Hey All, Ted here. This is going to be my last front page contribution for awhile, aside from some potluck answers here and there, and a little diddy I've already got done for Michigan week. I'm going to be pretty scarce around SB Nation as a whole for the time being as well, so be good while I'm out. Hopefully, it will only be a temporary thing, but I'll just have to play it by ear for a bit. Real life getting in the way of fun stuff like this can really be a drag sometimes, but, well, that's the way it goes.
Thanks, and I hope to be back by the time the season starts. Also, stay off my lawn--Ted
So we interrupt Penn State week (to be continued this afternoon or at latest, tomorrow morning) to bring you another wordy dive into me and Ted's world. We've done this before, and we may do it again in the future, but this time we're talking 2013 and everything B1G we could come up with in roughly ten days. While this is kind of out of left field, and definitely too long for a good portion of the crowd, we figured it would be a nice long read to break up your July week. So sit back, grab your coffee, and enjoy the journey. We're talking B1G Heisman candidates, Championship Game participants, and best games. Enjoy!
It's been since January that we've done a collaborative piece on football. Sure, we went ahead and tackled the absurdity of the NCAA and tried to answer what we would do if we could run the show, but we have not really talked about what we think about 2013 going in. Obviously, there have been some really good knowledge bombs during B1G 2013 from guys who are way smarter than me, but I think it's high time that we put on our ridiculous caps, start making outlandish comments, and try to get to the meaning of life -- or in your case, try and really contextualize just how OMGURBZISAWESOME is not just a phrase, but rather a life statement. And honestly, the nice thing is that we are still two months out from Game 1 of the season, so no matter what we say at this point, OTE will surely let us live it down later, right? [looks at MSULAXer's 1-11 prediction] Well, maybe they hold on to things. We will still prevail.
With that said, let me give you the opening kickoff. Give me your early thoughts on what we should hope to see from the B1G this season. Are we going to be making an excuse piece two games in next year like we did last year -or- are we readying for a run to the final BCS title?
I'm going to go with something in between...because without really watching the games I can't give an educated answer. I've gotten this far without watching football, and I'll be damned if I'm going to start now.
I think the Big Ten bottomed out the last couple years--seriously, it couldn't get any worse than it did, what with the OSU and Penn State scandals along with the on the field futility we've seen. I don't think the B1G as a whole is back and ready to topple the SEC and take the crystal football, but OSU is as close as any other team outside the Southeast. And yeah, Urban Meyer has stocked the cupboard to the point that the Buckeyes are going to make a serious run in 2013. Hate him all you want, but he took a 6-7 team, turned them into an undefeated team, and has upgraded talent across the board, on both sides of the ball.
A lot of the resurgence, if there is one, has to do with recruiting, and although the B1G isn't dominant, it's a lot better than it was a couple years ago. Ohio State and Michigan have reclaimed their annual top 10 status, Northwestern...Northwestern...is a top 20 recruiting program, and traditional powers Nebraska and Penn State are top 25. Rutgers is doing well, although they won't officially be in until 2014, and recent and traditional doormats are getting better.
And although talent is essential, you need to translate that talent into wins on the field. That's something our conference has had trouble doing in recent years, and the only way to avoid the excuse pieces are to dominate the non-con schedules and then win a vast majority of the bowl games.
That means Iowa beats Iowa State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue beats Notre Dame, etc. Let's face it, no one really expected UM to beat Alabama last year, but no one expected a 41-14 ass kicking, either. With PSU and OSU still trying to put their respective scandals behind them, that loss along with those off the field stories wrote the Big Ten's narrative one week into the season.
However, as bad as the regular season was, the B1G had an opportunity to help re-write the narrative heading into 2013 with a strong bowl season. Then Jadaveon Clowney killed Vincent Smith, and it was a perfect metaphor for the B1G season, all wrapped up in one funny gif.
That can't happen again, and I don't think it will. Although I was pretty down on the conference in our last piece, I've come around a bit. Look, Ohio State is going to field one of the best teams in the country, like it or not, and Wisconsin is going to be good. Michigan is going to be pretty good, and they might be the third or fourth best team in their own division, depending on how Michigan State's offense and Nebraska's defense fare. And they might all be looking up at Northwestern at the end of the year. The teams in the bottom half of the conference all have reasons to be hopeful, too. Jerry Kill has Minnesota looking upward, as does Kevin Wilson at Indiana. Purdue finally has a competent coaching staff that will have them on the upswing as well. Except Illinois, because Tim Beckman, even though he did snag a big time transfer in Andrew Manley.
