Posted on: October 2, 2011 4:26 am
Edited on: October 2, 2011 12:07 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
1. Wisconsin should probably go undefeated this year. Seventh-ranked Wisconsin faced its first stiff test of the season, as No. 8 Nebraska came to town for a night game at Camp Randall in the Big Ten opener for both schools. Wisconsin treated Nebraska like just another speed bump, crushing the Huskers 48-17 in a game that saw the Badgers outscore Nebraska 41-3 in the last 33 minutes of play. It was equal parts savage, brilliant, and awe-inspiring -- the type of game that only great teams play.
Wisconsin's slate from here on out is heavy on intriguing road games, but if Nebraska can't even keep the game within 30 points, what hope would Ohio State or Illinois or anybody else left on the schedule have of winning a game against the Badgers? Russell Wilson can basically do whatever he wants on offense, and with a duo of tailbacks like Montee Ball and James White behind him, the Wisconsin attack is basically as complete as offenses can get.
So yes, Wisconsin should go undefeated this year. That would be quite welcome, especially if it ends in a game against whoever takes the SEC between LSU and Alabama. Would the SEC team win? Possibly. Plausibly. Probably. I'd sure like to see that determined on the field of play, and doubtless so would Wisconsin fans.
2. That team that just got wrecked by 31 points is still probably going to win its division. I don't know what's more infuriating -- that Nebraska has underperformed so badly in every game this season that they're probably just plain average as a whole, or that this average Nebraska team is still a favorite to win the Legends Division. Michigan's on a roll but has a nasty back half of the schedule, Michigan State has a brutal schedule and only managed 10 points against the Ohio State defense, Northwestern has major defensive issues to work out, Iowa struggles mightily against mobile quarterbacks while playing in a division full of them, and Minnesota... no.
Of course, the actual most likely result of this traffic jam of mediocrity is five teams tied at 4-4 and Minnesota eating paste at 0-8. This is the result I will be openly rooting for. because nothing would be funnier than Jim Delany taking a look at that situation, taking a look at Wisconsin, and then just canceling the First Ever Big Ten Championship Game and just handing the Rose Bowl to Wisconsin. And nobody would think that was the wrong thing to do.
3. Whatever you thought about the quarterback situation at Ohio State, I assure you, it's actually worse. Joe Bauserman was Ohio State's leading passer on Saturday, and if that doesn't sound troubling, please consider that Bauserman didn't enter the game until early in the fourth quarter, and he threw for all of 87 yards. Starter Braxton Miller, meanwhile, passed for 56 yards (not just on one drive, for the entire game), lost 27 on the ground, and led the OSU offense to all of six first downs in the first three quarters. The Buckeye faithful were booing early and often in this game, and while they generally weren't booing Miller himself, it certainly stands to reason that the mood at the 'Shoe would have been far more jovial if Terrelle Pryor had still been under center.
It didn't help that the Michigan State defensive front was teeing off on Miller, and generally overwhelming the Buckeye offensive line in the process, but it's just shocking that Ohio State could have such a dearth of production at the quarterback position like this. Miller's got talent, but is in no way game-ready, whereas Bauserman looks like someone who just doesn't belong on a two-deep of a BCS-level team. This is a personnel problem for Luke Fickell and Ohio State, and personnel problems like these don't generally solve themselves mid-season.
4. At this rate, Illinois might actually enjoy endgame pressure. Illinois is 5-0 for the first time in 60 years, and it's doing so at the expense of the cardiac health of Ron Zook and all the Illini fans. For the third straight week, Illinois won a game by three points, and for the third straight week, it needed to take the lead late in the fourth quarter and hang on for dear life. This week's victim was Northwestern, who capitalized on a Jason Ford fumble and drove for a go-ahead score with 75 seconds left ... only to see Nathan Scheelhaase and A.J. Jenkins drive the ball down the field with ease and punch the ball in for the game-winning score with 13 seconds left.
It's too early to start making assumptions about Illinois' postseason fate as yet, because if the Illini keep getting into these 50-50 late-game situations, the odds are pretty low that they'll keep winning them consistently. And with games like home dates with Ohio State and Michigan -- not to mention a road match at Penn State -- still on the schedule, Illinois probably isn't even near done with the close contests yet this season. But perhaps it does, and perhaps the games won't be close, and perhaps Ron Zook -- he of the hottest seat in the Big Ten six weeks ago -- has another 10-win season up his sleeve just yet. Perhaps. We're at least on the right road for that to happen, at least.
