The last quarter of the Big Ten season is done and we dish out our final report card. We break down the teams’ final three games and gamers, see who’s trending, and reflect on our bold predictions from the last quarter. Finally,we’ll give a partial forecast what’s to come this bowl season.
**Remember,these reflect performances in weeks 11-14.
QB Dwayne Haskins (so)- OSU… 72-of-108 (67%) for 1028 yards and 10 TDs. A Heisman finalist, he had maybe his best quarter of the season, capping it off with a 34-of-41 (83%), 499 yard, 5 TD performance in the Big Ten championship game.
RB Jonathan Taylor (so)- WISC… 72 carries, 626 yards (209 ypg), 4TDs. Taylor carried his offense when nobody else could, and though the Badgers went 1-2 in the final three, it wasn’t for lack of effort or performance from No. 28.
RB Mekhi Sargent (so)- IOWA… 53 carries, 321 yards (6 ypc), 4 TDs… For an Iowa run game that lacked most of the season, Sargent turned it on in November and gives the Hawkeyes a talent to look forward to going forward.
WR Rondale Moore (fr)- PUR…29 rec., 331 yards (110 ypg), 5 TDs… Rondale Moore put up big receiving numbers in a Jeff Brohm offense. Thatline’s becoming trite- bloom for the Boilers, gloom for their spoilers.
WR Tyler Johnson (jr)- MINN… 17 rec., 237 yards (14 ypr), 2 TDs…Another repeat winner, Johnson has made a killing with his slant routes that Big Ten defenses have not successfully defended. The scary thing is- one of his biggest criticisms this year has been drops!
TE T.J. Hockenson (so)- IOWA… 14 rec., 141 yards (10 ypr), 2 TDs… A money man for OC Brian Ferentz’s offense, Hockenson is worth his weight in gold (and black) down the middle, especially in enemy territory.
O-Line- IOWA… avg 179 rush yards, while paving the way for scoring 6 rushing TDs and allowing just 5 sacks in their final three games (where they went 2-1).
DE A.J. Epenesa (so)- IOWA…13 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 6.5TFLs, 2 PDs, 2 hurries… A force of havoc and a frustrating player to try and scheme around, Epenesa makes up a big part of one of the best defensive lines in the country.
DE Kenny Willekes (jr)- MSU… 25 tackles, 1 sack, 8.5 TFLs, 1 PD, 2 hurries…. Speaking of hard to scheme around, Willekes might as well claim residency in opposing backfields, claiming 8.5 TFLs, a sack, and 2 hurries in three games for one of the nation’s top defenses.
DT Raequon Williams (jr)- MSU… 14 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 PD… the numbers may not jump right out at you, but Williams’ job is to occupy linemen and allow his teammates to disrupt an offense- and it worked, too, as MSU finished #1 in rush defense, No. 3 in pass efficiency defense, and No. 3 in scoring defense.
DT Robert Windsor (sr)- PSU… 15 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 TFLs…Anchoring the middle of a defensive that made the greatest improvement during the season of any in the Big Ten, Windsor proved to be hard to handle, getting in to opposing backfields for nine havoc plays.
LB Devin Bush (jr)- MICH… 20 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2.5 TFLs, 3 PDs, 1hurry… These are actually respectable numbers, considering his unit was not on the field for very long and teams were running away from him.
LB T.J. Edwards (sr)- WISC… 42 tackles, 2 TFLs… The only Big Ten LB with double-digit tackle outputs in all three games, Edwards was a difficult obstacle to avoid for Big Ten teams. His top performance (18 tackles) came in his home finale which, sadly, they lost.
LB Trevor Morris (sr)- RU… 28 tackles, 3 PDs, 1 hurry… Morris had perhaps the quietest explosion of all LBs in the final three games. A grea trun-stopper, pressure guy, and pass defender, Morris helped lead the way for the Scarlet Knights’ stop squad.
CB Justin Layne (so)- MSU… 17 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1.5 TFLs, 4PDs… Layne was good in his own right, but became even more lethal with thereturn of Josiah Scott on the opposite side of the field. His 10 tackle, 1.5TFL, 1 PD performance against the vaunted Ohio State passing attack was the highlight of his final three games.
CB Michael Ojemudia (jr)- IOWA… 11tackles, 5 PDs, 2 INTs… Ojemudia was certainly a player that played his best ball in the latter part of the season. 2 INTs and 4 PBUs in his final two games against Illinois and Nebraska were evidence of his secondary skills.
