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Worst of the 21st: Morton Regional, 2nd Round

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The deepest regional yet (appropriately enough).

Most known for things other than football, but a Rutgers legend all the same.

(6) 2016 Michigan State Spartans 3-9/1-8 (2-9 vs. FBS) vs. (3) 2002 Indiana Hoosiers 3-9/1-7 (2-9 vs. FBS)

MICHIGAN STATE

No team in the field fell farther faster, and it’s not particularly close. From a Big 10 title and CFP spot to two FBS wins in the span of a year. The overall stats look reasonable, which just means that this team didn’t have a signature way of losing. They would lose shootouts or defensive struggles. Let’s take a look.

Why they were better than you think: They spent the better part of 60 minutes throttling #18 Notre Dame in South Bend, getting up 36-7, and they were a failed 2-pt conversion away from giving Urban Meyer another Sad Pizza moment. They were a last minute TD, and OT loss, and one more non-conference cupcake away from being your standard 6-6 bowl team.

Why they were worse than you imagine: Notre Dame sucked (4-8) so beating them means nothing. The non-OSU gut punch losses were @ Indiana and vs. Illinois. And hanging with OSU is more indictment than vindication. This was a team good enough to approximate 80% of the standard Dantonio recipe, but instead the only thing standing between them and a winless conference season was Jim Delaney’s desperate thirst for the NYC media market.

INDIANA

You know how in actual tournaments with good teams, there’s always a team that has better talent than their seed indicates, and they’re “the team no one wants to face”? Well, turn that upside down and inside out, and I give you the 2002 Hoosiers, i.e. “If we couldn’t make a bowl with Antwaan Randle El, how bad must we suck now?”

Why they were better than you think: Late in the 3rd quarter, Indiana was trailing the 5-1, #23-ranked Wisconsin Badgers 29-10. 22 consecutive points later, Indiana had pulled off the 32-29 shocker. The winning drive included a 3rd-and-16 conversion and probably single-handedly got QB Gibran Hamdan drafted. They also beat 4-8 Central Michigan and a hapless FBS foe.

Why they were worse than you imagine: Everything else. They lost to fellow entrant 2002 Northwestern, giving up 196 yards to Jason Wright in the process. In their other six B1G games, they were outscored by 27.8 ppg, giving up 40+ in four of them. The 2002 Michigan State Spartans fired Bobby Williams after a 49-3 drubbing at the hands of the in-state rival Michigan Wolverines. The next week they beat Indiana 56-21. Illinois went 5-7. Against Indiana? 45-14, no problem. 38.9 ppg allowed vs FBS competition overall. But for 17 magical minutes against a UW team that went 2-6 in conference play, this is a clear 2-seed.

Poll

Who was worse?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    2016 Michigan State
    (47 votes)
  • 70%
    2002 Indiana
    (112 votes)
159 votes total Vote Now

*****

(10) 2010 Minnesota Golden Gophers 3-9/2-6 (3-8 vs. FBS) vs. (2) 2012 Illinois Fighting Illini 2-10/0-8 (1-10 vs. FBS)

MINNESOTA

Tim Brewster was fired midseason, and the Gophers’s 2-3 finish almost cost them a spot here. However, the committee was not fooled and made a reasonable departure from their standard principles. You’ll agree this is reasonable once you look at the damage done in September and October.

Why they were better than you think: Closing the season with two fourth quarter comebacks, one on the road (38-34 @ Illinois), and the other in a trophy game (27-24 vs. the Iowa Hawkeyes), IS a great way to end a season. Adam Weber ended a 10,000 yard career with his best season. He could feast on most defenses in this tournament.

Why they were worse than you imagine: North Dakota State is a FCS powerhouse. South Dakota State is the really good program that just can’t quite get past NDSU. South Dakota is…neither of those, going 4-7 in 2010. Minnesota lost to South Dakota. Minnesota gave up 41 points to a sub .500 FCS team. Other than the first and last game of the year, every team Minnesota played scored at least 4 TDs. Bret Bielema went for two leading by 25 in the 4th quarter. While that says something about Bielema, it also says something about how wrong Brewster’s approach proved to be.

ILLINOIS

Everything stated above about 2002 Indiana was sincere, but, oh my, here comes 2012 Illinois ready to let you now that the proper team got the 2-seed. In fact, this team looks ready to make some of the youngsters realize that 2018 Rutgers does NOT have a cakewalk to the Final Four.

Why they were better than you think: Oh, isn’t this cute. The Tim Beckman era at Illinois started with a win over the coach who would replace him: 24-7 over Bill Cubit and Western Michigan (who would go 4-8). Joe Tiller’s last Purdue team made a bowl, and Illinois hung with them, losing only 20-17. And, sure, there was a 44-0 win over an FCS opponent.

Why they were worse than you imagine: Against FBS competition, the average score of a game Illinois played was 35-14.2. The nine non-Purdue losses were all by at least 14, and featured six losses by 28+. Against FBS opponents, only UMass was more woeful on offense. In the middle of the read option offensive explosion, Illinois averaged fewer than 300 yards/game. The 50-14 loss to Northwestern was the perfect cap to a most imperfect season.