I like the direction of the conference the last couple years, as the quality of the coaching staffs has gone up, and that's going to make the whole conference better from top to bottom. Again, except at Illinois. Because Tim Beckman.
Hey, speaking of crappy coaches, who do you have as guys on the hot seat for 2013? Heck, let's not call it a hot seat. Let's call it...hmmmm....the Beckman recliner. Let's say instead of a big resurgence, like you thought in January and I think is more possible than I did back then, a bunch of B1G teams seriously underperform again. Besides Becks, who do you see losing their job if they fail to live up to expectations? And of course, you can't say Kirk Ferentz, because he has the smartest agent ever.
I feel like the Beckman recliner is too kind. Recliners are nice things, and well, Illinois and nice things, right? Let's maybe call it the Beckman Stainless Steel Bench?
Anyhow, it's hard to get a read on who will actually be on the hot seat. I know I have talked about it fairly recently, but the nice thing about this year's crop of coaches is that none of them should get fired at the end of the year. The bottom guys have some built in excuses whether it's being new - Hazell and Andersen, at Indiana and working towards something they rarely do (success) - Wilson, or getting better little by little - Kill, each has an opportunity to do something better but even if they fail, they're not going anywhere.
On top of that you have Ferentz with the sweetest contract ever, you have some mainstays who won't get fired unless there are incredible failures ethically or like 1-11 records - Pelini, Dantonio, and Hoke, legitimate lifer in Fitzgerald, reigning COY in BOB, and Urbz. So the bigger - or more interesting if you may - question isn't who is on the hot seat, it's what coach's team is going down in a ball of flames this year. THAT question has a lot of loaded ammunition, though... Which makes it more fun to answer!
The easy answer would essentially be Bo Pelini because a) he's pretty fun to dog despite the fact that by all accounts he is a wonderful guy and b) he's been moderately successful considering the hellhole Nebraska was in as a football program before him. Nonetheless, I would be remiss to point out that this is still Nebraska, where boosters who expect some sort of championship are getting antsy. There are so many built in excuses for Bo to not get fired, namely that Nebraska has been a learn on the job gig and the second he gets fired, there is a strong possibility he goes somewhere else and ends up being successful, but one does have to face facts that there is also a chance he is at his peak. With a new AD, Pelini is in as awkward a spot as possible -- except that's where it ends. I was just talking to Brian from Corn Nation about this on their podcast. Bo has a free year this year because Eichorst can't fire him unless everything goes wrong, including a loss to like South Dakota State or something, and that's not happening.
So if not Bo, then who? Well, we eliminated Beckman and Ferentz, and Hoke is still too new. Hear me out on this one, because it's about to make a bunch of people mad, but I would have to say the next person in that line would probably be Dantonio, which is absurd to even say. Look, if I can even say an awful season begins to put Dantonio on the hotseat, that means we have some of the strongest coaching in the conference that we've had in a while. Sure, we're pretty sick of hearing that the conference is on the cusp of something great, but the pieces are starting to fall into place, which is comforting.
So now that I've butchered your question by saying nobody is getting fired, let's change subjects completely and talk about the individual awards. Who will we be hearing a lot from next season? Is there anyone who can actually make it to New York? Will we reclaim some of the trenches awards? Am I asking too many questions?
Stainless steel is considered a nice thing in some high end furniture/appliance stores, so maybe even that's out. How about rickety, rotted wooden stool? Yes, yes that'll do.
No, I see your point about Dantonio. He's taken MSU to the cusp of being a consistent player in the B1G, and Sparty fans have a lot of expectations, to include beating Notre Dame and Michigan with regularity. They fell flat last year after everyone thought they were a BCS team heading into the season, and with Le'Veon Bell gone I don't see anyone on the offensive side of the ball that you have to worry about. Their defense is great, to be sure, but another 7-6 (or God forbid, south of .500) season with losses to MIchigan and Notre Dame after the recent success on the field and on the recruiting trail and yeah, I can buy Dantonio's seat getting mildly lukewarm heading into next year.