SAF Saquon Hampton (sr)- RU… 20 tackles, 4 PDs, INT… Hampton is another player for that Scarlet Knight defense that, though they didn’t notch a win, did show fight and resiliency for Chris Ash’s improved defense.
SAF Ahmani Hooker (jr)- IOWA… 15 tackles, sack, 2.5 TFLs, 2 PDs, INT… Hooker became the MVP of that defense, playing more like an old-school ROVER, or a hybrid LB and SAF. Maybe they should rename that position the HAWK (or the HOOK).
PK Barret Pickering (fr)- NEB… 6/6 FGs (long 47),9/9 PATs… Pickering started to deliver on what made him such a highly sought-after recruit. His most notable performance was their 9-6 win overMichigan State, a game in which he single-handedly won the game for them, scoring all their points.
P Blake Hayes (so)- ILL… 14 punts, 611 yards (44 ypp)… Hayes was used often for the Illini and his 44-yard average at least helped flip the field so his defense wasn’t against their own end- initially, anyway.
KR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (so)- IOWA… 7 returns, 179 yards (26 ypr)…Smith-Marsette proved to be one of the best in the nation, causing opposing coaches to hold their breath anytime he brought it out of the end zone.
PR Kyle Groeneweg (sr)- IOWA… 9 returns, 111 yards (12.3 ypr), TD…It wasn’t just Smith-Marsette that gave grief to Special Teams coaches, but Groeneweg also who pushed field position back in Iowa’s favor right before they got the ball back.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald- NU… With a lot to play for in the final quarter of the season, he got his team ready and beat both Iowa and Minnesota on the road, then finished off Illinois to earn the school’s first outright Big Ten West division title and a berth in the Big Ten Championship. At a place where character is valued much more than subjective star rankings, Fitzgerald did more with what he had than any other coach down the stretch, and we salute you.
Top Newcomer on Offense
RB Anthony McFarland (fr)- MD… 56 carries, 520 yards (9.3 ypc), 2 TDs… Aside from Rondale Moore (who we highlighted earlier), McFarland was perhaps the most explosive newcomer on offense the latter part of this season. His back-to-back 200-yard rushing games were the only such by a Big Ten running back this season.
Top Newcomer on Defense
LB Micah Parsons (fr)- PSU… 18 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFLs… Parsons started to come into his towering reputation from recruiting season. No. 11 started to look LeVar (Arrington)-like, finishing in the top four in tackles in all of their final three games, etching his name into All-Conference Preseason Teams for next season.
Trending UP: Northwestern… They just kept winning and played alot bigger than their numbers suggested. Impressive wins at Iowa and Minnesota on enemy turf were followed by a solid rivalry win over Illinois at home on senior day, in what could have easily been a trap game for the Wildcats after they had already locked up the West. The Wildcats also found their run game again- not just for now, but the foreseeable future as well (pending any health issues) with freshman Isaiah Bowser. Winning every game in their division, they bucked what many people thought might happen and truly won the West, earning their first Championship Game berth in school history.
Trending Down: Michigan State… No offense, but MSU has, well, no offense! Their quarterback play has been a mess (in a year when they were expected to have one of the conference’s best), they couldn’t run the football, and their O-line just looked lost. In all, this has been a completely anti-Dantonio team. They finished 1-2 down the stretch- their only win coming by once score against Rutgers- and scored just 26 points total in those three games. Injuries played a major problem for the Green and White, though, and we don’t expect them to be down for long.
What we’ve learned through thirteen games…
1. Okay, Ohio State is good, once again. After getting their pants pulled down and spanked in public against Purdue, they followed up with a pair of one-score affairs against bowl-less Nebraska and Maryland, sandwiching a less-than impressive victory against an insipid Michigan State team, which we already spoke of.
Then came, “The Game” against that team up north- who the rest of the world rightfully refers to as Michigan-in which they muzzled the loose-lipped Wolverines, 62-39. Such an alarming victory over their hated rival could have produced a let-down seven days later in the Big Ten Championship against the upward trending Northwestern Wildcats- but it didn’t. Even though the Buckeyes were tested in the 3rd quarter against the Wildcats, they came right back and salted the victory with a performance of pure precision by Haskins and his royal route-runners-turned performant pass-catchers, teaming for six passing scores.
Though they didn’t impress the committee more than the other one-loss team that earned the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff, this Buckeye squad certainly cemented their legacy as the Big Ten’s top team of 2018; a reign that will continue into next season.
