at 5-0 this season in bold predictions, with four outright claims and two half-pointers for being partially correct but not fully due to some “qualifiers”.
My Bold Predictions for the 4th quarter
1. Wisconsin loses the next two out of three to finish the season 7-5 and in fourth place in the Big Ten West. The wounded Badgers play at Penn State and at Purdue in back-to-back weeks, then finish off with a very beatable Minnesota team in the finale. Purdue should win out (or will at least favored in all three), Northwestern is likely to win two of their last three (if not all three), and Iowa will probably win two of three against Northwestern, Illinois and Nebraska- two of three which come at home. Two of those would three own tiebreakers, so Wisconsin would be sitting at fourth in a looked-down-upon Big Ten West- a pretty hard fall from grace, considering some were expecting College Football Playoff and even National Title possibilities.
2. Urban Meyer will coach his last game at Ohio State before the end of the 2019 season. Please don’t mistake this as a wish. I really admire what Coach Meyer has done on the field. He’s clearly going to go down as one of the top college coaches ever- maybe even second, only to you-know-who down south- or certainly in the modern era. His brain cyst, the Zach Smith stuff, internal rumblings, and a likely loss to Michigan (and maybe even Michigan State) this season may be enough to cause Meyer and his family to say, “that’s enough, my/your health is far more important than my/your on-the-field accomplishments”- a classic case of life over football.
3. Michigan will NOT make the College Football Playoff. I know this will make Wolverine fans blow a gasket, but there are just too many scenarios that could potentially hurt the Wolverines. If Georgia beats Alabama in the SEC Championship (which I think they will), that puts Clemson, Bama and Georgia in, with room for only one more.
If the committee honors head-to-head and overall record, they would then take an undefeated Notre Dame team that beat the Wolverines in week one; and if you follow the money, Notre Dame fans travel just as well as, if not more than the Michigan contingency.
But here’s the kicker that would hurt both the Irish and the Wolverines. If Oklahoma runs the table and wins their conference by beating a top-ten West Virginia team back-to-back, and their only loss of the season came on a last-minute FG to Texas in a rivalry game, one has to think the committee- and any recency bias they may have- would see the red-hot Sooners as the “better” team over a Michigan team who will have beaten a schizophrenic Ohio State team and a “God-bless-em” 7-6 Northwestern team in the Big Ten Championship.
I would love to see the Big Ten represented in the final four, but if the scenario above plays out, I don’t think the selection team would ignore an explosive Oklahoma offense with a Heisman finalist from being put in the final field of four.
Of course to even be considered, the Wolverines must first win in Columbus…
Big Ten Third Quarter Rankings
2. Ohio State
4. Michigan State
7. Penn State
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