But you want to talk award winners, huh? Well, if we're talking the quarterback who plays on a really good team popularity contest that the Hesiman trophy has become, Braxton Miller has to be on the short list. He was close to getting an invite last year, and short of an injury or an on the field regression the likes of which no Ohio State fan wants to contemplate, Miller will be a Heisman finalist. Is there anyone else in the B1G that might get into the Heisman conversation? Yeah, I think there are a couple guys, depending on how their teams do.
If...and to me it's a big if...but if Northwestern goes 11-1 or undefeated, Venric Mark will be in the discussion, because he'll need to have numbers that will be tough to ignore to get the Wildcats to 11 wins. They have a tough schedule, and 11 wins with numbers like he would more than likely have would be tough to ignore. I'm not saying he'd win, but it would be difficult not to invite him to the Downtown Athletic Club. Kain Colter, though, will be splitting time with Trevor Siemian, and that would have to hurt him, I would think. If Colter wins the job outright, his profile would definitely rise...but it might also take away from Mark, and they might negate each other. And I don't know that I want to live in a world where we're talking about two Northwestern players that are so good they cancel each other out for the Heisman trophy.
As far as anyone else, I just don't see it, barring some once in a generation type season. Taylor Martinez has too much baggage to overcome at this point. James White, while well known in the conference, doesn't have the pre-season notoriety or profile to make up the amount of ground on the more well known guys, and Carlos Hyde will be overshadowed by Miller, no matter how good his numbers might end up being. Devin Gardner at Michigan fits the more recent Heisman profile--starting quarterback on a traditionally powerful program that's in the title discussion. I don't know that he'll be there in the end, though, because I'm not sold on Michigan's skill guys having enough playmakers for Gardner to really emerge. And I really don't know how good Michigan will be. You can make the case that they're anywhere from the best team in the Legends division to the fourth best team behind Nebraska, Michigan State, and Northwestern.
Hey, speaking of who the best team is...who is the best team in the Legends? How about the Leaders? I've already alluded to the Legends being a lot of unknowns in 2013, with all the contenders having some kind of imperfection...Michigan is in year one of Life After Denard, Michigan State has no offense, Nebraska has a streaky quarterback and a spotty defense, and Northwestern has a defense that you can overcome with sound game planning. Over in the Leaders, Ohio State seems, at face value, to be the clear team to beat...but are they? Wisconsin has been OSU's kryptonite in recent seasons, and the Buckeyes will have a lot of pressure on them right out of the gate.
So, Jesse, who ya got in Indy this year? And who do you have for a darkhorse team in each division that might come from nowhere and make it to the championship game?
Hmmm... The Tim Beckman Rotted Wood Bench Hotseat. I'm totally cool with that designation.
And you know what? I totally get why you discount T.Mart from the Heisman. However, if -- and this is a gigantic if filled with asterisks and footnotes explaining why this hypothetical is a bit absurd -- the Cornhuskers are successful this season and make a BCS bowl, it will be on the back of Martinez. He will have put up absurd numbers and the offense will have been the reason this team made it. We give him a ton of flack on the message boards, but the reality is that he is still a playmaker, will probably have the potential for those vaunted, 'Heisman Moments', and he is a Senior. I still don't personally buy him winning anything, but these things can be a lot more finicky than you and I would like to believe.
Anyhow, let's get into my Indianapolis choices. Like I said, I just did a podcast with Corn Nation and we were talking about this. I'm totally giving the East -- I will be perfectly honest, I just don't even care to figure out the names of either division and since I don't really even watch football, it doesn't really matter -- to the Buckeyes. Urban is a great coach, he has the right talent, and the other contenders either are breaking in new coaches or are Penn State. What gets interesting, however, is when we take a look at my side of the divide. The West -- same deal -- has four legitimate contenders with flaws that guarantee this race to be a mess. Michigan will be breaking in a new offense and there are question marks all over the place at the skill positions, Michigan State cannot be trusted with the football in its hands, Nebraska's defense is about as useful as a parka is in Mexico, and Northwestern still needs to prove that its defense -- despite the talk about having a legitimate bend and don't break secondary -- is not going to be the demise of the offense.