Poll

Who was worse?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    2010 Minnesota
    (17 votes)
  • 89%
    2012 Illinois
    (142 votes)
159 votes total Vote Now

*****

(5) 2019 Northwestern Wildcats 3-9/1-8 vs. (4) 2015 Purdue Boilermakers 2-10/1-7 (1-10 vs. FBS)

NORTHWESTERN

If any belly flop could give the 2016 Michigan State Spartans a run (and none really can), this one is in the conversation. It takes a very fine engineering school (so, Champaign?) to fall down the division standings as quickly as Northwestern did from 2018-2019.

Why they were better than you think: Only one team broke 40 on this defense, and half their opponents were held to 20 or less. Northwestern could probably ugly things up against anybody in this tournament. The Wildcats finished the season by completely dominating a bowl-bound Illinois team, outgaining them by almost 273 yards. This is especially impressive given that in over half of their games, Northwestern failed to gain 273 yards of offense, period.

Why they were worse than you imagine: You, I, and everybody else knows that beating UMass shouldn’t count as an FCS win. Remove that game, and NW averaged 13.7 ppg. Their 0-6 start in conference play saw them average 6.8 ppg. During this stretch, they scored two (!) TDs while trailing by fewer than 20 points. This was just last year, so you remember. You all know how much negative karma this team had. If that follows them to the tournament, they have Final Four potential (unless they run into Illinois).

PURDUE

If nothing else, this team was fun. Just bet the over and have yourself a ball. Your average Purdue game in 2015 would feature 800+ yards and 60+ points. But honestly that undersells it a bit. This is 2002 Indiana (see above), but with 10% more, including the head-scratching conference win that cost them a top-2 seed

Why they were better than you think: 55-45 over Nebraska on Halloween. Are you kidding? Where did THAT come from? And leading 42-16 after three quarters then having to weather a 29 point 4th quarter out of the Huskers? ***Chef’s kiss*** That is mid-10’s Purdue football. Beautiful, just beautiful. One score losses to ranked Michigan State and Northwestern teams, too. Holy cow, could these guys actually play?

Why they were worse than you imagine: Not really. 2015 MSU played a lot of teams closer than they should have. And the victory over Nebraska probably had a lot to do with Purdue being +5 in turnover margin. (Really good work, Nebraska.) All the other B1G losses were by 17+. Closing argument? Indiana put up 659 yards (300+ rushing AND passing) and broke 50 with more than 10 minutes to play.

Poll

Who was worse?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    2019 Northwestern
    (103 votes)
  • 33%
    2015 Purdue
    (53 votes)
156 votes total Vote Now

*****

(9) 2016 Illinois Fighting Illini 3-9/2-7 (2-9 vs. FBS) vs. 2018 Rutgers Scarlet Knights 1-11/0-9

ILLINOIS

Welcome aboard Lovie Smith! If any coach can get the most out of an offensively challenged team, it has to be the guy that made a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at QB, right? Let’s see what sort of wrinkles he has ready to go to help vault Illinois back towards respectability.

Why they were better than you think: Four different 2016 squads are in this tournament. Illinois had the best Big Ten season of the four and beat fellow entrants 2016 Rutgers (24-7!) and 2016 Michigan State (4th quarter comeback!). They also led the only >.500 Nebraska Cornhuskers team in the last five years in the 4th quarter in Lincoln.

Why they were worse than you imagine: Besides that Nebraska game, the 34-31 home loss to fellow entrant 2016 Purdue (Purdue’s only conference win) was the only loss by less than 20 points all year. They averaged 16.7 ppg vs. FBS competition and only Rutgers failed to score fewer than 27 against Lovie’s defense (which doesn’t bode well for the 2018 Scarlet Knights...).

RUTGERS

I know it can be hard to tell all the Rutgers teams apart, but here: this is the team that finished dead last nationally in scoring offense (13.5 ppg). Oddly, they were not shut out all season, so it was a steady sort of futility.

Why they were better than you think: Texas State is, technically, an FBS team. Rutgers beat them 35-7 on opening night. Michigan State made a bowl game (where 13 points were scored). Rutgers led them in the 4th quarter of the season finale. Rutgers also led your B1G West champion Northwestern Wildcats in the 4th quarter (that’s just how NW rolled in 2018).

Why they were worse than you imagine: Once Texas State left town, so did any chance Rutgers was going to score more than 17 points in a game the rest of the season. Six different times they scored between 13-17 points. This team knew what it was, and that was inept. We’re not looking to call out anybody in particular, so let’s just note that the team had a 5:22 TD:INT ratio, and, despite being behind almost all of the time, averaged 132 yds/game passing. They balanced that out by averaging 134 yds/game rushing on 3.8 ypc. I may be insane, drunk, or both, but I’m pretty sure that over their last 11 games, Rutgers scored nine point in the third quarter (three FGs). Holy halftime adjustments. What a terrible offense.

Poll

Who was worse?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    2016 Illinois
    (14 votes)
  • 91%
    2018 Rutgers
    (153 votes)
167 votes total Vote Now