2. The Big Ten West division has a lot of parity. With the exception of Northwestern and Illinois, the middle five teams took turns beating one another. In fact, only Northwestern and Iowa won consecutive games against their Big Ten West brethren down the stretch, and the Hawkeyes didn’t exactly beat two capable contenders in succession (sorry Illini fans).
Iowa, Purdue, and Wisconsin all finished 5-4- tied for second place- but only the Badgers beat the other two; Purdue split, and Iowa lost to both. Fifth place twins Minnesota and Nebraska finished 3-6, but the Gophers beat both Purdue and Wisconsin above them soundly, while Nebraska won the head-to-head against Minnesota and went to-to-toe with Big Ten Champ Ohio State, West division champ Northwestern, and Iowa.
One look at the top of each program and you can see why parity can be expected. This division has the dean of the Big Ten coaches (Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz), a coach whose stock continues to rise dramatically (Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald), a coach who’s won more Big Ten games over the last four years than any other current headmaster (Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst), and three of the most sought-after coaching candidates from the last two years (Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm, and Nebraska’s Scott Frost).
Buckle up for the next couple seasons because competition right now is about as tight as it can get in the West! But that may be more curse than benefit for this conference.
3. The Big Ten conference champ hasn’t meant a whole lot to the College Football Playoff committee lately, and it’s causing the Big Ten to consider conference realignment. There’s been talk (though no significant movement) of reconfiguring divisions (again),changing the conference championship format from divisional champs to taking the two best overall teams, and even rumors of poaching Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12. All of this is in large part because of the College Football Playoff committee’s dismissal of the three most recent Big Ten Champions. In 2016, an 11-2 Penn State team was passed over for an 11-1 Ohio State team which they beat earlier that year. Ohio State has worn the crown the last two years,going 11-2 and 12-1, respectively, but were left out of the championship hunt because there were other teams with equal or better records, and most humans(i.e. the committee) tend to side with the easy “eye test” of overall wins and losses, regardless of circumstance. This year’s Ohio State team was ranked no lower than fourth in all four evaluative categories according to statistical analyst Jeff Sagarin- higher than both Notre Dame and Oklahoma in three of the four categories. The Buckeyes also had a better record against the top 10 and the top 30 than both Oklahoma and Notre Dame did. Still, it was their “eye test” that they failed, and ultimately kept them out of the Big Dance.
A look BACK on 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”- check. They lost at Penn State, then beat Purdue in 3 OTs behind a 300 yard performance by Jonathan Taylor. Most depressing for Badger fans, though, was their first loss in fifteen games to border-rival Minnesota which resulted in losing Paul Bunyan’s Axe. For a season that had such high expectations, this was the lowest finish under head coach Paul Chryst and UWs worst regular season since 2008 when they also finished 7-5 and Chryst was their Offensive Coordinator.
2. “Urban Meyer will coach his last game at Ohio State before the end of the 2019 season.”- check. Earlier this week, Meyer announced his “retirement” as the head man in Columbus. Seeing this situation before, many reporters asked him whether this was retirement from football or if there was a possibility he may coach again somewhere else- “It’s a complicated question” he answered one reporter, in open-ended fashion. His health has been a recent issue and he noted that his wife and family is the most important thing in his life, implying the reasons for his self-removal from such a lofty post. Still, many believe he’ll resurface again- in a different location, but certainly somewhere in college football prominence, giving the Big Ten a familiar foe- outside the conference this time- to contend with.
3. “Michigan will NOT make the College Football Playoff”- check.The Wolverines were cruising- all they had to do was beat that team from Ohio and they would likely win the Big Ten title game and punch their ticket for the College Football Playoff. Their defense was the best in the land and they landed Shea Patterson to give them that difference-maker at QB to help successfully navigate this journey. But the self-proclaimed “Revenge Tour” broke down in Columbus and the damage was irreparable. Sure, they beat Michigan State and Penn State, but Harbaugh goes another year without getting the biggest win every Michigan fan hopes for (sorry Sparty). The question, now, is will this shortcoming direct the fluid Harbaugh to a different locale sooner than later? How many more pardons will the loyalists truly give him?
** This puts me at 8-0 this season in bold predictions, with seven outright claims and two half-pointers for being partially correct, but not fully due to some “qualifiers”.
My Bold Prediction for Bowl Season is…
The Big Ten will finish no better than 5-4 after Bowl Season, with losing records to the ACC and Pac-12,but a winning record vs. the SEC.
Chappy’s Big Ten Fourth Quarter Rankings
1. Ohio State
4. Penn State
10. Michigan State
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