5. Pssst... Michigan might be legitimate. Maybe. As long as Minnesota keeps proving itself to be far more MAC-worthy than BCS conference-caliber, it's going to be useless to read much into a team's performance beating the Gophers -- even the final score is 58-0. And yes, Michigan started 5-0 last year too and that season still ended with Rich Rodriguez fired. That's all true. The problem, though, is that Michigan started 5-0 in 1997 and it just so happened to finish 12-0 and win a national championship, and most teams that start 5-0 don't end up giving up the most points in program history and firing their coach.
So while it's easy to just say "But 2010" whenever someone mentions the fact that Michigan is still undefeated, there's one difference that's crucial to point out: the defense is showing up too. Last season, Michigan gave up over 25 points per game in its first five games. This year? 10.2. Yes, it's relevant that 31 points came against Notre Dame in a game the Wolverines had zero business winning and 20 came against tomato cans like Eastern Michigan and Minnesota, but consider that Michigan also spanked Western Michigan 34-10, and that's a Broncos team that came up just shy in a 23-20 loss at Illinois and just took a 38-31 win at Connecticut. So yes, given the context we've got, Michigan is not just pulling a 2010.
I still don't think Michigan survives that brutal November that awaits, and it's possible that with Dan Persa and Kirk Cousins looming as opposing quarterbacks in the next two games, Michigan might take a 5-2 (1-2) record into its bye week. But 6-1 (2-1) is more likely now, and being undefeated through seven games is definitely on the table. That's good news in Ann Arbor, especially when everyone else in the Legends division is staring at major problems that need fixing. But that's a topic best left for November; for now, Michigan would do well to focus on the next game in front of it.
Tags: A.J. Jenkins, Adam Jacobi, Alabama, Big Ten, Braxton Miller, Eastern Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, James White, Jason Ford, Joe Bauserman, LSU, Luke Fickell, MAC, MIchigan, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Montee Ball, Nathan Scheelhaase, Nebraska, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Rich Rodriguez, Ron Zook, Russell Wilson, SEC, Terrelle Pryor, Week 5, Western Michigan, What I Learned
Posted on: October 2, 2011 4:22 am
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Posted on: September 28, 2011 2:38 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2011 11:47 am
Posted by Adam Jacobi
We've got a Big Ten showdown in Wisconsin (where it's basically impossible to beat the Badgers at night), Will Muschamp's introduction to the Alabama-Florida rivalry, an ACC road test for Clemson, a bounce-back opportunity for both Arkansas and Texas A&M and much more. Ohio State faces a tough challenge as Michigan State comes to Columbus. USF looks to prove its legitimacy with a Thursday night game at Pitt. Does Auburn have a chance against South Carolina? Dan Persa returns for Northwestern, but can he beat Illinois? We've got it all covered with this week's Weekend Preview.
Click here for the pop-out player if you'd like to listen in a new window, otherwise just hit play right below.
The only thing I'll add to the Wisconsin-Nebraska discussion is that Adam and Darin are, in my mind, vastly underestimating Wisconsin's talent advantage here -- especially when the Badgers have the ball. Last year, I wrote that the Iowa defense was the biggest fraud in the Big Ten. This year, so far, Nebraska's defense looks ready to assume that ignominious title unless it starts shutting somebody, anybody down. Adam and Darin mentioned the pedestrian yardage numbers the Husker D has given up, but yardage allowed in double-digit victories can be misleading sometimes; teams scramble in the fourth quarter against defenses more concerned with keeping the clock running and not allowing big plays than with forcing a punt, for example, or maybe the defense has its reserves in with a 27-point lead and three minutes left or what have you.
So I'll just also point out that Nebraska has forced 3-and-outs on 16 of 50 possessions (not including end-of-half kneeldowns). And yeah, Nebraska's non-conference slate has been more challenging than Wisconsin's run of puff pastries, but we're still only talking about Chattanooga, Fresno State, Washington, and Wyoming here -- not exactly a murderer's row of offensive firepower. Nebraska's defense is supposed to be the best in the Big Ten, and instead it's, eh, decent. Guess what: Bret Bielema and Wisconsin's offense eat "decent" for breakfast and they still have room for brunch.