So we're three weeks into what feels like 2007 Redux. There's a lot of chaos, save one team, and a lot more questions than answers at this point. Four teams are undefeated, and two of those teams have new coaches in the B1G for 2011. So how how are the new guys doing, and what do the results tell us going forward?
All in all, it was a good week for the new guys. They all went undefeated, and while a lot of the conference is a hot mess, there are a couple of new coaches that have their teams looking good and on the right track.
Kevin Wilson, Indiana. Let's state a couple of undeniable truths about Indiana football. For one, it's one of the most ignored and disrespected football programs in Division I football (for good reason), and two, Kevin Wilson won't tolerate that kind of talk or attitude anymore, especially from folks within the fine state of Indiana. It's a kind of fiery passion you don't see much anymore in public, and if any program needs it, it's Indiana. Unfortunately, it's going to take more than one smack down of a radio host and one four (or is it five star...I don't know) recruit in Gunner Kiel. Indiana has struggled out of the gate, losing to their first two games, but I think there's something to build on there. They fell on their face to a Ball State team I thought they could have beat, but played BCS team Virginia tough. And it's a game they should have won. They were up by two scores with under 8 minutes to go and let the game slip away, but they rebounded nicely against South Carolina State. I don't think anyone feels Indiana is a bowl team, but there is some talent on the Hoosiers roster. With a lot of B1G teams struggling out of the gate, Indiana will be a tough out. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to turn a carrier group into the wind, and Wilson seems to be doing that.
Jerry Kill, Minnesota. What a difference a week makes. Lost in the flat out embarrassing home opener loss to a TERRIBLE New Mexico State team was the seizure that Kill had right at the end of the game. He was released from the hospital on Thursday, was on the sideline Saturday, and the Gophers went out and beat the defending MAC champion Miami (OH). You can argue that every team in the Big Ten should beat Miami, but Minnesota has had a hard time with these 'gimme' games, and Miami was anything but that. Minnesota showed flashes of a good defense, QB MarQueis Gray is quickly becoming one of the top offensive players in the B1G, and after the Gophers started out slow, they rallied, took the lead, and held off a Miami comeback. It's a game that had all the markings of another loss, especially when Miami went for 66 yards on the third play of the game and kicked a field goal to take the lead. Minnesota is 1-2, but you can see progress, and maybe some light at the end of the tunnel.
Brady Hoke, Michigan. Hey, 3-0 is 3-0, and at the end of the day, that's all that matters. But still, there's something familiar about this season than there was from last year, so I'm holding off reservations on the bandwagon. No one thought Michigan's transition back to 'Manball' would be easy, and Denard Robinson was struggling early last week with EMU. To Hoke's credit, they went back to a read option spread hybrid kind of offense, and he was much more effective. The defense still struggles, but there seems to be noticeable improvement. On offense, I still think they're relying on Denard Robinson too much, and that could take a physical toll by the end of the season. There are still a lot of questions surrounding Michigan, but there's more of a feeling of that the adults are back in charge.
Graham says: I keep giving kudos to the Michigan defensive coaches for making changes to their run stopping scheme, so kudos will be given again after stopping Eastern from scoring a TD Saturday. The Eagles dominated the opening quarter, but could not capitalize on a couple of long drives, thanks to a goal line stand. After that, Michigan's defensive continued it's string of surprisingly solid second half performances.
As for the offense, Hoke MUST work with Al Borges to get the ball thrown down the field. Denard will run out of steam, circa 2010, if his legs are the only big plays Michigan can rely on. SDSU is a good test; God knows they're going to load up on the run.
Luke Fickell, Ohio State: Yikes. The only thing more troublesome about the ineptitude of Ohio State quarterbacks on Saturday night was the perception that Luke Fickell is swimming in the deep end without a life jacket. I like Fickell, I want him to do well, but asking a guy that's never been a head coach before to be the guy at a program like OSU seems to be asking too much of somebody. There were times against the Hurricanes where it looked like Fickell had no idea what to do on the sidelines, and other than maybe the first season of Tressel's tenure did I ever feel that way about the OSU coaching staff. When it seemed like OSU was getting some rhythm in the running game they went right back to a passing game that was embarrassingly inept. Why?
Fickell has a tough choice to make this week between Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller. It doesn't seem like a tough choice, but it is. Joe Bauserman is a guy that's worked hard and earned a shot, and it's a difficult thing to tell a guy he's getting benched because he's not getting the job done, especially a senior. Fickell has been non-commital this week, but he needs to be decisive. I don't know that he will, and that will tell me all I need to know about Fickell. Make the call and don't look back.
Bo Pelini, Nebraska. Whether they were experimenting on some defensive stuff or not in the fourth quarter, as Pelini says, there's still no reason for Nebraska to get lit up like they did at home on defense. None. I like the fact that they're putting 40 points a game on the board, but Taylor Martinez still has a lot of questions as a passer. Nebraska seems to be the second best team in the conference, and by a fair margin, but they're still too inconsistent on both sides of the ball to be make me think they can challenge Wisconsin at this point as conference King Of The Hill.