I mean, you look at that race and think that the race comes down to who can make the fewest mistakes. Honestly, that's why I'm going with the Wolverines. Nebraska will fumble its way out of the title game. I really think Northwestern is as good a bet as any, but something doesn't feel right to me about this season. There are too many question marks on defense, and until they can prove their passing game is where it needs to be -- as opposed to ninth in the conference last season -- I just don't buy them as the shoe-in. Now, here's where I'll answer your second question. I see Michigan State as a darkhorse team. The analogue would be Nebraska 2009 in the Big XII. That was a ridiculously flawed team that had an offense that made you want to claw your eyes out. However, that was also the nadir of the Suh regime. Despite all of that team's flaws, Nebraska was literally a second away from a BCS bowl. A good defense can do that for you. The more I look at the Spartans 2013 outlook, the more I see a team that can play control offense and smashmouth defense.
On the other side? The darkhorse has to be Purdue. And I mostly say that because I do not personally believe that Wisconsin would be that big of a surprise all things considered. I mean, they've been there for three years and we know they are more than capable of being a good team. Purdue, on the other hand, has always had talent, but now with Hazell in charge, we have some competent coaching. Is that enough to get the job done? Excellent question, and it's one I am definitely not confident in giving the affirmative in either. This is Ohio State's championship to lose.
So now you've heard my predictions. Let me hear yours? Same question. Championship participants and darkhorse. Oh, and since I am the less creative one with my question, here's one more. How about you dive into the best games you see on the schedule this year.
My Championship game pick is going to be Ohio State v. Northwestern. I know Chad will love this pick, but when you look at the Legends...it is the Legends, right?
//clicks open another browser window
//Google searches 'Most Ridiculous Names For College Football Divisions You Could Dream Up Ever'
Yes, Legends division. I appreciate you defending Taylor Martinez, but yeah...Taylor Martinez. He's going to doom Nebraska at least thrice this year, because he has every year. 2013 will be no different, but keep rolling that rock up the hill, Sisyphus. Even though you have to think Nebraska's defense will be better, it's still not the dominant unit it once was. I just can't pick Nebraska.
Devin Gardner at Michigan is going to be good...but he's not Denard Robinson, and does he have any playmakers on the outside? I'm skeptical. And the best running back on their roster, Fitz Toussaint, is coming back from a broken leg, and he had fairly pedestrian numbers prior to getting hurt. Granted, a lot of that was because of Denard, but still, to say Toussaint is a guy that can consistently carry a team if Gardner and the rest of the offense is ineffective is kind of a stretch at this point. However, Michigan's defense is for real, and other than MSU I think it's the best unit in the conference. They could very well be good enough to mask some deficiencies on offense enough to get them to Indianapolis. Michigan State had a terrible offense and added Jim Bollman to 'help', so unless they plan to win every game 3-0, you can't consider them a serious contender to win the division.
So, that leaves Northwestern. When you look at them, I think they have the most stable quarterback situation in the division, even though they shuttle between Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. On defense, they're not going to shut out a lot of folks, but it's good enough to allow the Wildcat offense to outscore somebody 31-28 or 35-31. The only thing that gives me pause is their schedule. They face both Wisconsin and Ohio State, and they very well could be 0-2 in the conference out of the gate. Get through that stretch 1-1, which is doable, and they get two of their three toughest remaining games--MSU and Michigan, at home. Nebraska is their biggest remaining hurdle, and I like the matchup there, even if it's on the road...because it's a place where Northwestern has never lost a conference game.
//sad Nebraska trombone
So basically, for me the Legends division comes down to who is better, Northwestern's offense or Michigan's defense? Right now, with Michigan trying to find an identity post-Denard, and the game in Evanston, I'll take Northwestern. Barely.
In the Leaders, it's Ohio State's division and everyone else is just playing in it. Urban Meyer is bringing in monster recruiting classes, has a Heisman caliber quarterback, a powerful running game, and a defense that is going to be pretty solid. Yes, 6 of 7 guys on the front 7 are gone from last year's defense, including John Simon, but remember the names Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence. They will be the starting defensive ends, and they're going to be a handful. If OSU isn't undefeated at the end of the year, I'll be disappointed. That said, it's hard to automatically discount Wisconsin, and I like Gary Andersen, but head to head, Ohio State just matches up better, plus this year's game is in Columbus.
Everyone else in that division is ineligible or sucks. And Ohio State will beat Northwestern like the nerds they are in Indianapolis.
As to my darkhorses...hmmm. In the Legends, how about Minnesota? Yeah, it's kind of a homer pick, but good Lord, it's better than Michigan State--way to go out on a limb there, Jesse. Think about this for a second--the Gophers have a guy in Phillip Nelson at quarterback who was a true freshman last year, and at times, played very well. He needs to play better, for sure, but he's got the makings of a good quarterback. They have my favorite non-Buckeye B1G player in RB Donnell Kirkwood, Jr., who had 925 yards rushing last year. Their defense went from 93rd in scoring defense in 2011 to 45th in 2012, and had they made a couple more plays against Northwestern and Texas Tech, they would have been an 8-5 team last year. Jerry Kill has been recruiting 2 and 3 star guys as opposed to 1 star an the dreaded 'NR' guys, and he is one of the better coaches with unrivaled staff continuity in the conference (his offensive and defensive coordinators have been with him for over a decade). They're still not going to compete for the division title, because even with everything all the other teams are dealing with, they all still have more talent. Running the table against Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska isn't going to happen, but is an upset against one, if not two teams possible? Yeah, I think so. 7-5 is doable, and with a couple breaks and a big upset 8-4 is possible.
Over in the Leaders, it's hard to disagree with you on Purdue, because I like Darrell Hazell and I agree with everything you said about them, but why not Indiana? I think Kevin Wilson is going to have an explosive offense, especially with Tre Roberson back, and I don't think their defense can get any worse than last year because, well, they were about as bad as bad can be. Wilson is bringing in talent on defense, which I thought was damn near impossible in Bloomington, and the Hoosiers are going to be a tough out. Like the Gophers, they were just couple plays away from being a 7 win team and our perception of them getting flipped on it's collective ear. Add Roberson, another year under Wilson and his no BS attitude, better athletes on defense (minus Adam Replogle), and you can make the case Indiana is a legitimate bowl team.
Biggest games. In the non-conference schedule, Iowa-Iowa State, Michigan and MSU against Notre Dame, and Nebraska-UCLA will be early measuring stick games for the conference as a whole. Notre Dame will be a tough draw for MSU, but they can win that game. Big measuring stick games for individual teams? I have Illinois-Washington, Indiana-Navy (seriously, that game could end up 87-84 by the time the gun sounds), and Purdue-Notre Dame. I don't think any of those B1G teams will be/should be favored to win, but get a win there and you might need to re-evaluate your perception of those teams. Personally, I'd love to see Darrell Hazell knock off the Irish
And of course, if Indiana beats Missouri, the B1G is awesome and the SEC sucks, and that narrative will carry the day all season, amirite?
So, that's all I have for now, Jesse. Wrap this up and bring it in the barn, because I'd be surprised if anyone is still reading this.
Come on, OTE readers LOVE reading thousands of words from us. [looks at hits on pieces like this] Oh.
But seriously, I can't knock anything you just said. I am as nervous about a Nebraska season as I have been in a long time, and while I still think they'll be better than a lot of non-Phil Steele people, I also think that there are so many question marks that anyone from Northwestern to Minnesota are as good a bet as any to make the championship game.
As for my upset special? I have Indiana over Missouri. Somehow that game is in Indiana and despite the Hoosiers having little to no defense to speak of, I think they're going to hang half a hundred on the Tigers. At least I want them to. As for my best games, I really think the UCLA-Nebraska and Michigan State-Notre Dame are going to be the highlights of the non-con. I also think that Notre Dame might have a regression to the mean type of year and while that probably means still having a winning record against the B1G, because of course that happens, I also think the Spartans have as good a chance as anyone against them. I mean, that game will probably just be defensive touchdowns anyways.
All this to say, I cannot wait for football season. Why, you might ask? Well, first off, I look forward to actively not watching football and writing articles about the Big Ten season based solely off of recaps done by Sports Illustrated. Secondly, the Cubs are about to sell off the entire team and things might get ugly from there. I'm already pumped for tailgates and touchdowns and I will gladly trade in my other sports fandoms for a good game of College Football. Thanks again for taking time to go back and forth with me. We'll have to check in again sometime in the future. Maybe the first time we actually watch football, you know?